Stillman’s Slab #40: Kittens of Mass Destruction


I am an artsy guy, and this is an artsy Slab. This is one of those higher quality Slabs with pictures and possibly even good paragraph flow. This week, I challenge…your parents. The first bit is below; click through for the rest.

Kittens of Mass Destruction

Here we have the Dune Thresher. Yep. There he is. He is 2% survival and defense, and the rest of him is 409% offensiveness and danger. Wait a minute…is that even possible?

I will get back to the Dune Thresher later. For now, behold the homunculus:

No, this is not something from WoW (yet). It is a representation of the brain’s somatosensory cortex. Since more sensory nerves are found in the hands, mouth, and lips, those areas have more cortex devoted to them. While this misshapen form could never get much done in a physical world, Mr. Homunculus here is practically a model, a shape that is actually striven for in a lot of Blizzard artwork. In the two examples below, the characters’ hands are MUCH bigger than their entire heads.

 

What do these characters do if they get something in their eye? How do they sew together the clothes they wear? How do they put food in their mouths? And what does any of this have to do with Diablo 3 and the Dune Thresher?

Well, a lot. I have brought up the problem of proportion in a number of previous discussions. In On the Pad, I mentioned how enlarging the shoulder pads was a desperate ploy to make the game more macho. In Diablo on Drugs, I talked about how King Leoric somehow changed his lore; he must have once been the half-ogre half-storm giant king who you now see in Diablo 3 with his skeleton being twice the height it once was. You do not have to look too carefully at the Dune Thresher (the red beast up top) to realize his claw is bigger than his entire head….and body. His spikes are also bigger than his body. His tail is also bigger than his body. And of course, his head is bigger than his body. When he takes a bite out of something (a very big bite, apparently) where does the food go? If he tries to move forward by lifting the disproportionate claw, wouldn’t the rest of the body get rocked around in a silly manner?

It seems as though Blizzard is just enlarging the pointy, frightening parts to make them look scarier. But, it is not so easy to get away with. In fact, it can backfire altogether. Like the Dune Thresher, here is something else whose head and paws are quite big relative to its body:

 

Basically, you cannot just enlarge the parts you like and automatically make it a better picture. The human visual system is adapted to seeing normal proportions all day. It is ever too ready to notice something funky like a giant fang or something popping out without any mass below to support it. Take this critter known as the Frozen Mage:

 

It has these massive appendages just floating aloft from its head. Somehow, this is all supported by toothpick legs. Oh well, at least he is better than the frowny frowns of Avatar. And observe this Scavenger:

 

Can such a tiny, bony arm lift that massive claw? I want to feel like I am down there on Sanctuary killing serious threats rather than beating up deformed things that don’t stand a chance in nature. 

But what if you are playing as one of these things that would not function well? Would that help even the playing field? This is a job for the Witch Doctor who has also been badly afflicted with out of whack proportions. His mask, with it’s five foot long horns, literally make up about half of his entire image. Take a look at this fellow on screen:

 

When looking at this picture, I like to bring up the Ask Your Parents test. Go ahead and ask your Mom or Dad what it is. They’ll be damned if they know. A big insect maybe? A reminder that patio furniture is on sale this week? The biggest question of all is, why should it have to be looked at so hard just to resolve what it is?

A few adjustments and a lot of toning things down would make everything so much more clear and understandable on the screen. But it’s not going to happen. So is this all about desperation, or dousing Diablo 3 with barrels of macho juice, or too much WoW influence? Well, maybe not. I think the real problem may have to do with the obligatory 3D world that Diablo 3 must plunge into in order to remain competitive in the video game market. Some anatomical parts must get enlarged to even be noticed, so I suppose Blizzard is going to enlarge the most dangerous ones. Diablo himself always had big horns, but don’t be surprised if you see his horns so big now that they will appear to float magically so they don’t weigh down his tiny pea-brain head. The real problem here is that mankind may never master 3D effects on a 2D screen. The consequence is goofy, dead-eyed dolls we will always have to put up with as 3D continues to take over every other aspect of video games.

I cannot help but wonder if this abrupt lore on skeletons, for instance,  was invented to explain their weird look once chucked into 3D land. The lore states that skeletons are constructed from bones of many different people. This conveniently justifies their very awkward appearance on screen. Drawing the 200+ bones in their correct proportions is hard enough on paper. Animating them to rotate in three dimensions is going to look pretty bad unless a bunch of med students’ tuition dollars are going toward a machine that does this feat and nothing else. 

Proportion is everything, and I am probably not alone in being confused by what is what on many screen shots of Diablo 3. Things do make more sense once you watch it animated, but try the Ask Your Parents test on these screen shots, and see if your folks can identify anything on the ground here:

 




Note that these are the screen shots Blizzard specifically chose to put on their Diablo 3 page. So these are the really clear, nice ones! It just goes to show how much one over-proportioned body part overpowers the rest of the beast (for example, the broad backs relative to almost non-existent legs on the red monsters). And if you don’t believe me on the importance of proportion, then talk to the Arnold. At 5:20 he talks about how you cannot just make one part bigger unless you make the rest bigger too.

The good news is Diablo 3 places gameplay on higher ground than the 3D visual stuff which has been the evil peer pressure of new video games for quite some time now. Diablo 3 may be doomed to the 3D world of awkward shapes and proportions, but at least we can rest assured that most other games are too. All 3D stuff looks like garbage if you ask me, and it takes so much effort to do?effort that should be going into every other facet of games. But in Diablo 3, each strange looking monster will likely reimburse players with smooth, fast gameplay.

Diablo 3 is also on the right track by making everything very small. Maybe that is why some objects on the screen are difficult to identify. All the yucky problems of 3D games are exacerbated by characters that fill up a third of the screen and block out the environment. These games balloon up their trashy 3D characters like they are a blessing rather than the stain on our retinas they really are. 3D games may never quite attain that real life feel to them which has always eluded animators. Or, maybe I am just biased from being a fan of the old school 80’s when everything was 2D and we were all happy with it. Regular gore in regular size was fine and dandy with no need to make dangerous anatomical bits way too big. See, the thing about?SEE YOU AT THE PARTY RICHTER!!!!


Opinions expressed in columns and guest articles are those of their authors, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

Stillman’s Slab is where all Diablo characters are dissected and examined piece by piece. It is written by Nicholas Stillman to reintroduce Diablo series topics in a new light or put forth novel themes that have not been fully explored in the forums. Slurry collected from the centrifuge will always contain something new and unheard of at the time of publication. Post your comments below or directly.

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