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Postmortem: Blizzard's Diablo II
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Postmortem: Blizzard's Diablo II

October 25, 2000 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

The original Diablo went gold on the day after Christmas in 1996, after a grueling four-month crunch period. We hadn't put any thought into what game to do next, but as most developers can probably relate to, we were pretty certain we weren't ready to return to the Diablo world after such a long development cycle. The only thing we were certain of was that we wanted to avoid another crunch like we had just experienced. Diablo II went gold on June 15, 2000, after a grueling 12-month crunch period.

After Diablo shipped, we spent about three months recovering and kicking around game ideas for our next project, but nothing really stuck. The idea of returning to Diablo began to creep into the discussions, and after a couple of months of recuperation, we suddenly realized we weren't burned out on Diablo anymore. We dusted off the reams of wish-list items we had remaining from the original, compiled criticisms from reviews and customers, and began brainstorming how we could make Diablo II bigger and better in every way.

Diablo II never had an official, complete design document. Of course, we had a rough plan, but for the most part we just started off making up new stuff: four towns instead of the original game's one; five character classes, all different from the previous three; and many new dungeons, vast wilderness tile-sets, and greatly expanded lists of items, magic, and skills. We wanted to improve upon every aspect of the original. Where Diablo had three different armor "looks" for each character, Diablo II would use a component system to generate hundreds of variations. Where Diablo had "unique" boss monsters with special abilities, Diablo II would have a system for randomly generating thousands of them. We would improve the graphics with true transparency, colored light sources, and a quasi-3D perspective mode. Level loads would be a thing of the past. The story would be factored in from the beginning and actually have some bearing on the quests. We knew creating this opus would be a big job. Because we had the gameplay basics already polished, we figured we would hire some new employees, create some good tools, and essentially make four times the original game doing only two times the work. We estimated a two-year development schedule.

While the player characters are only seen in the game as 75 pixels tall, all were modeled and rendered in high resolution for use on the character selection screen and in promotional materials. Here, the Paladin stands tall.

The Diablo II team comprised three main groups: programming, character art (everything that moves), and background art (everything that doesn't move), with roughly a dozen members each. Design was a largely open process, with members of all teams contributing. Blizzard Irvine helped out with network code and support. The Blizzard film department (also in Irvine) contributed the cinematic sequences that bracket each of Diablo's acts, and collaborated on the story line.

Almost all of Diablo II's in-game and cinematic art was constructed and rendered in 3D Studio Max, while textures and 2D interface elements were created primarily with Photoshop. The programmers wrote in C and some C++, using Visual Studio and SourceSafe for version control.

Creating detailed sketches of settings, such as this hut in the Act III dock town of Kurast, preceded the actual modeling of background art.

Blizzard North started out as Condor Games in September 1993. The first contracts we landed were ports of Acclaim's Quarterback Club football games for handheld systems and, more significantly, a Sega Genesis version of Justice League Task Force for Sunsoft. Silicon and Synapse, a developer that would later change its name to Blizzard Entertainment, was developing a Super Nintendo version of Justice League Task Force. Condor ended up pitching the idea for Diablo to Blizzard, and halfway through the resulting development process Blizzard's parent company acquired Condor, renaming us Blizzard North. Throughout a tangled history of corporate juggling and ownership changes, Blizzard North has remained a very independent group. Our staff has grown steadily from about 12 at the start of Diablo to 24 at the start of Diablo II, and finally to our current group of more than 40. We concentrate 100 percent of our efforts on game development. To help keep this focus, Blizzard's headquarters in Irvine manages other functions, such as quality assurance, marketing, public relations, technical and customer support, as well as the operation of the servers. Our parent company, Havas Interactive, deals with business functions such as sales, manufacturing, and accounting.

Much time was spent perfecting Act I since it would likely be used in a beta test or demo. The Amazon was the first character to be completed.

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