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Designing the Amalgamated Apocalypse – Artist Luke Mancini on Reinterpreting Iconic Characters for Heroes of the Storm
Post by nachosjustice @ 03:27pm 28/09/15 | Comments
AusGamers’ Nathan “nachosjustice” Lawrence interviewed a bunch of Aussie devs recently about how they got into the industry, but stayed on the line with Blizzard’s Luke Mancini a little longer to pick his brain about what it’s like being an artist at the mammoth developer. Read on for what he had to say…

AusGamers: I’m looking at what I hope is your LinkedIn page, and it’s telling me that you’ve been at Blizzard Entertainment since October 2009, so close to six years; is that correct?

Luke Mancini: Yes, that’s right.

AusGamers: What’s happened in that time? I guess it’s a big question, but from the moment that you got the job and went there [to Blizzard] to where you’re at now, can you give me a bit of an idea of your trajectory?

Luke Mancini: So I started at Blizzard on the StarCraft team right before we shipped Wings of Liberty. So, basically, even though I do mostly concept art and illustration, my title is just artist, basically. So I do a bit of everything. When I started, we basically had… certainly with concept and even most of the final art was pretty much done for the game, because we were pretty close to having it ship. So my first big project for StarCraft was actually doing all of the achievement icons for Liberty, so there was a couple of hundred achievement icons that I spent a couple of months on. Even that was a heap of fun. And I got a bit of other stuff: a bit of 3D modelling, a bit of texture work, even a little bit of illustration, as well, along the way.

From there, I definitely got involved in concept work for Heart of the Swarm, so there was a lot of that. I also helped out with some of that for the initial –well, we called it Blizzard DotA that we announced the first time at BlizzCon, but what turned into Heroes of the Storm – so I got to work on that right from the start. I had a lot of… a big role in designing the Zerg in Heart of the Swarm, and then for that I got to go to Australia for our Heart of the Swarm launch that we held down there, which was a lot of fun. And then, after that launched, I’ve been focusing a little bit more on Heroes, so I still do a little bit of supporting work for Legacy of the Void, but it’s mostly focusing on concept and illustrations for Heroes. I actually did the big poster illustration that we announced with at BlizzCon when we came out and said, ‘This is going to be a big game.’ And so that was my work. So I’ve gotten to work with creative development a little bit, so illustrations like that, and I’ve also been able to work with the Hearthstone team a bit for some of their illustrations. I’m really, really happy to be able to give them a hand and work in a bit of a different style sometimes. So now I’m basically entirely focused on Heroes at the moment, so concept work and illustrations that I’m doing at the moment.

AusGamers: You mentioned the idea of style and have casually touched on the fact that you’ve moved between three games. Does your approach to what you do have to change at all, given the titles that you’re working on?

Luke Mancini: It definitely does, especially because… it doesn’t matter as much at the concept stage, I think, but because I am working quite a lot on fairly polished, finished illustrations, it’s definitely something I take into account. StarCraft has got a bit more of a realistic gritty space thing going on, and Hearthstone is definitely the other end of the spectrum, where it’s lighter and more cheerful, and even though there’s the same Warcraft things going on, it’s the epic Warcraft-ness. Working with Ben Thompson, the art director over there, everything is very slightly more curly and slightly more approachable. It’s the epic-ness of Warcraft but set inside a tavern, basically, so it’s a little bit funnier. I think Heroes is somewhere in between. We’re not going for any sort of realistic look; we’re basically trying to distil Blizzard’s style down to one game, and that’s been something that I’ve found probably the most rewarding. Working on Heroes has been finding a middle ground between the crazy stylisation of Warcraft and the sci-fi end of things from StarCraft, and the realistic-ness, as far as that goes, of Diablo, and trying to come up with a style that lets everything fit together and still feels like Blizzard.

AusGamers: That one’s the most interesting to me, Heroes of the Storm, because like you’ve said, it’s right smack bang in the middle, in terms of art. Are you working off a design bible, or it is more you have some touchpoints and you try something, it doesn’t work, and then you refine it through the process of creating?

Luke Mancini: It’s definitely a little bit of that, but [Sam] Samwise [Didier] is still our art director, so having him still be the lead on it I think is hugely helpful. I mean, he’s been here since forever… he’s basically the heart of Blizzard’ art style, almost. So having him directing it, I think, has made it really a lot simpler to hit that mark every time. But at the same time, we’re trying to bring… keep everything up to date and find a style that suits all of our different IPs. I think there are certain characters who come over in a more straightforward manner. Some of the Warcraft characters are pretty straightforward. It’s like, alright, we’ve got a design here, that pretty much works in the game. And then some of the other characters – whether they be characters from Diablo, or even characters from all the games who need to be uprezzed a little bit more, or need to be reinterpreted a little bit more – will get a different approach where we need to sort of look at what made them iconic, and then bring that up to a level that fits in with the more recent characters.

AusGamers: What’s the most challenging game, or perhaps characters or even race, to bring over to that Heroes of the Storm style?

Luke Mancini: I think the most challenging thing is working on the Diablo stuff, in part because we are targeting a different rating that Diablo does. We’re going for a teen rating [M rating in Australia] so all of the Diablo demons. We just release the Butcher, and it’s like, right, we have to make this. Not too much blood. Bones, we’ve gotta sort of steer clear of, and it’s right, because it’s this demon who’s a butcher. He has skulls hanging off him. His hands are drenched in blood. He’s got scars and all sorts of things. It’s like, ‘Well, so we’ve got to take this and make it.’ I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far of taking that and fitting it in with the style and not going too overboard with it but, at the same time, keeping the heart of that character. That’s been a lot of fun.

Aside from that, there are other characters who have been less well fleshed out in the past. We have a bit more freedom. There are characters like the Siege Tank driver, like Sergeant Hammer, or someone like Brightwing, even, when we get to take something that isn’t… I guess there’s a little bit less on the art style wise, and more just a character-design thing. All the other characters, like, people have an idea of them in their head, they’re like, ‘Right, Arthas, this is exactly what he’s going to look like, so we need to make Arthas be Arthas, but the Faerie Dragon, or this Siege Tank driver, and we have a bit more freedom to play around with that, because people don’t have this idea fixed in their head. That’s been a lot of fun, for sure.

AusGamers: Just going back to what you were talking about then, you mentioned something that sounded like the idea of a reimagining. When you’ve got a Diablo character that you’ve got skulls hanging off him and blood dripping off him and a cleaver, and you’re removing what I would consider to be an iconic representation of that character. How easy is it to go, ‘Well, we have to get rid of the things that make him instantly recognisable but, at the same time, we’ve still got to make him recognisable at a glance in Heroes of the Storm’? Is that a lot of iteration and stripping back, but it’s just sort of there are things we’re not noticing perhaps as gamers that go into this design side?

Luke Mancini: I would have to say I think we’ve done a pretty good job. I don’t think we’ve had to cut back on anything. I think the Butcher we have in the game is pretty close to the feel that you get from the Butcher in Diablo, and it’s been a lot of fun… maybe his blood isn’t quite as gory as it is in Diablo but, aside from that, I think he’s pretty scary. He still has the skulls hanging off his belt. He still has the cleaver. He’s still not a friendly guy. I don’t think we’ve had to pull back on anything too much. Certainly not anything that would make people look at him and go, man, he’s really not the right character. We are definitely very aware of what these characters mean to people, and we don’t want to take anything out of that. It’s definitely something we’re thinking about all the time.

AusGamers: You also mentioned about having the opportunity to create something new. In my mind, that might even be a bit of a challenge in the sense that you’re creating something new for Heroes of the Storm but, at the same time, it’s being created in a separate universe and being injected into Heroes of the Storm. Does that present any particular challenges?

Luke Mancini: It definitely does. I think we have to make someone who is exciting and engaging and a character that feels fun for people. With a lot of other characters, we’ve got this rich backstory and this connection that the players already have to these people. So it’s really almost easier to be, ‘Hey, here’s Illidan again. You know Illidan? He’s really cool.’ And people go, ‘Yes, that’s awesome.’ Whereas, you’re like, ‘Faerie Dragons!’ And everyone looks at you, ‘Hmm. Yeah.’ There’s a challenge there in making these characters, and part of this definitely comes from the gameplay side. I think our designer’s done an amazing job of making someone like Brightwing super fun to play. And as soon as you get that, like, she’s fun to play, she’s hilarious. Her dialogue is amazing. She’s super cute, as well. I think there’s that mix of thing that you have to hit to bring a new character into the environment.