When developing the overall style of Torchlight we drew from our own experiences with Mythos while tried to address some of its failings.
For example, we incorporated a new approach to texture styles. Our team shares some design sensibilities; improving while playing to our artists' strengths, when possible, was logical.
Once we had the deal in place with our publishing partners at Perfect World, Runic Games was in a unique position of being able to use our single player game to develop IP that would build up our universe, lore, and inhabitants for the following MMO.
Establishing what people could expect visually from a Runic Games title has been a prominent factor in many design decisions. Like any studio, we want our art to stand out and be recognizable.
In approaching Torchlight, it was necessary to analyze what we had just done with Mythos and learn from it. The comments on Mythos' style were that it was bright, colorful, and inviting... but also somewhat generic and, well, "WoW-ish".
In hindsight, I would agree. However, few people saw our third zone in Mythos, which was the first zone that didn't use a single piece of the early, inherited, outsourced art... and it was this style we wanted to push even further with Torchlight.
Alchemist gear subset. It highlights our bold, "chunky" trim and design elements.
When describing the visual style we're pursuing we often talk about "chunky" details: using simplified shapes, streamlined, bold features, and giving things a sense of weight. We also talk about "clean" versus "loose", and how you can create separation between elements that are both aesthetically pleasing and also improve gameplay.
We cover a lot of the fundamentals, as any art team does: silhouettes, color palettes, and the like. But we always return to a design being "fun". If it's a static and mundane object, does it have character? If it's a weapon or piece of gear, is it something we want on our own avatars? If it's a monster, is it something that's going to be a joy to slaughter?
What are the monsters' motivations and how does this impact design and animation? Is a design memorable, and does it reinforce our goals for the game? All of these ideas contribute to the style of the game -- but there is far more.
The summonable Alchemist imp: with chunky proportions, and full of quirky personality.
With Torchlight, we're also after a tactile, visceral, and emotive style that both supports and is supported by our visuals. How things interact, the way a simple attack feels to the player, the feedback from a perfectly executed audio cue, the mood of the ambient sounds and the musical score -- these are all elements that, when done correctly, are interwoven with the visual style. Breaking this relationship down is best left for another article, but it's important to at least recognize this basic idea.