- Written by Dredscythe
Welcome back, traveler, to this small corner of Development Hell--the article series where I try to look at problem systems and come up with interesting solutions. This time around we’re looking into the future with Challenge Rifts (CR).
Challenge Rifts are a new take on the Rift system, built on trying out new builds with a competitive element. I want to explore how this concept may be introduced and look at the many directions it could be taken.
Like always, let’s restate the guiding rules so we can keep solutions in check and not go into crazy town:
- Let RNG be RNG as much as possible.
- Keep true to the original purpose of the idea.
- No special cases (Softcore vs. Hardcore; Season vs. Non-Season).
- Do not take away from the “death penalty” of Hardcore.
- Must not add additional bloat to the game or, alternatively, limit that bloat as much as possible (art assets, new NPCs, coding, etc.).
Since this is a new and upcoming system, we're going to loosen up our restrictions this time. We'll still do our best not to break the game though – trust me.
Challenge Rifts: “A Brief Summary”
Before we get into designing my interpretation of this system, let's review what we know from this past BlizzCon.
Challenge Rifts (CR) are similar to Greater Rifts in that you race against the standard 15-minute timer to complete the rift. Additionally, you will race to complete the rift of the player that originally completed that particular rift. Think of it like a Set Dungeon: you have a completion goal and a mastery goal.
Unlike Greater Rifts, you use the same gear, abilities, passives, paragon points, etc. that the original player had at the time. No altering of any of these will be allowed. Furthermore, you will have the same exact rift with mob types, tilesets, pylons, and elite and champion packs all located where they were during the original player's runthrough.
This is being done to give everyone an equal playing field and make this the purest form of competition in Diablo III. The only thing that will separate people on the leaderboards (which will exist) is pure skill and execution of the chosen build. You can play solo or use the build in 2- to 4-man groups as well (albeit using that one chosen build, not group builds…but we’ll get there).
Lastly, an algorithm will select builds with a few benchmarks:
- Original player only died a max of 1-2 times. If original player died 3+ times, how much better can someone do not knowing the build?
- Original player completed the rift in 8-10 minutes. Similar to the previous point, if the original player completed it in 14+ minutes, it doesn’t give much wiggle room for someone who has never played the class to complete the rift.
- It will cycle through each class, one after another.
- It will assign weights to items on the selected build. Say the first CR is for a Demon Hunter using an Unhallowed Essence build. The alogirthm will put weight on those items so that the next time Demon Hunter comes up, a different set-up will be selected so that the CR is always fresh and new. There really shouldn’t be a duplicate build for a while.
Please keep in mind, this is all subject to change. Do not take this as gospel. This is to give a good understanding of CRs and a starting point for this Development Hell.
Building the System: “Shoot for the High Heavens!”
This section will go over the steps to building (again my interpretation) the CR system. This version will go much further and deeper than what we know right now. I am only doing this so that people (maybe the developers, too) can see how robust this system could be and also how big of a boon it could be to the Diablo III community. The primary steps will be:
- Softcore/Hardcore divide
- Selecting a Challenge Rift and Mode
- Setting up the Challenge Rift
- Testing Hub and Entering the Challenge Rift
- Mechanics inside the Challenge Rift
- Completion of the Challenge Rift and exiting
This is a long list to work through. Luckily, we'll take advantage of several pre-existing systems and layouts to help this process along. Put on your Cain’s set and let’s get grinding.
Like any good system, there should be a basic understanding of what you need to do. For Greater Rifts, you only need to do a Nephalem Rift first and get a keystone off of the Rift Guardian at the end. The only difference between them is the 15 minute time limit for a successful run in a Greater Rift.
To keep things simple, the prerequisite for Challenge Rifts will be to successfully complete a level 10 Greater Rift. That’s 4-5 runs for a new player to get used to the mentality of a Greater Rift. A player should be able to get a hold of pylons, density increases, and a sense for the timer.
I’m mentioning that you will be in-game to start a Challenge Rift. You’ll do this pretty much the same way as a Nephalem Rift or Greater Rift. More on this later, but it’s an important thing to establish since it sets up what we can do with Softcore & Hardcore.
I play Softcore only at the moment. I have friends who only play Hardcore. Everything is fine - people in Hardcore will play as they normally do and people in Softcore will do the same. However, in thinking about it and adhering to the prerequisites above, could there be a way to bridge that “divide”? Can we do this without going out of game and having to break the prerequisites we have set?
Yes! It's all laid out. For myself, it will involve getting a Hardcore character up to 70 and completing a level 10 Greater Rift. At that point, I just keep that character in town. Same thing in reverse for a Hardcore player wanting to play with Softcore friends. This shouldn't be too outlandish due to a few past Seasons requiring players to get to level 70 in Hardcore for the Seasonal Journey. This alone could help encourage people to try out a new game mode that, in the end, they might enjoy. It’s a small price to pay to play with friends.
Selecting a Challenge Rift & Mode
We're getting to the fun parts now! In order to start a Challenge Rift, you’ll go over to the Nephalem Obelisk. The same selection screen will pop up as it always has. If all is good and you can do one, you will then select the “Challenge Rift”:
From what we know, CRs always run as one preselected player’s character, even if you're working together in a 2-, 3-, or 4-man group. The image below illustrates how to expand what we currently know for more options. Let’s have more fun, shall we!
- Free-For-All is the first option. It is a direct competition between you and your other group mates. You'll try to beat the timer and your friends at the same time!
- Party is the entire group playing on a preselected 2-, 3-, or 4-man group composition that week via the algorithm.
- Teams is a special one-off case in 4-man groups only where you can have two 2-man groups running together against the timer and each other.
Important to mention: for Free-For-All and Teams, you will only have yourself or your team in the rift. The server will link the progress (see "Mechanics inside the Challenge Rift" section later on). For a crude example, think of good ol’ split-screen racing in Mario Kart 64, in a way.
Once you figure out what your plan is, hit “Accept” and we’re almost there!
Setting Up the Challenge Rift
You now see a panel very similar to a Greater Rift completion screen. This is intentional because it already does a lot of what we need with minimal editing.
The bottom-left corner displays the possible reward for completing the rift. In the bottom-center, you will get the information about the rift, the level, who did it (if the developers leave that in), and the clear time. The bottom-right corner is reserved for leaderboards. It could display your best time and a comparison to others.
The middle area is where you will click on the banners to pick your class. The banners will change color to red, blue, green, or yellow so you can keep track of who is winning in the CR.
The top area will show the class crests denoting the makeup of the Free-For-All, Party, and Teams modes. Underneath the crest is a “Preview Build” button. When clicked, a simple preview pane comes up that you can hover over and learn what the build is.
Example of 4-man Free-For-All Challenge Rift. Every man for himself!
Example of 4-man Team Challenge Rift. I call this a 2 x 2 race.
Example of a 4-man Party Challenge Rift. All for one, and one for all.
(I am using class crests for the example, but this would most likely be the 3D character models in the end.)
This gives you an idea of the playstyle before you head to the Testing Hub. Once you're ready, hit “Accept” to get into the Testing Hub!
Testing Hub & Entering the Challenge Rift
When you arrive in the Testing Hub, you're immediately able to put your mental abilities to use. Test out the class and when you're ready (solo), click on the Nephalem Obelisk to jump in. In 2-, 3-, or 4-man groups, you still click on the Nephalem Obelisk and it starts a “Boss Encounter”-like check. Once everyone accepts the check, boom! You're off to the Challenge Rift!
*One thing that was annoying about the old Greater Rift system was the Realm of Trials. It was an intermediate step between setting up and actually doing the Greater Rift itself. A bypass option for solo players and groups that feel comfortable with the classes would be a great time saver for multiple attempts.
**Repairing should not be an issue or needed. Challenge Rifts are a special case situation. Also, I can imagine it being weird teleporting to town with the preselected character. Ehere is your actual player character? It's a wibble-wobble case of the body snatchers, oh my!
***There needs to be a “Give Up” button during both the Testing Hub and the CR itself. It can be as simple as just teleporting out, which is what I am going with. Teleport back to your character’s body. This is all beginning to sound like The Matrix, isn’t it?
Mechanics Inside the Challenge Rift
We'll tackle this one based on the modes we established earlier, as each one will have their own separate nuances.
Solo and Party: Solo and Party are pretty much your standard Greater Rift setup. The only real additions are based around the scroll timer. You’ll see the usual two indicators on the bar, one for your progress in the rift and one for time remaining. You will see another marker, however. This one will be underneath the scroll and have a slight line extending onto the scroll timer itself. This line represents the time the chosen player cleared the rift.
Standard Challenge Rift scroll bar.
Free-For-All: All of what we covered for Solo and Party still applies here. The only addition we are going to make to the scroll timer is have it actively change color based on who is in the lead for completion of the rift. So, remembering the "Setting Up the Challenge Rift" section, we used red, blue, green, and yellow. This will provide a clear indication of who is in the lead.
Green Player knows what to do and will smash the competition!
Teams: This will run the same way as Free-For-All, just with two colors: red and blue.
Blue Team looks like they are going to win and Master the Challenge Rift.
Completion of the Challenge Rift and Exiting
There are a few outcomes we need to address. They will all tend to rotate around:
- Aborting the rift by teleporting out due to not liking playstyle or due to real life issues.
- Finishing the rift, but not within the original player’s time or the 15 minute time window.
- Completing the rift in the 15-minute window, but not beating the original player’s time.
- Mastering the rift by completing the rift within the 15-minute window and beating the original player’s time.
For Solo and Party, you’ll see your clear time, how it compares to others' times, and see your place on the leaderboards. For Team and Free-For-All, the winning person or team will have a “Winner” banner underneath them and the time they had. If it was good enough to make the leaderboard (any and all group members) it will be displayed, too.
Now, the developers stated at BlizzCon (as always, subject to change) that they were thinking of rewarding players with a few bounty bags for doing this. Rewards are always good. It would be nice, though, if a few cosmetics could be added for people that consecutively beat 25 rifts and/or master 25 rifts, just as an example. These could be simple things to allow players to show off what they accomplished.
I don’t want to go too much further because anything with a group mechanic is subject to abuse and exploit. We don't want that now, do we?
Bringing it All Home
For sticking with me this far, here's a video that simulates everything we talked about above using the current game to the best of my ability. I don’t show the Testing Hub, as it isn't in the game, so keep that in mind. I hope it helps bring the idea to life a bit more.
I feel I must reiterate once again (due to experience on how the community has been) that 95% of this is hypothetical and subject to change. I went as far and as deep as I did to give everyone from the casual player to the best min/maxer a good understanding of what Challenge Rifts are and have the potential to be.
I want Diablo III to have a fun, alternative mode. I want Diablo III to have a tournament structure that can build the community up. I want Diablo III to have, dare I say, some aspect of esports and gain a rightful place on the main stage. If World of Warcraft can have raid team races, we can have a Diablo III Challenge Rift tournament.
My biggest fear with this feature is that it comes in too small, too slow, and that Challenge Rifts are seen only as a more useful novelty slightly above Brawling. (At least with Challenge Rifts you get a few easy bounty bags.) I want this to be big and I want to see crowd-funded tournaments. I want more people to stream their Challenge Rift runs and, by extension, Diablo III as a whole. The developers at this past BlizzCon, with everything we know we are getting now and in the future, have flipped the narrative of “Diablo III is in maintenance mode.” At my own guessing, we'll now have 3-4 patches that will give us everything shown at BlizzCon 2016. This is with a normal 3 month season patch cycle in mind, as we saw prior to Season 7.
All I ask from you is to be constructively critical of what we get. Be imaginative and yet sensible in your feedback when we get there with Challenge Rifts. Most of all, just try it and remember to gauge it on what it is at the time. Enjoy it!
If you have questions, feedback, or anything else, leave a comment below or get me on Twitter at @dredscythe.
Thank you for reading!