One life to live #18: A brief history of hardcore


It’s human nature to question where we came from and it is general curiosity that made me question where Hardcore came from. Both questions are quests for knowledge, but one is a lot easier to research. While I won’t be breaking down the genesis of life Stephen Hawking style I’m happy to report the history of hardcore.

I’m far too young to remember the glory days of the arcade, Atari, and computers that have less memory than my first cell phone. However, that is where our rich one life history begins. The first foray into permadeath was in 1980 and a game called Rogue. Characters would venture into a dungeon to retrieve an amulet and the venture out with it(doesn’t sound too riveting but it was the 80’s). During their adventuring they would encounter monsters that increased in difficult with each subsequent level( sounds familiar). The game also allowed only one life for your character, unless you went through the laborious process of saving you game files. This game spawned the Dungeon crawling genre and the subsequent games which are dubbed “rogue likes” .

From Rogue we got Hack and from Hack -NetHack.

NetHack holds on to the Amulet quest but adds in a few tweaks. NetHack introduced a few of the features we’ve come to associate with Diablo. It had randomized dungeons, character classes and online play( through USENET). Class choices included: Barbarian, Knight, Wizard, Rogue, Monk, Priest, Valkryie, and Samurai. Which sounds like it could be the full Diablo 3 roster after a few expansions. NetHack also continued on with the precedent of Permanent Death. Making the completion of the game a fulfilling experience. All of this was in 1987.

Now visually none of these were stunning. No butcher rushing toward you, or shiny cutscenes between acts. But they set the base for what was to come.

From there we drift into Ragnarok a 1990 DOS based game. It had all of the staples of a rogue but added in a feature similar to corpse looting. The characters death triggers a ghost to spawn with most of the characters loot on it. Upon creation of a new character you now can encounter that Ghost and battle it for your old gear. While I like this idea of battling your former self, I also imagine a vast army of my corpses overwhelming anything they come into contact with. Which was a compalint with Ragnarok as the Ghosts could create a “choke-point” in the game hindering characters from moving past them.

In 1993 we were given Dungeon Hack. Another DOS based game that took Hack and Updated it’s graphics.By updated I mean you could actually see things, orcs were no longer ampersants but you know orcs, thus taking the imagination element out of it. It also allowed for the first Hardcore mode option. Now instead of being forced to have permadeath or have a game without it; users could opt for a “real character death”. Which would delete the character save files upon death.

While roguelikes feature a turnbased gameplay, an action role playing game is constantly moving. In 1996 we saw these genres meet with the game that started our passion Diablo.

Diablo took a lot of the rogue ideas and incorporated them into the game. The hero is set on a quest to the bottom of a dungeon, but it isn’t an amulet he is after but the lord of terror himself. Death on the other hand isn’t permanent. Death still harks back to those old rogues, death ended your game and you were forced to restart from your previous save. Death in Diablo was both permanent and not, and it wasn’t until a few years later in the much awaited sequel that we saw Hardcore as we now know it. But why change the death penalty in a massively popular game? Why try something so different?

Well the answer can be found here or I can just tell you….Still there?  Recently our very own Flux sat down with Max Schaefer (one of the creators of Diablo and Diablo 2) and was able to do a quick Q& A ( I recommend you listen to the whole interview as I suspect( if you’ve made it this far in the article) the Diablo History may pique your interest.)Thankfully Flux asked my question and Max was kind enough to shine a light on this.

The discussion always come up what the death penalty in the game should be. You ask ten people and get ten different answers on the cool way to deal with it. ..What we arrived at in the Diablos was something that was relatively non-penalizing, Hardcore came about as kind of a way to get the whole other side of the spectrum covered as well. As long as we’re going to make the regular game relatively safe for dying lets have a mode the is the exact opposite and round it out.

There it is! How we found our niche, or rather how our niche found us. A small part of me hoped to hear they wanted to create something that mirrored the morality of our own existence and thusly provided merit to each decision and each click but maybe that it a bit too philosophical…or lame.  Either way it’s nice to know even then they knew the death penalty was light and that players would need something more stringent to balance it out.

Diablo 2 was the genesis of Hardcore but was hardly the originator. What it did was introduce the option to a much larger audience. We’ve seen the Hardcore option branch out to all sorts of games, providing a challenge to those in search of it. Diablo 3 will of course have Hardcore and ( as we’ve seen with each game) will take those foundations and build upon it.

Lastly I apologize for not getting this out last week, I try to adhere to my self-imposed deadlines as best I can but my son took ill and it’s hard to get much done with a surly infant.

Next week: Last column of the year: What is your hardcore resolution?

One Live to Live covers the Hardcore play and life style in the Diablo community. It is written by Xanth and published weekly. Post your comments below, Follow me on Twitter @HCXanth or contact the author directly.

Tagged As: | Categories: Diabloii.Net Columns, Hardcore

Comments

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  1. HC Resolution? I’ll be playing with 1920X1080.
    😛

  2. Regular ordinary grammar nazi alert: “rather how are niche found us”.

    Back on topic: thanks for the article, just the density of information I like!

  3. Finished Normal difficulty on Hardcore.  Had a blast!  I built my character a completely different way than I usually do and it was like rediscovering DII all over again.

    I never thought of tying Diablo to Rogue-likes, but now it completely makes sense.
    Glad to hear you took care of you sick kid first.  That’s hardcore parenting, folks!  😉

  4. An article about the history of hardcore without mentioning Moria, Angband and all the variants? Shame on you… 🙂 I liked the article though…

  5. Cool article. BTW Hawking doesn’t know.

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