WarCry: I was wondering if you, Ben - as one of the people who worked on the art style for D2 - would like to weigh in on the whole controversy surrounding the Diablo 3 art?
Ben Boos: Sure! I find this whole controversy very interesting. As it happens, I was instrumental in setting the basic tone for many of the environments in D2. It just worked out this way, since I dove in and created the basic tile sets at the beginning of each act (except act 4, which was crafted masterfully by my friend Dave Glenn). I started with basic grass, trees, path, and basic natural barriers, until we could walk a character around for early testing on that patch of turf. Then, we would use this tile-set to build upon, so that walls and creatures and objects would blend nicely with their environment. We worked at this instinctively, and I don't remember the colors being too huge an issue as we progressed. Perhaps we hoped that the variety of places would offer enough changing tone to keep the game interesting. There were lush outdoor meadows, but dank caves, crypts and buildings. In the sun-bleached desert, we added dark sewers, and dim temples. There were jungles, swamps, palaces, and other places to go, as you worked toward the final descent into darkness.
When it all came together and actually worked as a game, we were elated! The colors seemed like a minor thing, compared to the functionality and fun we were looking for. Game development is a harrowing thing, and I urge a bit of sympathy for the developers out there. Consider the number of variables that impact a project, and think of Murphy's Law, and all the things that can go wrong. Add to that the human interactions you get when you throw a group of opinionated game developers together. Getting developers to agree can be like herding cats! Add time-limits and duress, and you get a wild roller-coaster experience.
I'm not too worried about the tone of Diablo 3.
I'm the sort of guy who vastly preferred the original gritty Star Wars, to the new clean and colorful Phantom Menace, for instance. But I didn't get a "my little pony" vibe from the D3 demo! I saw creeping little creatures, scuttling along the walls of some crypt, and weird and misty landscapes. I thought it looked really exciting -- but I'll admit, I'm really big on this franchise. I'm looking at this with biased eyes.
In the end, I think a huge sense of the mood or tone comes from a combination of factors. The music, sound-effects and the lighting add lots of the drama. Even real-world room lighting matters here: If you play D1 or D2 in a brightly lit room full of people, it's very different from playing in a dark room, alone. Fear of dangerous monsters lurking out of sight can dictate the pace at which you creep forward... The wariness of getting surrounded, or cut off from an escape route will also add a genuine sense of menace. The exact balance of consequence (of your character's death) is also huge. If I'm playing hard-core, and I can actually lose my character, I'm walking on egg-shells already! Plus, when you have a well-adjusted loot system, it coaxes the player to explore a bit beyond the comfort level. One is invited to tensely stalk forth into a potential collision with evil, just to grab a bit of glorious loot. I think you can have a well-structured game-play mechanic (with proper tension and danger), and this should work in a huge variety of environments. Conversely, if you made an utterly dark and gritty game, and yet missed the boat on the game-play, it would = FAIL.
I have faith that Diablo 3 is going to be something special. Thankfully, Blizzard has a track-record of going the extra mile to get things right, so my fingers are crossed!
Many thanks to Ben Boos for putting up with our questions, and stay tuned for a review of his illustrated work Swords: An Artist's Devotion later this week!