On Art's Contribution to Lore and Gameplay
Next up was Chris Donaldson, Diablo III's Lead Exterior Design Artist. Says Donaldson, one of the biggest jobs of his team is take written lore and design and use it as a basis to build the world of Sanctuary. They're working on some core values in designing the world of Sanctuary, which he went through: Stylization over realism, dynamic animations, strong silhouettes, art that supports the gameplay, "make it epic," and "don't be afraid of color."
Beyond that, they also want to respect the past of the game, both the strengths in the art and the Horror emphasis. Despite the protests of some that Diablo III is too colorful, the Diablo III team strongly believes that color has been part of the Diablo universe in the past, and should be used again. They also decided to keep the Isometric camera of past games. Not only does it respect the legacy of Diablo, but it also allows them more freedom with the art. Since scenes are always seen from one angle, they can handcraft everything to be viewed from that angle.
When speaking of stylization over realism, said Donaldson, it is important to realize that stylization doesn't have to equal a cartoonish look. In fact, the world of Sanctuary does have a realistic bent to it in some ways. However, it is also a fantastic world where people interact with strange creatures every day.
Strong Silhouettes tie into this and many other aspects of the core values. By establishing large, bold shapes, you open up the game world, both allowing more monsters to occupy the area and allowing the area to be more readable. The large geography can also contribute to the epic feel.
The art team is also not afraid of color. Color used properly can convey mood and contribute to both the epic feeling and the horror vibes of Diablo. Backgrounds with lots of dark blue and green establish the vibe, while brighter colors will hold attention and direct gameplay. In addition, you can emphasize mood and location shifts with color palettes, moving from the bright outdoors to dark dungeons, an important ability in a fast-paced game like Diablo.
Also important are dynamic animations, that is, background art that reacts, such as destructible scenery. Not only does it provide believability and immersion as the world reactions to your presence, but destroying stuff is fun -- in fact, he later assured a questioner that the mechanic was so incredibly popular that they're trying to fit it in wherever it's feasible.
In all of this, it's important to make sure that art supports the gameplay. Detail and beauty, said Donaldson, are all well and good, but they don't matter if you can't see what you're doing. Art needs to take a back seat to and support fun and gameplay.
After speaking about the philosophy of the exterior art team, Donaldson gave us a sneak peak into the design process. They work closely with the level designers, constantly making rough sketches of room layouts. Once they have a foundation laid, they also make sure to talk about what a room will be used for or what might be interactable within it. As an example, Donaldson mentioned a chandelier that could be triggered to fall on monsters (or your buddies), or perhaps some event that would happen as soon as you entered a room, such as a cave-in.
Once these discussions are done and a solid concept has been constructed, it's time to design, model, texture, and polish until the piece is done, always being mindful of the core values.
This was another short session presentation wise, but that means there was plenty of time for questions. Many of them were repeats of questions from previous panels, but there were also a few interesting revelations to be had.