During the Black Soulstone cinematic panel at BlizzCon 2011, the D3 devs talked about early concepts for Azmodan, and showed off one very odd “human with a shark’s head” type of monster, as their earliest version of Azmodan. You can see concept art of it to the right, and even a casual glance shows that creature has nothing in common with the version of Azmodan seen in Diablo 3. That Azmodan is basically a corpulent human on crab legs; huge, fleshy, grotesque, and not at all human in form, while that earlier version was a muscular human with a shark’s head.
Even aside from the huge changes in form, the finished, rendered version of the shark monster has a very different style than any of the monsters in Diablo III. Look at how gleaming and sharply-realistic the visuals are; very unlike the stylized, painterly style we’ve come to recognize over the past 3+ years. It’s almost as if that shark monster came from a whole different game…
Actually, it did. Or so I’m going to argue. Note the comments on the shark concept by Blizzard artist Victor Lee.
Lord of Despair
– Living Armor
Vik August 2003
As I talked about with David Craddock on the last podcast (read lots more details in the Diablo III History or Blizzard North articles in the wiki), the original version of Diablo III was in development at Blizzard North from 2000-2005, before Blizzard North was shut down and the D3 project began again, largely from scratch, with a new team at Blizzard Irvine.
Also, note the name. Azmodan is the Lord of Sin, and that’s not some recent innovation or Metzenian retcon; that was his title since the Diablo I manual and lore. This shark demon was called the Lord of Despair, and in case your mythological references are rusty, “Despair” is not one of the seven deadly sins. (Azmodan has lieutenants who personify all 7 of those alleged vices, with Gluttony (the Thousand Pounder) and Lust (the Maiden of Lust) set to appear at some point in Diablo III.)
We haven’t see a lot of art assets from the Blizzard North version of the game, but check out not the leaked screenshots of Heaven, but some of the early monsters. You can’t help but notice the similarity between the finished version of the shark monster (below left), and the skinless, lean, glistening look of the Flayed Hound (below right). More than the bones and lack of skin, it’s the style of the art; a very clean, raw, almost photographic style, vs. the much more painterly, artistic style of the game today.
So why did they show this shark guy in the Blizzcon 2011 panel when it greatly predates their current work on the game, and looks nothing like Azmodan or any of the monsters in the game now? Possibly the shark guy spurred some creative impulse that led to the current design of Azmodan (or one of his seven sinful lieutenants), or possibly they just had that cool piece of sharkwork lying around since like, 2004 and thought, “We’ve got to show this off somehow, someday.”
In either case, I’m glad they revealed it, because it’s really cool. I’d be delighted if they dumped a whole bunch of the other assets from the Blizzard North version of the game, because I love the concept art. It’s why we maintain such exhaustive galleries of all the game’s artwork, including characters, NPCs, monsters, environments, and items. Moar, plz.