‘Diablo III’ Producer Justifies Controversial Art Direction: ‘Color Is Your Friend’

Why did Blizzard choose an art style for “Diablo III” that would anger so many fans? I got answers in Paris last weekend before people were really asking the question.

And I know of at least 14,000 people who’d like an answer. Those are the thousands of diehard “Diablo” fans who have signed a petition against the game’s new art direction (with more than 1,000 signatures added every hour).

When I asked lead producer Keith Lee about “Diablo III'”s new art style at the Worldwide Invitational in Paris, he explained why Blizzard went in that direction.

Some context first, if you’re not familiar with the old “Diablo” titles: they featured dark, shadowy landscapes and dungeons (in which the player-characters needed a radius of light to see), and an overall realistic art style. With “Diablo III,” the environments and textures are noticeably more vibrant and colorful, both inside and outside dungeons. Blaming the influence of “World of Warcraft,” the petitioners complain that the game is too “cartoon’ish” with “unrealistic elements” and “outside scenarios with vivid colors, beautiful forests with colorful vegetation, shinny [sic] and beautiful waterfalls where even rainbows take place.” (The petitioners have a full laundry list of complaints and suggestions here.)

“A great analogy is like in ’Lord of the Rings’ — not everything is dark.”

So this is what Lee had to say about the art direction when we spoke in Paris: “One of the things that we considered when we were working on the visuals for ’Diablo III’ is the fact that color is your friend. We feel that color actually helps to create a lot of highlights in the game so that there is contrast. A great analogy is like in ’Lord of the Rings’ — not everything is dark. It allows you to see what a creepy dungeon can be like but if everything is dark it doesn’t allow you to have a lot of contrast.”

He continued: “’Diablo I’ and ’Diablo II’ are darker, and I think that the one of the main reasons why is the fact that in ’Diablo I,’ you’re basically in a dungeon the whole time. And in contrast to ’Diablo III,’ you’ll be exploring outdoors, you’ll be in dungeons, you’ll be experiencing so many different areas. We want to bring as much variety as we can when you’re playing the game so that you’re excited to check out new environments. We don’t want everything to look the same and that’s really what we’re trying to aim for.

“We don’t want everything to look the same and that’s really what we’re trying to aim for.”

“What we also tried to do is create very clean textures so that you can really focus. It’s a stylized feel and in that sense, it’s very sort of a Blizzard philosophy. It’s just really pushing the envelope in terms of the visuals so that everyone is excited about how everything looks. We think that ’Diablo III’ is going to be better in so many different ways. We’re just building and improving upon the the first and second ’Diablo’ games.”

I also asked Lee about how and when the dev team will take fan feedback into account. He wouldn’t go into specifics, but said:

“We’re very involved, because everyone’s very passionate about our games. Blizzard employees, we spend a lot of time actually iterating on [the game], and so in terms of the next phase, what we’ll try to do is a proof on concept on lot of different gameplay aspects. And we really want to get as much feedback as possible so that we can improve on the game and ensure that we meet Blizzard quality for our fans and for ourselves as players.”

“Diablo” fans: Do you like “Diablo III'”s new style or do you side with the petitioners? What do you make of Blizzard’s explanation for it?

[Update: “Diablo III” fans have started a petition urging Blizzard to keep its new art direction for the game. Check out the story here.]