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Diablo 4 Quarterly Update, December 2021: +Skill Ranks Affixes, Legendary Affix Transfers, Paragon Talents, Visual Effects

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We have another massive quarterly update for Diablo 4 on our hands, this time with plenty of systems info! We get a lot of detail into itemization, with +skill affixes returning from D2, as well as legendary affixes being much more flexible since we'll be able to transfer them from one legendary to the other. There's also plenty of info on the new paragon point system, with slottable items called glyphs and a very Path of Exile-like layout. Finally there's a lot of info on the visuals of the game, from combat, lighting and more.

Blizzard LogoQ4 2021 Update (Source)

Table of Contents


Hello and welcome to the year-end Diablo IV Quarterly Update.

We hope you enjoyed October's deep dive into sound design, the atmospheric ambient tracks, and peeking behind the scenes of how game sounds are made.

Since our last blog, we've been hard at work adding new content and systems to the game. We’ve made big strides, with every build of the game containing a host of expanded content, new art, balance changes, and other iterations. In fact, the team is currently playtesting an internal release of the game that represents a significant milestone. We have much to share with you today as a result, so let's dive in.

First, Lead Systems Designer Joe Piepiora will discuss updates to key elements of itemization. These include the return of +Skills on items, a new way to interact with legendary powers, and some early work on targeted drops. After that, grab a warm beverage and a comfortable chair as he walks us through Diablo IV's completely new end-game character growth system: the Paragon Board.

Next, Lead Visual Effects Artist Daniel Briggs will describe the philosophy that allows our talented VFX team to create huge explosions and eye-popping skill effects while keeping the game clear and readable, even when there are many players and monsters on the screen at the same time. He'll also go into detail on how Diablo IV's new game engine has allowed us to make frame-by-frame combat more precise and nuanced, while leveling up our effects to take advantage of the new lighting system. Finally, feast your eyes upon a plethora of skills across all four announced classes that show off our skill-driven death system.

We hope you enjoy this update and look forward to your thoughts and reactions. We'll be back in the new year and are ever grateful to have you with us on this journey.

-Joe Shely,
Game Director, Diablo IV

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The Itemization of Diablo IV

Greetings, Heroes of Sanctuary!

We are thrilled to once again dole out a whole heap of info on the state of systems and endgame in Diablo IV. I’m Joe Piepiora, the Lead Systems Designer, and today I’m going to share some details on two major features of Diablo IV: itemization updates and our plans for Paragon.

+Skill Rank Affixes

In Diablo IV, the +Skill Rank affix returns. As players invest points in skills, they grow in potency, and finding items with +Skill Rank can speed that along. As a bonus, when the player equips an item with +Skill Rank for a skill they haven’t learned, they will have access to that new ability. It’s a great way to try out new skills before you’re able to invest in them. Getting a lucky drop that nets you a skill you’d like for your build ten levels before you would otherwise have access to it is a huge boost!

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Legendary and Unique Items

As Joe Shely discussed back in our December 2020 update, Legendary and Unique Items remain a core part of the Diablo item chase experience. We’ve made a foundational change to Legendary items in Diablo 4 by allowing legendary powers to appear on multiple item slots. Now, if you’re searching for a legendary power, like Martial Arts—which enhances the Barbarian’s kick ability—you may find it on rings, chestplates, or helmets; there’s no need to hunt for a specific item type any longer.

Now, the real question is what happens when you find a power on an axe when you really wanted it on a ring? Or you found a great legendary amulet, but can’t use the power? Well, that is when we get to introduce our new friend, the Occultist.

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The Occultist can extract a legendary power from a Legendary item, crystallizing it into Essence while destroying the item in the process. That Essence can then be implanted into another Legendary item, overriding the power that was present in the item at that time. Essence material can also be stored and used at a later time.

Unique Items cannot be modified in this way, keeping their fantasies intact—and as their name implies—unique.

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Hunting for Items

Sanctuary is a vast world, filled with forlorn trails through werewolf-infested forests, withered heaths crawling with cannibals, and fog-choked graveyards crawling with the restless dead. There are plenty of enemies and monsters for the hero to encounter. Each of these monsters seem to enjoy collecting certain types of items and will be somewhat more likely to drop those items than others. While bandits are fond of Maces, Crossbows, and Boots, if you’re hunting for a new pair of Pants, you'd do well to kill some of the Drowned instead.

In past discussions, we’ve received feedback that it seems deflating for so much of a character’s power to be delivered through the gear that they have equipped. Customizing and planning a character feels less rewarding if it doesn’t play a big role in how the character performs in combat. We hear you loud and clear, and in Diablo IV, we have placed a stronger emphasis on character power that is earned by all the little decisions you make while leveling up and exploring the world of Sanctuary. While we aren’t talking about everything we have planned for character power today, I’m happy to talk about one feature in particular, the Paragon Board.

The Paragon Board

In Diablo IV, we have placed a heavy emphasis on build customization, ensuring that you can have plenty of control over how your hero grows. The Paragon Board unlocks for each class at level 50 and is a distillation of this focus. Your hero begins their journey through the Paragon system at the central starting tile of their class’s intro board, and from there, you make selections radiating outward. Once your hero reaches a gate tile, you’ll choose which new paragon board you would like to attach to at that location. The desired outcome is a personalized set of bonuses that will empower your hero and honor your dedication to their progression, that will remain fun to tweak and adjust over many playthroughs.

There is a lot to take in with the image below, so I’ll walk through some aspects of what we’re looking at here.

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The Paragon Board is comprised of many fixed tiles. As the Barbarian earns experience, they will earn Paragon points, which are used to unlock a connected tile. There are a few varieties of tiles that I want to walk through.

Normal Tiles

These tiles are straightforward, providing a small but meaningful stat boost. Normal Tiles are connective tissues that can be found throughout the board and are quite common.

Magic Tiles

Magic Tiles are found in clusters throughout the board and provide a potent, more diverse set of benefits. As you might expect, they are less common than Normal Tiles, but are still plentiful.

Rare Tiles

Rare Tiles offer significant boosts in power. Upon entering the Paragon Board for the first time, these represent great goals for players to chase, particularly once you’ve narrowed builds down towards highly specific goals. Rare Tiles also have additional powers that unlock once the hero has raised an attribute to a sufficient level, requiring some choices to be made when plotting your path through the board.

Legendary Tile

After the first Paragon Board, each new board has a single Legendary Tile that can be found at its center. Legendary Tiles impart a new Legendary Power to the character that earns it.

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Glyphs and Sockets

A Socket is a special tile that can contain a Glyph. Glyphs are items found throughout Sanctuary that, when embedded into a Paragon Board, confer various benefits based upon the number of active tiles within their radius.

Glyphs can also be leveled up by delving into some particularly dangerous dungeons. Leveling up a Glyph extends the radius of their effect, allowing each one to draw power from or impart power to even more active tiles.

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Gate Tiles and Board Selection

A single Gate Tile lies at each edge of the Paragon Board. As you progress through the Paragon Board, you will eventually reach a Gate Tile, which upon unlocking will allow you to select a new Paragon Board to attach to your existing Board. Each of these boards has unique Tile layouts, new Magic and Rare Tiles, and a new Legendary Tile at the center.

The Paragon Board is extended from these Gate Tiles. Upon selecting from the Paragon Board list, you will be able to place the board down, connecting it to the newly unlocked Gate Tile. You may also optionally rotate that newly placed board.

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We’re hard at work on these and other features that we’ll be able to share more about in future updates. Though for now that’s all from the systems team. Thanks for reading and please share any feedback you have on social media, Reddit, or our forums! We’ll see you in Hell!

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Visual Effects in Diablo IV

Thanks for joining us! My name is Daniel Briggs, and I am the Lead Visual Effects Artist for Diablo IV. The VFX team gets to contribute to features across the entire game, but today we will focus on the work we do to support combat. VFX artists collaborate with designers and other art teams to create strong thematic identities for the hero classes and breathe life into monsters, in order to deliver the visceral, gruesome combat players have come to expect.

VFX is an integral part of the combat experience for all Diablo games. With Diablo IV, we wanted to step up the fidelity of our effects using Physically Based Rendering (PBR), as well as better support the core pillars of gameplay: deep hero customization, itemization, and combat readability.

Visual Effects - Philosophy

Every effect plays a role in the final composition of our game. It is important to understand the context of an effect, and how it best serves your experience.

One of our core values at Blizzard Entertainment is “Gameplay First,” and this drives a lot of the artistic decisions we make while developing visual effects for the game. Moment-to-moment gameplay is the focal point within the composition of Diablo IV: it should draw your attention. To achieve this, we must consider things like player skills, monster telegraphs, traps, damage areas, and character states. The visual effects for each of these components must be readable in all areas and lighting conditions, so you can quickly understand what is happening and use that information to make informed decisions.

In the chaos of combat, you’ll need to be smart—seeing a Legendary item drop is exciting, but picking it up is not as important as reacting to a monster’s attack that can one-shot Hardcore characters! Our goal is to balance the primary, secondary, and tertiary reads to help you understand what is happening. To do this, we reserve visually loud FX for powerful skills, like ultimate abilities, while weaker skills meld into the background. Each class has abilities that range from low to high in costs, cooldowns, and power. In tandem, classes have a range of visual intensity that increases with skill power.

Combat Improvements

To enhance the feel of combat, we have made several improvements to the way damage is applied in our game. In previous iterations of Diablo, an area-of-effect (AOE) or melee skill would be a single area of damage that is applied on a single frame. Thanks to our gameplay engineers, we can now animate target areas (what we call payloads) over multiple frames, which allows us to line up the animated target areas with the animated VFX that play out.

For example, Whirlwind in Diablo III is a cylinder shape surrounding your Barbarian, which applies damage every couple of frames at a rate based on your attack speed. In Diablo IV, Whirlwind is an animated pie shape that animates with your character. AOEs expand outward with time, and melee swings match the motion of your weapon. Animated target areas improve accuracy to the way we apply damage in Diablo IV; it makes combat feel more impactful, and monster ragdolls more visceral. Animated payloads also add a subtle timing aspect to a variety of skills.

Additionally, we have revamped the way we apply hit effects to monsters, so impacts flow with the direction of a spell or melee attack. We use data defined in the animation and animated target area to find the most accurate place to hit a monster, and where to apply a directional physics force to the ragdoll. In so few words, if you hit a goat-man in the knee, the blood spray would come from his knee. The physics force applied to the goat-man’s knee would send it flying as if you kicked the legs out from under him.

Visual Effects - Casting and Receiving Light

In Diablo IV, we use a PBR (physically based rendering) lighting model, which means our materials look and react to light in a realistic way. This approach brings huge rendering improvements, but this can be counterintuitive to what a player might expect for class and monster abilities. As an example, think about what a campfire looks like in full daylight—pretty lackluster, right? Next, imagine what a dust cloud or smoke plume would look like in the dead of night—it'd be nearly impossible to see. To account for this, we’ve built an engine and shader library that lets us break PBR rulesets in artistic ways. This ensures important gameplay moments shine through as clearly as possible while keeping immersive elements full PBR so they can realistically react to lighting.

Previous iterations of Diablo use primarily “unlit” particles, meaning they are not affected by the environment’s lighting. These particles give you amazing control over what the art will look like: what you paint is what you get. The downside to unlit particles is that art may look too bright in a dark dungeon, or VFX color schemes may not feel cohesive within every environment.

In Diablo IV, we use lit VFX that meld into the environment’s lighting, creating a more immersive experience. Using Whirlwind as an example (seen in the video above)—in bright daylight, the blade reflects light from the sun. In a dark dungeon, it will reflect more subtle light sources, like torches. The dust kicked up by the skill is also lit by the environment, so it blends artfully into the world.

If we rely solely on environment lighting and follow true PBR rules, then gameplay readability is muddied, particularly in dark environments where a weapon swing would naturally be hard to see. To counteract this, many VFX have emissivity to cast light onto the environment. Several ultimates in our game will even allow you to change the weather and lighting of the environment for a limited duration. We strive for a healthy balance of gameplay clarity and thematic immersion.

Dynamic Player Skills

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the art looks like if the gameplay isn’t fun. One of the goals for creating player skills is to ensure that the System Design team has a variety of modifiers they can utilize to create meaningful skill trees, class mechanics, Legendary items, and Paragon Boards.

Choices should affect more than your character’s stats. Once we have a class skill we are happy with, the VFX team adds the ability for developers to dynamically change the size, intensity, and duration of a skill. The visual intensity of a skill will increase as you stack upgrades and items that increase the power of that ability.

In addition to these skill modifiers, we create variants of abilities that completely change the functionality of a skill or the damage type that it deals. These skill variants can be changed by the scale, intensity, and duration modifiers as well. This allows variants of skills to be affected by a wider range of legendary modifier groupings. Your skill tree/paragon decisions, along with the items you have equipped, will make your character look and play differently from other characters of the same class.

Each of these ranges is handcrafted by an artist to ensure the art holds up at all supported sizes and intensities. We do not uniformly scale every piece of an effect when changing size and intensity; we modify things like spawn rate, velocity, emissivity, and color ranges to make certain the art still fits in the world of Diablo.

We want your character to look incredible as well! Our items are built in a way that allows us to easily apply weapon buffs to any weapon in the game. Not only will your legendary items do awesome things, but they will make your character look amazing as well. Here is an example where we apply the same fire and poison buff to several weapons in our game.

Skill Driven Deaths

Sanctuary is a dark, gothic world filled with horrific monsters that do horrendous things. To survive in this bleak landscape, you must be merciless toward your enemies. We are bringing back a popular feature from Diablo III: skill-driven deaths. This system allows you to decapitate, bisect, freeze, shatter, eviscerate, and burn your enemies, to give a few examples.

With our new PBR pipeline, we can make blood, viscera, and gore even more realistic by having it react properly to the lighting of an environment. Every monster is built with a skeletal and muscular structure used for killing them in brutal ways. If your character is in the thick of combat, they will be covered in the blood spatter of nearby monsters. Over time, your character’s armor will transition back to being spotless.

The Sorceress studies the art of elemental magic. They slow enemies with cold before freezing them solid and shattering them to pieces. They strike their enemies with stunning bursts of lightning, causing bodies to pop and sizzle. Enemies collapse to the floor and char to the bone as the Sorceress engulfs foes in fire.

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Some examples of death types that Sorceresses can trigger:

  • Freeze/Shatter - Break frozen monsters into pieces
  • Char - Singe the corpse of a monster with lightning
  • Burn – Scorch the monster’s flesh, leaving the remains of a charred skeleton

The Barbarian takes pride in their physical capabilities. Their arsenal of weaponry makes them deadly in close combat. With the power of their ancient bloodline, Barbarians crush foes into piles of gore or send them flying across the battlefield. Their brute strength is equally matched by their speed and ferocity as they unleash fury on the battlefield, dismembering limbs from all that stand in their way.

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Some examples of death types that Barbarians can trigger:

  • Crush – Flatten a monster under the weight of a heavy object
  • Decapitate - Remove a monster’s head from its body
  • Cut In Half - Sweet ?
  • Break Lower Limbs- The monster’s lower body is shattered, splitting several of their joints

The Rogue is dexterous; their attacks are methodical. Monsters are often oblivious to their presence until it is far too late. A precise stab from one of their daggers, or a well-placed arrow, is enough to bring most monsters to the floor. The Rogue finds the most opportune time to take on a fight, and they imbue weapons to gain an advantage. Shadow magic can make a superb distraction, but their shadow clones are as deadly as their blades.

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Some examples of death types that Rogues can trigger:

  • Eviscerate – Spill the insides of a monster
  • Shadow – Shadow energy deteriorates the life from a monster's flesh.
  • Freeze/Shatter - Break frozen monsters into pieces
  • Poison – The monster’s skin melts off leaving a heap of muscle and bone
  • Flay – Flay the skin from an enemy, leaving the muscle structure intact

The Druid is one with nature magic. They conjure storms and call down lightning on their enemies. They control the battlefield with gusts of wind as their animal companions tear the flesh from monsters. Druids manipulate the earth with nature magic, molding it to their will and bludgeoning enemies from afar. As their enemies approach, they see the innate power of the Druid, shapeshifting fluidly between an agile werewolf and a hulking werebear.

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Some examples of death types that Druids can trigger:

  • Roadkill – The monster is crushed by a moving object, leaving a smear of blood on the ground
  • Devoured– The monster's flesh is eaten away by a swarm of ferocious bites
  • Lightning Gib – Lightning causes the monster’s body to pop, exploding into pieces
  • Maul – The monster’s skin is completely mangled, covering them in blood

That is everything we have to share with you today. It has been a dream to work on this franchise, and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to share some of our development process with the community.

Thank you for reading our last quarterly update blog for 2021. I hope you found it exciting and interesting. We are actively listening to your feedback, and we strive to make Diablo IV the dark, gothic game we all want to play. Please continue to share your thoughts and provide feedback on social media, Reddit, and our forums!

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The paragon board reminds me of the node grid they had in Final Fantasy X. Obviously reminiscent of Path of Exile as well. Seems a little involved, though potentially rewarding and personal.

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I really love the hard work they putting forth into this game. The paragon board and being able to move legendary essences is great for people trying different builds! Looking forward to it.

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This paragon board looks like it's going to be a rather linear thing, you just pick what you want to unlock first. Will be also hard to balance with all these extra effects like glyphs, I'm sure people will quickly discover some overpowered builds. Pretty nice effects. Some of these animations are maybe a little bit too flashy, I don't like seeing enemies highlighted when they are getting hit.

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      One of the biggest goals we try to focus on as sound designers is to make the highest quality sounds to be triggered back in the game real-time and make them seem believable as well as grounded within the game world, tied to what you are experiencing. The randomness of audio playback is of the utmost importance when it comes to gameplay. If you think about real life, nothing is ever heard the exact same way twice due to your listening environment and the positioning of a sound source. Sounds never play back at the same exact sound pressure level along with the reflections within your environment and everything else happening around you at that moment in time. In essence, there are always subtle, real-life reasons as to why nothing ever sounds exactly the same. So, as sound designers for video games, we always strive to introduce subtle, randomized variation to not only the sound design itself, but also for when you hear it in the game. When we are doing our job correctly, it’s something you tend to not notice and supports your immersion into the game world by backing up the incredible visuals, story, and end-to-end experience.
      Another huge goal we have when creating audio for Diablo IV is to fill in sounds for just about everything that’s occurring on your screen. Whether it’s the world ambience, monsters idling offscreen, the tiny chunks of wood that are colliding off a wall when you break an object... everything should make a sound. We pour countless hours of effort into covering almost everything you see and don’t see, while also keeping it subtle enough to not be distracting and just feel right. The devil certainly lurks within the details...
      However, just because we are filling in as much sound as we can, it doesn’t mean you need to hear it every time. The playback engine within the game will not trigger too many instances of a sound if they are trying to play at the same time based on strict settings we create as basic rules. Because of the isometric camera view and being able to see so much on screen at once, we must limit how many instances of each sound will playback at any given moment. Once dialed in correctly, you tend not to notice that some instances were never triggered, and that helps with the clarity of the audio mix. It’s a fine line we straddle during big moments with a lot going on screen.
      How about we get on to more of the creative side of sound design? Naturally, there is no Diablo game without the heroes who do your bidding to vanquish the various evils that lie in your path. Let’s talk about some of the fire-based Sorcerer skills that partly define the class...
      Hero Fire Skills
      The sound crew luckily gets to record all kinds of neat and unique sounds for the game so that we have plenty of sound source to edit from when it comes time to start sound designing. Sound Design is technically described as taking a recorded audio source, editing it, and processing it to be used in another medium. In the case of Sound Design for games, we’ll record raw audio, re-process them, and edit it for our gameplay needs in various ways to achieve something that sounds clean, usable, and replayable for gameplay. The sound could be exactly what it was originally meant for or end up sounding completely different and used for something else entirely.
      Something we always tend to need for a game like Diablo is, of course, fire! When time permits, we plan for some time to record sounds out in the field. For Diablo IV, one of the first big recordings we did as a team was a desert fire session before the lockdown for COVID-19. We traveled far from Blizzard HQ to record various types of fire sounds in the deserts of California, armed with multiple recording rigs and microphones. Thankfully, since it was wintertime, it wasn’t too hot during the day and just a bit cold at night. While our main goal was to capture fire, we ended up capturing all kinds of other sounds we have used during production, like ambience, rocks impacts, foliage movements, wood impacts, door slams, wooden cabin creaks, metal impacts, and scrapes.
      Sorcerer Skills
      Firebolt and Inferno
      Some of the fire recordings were then used specifically for the Sorcerer skills Firebolt and Inferno. For the skill Firebolt, we recorded sets of wispy and smoldering flame whooshes using a fire staff or a dried-out medium-sized log of wood and performed the sound in various ways around sets of microphones. Once we had a nice assortment of different types of fire sounds, we then edited and processed those fire whooshes into game-ready one-shot audio files for the casting and impact sounds, as well as longer loops for the projectile traveling through the air. It all comes together as one cohesive-sounding experience once we get it hooked up in the game to play back as the entire skill sound effect set for Firebolt.
      For the Inferno Sorcerer skill, we then used other takes of the fire recordings and processed them to sound more aggressive and powerful for the larger skill. Just like Firebolt, there’s a set of casting one-shot sounds, a set of loops, and another set of one-shots for when the snake form constricts its body. One cool thing about the Inferno skill is that while it’s fire, it’s fire that has taken the form of a snake. Because of this form, we are able to take some liberties on pushing it away from just fire sound design. We added some light snake-rattling SFX paired with a darker-toned ethereal end to the skill sound to make it feel a bit more magical. When all these pieces re-trigger in-game, it will always sound like the same skill, but be slightly different each time—which increases the replayability sound-wise.
      Monster Sound Design
      Diablo games wouldn't be as fun if you didn't have monsters to slay. One of the most fun things about working on a Diablo game is the vast amount and variance of monsters that exist. This makes monsters ripe for both experimental and more traditional sound design, so let's dig into some monster sound design for foley and voice.
      Monster Movements
      The combination of expert animation and AI brings life and personality to the creatures as they undertake their nefarious activities. When we start the audio process for a brand-new monster, I always recommend that the sound designers start by adding footsteps and foley (clothing or skin) to their movement animations. The moment the creature has footsteps and foley, the creature's cadence and rhythm of their movement really comes to life. It’s at this point I consider that they are becoming grounded and attached to the world. This also dictates how vocal they might sound based on their patterns of movement.
      Monster Voice
      The next layer that finishes the birthing of the creature into existence is their voice exertions. These are the grunting or yelling sounds of them exerting at the player as they attack, or the screams of pain as you take them out one-by-one. Each monster family can be quite different from the next, so depending on the type of monster, we might have intense sound design layers of animalistic-type sounds or even everyday objects that we will manipulate to sound like a screech or scream to create a layer within that final voice. Other times it can be simpler, as we’ll hire creature voice actors to help create the core tone of the monster’s voice that we can then build around with other sounds.
      In the case of the Wood Wraith, it's almost fully sound designed from wood creaks and strains processed to extreme lengths and choosing the right sounds to convey emotion. The Wood Wraith was a blast to sound design as it’s mostly freaky and creaky wood sounds, with a touch of very low-pitched human tone underneath it all.
      Another monster we had the pleasure of working on is the disgustingly awesome Fly Host. This beast walks around birthing flies to attack the player. We ended up using some of our early gore session recordings where we ripped and smacked cabbages and melons, and stirred and squished mayonnaise, salsa and a delicious 7-layer dip into a not-so-great smelling slurry to make some great slimy and disgusting sounds to use in our sound design.
      Open World Ambience
      One of the audio pillars for Diablo IV is “Living Audio”. What this means is that the soundscape is ever evolving and never static. This pillar is built deep into the sound design variations we create for all types sounds, including when it plays back real-time in the game— especially the ambience. Because of the importance of the massive open world, we wanted to give the ambience as much detail as possible and think of it on the same level of Hero sound design. Having the audio and the systems changing subtly over time is key to this pillar. We always want the subtle changes in ambience (that might not be very noticeable) less repeatable and feel more natural and immersive overall.
      The World Building team has done an amazing job giving us huge amounts of inspiration in filling out the regions visually so that we can follow it up with immersive ambient audio.
      Since the player might be in the open world for a large amount of time, we wanted to support each exterior region with unique-sounding environments that also include subtle changes to the audio mix over time. To help achieve this, we use audio systems like real-time occlusion, high-quality reverbs, and environment reactive delay/echoes.
      We’ve provided some long-form recordings of in-game footage with a static shot where you can hear the ambience changing over time. Not only does this show some cool ambient sound design, but we also wanted to provide these to you for your tabletop RPG sessions, or even just to sit back and get lost in while working. The clips were recorded around 5-6 minutes and looped to be almost one hour.
      Dungeon Ambience
      When it comes to the Diablo dungeon crawling-style ambience, we take a special delight in creating various and unique sounding experiences to heighten your immersion. Our approach to the dungeon ambiences is a bit less intense compared to the new open world, as we don’t want to distract you away from a key part of what makes a Diablo game fun— dungeon crawling. This is one area where we can take more liberties in diving deeply into the hellish and creepy soundscapes while having the monsters onscreen to accompany the audible experience. For Diablo IV we are taking a more realistic approach to “what you hear is what you get” when within a dungeon. With long reverberation and sound occlusion, we want you to pay close attention to what might be just around the corner, mentally preparing you for the next pack of enemies.
      Breakable Interactives
      Scattered around the dungeons are a plethora of gratifyingly great breakables. The Interactives team have been creating hundreds of amazingly detailed breakable objects in Diablo IV. For the amazing amount of detail they put into objects as they break, we in turn wanted to fill in every sliver and chunk of destruction you see with believable physics audio. Destroying objects in Diablo should sound just as gratifying and believable as taking down monsters. We put a lot of effort into making sure that all objects have an extremely gratifying break sound, while supporting the debris with tiny bits of audio to accompany the pieces that break apart and fly across a room. I’m still amazed at the level of detail we have for the breakables in Diablo IV. One of my favorite things to do when I see a room full of them is to have at em’!
      Game Mix
      Finally, I wanted to talk a little about the isometric camera. It provides some interesting challenges when it comes to bringing all the elements of the game mix together. Because you can see battlefield at a certain angle out to a certain range, we have to make sure that the monsters existing on the screen are covered with audio, but have the overall mix not feel too cluttered, nor too empty. There’s a lot of real-time juggling of sound playback based on priorities and importance to you, the player.
      For Diablo IV we are able drive the real-time audio mix more than ever before. Because of the isometric camera view, we must trigger sounds on just about everything you see but focus your ears on the most important sounds you should be paying attention to. We've been carving away at audio mix states and an audio importance system that will allow certain important monster sounds to poke out when they are needed. Clarity of game audio mix is hard to achieve in a game where you can have multiple heroes as well as various amounts of monsters on screen, while having detailed ambiences means we need to craft different audible mix states depending on the situation.
      We hope you have enjoyed this brief look into the sound design of Diablo IV. There’s so much more to talk about, but alas, we will have to save it for another time. We welcome any feedback you might have about anything you have heard in the videos or learned about in this quarter’s blog. Thank you for taking the time to learn more about the soundscape of Diablo IV!
      Kris Giampa,
      Sound Supervisor, Diablo IV
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    • By Starym
      We have an interesting video to check out today, by loremaster Game LORE Dash, as he takes a look at some fairly solid evidence that the Paladin may be the final class of Diablo 4, based on many things we've seen in the preview content so far.
      While the Paladin specifically isn't quite a complete slam-dunk, the arguments for a heavily armored class are a pretty safe bet, both from the silhouette angle in the video and just in general. However, GLD makes some pretty convincing arguments, and it a pretty fun video to watch regardless of its accuracy as well! We have lore-based details, the ever-significant char selection silhouette, and a very recent entry from the latest quarterly update and more that all seem to point at a Paladin/Crusader/Holy Warrior type class, so let's get to it:

      So, what do you think? Paladin? Crusader? Priest? Or something else entirely?
    • By Staff
      The second quarterly update of 2021 is here and we have a lot of character-related features, all cosmetic in nature: from the transmog system that has dyes added, facial customizations, and some textures, including a couple of monsters as well! 
      Characters (Source)
      Table of Contents
      Introduction 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!
      -Luis Barriga,
      Game Director, Diablo IV
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      John Mueller,
      Art Director
      Our beautiful and iconic hell fiend, Lilith! This is a capture from one of the in-game cinematics rendered in the Diablo IV game engine. This level of detail is now standard for how we present the major NPCs, classes, and monsters in Diablo IV.
      Hi all,
      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.
      You can choose from a variety of personas and customize them with a slew of detail options during character creation.
      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!
      We call this our Lair scene. Players will customize the look of their character here in our exciting new Wardrobe system that allows you to mix and match hundreds of armor components unique to your class, alongside custom color palettes to create the class fantasy that best represents your character.

      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.
      The Rogue Announce trailer was created entirely in our game engine.

      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!
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      Arnaud Kotelnikoff,
      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.
      Here is an example of the Barbarian with various dye palettes applied to his armor set.
      .grid-container { display: grid; grid-template-columns: 210px 210px 210px; grid-column-gap: 1px; background-color: "display: flex"; } .item1 { grid-column: 1 } .item2 { grid-column: 2 } .item3 { grid-column: 3 } An example of a Sorceress armor set dyed with three different color palettes.
      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.
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      Nick Chilano,
      Associate Art Director, Characters
      Hello everyone,
      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
       
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