The Diablo III visual effects panel discussed how the developers set about designing the new Necromancer hero class. It was led by Brandy Camel (associate community manager), Julian Love (lead visual effects artist), and Jayne Johnston(visual effects artist). Check out our summary recap of the Q&A below.
Brandy: What is your favorite skill to work on?
Julian: Replies Skeleton Mage. He explains the complexity was part of the fun–it had to feel awesome from the moment it was summoned, and it had to feel right for its role. The animation team gave them a model that set the tone. It took 3 months to choose the exact model.
Jane: Replies Bone Spirit. It taught me a lot with how to use the design/development tools. It went through many different versions.
Brandy: What were the challenges with Curses?
Julian: You want to be able to tell the difference between your skills and monster skills. The visuals had to show who would be affected and who is already affected.
Jane: We had to work with 3 different Curses and make it so it was easily readable from just the camera view.
Julian: We ended up desaturating the colors so that when all 3 Curses were applied they didn’t look too happy and clownish. The Necromancer effects shouldn’t be “happy.”
Brandy: How do you make it so skills are easily seen and understood?
Julian: That begins with a talk between the designers and the artists. What is the fantasy, what is the usage going to be, and how are players going to break this with Legendaries? From there, it is a negation to best fit the fantasy.
Audience question: Since you using proprietary tools to design game content? How easy is it to learn and use them?
Jane: Blizzard gives you a lot of time to get to know the tools. Getting familiar with the skills and working with them really helps you to understand the tools even better. Modeling, texture, and animation skills you already have come into play, as well.
Audience question: When and how do you work with the animators?
Julian: You very quickly start working with the animators. We don’t use a chain with little back and forth communication. We made feature teams, designer, engineer, effects artists, modelers, and animators all working together daily. This provides better response time and new ideas.
Jane: It was actually harder learning the feature team process then the tools.
Audience question: For the Necromancer, they have a lot of skeletal looks and effects. Did you go out and buy bones to look at, or did you just look at pictures?
Julian: I feel we missed out in not going out and buying bones now. We used our concept artist who did a lot of drawings.
Audience question: How has Command Skeleton changed from Diablo II?
Julian: We looked back at Diablo II and knew the skill was one we wanted to bring forward. We didn’t want to have to force you to kill something first to raise it, though–this lead to a lot of jumping around to make your army and then going back to face the bosses. We tried just letting the Necromancer just have his Skeletons, but the feedback was this didn’t feed the fantasy. So, we tried having the Necromancer summon them over time, not too much time to be annoying. This way you got the feel of them building up, not just passively being there.
Audience question: How do you balance the need to meet deadlines and the Blizzard philosophy of “it’s done when it’s done?”
Julian: Deadlines are important: they help you make better decisions. If you have forever to make a game, you might take forever to make it. You just can’t prioritize over finding the fun with arbitrary deadlines.
Brandy: It is definitely a compromise.
Julian: The important part of deadlines is how you use them.
Audience question: How important is an art background versus just computer work?
Jane: It is pretty important. It is important to have a well-rounded set of skills and to practice them. It is the base of having good art.
Julian: When you get into the industry, you will work with people who lean on common artistic ideas and themes. It allows you to communicate with different types of fields.
BlizzPro’s Neinball question: How did you differentiate between the Witchdoctor and the Necromancer, especially concerning poisons?
Juian: When we looked at those two hero classes, that was a scenario we thought we could differentiate. There wasn’t a lot of Poison skills, and if you asked people to honestly go back and remember what skills you really used on the Necromancer, it was probably one (Poison Nova). That lead to Poison Nova, and bringing forward the Poison skills just didn’t lead to our goal of a very dark-feeling class. Where as the Witchdoctor could be different and zany (with Poison skills), that didn’t fit for the Necromancer.
Brandy: They are dead serious.
Julian: We focused on a different delivery method. We went for a death and decay vibe. We steered clear of those bright greens or happy tones to stay away from the Witchdoctor feel.
BlizzPro’s Leviathan question: With the work you put into tinkering with the Necromancer skills, did that lead you to going back and looking at other classes’ noisy skills and using similar tools to tone them down?
Julian: We did exactly that. Right off the bat, we knew we had a problem with a class that at one point you will literally have an army of skeletons. Now, what happens in a group of 4 Necromancers? We finally got tools that allowed parts of a skill to be marked visual and would only be played for you. Once we got this working for the Necromancer, we went back and retrofitted every class to declutter the visual effects. That wasn’t anything we announced. We just snuck it in.
Audience question: When working with such an iconic character, how difficult was it to stay true to the old idea but still move it forward?
Julian: One part is you must love the original. Once you know everyone is coming from this place, the place you know the fans are coming from, you then have to trust your instincts. Bone Spear started out very dark and dirty. It was a big spine and ten feet long, and it was great concept art, but looking at it in the game, it didn’t look like bone spear. It wasn’t recognizable. We had to start over and make it something the audience would know as the new Bone Spear.
Brandy: Bone Spirit went through a similar process.
Jane: Yes, I had to go back and look at Diablo II and get that big skull head and skeleton feel.
Brandy: We have run out of time, but I want to thank everyone for coming out and learning more about visual effects.