Publisher Electronic Arts Developer Flagship Studios Format PC Release 2007
“We were working on a project nicknamed Starblo for six to eight months at Blizzard North before we left, but it never came to fruition.
I wanted to make a kind of sci-fi version of Diablo and, even though playing them makes me feel sick, I love firstperson
“PEOPLE DON’T REALISE THAT IT TOOK TWO YEARS AFTER DIABLO II WAS RELEASED TO MAKE DIABLO II”
shooters. FPS makes sense for a sci-fi [setting]. I wanted to move the FPS genre forward by putting RPG elements in it. Not just RPG, but random RPG. I wanted that mix of random items, random monsters and random layouts mixed in with the action of a firstperson shooter. That was my pitch to the team, and everybody liked it.
I’m really proud of the game that we made in the end. [ Hellgate] was flawed, just as flawed as Diablo II was – maybe more so – but it ended up breaking even. The hype was really, really high, and it didn’t really live up to those expectations, because there were a lot of bugs.
We signed a deal with Namco to be the publisher, and about six months afterwards all those people [we dealt with] were gone. Namco were like, ‘We don’t know anything about this; we don’t make PC games; we’re not sure where you fit in our portfolio. We’ll honour our agreement, but good luck!’ [And we had to say,] ‘OK, so that’s not going to work out.’
We didn’t have enough money to complete the project, so we created a networking company with another Korean company called Hanbitsoft. And so the networking was kind of like Battle.net, and it was called Ping0. So we had that group, which was a separate company, but we needed a publisher and a distributor for the game, and so we [also] signed with EA. Then we had deals with Microsoft for DirectX stuff, then Havoc for physics, and like 18 vendors of joysticks – all sorts of crap we had to support as a result of signing all these deals. In the end, we did 8,000 jobs, and had all these vendors pulling us in different directions. We focused on the wrong things. Instead of focusing on making a great product, we had to service these 27 different masters, and it created chaos.
Also, we were going from a situation where [we’d been part of a company that] had made Warcraft, Warcraft II, Diablo, StarCraft II – just hit after hit – where you could afford to take your time. We had always been doing our best for the project; we kind of forgot how to manage time and money. So we’re getting towards the end, running out of money, and no one’s going to give us any more. And so we worked and we released it even though we knew it wasn’t ready.
We had it ‘easy’ at Blizzard eventually, because of our success in the past. The first games were a lot of work and we worked really hard to get those things done. There were deadlines and we met most of them. But since we had success, we could afford more time. But coming from a culture where we could have time as we needed to where that wasn’t a reality was kind of a shellshock in a lot of ways. And we did a poor job with that.
But in the end I think that Hellgate was a little ahead of its time. That game [we wanted to make] is still going to exist someday – there will be the firstperson shooter with the randomness and depth of a Diablo. Borderlands kind of comes close, they did a good job with that, but I still don’t think anybody’s found the exact formula yet. But somebody will. Trying to make something brand new where there isn’t another example out there is a difficult thing to do, and sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t. I thought that we succeeded in many ways, but in the end the game wasn’t ready and we had way too many masters. Those were tough lessons to learn.
ABOVE CENTRE Diablo II is a classic, but it suffered from problems at launch.
ABOVE + MAIN Action-RPG Hellgate:London cribbed ideas from Roguelikes, randomising its drops and levels. It can be played in first- or thirdperson