Salem’s Fire #21: The Foundations of Sanctuary


The Foundations of Sanctuary

Sanctuary is world in which all of Diablodom takes place. Already most of us can see a map of that land in our head. We know Tristram is in the West of the land, and that between the monastery where the Sisterhood stay and the vast Eastern jungles lie a desert and then a sea. We know the Barbarians live in the north of the land, and the Amazons on an island to the south somewhere. Sanctuary is a world that is familiar to us.

As it should be. In one sense, we have been there. We have visited a city on the edge of the sands. We have climbed Mount Arreat, and we have walked through the seemingly endless jungles. We have roamed in the countryside of the West, and explored far out into the desert. Even into the mythological realms of heaven and hell, even to these places we have gone. We know Sanctuary. We have been there. Its architecture, its peoples, its music, all these are known to us. We even know something of its history. Sanctuary is not just a name for a fictional world, it is a vibrant and coherent place, constructed by the mind with the aid of Blizzard. Sanctuary is a very large part of what makes Diablo the immersive game that it is.

But consider, Blizzard accomplished this artistry with the advantage of graphics. Blizzard could let us see and explore for ourselves this world. An immense amount of work though it was to establish through that artwork a unity and cohesiveness for Sanctuary, the advantage of art and music gave them an edge. Blizzard, and all the artists and musicians and storytellers who worked on making Sanctuary come to life, deserve a great deal of credit for wielding that edge with incredible mastery. Nevertheless, that edge is not enjoyed by all who create new lands in the mind. Think of all the elements of light and melody and spoken word that generate Sanctuary, and remove them all. Leave nothing but black and white text. A sheet of paper. A book. Now imagine taking nothing but that plain black and white text and with it creating a world full of people, music, art, and culture. Better still, pop open your chosen word processor and give it a try.

It has been done. Many times has this been done. Every time there is a well written work of science fiction or fantasy, a new culture has been created. With nothing but a pen, out of nothing is created the history and art and language of the races and tribes of each land. The classic case is of course, Tokien. Many of us would have an easier time finding Hobbiton on a map of Middle-Earth than we would finding Azerbaijan on a map of Asia. Tolkien?s rich world is so well created that Middle-Earth has real human historians and scholars who can debate aspects of history and culture with such authority that an ignorant listener would have no way of knowing that the land being discussed does not appear in reality, nor has it ever. It is amazing that the sort of depth that rivals existence could be created with nothing but text.

Another example would be the extraordinary detail in which Robert Jordan unfolds the lands of The Wheel of Time. His world, like Tolkien?s, is alive. The chaos of Ebou Dar, the solemnity of the Stone of Tear, the subcultures of the merchants and the peasantry all are portrayed in a depth that is not rivaled by anything on any screen. These fictions are cultures, each with a history and a reason for being. A comparison can be made between the politics of Altara and the politics of Andor, just as one can be made between those of Spain and France. This is a dimension we do often see in fantasy worlds. The availability of total immersion is not always there. The presence of this factor is enough to propel the creative work into the realm of true greatness. Diablo 2 grows close to its fifth birthday, and here we are still playing it. Middle-Earth has been around for about a half century, and the motion picture adaptations are instant classics. Wheel of Time is not yet finished, and already it has surged through the phase of cult followings to the very edge of mainstream acceptedness. There are other examples, spanning the mediums. George Lucas, Isaac Asimov, C.S. Lewis, these and more had the talent of taking nothing and building from it a cultural fabric on which our imaginations are set loose. These are literally castles in the sky, and yet from such fortresses the imagination of the great talents waged a campaign has left a permanent mark on modern society.

Sanctuary is nothing more than the product of an active imagination. Sanctuary is a world full of tension and diversity. Sanctuary is nothing more pixels and sound bytes. Sanctuary is a history and a multiethnic society. Sanctuary is the foundation on which the Diablo epic in all its parts is played out. And the cornerstone of that foundation is the culture of the land.

We do not know the whole history of Sanctuary. We have not seen all its wonders. We do not know all its people. I suspect we have not seen the last of it, either. I suspect Blizzard appreciates the potential for this canvas, and I suspect Blizzard will return to it again.


Disclaimer: Salem?s Fire was written by Luke Blaize during 2002-2004, and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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  1. Pretending the question is still open, I’ll give my opinion. :p

    Short answer: yes.

    But almost anything can be a good movie in the right hands. I submit as evidence the two Final Fantasy movies. "Spirits Within" was a failure in almost every way. I enjoyed a few things about it, but there was almost nothing recognizably FF about it, and certainly nothing fans of the series were hoping for/expecting. "Advent Children," on the other hand, gave fans more or less what they wanted on a reasonable scale and succeeded far better (though, IMO, still imperfectly).

    I think it’s more likely that a game movie would fall into the trap that most comic book movies fall into – designing the movie around big action scenes, instead of designing action scenes into a movie. It’s particularly easy to do this with games because the experience of the world one typically would bring into the concept is almost all battle.

    Let’s take Diablo, then. You could absolutely make a good movie out of this world. Hell, the story as it stands so far is pretty compelling – great warrior fights and beats a mighty demon, but makes (is compelled?) the fatal decision to try to contain the creature within his own body and is consumed by it, leading a new clan of adventurers to track him down to vanquish the evil. That’s pretty cinematic, you must admit. So what you need are the following things:

    1. A corner of the lore to reveal and explore. It should be tied to what players already know but probably not directly something they’ve already done. As compelling as it may be to tell the story that’s already there, since we’ve all played it already you may be hurting your audience. You could have something that takes place during the events players have been a part of, or during known historical events (The Sin War, etc.)

    2. You must include familiar elements – characters people know and like, enemies people know and like. Calling a movie "Diablo" and then pitting some random people in a side quest against some random enemy is silly. You need fleshed out embodiments of playable characters or NPCs.

    3. Pretty obvious, but don’t deal with the nitty-gritty of items and skills. Never refer to a skill by its name or an item’s name or properties. At best have the appearance be a visual Easter Egg for fans (Ooh, look, the Sorc is definitely using an Oculus!). If possible, no magical MacGuffins of any kind – just tell the story of these people and this world. (I prefer character-driven movies, though).

    4. Don’t overwhelm with action. Again, start with the story and have the fights service it. But, of course, there’ll be one all-the stops awe-fest of a fight! I mean, it’s Diablo!

    … I really need more actual D3 news, the suspense is driving me to stuff like this.

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