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[PCGn] Interview: "Diablo is the apex of dark fantasy in the ARPG genre"

cormack12

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Source: https://www.pcgamesn.com/diablo-4/artwork-interview-john-mueller
Abridged, more at link

PCGN: In the blog post you talk about how everyone said ‘yes’ to new ideas, even if that meant throwing out a bunch of stuff and starting from scratch. What kind of things did you end up scrapping?
John Mueller:
We probably threw out a lot of our earliest work, so a lot of the armour and creature designs that we did, and we’ve essentially gone back and redone them all. [..] We now have the option to show things really up close in a way that we really never thought we would when we started this journey. So yeah, there’s been a lot of stuff that we had to go back and not necessarily redesign, but go over a second time.

Does that have anything to do with the physically based rendering techniques that you’re using now?
I think it’s really due to our experience with it. We were coming from Diablo III, which had this hand-painted art style, so it was a completely different pipeline than what we’re doing now. That process of revisiting has been about familiarity and expertise in all of the tools that are available to artists now. There’s also the challenge of trying to retain what makes a Blizzard game look like a Blizzard game, and that was part of the balancing act that we were constantly finding ourselves in.


What are the particular components that make a Blizzard game look like a Blizzard game?
I mean, it’s handcrafted. There’s a feeling that this was made by people. [..]Our goal has always been to create art, so it’s important when we have these tools in the hands of artists that we let their artistry come through.



That blend of fantasy and realism, which you find with artists like Frank Frazetta, is really striking. Are there any fantasy artists that you can point to as inspirations?
It was a great place to begin cultivating an art style and identity for Diablo IV, because if you look at old medieval paintings it’s a lot of angels, demons, and mankind being tortured in the middle. It’s really one of the only things we have from that period to look at and interpret what was going on at the time, and if you take those paintings literally then you have something that feels like Diablo.


There’s a lot of Christian iconography and Middle Eastern influences in the series. What guides the team when they’re drawing on religious or mythological works?
On the surface, the world is a medieval one, so that’s how we approached it. We go to Kehjistan, which is where Caldeum is, and it’s all arid deserts. We also go to the Dry Steppes, which is inspired by different regions in northern Asia. And then there’s Scosglen, which is definitely influenced by more European ‘isles’ type environments. For everything we do we gather a lot of reference materials, but we don’t let that limit our vision for what we’re trying to do. We put that Diablo twist on it so you feel like you’re in the world of Sanctuary, and there are going to be a lot of things that you see beyond the grass, rocks, and trees to remind you this is Diablo.


I know you’ve mentioned how this is distinct from the painterly style of Diablo III. I know there were complaints in some quarters that it was too cartoony, and I wondered if this is a reaction to that feedback?
One of the great things about making a sequel is that you really get the opportunity to recast the die a little bit. Technology has changed, times have changed, and dark fantasy is really having a renaissance right now. Diablo is the apex of dark fantasy in the ARPG genre. When Luis Barriga [game director] and I talked about this he didn’t know how dark I wanted to go, and I wasn’t aware how dark he wanted to go. But we realised very quickly that we were actually really aligned on what we felt Diablo IV should look like.

My first trip to the Louvre was a super memorable thing in my mind. I can remember standing in front of some of those epic paintings and feeling like this was real – it looked real. If you stand in front of them it’s a really emotional experience, and I will never forget it. At some point I was fortunate enough to be asked, ‘What would you want to do with Diablo?’ And for me, it was a very, very easy answer.


Has any of the feedback from the Diablo II: Resurrected beta been helpful for your team?
With Immortal, Resurrected, and IV, they’re all under one roof so there’s a lot of shared philosophies there. Even having a blog is a great example. We love this more open kitchen type of process where we’re making the game, showing things off, and getting feedback. That philosophy will probably continue as we get further in.


Has physically based rendering changed the rules for the isometric camera? Does it affect anything like readability?
It’s really helped with the materials and surfaces. Metals, leather, and fabric all read from the camera pretty well. It’s amazing what your eye picks up when you’re looking at something that has a very realistic set of visual rules.


We’ve talked a bit about the medieval art inspirations, but I’ve got a picture pulled up of the Blood Bishop who looks like a Cronenberg creation. Can you tell me a little bit about that design?
We like to take themes in Diablo, like a blood theme or a bone theme, and combine them with things that are very iconic to Diablo and dark fantasy. So when it came to the Blood Bishop it was fun to combine blood and the religious iconography of a bishop. When you encounter the Blood Bishop in the game everything around it also gives it some context.


The other character model we saw was the female barbarian. I’m sure you’ve seen that there’s been ‘discourse’ about portrayals of muscly female characters in games, and I wondered if this model, with its really clear musculature, is a reaction to that?
Our goal from the beginning is to make the most inclusive experience we’ve ever made with a Diablo game. That’s a super important pillar for all of our games at Blizzard these days, and I’m happy with the variety that we’ve achieved through the character customisation.

But it’s not just the female barbarian, it’s all of the classes. I feel like we’ve leaned into a lot of different body types and a lot of different personas – so however you identify there’s something there for you.
 
Nov 6, 2019
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The interviewee did a great job on spotting the shitty journo'z trap questions about Christianity, character models and Frank Frazetta.
 
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OmegaSupreme

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Dark Souls took its lunch ages ago. Path of Exile is dark as it gets, too, makes Diablo's storyline seem Disneyesque.
Hard disagree. Diablo 2 is still king imo. Dark Souls is still rather niche is it not? Didn't Diablo 3 sell like 35 million copies or some ridiculous number?
 
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sublimit

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Hard disagree. Diablo 2 is still king imo. Dark Souls is still rather niche is it not? Didn't Diablo 3 sell like 35 million copies or some ridiculous number?
Sales don't always equate with quality. In terms of critical acclaim Dark Souls went past ahead of it a long time ago.
 
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OmegaSupreme

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We really going the more is better route?
More people buy a thing usually equals more people like it. What's the hard thing to grasp here? That's a factual statement. I also stated my opinion of Diablo 2 still being the king. Diablo 2 and Dark Souls are pretty different game wise though.
 
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More people buy a thing usually equals more people like it. What's the hard thing to grasp here? That's a factual statement. I also stated my opinion of Diablo 2 still being the king. Diablo 2 and Dark Souls are pretty different game wise though.

Maybe it is more accurate to say Diablo is the king of pleb ARPGs. Its is like saying Mario Kart is the king of racers.
 

CAB_Life

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Hard disagree. Diablo 2 is still king imo. Dark Souls is still rather niche is it not? Didn't Diablo 3 sell like 35 million copies or some ridiculous number?
Resepectfully disagree. There wasn't anything horrific, hopeless and dark about D3. Not its cartoonish aesthetic or its unimpressively linear plot. The game was fun, mind you, and I clocked in about 1K hours, but it was more high fantasy than gothic horror.

Diablo 2 was a great example in its time, though.
 
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Fluo

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More people buy a thing usually equals more people like it. What's the hard thing to grasp here? That's a factual statement. I also stated my opinion of Diablo 2 still being the king. Diablo 2 and Dark Souls are pretty different game wise though.
The statement is "Diablo is the apex of dark fantasy ARPG". Being apex means as good as it gets. And D3 is anything but that.
 
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OmegaSupreme

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The statement is "Diablo is the apex of dark fantasy ARPG". Being apex means as good as it gets. And D3 is anything but that.
This is why I stated Diablo 2 is the best. I mentioned D3 because of its massive sales. I enjoyed D3 a lot but it didn't have the atmosphere of 2. I'm hopeful for 4.
 

Fluo

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This is why I stated Diablo 2 is the best. I mentioned D3 because of its massive sales. I enjoyed D3 a lot but it didn't have the atmosphere of 2. I'm hopeful for 4.
Fair enough, D3 was fun. As for D4, we'll see, Blizzard is not what it used to be.
 
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Lanrutcon

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Dark Souls is great. Hard to fault, impressive in all aspects. Completely different than Diablo 2 though. A king in its own field (see what I did there?).

Diablo 2 however, is a fucking lifestyle. You want the complete Diablo 2 experience, you're settling in for months if not years of your life. I think the amount of people that have completed a Holy Grail run can be fit into a single telephone booth. It still fucking blows my mind that we're in 2021, and most isometric hack & slash games wish they had the depth a game from 20 years ago. Unmatched in the genre.
 
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Vagswarm

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Grim Dawn felt a lot darker than Diablo in the dungeon areas. You couldn't see anything and mobs were flying all over. Then you had the big ones you didn't want to get close to.
 

SpecialAgentZ

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Yeah... in the past, maybe. Today I think Grim Dawn still holds the crown. Still waiting for a console release tho.
 
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Tomeru

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Path of Exile is the best continuation from Diablo 2 imo. It perfected a near perfect formula and only when both PoE2 and D4 will release - only then can anyone talk about being apex.
 

Zekra Dezivad

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I find Diablo 3 an useless boring experience when you play it for the first time. To me this type of design simply fails at creating a compelling and satisfying product from the beginning to a point where I just question myself why should I bother playing a game that doesn't respect my time on it.
 

Tg89

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Diablo 2? Sure. Apex of gaming as far as I'm concerned.

3 sucks though and they'll have to prove it with 4 at this point.
 
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Inviusx

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4 is returning to that D2 look. I love D3 but it will be nice to have a more grounded aesthetic again.
 
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The thing I am most bummed out by is them saying Diablo IV won't have Cinematics in the game. They are going to replace them by IG Cutscenes cause "the graphic is so good due to physically based rendering".
Fuck that shit - I played Diablo Games and loved their Cinematics. These were awesome.

Obviously though gameplay is still way more important. But knowing current Blizzard I have hard doubts about them nailing it.