Art controversy

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The art controversy of Diablo III started with WWI 2008, when a considerable number of Diablo fans found the colour of Diablo 3's palette as initially revealed to be "too colourful". Many fans referenced the bright colors and tinted lightning so common in World of Warcraft and felt Diablo 3 was reminiscent of that and "too cartoonish."

Diablo 3's final version art direction was completed during the summer of 2007 after extensive iterative testing, tweaking, and editing. [1]

Fan Reactions[edit | edit source]

One Diablo fan's artistic inspiration from the WWI 2008 reveal.

This is what Blizzard said in regards to the Diablo III art direction in the Lore & Environmental Art Panel:

Skip to about the 21:00 mark to hear it. To paraphrase, the designers talk about how their memories of D1 and D2 were that they were dark and gritty, but that when they actually looked back through the games they found much more color than they expected. They also say that they looked at horror movies and noticed how the color was used effectively to create mood, and that they're following that design path with Diablo III.

How it "Should" Look[edit | edit source]

A lot of discussion started up about the colour of the environments in the community forums, where some fans utterly hated the new colours, some didn't care as long as they got D3, and some liked it. Fan-made photoshopped images popped up with no colour, higher contrast, more "grit", or even the odd blood stain. More pictures have been posted in the Controversy Gallery since then. Naturally, effects such as rainbows were done away with as the point of all these images is to make the pictures more grey and "dark". Some variants just enhance a few aspects, while some go all-out. A very strong fear for just "re-making World of WarCraft" is prevalent.

Sample of arguments:

  • The art should be nowhere near the art of World of Warcraft.
  • Art should not look "cartoonish" at all. Less pastel with bold lines and defined contours. More realism.
  • Darker environment with more realistic gothic creepy dark influences.
  • Less colour in the environment.
  • No rainbows!
  • Add the 'light radius' of Diablo 1 and Diablo 2.
  • Equipment should be more realistic, with smaller shoulder plates as a main focus point.

The Petitions[edit | edit source]

Together with the first few photoshopped images, petitions started to appear on the net with the demand that Blizzard should change the art design, similar to what they did with Terrans in StarCraft II. Petition signature count 2008-08-07:

One of the petitions against the new art direction got quite popular, and Blizzard originally did not comment on it. There were also petitions starting to support Blizzard's decision. The number of signatures on the different petitions are probably not an accurate guideline for what fans think however, as the fans who do like the current direction would be less vocal than those who are unhappy.

Responses to Complaints[edit | edit source]

Popular web comic site Penny Arcade commented[2] on the controversy, as well as presenting a comic[3] about the issue.

We tried to imagine the sort of person who takes world-class design, changes the contrast, and then calls themselves the artist. It wasn't especially difficult.
Penny Arcade responded with a comic named 'Anguish.jpg'.

Blizzard's Response[edit | edit source]

Blizzard seemed to be prepared for some sort of onslaught against the colours well before the actual WWI 2008 reveal, and started talking about the importance of colour in the D3 Lore and Environmental Art Panel before the petitions even started.

Video comment by Flux:
Skip to about the 21:00 mark to hear it. To paraphrase, the designers talk about how their memories of D1 and D2 were that they were dark and gritty, but that when they actually looked back through the games they found much more color than they expected. They also say that they looked at horror movies and noticed how the color was used effectively to create mood, and that they're following that design path with Diablo III.

The reactions from fans might have been a bit stronger than they initially thought though, as they started out in the beginning of July to avoiding replying to the petition itself. It's unlikely Blizzard didn't know about the uproar, considering several websites such as Slashgear, The Globe and Mail and the largest Diablo 3 fansite, all featured reports on the reactions.

Keith Lee replies:
A great analogy is like in 'Lord of the Rings' — not everything is dark. [...] We don't want everything to look the same and that’s really what we're trying to aim for. [...]What we also tried to do is create very clean textures so that you can really focus. It's a stylized feel and in that sense, it's very sort of a Blizzard philosophy. It's just really pushing the envelope in terms of the visuals so that everyone is excited about how everything looks. We think that 'Diablo III' is going to be better in so many different ways. We're just building and improving upon the the first and second 'Diablo' games.
We're very involved, because everyone's very passionate about our games. Blizzard employees, we spend a lot of time actually iterating on [the game], and so in terms of the next phase, what we'll try to do is a proof on concept on lot of different gameplay aspects. And we really want to get as much feedback as possible so that we can improve on the game and ensure that we meet Blizzard quality for our fans and for ourselves as players.

Later in July, a few mainstream sites got the opportunity to talk to Blizzard in NYC, where art direction, and direct replies to some petition pictures were made by Jay Wilson.

Jay Wilson judges fan pics:
Jay Wilson: The key thing to remember here is that this has been Photoshopped. This isn’t created by the engine. Though it looks really cool, it's almost impossible to do in a 3D engine because you can’t have lighting that smart and run on systems that are reasonable. If we could do that, we probably would in a few of the dungeons.
Now in terms of the actual texturing, this texturing, where they grayed out everything and it's very flat and the monsters are all kind of a similar tone — that does not play well. It's very boring to run through more than a couple of times, and it's very difficult to tell creatures apart and pop them out of the environment. So those things don't really work for us. A lot of the lighting stuff I think is very cool, but it's also not very doable for us.
Fun with Rainbows

At BlizzCon 2009 in one of the Diablo III panels discussing animation for the monk, attendees got an exclusive first look at the Monk's Rainbow Kick. It was of course a tongue in cheek reference to the controversy and was greeted with much cheering and whooping.

Ex-Blizzard Response[edit | edit source]

Since virtually everyone who created Diablo I and Diablo II have since left the company (most before or when Blizzard North closed in 2005), and the project was begun almost entirely from scratch at Blizzard Irvine in 2005, there's very little continuity between D3 and the previous games in the series. This is not very noticeable in the gameplay, but it's quite clear in the visuals and art design/style, which is what spurred the whole Art Controversy in the first place.

Most of the designers of D1 and D2 have refrained from making any comments on the look or style of D3, and when they have commented they've been fairly positive. Bill Roper, however, took a different, more candid approach when asked about Diablo 3 in a few interviews in early 2009. Bill spoke at length on this issue with [4] To go further back in your career, you worked on Diablo, and that's coming up on a third sequel. How do you think it's been handled?
Bill Roper: Ultimately they're going to do a great job, because Blizzard always does a great job on products. I was interested by the big explosion that happened online when they released the first gameplay footage and screenshots, when that vocal minority was outraged that it didn't have that dark, gothic, gritty look. But that actually made sense, because it's not Blizzard North doing it anymore. That's the art style that the guys down at Irvine do. So it looks to me as what I would've expected from those guys, handling the Diablo universe. I always thought that was a real strength between having development teams in Irvine and San Mateo. Blizzard North had a different art direction, a different style, and different thought processes towards mechanics that were all very solid, and allowed the Diablo games to expand out on their own in a lot of different ways. I think that what you're seeing now is that mechanic being taken over by the guys in Irvine because it's involves them now, and so it's going to have that flavour. I want it to be great because I love Diablo, and I want another one. From your comments I get the feeling you'd prefer the Diablo 1 or Diablo 2 art style.
Bill Roper: I don't dislike how it looks now. I didn't look at it and have the appalled reaction a lot of people did, I just appreciated that it had a very distinct look. The Diablo games looked different to the Craft games, and I liked the fact that it was very dark, gothic fantasy. I just think that it's nice to be able to have different worlds represented with very different visuals... When WoW came out, there were plenty of people who didn't like the way it looked, and I think that with Diablo 3 there'll be some people who don't like it and prefer the look of the first two Diablo games. When they first released the the videos and the screenshots, there was definitely an uprising from certain sections of Blizzard and Diablo fans, but Blizzard does what it's going to do so I'm sure that all those people who were really upset will still be in line with the rest of us, getting a copy! As long as it's good and cohesive and takes the stories that they're telling, I'm okay if it doesn't look exactly like it did before, although I did like that really dark, edgy, gothic look.

Bill expounded further on this in an interview with [5] You mention that you can understand the art style and direction Blizzard has taken with Diablo III, but are you pleased with it or disappointed with it? You were one of the chief architects of the original Diablo games which, as you've said, were darker and grittier than the Craft games.
Bill Roper: You know, I liked the darker grittier. I liked the differences in art style, to be honest. So, I think I would personally from a player standpoint prefer that. One of the things that we always tried to get across was that Diablo was Gothic fantasy and I think there was just a need that was put in there from the visuals that I didn't necessarily get. I got it from the architecture and to a degree from the character design but not the feeling of the world. I can't say that I dislike it. I didn't look at it and go, oh my God that's horrible. But I looked at it and went, it's not really... to me as a player it just didn't really ring with Diablo.

Blizzard Art Department Departing[edit | edit source]

In the beginning of August, Kotaku noted that the Lead Art Director position of Diablo III had quit, since they were looking for a new one. Brian Morrisoe worked as Lead Art Director as recently as WWI 2008, where he headed the Environmental Art Panel, and did some media, such as this interview with CVG. Some fans said it seemed odd that he quit in time for the fan protests, just like if there had been tensions in the team, which re-ignited with fan protests.

Blizzard recruiting art people.
What the Kotaku piece doesn't mention is that there are several other D3 art team jobs listed on Blizzard's jobs page. None of them are recent additions, but many fans speculated that Blizzard was having trouble finding/keeping art talent on Diablo 3. Some even went as far as to say that the team might have gotten split up because of internal disagreements on the art direction. Jay Wilson, Diablo 3's Lead Producer, handled the fan screenshot replies mentioned previously, and some fans ask why the Art Directors didn't handle that.

Blizzard made a statement saying that Brian quit to start his own company.

Regarding Brian, he recently resigned to form a startup technology company (outside the game industry), which is why we've posted about the open position. This change won't impact the game - we're really pleased with the look and feel that Brian helped create for Diablo III, and the new person we bring onboard will work with the other artists on the team to maintain the art style moving forward. Given this state of affairs, it's hard not to speculate (as several emailers have) that perhaps the controversy over the game's art direction wasn't just amongst the fans. Perhaps different factions within the Diablo 3 team had their own strong opinions on how the game's art should look, and when push came to shove, some of the crew left. Or were asked to leave? Happily, as Blizzard often points out, the production of a game as large as Diablo 3 is handled by a large team, and no one is indispensable. Let's hope they get talented job applicants and can plug them into the openings and carry on smoothly.

This doesn't say anything in regards to if he quit because of disagreements, or other reasons.

Jay Wilson also commented further on Morrisoe: [6]

AG: I have a question that is slightly thorny: There was been a lot speculation around the departure of art director Brian Morrisroe from Diablo 3 - from when the art style was revealed; all that mixed reaction from different people. Why exactly did he leave and was it anything to do with that?
Jay: It actually had nothing to do with the project. Brian really loves the project and his leaving was amicable - we actually still talk to him fairly frequently. He left to create a start-up outside of the games industry; he felt an opportunity that he just couldn't pass up - a once in a lifetime thing. I hate to see him go because he’s so good for the team, such a good art director and I really enjoyed working with him. But he felt like this was a fairly safe point for him to depart and pursue his other interest. Because the art style is established and because our art lead structure is strong. While I can't say it has helped the project to have him leave, I think it's done as minimal damage as possible to the project as it could have. It certainly has nothing to do with the art style controversy or anything like that, and our art style direction will not change.

Blizzard Changes Art Based on Feedback[edit | edit source]

While most of the feedback from enthusiastic fans were discounted as not being a priority or even possible in terms of gameplay, Jay did come back and told the fans through IncGamers that they made certain changes from the feedback. Here is a summary from IncGamers.[7]

Jay elaborates on two art changes they've made based on fan feedback; they're going back and making a lot of the dungeon environments grittier and bloodier, and they're not going to fade out all of the corpses after battles now; just some of them. Many will remain on the ground until the characters leave the area.

Too Many Special Effects?[edit | edit source]

Though Diablo 3 is not being designed to be the shiniest, most graphically-amazing game ever produced, it does have a lot of nice visual effects. The team wants it to be pretty, but the visuals must support the gameplay. There's been some debate about just how many explosions and visual starbursts there should be.

This debate intensified after Blizzcon 2009, when many fans thought the action was somewhat obscured by the constant blasts of colorful light created by the characters; especially by the Monk's charge up skills. Diablo 3's Technical Art Director Julian Love spoke about this in an October 2009 interview.[8]

Diablo-Source: What are your thoughts on the special effects and death animations since all the feedback fans gave at Blizzcon?
Julian Love: Well, actually, the feedback I found that the fans gave mirrored our own internal feedback. It turns out that in order to get the Monk and a number of other features for Blizzcon we just slapped a lot things into a special effects kit that were not meant for how often they showed up in the game and made the Blizzcon build a little messier than we had intended it to be. However, the way we tend to go about doing this kind of thing is to make everything too big on purpose to make sure that we've gone far enough. Once we realize that we've done that, we go through a period where we sort of pull things back. It's kind of akin to mixing music where you sort of record everything in full volume and then you go to the mixer board and you tweak knobs until you tighten everything up and get back into reality. That's the mode we're in right now, tightening some things up.

The End of the Art Controversy?[edit | edit source]

In the second week of September, a Diablo fan called Sozou posted a completely modified gameplay video of Diablo III with desaturated and "gritted" moving art in high resolution, showing what the dev team could do. With all the possible screenshot modifications and the like, it seems unlikely any more thorough example of what some fans would like can be made. He also gave a short interview.

Blizzard have not responded to this new media yet, but as the hype slowly has diminished, it's not quite likely they will either.

Links[edit | edit source]

  • Discuss the Issue
  • General Information
    • WWI 2008 - Art panels, video and screenshots of the new game.
    • Art Controversy Category - All articles, pictures, panels and other material related in the wiki.
    • Controversy Gallery - Gallery of original screenshots and edited ones by fans trying to convey a more "dark" feeling. Including responses to the critics.
    • Media Coverage - All Interview, Previews, Videos and Pictures released by mainstream gaming media.
  • Articles
  • Other Media