When StarCraft II is released, it will
have been over a decade since a game bearing its brand hit retail shelves, and
if Diablo III doesn't ship in 2010 -- which is likely -- it will share
Developer Blizzard Entertainment is known for its
relentlessly iterative process, which is what leads to the infamous "when
it's done" release mentality, and Diablo III is no exception.
Thought to have gone through several complete reboots since the closure of
original series developer Blizzard North in 2005, the game has already seen
significantly redesigned elements since its formal unveiling last June.
To get a sense of how that design process works
-- and when the team knows it's actually done -- Gamasutra sat down with two Diablo
development leads: lead technical artist Julian Love, a Blizzard North
veteran, and lead content designer Kevin Martens, who spent nearly a decade at
BioWare before coming to Blizzard.
The pair discussed Blizzard design and art
philosophy, the evolution of the Blizzard North style, the action RPG genre,
and Blizzard's flat development structure.
Diablo III was
announced last year; it's been playable twice at Blizzcon now. Mike Morhaime
suggested it probably won't be out until 2011. Does it feel like the
development time has been extended to a surprising degree? Do you ever think,
"Oh God, this really will be a while longer now?"
Kevin Martens: Here's the secret to Blizzard
games, and this is a secret that won't help any of our competitors: endless
iteration. We'll take something, we'll put it in the game. Maybe we'll like it
when we put it in, maybe we won't. We'll leave it in there for a while, we'll
let it percolate. We'll play it and play it and play it, and then we'll come back.
We might throw it all out, or we'll throw half of that out and redo it.
It can be a long time, but it is fun to work on
as well. That's the thing that keeps you going. Multiplayer always works, and
the builds are always playable. We've played them constantly, and it's fun. You
actually look forward to the weekly play session even though the game is still
in progress. That's what keeps us going, and that's also why it takes so long.
We'll do it over and over again until it's just right.
With Diablo, and StarCraft
moreso, it will have been a decade since there's been a game in the series out.
Blizzard North as an entity no longer exists. How do you determine what needs
to be retained from something a decade old, and what needs to be modernized?
Julian Love: Well, as an ex-Blizzard North
employee, I never got the sense that we were a standalone entity. We were
always in contact with Blizzard South folks. They were always coming up. I
think I saw it as we were one big company.
That said, [as far as] the real
question in terms of how much we're going to take forward, we want to bring
back all of the stuff that was great, that was fun. We certainly want to tap
into what was great in the first two games and make sure all of that stuff is
coming back, and pile in all the cool stuff we can to bring it over the top and
make it the definitive version of the series.
On the topic of Blizzard North and Blizzard
Entertainment though, I do feel there was a difference in style between the
Blizzard North and South games. The Diablo titles had a more baroque,
intricate look, more tilework and stonework "along the grid." Diablo
III is more of a blend of that style with the current Blizzard South style.
How long did it take you to settle on the look for Diablo III?
Julian Love: Well, it took a while for us to
settle on the actual style, but I don't think it was due any kind of difference
between Blizzard North and Blizzard South philosophy. It had more to do with
the fact that we were moving the game from a two-dimensional technology
platform to a three-dimensional technology platform.
Issues like lighting and
separation between the characters and the backgrounds are handled in entirely
different ways -- ironing out how to get what we felt was a Diablo vibe
while still managing to get the characters to pop.
Looking at D2, for instance, those
characters are super bright, super colorful. They pop out of the backgrounds.
So, we had to try to bring that forward, but at the same time we don't want to
just rest on that art style and do the exact same game.
We want to elevate
that. We've got to look at the other games that Blizzard does, learn from the
things that they've done that make those games better, and really progress. I
think what you're seeing in the art style is our idea of the actual progression
of the Diablo universe.