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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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