Don’t Miss: Blizzard’s postmortem of Diablo II

 

The original
Diablo went gold on the day after Christmas in 1996, after a
grueling four-month crunch period. We hadn’t put any thought into what
game to do next, but as most developers can probably relate to, we were
pretty certain we weren’t ready to return to the Diablo world
after such a long development cycle. The only thing we were certain
of was that we wanted to avoid another crunch like we had just experienced.
Diablo II went gold on June 15, 2000, after a grueling 12-month
crunch period.

After
Diablo shipped, we spent about three months recovering and kicking
around game ideas for our next project, but nothing really stuck. The
idea of returning to Diablo began to creep into the discussions,
and after a couple of months of recuperation, we suddenly realized we
weren’t burned out on Diablo anymore. We dusted off the reams
of wish-list items we had remaining from the original, compiled criticisms
from reviews and customers, and began brainstorming how we could make
Diablo II
bigger and better in every way.

Diablo
II
never had an official, complete design document. Of course, we
had a rough plan, but for the most part we just started off making up
new stuff: four towns instead of the original game’s one; five character
classes, all different from the previous three; and many new dungeons,
vast wilderness tile-sets, and greatly expanded lists of items, magic,
and skills. We wanted to improve upon every aspect of the original.
Where Diablo had three different armor “looks” for
each character, Diablo II would use a component system to generate
hundreds of variations. Where Diablo had “unique” boss
monsters with special abilities, Diablo II would have a system
for randomly generating thousands of them. We would improve the graphics
with true transparency, colored light sources, and a quasi-3D perspective
mode. Level loads would be a thing of the past. The story would be factored
in from the beginning and actually have some bearing on the quests.
We knew creating this opus would be a big job. Because we had the gameplay
basics already polished, we figured we would hire some new employees,
create some good tools, and essentially make four times the original
game doing only two times the work. We estimated a two-year development
schedule.

While
the player characters are only seen in the game as 75 pixels
tall, all were modeled and rendered in high resolution for use
on the character selection screen and in promotional materials.
Here, the Paladin stands tall.

The Diablo
II
team comprised three main groups: programming, character art
(everything that moves), and background art (everything that doesn’t
move), with roughly a dozen members each. Design was a largely open
process, with members of all teams contributing. Blizzard Irvine helped
out with network code and Battle.net support. The Blizzard film department
(also in Irvine) contributed the cinematic sequences that bracket each
of Diablo‘s acts, and collaborated on the story line.

Almost
all of Diablo II‘s in-game and cinematic art was constructed
and rendered in 3D Studio Max, while textures and 2D interface elements
were created primarily with Photoshop. The programmers wrote in C and
some C++, using Visual Studio and SourceSafe for version control.

Creating
detailed sketches of settings, such as this hut in the Act III
dock town of Kurast, preceded the actual modeling of background
art.

Blizzard
North started out as Condor Games in September 1993. The first contracts
we landed were ports of Acclaim’s Quarterback Club football games for
handheld systems and, more significantly, a Sega Genesis version of
Justice League Task Force for Sunsoft. Silicon and Synapse, a developer
that would later change its name to Blizzard Entertainment, was developing
a Super Nintendo version of Justice League Task Force. Condor ended
up pitching the idea for Diablo to Blizzard, and halfway through
the resulting development process Blizzard’s parent company acquired
Condor, renaming us Blizzard North. Throughout a tangled history of
corporate juggling and ownership changes, Blizzard North has remained
a very independent group. Our staff has grown steadily from about 12
at the start of Diablo to 24 at the start of Diablo II,
and finally to our current group of more than 40. We concentrate 100
percent of our efforts on game development. To help keep this focus,
Blizzard’s headquarters in Irvine manages other functions, such as quality
assurance, marketing, public relations, technical and customer support,
as well as the operation of the Battle.net servers. Our parent company,
Havas Interactive, deals with business functions such as sales, manufacturing,
and accounting.

Much
time was spent perfecting Act I since it would likely be used
in a beta test or demo. The Amazon was the first character to
be completed.

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