‘Diablo III’ Designer Turns Tables, Judges Fans’ Screenshots

[UPDATE 8/7: For those who heard that the “Diablo III” art director has resigned and are wondering how that affects the game’s look, check out our full report.]

For some die-hard “Diablo” fans, signing a petition protesting “Diablo III“’s decidedly new and colorful art direction wasn’t enough; they went ahead and made their own mock-ups for how they think the game should look.

When I sat down with lead “Diablo III” designer Jay Wilson last week we talked about why the team chose to go with the new, brighter color palette versus the older games’ dark, desaturated look.

Then I showed him some fan-altered screenshots that had all been posted on the petition to see what he thought.

So to the “Diablo” fans who aren’t sold on the colorful art style of the new game, read on to see what Blizzard thinks, pros and cons, of your suggested screenshots…

#1 – Light Radius on Witch Doctor in Dungeon (Blizzard shot followed by fan-altered shot)

Jay Wilson, Designer of “Diablo III”: The key thing to remember here is that this has been Photoshopped. This isn’t created by the engine. Though it looks really cool, it’s almost impossible to do in a 3D engine because you can’t have lighting that smart and run on systems that are reasonable. If we could do that, we probably would in a few of the dungeons.

Now in terms of the actual texturing, this texturing, where they grayed out everything and it’s very flat and the monsters are all kind of a similar tone — that does not play well. It’s very boring to run through more than a couple of times, and it’s very difficult to tell creatures apart and pop them out of the environment. So those things don’t really work for us. A lot of the lighting stuff I think is very cool, but it’s also not very doable for us.

#2 — Witch Doctor in Dungeon (Blizzard shot followed by fan-altered shot)

Wilson: It becomes really hard to see all the profiles. Look at the tables and see how hard it is to see the profiles of those.

And one of the things that I actually would argue about something like this is that it’s completely against “Diablo II.” If you look at the spell effects in “Diablo II,” they’re very over-the-top. To gray out the actual spell effects, to me it’s pulling out all the vibrancy and interest out of them and really going against a lot of “Diablo II” philosophy.

#3 — Barbarian in Outside Environment Fighting Skeletons (Blizzard shot followed by fan-altered shot)

Wilson: I will say I wouldn’t be surprised if we had areas in the game that had this kind of texturing in the background. They’ll probably be later in the game because they’ll be darker, but again, the biggest problem here is that the silhouettes don’t stand out enough.

And it’s easier [to see] in this shot because you’ve only got skeletons, but if there are three other types of creatures in there — which is not uncommon — and give them all that same desaturated tone, you won’t be able to play the game very well.

#4 – Barbarian on the Bridge… And Rainbows (Blizzard shot followed by fan-altered shot)

Wilson: More rain? It’s funny because if you watch later on in the [debut gameplay] video, we have more rain. It is much stronger than that. I’m sure they got rid of the rainbow. Yeah, rainbow — gone. I think our artist just put [the rainbow] in there because they knew that’d be controversial. And I’m sure they were like, “Well we’ll see how far we can push it.”

MTV Multiplayer: Just to be clear, are we going to see a lot more rainbows during the game?

Wilson: [laughs] After the announcement, one of our environment artists went to the darkest area in Act One and put a giant rainbow across the whole area. No, you’re probably not going to see a ton of rainbows. But we don’t think the one that’s in there is that big a deal. You know it’s like, it’s a waterfall. My favorite [criticism] is the one that analyzed the light refraction angle, and told us why from that angle seeing a rainbow would actually be impossible. Oh yeah, and it was upside down because the colors were reversed. And we’re like, “This is a whole different world than ours! Who’s to say that light refracts the same in the Diablo world?” [laughs]

We don’t think it’s that big a deal; we just think it adds a lot of interest to that scene. We don’t have specific plans to fill “Diablo” with rainbows. It’s not like we restarted the project and were like “Diablo III — now with rainbows!” Although I will say the pitch that I originally did, once we decided what we were going to do, said “Diablo III — now with pants.” Because we added a pants slot.

#5 – “How It Should Look Like” (Blizzard shots followed by fan-altered shots)

Wilson: A lot of this change is adding noise to the screen. If [the characters] weren’t centered on the screen — like find the witch doctor. Especially think about him as a friend [in co-op play]. Standing over there, you can’t even tell the difference between him and the zombie. And that’s another player, and when you can’t tell the player apart from the creature, that’s horrible.

You’ve got to think that there’s potentially up to seven other people in addition to yourself, and several dozen monsters. All that noise just translates into unplayable, especially when this starts moving. This texturing was actually very similar to one of our previous art styles. But when you started moving and the whole screen just kind of shimmers, you can’t really tell anything that’s going on.

MTV Multiplayer: So you ultimately decided to change the art direction only after play-testing the game?

Wilson: Yes. Because this is how we remember what “Diablo II” was like as well. This is what we were thinking what “Diablo II” looks like. And then we played through, and we were like this isn’t very fun. And then we started going, “Why was ’Diablo II’ so much more fun?” And some of the Blizzard North guys [the team that made ’Diablo I’ and ’II’] knew why right away. They were like, “Well, because we didn’t make all the areas like this.” And if you think about even the areas they did, the creatures were really bright. Like in the gray and dark dungeons, those are the places that you run into the ghosts who were almost like glowing brightness, and that was so that they would stand out from the backgrounds.

#6 – “Necromancer’s Choice and WoW Gayness” (Fan-altered shot followed by Blizzard shot)

Wilson: I think one of the things that these lack is if you stuck every one of these re-done shots right next to each other you would not be able to tell that they’re in different areas. One of the things that’s key to “Diablo II” — and I’ve gone through and done timing on it — it changes environments every 15 minutes, and every 45 minutes they give you an environment that looks completely different than one you’ve ever seen before. And when they change environments, the contrast is huge. It’s like I’m in green lush fields, and now I’m in the darkest dungeon you’ve ever seen. I’m in a bright sandy desert, and now I’m in a completely dim mummy tomb. There are these vast shifts in look, and it’s one of the things that keeps people interested in playing the game.

It’s a very simple game, and [you need to ] constantly vary what you throw at the player — big look changes in the environment, creature changes with different behavior. And not just behavior; we spent a lot of time trying to make creatures show up and die more interestingly. Because those are all the things that keep you going. Each one of those things is a reward. When you pull all the color out of the environment and you make it too homogeneous across the game, essentially what you’re doing is you’re pulling away the player’s reward of feeling like they’ve progressed because the area they’re in now looks like the area they were in 30 to 45 minutes ago.

So that’s one of the reasons why we really felt we had to do this. We had to move to an art style that had a lot more variety in it and was capable of a lot more.

[All images were posted on the “Renewed artistic direction for Diablo 3″ petition.]

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