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Author's Note: The following excerpt comes from Chapter 9 of Stay Awhile and Listen: How Two Blizzards Unleashed Diablo and Forged a Video-Game Empire - Book 1. In this excerpt, we follow the Diablo team at Condor - later known as Blizzard North - as they populate the dungeons with devilish denizens, construct the iconic town of Tristram, and interact with WarCraft developer Blizzard Entertainment.
Condor began the process of establishing Diablo's artistic vision in early 1995. While Dave wrote code and Max managed NFLPA Superstars for the 3DO, Erich guided the artists in the creation of monsters to haunt Diablo's halls. Rather than steer his guys in a particular direction, Erich encouraged them to take the ball and run with it. No artist ran harder than Michio.
Usually, I would sit down with a whole lot of paper and do a bunch of sketches. I'd generate maybe 20 pages or so, and we'd sit down as a team and pick out the ones we liked, and I'd further define them.
Sometimes Erich would have an idea, like, "I want a fat demon." I'd sit down and create my design of what I thought a fat demon would be. Then he'd say, "We need a flying bat demon." I'd go create one.
Michio would come up with reams and reams of drawings, so it was fun to get a bunch of drawings and just say, "Okay, this looks really cool, but this guy has a cooler sword, so let's combine those drawings."
I think that was some of the most fun collaborative art stuff we did at the time.
No artist ran harder than Michio.
Straying from their design document, the three bosses decided that Diablo would offer a single hero character instead of three. Early on, Michio and the other artists realized that building characters on the computer would not come as easily. Diablo would display graphics in 2D by first paring down three-dimensional models. Condor's artists could render out 2D art in games, but building 3D models was beyond their skill set.
To help Condor get a pipeline for 3D art production up and running, Blizzard co-founder Allen Adham sent two of his artists, Duane Stinnett and Justin Thavirat, to Redwood City.
They had roughs of their character drawings, and we kind of went through and built the art, swapped components, just tutored them on how to get their pipeline going and make the games work. We showed them some of the things that we had learned by being self-taught and from going through WarCraft and WarCraft II.
-Duane Stinnett, artist, Blizzard Entertainment
Building 3D models was beyond their skill set.
Over a single month, Duane and Justin took Michio and the other Condor artists on a whirlwind tour through modeling and animating 3D characters. Michio threw himself into the lessons. Armed with a pen and sketchbook, Michio mocked up his idea for the hero-a knight wrapped in steel mail. Coming in on weekends and staying on weeknights long after most of the guys had gone home, Michio slowly pieced together models of his characters. His first creation was the clunky, bulky knight. He considered it. Dave, Max, and Erich would probably give it a thumbs-up. Invariably, though, they would ask him, "What do you think of it?"
Michio scrapped the model and started from scratch. Days later, a tall man with long, dark hair and tattered clothing emerged. With the model complete, Michio handed it off to the other artists to animate.
We had this armored guy we got from Blizzard, one of the WarCraft models. Tom [Byrne] went on vacation for a week, and we hadn't made much progress on the [hero's] walk cycle. So I said, "Let me take a crack at it."
And in one day, I made him walk. After that, I got put on animation. That's how I became an animator.
-Kelly Johnson, artist, Condor