Diablo IV Quarterly Update—June 2021
Table of Contents
- John Mueller, Art Director
- Arnaud Kotelnikoff, Lead Character Artist
- Nick Chilano, Associate Art Director, Characters
Hello, and welcome once again to a new Diablo IV Quarterly Update! We hope you enjoyed the Rogue class announcement during BlizzConline. We had a blast creating the Rogue and open-world video segments, sharing them with you, and seeing your reactions. It was especially cool to share our updates as part of the larger Diablo family alongside Diablo Immortal and the all-new Diablo II: Resurrected (both of which I personally can’t wait to play with you all).
As we transition back to a blog format, we will continue to spotlight different aspects of development. Today we’re going to be focusing on Diablo IV character art—player characters, monsters, and allies.
Art is a critical part of what makes Diablo, well... Diablo. Our signature randomized dungeons would not feel like Diablo without the ominous lighting setting the mood as players uncover horrifying details around every dark corner. Combat only feels visceral thanks to carefully crafted animations and visual effects that make spells and abilities sing. And while stats might make or break an item, we often can’t wait to get our hands on a piece of gear purely because of how incredible it looks.
Character art is equally important as it encompasses two of Diablo’s key elements: classes and monsters. The look and feel of the classes has always been one of Diablo’s secret ingredients, each class instantly recognizable and imbued with a strong and unique personality. Diablo IV offers players more customization options than ever in a Diablo game, which makes achieving that result more challenging, but the outcome is well worth it. Your Barbarian is different from anyone else’s but still feels undeniably like a Barbarian. With monsters, the focus has been on creating new foes and updating classics drawn from the pantheon of atrocities in our previous games, while using new processes and technology to their fullest.
To give us a better look at everything involved in this process, I now leave the rest of the update in the hands of our very own Art Director, John Mueller, and his team.
We hope you enjoy it and look forward to your thoughts and reactions! As always, let us know what topics you want to hear about in the future. Be sure to stay tuned, as we’re planning to delve deeper into the topics of sound design and endgame systems later this year.
Thank you, and until next time!
Game Director, Diablo IV
We are excited to do a deep dive on the character art for Diablo IV! This is a pretty exciting topic for our team, because so damn much has changed from Diablo III! You will get to hear from our Lead Character Artist, Arnaud Kotelnikof, and Nick Chilano, our Associate Character Art Director. They will be sharing a lot of cool visuals from our ongoing development related to character art that we’re revealing here for the first time. There’s a lot of ‘work in progress’ here; our goal is to give you an early look at content to get a sense of the direction we are taking. I don’t have a lot of caveats, though, as at this point the work is a very good representation of what you will see when the game is in your hands.
When it comes to the topic of character art, I can say we've had an epic journey during development, so let's pull back the curtain and take a look! First, I need to give a big shout-out to our amazing character art team, engineering team, animators, lighting artists, and technical artists—without them, none of this would be possible!
When I think back to the beginning, I think at the highest level, our goal was to make the characters in Diablo IV look as artistic and as hand-crafted as possible using the latest tools and techniques. Over time, our ambitions around what we thought we could achieve evolved and really solidified into what you see today. We wanted to use the latest tools and techniques, but we did have a concern about leaning into ‘realism’ in a way that wouldn’t have that hand-crafted feeling we felt was fundamental to a Blizzard game. We didn’t want the characters to feel procedural or generic because of these processes. We also embraced realism in terms of materials and character appearance. I think the touchpoint being the amazing pre-rendered look from the Diablo III cinematics. We loved those and it felt like a strong foundation to build upon in regards to the characters and achieving that warm quality that came through in the cinematics but in a real-time game environment. We thought it was ambitious, but possible. This of course is a simplified summary of the thousands of conversations it took to achieve the results we have today, but what's meaningful is that during the journey nobody was arguing for our limitations. Nobody ever said we shouldn't, we couldn't, or we can't...everyone said yes, even when it meant starting over or throwing out work, everyone really pushed and brought their best to this work. I think this is one of the truly unique aspects of Blizzard...we all said 'Yes, and...' instead of 'No, because...' it's a wonderful aspect of working here.
That singular focus and commitment to quality led us down a very long, winding, and challenging path to where we are today. The challenges required us to completely rebuild our rendering engine and authoring tools. We needed to assemble a world-class character team comprised of artists, tools engineers, rigging specialists, lighting and surfacing experts. This was a complete overhaul.
We made massive improvements to the level of detail, the surfacing of complex materials like skin, cloth simulation, hair, fur, metal, even down to the details of the highlights of the eyes and rivulets of perspiration. We built a robust character customization system that is entirely new to Diablo and it was a daunting amount of technical character work. These solutions had to work not just for a single character, but for hundreds of componentized armor sets, different body types, dozens of unique personas, and completely unique art for five distinct classes (to start). This was an entirely new challenge for our team to tackle.
I can say now (with the hard work behind us and the comforting steady hum of our pipeline) that it was all worth it. We hope you agree (when you play it) that it really enhances the overall experience of the character's journey exploring the world of Sanctuary and makes the story, the gear, and the ways you see the characters of Sanctuary that much more enjoyable.
Most importantly, we hope you feel the love and care we've put into creating the gear and characters you will see in the game. Beyond just living out my most awesome Barbarian fantasy, we're honored to bring this work to you!
One of the benefits of the investments we've made in our character art development pipeline is that now most of our story cutscenes will be rendered in our engine using the game models. In previous Diablo games, the high fidelity cinematic story moments were all pre-rendered. We will still have those amazing cinematic moments from Blizzard Animation, but now we also have cinematic moments that feature your character up close, rendered in our game engine. We have been working closely with the legendary Blizzard Animation team to bring as much of their knowledge into our process as possible. The Rogue Announce trailer was a really fantastic collaboration where we were able to push the limits of our tech and tools.
We are getting to geek out about how good things look up close, but all things Diablo are in service to our isometric point of view. The fidelity we put into the characters and the balance of detail all has to work with our game camera. Those looking closely will notice we like to work with bigger shapes on the armor, and we tend to reduce things that affect readability. I think we've found a sweet spot of detail that retains the readability, works well with the environments, but also keeps things looking grounded, which is super important for this vision for Sanctuary and how we present the world to you, our most important critic.
While I’m really happy with where we have arrived. I know we are going to keep pushing the bar at every opportunity and at Blizzard, releasing a game is just the beginning! I hope you enjoy the rest of the deep dive on character art with Arnaud and Nick!
Lead Character Artist
Thanks for joining us! I’d like to dive into character customization and some of the visual improvements we developed for Diablo IV.
Diablo IV has more in-depth customization for your characters than we’ve had in any previous Diablo games. You will be able to change the face of your character, the hairstyle, the facial hair (beards and eyebrows), and add jewelry (nose piercing or earrings), makeup, and body markings such as tattoos or body paint. You will also be able to change the color values of your character’s skin, eyes, hair/facial hair, and body markings. Some elements will be class specific, to support the classes’ unique backgrounds, but many will be shared between classes allowing more possibilities to mix and match. You can see some examples of these customization options throughout this blog.
Now I want to talk about some of the challenges we faced.
Dark Fantasy Meets Realism Through Physically-Based Rendering (PBR)
Diablo IV is intended to have a look that is grounded in reality, and to achieve that we need to follow some basic rules of color value, such as PBR, which means our materials look and react to light in a realistic way. The challenge for the 3D artists is to transfer the color of a concept drawing to a PBR value. For example, in PBR, silver is a very bright grey, almost white, and the reflection of the material makes it look darker. All the characters in Diablo IV follow the PBR rules, to ensure that our characters look as good in daylight as they do in a dark dungeon.
Expanding the Dye System
Tools that empower players to customize the look of their characters help build a stronger connection to those characters and the game. Our dye system allows you to change the color palette of your armor pieces, such as changing silver to gold or replacing a white cloth for a black cloth, etc.
Each part of the armor can be dyed, including the helmet, chest, gloves, legs, and boots. You can dye each piece with a different color palette if you choose, or apply the same palette to all of them.
This system was challenging to implement because materials such as metal do not allow themselves to be dyed with inappropriate colors when they follow PBR rules. To address this, we added data to our armor that identifies specific material types and tells the dye system what color goes on what material, such as leather, fabric, metal, and other specific surfaces. The result is armor that is dyable in a range of colors that still feeling grounded and realistic in the world we’re building for Diablo IV.
A Close-Up Look at Our Camera
The game camera is one of our top priorities, as we want to make sure the character looks good and readable from the isometric perspective. It’s the first thing we consider in character development. That said, the player character will be displayed in a lot of different ways throughout the game, whether that’s the character customization screen, the inventory paper doll, social screens, and in our real-time cinematics, which will often zoom in for a closer view of the character than in the rest of the game. To support that, we have added an extra layer of texture called detail mapping—detail mapping is a small, repetitive texture applied on top of the material that bring more sharpness and detail to the main texture.
Every armor set in Diablo IV has two body types. Here is an armor set for Barbarians with some subtle differences between the two.
Another example of different Rogue body types wearing the same armor set.
Here is a video clip in slow motion of the Rogues, which we recorded in our real-time engine. You can really enjoy the details and see how the light reacts with the materials. You will also be able to see some of our customization elements that I talked about earlier. Please note, the environment is a test scene that modelers use to look at their characters and many of these armors are works in progress and subject to change and polish.
Here is another slow motion video of the Barbarians. Please note that all these armors are a work in progress and are subject to some adjustment.
This is just scratching the surface of what’s to come in Diablo IV in terms of character customization. The team is dedicated to delivering the best quality possible, and we hope that players will enjoy all the options we have available for customizing their characters in Diablo IV.
Associate Art Director, Characters
I'm excited to share with you our vision and our process for making monsters in Diablo IV.
With monsters, success requires that many different things come together, but it starts with the player feeling satisfied in killing it. That means the monster needs to visually match its gameplay and have a gory/demonic twist to it. They should look like something you have not seen before as well as taking something visually familiar and brushing it with a Diablo paint brush. That Diablo brush applies a level of detail, an understanding of gameplay needs, a level of artistry, and the demonic Diablo theme to all our monsters.
Visual Design and Gameplay Intent
For me, everything starts with a goal. Typically, it's a goal from design on what this monster needs to do and what the player experience should be. Making games is a collaboration. Sometimes a visual concept helps drive an idea, while in others a paper design is enough.
The Blood Bishop
Our game design goal for the Blood Bishop was to make a caster who would cast direct damage and create AOE bombs for area of denial. As for the visual notes, we wanted a high-level boss based on vampiric blood and magic. We knew we wanted to double down on the notion of a heart shape for the function of the blood magic. That naturally led to the notion of arteries creating these blood clots that explode to cast the AOE effect design needs. An exposed beating heart was the natural visual choice. So, the organic pulsing we see, the flowing arteries, and the blood-based VFX all combined to reach an aligned goal the team could get behind. The success here is when the game design needs were met visually in a true Diablo way.
The Skeleton Lord
This process was similar, but this time we had a visual concept to work from.
This undead Skeleton Lord is made of fused skeleton and body parts, with sinew and blood connecting it together—something we felt fit our game visually. That led to a Design Lead wanting to create a fight based on this character. The Design team was able to create a unique fight based on bone visuals, summoning skeletons, bone walls to restrict pathing, and leveraging the giant staff—one attack has the Skeleton Lord smashing the staff into the ground and creating a shower of exploding bone shards. Even though the art was created first, the Design team leveraged its look to help theme a fun and interesting fight we all enjoy.
The Right Artistic Detail for the Game
We also need to look at our assets from two main focal points. Our game camera and a closer full body size camera. This means we need to understand what is important and what is supporting these elements in terms of overall shape language and finer secondary and tertiary details.
Level of artistic detail is always a challenge. Details need to be readable for the game, colors need to group well, silhouettes need to stand out, as well as being built for performance and movement. Understanding this is key to allowing our monsters to look great from our isometric camera while also delivering stunning details up close.
This Spider feeding upon and birthing spider spawn from a bloated corpse has a great visual design.
The spindly legs and back thorax instantly tell you what it is. That thin look of the legs as it moves down to a thicker body give it a nice balance to settle the shape language from top to bottom. The saturated red of the spider, on top of the cooler and more subdued body, help pop the spider visually so your eye catches it as soon as they show up on screen. When we look closer, you can see the spectacular highlights on the bloated body, the torn and pulled flesh, and the bulging pustules. So, up close gruesome details are visible from the game camera because of the clear shape and color grouping.
This succubus is another great example of an interesting and clear visual read from gameplay, with finer details that don't get in the way of the game camera but really raise the visual bar.
At the game camera we see a familiar silhouette. A winged demon hovering to seduce its prey and attack with magic from a distance. As you look closer, you see intricate details in the cloths, translucent skin on the wings, as well as materials like gold clasps, stitching, and embroidery on the outfit. We also see the wings are attached at the base of the head. A detail that needs a closer look to see but doesn’t complicate the look from different cameras.
A Modern Pipeline
In order to achieve this, we needed a process and technology to realize these amazing and, honestly, disturbing creations. To do that we have built a world class team creating monsters and demons at a level of quality that raises the bar for the Diablo series.
PBR gives us the ability to create surfaces and materials that look realistic and accurately react to lighting in the world. Leather can look like leather, metals like metals, and organic surfaces can feel appropriately squishy and fleshy by comparison.
This Knight is covered head to toe in metal and fabric that reacts differently based on lighting. You can see nice details and material breaks on the hard surfaces that your eye expects to see. This detail grounds us in a world we all visually know and understand. The difference from a scale pattern of finer metal to large, hammered iron next to gold trim is readily apparent.
Organic surfaces also are represented accurately in our engine. Fur, bone, flesh, and blood are all visible and react to light correctly. This is a Diablo game, after all, and we know these materials will be important.
So that is a brief rundown of some of the things we look at and value when it comes to monsters in Diablo IV. We really enjoy creating enemies, monsters, and demonic creatures that bring out an emotional response from our players, from fear or revulsion to the excitement of slaying them in true Diablo fashion.
In closing, I'd like to say that there are moments as a developer where you are just making the game, day-in and day-out, and you don't always take time to appreciate the craft on display that you are privileged to see every day. I love that we are doing these blogs to give you all some insight into our progress and process. It's a great opportunity for us to reflect on the journey, share our art, and appreciate the craft of our teammates. We hope you like what you see, and please share your comments on your platform of choice. We love to hear community feedback—it's really been a labor of love and an honor to create for you, and we can't wait for you to play it!
Thank you for joining us and keep an eye out for our upcoming blog update next quarter!
-The Diablo IV Team