BlizzCon 2008: Forging Diablo III's depths

Lead world designer Leonard Boyarsky and lead exterior environment artist Chris Donelson offer a tour through the art and lore of Blizzard's upcoming dungeon crawler.

ANAHEIM, Calif.--BlizzCon 2008 is nearly in the history books, but Blizzard isn't quite done talking about Diablo III, the third full installment in the game maker's seminal hack-and-slash dungeon-crawler franchise. Yesterday, Blizzard gave Diablo proselytes a look at the newly unveiled wizard class, a spiritual successor of sorts to the magic-infused sorceress seen in Diablo II. The developer of the day followed that session with a more in-depth look at Diablo III's design philosophy, promising to dish out more information on the direction of the game in the coming months and years.

Today, Blizzard's focus was on the lore and art design of Diablo III. The action role-playing game's art direction has been a sticking point ever since its debut at Blizzard's European Worldwide Invitational in June, with some fans taking strong exception to an art style they felt was "too cartoony" and similar to World of Warcraft. Though it was for causes seemingly unrelated, Blizzard changed up the game's art director in August, with then top man Brian Morrisroe resigning to form his own company.

For Blizzard's part, it has staunchly stood behind Diablo III's art design, a position that its employees held today. "'Stylized' does not mean 'cartoony,'" said lead exterior environment artist Chris Donelson. "That's not what we're going for with DIII...Our memory of Diablo and Diablo II was of a very dark and gray world, but looking back, we found a lot of areas with colorful environments."

Contrasting colors are key to melting faces.

Indeed, the broad color palette allowed for the Diablo III team to create a range of moods, continued Donelson, where players could be subjected to the juxtaposition of bright, sunny exteriors and dark, gritty dungeons. These contrasts played heavily into capturing the hallmark horror of the Diablo franchise. "Diablo is a horror game at its core, and we had to keep this as a strong emphasis," he said.

Capturing an epic feel with strong silhouettes has also been integral to Diablo III's art direction, according to Donelson. "Every day, we're surrounded by straight walls, straight lines, so adding interesting shapes puts us into a fantasy world," he explained. However, he said it's important that this fantasy world be grounded in reality.

Donelson then shifted to dynamic animations, saying it is this aspect of the art design that "brings life to an otherwise static scene." Here, he ran several videos displaying the destructible environments--such as a wall crumbling on top of enemies after its supports are knocked out--as well as a character's ability to quickly move about the screen, laying waste to traditional destructible items, such as barrels. "Plus, it's just plain fun to break things," he concluded.

Closing out his portion of the talk, Donelson emphasized that it is important that the art design augment, not trump, the core gameplay experience. "We can make beautiful art with tons of detail, but if you can't see what you're doing or the monsters onscreen, we aren't doing our job," he said. "Fun comes first, [and] art has to support that."

How the Diablo franchise's lore pertains to Diablo III was also addressed. Lead world designer Leonard Boyarsky--a veteran of the first Fallout and cofounder of defunct indie studio Troika--started off by introducing Diablo III's primary city, Caldeum. A trading hub, Caldeum has become the new capital city in the 20 years since the events in Diablo II. Boyarsky noted that one of the important questions to play out in the game will be how the migration of nobility and elite have affected the city.

Backstory will play a more important role in Diablo III than it has in previous installments in the franchise, said Boyarsky. He explained that the team wanted everywhere the player goes to have some significance and a rich narrative outside the actions of the player. As part of that effort, the lead world designer also introduced Skovos, a city that players won't actually be able to travel to but that will influence the events of the world just the same. Whereas Caldeum is strongly rooted in traditional society, Skovos is very much a culture built on myth and legend.

That's a whole lotta female barbarian going on.

While Diablo III remains an action game at heart, Boyarsky said that providing a strong narrative is important because it gives context and depth to players' actions. This narrative will also change depending on which class the player chooses. Boyarsky played a sample clip of dialogue first as a female barbarian. Clearly addled by the eight-foot, muscle-bound woman in front of him, the non-player character adopts a tone of deference, treating the player with respect. The designer then played the exact same situation as a witch doctor, and the NPC adopted a far more hostile and condescending tone, ridiculing her for her odd appearance.

Boyarsky also emphasized that the story is of an "opt-in" nature, where players can choose to listen to a clip of dialogue in its entirety or simply catch bits and pieces to get a taste of the world. It could be important to pay attention to certain scripted events or other nodes, advised Boyarsky, as they may offer lessons on challenges the player will face in the future. As one example, Boyarsky rolled a clip of a trio of dark priests attempting to summon a demon and failing. Were the player to happen across a stronger covenant in the future, one advisable tactic would be to knock out a few of the summoners before the ceremony can be completed to thwart the demon from arising.

Written By

Want the latest news about Diablo III?

Diablo III

Diablo III

Follow

Discussion

55 comments
tudyniuz
tudyniuz

Diablo III will be one of the best games,it looks great and if it lives up to it's name it will be a ride we won't forget soon

Elhan
Elhan

Great. I'm glad the female warrior actually looks like one and not some barbie doll.

Merl57
Merl57

looks sweet wish it was on xbox though

snbatman
snbatman

@ NX75 Posted Oct 12, 2008 7:19 pm ET Development work is still being done with the game so I wouldn't read too much into any differences you see from month to month. Plus, they're showing us new areas now. When announced the wilderness areas they showed were relatively open forests and stuff. I would hope that graveyard areas would be darker and grittier. Don't worry so much about the art direction, it'll be more than fine come shipping day, this IS Blizzard we're talking about. Have they made a bad game, EVER?

ThAdEa82
ThAdEa82

"'Stylized' does not mean 'cartoony,'" said lead exterior environment artist Chris Donelson. "That's not what we're going for with DIII ... Our memory of Diablo and Diablo II was of a very dark and gray world, but looking back, we found a lot of areas with colorful environments" No one is saying not to have colorful environments...just don't make the bad guys look like pink blobs that are laughable. These creatures supposedly came from hell, not FF7...

Cabal23
Cabal23

Oooo a opt-in story line. Now that is a selling point!

Toro_Nev
Toro_Nev

I agree with pyro978, it does look like warcraft iii redone, but still, cant wait!

thor25br
thor25br

Now I can say that the art direction is on it's righteous way. Everything looks just great, dark, and, OOOOHHHHHH yeah, lots of blood splattered all over... There should be an option to control how long the blood stains remain in the environment... I'll choose....permanently! This is just a great mind, persistence and violence game....no wonder there are so much faithful fans! Can't wait.

Pyro978
Pyro978

looks like they just took warcraft iii and redid it for diablo iii....still cant wait for it though

mrklorox
mrklorox

I love that Leonard Boyarsky is working on Diablo III. His previous games also had their grim moments, and I always wanted to see it expanded upon beyond VTMB. This game couldn't have a better person for the job.

Gamesterpheonix
Gamesterpheonix

Ah...when? WHEN? Dont keep delaying on us Blizzard...we need this game...the PC has gone to the dust since the epics went to sleep...now wake it up...BRING PC BACK!!

WTF2000
WTF2000

So when did everyone become a art critic. Listen I understand that people are worried about game franchises going off course, many have in the past and we all have been disappointed, but the fact is Blizzard is responsible for three of the most successful game franchises ever. Their games have always been the highest quality and the idea of what is best for the gamer has always been their top priority. I think we should give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt and trust them to what they do best. If the game comes out and the colors on the screen upset people so much that they hate the game then we can have this conversation, but until then I will trust Blizzard to what they have always done, making a great game. Don't worry the feel and style of the games will be as dark as the first two. As the people at Sam Adams say "Don't be afraid of flavor".

WTF2000
WTF2000

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Binpo
Binpo

I'm happy with the art design, because the gameplay is the main factor. So far its on the right track and I'll be definitely getting this game the day it comes out. Whenever that day comes....

justin01
justin01

Played the demo at blizzcon... coolest classes to me were the witchdoctor and barb, wizard just seemed weak with the beginning spells. The Catacombs were dark/ gritty enough for me. And I had no problems with the colors or anything, everything looked awesome. Lots of monsters to kill, and LOVED the destructible environment. The complete game is going to be awesome. CAN'T WAIT!

k0r3aN_pR1d3
k0r3aN_pR1d3

I don't know about the rest of the people, but I will for sure be playing Diablo. I'm not really the type of person to be examining the ground very closely, to see if it is dark enough. I care more about killing monsters and searching for the mythical cow level. And then, after that, I would be too busy on the multiplayer to be focusing on my environment anyways.

NX75
NX75

This is starting to get me worried. Am I really the only one who is seeing a tremendous change of color and tone from the announcement video? The dungeon used to look like the Emerald City; it was bathed in vivid green light all throughout. Now, though, it looks just like that recolored video (and Diablo 2): black and gray with red and gold torchlight. The screen's peripheries are less visible, and the shadows darker, too. While there's still an area in the dungeon with green light, that's already a huge difference. And the wilderness area above ground? A dim, dark and foggy graveyard. Again, that's a huge difference from what we saw months ago. They may be denying it, but Blizzard has definitely made big changes. I just can't believe I'm the only one seeing this. Am I crazy?

Y2Che
Y2Che

I don't know what you all think of as bright but the dungeon environments look pretty dark to me. The music and the sound of the ghouls approaching give the environments a pretty dark edge as well. A lot of the fan art has dark outside environments as well. You've got to have some contrast people! Dark and darker just won't work.

Eraldus
Eraldus

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

that_weird_guy1
that_weird_guy1

Complain all you want, but you know you are going to be picking up a copy and playing it anyway because Blizzard has yet to release a bad game. WoW was good for the WoW people, Diablo III will be good for the Diablo people.

Eraldus
Eraldus

Not only that, free stat allocation is what makes Action-Rpg games cool, if you think that auto-stat is ok, then you need to play more Action-Rpg games.

Ondoval
Ondoval

Eraldus: I agree kerwinramos: the amount of impaled corpses of amazons, the torture chambers in the monastery... IMO D II is a lot gritty and dark and annoying in his art in all of his acts, the new design is a bit like jump from the Texas Chainshaw massacre to a Pixar movie...

Ultimate-Playa
Ultimate-Playa

The game looks like a cartoon, way to go Blizzard. You should rename it Wariablo.

Ultimate-Playa
Ultimate-Playa

The game looks like a cartoon, way to go Blizzard. You should rename it Wariablo.

Eraldus
Eraldus

Good job making auto stat distribution! -50% of the fun that this game could have was just removed, good job! (let's see how many minuses the fanboys will give me...)

kerwinramos
kerwinramos

i did not remember D2 as dark and gritty. there's nothing dark in act 1, act 2, act 3, act 4, act 5 save for catacombs. even the tombs of tal rasha ain't dark enough to hold a stick against D1's atmosphere. Lack of potion will make the game more difficult, and probably scarier since you have to decide if you will go on or not. That is more D1 than D2 and probably would add to the atmosphere. D2 lacks the atmosphere because of portal+potion so i guess blizz is capturing D1 atmosphere. On the other hand, I don't really like the skill design, it's WoW! WoW talents + Sacred 2 design of random skill(rune) drops. eek

Sw1tched
Sw1tched

i think the art and colorization of the world looks freaking amazing, and i don't care what anyone else thinks. It's only my opinion. But i think it is gorgeous

Ondoval
Ondoval

DII > DIII. The only change to better in the game to date is that DIII can run at more than 800 x 600. The absence of potions, the new 1 item = 1 celd inventory, the absence of atribute points to spents... are all sympthoms of consolized interfaces to please the future Wii players. I'm talking since a 800+ hours DII gameplay point of wiew, I usually play in the Europe realm.

lightwarrior179
lightwarrior179

I for one found D2's dark and grim art design as one of the primary reasons of why I got so absorbed into the game. While I am not entirely against the "vividly colored" and cartoony design of DIII,I am a little disappointed. I also want more player interaction with the NPC's. Sorts of help create the atmosphere of the game.

Pete5506
Pete5506

I think the art is looking good for this game

japanesegoth
japanesegoth

i don't see why people were complaining about the art style. i'm sure they know a lot more about art than most of the gamers...

Vorlin
Vorlin

I personally can't wait till this game out and it wouldn't be surprising at all if D3 came out very close to SC2...wouldn't surprise me if it were around February or something like that. As far as January 1...uh, I doubt it very very much.

Moloch121
Moloch121

Well doesnt that mean Blizzard is just that great? While they may be one of the bigger companies they still concern themselves with something like a color palette because they know what makes a game great. I like that they design everything and take the time to do it right.

Felluca
Felluca

Honestly, I think of all developers out and about Blizzard have enough street cred for me to not concern myself with an issue as small as the color pallet in the game environment. I'm sure Diablo III just like its predecessors will be a blockbuster and an amazing game.

Ottothebobcat
Ottothebobcat

Very unlikely they'd bother making a non-intel Mac version.

GrimGravy
GrimGravy

blizz games usually come out for pc and mac simultaneously

Mozillla
Mozillla

Anybody know if this game is gonna be for mac Powerpc's or not?

kuiu7
kuiu7

the artwork is amazing.i want a artbook with 1000 pages :(

Vadar07
Vadar07

I can't believe so many people complain about how games look and made and what they think they should be like. Many of these top software houses spend years making what they think we would like and should be commended for there efforts, therefore Blizzard know how to make games and make them well. There will always be people out there who will always bag what is delivered but the choice is ours to make, I always state that if you don't like it don't have to buy it.

Deakin_Droon
Deakin_Droon

But the true question that needs to be addressed is, Will their be another secret cow level? hahahahahaha

Redmest
Redmest

Is Blizzard gonna charge us like $50.00 to play with more than one or two classes? it seems like thats how EA, i mean Bli$$ard's direction seems to be going.. its a shame

Redmest
Redmest

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Redmest
Redmest

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Hekynn
Hekynn

Hell ya!! I bet their gonna like release it on New Years Eve now that would be cool! :D

Streetrider9873
Streetrider9873

I think the art style in this game is perfect. I saw a video that one of these "fans" edited showing what he thinks the color scheme of the game should be, and frankly it looked really boring. Blizzard knows what they're doing, the game looks epic.

kos1085
kos1085

Diablo 3 is going to be great.