Diablo 2 Postmortem Revisted

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 DiabloWikiErich 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.

D2 Diablo Sees Your Treachery

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.

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18 thoughts on “Diablo 2 Postmortem Revisted

  1. That was an awesome read. Thank you for sharing Flux 🙂 Hard to believe they did that with such poor in-house tools, made me cringe a bit. Very nice to know that the game required massive testing, its something I’ve never given much thought to about D2 but yeah considering the complexity of the monster.
    How lucky are we that that one programmer came up with the idea of socketting, wouldn’t be the same at all with out them. 😉

  2. Again, who let this guy leave Blizzard…? He revealed tons of uberinteresting stuff in the article, but there are tons that he didn’t have the chance due to the article length. Blizz should read the article ASAP, because – what Erich described as the basic gameplay – “kill/reward” doesn’t really seem to work in D3 (THE LOOT!).

    I do have a manager and therefore I really admire the guy for the way he speaks about his co-workers.

  3. What’s funny is they designed elements to be intuitive and easy to figure out without popups.  In D3 they designed things and when “mom” couldn’t figure out what to do, they introduced a popup telling you what to do…

    Just goes to show the game design mentalities of two different dev teams. 

  4. D2 devs were good people, real gamers and made games that were fun to play without any underhanded tricks or cutting core game features for extra cash. Diablo 2 was a better game than Diablo 3, period. Diablo 2 Devs were better than Diablo 3 Devs period.
    NO doubt Diablo 3 is a good game in its own accord, however will it be played for the next 10 years? I don’t think so. People will keep playing diablo 3 only for the expansions.
    Challenge to Bli$$ard: Make only 1 expansion for D3 with only 1 act for the next 5 years, lets see how long people play that.

    • How can you judge devs, whether for D2 or D3 and say ones are better than others??? Did you look at their code? Did you talk to them to determine whether they were jerks? Real gamers, lol. I don’t doubt that, but where do you get these arguments from to say D3 devs are not gamers? Laughable. In what way was D2 a better game? When it launched, it supported ONLY 640×480 resolution…anyway, I’m not gonna start making pointless comparisons.

      Yes, D3 will be played for the next 10 years, especially when the xpack comes, just like D2 was and Starcraft. Blizzard is a superb company, one of the best in the PC industry and the fact that D3 is the fastest selling PC game of all time shows this. Just because there are a few quirks or imbalances doesn’t change that fact.

      • Not real games buddy Real GAMERS. You tell me in what way Diablo 3 is better than Diablo 2. Creating original characters was fun, not having to make predetermined choices were fun, Runes were fun, gameplay was fun, Lan was fun, Multiplayer was fun, Single player was Fun, new classes were fun, Games story was better, game’s overall feel was better, Voice acting was Better, legendaries were better……
        D3 Barbarian = Barbarian D2 (DuH!!)  (Same)
        D3 Witch Doctor = Necro D2 (Necro Had Skeleton based skill, WD has Zombie Based skills, same shit)
        D3 Monk = Paladin D2   (Paladin had Auras, Monk Has Mantras same thing with different names)
        D3 Demon Hunter = Amazon D2 + Assassin D2x
        D3 Sorcerer =  Sorcerer D2, Sorcerer D1 (DuH!!) (same old spells)
        And they said they were not making Diablo 2.5. Now let me tell you Bli$$ard is not a superb or best company in the industry, let me also tell you that D3 is the fastest selling game because of Diablo 2, similarly like diablo 1 was responsible for the sale success of Diablo 2. D2 was such an awesome game, that many people just bought D3 because it was a “Diablo” game. Same thing happened to Mortal Kombat 2, though it was a superb game, it sold so well because people just saw Mortal Komabt “2” and picked it up without knowing what to expect. Now in D3’s case, all this 4-5 year hype is partially responsible for the sales, BUT, those same people who bought the game are complaining about it. But they don’t count right? Thats why Bli$$ard is a terrible company. Just shut everyone up who is critical of the game.
        Like I said, D3 is a good game in it’s own accord. It’s no longer a trend setter like Diablo 2 was though. I can see people calling future games Diablo 2 Clone, I don’t think I will ever read “This game is a Diablo 3 Clone.”
        Be practical in your argument, refrain from Blizz Fanboydom please. This is not a rant or Hate, I like D3,  I don’t love it.

        • are you kidding me? Blizzard fanboyism? I was more “practical” in my response than you in your original one. Look at your orignal post. Is there anything concrete in there? You sound like a 10 year old making empty statements like “Diablo 2 Devs were better than Diablo 3 Devs period.” What do you even base that on? That was my main issue there, not really getting into D2 vs D3 comparison.

          I don’t want to argue every single point you made regarding the comparison, but I disagree with most of them. I played D3 solo all the way through and it was pretty much as good an experience as D2 bar some connection issues, which I agree were this game’s biggest bane so far.

          Story is a very subjective topic, I think D3 is on par with D2’s. Same thing with voice acting. You touch on completely subjective aspects of the game.

          Mortal Kombat 2 was probably the best installment in the series. Not sure where you’re getting another idea that it was a disappointing game (maybe for you).

          EDIT: Just one more thing. You said “creating original characters was fun”. I assume you mean the whole attribute and skill points system. Yes, it was fun if you wanted to try something completely different but like Blizzard said, effectively most of these builds were useless in terms of effectiveness. I palyed with a Barb that was dual-throwing potions one time – yea, it was very orignal but the dmg completely sucked.
          Majority of the builds, especially on hardcore, focused on assigning the skill points and attribute points to a small set of skills/characteristics that worked the best, making the whole customization pointless so I understand why they removed it this time around and focused on skill combinations instead.

    • Real gamers? What do you mean by this? To me theres only 2 types of people non gamers (I include the people who only play so called casaul facebook & puzzle games in non gamers) and gamers. Gamers can be sub-split into pro and non-pro. From this I say the both the D2 & D3 devs are non-pro gamers.

      As for “cutting core game features for extra cash” what features are you talking about here in D3? Only thing I can think of here is Talisman and the Mystic both of which are no where near core features. If your talking about attributes and skill points then well the changed was made to try avoid the pit falls in D2, the skill change works well IMO, the attributes well it hasn’t really worked but that because attributes are broken in the first place (there’s no way to fully balance them).
      Also we got no real knowledge of what ideas where cut from D2 or have you got the full inside info of it development?
      As for the rest I can tell you that if the ARPG market at the time of D2 was as busy as it is now D2 wouldn’t of lasted as long as it did. The no. 1 reason D2 did so well it was the single fish in the pool.

      Now TBH I haven’t seen any of the D2 team make any really good game since they left Blizzard North so I say it was either the team as a whole or they just got lucky and made the right game at the right time by chance.

  5. Erich and his brother Max are now employing their considerable talents at runic, their efforts there can and will be well appreciated when torchlight 2 drops. 

  6. someone had to be kidding if they said D2 was the same as D1. Same general style of ARPG play, yes, that’s what Diablo is. But that’s about all the “sameness” that was there.

    Kinda insulting.

  7. Even after all this time, I don’t think I’m done with Diablo 2. I’ll revisit it again sooner or later. I love Diablo 3 so far. It’s just too early to tell if it has the same staying power… only time will tell.

  8. Please don’t use the “real gamers” argument unless you are professional gamer. Otherwise, you are not worthy of speaking that word.

    • yeah, “real gamers” seems to be a loosely used term, without any meaning or precision. I think even a professional gamer should be described as exactly that – professional gamer, not a “real gamer”. Someone can also be an occasional gamer, frequent gamer etc…but “real”? If anything, in a loosely agreed-upon convention I’d take it as simply meaning someone who plays a lot of games.

  9. I think that Jay and the bunch have been quite candid with us so far. Jay has made some comments that are almost identical to the ones in this article.

    But, of course, that’s evil corporate Blizzard so it’s totally different. 

  10. D1 and D2 are brilliant games, that are canon (classic), but they also have inherently broken features that arise from old-school mentality where the game was to simulate real-life competitiveness while being fun. This is no longer the case. Gaming is mainstream and nobody wants to extend real life hussle into the realm of digital entertainment. Ppl vote with their wallets. Look at the sales of D3. Longevity depends on support – as longs as Blizz supports, D3 will be played. Cy all online!:)

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