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BlizzCon 2008: Diablo III Art and Lore Panel, Part 2

Back to Part One

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.

On to Part Three!

Continue reading BlizzCon 2008: Diablo III Art and Lore Panel, Part 2

BlizzCon 2008: Diablo III Art and Lore Panel

Another BlizzCon has come and gone, and I'm still trying to recover from it, personally, not only from the blisters on my feet, but from the information overload from Diablo III. With that in mind, here's one last infodump from the last Diablo III panel of the con, the art and lore panel. If you're a lore nerd like me, you'll want to read up on it, and even if you aren't, there's a few little tidbits of gameplay information that are worth checking out.

After you have read this part, be sure to read parts 2 and 3 as as well!

Continue reading BlizzCon 2008: Diablo III Art and Lore Panel

BlizzCon 2008: Diablo III Art and Lore Panel, Part 3

Back to Part Two

Questions and Answers

The first person asked a pretty straightforward question: Given that his soulstone was shattered, how is Diablo coming back? Boyarsky joked about that a bit, "Boy, just because his name is in the title, everyone assumes he's coming back!" More seriously, he said that they won't give away all of their secrets, but that the plot will have many interesting twists and turns, based very solidly on past lore. They don't plan to throw any complete curve balls.

Another couple questions dealt with the status of Paladins and the religion of Zakarum now that the Zakarum religion has been discredited and their temple destroyed. Zakarum itself, said Boyarsky, is bouncing back. For a while, it was so detested that it was illegal to practice, but now it has a growing foothold in Zakarum, where its followers insist that they are a "true church," the domination of Mephisto only an unfortunate but distant memory.

As for Paladins themselves, they along with many other old NPCs and cultures, will be seen in Diablo III. You may even see your Paladin NPC from Diablo II, or at least find out what happened to him. They won't be playable though. Similarly, he confirmed later that there will be Necromancer PCs in game, and that we will probably find out what happened to the Druids and Barbarians after the Worldstone was shattered and their mission of protecting ended in failure. Apparently, the reason the Female Barbarian PC takes up the mantle of warrior is specifically because most of the males are too despondent to fight themselves after their perceived failure at Arreat.

Another questioner wanted to know if characters from the books will appear in game, and Boyarsky said that, while he couldn't give specifics, they will try to integrate the Diablo books more fully into the game lore, whereas before they've just been side stories of a sort.

Another couple of questions dealt with the cinematic. Will Leah, the girl from the cinematic, be in the game, asked one person? Yes, answered Boyarsky. In fact, the Cinematics will matter much more to the game than Marius' separate, non-interactive story. The cinematics will follow your hero's story and actions, making you feel like you are driving the story, rather than showing that your character is one step behind the villain almost the whole time, like in Diablo II.

A few more questioners asked about Deckard Cain. How can he call himself the last of the Horadrim if he's just going off old tales he heard of the order? According to Boyarsky, his heritage is that of the Horadrim. He great-grandfather, Jared Cain, was one of their order. Because of this and because of the lore and stories he has gathered, he calls himself last of the Horadrim. Someone else asked how Cain has survived when so many others have died, and Boyarsky speculated that his Hordadric blood may be especially hardy -- although he also admitted that it is as much because he's needed for the story.


In graphics questions, someone asked what tools Donaldson wished he had to draw the game or what tools he was looking forward to. Donaldson answered that the team vastly preferred hand-painting whenever possible. Tech, like Art, is secondary to fun, and what is important is that they're strong artists, and that Diablo III is accessible and fun. Another question was as to whether spells would have graphical changes in level, to which the answer was that they would have some graphics changes due to runes. Anything besides that is still to be determined, although Boyarsky said he thought it would be a good idea.

In other lore questions, one person asked whether we'd see Baal again since we'd never specifically seen his soulstone destroyed. Boyarsky said it was a good idea, and jokingly told Donaldson to write the idea down. He did said same about someone's question about Diablo movie rumors, at the same time saying that he had no information about a Diablo movie.

One questioner wanted to know if we'll get more visible armor. Boyarsky revealed that things such as belts are a bit too small to show up, but that we'd be seeing shoulderpads and pants that would show up on the character.

To questions on whether we'd see a new cow level or Wirt's fourth leg, the answers were, "We are not disclosing the amount of Bovine material in the game," and "We can't give away our easter eggs," respectively.

One person asked if we'd be able to pound down the gates of Heaven and raise holy hell, to which Boyarsky replied that it's likely we'll see Heaven in a future game in the series, but probably not Diablo III itself.

One person complained that Multiplayer in Diablo II is often too chaotic, with it being hard to tell who is casting once. Boyarsky said that they are planning to deal with this in the new game, perhaps by making your own spells brighter or otherwise marked uniquely for you alone in multiplayer play.

One person wanted to know if there would be ways to combine spells in cooperative play, which the devs seemed to think was a good idea.

Another person asked not only for the Horadric Cube back, but a model of the cube in the Diablo III Collector's Edition. Boyarsky reiterated that the cube would not return in game as a usable item, but that they might include more Horadric Cube lore somewhere in the game.

Another person wondered if story progression would be linear or if there would be branching story lines. Boyarsky cited random quests as a way to add some variety to the storyline, and revealed that many quests are optional and can be rejected as well. Your character will also often assign themselves quests in internal dialogue upon seeing something or entering a new area.

Another question was if we'd get closure at the end of Diablo III, or if it would like Diablo II, where Baal escaped and set up the story for the Throne of Destruction expansion. Boyarsky said that they hope to provide closure to many hanging questions in Diablo III, but that they definitely don't want to close the doors on the franchise, and want to leave plenty of room for a sequel.

In other miscellaneous news: There will be 5 classes total, and there will be unique named monsters. No word if Bishibosh and Rakinishu will return.

While you can argue that none of the information was earth-shattering, it was certainly interesting, and more than enough to keep feeding the fuel on this fanboy's flame of enthusiasm. If the game ends up half as good as these panels make it sound, it's sure to be my newest addiction when it comes out.

Continue reading BlizzCon 2008: Diablo III Art and Lore Panel, Part 3

BlizzCon 2008 DVD Production page 2

This is a trailer were they definitely sat down and traced the history the Black Temple, with all its twists and turns. It was originally inhabited by the Draenei, who worshipped the holy force of goodness known as the Light. However, Orcish Warlocks lead by Ner'zhul massacred the Draenei and defiled the temple with demonic magic. However, they eventually destroyed Draenor itself with their dark magics, and the Burning Legion took over the temple until Illidan the betrayer came along, and with the help of Akama, the former Draenei High Priest of the temple, took it over.

They debated over who would narrate the trailer for some time. Maiev Shadowsong was considered because of her intense hatred for Illidan, but eventually Akama was picked due to his deep emotional connection to the temple, and to set up the story of patch whereby Akama would betray Illidan and help players defeat him and retake the temple.

They described turning back the clock to show the flashbacks in the movie, designing Akama as a Draenei High Priest with vestments and symbols hearkening to his future as a broken, and changing the Brothel of the Modern Black Temple to the bright gardens of the ancient temple of Karabor. They were proud that they did well enough that many people speculated that the old Karabor would show up in game as a Caverns of Time instance.

They added smaller touches to complete the story and make it seem real. The Draenei girl who follows Akama around was given a name, Coraa -- with an a at the end to make it properly Draenei -- and was dressed in red to signify her status as Akama's heart. They borrowed Warcraft 3 sounds and dialogue to sprinkle into the scenes that duplicated Illidan's conquest of Outland and the Black Temple.

They ran into some trouble created Ner'zhul, the ancient evil Orc Shaman, as he'd only shown up in proper illustrations twice before: Once in a Metzen sketch, and once, briefly, in an old Warcraft 2 cinematic. They sent designs past Metzen, Samwise Dher idier, and other Blizzard lore gurus, and got him in the World of Warcraft, if only briefly, for the first time. They mentioned too, that he was wielding the legendary Staff of Sargeras. Before you ask, it probably won't be in-game loot any time soon.

Whereas the Black Temple's story used lots of Lore directly, the Diablo universe is a bit more sparse on lore, with very few supplemental materials or games released to tell the greater story of Sanctuary and its people. Still, the lore came into play when the team created the gameplay trailer for the Wizard class, they still used lore, but in a more subtle, emotional way.

The history of Sanctuary's people goes back 4,500 years, but even then, much has been forgotten. This is especially true in the 20 years since the Prime Evils were banished and the World Stone destroyed. The people of Sanctuary simply do not want to remember the war between Heaven and Hell. The few that saw it first hand were either killed or driven mad. Even those who fought back suffered. Blood Raven and the Summoner of Diablo 2 were the heroes of Diablo 1, as was the Dark Wanderer.

Overall, those few who remember anything about Demons and Angels try to forget it, and it is dismissed as superstition.

Into this world comes the Wizard, who the Diablo 3 team described as an outcast of sorts, a girl who was alienated, who learned her craft on her own and made her own way in the world. That confidence allows her to face the legions of hell with a smirk, defying the anger of other humans who just want to forget and don't want any trouble.

Of course, part of the problem in creating the trailer was Diablo 3's locked camera. They wanted to pan around, to show the legions coming in head on, but the developers hated to break the camera for them. Of course, they eventually prevailed, the developers did like the final movie.

The other major idea behind the Wizard movie was carnage. They wanted to capture that visceral feel of the Diablo universe. While watching, you take your hands off the keyboard and watch, but once the movie's over, you should feel pumped to go back to the keyboard and play.



Questions and Answers

The first questioner wanted to know if there would be Blu-Ray DVDs of the cinematics and cutscenes one day. Joeyray Hall said they had seriously considered the idea. It might take some time, as some of the earlier cutscene files are so ancient as to be unable to be accessed through a modern computer. When asked how soon we might expect a Blu-Ray DVD anyway, he answered, "When it's done."

Another questioner wanted to know why there were so many discrepancies in the South Park WoW Episode, such as the existence of a Human Hunter. The answer is that, since South Park's audience is so large, Matt and Trey needed to make changes to make it accessible to a larger, non-WoW playing audience. However, they tried as much as possible to respect the spirit of the game, and the DVD Production team is very happy with how it turned out.

Another person wanted to know if the team hated Gnomes, and if they would be featured in future cinematics. The team answered that they love Gnomes, and try to fit a gnome into every in-game cutscene they can. Terran himself actually plays Gnomes exclusively. However, he said, it's sort of hard to make them epic. That got him a lot of laughs and boos.

One person wanted to know if there plans to release old cinematics and scenes not currently on DVD. They say that they will try to fit them on future Collector's Edition DVDs. Another person asked if they ever use motion capture in cinematics, and they answered that everything is hand-painted, no motion capture. That got them a lot of applause.



Terran's mom wondered if the Wrathgate cutscene would be able to be viewed again once the quest was completed. Apparently, you will be able to talk to an NPC and ask them what happened at the Wrath Gate, at which point the cutscene will play again.

Someone asked about the Legendary Pictures Warcraft Movie, but alas, with a lawyer at the table, all they could do was refer him to PR. Of course, if you weren't aware, Chris Metzen gave a slightly fuller answer on the movie issue in the World of Warcraft Q&A panel, which I liveblogged on WoW Insider.

So, the DVD Production panel was actually a whole lot of fun. The team has a very quirky sense of humor and a lot of camraderie, and a love of storytelling that I'm enamoured with. Joeyray Hall thanked us all for coming, and said he was afraid that they'd have an audience of nothing but family members. Certainly, this panel was probably one of the hidden gems of BlizzCon, and I am glad I had a chance to stop by.




Continue reading BlizzCon 2008 DVD Production page 2

Blizzcon 2008: Notes from the DVD production panel


I have to admit, I got a lot more than I bargained for when I sat down at the DVD Production panel on this second morning of the 3rd BlizzCon. After all, what can you do with a DVD Production panel anyway? Apparently, a whole lot.

Continue reading Blizzcon 2008: Notes from the DVD production panel

Notes from the Diablo III class panel

Hello from Anaheim! The first of the Diablo III panels for the day, the class panel, just let out. There's a lot of juicy details to report, including on the newest class, the Wizard. So let's get to it.

Continue reading Notes from the Diablo III class panel

Notes from the Diablo III class panel Two


Skill Systems and Runes

Next up was Jay Wilson, who discussed the evolution and goals of the Diablo 3 skill system, as well as a new idea for Diablo 3, Runes.

To start, he went over some of the skill systems featured in previous Diablo games.

In Diablo 1, the book skills were nice in that it was exciting to get random drops, but they also lead to a lack of character customization since everyone had the same skills, and increased difficulty for those who were unlucky in getting skill book drops.

The Diablo 2 skill trees allowed for stronger class differentiation and a wider variety of skills, but they certainly had problems as well. Trees encouraged you to focus on only a few skills, and some skills were built such that it was a bad idea to put in more than a point or two, while some were essentially useless. Because of this and the lack of a respec system, mistakes could easily "ruin" a character, and point hoarding was often a rule, once again leading to difficulty as people saved points for later leveled skills.

Synergies later allowed more customization and made the system a bit more forgiving, but could be a bit confusing as you tried to find what synergized with what.

Their goals for the D3 system include making is easy to understand and providing a large variety of possibilities in builds. In addition, they want the system to flow seamlessly between game difficulties, and support 5-7 active skills at once, instead of the 2 of previous Diablo game.

They went through a lot of wild ideas in pounding out a skill system, including droppable skill rings, radial skill systems that flowed outward, Skill wheels that, as Wilson recalled, involved some sort of spinning, and more. Skill Cards would have you pick skills that would intersect on a graph to give you more skills, well the skill horadric cube would do the same thing, except in 3-D, and with more bacon.

Through all of these ideas, what they kept in mind was a simple Blizzard philosophy: Different but worse is not better. better is better. Two ideas though, they did decide to keep: Random drops and upgradable skills.

The skill system they are now working with is not completely done, but they feel it is on the right track. It's an evolution of the D2 system, with some of the same tree ideas. There will be a new focus on passive skills that provide general character bonuses, somewhat similar to D2 synergies. These will also be useful for bypassing levels of skill trees to get a skill you want in a higher tier without having to buy something you will never use.

Respecs are not designed yet, but they will have a respec system of some sort.

The new rune system was probably the star of this portion of the panel though. It's not like D2 Runewords though. These random drops actually directly modify your skills.

They drop with multiple tiers, with higher tiers granting bigger powers. They work for all classes, and modify spells in specific ways that are meant to be game-changing. They're also swappable, in order to encourage experimentation.

As an example, he showed us the Wizard's Teleport. Alone, it acts much like a classic Sorceress' Teleport. With a Striking Rune, it damages any monsters near where you teleport. With a Multistrike Rune, multiple copies of the Wizard teleport around and damage targets.

The Skull of Flame, a Witch Doctor Ability, gains the ability to bounce to multiple targets with the Multistrike Rune, while the Power Rune causes it to leave behind a burning area on the ground that damages enemies.

Continue reading Notes from the Diablo III class panel Two

Notes from the Diablo III class panel Three


Special effects: Feeling out classes

The next portion of the presentation was from Julian Love, the Lead Technical Artist. He described the Visceral feel that they are going for. This feel is accomplished two ways: In the way that characters act, and how monsters react to it.

The stuff that you do should be crazy awesome and have a specific feel based on your class. As an example, he used the Barbarian. They are an exceedingly physical class, but also have a connection to their ancestors. In order to properly convey that, everything they do is brutally physical, full of power, but they also mix it up with skill such as Hammer of the Ancients that summon spiritual powers, giving a more mystic aspect to some actions and allowing nuances to their style.

Witch Doctors, likewise, have a connection to voodoo magic. Because of this, zombie summoning is a part of their class, but with twists to prevent it from seeming like the demonic necromancy of Diablo himself: the ability t summon walls of zombies, or dog-like zombie minions. Their final flavor ability is Swarms: In addition to the locusts we have seen before, they'll be able to summon firebats: literally bats set on fire. They also have a new spell called Plague of Toads. Their magic is also slightly more physical, such as when they toss a flaming voodoo head at their enemies instead of simply casting a firebolt.

Wizards effects are summed up in two words: Light Show. For spells like Arcane Orb and Magic Missile, they were influence heavily by images of cosmology in making a type of damage that is new to the Diablo World.

Tornado they tried as a more classic tornado at first, but found that classic tornadoes don't look nearly flashy enough for Wizards, and turned it into an energy tornado. Blizzard was tough simply because they wanted to keep the iconic properties of the spell as it has existed through multiple games and franchises, but add a new twist to it, so they attempted to make it heavier and slushier.

Monster Deaths are the other half of visceral equation. How they die can greatly affect the feel of the game. How they die will depend on what kind of damage you do to them, and in the case of a "critical death," they may explode.

Certain enemy types will still feature handcrafted deaths based on their importance to the story or other factors. Many death types will also be skill driven: Disintegrate will actually disintegrate monsters, while Burst of Acid will melt them away.

Continue reading Notes from the Diablo III class panel Three

Notes from the Diablo III class panel Four


Questions and Answers

The most important question was asked first: Is there a Secret Cow Level? The answer was probably to be expected: It's a secret.

One player wanted to know that, given the problems with powerleveling in Diablo 2, how would they address it in Diablo 3. They said they're still working on it, but one hope is that the ability to respec will make people feel less like they need to powerlevel new characters to get the right build.

Another question was asked about the Rune system: Will it aways be universal, or will they ever be class specific? The answer was that they won't rule it out, but the universal system has been working well for them, and they're quite happy with it.

One questioner cited the Diablo problem of specs that become ruined in later difficulties when immunities make their primarily skills worthless. There's two ways the Diablo 3 developers are hoping to avoid this. One, by encouraging players to use many skills at once, they should be able to ensure that players will always have an option in a fight. On the other side, they also plan to pull back on the use of immune and resistant monsters and look for other ways to make them possible.

There were many questions about Runes that lead to many clarifications: Yes, Runes are random drop, and there are multiple rune tiers. Higher tier runes have different levels of ability. A tier 1 Multistrike rune will, for example, cause Skull of Flame to bounce once, whereas a tier 5 Multistrike rune might cause it to bounce 5 times. This and the ease of rune swapping will also give the incentive for people to try out new things. You may like your tier 2 multistrike rune, but perhaps you'd like to use this tier 5 lethality rune that dropped instead.

In class balance questions, One person wondered how many class archetypes there might be. Jay said that pretty much everyone will be DPS, as is fitting for a Diablo game. Keeping with the overall secrecy theme, when someone asked if there would be a Hammerdin-like class and spec, Jay said, "If there was, we wouldn't tell you."

In other class balance consideration, someone asked how they determined class power levels. Jay revealed that they generally go by a philosophy that 1 skill point is an increase of about 8% power, and they try to work on that metric when designing abilities and ability levels. Interestingly enough, one person asked a question on whether there would be overpowered classes wrapped in a whine about overpowered Bowazons. I don't know what game he plays, but Bowazons have been weak as all get out since 1.10 in my Diablo 2 world.

One person wanted to know if power would depend more on skills or more on items. Both, said Jay, to some extent. However, finding and using items to gain power is a cornerstone of Diablo, and they only want to solidfy that. In Diablo 2, there are definitely classes and specs that don't need items, and they don't want that in Diablo 3. They're considering adding item abilities like plus spell damage specifically to prevent that.

Here's a piece of information that should make most of us Diablo 2 veterans happy: They are planning to increase bag space. They're moving away from the grid inventory, and creating a new inventory that will include the opportunity to buy bigger bags to store your loot. Finally, no more cheating with the Horadric cubes or hard to handle mules that require making a new game to use.

One final question: Someone wondered if we would be able to find Wirt's fourth leg. No word on that, but Jay did say he wanted to bring the guy back. It's going to be hard to do since he's technically dead, of course, but he asked anyone with any ideas on how to bring back Wirt to post them on the official Diablo 3 forums as the panel ended.

Continue reading Notes from the Diablo III class panel Four

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