Pub­lisher Bliz­zard En­ter­tain­ment (US), Ubisoft (EU) De­vel­oper Bliz­zard North For­mat PC Re­lease 1996


“I’d been a PC game fan for years, and most of what we were play­ing was on the PC. At the time, they were much deeper. There were so many plat­form­ers and things like that on con­sole, so the real nerdy num­bers games were on PC. That’s where my pas­sions were. I’d wanted to make Di­ablo for a long time – I thought of the idea in high school, and kind of it­er­ated on it. In col­lege, I was in­flu­enced by a bunch of Rogue­likes that I played, par­tic­u­larly Rogue [laughs]. I would play them for hours and hours, and I knew that this was the di­rec­tion I wanted to go in.

We started pitch­ing Di­ablo once we had a few games un­der our belt. We would take the pitch, which was five laser­printed sheets of pa­per in this ter­ri­ble binder that looked like a fifth-grade book re­port, and hand it out. We got re­jected over and over again, be­cause RPGs were dead; they weren’t sell­ing any­thing. At the time, RPGs were be­com­ing more and more com­pli­cated, try­ing to be more re­al­is­tic, but fewer peo­ple were play­ing them be­cause they turned out to be less fun.

Sil­i­con & Synapse were work­ing on a PC game when we met them at CES. They in­vited us to go and have a look, and so we went over and saw War­craft and they told us they were go­ing to be fin­ish­ing up that fall. Later, I called up Allen [Ad­ham, Sil­i­con & Synapse co-founder] and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a game idea I’d love to pitch to you.’ And he said, ‘OK, right af­ter we’re done with War­craft, we’ll come out.’ And so they flew out in Jan­uary, we pitched them Di­ablo, they loved it and we signed a con­tract. It re­ally was my dream game. I had the name al­ready picked out and I was ready to go.

Di­ablo started out as a sin­gle­player DOS game us­ing, I swear, clay­ma­tion. One of the things that had re­ally changed for me was that this was my first op­por­tu­nity to re­ally cre­ate some­thing from scratch. A lot of what I’d done be­fore, there had been a lot of set pa­ram­e­ters around what I could do. This time, it was more, ‘The world is your oys­ter; go ahead and make it.’ But dur­ing that process, you re­alise things aren’t go­ing to work like you thought. The clay­ma­tion re­sulted in a neat ef­fect, and we were in­flu­enced by Pri­mal Rage, which used a sim­i­lar tech­nique. But it turns out it was a big pain in the ass. About two weeks into the clay­ma­tion, we said, ‘Well, this is a re­ally stupid idea.’ In­stead, we made 3D mod­els, ren­dered the images, and cap­tured the images at dif­fer­ent in­ter­vals, then made sprites out of those. It was a much more ef­fi­cient process than mak­ing phys­i­cal mod­els and do­ing the same thing!

As de­vel­op­ment went on, Win­dows 95 was just emerg­ing, and then DirectX came out. One of the rea­sons PC gam­ing wasn’t pop­u­lar was that it was a pain in the ass to run any­thing – you had to be a com­puter sci­ence ex­pert to get any kind of game work­ing. It made more sense for us not to do DOS and to do DirectX.

But the big­gest change was when we switched from turn-based to re­al­time. It was a re­ally pas­sion­ate de­bate in the of­fice. I was stick­ing to my guns that the ten­sion comes from the de­ci­sion mak­ing when my guy has just a few turns left be­fore he dies and is erased – it was a real Rogue­like, by the way, and we erased your char­ac­ter when you died. I’m trapped with only a few hit points left; should I use this po­tion – which I don’t even know what it is yet – and hope that it’s a health po­tion? Or is it some­thing ter­ri­ble? All th­ese kinds of things.

Turns out that doesn’t go over very well with mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties; peo­ple don’t like los­ing their char­ac­ter and all their hard work very much. But any­way, we de­bated this for a while, and I gave in and said we can try re­al­time, since I’d been think­ing about it and didn’t think it would be that dif­fi­cult to give it a go. Though I re­ally played it up to Bliz­zard – be­cause we weren’t part of Bliz­zard at the time – and said, ‘We’re go­ing to give it a try, but it’s go­ing to take us a month to do this…’ Then I coded it up in a day!

I can still re­mem­ber the mo­ment I tried it. I was this war­rior; there was this skele­ton on the other side of the screen. I clicked on the skele­ton, I walked over, smashed it, it fell on the ground, and it was just like you would imag­ine it would be: beams of light came through the clouds, the an­gels sang, and it was like, ‘Oh my God. Some­thing spe­cial’s just hap­pened here. We’re not go­ing back. I was wrong; this is the way to go.’

We knew then that this was some­thing very dif­fer­ent. One of the things that we were try­ing to get with Di­ablo was ease of gam­ing. The NHL se­ries was re­ally good at this, where you just click and you’re in the game. Be­fore Di­ablo, when you cre­ated a char­ac­ter, you had to an­swer 53 ques­tions about this that and the other; you had to name it, give it a back­story and so on. We just wanted to get in and start smash­ing things. That pace was some­thing we wanted all through the game, and so it was easy to see this was a bet­ter way to go.

Six months be­fore the end of Di­ablo, we thought of Bat­tle.net, and de­cided to make it and add mul­ti­player. We had some help from the peo­ple down south in Irvine. A cou­ple of the guys moved up and lived in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia for six months and helped us do all the net­work­ing and things like that. Di­ablo was my very first C pro­gram ever, and I didn’t know any­thing about net­work­ing, but they’d done net­work­ing stuff for War­craft I and II, so they had some ex­per­tise. It was peer-to-peer when we launched it and we thought that there would be a small num­ber of peo­ple who would want to hack and ruin their game, which was no big deal. Then the hacks went up on a web­site and we were like, ‘Oh yeah, peo­ple can just down­load them now…’ It was no longer a case of pass­ing them around the old way on some bul­letin board sys­tem where only four peo­ple knew about it. Al­most in­stantly ev­ery­body had cheats for every­thing, and that was one of the big­gest lessons we learned: if we’re go­ing to do this, we’ve got to make it se­cure.”

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