At the turn of a meeting with John Muelle and Joseph Piepiora, the two developers recount the frenzied creative process of the title. Interview.
The doors of Sanctuary finally open. After a long development, numerous test sessions and early access, the universe of Diablo IV is now accessible to all players. This new installment of the cult hack’n slash offers a reinterpretation of the franchise which, from a new perspective, still manages to preserve what has made its acclaimed heritage.
Succeed in convincing the community Diablo is no small feat. While some vow modernity, others prefer to return to the charm of yesteryear. For the developers, the exercise turned out to be a hell of a challenge. “If our community is asked ‘do you prefer this or that’, we typically get a 53% and 47% split. The community is divided based on a number of things, which makes it particularly difficult” explains Joseph Piepiora, deputy director of the game.
Despite a radical change in formula with an unprecedented open world for the license, Diablo IV ticks all the right boxes. The title is devilishly well constructed and offers a most satisfying progression in a dark and exciting world. This success is not rocket science and is explained above all by the monstrous efforts of the development teams.
No room for error
Long bruised, the franchise Diablo has not forged the best of reputations in recent years. The third installment took only too long to reveal its potential, while the mobile episode has drawn ire from the community via its pay-to-win system. To make the fourth episode a memorable chapter, it was above all a question of making the right decisions.
“Diablo IV is a game that forced us to make choices. The world of Sanctuary was a major obstacle in our way of designing the game and the possibilities it offers” says Joseph Piepora. “In the past, we have only had more linear and narrow courses. We had the ability to tell a sort of direct story as we progressed. In Diablo IV, we continue this structure in action, but it is essential to allow players to determine their own course.”.
This open structure is essential to the feeling of freshness that the game provides. In addition to being in line with today’s standards, the recipe also makes it possible to accentuate immersion, the very heart of any role-playing game. This free world is not only an element of effective gameplay, it is also a way of building an even more coherent world, as illustrated by John Muelle, artistic director on the title.
“Having an open world allows us to paint all of these things like a huge canvas”
The game map is not a simple map, it is a work of art in its own right. The transitions between the biomes, the different landscapes and the cities give the impression of a universe painted by attentive Gothic artists, a feeling sought by the artistic director. “We wanted players to think ‘oh, this is art, this isn’t just a game.’ Diablo IV will hopefully be memorable if we do it right”
The next-gen at the service of the atmosphere
The arrival of Diablo IV also signs the opportunity to revitalize an artistic direction in distress. Diablo III was too bright and colorful while Diablo Immortal above all adapted to the technical restrictions of smartphones. For the latest episode, the developers were able to have fun and bring all their ideas to life. John Muelle made it a point of honor to bring back the dark atmosphere that made the charm of Diablo II.
“We have new consoles, new technologies, new graphics cards, which allow things that were previously impossible. But with all of that, I didn’t want to lose the fact that this is a dark medieval fantasy universe. I didn’t want colorful graphics. I wanted a medieval and gloomy mood, tone and atmosphere” he says.
Each area and each plan is worked with the most meticulous attention. The environmental effects linked to the rain or the passage of monsters show that Sanctuary is a bruised, gloomy and melancholy world. Not a single place is spared and appears as a peaceful place. Not even the seaside, as John Muelle explains: “There’s a lot of coastline with crystal clear blue water, but with lots of stranded boats, demons and monsters coming out of the sea, which was a good opportunity for the atmosphere because we’ve never had that kind of decorations.”
But this feat lies above all in the ability to amaze the player despite a restricted camera angle. “Taking an action RPG like Diablo IV with that isometric camera view and trying to make it look like there’s something on the horizon, even if the cameras don’t see the horizon isn’t obvious, but we are really proud of the feeling of exploration and the desire to discover wonders that we have managed to create” advocates Joseph Piepiora.
Eventually, Diablo IV shines with the attention paid to the community. “It is good to hear what people think in order to advise us in the future on how we could approach certain aspects. These are not always things we can achieve, but I think it’s very important that players feel heard.” concludes the assistant director of the title.