Blizzard North Didn’t Know Diablo I’s Story Ending

More interesting tidbits from David Craddock’s upcoming book on Blizzard North today, courtesy of ShackNews and Fmulder, who started a good lore/story debate with his forum post.

The article on ShackNews covers the creation of the Blizzard cinematic department, and early ideas for an always-online requirement for a very un-warcraft-like War3. Here’s a quote about the cinematic stuff and the story surprise they created for Blizzard North in Diablo I.

“Today, Blizzard fans look forward to the company’s cinematics almost as much as they anticipate its games,” Craddock said. “However, the idea of devoting an entire internal team to cinematics took time to catch on and remained disconnected from the game development process. Diablo’s opening cinematic was made late in the production process before the story was finalized, consisting of a brief tour of a derelict town that may or may not be Tristram, shots of monsters roaming a dungeon, some mysterious force sliding the lid off of its sarcophagus, and several close-ups of an important-looking-but-never-used sword sticking out of a hilltop. Without much of a story to work with beyond ‘Kill Diablo,’ the video was created more to set a mood than to kick off a story.

“About midway through StarCraft, a proper cinematics team formed at Blizzard Entertainment, where all cinematics but one were created,” he said. “The team had almost total creative control over all game cinematics, even those used in Blizzard North’s games. The ending of Diablo, where the hero stabs the gem into his own forehead? Blizzard North had no idea that was going to happen until Blizzard Entertainment sent them a copy of the video.”

The devs have covered it many times in the past, but no, there really wasn’t much story for Diablo I until well-into the project. I’ve talked to Max Schaefer, Erich Schaefer, and Dave Brevik about that, and how great the Diablo I manual was, and they all laugh and say how they were just making a cool gothic dungeon crawler and that it literally had no story throughout most of the development. That’s why all the story is in the manual, or told by those lore tomes you find in the dungeons, and how the actual game events and quests have virtually no story tied to them.

The devs knew the kind of game and the mood and theme they wanted to make, but “why” of anything, and the ultimate objectives of the plot evolved over time, and were largely fleshed out by Metzen and others who weren’t part of the core game-creation group.

Much the same thing happened in Diablo II, in terms of the cinematic team going off on the story and creating a lot of headaches for the game developers, as the cinematics were done (or at least finalized for content since the art/rendering took forever) well in advance of the game, and thus the story as related in the game, mostly through long speeches by Tyrael and other NPCs, had to be massaged to match up to the story as it was being told in the cinematics.

The messy way the story was created always comes to my mind when players complain about the story of Diablo III, given that the current game had probably 1000% more resources and effort spent on the creation and presentation of the story than the story in D1 or D2 did. It’s definitely easier to present a good story when you’re mostly presenting ideas and archetypal events and characters, rather than trying to fit new events into a complicated timeline, and make them match a bunch of background details and past history that fans are already wedded to.

Tagged As: | Categories: Blizzard North, Cinematics, Lore and Story


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  1. I first played both D1 and D2 a few years ago and while I obviously thought they were fantastic, I’m not as attached to them as many here. 🙂 The story in the cinematics of D2 seemed to have minimal relationship to the rest of the game to me, and I was never clear on how the hero in D1 came to the bizarre conclusion that stabbing himself with Diablo was somehow a good idea.

    Apparently there’s a reason for that. 🙂

    • Well, in stories and games you need the heroes to do something stupid, or else there won’t be any sequels.

    • I think the idea was that unless a strong soul imposed their will on the stone, Diablo would “leak out” and start to corrupt the surrounding area.

      Containing diablo this way was never the ultimate solution, just the lesser of two evils at the time (pun intended).

      • Yes, and it was somewhat retconned by D2 and D3 even more that that was Diablo’s plan (or at least his backup plan) all along. He tried to get Leoric but that failed, so went after his son with the understanding that great heroes would come to slay him and he could possess them instead.

  2. D2 has my favorite storyline by far. I guess resources aren’t everything.

  3. meh, i still stand by liking the story to d3, and thought all 3 games were melded well together despite things.

  4. The interaction between Baal in disguise and Marius at the asylum will forever be my favorite cutscene in any game. The environment and the voice acting were on a level that has yet to be matched in my opinion. Tyreal getting pissed at Marius for removing the soul stone… The massacre at the tavern “East… always into the East” forever burned into my memory. Those were the times of amazing cutscenes and I really do miss those days.

  5. …. this is not news. I thought this was well established.

    Diablo 3’s story went to hell when the hero went from struggling against one of the lesser evils to smashing down all evils united.

    For what could be considered Tathamet reincarnate, super Diablo was pathetic.

  6. Show, don’t tell, Blizzard. Like how you used to do.

  7. It shows what a mess both stories of D1 and D2 were and how much hypocrits are now running around that the story of D3 sucks.

    It shows how many twists and turns Metzen had to take in the last game to even come up with at least a small portion of credibility left.

    D games were never about the story: it is simple smash things until they die.

    The faster the better.

    As a matter of fact if D1 or D2 would be launched today as they were launched: they would be far worse than any other game launched today.

    D3 made the best of it and even created a whole new genre with the RAMH: a player driven cash shop (and far better than those lame cash shops from developpers where you only can buy stuff as a player). Still making around 1.5 million gold per day. That’s 20 Euro’s a month from playing a … video game.

    GREAT !

    The more I see it: D3 stands miles above D2 already these days and patch 1.05 will even make it a small “design your own difficulty” game. Hence small portions of sandbox come to mind.

    D3 FOREVER. Screw the rest.

  8. All this is definitely new to me.

    One thing I will add is that the people making the cinematics in D3 did not bother to check the pronunciation for ‘Arreat’. Ergo, they probably did not play D2.

  9. This just goes to show the disconnect between story and gameplay. The game should build UPON the underlying story, and not the other way around where the game is just an interactive story. The latter style gives us gems like Diablo 3, COD:MW1-MW7 or whatever they’re on, and just any other \on rails\ games. Those types of games typically don’t interest me.

    However, games like X-COM, Elder Scrolls, and Minecraft are great. You aren’t constantly forcefed story, and you’re allowed to explore as you wish!

  10. Back when D2 was still in developement, Blizzard’s website occasionally featured a new screenshot from one of the cinematics of the game as a background ‘splash’ image. I remember people were quite irritated by how, judging from these screenshots, D2’s story promised to turn out to be very different from D1’s. Whichg was completely logical because they saw, for the very first time, Marius, Tyrael, Mephisto, etc. without really knowing who these characters were or what they had to do with what happened in Tristram. At the same time, no sign of the Tristram villagers, the hero or Diablo.

    There was also a developer interview at that time (I dont’ remember if pre- or post-release) covering the topic of how the main story was very disconnected from the actual adventure the main game would present. The Blizzard representative argued that the main reason behind the different approaches to storytelling were of technical nature: They just wanted to avoid (/didn’t have the capacity/…) producing the exact same action sequence five times, once for each playable charactrer. So instead, they created a story around an individual that actually had nothing to do with the gameplay itself.

    The same is obviously true for D3, which features 10 playable characters, none of them in any of the *real* cinematics (not the low-budget sketchbook scenes) and, again, a tragic substitutional hero. I wouldn’t want to swap any of D3’s glorious cinemtatics for crappy in-game cutscenes, but not seeing your heroic avatar in any of these story highlights is definitely an enormous storytelling problem. One that can be sccessfully avoided once (as D2 proves) but is ultimatly not guaranteed to be a working solution (as D3’s story proves).

  11. But they did know how to make a good Diablo game.

  12. Story has never been Blizzard North’s strong point but who was complaining about the story when we all were playing our little hearts out for all those items ? Noone!

  13. Flux is just pissed that people are making more money from RMAH than he does running this site.

    • He’s pissed that the only positive(ish) thing people can say about this game is that they make a few bucks on the abomination known as the RMAH.

  14. let cain be killed by some noname monster , best decision ever made in history of diablo

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