Diablo 3

Behind the Gear: Ceremonial Knives

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SHISekp - Behind the Gear: Ceremonial Knives

Witch Doctor Ceremonial Knife Commons and Legendaries

The Witch Doctor was our second hero, and like the Barbarian, he was easy to design for. His thematic kit pulled from a lot of different sources, and it seemed like we just couldn’t stop coming up with stuff that complemented his visuals.

Of his three class items, the mask and the mojos were inspiring so many ideas that it became a matter of which concepts not to do. The Ceremonial Knives weren’t as easy. For one thing, they were small. You can express a concept visually when you are working with a helmet or a big two-hander, but knives don’t take up much space onscreen. Second, we were already making a bunch of daggers! Those items were treading in a similar design space and it was important that players could look at each kind of weapon and immediately know, “This one belongs to a Witch Doctor.”

We used a couple of techniques to give the item category its own space. First, we kept most dagger designs in a Eurasian historical design range. Basically, a lot of straight edges and cross shapes. Most, but not all, because if you don’t break the rules occasionally you get boring. Then we pushed Ceremonial Knife designs into ornamentality and dramatic designs. Ceremonial Knives show a lot of curves and blade mass, and use exotic materials. We looked at Daggers as pure weapons, and Ceremonial Knives as cultural artifacts that only a veteran practitioner could wield effectively.

Also, it didn’t hurt that the animation team gave the Witch Doctors a killer pose for the 1HDagger/1HSpear animation set. The heroes hold the weapon high and out, making it highly visible to the player. It’s cool and dynamic and makes the weapon really easy to spot.

Unfortunately, the lineup of common Ceremonial Knives in vanilla got truncated. We only had four models to use over several items! We did better with our Legendaries, with a list that just seemed to grow over time.

Vanilla Diablo III was in development for a long time. You may have heard that. In that time, we were always trying to math out our rate of speed for various tasks. If we do this thing this way, then we can do this many of them in this amount of time. If we do it that way, we can get more of them faster, at a cost to quality, or burnout, our uniqueness, or something else. In those explorations, we dabbled with ideas like using FX on existing models to get a new item relatively quickly. In the end, the results kind of show themselves for what they are, and I think that everyone agreed that it was better to go another route. But we did end up with some Legendary items that look like other items with an additional loud glow, acid drip, etc. as well as unique stats and abilities. You can see two in the Vanilla Ceremonial Knife Legendaries. I argued for keeping these oddities in the game, despite their comparative simplicity, and I stand by that. An item game is not lessened significantly by the presence of one item that is a cut below the others visually. But the item experience for a Witch Doctor player is significantly improved if there is even one more compelling legendary weapon experience to hope for in their play. Despite being a devoted art producer, I always tried to put the player experience first.

I didn’t have a guiding hand in the concepts of the Vanilla Legendaries, but I remember making them well.


Moon Slayer was made from a dagger design intended as a Common, but was promoted to Legendary purely for looking Badass. We toned down the first pass of FX on the item to make sure the hotness of the model wasn’t obscured.Zigguraut Tooth was modeled early, and just worked. It went right into the game and wasn’t tinkered with. A later revision of the item got a new name and became a predictable drop from the Act 1 spider queen encounter.The Gidbinn is kind of funny. It appears in D2 as a quest object in Kurast, and it is clearly tied to the Fetish creatures. We felt like the Witchdoctors could have hailed from an area close to or similar to Kurast, and many of us became enamored with the idea that the class could be a master of one of the iconic enemies of the previous game. We explored different ways to bring that Fetish/Kurast kit into the Witch Doctor, and we thought we might use a Gidbinn model in his abilities. In the end, we had the model and it seemed weird not to just have it be a Legendary in its own right. I always felt kind of funny, like it should have been something even MORE in Diablo III, but I'm glad it made it into the game.Anessazi Edge is one of the first items that was outright named for a team member, environment artist Anessa Silzer. The reference is a little blunt (The secrets of this blade are known only to the artisans of the Silzer plains), but I can’t argue with the intent. I made it a mission to honor as many members of my team as I could in this fashion when I took over naming. It’s also a really cool standout item with a needle-like profile and simple dangly bit of engine cloth. It’s really good for those desaturated WD transmogs.Last Breath was one of the earliest fully FX-ed legendary items we made. It showed up in an early company review of the game, and got some encouraging ooh’s and ahh’s. It came at a time when a lot of the game was looking functional, and not especially glossy, and it felt good to get a reaction from just making something pretty. That said, it was merely a suped-up Common model.The Barber was heavily modified from another model into something new. I know that Jason Bender was going for a Sweeney Todd reference with this item, and referencing contemporary stuff was definitely his style.Umbral Oath is interesting in that it’s actually a low-key Gidbinn 2.0. The original Gidbinn from Diablo II was actually based on the dagger from the 1994 movie, The Shadow. A lot of the details from the movie didn’t translate into the D2 weapon, but the Umbral Oath comes closer.

Scheduling Reaper of Souls, I wanted to devote some assets to the Ceremonial Knife common pool that got shafted the first time around. The artists made two badass daggers for that purpose, the Obsidian Skiver and the Tecpatl. In particular, the Obsidian Skiver was almost too cool to be a Common. Beyond that, we had five new Legendaries to add to the game.

Starmetal Kukri was one of my ideas. It isn’t easy to communicate that a knife is made out of meteorite, but we made a go of it. The texture on the blade came out fantastic. – It is said that this dagger, forged out of metal that fell from the skies, could sever the cord connecting a person's soul to the rest of the universe.Rhen’ho Flayer was named for one of our programmers and a very agreeable man, Henry Ho. I think some of the most wicked-looking knives in the world are actually skinning tools, and if something like that was going to work for a weapon, it had to be a Ceremonial Knife. – This knife has been used in Witchdoctor ceremonies for hundreds of years and has been a part of rituals that would turn the stomachs of most outsiders. The blade is shaped to accommodate the removal of skin from a body, but it makes a deadly weapon, nonetheless.Sacrificer was made, along with all the other Death-themed transmogs in the Arma Mortis, in the final weeks leading up to Reaper’s launch. Master weapon artist Aaron Gaines developed all of these pieces in practically no time at all. Aaron was absolutely clutch for Diablo III weapons, and his skills grew steadily over the course of the project. By the end of Reaper of Souls, Aaron was banging out masterpieces left and right. He knocked the Arma Mortis pack quickly, and before we knew it we had one of our key bonuses for the Collector’s Edition.Sacred Harvester was made especially for the first live season of D3:ROS.The Dagger of Darts had a funny journey to existence. We experimented with making a WD armor set that also had a Ceremonial Knife. That set was the Jade Harvester. Later, we changed the set to be wearable by all classes (woof, that wasn’t easy), and then the dagger didn’t make sense as part of the set, and became orphaned. Much later, the model was picked up and used for a new Legendary item in Season One.

I like the Ceremonial Daggers because they are smaller, but they carry a ton of personality. They don't dominate the hero profile like some other weapons do, and can complement a nice transmog set. It all comes down to freaky curved blades and that badass overhand stabbing animation.

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