Art direction has been the apex of Diablo-fan debate and it is only suitable that I address one of the continuing concerns of Diablo 3. This issue has been beaten to a pulp, dissected, re-dissected, buried, and resurrected amongst Blizzard and gaming communities across the internet, and I hope that this assessment is not a continuation of riding this stagnant and overused gravy-train. However, those who wish to take a walk down memory lane of the past year and half of development with the game may find this article both nostalgic and informative.
To begin, Blizzard is world-renowned for its massively multiplayer game, World of Warcraft. With such a world-renowned title under its belt, along with the ever-lasting franchises of Starcraft and Diablo, it is only to be assumed that some facets of the MMO would bleed into the alternate franchises we know and love. Such a statement would seem common sense, for it is only rational to capitalize on those facets which are most valued amongst the gaming community. It has been argued that such a change is desirable, though it is debated in equal ferocity that such a departure from both style and canon strips the originality and unique qualities inherent to the franchise.
Art is one such aspect which seems to have eked its way into Diablo, which has been previously faithful to a more photo-realistic, gothic setting. Many Diablo players may recall the forbidding cathedrals riddled with baths of blood littered with human bodies, such as the cathedral and Catacombs where Andariel resides. Game footage and demos at Blizzcon ’08 and Blizzcon ’09 along with the footage that accompanied the initial announcement depicted a much more colorful and vibrant Sanctuary.
We must remind ourselves that, based on Diablo lore, the world of Sanctuary has had close to 10 years to re-acclimate to a world without the invading threat of Hell. Regardless, hardcore fans were predisposed to chastise and petition against this new art direction which didn’t live up to the dark past its predecessors represented. Indeed, many were outspoken enough to spread avatar and signature images of “before and after” compositions that spread like wildfire through the Diablo fanbase sites. Here are a few you may remember:
On a similar, ironic note, Matt Uelman and other late Blizzard North employees decided to join Runic Games and create the Fate-alike game Torchlight (combining the unique features of Fate with the skill-tree style that Diablo is known for – not to mention class ideas). I only shudder to think if that was what Blizzard presented as the new face of the Diablo franchise. I have no doubt in my mind that a riot would break out if they saw this with a Diablo heading. (And some were even bold enough to say this game is more Diablo than Diablo 3 is…)
Naturally, Blizzard had their unique way of looking at the problem. While they attempted to calm the hardcore fan’s outrage, they had their own sense of humor which they added to the fray. The most famous is probably the Diablo 3 shirt which Jay Wilson wore at an interview after the internet outbreak. The image (seen below, left) shows some cheek at the accusations of a bright and WoW-influenced tone that fans accused Blizzard of taking. Bashiok, Diablo 3 community manager, also added a few image links of his own (middle and left). Though I must say, that IS a sinister Stay-Puffed marshmallow man.
Needless to say, though, Blizzard took these fan-assessments to heart, and that we should rest assured that the game will progress into deeper, darker places where the heart of Diablo truly lies. I say this metaphorically, of course.
The Diablo community has only had its chance to take part in a short segment of Act 1 and Act 2. With personal game-play experience at Blizzcon ’09, I could tell that there was a fairly noticeable difference between Act 2 renditions and Act 1 renditions. While Blizzard has been quoted to have made the demo “over the top” in presentation, the heart of Diablo is beginning to shine through the massive waves of enemies and gratuitous amounts of blood all around.
Need I say more?
Blizzard is renowned for its ability to deliver. Speculation only gets us so far, and we can be sure that we won’t be seeing prospective release dates for at least a year. Sure, Diablo and Diablo 2 were sprite depictions of a gothic-style hell with plenty of gruesome imagery in just about every dungeon. The problem, I think, is that people become blinded by what they see in their head versus what is actually in the game.
If you take a look at what Diablo 2 is actually like, the only dark thing in the game, really, is the environment. The monsters and demons take on a variety of brilliant colors set against the dark, drawl background. From an artist’s standpoint, this creates contrast – a needed contrast to ensure that the player isn’t just seeing varying shades of mud. What does that add up to? A really boring and dull game. In my personal opinion, Diablo 2’s environment is unrealistic. Sure, it’s dark, it adds “atmosphere” as well as it can for a sprite based game, but it lacks what technology can do in the 21st century and the color palette that brings a story to life. A smooth color palette allows for subtle transitions in artistic motif and and overarching themes for any given act or particular segment of the game.
Here's an "Act 2" comparison. (Irony that Diablo 3 reflects a similar desert theme as Diablo 2?)
I’m sure this is starting to sound like a broken record based on assessments of Diablo 3 art direction across the web, but my advice would be to not give up hope for the fabled image that Diablo has created in many of your minds. And between you and me, I know you’re going to get the game in the end anyways – art won’t stop you.
Well, who’s really one to predict the future of Diablo 3? Blizzard’s infernal mantra “it’ll be released when it’s done” is an ellipsis with infinite possibilities. The art direction seems set, though, and based on personal gameplay experience, Diablo 3 is certainly living up to what *the majority* has always hoped it would be. As development continues, Blizzard has been twittering about recent developments, and it only pays more credence to the endless directions the Diablo 3 team may take. I mean seriously, no skill trees!? But I won’t get ahead of myself; the classes and characters of Diablo 3 are up next in the Die-Hard Diablo Fan’s Scrutiny blog mini-series.