In light of all the debate we’ve been having over Diablo III’s launch, features, pros & cons, etc, and how often the default comparison is, “Diablo II did/didn’t do that!” this Diablo 2 postmortem, from October 2000, written by game producer and item guru Erich Schaefer, the media-recluse (though very friendly and talkative in person) Schaefer brother, is a great read.
I remembered reading it years ago, but saw a link recently, and it’s fascinating to see all of Erich’s very penetrating analysis and self-criticism, while comparing the issues fans are complaining about in D3 to what went wrong in the first version of D2C. The length piece goes into detail about what makes a Diablo game, how Blizzard develops games, the (at the time) innovative skill trees, issues with developing and launching the new version of Battle.net, issues with the graphics, programing, technology, and more.
Here are a few quotes, but really, read the whole thing. It’s mandatory for anyone who was a fan of D2 and is now playing D3. Yes, this will be on the final exam.
Diablo II is still Diablo. A constant theme in previews and reviews of Diablo II was that we didn’t change anything; it was more of the same. At first that struck us as odd. We kept less than one percent of the code and art from the first game. We rewrote the graphics engine, changed all the character classes and skills, shifted and expanded the setting, reworked and added to the magic items, brought back only a handful of our favorite monsters, and designed a ton of new gameplay elements, such as running, hirelings, left-click skills, and random unique monsters. Why, then, did everyone think it was the same thing? In the end, we decided just to take it as a compliment. The play-testers and reviewers meant they were having exactly the same kind of fun that they had in the original game….Finally, Diablo and Diablo II are easy to play. We used what we call the “Mom test”: could Mom figure this out without reading a manual? If we see new players struggling with how to sell items, we look at how they’re trying to do it and make that way work too. We strove to make the interface as transparent as possible. You want to open a door? Left-click on it. Want to move to a target location? Left-click on it. Want to attack a monster, pick up an item, or talk to a non-player character? Well, you get the idea. It’s amazing how many games have different controls and key combination for all these actions when simpler is always better.
…The development of Diablo II is a remarkable success story. We got the opportunity to make the game we wanted to make – and the game we wanted to play. Diablo II turned out to be a great game, one that many of us still play every day. Initial sales figures are phenomenal, and reviews have tended to be better than those of its predecessor. We have gained a lot of experience that should help us make even better games in the future.
The only major downside to Diablo II’s development was the inhuman amount of work it required. A yearlong crunch period puts a huge burden on people’s relationships and quality of life. Our biggest challenge for the future is figuring out how to keep making giant games like Diablo II without burning out.
I’ll be surprised if today’s much more corporate and controlled Blizzard ever gives us this kind of candid insight into the creation and successes/failures of Diablo III, but it would certainly be a fascinating read.