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Game Design Essentials: 20 Mysterious Games

January 14, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 14 of 21 Next

13. Diablo series

Random dungeons, enemy layouts and treasure, multiplayer exploration

Developed by Blizzard Entertainment

Senior designers: Erich Schaefer and David Brevik

Reason for inclusion:

The Diablo series is the most popular commercial random dungeon game in the world, and still has fans even ten years later. While the play is less mysterious than NetHack, there are interesting things about it.

The game:

Diablo's random dungeons and look, and non-respawning monsters, produce another mining game. Unlike the other random dungeon games discussed here, the check on exploring the dungeon at the player's leisure is entirely the monsters: there's not much in the way of environmental obstacles to get in the way.

Frankly, the Diablo games diminish many of the cooler things about random dungeon exploration games. Unknown items don't exist, as overall types share similar appearances but random functions. One is given to wonder why identification is even in the game: unknown items can be used, but only get their basic effects. The result is simply to force the player to return to base more often to get stuff ID'd. There is no chance of figuring out an item through use or experimentation, and there are no unknown potion or scroll types -- not in the roguelike style.

In their defense, it's possible the developers did this because to implement true roguelike object identification requires permadeath to avoid reload abuse, and that's a change many mainstream players won't enjoy. And in a heavily multiplayer game, the penalty for using a bad magic item isn't so bad since there are other players to help out. And it's good that they do away with Rogue's food system. It's not so bad in Rogue, but food has no place in these games' structure.

Diablo's dungeons are relatively simple compared to those of other random games, and that's a statement, I realize, that demands explanation. In architecture, Diablo's dungeons are actually very complex -- far more so than Rogue, NetHack, Dungeon Hack, or many other games. And scattered through them are monster rooms and shrines, in addition to quests and unique monsters. But despite these things, there is a kind of sameness to them. Levels are defined, in game terms, as monsters and loot. To a great degree, the layout of walls in a random dungeon is not that interesting. All of these games have automaps, after all, so there's no danger of getting lost. It's not all that exciting, in Diablo, if a corridor is straight, has a bend in it, or a branch, or is actually a room. It's just space.

It's all just space, and its shape doesn't matter for much. It's true that players do need to take it into account to avoid getting surrounded, and keep a path open through which to flee if necessary. But by abandoning many of the daggers in Rogue's design, the import of the dungeon itself is lessened. In true roguelikes the player must explore efficiently, to gain the most loot while using the least food and taking the fewest risks. Diablo is by no means the only random dungeon game to abandon this aspect of Rogue, but it does leave me to wonder, sometimes, why one would bother putting random maps into a game if their structure has so little real consequence to the player.

Design lesson:

The incentive for playing the Diablo games primarily comes from finding random loot. The games' dungeons are a bit less interesting than loot-hunting because of the lack of consequences for the act of exploration. There are no traps on the floor, there's no food, and there's no randomly-appearing monsters. For a single-player game this is less interesting, but for multiplayer it works better. Perhaps this is why Diablo's system is basically the template upon which most MMORPGs use.


Article Start Previous Page 14 of 21 Next

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