Diablo is one of the world’s most influential games, and with such a game, there are always questions. How did the idea come to be? How hard was it to make? How many hours, days, weeks, months, years of blood, sweat, and tears went into such a touchstone of gaming?
Luckily enough, David Brevik, the co-founder of Blizzard North and the brain behind Diablo, revealed the secrets behind the making of such a classic title at a GDC Postmortem panel in 2016 to celebrate the game’s 20th anniversary. Without further ado, here are ten of the most interesting stories he had to tell about the making of Diablo.
10 Diablo Was Originally Claymation
Yeah. You read that right. Claymation.
Although, that wasn’t the whole story. Brevik took inspiration from the Primal Rage arcade game, with its stop-motion graphics and incredible action all the same. Diablo, when it began, would have been a stop-motion game, with all the enemies and characters made of clay.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how much you like stop-motion), an entire game with claymation graphics would have been too expensive and time-consuming. All artists have to kill their darlings, and claymation was one of Brevik’s.
9 It Had Expansion Packs, Too
As Magic the Gathering was popular at the time, Diablo was planned to have expansion packs in a similar vein. It was also going to have permadeath, inspired by Brevik’s love of roguelike games. In fact, the first design document ever made for Diablo described it as “a turn-based, single-player DOS game with expansion packs.”
The plan was to sell disks with items on them, let players install them, and use the items they got on their “booster packs” in the game. Obviously, it didn’t pan out like that, and the idea was soon scrapped along with claymation.
8 It Was Also Going To Be Turn-Based… Kind Of
It wasn’t going to be turn-based how we know it today. In a different interview, Brevik explained that Diablo was meant to work on a system of queued actions that all took a unit of time – “micro turn-based.” When Condor – the game company that was originally developing Diablo before they were bought – pitched the game to Blizzard, they were all for the turn-based system until the development of the game had already started.
It was only afterword that Blizzard South told Blizzard North – the company Condor became – to make the game real-time.
7 Diablo Launched Battle.Net
While it’s nothing like it is today, Battle.Net was revolutionary when it was first launched along with Diablo in 1996, though it wasn’t pulled off without a hitch. Because Diablo was built to be single player, it didn’t actually have the code to be multiplayer until the last few months of development, when a lot of Blizzard North employees had to travel down to Blizzard South to make sure everything functioned properly.
According to Brevik, the entirety of Battle.Net ran on “one computer.” Now that sounds crazy, but there wasn’t a happening on Blizzard’s end.
“Because we had people directly hooking up with each other,” said Brevik, “we didn’t have to carry a lot of bandwidth...we just had to make these connections [between players].”
6 Blizzard Turned Down Diablo
The company that was Blizzard-before-Blizzard, Silicon & Synapse, turned down Condor’s pitch for Diablo, originally, along with everyone else that Condor tried to pitch to. They were repeatedly told “RPGs are dead.” No self-respecting game company or publisher would invest in the idea.
When Silicon & Synapse finally became Blizzard, created Warcraft, and decided that RPGs weren’t dead, they came back to Condor and offered to publish the game the second time around. Later, they got trapped in a bidding war with Blizzard and 3DO, both companies wanting to acquire them.
“3DO was offering us twice as much money,” said Brevik, “and we turned them down, because we felt that Blizzard really got us, and got the game.”
Blizzard won out, in the end, and Condor became Blizzard North.
5 Technically, It’s All Based Off X-Com
A screenshot of the original X-Com is what would come to be the isometric view of Diablo known and loved today. They had to figure out how it would look somehow – how it would be rendered and how the camera would be angled. All of that was figured out thanks to a single screenshot.
The tiles in Diablo and X-Com are the same size and shape, as a result, and Brevik even remarked that the way Diablo is how it is today is all based directly off of an X-Com screenshot. Go figure, right?
4 And Lo, The ARPG Was Born
It wasn’t an easy decision, of course. With Diablo already in development, Blizzard South’s request to make the game real-time was a decision that Brevik didn’t want to part with. He wanted to keep the aspects from the games that inspired him – like the turn-based dungeon crawler Rogue – but when it came down to a vote in Blizzard North, he was the only one who voted for the turn-based system to stay.
Once it was decided that Diablo would be real-time instead of turn-based, everyone agreed the game was awesome – including Brevik, even though he’d fought so hard to keep his turn-based love. And thus, the ARPG was born.
3 Literally Everyone Cheated
Nobody was prepared for the immense amount of cheating that happened through Battle.Net when Diablo was first released. And most of it was the fault of Battle.Net itself.
Because Blizzard didn’t have any data sent through their one computer that hosted the servers, Battle.Net was quick and easy to use. However, it also meant that players could use cheat to modify their game data locally. Anybody anywhere could cheat, and it happened all the time.
Needless to say, this event inspired Diablo II’s much better client-server system.
2 The Studio Crunched for Eight Months
Think about how long that is. That’s four months shy of a year. They were trying to have the game out before Christmas to get those sweet, holiday sales, but even after all that work, they just barely missed.
To make things even more stressful, Brevik’s wife was expecting their first child at the end of December. But around the 10th, she called him at the office and announced she was having contractions. They turned out to be a false alarm, though – their daughter was born on January 3rd, just days after Diablo’s December 31st release.
The only thing worse that this was the crunch for Diablo II – a year and half, non-stop. Brevik said, "It was the worst crunch in my life.” Yeesh.
1 Deckard Cain Is A Real Person
As a part of a contest in a PC gaming magazine, Blizzard offered the person with the coolest name an opportunity to become a character in Diablo. They got a whole bunch of name, but whoever Deckard Cain is, they won. According to Brevik, the studio’s reaction was, “‘Damn, that’s badass. We’re gonna use that!’”
So, the real Deckard Cain, if you’re out there: you have received the highest honor. You are in a video game, beloved by millions, and one of the most influential games in the history of the medium. Bravo, my friend. Bravo.