It’s been a long road for Diablo 4, one filled with multiple bumps and changes in direction. And one of those problems was an issue with the open world, where everything felt a little too cramped. But in an interview with Kotaku Australia at Blizzcon, the game’s production director explained how they nailed a key tenet of Diablo 4.
The problem, as production director Gavian Whishaw explained (while the game’s lead artist, Richie Marella, drew on an iPad), was what to do with Diablo 4‘s open world. “We had been talking about this concept of open world and what it means for a long time,” Whishaw said. “We had iterations of the world that were pretty tight in terms of navigation and it didn’t really feel open, it feels beautiful and it feels dark, it feels scary, it feels dangerous, but it feels like we’re moving through tunnels all the time.”
“Everything could run, but just imagine there’s maybe one too many — it’s a subtle thing — but there’s one too many trees in your way, there’s one too many rocks in your way,” Whishaw explained.
It was a classic design issue. The space was technically there, but the visual design left the world feeling claustrophobic and cramped. “That’s not the impact we want,” Whishaw said. So the answer was to borrow some tricks from interior design, rearranging the objects and items in the world to make the space feel more open than it was.
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“We really started thinking about gameplay, it’s gameplay first, and what does that look like for landscape. How do we interpret that to a landscape? And that’s what they went and did, so suddenly it meant that you were running long distances,” Whishaw said. “Suddenly the world was just open, you could run and you could go to the coastline and you could run down south and the landscape would change, and it was a really amazing moment. For me, I was like wow, the canvas is coming together and we can start putting gameplay on this, so that was really exciting.”
“You had the feeling of traversing through a changing world and you were no longer bumping up against this, bumping up against that. And you know, that’s one of those like, man, a lot of us started [talking] about, ‘I really want to spend time in this world.'”
It’s one of those moments that needs to happen for a game to truly click, and at Blizzcon it was nice to finally see Diablo 4, previously codenamed Fenris, finally coming together. Perhaps the most satisfying wasn’t just the openness of the world, but its similarities with Diablo 2. Sources told Kotaku last year that Blizzard wanted to go back to the way Diablo 2‘s visceral, gritty, gothic style, and so far from what we’ve seen of the game, Diablo 4 is headed in the right direction.
The author travelled to Blizzcon 2019 as a guest of Blizzard.