Lead “Diablo III” designer Jay Wilson told me that even though 52,000 “Diablo” fans have signed a petition asking Blizzard to return to the darker, more gothic look of the old “Diablo” games, the new, vibrant art style is here to stay.
This is how he put it:
“There’s no going back now,” he said during an interview in a Manhattan hotel where Blizzard was showcasing their newest games. “We’re very happy with how the art style is. The art team’s happy. The company’s happy. We really like this art style, and we’re not changing it.”
The first and second iterations of the art direction had a “modern, gritty look” but made it difficult to distinguish enemies from the environment.
But fans take note: The decision to add color to the macabre world of “Diablo” didn’t come lightly. “It’s actually the thing we struggled with the most,” Wilson said. When Wilson joined the project two and-a-half years ago, the game was similar-looking to what fans of the old games might expect — darker, desaturated and a lot of brown and gray tones. However, translating the game from 2D to 3D with a dark color palette didn’t make for the best gameplay experience. The first and second iterations of the art direction had a “modern, gritty look” but made it difficult to distinguish enemies from the environment. “When you have 30 creatures on screen — and four or five different types — target prioritization is a factor,” he said. “You need to be able to tell those things apart fast, and you can’t do that when your world is gray and your creatures are gray.”
After much debate within the team itself, they finally agreed on the third, more colorful (and “final-ish”) rendition we see today. Wilson and his team also wanted to make the game stand out from all the other dark games, citing “Gears of War” an example.
We didn’t want you to look at ’Diablo III’ and go, ’Oh, that looks like ’Gears of War.'”
“It’s not that we don’t like games like that,” Wilson explained, “but they tend to be shorter games, like first-person shooters that are five or six hours long. You’ll be playing ’Diablo III’ for potentially hundreds of hours, and being in one type of environment with one type of look… it really became boring very quickly. There’s a lot of gray-and-brown games out there, and there’s lots of photo-realism out there. If you want that, there’s no end of games for you to play. We didn’t want you to look at ’Diablo III’ and go, ’Oh, that looks like ’Gears of War.'”
I think people over-emphasize the ’World of Warcraft’ comparison.
Another part of the game that some hardcore fans missed was having a light radius follow the player’s character. Because some of the areas of past “Diablo” games were so dark, the player had a circle of light following them around to help them navigate the depths of dungeons. Wilson said the team tried to make use of the light radius, but it just didn’t work with a 3D engine. “It looked really bad,” he admitted. “If you took an environment and you basically lit the whole thing up with just a flashlight, it works way better in a 2D game… we’ve really found that you needed other light sources to be able to make the game look good.” However, that doesn’t mean the beloved light radius won’t show up in “Diablo III.” “Not in all dungeons, but there might be in some,” he revealed. “I think people really remembered it in like one or two places where it was prevalent in ’Diablo II,’ but forget that it almost didn’t exist in the other 90 percent of the game.But if we can find one dungeon where it’s really good to use it, and we can create a lot of gameplay out of it and make it look cool, then yeah, we’ll do it. And it’s not like within the team there’s a lack of desire to do that, it’s just that we don’t want to do it if it’s not going to play well or it doesn’t look good.”
Wilson also assured me that the environments will get darker as the game progresses (what’s out now are early stages of the game), and the team is still in the process of “smattering the world with dead bodies and horrific skeletons and things like that” along the way.
And like all Blizzard titles, “Diablo III” will come out “when it’s done.”