Blizzard North’s Diversified Hiring System

Another interesting tidbit from David Craddock’s upcoming book on Blizzard North, Stay Awhile and Listen. This one covers some of the early personnel decisions and Blizzard North’s open and free design style.

After forming Condor in 1993, David Brevik and Max and Erich Schaefer didn’t immediately start on Diablo. To carve out an income channel, they signed on to develop Justice League Task Force, a one-on-one fighter for the Sega Genesis. The project quickly became more work than the three founders could handle on their own. To bolster their ranks, the guys didn’t send recruiters sniffing after veteran game designers. The term “game designer” barely existed in the early ’90s, a period when the games industry was still in its infancy. Instead, they looked for programmers and artists whose passion made up for what they lacked in practical experience.

stay-awhile-and-listen…A crucial component of Condor’s atmosphere was the team’s freedom to play to their individual strengths and interests. Their first hire was Michio Okamura, a comic book artist who worked as an executive at an import-export company. “I had no experience working on a computer except for doing import-export documentation for customs orders,” Michio said. “I had never [drawn] anything on the computer. So through the entire Justice League Task Force project, I didn’t do much on the computer. Almost everything I did was hand drawn.”

What Michio lacked in technical skills, he more than made up for in talent and drive. When development of Diablo finally kicked off, Erich Schaefer headed up the art team. Rather than arrange his artists in an assembly line and dictate specific monsters, Erich encouraged the team to let their imaginations run wild. “Michio would come up with reams and reams of drawings, so it was fun to get a bunch of drawings and just say, ‘Okay, this looks really cool, but this guy has a cooler sword, so let’s combine those drawings,’” Erich Schaefer told me. “I think that was some of the most fun collaborative art stuff we did at the time.”

The article also covers early collaborations and disagreements with Blizzard Irvine, the conversion of Diablo 1 from turn-based to real-time, and more. Craddock’s book is to be released on October 31, and we’ll have an interview with the author around that time. I’ve got an advance copy of the book and it’s good stuff.

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17 thoughts on “Blizzard North’s Diversified Hiring System

    • It would be fantastic to see those guys re-unite again, and make a kick ass game together (a true Diablo game again?) I bet they would raise $10 million in a week on Kickstarter. A game for gamers, by gamers. No bullshit agenda from a big corporation.

  1. Actually I think vision of the leader and his leadership skills matters more. A great general can get more out of his troops.

    An example is Shigeri Miyamoto. He was head of the Mario 64 and Zelda Ocarina of Time projects. He got his teams to pump out finished, high quality games in just 2-3 years. There are even stories of some games starting to fall behind on production schedule and Nintendo would shift him over to the project and he would quickly get them back on schedule again.

    I trust the Schaefers. D1 and D2 were great. I loved Torchlight 2 as well. If they just had the money to implement closed server play for TL2, I would play that all day. That is a really fun game. I don’t know what happened with Hellgate: London (I never played it) but everything I’ve played from the Schaefer’s has been top notch.

  2. Those people have proven to create awfully bad games, trying to turn the Diablo franchise into a MMO got them all fire and they deserve it. No one cares about their history, next!

    • ah, posting without any facts again I see

      so you know they were fired
      all of them
      and you know why

      maybe you should have written the book considering your vast knowledge of what went on behind closed doors

  3. If this excerpt is an example of the poor quality of the rest of the book, I don’t know why it was published or why anyone would pay to read it. Of course, if you get your copy free, you can praise it without any financial risk.

    I saw this and couldn’t believe my eyes:

    The term “game designer” barely existed in the early ’90s, a period when the games industry was still in its infancy.

    The term game designer is widely acknowleged to have been invented by Redmond Simonsen during his tenure as Art Director at Strategy & Tactics magazine, in the earrly 1970s, 20 years before the date in the above quote.

    Professionals making a living at game creation and design were making computer games from the late 1970s and early 1980s, and were justifiably well-known and regarded for the groundbreaking quality of their game designs. This was 10 years before the quote above.

    Thus, the ‘games industry’ was a well established business more than a decade before the ‘early 90s’, and only an uninformed or lazy writer would allow such a claim to reach print. The outrageously incorrect statement in the middle of that paragraph turns the entire rest of the paragraph into nonsense, and compromises the rest of the excerpt as well.

    Proof once again that the long lost job of editor existed for a reason.

    • I largely agree.

      I think the term “game designer” would have been fairly uncommon in the job market; there weren’t all that many people employed in the industry. But the industry was hardly “in it’s infancy”. Compared to now, you might say that, but a better term would really be “in it’s childhood”.

      • I should also have said, that back in the 90’s they didn’t have single-role titles as is more common now; back then people took on multiple roles when working on a game, since the technology was much simpler and allowed this approach, along with the companies simply being smaller so people had to do multiple jobs, which is exactly what the excerpt says happened at Blizzard.

    • Craddock is correct: “barely existed” means “almost totally unknown outside of a small subset of a very small group.”

      You reference “computer games” – Condor’s only experience at that point was in console games, and the project mentioned was explicitly a console title. And it was far from “well established” – the atari crash was only a decade earlier, Nintendo was outright hostile to 3d party developers, and sega, the only real alternative at the time, was obviously on weak enough footing to have totally disappeared as a console publisher less than a decade later.

      Also, don’t forget that this was back when console cycles were real and dramatic, and ’93 was very late in the snes/genesis cycle.

      I’m glad Craddock didn’t have a smug, half-cocked ignoramus like yourself “editing” his work, it probably would never see the light of day.

      • Thank you, Older Than You, for so eloquently proving my point.

        Great writing does not cause confusion, uncertainty and ambiguity as seen in my posting.
        Great writing does not require additional explanation, clarification and detailed elaboration to be correctly understood as shown in your posting.
        Great writing stands on its own; clear, direct, precise and unambiguous. I am sure if Craddock had you as an editor the publication would indeed be well worth reading. But obviously he didn’t.

        Unless you’re already drawing your Social Security pension, I fear you are not in fact Older Than Me.

    • Hi sdlotu,

      Thanks for writing in. Please forgive my late reply; I haven’t been keeping up with the forums much. Finishing up a book and all that. 🙂

      I wanted to address the criticism you raised. What I meant by “The term ‘game designer’ barely existed” was just that: there were game designers insofar as people who designed games, but the title was not used in an official capacity as it is today.

      Back in the 80s and most of the 90s, most game companies did not have a position called “game designer” on their rosters. Why would they? Programmers did EVERYTHING back then, including dictate the design of the game. They wrote the code, they called the shots. Hence my use of the adverb “barely” in my sentence. And I do try to avoid adverbs whenever possible! (And exclamation points. Crap.)

      Obviously the role of game designers has become of greater significance, especially during this most recent generation of console hardware. Most game studios hire game designers, but the job description varies from studio to studio. Many “designers” build levels using in-house or licensed tools, while project leads are the ones charting the course of the game’s mechanics, story, and other elements concerning progression.

      Also–and this is an issue that occurred frequently at Blizzard North–most designers still play second fiddle to programmers. Programmers are the ones behind the proverbial wheel. The designer is like a navigator supplying optional directions; if the programmer wishes, he or she will just turn left instead of right. Some things never change, eh?

      I hope you’ll give STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN a chance! (Strike two. Grr.) Take care,

  4. QUOTE

    Back in the 80s and most of the 90s, most game companies did not have a position called "game designer" on their rosters. Why would they? Programmers did EVERYTHING back then, including dictate the design of the game. They wrote the code, they called the shots. Hence my use of the adverb "barely" in my sentence. And I do try to avoid adverbs whenever possible! (And exclamation points. Crap.)

    it must have been a western thing because in the 80’s japanese companies like nintendo, capcom and sega were placing non-programmers in the position of planner or game director (ie: game designer). shigeru miyamoto (donkey kong, legend of zelda, mario bros, etc) is a famous example.

    • Those companies were ahead of the curve, for sure. Consider also that the companies you mentioned were well-established compared to startups such as Blizzard Entertainment and Blizzard North.

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