GR: Many games opt for a more cartoony style for their MMOs, whereas Rift, albeit stylized, is more realistic. What was the reasoning behind this?
DP: Many things influence the art style of a video game. Concept artists, the artists that translate that 2D work into 3D, the game designers, the game design and lore, the people that lead it at the beginning or during its creation. Even marketing might have a few thoughts on a particular direction to take things in. So I don’t think I can easily say there’s one specific ‘reason’ that Rift’s art style was more representational, it just evolved that way for a few reasons and I have some ideas on why.
Firstly, most of the art leads that worked on Rift in its infancy had just come from games that had representational art styles so it was perhaps a natural progression.
Secondly, when Rift development began it was around the time that PC games were commonly adopting more complex shading techniques. This was the move from the old school technique of game art asset creation which was making a low polygon model and simply painting color on to it, to the now commonly adopted method of sculpting a very high resolution source model that is millions and millions of polygons then applying the surface undulation information from that model to a lower polygon in game version. This is normal mapping (bump, to the layman), and almost every art asset in Rift is created this way. When that technology was in its infancy I think it just seemed like it was best showed off by more realistically styled models.
And finally, back when Rift development began there actually weren’t many realistically styled (Western made) MMO's that looked really impressive from an art standpoint. The one or two that were out at the time weren't particularly hailed for their visuals, so that was perhaps on some level a sub conscious challenge, I think?