We were all very excited by the announcement of Diablo III, and almost everyone thinks the game looks great (someaside), but not everyone knows that the D3 team is almost entirely new to the series; very few of the guys who worked on D2 or D2X are working on D3, and none of the original creators of the franchise are still employed at Blizzard.
The new D3 team is undoubtedly skilled, and the game seems to be coming along very well, but with the announcement we were curious; how did the old D1/D2/D2X team members feel, seeing the project proceed without them? There had to be some mixed emotions, seeing their baby steered in a new direction by a whole new crew?
We’ve talked to a number of guys on the D2 crew, and while no one had anything bad to say about D3, and everyone had a lot to say about their mixed emotions now, only two of them would go on the record. We’ve already posted the short note, and now here’s a longer, much more detailed reply from Ben Boos.
Ben worked on D2, D2X, (sample of his art here) and D3 (when it was under development at Blizzard North), moved to Flagship Studios for a time, and is now (temporarily?) out of the gaming industry and doing very well in his new career as an author/illustrator. We’ll have more about Ben’s first book later this year, but for now here’s the brief bio he wrote up, and his answers to our interview questions:
As a Senior Artist for Blizzard North, Ben worked on User Interface art for Diablo 2, D2X, and Battle.net. He painted various weapons, armor, scrolls, potions, gems and countless little items, not to mention large swaths of the game environment, such as the act 1, 2, 3, and 5 wildernesses. On occasion, he painted textures, and made concept art for monsters, characters, or took some time to illustrate parts of the manual, and various promotional pitch-packets. He also painted the box art for the Diablo Battle Chest.
For Flagship Studios, Ben was hired as the Senior Artist and the company’s first employee, where he designed weapons and bits of swag, before pursuing a book deal in early 2005.
Diii.net: Did you pay attention to the D3 announcement, or is Diablo in the past and you’re concentrating fully on your future gaming projects?
Ben Boos: Oh heck yes, I paid attention. It was huge on several levels. Keeping a secret this big wears thin, for one! So to finally have the cat out of the bag is great. It was a milestone event to me. There are tons of strong emotions all wrapped into this franchise since the Diablo games were more than a mere hobby; they were my life for nearly 8 years.
Also, I’ll be honest: What really made me sit up and pay attention to the announcement was to see how beautiful D3 had become! I remember back at Blizzard North when Jason Regier was first designing a rough game engine, and how it was always so exciting to see the new features added, day by day. So imagine how I felt to see this stunning demo. I’ve been quietly writing and illustrating a book for the last few years since taking leave of Blizzard North (sometime back in 2004), and I haven’t seen the game in AGES! It’s come a loooong way since then, to say the least. It’s an entirely different beast! I mean, holy smokes, destructible environments for instance! I love it! By the way, after laboring on the environments for d2, and d2x, I would have LOVED to smash those up. It would have been cathartic.
Seriously though, the game looks great, and I not only paid close attention, I wound up corresponding with old Blizzard friends throughout the day and into the night after that announcement. It had a huge impact on me.
What a rush of memories!
Diii.net: What do you think of the look of D3? Is it similar in tone/mood/theme to the game you envisioned and worked on at Blizzard North? There has been quite a bit of debate about the graphics, with many players complaining that it’s too bright cartoon/rainbow-colored.
Ben Boos: I thought Diablo 3 looked fantastic.
As for the tone: A comparison of D1 to D2 comes to mind. I remember plowing ahead and making those green pastures and meadows in D2, and thinking after the fact, “Whoops! The original Diablo was so dark and moody; did I screw up the atmosphere?” Then I went and made the bright desert wasteland, and the same potential problems cropped up. But it all worked out in my opinion, because we were able to take the player underground, and to various darker environments. Therefore, I think you can’t judge the atmosphere of D3 from a short demo. Who knows what incredible sights await the player of Diablo 3?
Diii.net: What do you think of the announced features and the design direction they’re moving in? Set 20 years after D2X ended, some returning characters and others new, retaining basically the same item system, etc…
Ben Boos: I actually find the return of the characters very comforting. They are like old friends in a weird way, and I can’t imagine a Diablo game without Deckard Cain! Also, as someone who painted most of the user interface art for D2 and the expansion, I am really pleased with what I see of the new UI. It seems like they simplified things where it was needed, and spiced up other things that needed a face-lift. Cool beans.
Diii.net: Was your vision of D3 greatly different than D2, or more of an evolution?
Ben Boos: Personally, I wasn’t all hot and bothered to see revolution in the D3 design. Some folks at Blizzard North were quite eager to make radical changes, but I was pretty happy with the thought of subtle evolution. The play mechanic was so fun, I just wanted new loot; new environments; new monsters; and naturally, some seriously updated graphics. Call me simple, but for my Diablo fix, that seemed just right. I can understand how others would want to try new things though, but it can be tricky to deviate away from an addicting formula.
Diii.net: During the WWI presentations, the D3 team frequently commented that they love the story of the world and want to work to develop more of it in the game. Was that a priority in your D3 design?
Ben Boos: Yes, story had some serious priority because we were left wondering after the Lord of Destruction expansion, “What the heck happens next?” We had to answer that for ourselves if nothing else. How much of the story gets infused into the game-play is another matter. My personal feeling is this: As long as I can skip through lots of dialog, and still find what I need to do in a quest log, I’m happy. I can be moody about too much blabbing, when all I want to do is go get LOOT! Hehe.
Diii.net: Any regrets that you’re not creating the next game in your series?
Ben Boos: No. I absolutely treasure my years spent working on the Diablo universe, but I was ready for some new adventures when I took my leave. I had a head full of dreams about this nutty book, and I’ve never regretted my decision to pursue that. It’s all been a very blessed experience.
Those of us who have had the good fortune to participate in the Diablo series, experienced some incredible times together; wild and wonderful times. The people I worked with were essentially like family, and they are what I miss the most. If I have any regrets, they center on leaving my wonderful friends. But we stay in touch.
Now, I am now ready to enjoy Diablo 3 as a fan!
Diii.net: Any bittersweet feelings, now that another design team (no matter how talented) is moving forward with your baby?
Ben Boos: Yes, I feel MANY emotions—some bitter and some sweet, but that is mostly my nostalgia at work, not any sort of resentment for the good people now making this game. Besides, I still have good friends who are working on it. But, I do sometimes wish all my old friends were still at it, like I remember from the pleasant days gone by. I can’t help but want to freeze time a bit, and have all those good people together, at work on something wonderful. But life doesn’t work like that, and that’s why the memories are all the more poignant.
Before I go, I’d like to say this: To those who once poured their hearts into this series, I salute you for paving the way! To those who are now bearing the torch, I wish you all the luck in the world—and Godspeed! It looks amazing so far!
Thank you guys at Diabloii.net also. I appreciate all that you add to the Diablo experience.
See you all in New Tristram!