The Creation and Development of Diablo I


Edge Online has posted a juicy article about the creation of Diablo I, full of quotes and details from the creators. I’m fairly sure this is a recycled article from some years ago, perhaps with an update tacked on the end, but it’s a good read, especially if you’re not fully steeped in knowledge of how the entire series came about. Here’s a quote to get you into the spirit of things:

With a fairly loose structure, team members often shared roles, but, by and large, Brevik handled programming duties while the Schaefers controlled the look and feel of the game, with Max also managing the business. Certain elements, however, like the control system which pared movement, fighting and picking through loot down to a couple of mouse clicks, was something that everyone could come together on. “We always wanted to keep your options simple: left button, right button, and a few keys,” Brevik explains.

diablo_boxErich agrees: “We didn’t want anything to get in the way of what some developers dismiss as ‘the grind’. Instead we focused almost solely on the grind, trying to make it fun to kill the same monsters over and over again. What we cared about was the tactile feel of smashing skeletons and constant sense of exploration. Mouse control seemed natural, although there was a lot of iteration. We noticed that anyone could pretty much play, even people’s moms.”

“Making a game simple for the player is actually harder for the developer,” suggests Max. “One of our philosophies was to make it a reward-based rather than penalty-based game. A lot of RPGs fell into the trap of penalties: you don’t eat and you die, everything you find is a penalty. With us, it even feels good to pick up a potion in the inventory and put it back down.”

The basic philosophy of Diablo 3 carries on those initial concepts, especially with the “reward-based” design theory. Of course the devil is in the details, and we can all debate whether the challenges are great enough, or the rewards are sufficiently rewarding in Diablo 3.

There’s also the whole issue of sequels and fan expectations — series like Call of Duty or many sports games seem to vomit forth a “new” sequel every year with little changed other than the names of the players and/or weapons. And yet the fans of those games seem to be satisfied with the sameness. So then why are fans of the Diablo series so much pickier and more demanding; insisting pre-game that the D3 devs change and improve everything, and then complaining about every change that wasn’t just right, or demanding that D3 be turned into an updated version of D2? D2 rose-tinted glases-itis? Are we just an inherently cranky and picky bunch. Or is it that much harder to make a great ARPG, with a precise balance required between so many game systems; monsters and levels and items and skills and constantly new end game content, etc?

Tagged As: | Categories: Diablo 1, End Game, Ex-Blizzard

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  1. And what did Metzen do, the “star” that seems to be omnipresent?

    • Oh, that one did nothing…

      He just co-developed the game world, wrote the manual, drew concept art, voiced a character…

      Care to think twice before posting anything, mister.

      P.S. Sorry for upvoting your comment. That was accidentally.

  2. God, I miss the first Diablo game.

  3. Definitely lightning in a bottle. Torchlight 1 proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt, man that game was a let down.

    • Torchlight 1 was made so Runic Games could get off the ground. They literally had no money when they started. TL1 helped them get some cash to make TL2 which is an amazing game.

      And TL1 wasn’t a bad game, it just didn’t have all that much to it.

      • and they had no money when TL1 was released either
        (well actually they had about enough left for one month of rent and salary and that was it)
        so that was why it was released in an unfinished / unbalanced stage

  4. With regard to sequelitis: those well versed in the game know the difference, much like TL2 and D3 are very different in how they’re played, but seem very similar to the outside observer.

    When considering what issue the Diablo fanbase has with regards to expectations of the series, it’s mostly a general inability as a group (with some individual exception) to identify and articulate the core of what is meaningful in a direct, executable manner because of an overall lack of experience designing game systems and raw self-interest.

    How many people were screaming for more loot? Tons. And they got it. It just turned out to have missed the point completely.

  5. “We noticed that anyone could pretty much play, even people’s moms.”

    So when they did it for D1, the game gets glorified but when they use the same mantra for D3, it is bashed?

    • The key being “we noticed” not “we consciously built it for grandmas”

      • no, no, don’t try to pull some smart-ass semantics. The message is clear, enforced by “We always wanted to keep your options simple: left button, right button, and a few keys,” Brevik explains.”

        • It’s not just semantics it’s a design concept. “Can” play means that literally anyone can figure out how to click a move and kill. However that does not mean that everyone can play successfully which is what “built for grandma’s” is about

        • They are talking about the control smart ass.

      • Diablo 2 had the ‘mom test’ as well: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3124/postmortem_blizzards_diablo_ii.php?print=1
        “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. “

        • There you go. But now, the history will only talk of the infamous Jay Wilson and his “mom test” fiasco in the oh-so-bad D3.

          Man, can’t help but feel sorry for the ppl working on this game sometimes.

  6. “Instead we focused almost solely on the grind, trying to make it fun to kill the same monsters over and over again. What we cared about was the tactile feel of smashing skeletons and constant sense of exploration.”

    Something I think Diablo 1 always did exceedingly well, and D2 or D3 simply never lived up to, for me anyway.

    A large part of it comes down to the sounds and audio I think. D1 had amazing music and superbly identifiable sounds – the smashes of skeletons, the scream of doom knights and the infernal cries of the mega demons, but D2 and especially D3 just don’t have that same oomph. Actually both SC2 and D3 have far far worse sound designs than their predecessors: just compare SC1 spell effect sounds to those in SC2, which are just generally whomp and clonk sounds that are completely forgettable.

    • I actually like D3’s sound and music. It is more OMGEPIC though, while D1 was more subtle and moody, so i understand people not liking it. But for SC2 you are absolutely right. The awesomeness that was the SC1 Siege Tank has gone with the sound effect. The new (HotS) music tunes are quite nice though.

  7. “One of our philosophies was to make it a reward-based rather than penalty-based game.”

    Like losing all your equipment upon death? What could be a harsher penalty than losing ALL your progress in a horde of Hell Knights and Succubi, with pretty much zero chance to ever get it back?

    I mean, this mechanic was absolutely ok, don’t get me wrong. It conveyed the feeling of real danger.

    I think they made up their early concept about penalties for this interview because they think it sounds good. Because this is what modern games do. And now they are like: “Oh, we were SO ahead of our time!”

    I don’t like how these guys try to legendize themselves. I still remember Hellgate very well and if it weren’t for Travis Baldree, Torchlight wouldn’t even exist. And how has Marvel Heroes open beta been recieved? Yeah right. Of course they are not to blame if Edge wants an interview, but a little more humility would suit these guys well. /angrymode

  8. I think that being objective on this matter can be difficult. I could tell you that I fondly remember the sound effects of bashing a seleton, or beating D1 with my sorcerer (also I am huge fan of the ‘books’ you found throughout the dungeons, I think I still remember the Book of the Blind). I could also tell you how happy I was when I hit 99 in LoD, or when I found my first Buriza or when after 6 years I found a Windforce, or when I spent hours hunting and finally downed DC, or when I got my first torch and I saw how great it was, or when I beat Hell in SP with my Barb and sorc, or when I made my first Ancient’s Pledge rw in a Paladin shield and it was sooo good.
    The only answer would probably be reinstalling again and comparing, but I don’t have as much time now.

  9. Hey, when was “Stay Awhile and Listen” supposed to come out?

  10. “And yet the fans of those games seem to be satisfied with the sameness. So then why are fans of the Diablo series so much pickier and more demanding; [?]”

    Because in many key aspects, D3 doesn’t pick up and improve where D2X ended. Instead, a new development team struggled to replicate the given elements of the game’s success. Also, their design notions of how to build on that previous success didn’t exactly fly either as a ‘brand new design philosophy and direction for the series’. Paired with endless delays, copious pre-release hyping, dubious financial reasons, some rather surficial in-house QA in regards to gameplay and glacial fixing speed, it seems quite logical the game is in the messy situation it’s in.

  11. diablo 1 > diablo 3
    Check out this awesome diablo 1 mod. it’s called diablo the hell mod.

  12. d3 feels like a sequel to both d1 and d2 to me. I think many who loved d2 that now hate d3 do not appreciate the good parts of d1 that were incorporated in d3. some aspects of d2 were dropped in favor of building off of good things from d1.

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