Parts one, one, and three of the preview chapter of David Craddock’s Blizzard North book are now online, and part three is all about the creation of Diablo I. The main issue covered in the chapter is the big debate over changing the game’s early design from turn-based to real-time.
Diablo was inspired by older dungeon crawlers like Rogue and Moria, which had been turn-based, and all the early Diablo game mechanics had a system of time to them; with different amounts of time required for your character to drink a potion, swing a sword, cast a spell, etc. Monsters had the same sort of time checks on their movement and attacks, so players had to carefully calculate the number of actions they could perform each turn, but had no urgency to make those decisions.
The guys at Blizzard Irvine had been sold on the game design and the team making it, but they didn’t know it was turn-based at first. When they found out, they argued strongly against it, pointing to the success of their own game Warcraft as an example of the intensity and fun of having to make survival decisions quickly and under pressure.
The Blizzard North devs liked real time, but didn’t think it was right for Diablo, and they argued back and forth for a while (there are lots of interesting quotes from both sides of the debate, in the sample chapter), but ultimately most of the Blizzard North team came to support the real-time theory. No one really knew until they actually tried it out though, so that very evening David Brevik tackled the project:
After everyone left for the weekend, Dave sat down at his computer and pulled up Diablo’s code. He scanned through and hit on something. The game was written so every action—movement, combat, quaffing a healing potion — took up a certain amount of time. Monsters moved immediately after the player initiated a command. Once the time to perform an action expired, the game turned back the clock and the player-monster turn cycle began anew. All he needed to do was whittle the time between actions down to nothing.
Dave began to type. The sunlight filtering in through his window grew faint, then faded to night, leaving him suffused in the glow of his monitor. Occasionally a breeze sighed through the window, rustling the blinds and fluttering the hockey posters hanging over his two desks. He never once looked up.
A few hours later, he built a new version of the game, took up his mouse, and played.
I can remember the moment like it was yesterday that this happened. I was sitting and I was coding the game, and I had a warrior with a sword, and there was a skeleton on the other side of the screen. I’d been working on all this code to make characters move smoothly, doing a whole bunch of testing, and we’d talked about how the controls would work. We wanted it to be visceral. Click and swing, click and swing. We wanted it to automatically happen: If you clicked on the monster, your character would go over there and swing.
I remember very vividly: I clicked on the monster, the guy walked over, and he smashed this skeleton and it fell apart onto the ground.
The light from heaven shone through the office down onto the keyboard. I said, “Oh my God, this is so amazing!” I knew it was not only the right decision, but that Diablo was just going to be massive. It was really the most defining moment of my career, as well as for that genre of gaming. A new genre was born in that moment, and it was really quite incredible to be the person coding it and creating it. I was just there by myself coding it up. It was pretty incredible.
– David Brevik
Check out three for many more details on the birth of our favorite gaming franchise. There’s no ETA on the full box yet, but the amount of details and quotes from all the principle players at Blizzard and Blizzard North are making it seem a very intriguing read.