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Diablo 2 design: Building the iconic world of Blizzard

The following is an excerpt from an almost complete edition of Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II – Heaven, Hell, and Secret Cow Levels, which are now funded in e-book and paperback formats on Kickstarter. Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II describes the genesis of StarCraft and Diablo II, revealing hitherto unknown details about abandoned projects and the history of Blizzard Entertainment and Blizzard North.

Chapter 8: A Business-Like Approach to the Showers

If you could show the initiative and blow your butt and come up with something? Hell, it went in. -Ben Boos, artist, Blizzard North

One of the most amazing things about the skill trees is that they show the player how to make his avatar grow, what his avatar can be on the highest levels, right at the beginning of the game game. Storm Hedlund, Designer, Blizzard North

At some point, people began to joke, "Oh, no, do not tell me he took a shower this morning." I came to the people's desks first thing in the morning and they said, "Oh no, okay, I'm ready, what did you think of?" -David Brevik, co-founder of Blizzard North

The biggest game company I've ever seen was Origin. They had their own building with offices on several floors, a cafeteria. When you came in, there was a receptionist, there were TV monitors, they had a gift shop. They looked as if they had acted together. Blizzard North was nothing like that. -Philip "Phil" Shenk, artist, Blizzard North

Part of the crew of Blizzard North. From left to right: Rick Seis, Divo Palinkas, Jon Morin, Theodor Bisson, Michael Dashow, Eric Sexton and Stefan Scandizzo. Credit: Karin Colenzo-Seis ]

From Tristram's gloomy lighting to the bony walls and the ash-covered floors of Hell, Diablo's critical and commercial success was due to the personalities of his small team. Every developer at Blizzard North had touched it. Your fingerprints could be found on every monster, every spell, every procedurally generated item, every step of the lost player character in the dark. The attempts that the players faced on this journey were tedious, but the mechanisms of this journey were just the opposite.

Click to move. Click to attack. Click to pick up items.

Simplicity formed the dark heart of Diablo. This vital organ would be transplanted into Diablo II. Any other organ – monsters, environments, heroes, prey – would be rebuilt from scratch. "There was a list of characters and abilities we knew we wanted in the game, so the systems were designed to be able to use those features," explains Steven Woo, programmer at Blizzard North , "Often, artists, programmers, and designers have been discussing what function they consider necessary and simply implementing it."

Diablo's hero classes were almost at the top of the team's most urgent task list. only after the rampant fraud that had affected the online experience of the game. Over several months, the team decided on five classes. The Amazon, a muscular female fighter, was the first. "The character team decided that they wanted to work on a hot girl first, and that's what they did," said David Brevik.

The Amazon did not start as a "hot chick". Kris Renkewitz, the hero's original artist, sketched a tall, frightening woman wearing bracers, animal skin boots and mummy-like sheaths that covered her most intimate parts and exposed the rest of her skin. Her hair was short and spiky, her face grim and wild. "I designed the character like an Amazon," Kris said. Her helmet looked different, her armor looked different, her weapons were weird, it was not just a girl with a ponytail and leather, "he added, referring to the hero's complete form , [19659009] Dave, Max, Erich and Rose decided that an Xena appearance was too wild for their liking. One of Blizzard North's newest artists, who joined the company in August 1997, has thwarted their revisions. "Do you know how it felt?" He remembered Phil Shenk from his time at Blizzard North. "Like making games with the kids that Dungeons & Dragons played in their basement, it felt like we were in the basement with all those cool tools, just weird, mysterious stuff."

David L. Craddock, pictured above, is the author of the three-part series Stay Awhile and Listen, which chronicles the story of World of WarCraft developer Blizzard Entertainment and Diablo and Diablo II developer Blizzard North. The second episode is crowdfunding on Kickstarter.

The cover of Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II – Heaven, Hell, and Secret Cow Levels with Cover Art by Lili Ibrahim.

Phil got his start in the industry was creating graphics for Pinball games – especially the Space Cadet table from Full Tilt !, packaged in every Windows version, starting with Microsoft Windows 95 Plus! Add-on package and ends with Windows XP at Cinematronics, a studio in Austin, Texas, and acquired by SimCity developer Maxis. He started with 3D Studio Max and worked with two other designers to develop Crucible, an action RPG. At E3 in June 1997, Crucible attracted the attention of Matt Householder, who provided business cards to developers Demonstrate the game. Phil put the card away. He was optimistic about the prospects of Crucible. In the same month, Electronic Arts bought Maxis in a $ 125 million stock swap and announced plans to close Cinematronics and move the Austin team to Silicon Valley, where they would work on SimCity games. Not interested in modeling roads and buildings, and aware that Crucible still had a long way to go, Phil dug up the householder's card. "We did not know what we were doing," he admitted of his action RPG project. "We probably could not have done the multiplayer game [persistent]we did not even start the multiplayer component yet."

On the day of his interview, Phil entered the hallowed halls where Diablo was made and needed a beat to digest the reality. Water dribbled from dark spots on the ceiling. The carpet beneath them smelled of mold. Fans spread the stench more effectively than puddles. The devices had been stacked on desks to keep computers, keyboards, speakers and signboards from getting wet. Stacks of cabins formed barriers in corridors. "It looked like an operation at night, but it was very busy," he said. It was busy, everyone was active, it was energetic, but it was not what I thought it was, it did not seem like a well-oiled machine, it seemed like a group of guys who had just bought office space and He came full throttle ahead. "

He landed the job and turned up on his first day, ready to dig. Phil pulled up the recent prototype of Diablo II's high opportunity for concern. The prototype consisted of barebones that consisted of a single tiny dungeon of gray bricks. The game ran at 640×480. Phil was surprised that Blizzard North did not press 800×600, the next resolution. What really struck him was the Amazon. She moved in slow, swaying waves, as if wading through water, and she was too frightening for Phil's taste. He shot up 3D Studio Max and put the hero in a bomb: still tall, wild and powerful, but with long golden hair tied into a ponytail, and a busty chest and curvy figure filling skintight leather armor.

When the rest of the guys exclaimed about his design, Phil gasped in relief. He had been worried that any team capable of developing such a brilliant game as Diablo would reject the ideas of the lowest members of the company's totem pole. Over time, his first impression of Blizzard North's somewhat scary surroundings changed. No game could be invented as inventive, dark and quirky as Diablo's in a clean, sterile office. "I thought Diablo was the epitome of the conscious art direction: Everything was planned, Tristram had a kind of weird, gray, stormy color scheme," he said. "It was not day, it was not night, and I thought, how did you get it? It's not night, but it does not feel like day, it kind of felt like an afterworld, I thought these guys were Geniuses But when I got to know them, I discovered that it all happened on the bottom of my pants. "

Interiors like caves, forts and temples appear in Diablo 2, but most of the actions took place outdoors.

While the Amazon's gender was tied to women, players could change their looks by buying armor from salesmen or stabbing monsters from the cold, dead hands. This too was a system adopted by Diablo. In the first game, player characters in light, medium, or heavy armor were rendered on the screen, depending on the category of equipment they put on. Restricting screen displays to one of three appearances reduced the number of artworks worn by Blizzard North's upstart team, but also limited the style. A warrior in rags looked just like another warrior with leather armor studded with spikes, as both types of armor fell into the easy category.

There were other restrictions. Equipment such as helmets, swords, and shields were also plotted based on the category of body armor, so a short sword of a character with light gear appeared struck and unadorned, only to be decorated if the player was dressed in chain mail (medium) or coated Post (hard). The team's decision to limit player character play to three visual styles was also resource-based. By the time Diablo had sprung up, Blizzard North-then Condor-had been running a tight budget with a small team of untrained but raunchy artists. They simply could not afford to reflect every single ring, amulet, sword, ax, bat, and armor that players wore.

Thanks to the success of the studio, the artistic reservoir of Diablo II ran much deeper than that of its predecessor. "We started thinking about putting the figures together as a paper doll," explained Kris Renkewitz.

"Characters were portrayed as GI Joe figures so you could rip them: right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg, torso, then single hands," added Robert Steele, one of the game's character artists.

Diablo II's paper doll system was led by Jon Morin. Still disappointed that the voxel engine he had developed with Dave Brevik and Doron Gartner had gone bankrupt, he was looking for ways to contribute. When a meeting ran a rendering system that worked like paper dolls, Jon volunteered to encode it. In collaboration with Phil Shenk, he wrote a tool that allowed artists to model specific body parts. In addition, each hand could hold a different weapon, and any number of components could be mixed and adjusted. "In the end, I've written the module system that sorts all the pieces so that if you put that particular sword and armor on it, it would look much the same as it's displayed on your character," he explained.

Jon and Phil tested his component system on a monster, a simpler testbed than a player character, as heroes' equipment levels would be much deeper. For the first outing of the system, they decorated a corrupt rogue, an undead rogue hero of Diablo. "I believe the corrupt villains were the only monsters composed as completely as [heroes]," said Phil Shenk. "You could hold any weapon type, I think, all the other monsters were just piecemeal, just to offer variety, if anything had a weapon, the weapon would be a component." There was a head, a torso, a left arm, a right arm , left hand, right hand, legs, shoulder pads. "

With clever code under the hood, Diablo 2 stores the layout and position of monsters and objects on any expansive map.

The extent of The adaptation of the character depended on the need. Likely, Diablo's hideous, goblin agitators, who chose battles only to flee when their comrades fell around them, could be armed with various weapons and headers, as well as skeletons. Her character models were simple: skeletal bone arms, monochrome arms for different types of fallen bodies. By mixing and combining the weapons and the weapons they held, the artists could effectively create multiple types of each monster.

On the other hand, fewer paper-doll options simplified the tedious order of operations in rendering characters for the game. Each character was loaded into a rendering queue. Because every hero could see sixteen directions, an artist had to portray every attack animation for every possible direction. Monsters that could only see in eight directions were lighter, but only relative. Building a character was an immense task. "We had a tool that helped us sort out the different body parts at each angle so that, for example, Figure 5 was displayed correctly and to make sure the left arm was not behind the torso," said Anthony Rivero. "It was a nuisance to do that, they had to make sure all the stuff was sorted in the right order."

"They would render these render queues, and there might be 500 things in a render queue," added Kelly Johnson. "Rendering the queue took only an hour or two."

"Since we had to make the entire component system from different parts of the body, sometimes their order would be messed up," added Pattie Tougas. "So, you have a head for a leg, a torso for the arm, an arm for the body, and you could walk around like that."

Armed to the teeth, were the growing bestiary of Amazon and Diablo II I need a battlefield. The game would have dilapidated chambers and gloomy corridors, but in one turn would not be the most common type of terrain. Blizzard North's breakout game had been vertical: start on the surface and dare through a stack of sixteen dungeons that became darker and more dangerous as the players came down. Instead of a dungeon stack divided into four thematic regions, Diablo II would take place across four acts, each with a unique look and feel, and each setting consisting of vast outward regions.

Diablo II's first act deliberately hustled returning players outside their comfort zone. "Tristram's hiring in Diablo was what we call the Irish country, and indeed the first act of Diablo II will be back on the Irish land," said Max Schaefer. "We started Diablo II in the wild to free you from Diablo's city and dungeon format, and you immediately say it's different when you start the game, we open the world and things work." Different, now, it was a clean break from the vertical design of the first game.

Ben Boos (left) and Dave Brevik at the E3 in 1999. [ Photo courtesy of Karin Colenzo-Seis

In a marked departure from the dark, narrow chambers and cells In the first game, Act I stretches across meadows and fields, narrow paths lead into caverns and crumbling fortresses, but these are pit stops, players can descend into a cave to kill monsters for experience or solve tasks Dead end and venturing back to the surface to explore further.

Wallpapers are made of tiles that have been snapped together using algorithms, painting the tiles that make up green backgrounds required a tool as versatile as Jon Morins Max Schaefer organized the environmental artists, first a team of one: a fresh-faced developer named Ben Boos. "I think the first work For me it was Dave Brevik who said, 'We need grass. We need an outdoor scene. Make grass, "said Ben, who painted and cut tiles before meeting with Kris Renkewitz and a few other artists from Blizzard North's doomed film crew." And I was like, oh my god, I do not know where to start. I had no idea where things were or what the technology was. So I just had to dive in, and I painted and went crazy. I "It was a kind of blur."

After a short while, Ben stared at a jumble of tiles, like pieces of a thousand-piece puzzle not yet connected to an idyllic scene. To assemble this scene and countless others for algorithms, Ben got a helping hand from Tyler Thompson, a programmer who was employed a few weeks before Phil Shenk. "I joined SIGGRAPH in New Orleans in 1996 as a Special Interest Group on GRAPHICS and Interactive Techniques," Tyler said. "I saw an ad in black and white with a monster saying, 'Do you want to work on games?' And that blew me away, I was like, wait, people do it for a living? Wow!"

Tyler hurried into his dorm and scanned the gaming industry by sending over three hundred job requests via e-mail and mailed copies of his resume. For months he heard nothing but silence. One week before graduation, he received three offers: one from Sony, one from a little-known studio called Holy Grail Interactive, and one from Blizzard North, set up by a recruiter. Matt Householder took over from there and arranged a two-part interview for Tyler. The first track consisted of a programming test. Tyler locked it at home and faxed his results. For the second part, he hopped on a plane to Redwood City and made a rapid tour of the office. Afterwards, the boys asked him to answer further programming questions.

Before leaving, Blizzard North's programming guru came to a quiz. "David Brevik took me on a wild, fast, frightening ride with his 911 Turbo, I think it was while asking me challenging questions," Tyler recalled. "He said, 'What do you think about working on a game like Diablo?'

"I like to test the legs of my sports cars, and I'm a pretty fast driver and … yes," Dave Brevik recalls. "It was an experience for him, I think his pants were a little damp Test # 1: How to get stressed out?"

Two weeks later, on April 19, 1997, Tyler returned to Blizzard North and made his second challenge. It was awful, if less an experience you know, than doing a jaunt with Dave Brevik. He was to simplify the process of creating tiles for Ben Boos, who still carried the full weight of environmental creation.

"I said to Tyler," Do it like a paintbrush. Let me click on a tile type and then let me make a way. Then you would load one of the variants, and if I click on Grass, it would automatically randomize and select one, "Ben said." Well, I was the only one who did that, and it became such a weird amount of very patient Job. What they did with this crazy little tool is amazing. They earn a lot of credit. We had very simple tools to work. You really rocked it. We rolled our own tools when we left.

Tyler had shot his tile cutting tool in record time, his next task was even more Hercules.

Read the full chapter in Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II – Heaven, Hell, and Secret Cow Levels, now in E-book and paperback formats on Kickstarter.

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