Unlike the previous games, every controllable character in "Diablo III" can be male or female. Sound innocuous? Lead designer Jay Wilson told me the gender option was the result of "quite a big debate."
For those who aren't familiar with past "Diablo" titles, the character classes were either one gender or the other -- the Necromancer was male, the Amazon was female, the Barbarian was male, etc. Like the desaturated art style and the inclusion of old character classes, some "Diablo III" team members wanted to stick with the familiar one-gender archetypes.
And why was that?
"These [characters] are not people; they are so far above the normal civilians because that's the tone of the game," Wilson explained. "We really wanted the classes to be archetypal, and we wanted them to stand out from the world as a stark contrast."
"'World of Warcraft' was very efficient with the number of models that they made. We were not."
Wilson also told me that in making these unique archetypes, that meant having to create custom models. Add different genders to that, and it's not cheap. "It's pretty expensive for us art-wise because of the way we do our classes and the way we do a lot of the weaponry we create," he said. "And essentially doing [different genders] adds a lot of model artwork. 'World of Warcraft' was very smart about how they chose their class models and their NPCs, because they were very efficient with the number of models that they made. We were not."
Despite the cost, the company is moving forward with gender choices for the character classes. For Wilson, it wasn't even an option anyway. "For me it was always a no-brainer to have gender choice," he said, having both male and female characters in "World of Warcraft." "There's so much interest as to guys who plays girls or girls who play guys. Sometimes it's assumed that people play their own gender, but a lot of the times people don't. It's obviously a really important choice that we want people to be able to make on their own."
"The problem with doing the differences between genders is that one or the other will be perceived to be better."
I also asked Wilson if there was any thought given to having different abilities between genders. "No, we give specific timing on animation and abilities so that they're exactly the same," he said, when I referred to the recent "Age of Conan" gender debacle. "The problem with doing the differences between genders is that one or the other will be perceived to be better. Whether that's true or not, we still may be perceived as having some kind of gender bias, probably in favor of men."
"Although I think if we were to favor gender, most of us would probably favor female," he added with a laugh. "But yeah, it's an aesthetic choice, and I think that's where it needs to stay."