War Stories: Diablo’s loot lottery was almost a turn-based affair


Produced by Justin Wolfson, edited by Jeremy Smolik. Click here for transcript.

The year 1997 means a lot of things to me—it’s not only the year I met my wife, but it’s also the year wherein I sacrificed hundreds of evenings and nights to Diablo, the newly released grandpappy of loot lottery games. No game I’d played before had anything like Diablo’s raw power to alter the flow of time—like, you look at the clock, see that it’s a bit before midnight, you smash a couple of monsters, and then suddenly the sun is peeking through the window.

If the Lord of Terror could be said to have a father, it would be lead designer David Brevik. Much of what would become Diablo sprang from his mind, including the name itself (taken from Mount Diablo, situated close to where Brevik lived at the time of Diablo’s inception). All those lost nights and bleary-eyed mornings should properly be laid at his feet—although as Brevik originally imagined it, Diablo would be more of a traditional Rogue-esque affair of turns and sub-turn actions. Diablo’s signature real-time loot-spewing combat was somewhat of a late addition—and one Brevik himself opposed.

Smash and grab

As Brevik explains, it came down to a simple show of hands in the office at the end of a long week. Brevik and perhaps two or three others wanted to keep the game turn-based, and more than a dozen others voted to convert the title into a real-time game.

Brevik expected the actual change to take at least a month to implement, but he sat down that Friday evening to take a crack at getting started and in just a few hours hacked together enough of the real-time elements to support some test gameplay. To call the resulting change “remarkable” would be underselling just how transformational the decision was to the player experience.

“I remember it just like it was yesterday,” Brevik reminisces. He was stomping around the now real-time dungeon and spied his first real-time enemy: a skeleton. “My character walked over and swung and smacked the skeleton apart. And I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing.’ That felt so good! This was way better.”

The clouds parted, the angels sang, and Brevik became the very first person to lose a few hours of his life to Diablo. When the team came in on Monday morning, “it was obvious that this was the way to go and we never looked back,” he said.

(Fascinatingly, this is almost exactly the opposite of what happened with Sid Meier and Civilization—that iconic title started out as real-time, before switching to turn-based midway through development. Game development is sometimes as much intuitive art as business-y science.)

Until the sun comes up

There’s a lot more to discover in the video—and we’re also hoping to release an extended cut of this chat because Brevik was extremely generous with his time and with digging up unique and new stories to tell us about the development of one of the most popular gaming franchises to ever exist. Stay a while and listen!



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