Now that we've decided what kind of Legendary weapon we're creating (a one-handed sword), it's time to move onto the next stage of design: visual theming.
What do we mean by visual theming? In Diablo III, we love to give hero armor and weapons a specific signature, or theme. This theme is the aesthetic thread that connects and ties all the different parts (color, texture, shape, etc) of the items together. In a way, it gives the item its identity and helps inform not only its art, but its name, associated lore, and in many situations (in the case of Legendary items, at least) its stats and unique power as well.
For this particular stage of the Design a Legendary project, I sat down with art producer Nathan Lutsock and 3D character artist Aaron Gaines to discuss possible themes for our fledgling Legendary sword. Excited and intrigued by the idea, they quickly selected seven different options they felt would be fun to explore alongside the community, all of which I've detailed below (epic theme descriptions courtesy of Nathan):
"This blade would be styled to connect thematically to the desert city of Caldeum. An item with this theme could draw from the desert locale, a distinct architectural kit, the opulence of the Emperor’s palace, or even the Lord of Lies. Caldeum provides ample recognizable features for creative inspiration."
"This blade would be styled to connect thematically to the city of Westmarch. The capital of King Rakkis's empire demonstrates dark medieval visual cues that are very much in line with the motifs of the first Diablo game. A weapon in this theme will be benefit from the months of development that the Diablo art team invested when creating the characters and environs Westmarch. "
"This blade would have a visual connection to snakes and reptiles. Some of our most successful Legendary items sprang out of such humble beginnings. We start with a simple motif and asked ourselves, ‘What would I want out of a weapon in this style? What is the game fantasy of the player who wants this kind of item?' A classic fantasy theme like 'Serpent’ provides our artists with many avenues of interpretation."
"This blade would be styled to represent an ancient culture no longer found on Sanctuary, or one that we've yet to fully flesh out in a game (Skovos, for example). Ancient culture motifs are exciting springboards for our artists, giving them the opportunity to expand the visual definition of the Diablo universe while keying off of visual hooks that they haven't yet dug into. Some of our most interesting item designs come out of explorations into the technology and designs of Sanctuary's lost peoples."
"This blade would be styled to connect thematically to the wispy, skeletal Lord of Hatred. In addition to being a favorite character of the art team, Mephisto has a unique appearance among the Great Evils, and a blade associated with him would need to find a way to echo his character."
"This blade would be styled to connect thematically to the massive Lord of Pain. Bulky, brutal, and grotesque, interpreting this theme as a sword may prove something of a challenge. However, sometimes the most inventive legendary item designs come out of an unexpected pairing."
"This blade would be styled to connect thematically to the Lord of Terror himself. Capturing a design familiar to the character (a character that changes his appearance in every game, no less!) that still adds something fresh and makes a compelling player reward- this design might be the most challenging of the bunch."
Pretty cool, huh? But which theme should we use? That's up to you! Pick your favorite by using the voting options below, and be sure to spread the word. As with our previous vote, whichever theme gets the most votes globally wins!
After the poll has closed, we'll tabulate player votes from all our different Diablo III communities around the world to determine the winner and share the results next week. Don't delay, though—this poll will close Wednesday, November 13.
Over the past week, we've delved deeper into the renowned city of Westmarch, giving you a first look at its history, visual landscape, and bestiary. But there's still one more important design element to explore: its music!
To whet your auditory appetite, we've put together an exclusive preview track featuring just a small sample of new melodies you'll hear as you help defend this besieged metropolis against the Angel of Death. So grab your headphones, Sanctuary; stay awhile and listen.
To get a better understanding of what goes into creating a soundtrack for a game like Reaper of Souls™, we also sat down with Diablo® III Music Director Derek Duke for a quick Q&A.
Derek: The music of Westmarch was some of the first created for Reaper of Souls. In fact, it was written while I'd just started working on the opening cinematic. The soundtrack for Westmarch picks up right after the opening cinematic ends, so it has to instantly get you into that dark, dangerous, gothic sort of pace.
I really wanted to match that pace and encapsulate the creepy, ominous vibe the developers were going for with Westmarch in that early music. That all begun with the instrumentation. The orchestral voicing used in Reaper of Souls, and particularly in Westmarch, is weighted a bit more traditionally. This means more woodwinds and less brass than what’s commonly used in today's scores. To my ear, it makes a big difference, and puts the orchestral emphasis a bit more on voicing (harmonized melodies that contain one or more instruments) and colors (the quality of the sound, or timbre).
Derek: In Westmarch, I'd say sonic themes in the music work to propel the story by creating associations.
For example, there are a couple of the themes and musical textures established and attached to Malthael from the very beginning, starting in the intro cinematic with his arrival.
There's a deep, otherworldly moaning underneath the strings. We use a percussion technique to get that sound out of the timpani and bass drum by rubbing it with a super-ball or wet finger. (My producer had a real "WTF" moment when he heard that sound coming from the orchestra, by the way.) Following that with the orchestral bells seemed the obvious choice for the Angel of Death—a character not for whom the bell tolls, but the one who's holding the bell and tolling it for everyone else.
These musical textures and combinations are often the sign of Malthael's presence or the harbinger of his arrival. As you play through Westmarch, you hear these musical ideas used throughout the music, changing and evolving contextually as the story moves forward. Keep an ear out for them!
Derek: Yes, definitely. I don't want to give away too much of the story, but it's the time and places and evolution of the music pieces that help to move the story forward.
Derek: Like much of the in-game music in Diablo III and Reaper of Souls, this an arrangement of several music pieces, some assorted flavors.
It starts with some of the broad Westmarch crescendos or swells, and you’ll hear the giant tam-tam (or gong), and bowed acoustic guitar playing above.
It then moves in to the Y'Anu theme over the moaning tympani and bass drum. This theme is first heard in the Reaper of Souls intro cinematic, which takes place in the Tomb of Rakkis where Tyrael attempts to hide the Black Soulstone. Y'Anu was written as a meditative chant of the Horadrim whereby the acolyte could meditate on the mysteries of Anu, or The One.
And last but not least, Malthael's signature theme (which I mentioned above) buttons up the end.
Thanks for listening, and I hope you all enjoy!
Following the defeat of the Prime Evil, the mortal realm of Sanctuary should have an entered an age of hope and prosperity. Instead, this event has drawn out a being of immense power, one more sinister than any demon: Malthael.
Having plucked the Black Soulstone from its tenuous hiding place, the Angel of Death now moves on Westmarch, the great martial and mercantile capital of the west. It is there that your heroes will encounter the first of his forces, a macabre combination of ghastly lieutenants and baleful constructs.
Little is known of these creatures, as most who have encountered them have perished. Fortunately, a Horadrim under the command of Tyrael by the name of Lorath Nahr has experienced the foul reapers of Westmarch first-hand and survived to tell the tale, documenting both their behavior and perceived origin.
It is some of his accounts which we'll examine today, offering just a glimpse at what horrors await you within the cobbled streets and abandoned homes of this once beautiful, thriving city.
"After Malthael's disappearance, the Angiris Council appointed his most loyal servant, Urzael, to find him and bring him back to the High Heavens. Urzael, accompanied by the sect of maidens who were Malthael's closest followers, set out to find their absent master. They never returned."
"These monsters were once the most notorious and reviled criminals in Westmarch, drawn up from the deepest, darkest cells of the city's prisons. Each was worse than the last: heartless murderers who had butchered countless men, women, and children. In death, Malthael birthed them in forms that matched their twisted, callous souls, creating perfect instruments of slaughter. The executioners have earned their name."
"All know the reputation of the exorcists of Westmarch, those spiritual warriors specialized in removing demonic possession. By custom, they arrive in darkness, clad in cloaks as black as the night that conjured them. They work in secret, extracting the demons that dwell within their subjects. Now Malthael has turned them, and they roam the city in their inhuman forms, stripping the souls from all they encounter."
"The seraph was on me before I knew it, the mass of its bloated flesh soundless as it floated above the ground. When I finally noticed it, I could not move: it was as though I was trapped in a waking nightmare. I looked down and saw tendrils of energy wrapped around my feet and realized it was not fear that held me, but the seraph's magic."
"As Malthael has imbued them with the ability to sense the living, revenant archers do not rely on their vision to find their targets. There is no place safe from their sightless gaze. They will find you through stone, wood, and even the ground itself. And once they have their quarry, they do not miss."
Revenant Shield Guard
"The revenant shield guards were once the personal guard of King Justinian IV. Appointed to the position for bravery and skill at arms, they accompanied the king at all times, resplendent in their ornate armor, wrought by the finest craftsmen in Westmarch. But most spectacular were their shields, which they unerringly employed in the protection of their king."
"I watched in horror as the guard was struck by the maiden's magic. I heard the sound of his screams until his flesh had dissolved to nothing, and only his armor-clad skeleton remained, his jaw unhinged. Blue mist swirled around his bones, coalescing into new flesh. When at last I cut him down, the phantasmal flesh exploded, leaving only a pile of armor behind."
Shadow of Death
"The shadow touched me, and darkness spread across my vision until all I could see was blackness. It gave way to a pale light that sapped my strength. It seemed so easy, but instead, I drew upon the last of my will and fought back. Color flooded back into my sight. The shadow was right before me, and I drove my spear through it."
Summoner of the Dead
"When I first came face to face with a summoner of the dead, it was surrounded by reapers and brought forth more by the moment. I cut a path through them, but for each that I struck down, another appeared in its place. Their numbers seemed limitless; however, when I killed the summoner, the remaining reapers fell to ash."
"Malthael's influence taints man and beast alike. Even the dogs of Westmarch, once tame and gentle, have been transformed into wild, savage creatures. They hunt in packs through the streets, tearing apart their prey with ravenous hunger. I saw them rip a soldier limb from limb. When his screams stopped, they came for me."
Over 30,000 Diablo III players around the world participated in last week's "Choose Your Weapon" poll, and today we're excited to share the results. Taking an impressive 33% of our global vote, the Legendary weapon we'll be crafting alongside our community is: a one-handed sword!
*cue fancy trumpet flare*
A big thanks to everyone who voted, posted, shared, and tweeted. This is only the beginning, though. We'll be kicking off another community vote next week, so be sure to keep an eye on diablo3.com for Design a Legendary: Part 2!
Have you ever wondered what kind of sweat, tears, and ritual sacrifice goes into designing a Legendary item in Diablo III? Or perhaps even entertained the idea of creating a Legendary of your own?
Well, hang on to your hauberks, Sanctuary, and ready your anvils. It’s time to get crafty.
Inspired by the many passionate discussions we've seen about itemization (particularly Legendary itemization) in Diablo III, we wanted to take some time to expand on our evolving design philosophies and practices, as well as reiterate our goals for Legendaries in Reaper of Souls.
As we started to put our pens to the proverbial paper, though, we had an epiphany: "Hey, instead of just telling players about item design, why not actually show them?"
And so the Design a Legendary project was born.
Over the next few months, we'll take you through the all the different design stages behind bringing a single Legendary item to life, from concept to creation to iteration, all the way through animation and implementation. We'll chat with each developer involved and share progress updates along the way, giving you a unique behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making a Legendary item that looks epic, feels epic, and fits within the larger network of hero skills, monster tuning, and overall game balance.
Pretty sweet, huh?
But wait -- that’s only one part of this project! (Oh snap.)
We'll also be involving you, our awesome community, in various parts of the design process. Leading up to release of Reaper of Souls, you'll have the opportunity to not only weigh in, but actually help guide development on a Legendary item that will be implemented and playable. We'll be holding global community votes, hosting podcasts, soliciting ideas, and even running a contest or two to ensure that this is truly a worldwide, player-driven initiative.
The result? We hope this activity will help give players a better understanding of everything that goes into item design, as well as wind up being something that's both fun and uniquely interactive. Also, once everything is said and done, there will be a Legendary item in the game that you had a hand in making. How cool is that?!
We'll be kicking off the first stage of this project next week, so stay tuned to diablo3.com and get ready to Design a Legendary!