Diablo Immortal Interview: Lead Artist Hunter Schulz & Senior Game Designer Scott Burgess

New adventures in hell are available on mobile devices with the release of Diablo Immortal. The free-to-play game takes place between Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 and introduces new story content and enemies for fans to battle. While the new game also keeps many of the classic elements of the Diablo game seriesDiablo Immortal has also received some design updates to make it more compatible with smaller, mobile screens. These changes offer a new look for some classic elements while keeping the tone and playstyle fans are familiar with.

As a free-to-play game, there will be some changes to Diablo Immortal that will differ from past console-only games. Players have the option to purchase premium currency for in-game perks, and updates with new content are planned after the game's official launch on June 2, 2022. While some Diablo fans may be put off by the frustrating effects of microtransactions, especially after the negative issues other mobile games have experienced, it appears the content available in Diablo Immortal will be accessible without any additional purchases, though it may take longer to obtain certain items or achievements.

Related: Diablo Immortal Looks Exactly The Same On PC and Mobile

However, mobile accessibility for Diablo Immortal has also offered developers the chance to look at the character, environment, and monster designs in a different light. Diablo Immortal has a new, updated feel compared to Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 while ensuring fans can clearly see what is happening while playing on their mobile screens. Diablo Immortal's Lead Artist Hunter Schulz and Senior Game Designer Scott Burgess recently sat down with Screen Rant to discuss the design process and art direction of the new game, and how past favorite designs were revamped for a mobile platform.

There are a lot of updated, but similar styles from the earlier Diablo games in Immortal. What past Diablo games really influenced your art direction in Immortal, and what did you specifically hone in on to take to this new game?

Hunter Schulz: Where you're starting from is a very similar place. We wanted this to be a true Diablo experience, so from the visual side, you already have the lore and the world stage already set for you. The content is there and remains the same, even though there's new characters and new zones and things that are appearing in Diablo Immortal. It's still very much like Diablo game, and the art should also reflect that. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to our look. We purposefully wanted it to be familiar. 

The main thing that we had to focus on, for the sake of functionality, is the readability of the game. A lot of the art style comes into play as a necessary thing, as opposed to only just a stylistic choice. An example is that someone might want to create this super detailed Diablo experience with really low lighting that just wouldn't work on a mobile device. That was the big thining that we had to think about, because otherwise the designs that we create and gameplay would not really be readable. We made that a priority, to make sure the designs are readable. They pop, you can actually understand what you're looking at, and you can understand the gameplay and everything that comes along with it.

That covers some of my next question, which was how the mobile platform creates changes compared to these previous games. Were there any other changes that you guys had to make, or any design directions you had to think differently about?

Hunter Schulz: The game is built from the ground up, that's one thing to consider. I think it comes down to design. It all stems from the concept art; the idea, the concept art, and then the model and the implementation in-game. And then, of course, the game engine needs to represent the models in the best way possible with the lighting and everything. 

It starts from that early stage of the concept art. If you're designing a monster - or in this case, a demon - instead of having smaller horns, maybe you want really bigger, bolder horns. You're thinking about the silhouette and what it looks like on the screen. The smaller details will get lost, so even when you have the pencil in your hand, the designers are thinking about how it will look when you have it this small.

It's a cool challenge to have. A lot of concept art considers the silhouette as, if not the most important thing, one of the most important things Because it's the first thing you see, whether you're looking at a game or you're looking at cool digital art.

Scott Burgess: I'll add to that. I think the art team has done a fantastic job at making sure that the effects are readable, so you know what skill or spell a character is using. But it's also not too overwhelming, so that if you get into a PvP match, you don't get blinded by the effects. You're still able to figure out what's going on, where you are, and where the enemy is. 

It all just reads really well and is easy to jump into. They've done a great job.

I'd never even thought about that, as a comic illustrator myself. Having to make everything super tiny but completely recognizable has to be a really big challenge.

Hunter Schulz: It's a lot of the same principles. If you're doing comics, you want that character to pop,; you want the narrative and action of the scene to pop. 

In the Realm of Damnation, what was the art process for developing environments?

Hunter Schulz: Again, it all starts with the concept art. I don't want to say one process is more fun than the other, but painting and drawing is one of the more exciting parts of developing any zone or character. For one, you get to kind of play around with different ideas. Maybe some ideas are more bold - or too bold. Some can be a bit tamer and more obvious. 

The process of developing that zone was just like any other zone: starting with concepts, trying things out, and then going from there. But I think we did something a bit different than you've seen in past representations of Hell. Something that's familiar, but also has a texture to it that I really like. 

Scott Burgess: If you look at the Realm of Damnation, it's not your standard burning hell lava and rock. There's a lot of really cool areas in the zone. The Forest of Misery, I believe it's called, is basically an area where you have demonic tree entities that are trying to capture you and prevent you from getting through the zone. We also have the Halls of Punishment, which are a place where angels and demons are being tortured for whatever reason of demonic. 

It's really cool and different from other versions of the burning Hell that we've seen in other games.

Related: Diablo Immortal Release Date and PC Launch Confirmed In New Trailer

When I was looking at the concept art, it evokes such a strong sense of Dante's Inferno: this layered, textured damnation that's not just fire and brimstone. Did you have any real-life locations or literary influences that you pulled from when you were coming up with these concepts?

Hunter Schulz: Maybe some of the concept artists did. Everything's been done before, right? Someone said that. Pulling from different references and pulling inspiration from different sources, and then finding ways to combine them together to create something new, is the only thing you can do now. 

Everything has been done, and the thing that's under underneath that is the idea. And I think the idea can just be a feeling or a message that you want to get across. That might sound like you're thinking too deep for something that's just designing health. But I think the concept artists were feeling that. I think at the very core is what kind of feeling you want to evoke and, as you mentioned, a lot of our Hell it's not just lava and flames. There is that, of course, because you need it. But there's texture, and there's an almost skeletal pattern to the zone. 

I think that's where you want to start from; a place of, "How can you create something that we haven't seen before, but that also serves its purpose and is appropriate for the thing you're trying to design?"

My next question for you is actually on the Forest of Misery. The monster designs look like something out of Lord of the Rings? How did you decide you were going to mash them up? What parts did you want to exaggerate and which parts did you choose not to?

Hunter Schulz: Yeah, so you're calling out that everything's been done before. It's true, there's so many great ideas that there's obviously going to be some influences in anything that you look at. I will say, though, I don't think there is any Lord of the Rings used as an influence. Maybe it's seeped into our psyche.

But again, it's starting off with a design that feels appropriate. If you're in Hell, and you're trying to design a demon, the most appropriate thing is probably the most awful thing that you could conjure up in your head. As you mentioned, these beasts with giant scythe arms go back to that thing of wanting to create that part of the world. You want to make sure that it hits home on the feeling that you want, which is that you're in Hell. You shouldn't feel comfortable at any corner of that zone.

When designing Skarn, what choices for his appearance did you focus on most? How did you go about creating this awesome multi-armed demon?

Hunter Schulz: I was actually not around for that, so I can't speak to all of the reasons for that design, but I do know some of them. I think when you're creating a demon, and you're making a big bad boss for a Diablo game, you have some challenges in not trying to step on the other big bad guys' feet. Obviously, Diablo is the main one. That was a position that I know the team started from: "Let's create something that feels worthy of being the big bad boss in Diablo, but also looks different enough where people can differentiate Skarn from Diablo or anybody else." 

That's where a lot of the ideas of bringing out the bone to the surface come from. When you think of Diablo, you think of just a red demon. There's obviously more going on, but that's your first takeaway. Skarn has these weird bone deformities that are obviously more of a pale color. And then his tail is actually one of my more favorite parts, but you don't get to see it a lot until you actually see him in game.

I think a lot of the design decisions were making sure that he had his own identity and trying to get some cool ideas in there that all felt nice as a complete package.

Scott Burgess: One of the things I love about Skarn is that he almost looks like a centipede, with his long body and his multiple arms. It's kind of like that crawling, squirrely nature of what he is. He's basically an usurper, now that Diablo is dead. Because we're in the aftermath of Diablo II, all the Prime Evils are gone. And so he's basically using this as an opportunity to take control, try to form his own cult and get a hold of one of these worldstone shards. He can basically take control of humanity as well by pulling out their angelic nature and use that to turn the tides of the eternal conflict. 

If you look at him, it reminds me of a centipede. Sometimes he's walking on his middle legs, and sometimes he's standing up. It's a really cool aspect that reinforces some of his deeper character.

My first impression was snake-like, because it captures that sneaky, conniving idea of the usurper. There's so many ways to portray a villain.

Scott Burgess: If you look at Diablo, he's like the World Wrestling Champion.

Exactly. But this image of a multi-armed snake, with this almost sleek design, is just very striking. 

Hunter Schulz: The evil philosophy the Skarn has is different from the other villains as well. I think he has a unique voice in the pantheon of bad guys in Diablo. That's where a lot of cool writing shines. 

Related: Diablo Immortal Director Sets Record Straight On Diablo 3 Auction House

What will past Diablo fans find familiar about Diablo Immortal? Are there specific gameplay elements that you've pulled forward, or mechanics that people are going to recognize? Which ones would you say are the most notable?

Scott Burgess: The entire intention of this game is that we wanted to make a true Diablo game for mobile. We have all the darkness of the original Diablo games, and we have all the grittiness and feeling of dread that we all love with Diablo. And then we're also pulling a lot of our favorite classes, bringing them to Diablo Immortal and giving them a unique twist. We have class favorites like the barbarian, the demon hunter, and the necromancer. And we have a lot of our favorite abilities, like corpse explosion - you can't have a necromancer without blowing up corpses. 

But then we're also doing fun things. Like for the wizard, there's an ability to place an ice crystal and shoot a disintegration beam at it, and it prisms off and is able to damage a lot of enemies. We're taking these favorite classes, adding to them, and making them unique for Immortal.

That's awesome. You have the ability, especially because these games have been around for such a long time, to take these classic ideas and expand on them with modern gameplay or new embellishments that are going to make these classes really shine.

Scott Burgess: Exactly. I think it works really well. And being able to do it on the mobile platform, it's incredible how intuitive the controls are when you play the mobile version of the game. It just feels natural, and the skills and spells just feel great. The monk has a flying kick, and you can jump off a wall and do another kick. Every time you land that, it just feels so good.

That sounds incredible, and it’s an intuitive kind of gameplay.

Scott Burgess: Yeah, absolutely. It's a game that you can just pick up, and immediately you're drawn into it.

Out of everything, what was your favorite aspect of the art design for Diablo Immortal? What is the thing that completely stands out as your shining moment in art?

Hunter Schulz: I think one of the main ones is the cosmetics. They’re really interesting, and they're ongoing. It’s not past tense; it's very much happening now.

The reason why is that we get to explore a wider range of ideas. Let’s say you get armor, or you're designing armor for characters in the game; they follow certain rules. But with cosmetics, there's more of a roleplaying aspect to it. For instance, you could be a ghost of Asheville - you're actually no longer your character, and you take on the form of a wraith. That's really cool, and I think that's exciting for the players who who want that.

There's just a wide range of ideas to dive into. But also, the process of developing them is really fun, with really amazing concept artists that do just amazing work. These character designs get a lot of love and a lot of attention, so it's really fun to get into those details. Of course, you’re keeping the big picture and the silhouette in mind, but you can get in there and carve out the design to a higher level of detail that you wouldn't necessarily do with other normal types of armor in the game.

Scott Burgess: I would add that the world zones that we have in Diablo Immortal are persistent. In previous Diablo games, a lot of the world was procedurally generated. In Diablo Immortal, it's an exact zone with a specific map. And I would say all the zones are fantastic to look at; they feel really great and are just really fun zones to immerse yourself in.

I don't want to spoil anything, so I won't, but some of the zones we have planned as we continue to support the game in the future are just gorgeous and beautiful. I'm just really excited for players to see all of Sanctuary in its glory.

Are there plans for quite a lot more further content?

Scott Burgess: Absolutely. We're going to be supporting this game for years to come. Our plan is to release a new zone or dungeon every few months, and continue to expand the story with that.

And then we're also going to support the game with a new Helliquarry boss roughly every month - that's an eight player raid that players can join to take down this ancient demon.

Then we're gonna add new classes approximately once per year.

Can we get any sneak peeks at those classes, or is that all confidential?

Scott Burgess: That's all super confidential.

Hunter Schulz: I wish we could. That’s the hardest thing about these, because we do know. We just can't share. 

Adding new classes is a great way to encourage people to keep trying all the content. Because if something releases, you get to try everything all over again from a completely different perspective.

Scott Burgess: We're also going to be adding a class transfer feature shortly after launch. We’re still working on it, but our goal is to say, “Hey, you want to try another class, but your max level? We’ll swap over to another class for a bit and see how you like playing that.”

Related: Controversial Diablo Immortal Had Biggest Launch in Franchise History

That also gives people the chance to play without getting nerfed.

Scott Burgess: Yeah, exactly.

Are there any other big points that stood out during the development process that you'd want to share?

Scott Burgess: My go-to is that it's a gigantic game. This is the biggest Diablo game yet: we have so much content. We have eight zones and eight dungeons and Heliquarry Raids. We have a full faction-based PvP system that's coming online. We have so many awesome legendary items to search out in the world. It's just a lot of fun.

That sounds amazing. We're really starting to see a revolutionizing of mobile devices as actual consoles, and I think that’s opening a lot of doors artistically, conceptually, and from a development standpoint that make these games stand out.

Hunter Schulz: It's a AAA game on your phone. I think that's the first take away a lot of people have. It was mine when I picked it up and started playing around. It’s like, “Wow…”

It makes a lot of sense to be on mobile, because these phones have the power to actually deliver the kind of game you want to make. A couple years ago, you couldn't do it. But now? This makes a lot of sense.

Scott Burgess: We've come a long way from Snake.

For anybody who is anxious about trying a game as big as Diablo on their mobile device, do you have any comments or hype points that you'd want to share to pique interest?

Scott Burgess: If you haven't tried any Diablo game, this is a great game to start the Diablo franchise. It's very approachable, and it’s very easy to jump in and get playing and figure out how to grab loot and level yourself up. We have a really intuitive control system and a great tutorial that feels natural and doesn't get in the way.

It's just an easy game to get into. And if you don't have a phone, we're on PC, so you could also use that.

Hunter Schulz: I think it's very immersive. I think it's easy to get into, and a lot of that has to do with the immersion, the music, the gameplay, and the story of voice acting.

I don't think there's too much of a selling point that needs to be made. I think it's just you pick it up, you try it out, and it's our job to deliver on whether it's a good game or not. We think we have.

Scott Burgess: And one additional thing is it's free. All of it’s free; all the content, all the dungeons, all future content. It's all free. So, there's no reason not to play. No reason not to try.  

Next: The Real Reason Blizzard Is Bringing Diablo Immortal To PC

Diablo Immortal is available on Android, iOS, and PC.



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