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The original pitch for Diablo (1994) [pdf] (graybeardgames.com)
241 points by dsl on Mar 27, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 88 comments

Good to see plenty of people in the comments experiencing nostalgia due to fond memories of playing this great, great game :)

You may be unaware that there is "Belzebub", a "HD mod" for the original Diablo, available today, that taches the original engine a few tricks (besides the obvious 1080p resolution), and also re-introduces a lot of the game's planned content that had to be cut from the final release shortly before the gold master was spun. And IT IS AWESOME! Even if you never tried the original classic, you should probably give this a go if ARPGs in a dark fantasy setting are something you might like.

To whet your appetite, check the trailer (https://youtu.be/m4PfLbMJCoA) on the (afaik, unfortunately discontinued) mod's website: https://mod.diablo.noktis.pl/features

The 1.045 release you may still download there (you need to provide a copy of the game's assets in the form of the main CDs ".mpq" data file yourself) is essentially a polished and extended re-make of the original Diablo 1. I played for hours each day for a few days straight after I discovered the project in 2015. Hope someone else in here enjoys it as much as I did! :)

Do you know if the mod includes features/content from the D1 expansion? It's hard to track down and I never played it (despite wanting to).

If by "expansion" you mean Sierra's "Hellfire", then no - there's no content overlap between it and Belzebub that I'd know of (that's not already included in the original Diablo, of course).

Worth noting to those who haven't read the pitch: the original design for Diablo was turn-based. The hexagonal movement system was causing a huge headache for the programmers, however, and eventually they decided to make it real-time.

The now-defunct Gametrailers did an amazing retrospective on the Diablo series at some point:


EDIT: I also thought some of the side illustrations looked familiar. They are taken from some illustrations for the Dictionnaire Infernal:



Allow me to quote Diablo developer David Brevik describing when he finally yielded to demands and hacked together a "real time" version of his turn-based Diablo, by making turns elapse the rate of 20 turns a second.

'I remember taking the mouse, and I clicked on the mouse, and the warrior walked over and and smacked the skeleton down, and I was like "Oh my god! That was awesome!".'

'And the sun shone through the window, and God passed by, and the angels sung, and sure enough that was when the ARPG was kind of born at that moment, and I was lucky enough to be there.'


If you're in this part of this comment thread, you'll probably enjoy the whole video.

Ultima Underworld (1993), Ultima Underworld II (1994), Ultima VII (1994), and The Elder Scrolls: Arena (1994) all come to mind quickly as computer-based action RPGs that preceded Diablo (1996). And the Japanese were making top-down action RPGs as early as the '80s, especially those made by Nihon Falcom (Ys) and Quintet (Soul Blazer). I would particularly cite Brandish (1991, Nihon Falcom) as a similar type of realtime action dungeon crawler (although it wasn't released in the West until 1995).

All that isn't to diminish the substantial achievements of Diablo, which was quite innovative. The fast, smooth gameplay was novel, as was the setting. It was compulsively playable and accessible while a lot of earlier action RPGs were kind of clunky. The art design was superb -- everything from the dreary, gothic environs to the satisfying animation and sound of a pile of gold bursting forth from a slain enemy. It's fair to say that Diablo was a milestone in ARPG history and highly influential.

I'll disagree on all those (and the Ultima's etc in the grandparent comment). They were all focused on RPG and story first, then adding some action on top of that (via isometric, fps etc. modes).

Diablo changed things in that it focused on action first, whereas the RPG element is just an add-on. Its gameplay cycles between essentially going deeper in a dungeon that's becoming more difficult, obtaining/selling etc. of items/potions in town so that you can descend further. Its story isn't really of (heavy) importance.

So what about Zelda II: Adventure of Link? The RPG elements were clearly secondary, given that they were absent from the original LoZ.

If you're interested in Blizzard history, there's a 4-hour interview with Rob Pardo hosted by Civ 4 lead and Offworld Trading Company creator Soren Johnson. Pardo also recounts the beginnings of Diablo in part one around ~1:27:00, although he wasn't involved in the project at that time.

Starcraft, WoW, and Hearthstone are also discussed. Warning: audio quality is not great.



on that note, i read a book on blizzard's history "stay awhile and listen" that was not worth it. maybe it was because i read it right after masters of doom, but it felt like they were afraid to say anything negative, and as a result it's boring and also very hard to learn from whatever failures and successes they had.

Mm, yep, thanks for that. Primary sources always better than secondary.

I kinda take issue with saying "the ARPG was born at that moment", though. We had JRPGs for almost a decade before that included realtime combat.

ARPG is not the same as a realtime RPG...

This is really significant ; I remember playing a real-time (multilayer) Angband variant for like a minute: the gameplay didn’t translate at all to "realtime".

It's one of my strongest experiences of ux ever. The actual realisation of going from turn based balanced fun to tick based balanced fun is far from obvious!

Timed link is wrong, use this for that exact moment:


I swear i have seen some video from a conference or similar where Brevik talks about being staunchly in the turn-based camp, until he sat down and implemented real-time (the game already ran on a system of ticks so he basically allowed the ticks to run even without any input from the player) over a weekend and had his proverbial mind blown by the experience.

Haha, I was typing my post before I saw yours, else I would have made it a reply!

For "over a weekend" read "in a few hours" :)

Generally, isometric grids don't work well in gameplay.

I beat "Into The Breach" 3 times on hard mode with 3 different classes, and I can safely say that a top-down perspective would have been more intuitive.

It feels like every time I look at the map, I need to rotate the image 45 degrees in my head before I could process what unit needs to do what.

> Generally, isometric grids don't work well in gameplay.

As with any general rule, there are some great exceptions, such as RTSs (Age of Empires, Starcraft) and city builders (SimCity 3000, Caesar 3).

And X-COM, and Jagged Alliance 2, and Ultima VII

I miss this game moreso than probably any others in the series, maybe any game at all outside of perhaps Chrono Trigger. There were trainers and what not, but I remember after playing through it trying to create a "godmode" character proper (no trainer) by specifically hunting for tomes to increase spells. That was probably the thing that bummed me most about D2 and subsequently D3 in that leveling spells after you'd "maxed out" was still something you could grind in D1.

Vaguely related but mildly funny anecdote, I got into this game really late (basically, when it was cheap). I remember buying it from Wal-Mart and also buying one of the bigger bags of crispy M&Ms (Wikipedia says those came out in 1999 so I must have been even later than I remember). The game was incredibly good, but the first couple times playing it, I'm going through said bag of M&Ms because the game felt like a pretty intense movie at the time. Ever since that point, anytime I played that game, I'd crave crispy M&Ms, which went away after a while (though have since come back apparently).

I just noticed Chrono Trigger is available for iOS. Haven’t bought it yet but I hope the port is a good one. I also enjoyed FF7 on my iPhone. Glad to see Square is rereleasing titles for mobile.

I would kill for Nintendo to release a few old titles on iOS.

Warning: the iOS port (and also the PC version on Steam) of Chrono Trigger is widely regarded as terrible. Same with FFVI and FFV.

Luckily the old 3DS port of Chrono Trigger is good. The only way I know to play FFVI now is with an SNES Classic: an overpriced raspberry pi.

yeah, if you have a DS, go with the Chrono Trigger port. I can't speak to iOS, but I tried some Final Fantasy port and gave up because I hated the controls. The PC version, I have a 3440x1440 screen, it renders as a regular 1440p screen in full screen and the tiles are nauseating. The only resolution that looks okay is 800x600.

> The only way I know to play FFVI now is with an SNES Classic

Or with literally any SNES emulator?

Install happy chick[1]. It has basically all the games for quite a number of old systems.

1: http://happychick.hk/

Fond memories of this as a kid. I remember after playing it for a while with friends and coming across BoBaFett's trainer and DooM-Gaze's (sic?) trainer enabling god-mode, fast spellcast, maxed stats, Godly Plate of the Whale armor, King's Sword of Haste, dropping elixirs all over town around Deckard Cain, etc. I was legitimately scared at my age to step into the cracks of hell to go after Diablo when they opened behind Pepin's hut. And the Butcher... kept all the lights on for that quest...

As a 10 year old, it was the first "adult" game I played (alongside Leisure Suit Larry). Dropping the turn based style and keeping classes more simplistic was an excellent decision. It's what introduced me to the online world via battle.net and PKing (player killing) was a joy in itself. Clans, online friends, and memories all shortly followed. Loved reading this.

Diablo 1: still better than the 3rd.

Source: overbearing nostalgia

There was a far more advanced cheat(a gamehack patch) called Soulburner's Editor that allowed to spawn items/monsters, teleport to any level and spy on other players with ghost mode(which allowed to join games unannounced) and various other hacks. It was my early inspiration to programming:you could convert earlier (e.g. 1.07/1.08)hacks(which don't work in new version) by searching for the offset where the code content was identical in hex editor(usually new patch just changed the offset) and trying if they work again or crash the game. That way you can make old hacks compatible with newer versions, but the code was still a mysterious string of hexadecimal digits that didn't make sense(outside of ascii content which looked like text in hex editor). Then i found out you can disassemble the strings and the entire game was a huge megabyte long assembler dump(which i had no idea what to search at first). There was a windows debugger called SoftICE which i got reccomended and i've started to tinker with it, it was extremely boring and tiresome pausing and single-stepping through thousands of lines of assemblers and if you modified anything wrong the game promptly crashed. Still it was a fascinating look into the "Diablo hacking scene" despite having near zero skills i managed to get a general idea how the "gamehacks" worked: they overwrote memory without touching critical code and the hex strings functionality was often very simple, its disabled jumps or set bytes to specific values. Some of them were small assembler programs which added new functions(like Soulburner's editor) but the mystery of how it was created in the first place was beyond me(the only clue was it hooking into diablo console to add its own console commands). It was obvious it wasn't incrementally added(like simple godmode cheats it was distributed with), it was tested and programmed separately. However i quickly got bored with it and diablo as a game itself, exploring everything it offered and even looking at beta content with MPQ editor and diablo-specific utilities. It was also extremely discouraging when many people enjoyed crashing games with various hacks and competed on who didn't get crashed(by using various anti-crash patches). The game turned into some online crashfest and real players migrated into password protected games and single-player.

I had pretty much the exact same experience and it seems we're about the same age. It was my first exposure to online gaming and I remember being so amazed that you could play a game like that over the internet with total strangers!

Cheating was a big downside to playing on battle.net though, in my experience. It got so bad that you would enter a game and another player would either crash the game (by dropping a modified ear IIRC) or everyone would be playing with god-mode on. And creating an open, "legit" game only enticed cheaters to join in order to kill everyone. Oh well. My friends and I had plenty of fun playing over IPX and later LAN, or having password protected games on battle.net with people I met in the chat rooms.

I was surprised to find that only a handful of years ago people were still playing on battle.net. Not a lot, but enough to join a couple games and have some fun. Didn't see any cheating, either.

The rush of cheating wore off pretty quickly. I think everyone went through their 'ear collection' phase, but it was rather beating Diablo on Hell difficulty as the real accomplishment. I always found the Lazarus quest to be harder though.

I remember first discovering online mode. Clicking Multiplayer and seeing some sort of "you must be connected to the internet" type message. I started up the dial up connection and tried again and then the world opened up to me.

As much time as I spent on D1 and enjoying myself, it paled in comparison as the gateway drug to SC:BW for me.

"Ah, fresh meat!"

I still recall opening a door in the game (with hints of something odd about the tiles behind it) and hearing that come out of the speakers to this day.

I could of sworn that the audio for the Butcher's voice was levels higher than the rest of anything else in the game. Madly clicking in retreat as some fat, greasy demon sprinted after you is a staple to every young player.

Further, unless you did a full install, that audio clip had to load off of the CD. Which meant if your CD-ROM was slow to spin up, often you'd be dead on the floor as that audio clip played, after a brief freeze.

I was in high school when Diablo came out and it was epic. Me and several of my friends played many late night sessions for months. We were exhausted at school, but we had a blast and I wouldn't trade those nights for anything - so much fun.

Moo. I said moo.

"Look I'm just a cow OK?"

I believe that was from Hellfire, right? Was it the character that you could give a moose suit to?

yep :)

Well, I know what I'm doing once I get home tonight. I actually found my CDs for both D1 and Hellfire last weekend.

I'd really enjoy seeing a modern ARPG that is legitimately unsettling and dark in the way that Diablo was (and D2, to a slightly lesser extent). We've got D3, which has really fun gameplay but feels commercialized and looks like WoW, and we've got PoE, which has a lot of really brilliant ideas and has a darker theme but at no point is ever actually unsettling.

You might want to try Grim Dawn. If Turn-based works too then Darkest Dungeon.

I'd recommend against Darkest Dungeon. Whereas Diablo 1 & 2 carefully cultivated its gothic aura, DD went full-on edge and melodrama.

I respectfully disagree. Darkest Dungeon captured the essence of Lovecraft in ways I've not seen anywhere else. I highly recommend this game to anyone who likes brutally hard turn based 1 dimensional combat. The game requires a lot of compromises and you will suffer casualties. It's a rare game where I spend almost as much time preparing for a dungeon run as I take doing the run. The artwork also really spoke to me.

About the one warning I give about the game, is that it doesn't explain in game enough early game. I got frustrated because the early game is really punishing and it's too hard to figure things out since many interactions are probabilistic. I finally found a wiki on the game which allowed me to understand what I was doing wrong (and which dungeon artifacts should be skipped when no protection). After that I fell in love with the gamr.

I just picked up Grim Dawn last weekend and I've really been enjoying it. :)

I can't help worry that Path of Exile has become a victim of its own success. Lately the updates seems heavily tilted towards trying to "catch" hardcore (one character death and it is out of the league) characters, leading to a "death spiral" of sorts between the top players (more often than not streamers that dedicate their days to playing the game live) and Grinding Gear Games.

I agree that D3 was a let-down. Story, graphics and all lacked the spirit, and thereby, the greatness of Diablo 1 and Diablo 2.

Path of Exile is, IMO, the true successor to D1 and D2.

Have they fixed the cantseeshit issue where environment would always occlude the player and items and enemies?

I remember that this was an issue on initial release and the devs where adamant on not fixing that or even acknowledging the issue.

I'd really recommend "Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice". Headphones REQUIRED :D

As a fan of horror, my observation is that the best horror (that is, the kind that sticks with you long after you've finished the story) doesn't come from spooky monsters (as much as I love imaginative monsters) or grisly gore, but the nightmares woven into real life. And that's Hellblade in a nutshell. "Unsettling" is a good word for it.

My fiancee showed me a gameplay trailer for that. "Unsettling" is definitely a word I'd use to describe it.

Sometimes I ask myself if the unsettling feeling I felt in Diablo was because I was too young and impressed by the horror. But I believe it's just that people can't make good games anymore.

Ha, I had the same realization! And it’s quite a shame. Consoles are so powerful today. It seems like a huge letdown that you don’t have more games that are as scary as D2.

I remember as a kid being incredibly scared to go from the “open” terrain into the dungeons in Act 1 of D2... I knew it couldn’t be any good. And then facing the terrible Anadriel... GOD I miss that game!

The turn based gameplay, square tile floor design, randomized levels and loot, fantasy medieval world of sword and sorcery remind me of an earlier 1990s game called Castle of the Winds - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_of_the_Winds

Or NetHack ('80s) with the Falcon's Eye graphics patchset ('90s). Still the best game ever made if you like a wide-open sandbox with an unforgiving demand for resourcefulness and creative problem solving.

Oh my goodness I've been looking for the name of that game for ages. I loved it (including the hardcore element of it). Though IIRC I too had merely the shareware version.

For people who like CCG and roguelike, I can highly recommend Slay The Spire [1] as it combines the two in an easy to learn, difficult to master game. Its been developed and tested by Android: Netrunner players (CCG-wise I only ever played the orig. Netrunner and MtG in the 90s, orig. SWCCG, and recently Hearthstone). The game is what I wish Hearthstone would've been, and I haven't had so much fun for 16 EUR (compare to Hearthstone...). Its available early access on Steam. Third character isn't yet available.

[1] http://slay-the-spire.wikia.com/wiki/Slay_the_spire_Wiki

Thanks for mentioning this! I used to play the shareware version that I got from one of those "1001 Games" type discs back in the day. I see the creator released it into public domain so it looks like I'll be wasting a few hours with this later this week.

Ha! I got my copy the same way.

I ended up giving up on it quickly when I got to the first dungeon/castle and couldn't figure out how to move through the diagonal passages. In later years I unlocked the secrets of the numpad.

Thought I'd toss this out there for anyone interested that doesn't know. David Brevik and his wife stream regularly on Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/thejunglequeen. It's mostly his wife playing various games while David is next to her playing/working on something. He will often talk about various experiences making games.

He's been working on a new game, "It Lurks Below", you can find it on Steam (not released yet). The game is in closed beta though. He's mentioned that one of his daughters did some of the artwork and has actually released at least one game of her own on Steam as well.

Yeah i'm tracking his upcoming game already.

It is basically Terraria with classes (meaning that you pick some kind of special ability at the start of the game), survival elements (need to eat, sleep, etc), and Diablo style randomized loot (all weapons are gun shaped wands with wildly varying stats and firing patterns).

From what i have caught of others playing it, there are even an NPC in town later on (you plop down preconfigured buildings for them) that can reroll old dungeons.

Meaning that you can technically play the same world over and over, rather than keep rolling new ones as seems to be the pattern with Terraria.

The title should be "The original pitch for Diablo (1994)", the 4 is in the wrong place.

It would be pretty weird to have a pitch for Diablo 4 in the 90s, before Diablo 3 was released. :)

It will not be unheard of. Bits of story of Might & Magic 8 were thought out when the original Might & Magic 1 was created, along with most of e.g. magic system.

It looks like it is corrected now. I didn't include the year in the original submission, so it must have gotten typo'ed by a mod.

I emailed hn@ycombinator.com about this.

It's crazy how close the original pitch was to classic Roguelikes — turn-based, random dungeon, single town at the top, and a stack of dungeon levels descending below. It's basically Rogue/Moria/Angband + graphics.

Of course, going real-time fundamentally changed the feel of the game, but the initial pitch was much more "bring Moria to the masses".

David Brevik released that just after the Diablo postmortem from GDC a couple years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VscdPA6sUkc

Worth watching for any fans of the original and if you want more context around that pitch. Lots of interesting tidbits about the origins of Diablo and Blizzard North.

And an amusing moment during the Q&A: Someone in the audience went up and gave David some money to make up for pirating the game when he was a kid.

Related vid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4D_bVgplit0

IGN Unfiltered episode with David about his origins and the creation of Diablo/Blizzard North.

FYI: We collect material like this over in https://www.reddit.com/r/TheMakingOfGames/

The initial pitch barely mentions the part of the game that makes it so ~~much fun~~addicting: You get to beat on pinatas until some loot pops out. Then collect the loot and/or convert it into in-game currency.

Diablo was one of the earliest games to start exercising those little dopamine hits of microjoy when the monsters go pop, hoping for just one more bit of treasure/xp/whatever.

Actually people quickly got bored with item collection with wide availability of duped items and gold(with exception of some variant gameplay groups which played legit), the game actual attraction was its randomness(dungeon layout/content) and challenge to complete levels at higher difficulties. Items and gold were central to Diablo2, which is exactly the "pinata simulator" you describe. In general, Diablo could be completed with trash items or(with sorcerer, even nothing worn).

Interestingly ahead of its time in that they had the idea of "DLC"'s already, in the form of small interchangeable expansion packs.

Apparently that never worked out, maybe because without the ease of downloading it wouldn't have sold enough against a single big expansion

I think this idea, at least in the exact form as described in the PDF, was scrapped later due to addition to randomly generated items. Having expansion packs which add more items does not make a lot of sense in that context.

Here are some ways it could make sense (but would have to be careful to not upset game balance): a.) more unique items (D1 has a small set of unique items) b.) new suffix/prefix to add to item modifier lists c.) in addition/response to the new suffix/prefix could add new resistance/attack types only available with expansion pack d.) could make multiplay require same expansion packs on each system to encourage upgrading

They can and did still add new weapon types to randomize (+more attributes for that) and add more unique weapons/item types in general with the Hellfire expansion.

Not really surprising.

Expansion packs have existed in one form or another for ages, these days they are just that much easier to distribute via Steam and similar services.

For anyone curious, as per the pdf they planned the development to take 12 months. According to wikipedia, they pitched Blizzard in January 1995, released the game on 31st December 1996. So that is ~24 months if they started working immediately. They probably didn't. Plus the pdf doesn't mention sales and marketing (Edit: in the schedule). Seems quite an amazing execution.

Please correct any mistakes I made.

I was about to ask, thank you for adding the data from wikipedia. It’s absolutely remarkable.

If someone has experience with Game Development I'd like to know your comments on the timeline from the last page. The pitch mentions 1 developer and 2 junior-devs, and the timeline shows 11 months of work (4 of those are for testing). How does that timeline compare to current processes? Any other insights that can be shared from it? Thanks.

I did not work on this but you'll need to take in mind that this was a fixed resolution game with 2D sprites. There is no 3D art in the final product. Finally this was just the proposal, Blizzard bought Condor and published Diablo (1) and if you check the mobygames entry (which is usually a pretty accurate copy of the in game credits), it has a much more extensive list of software developers in the credits (three! people on the installer, though to be fair, I'm pretty sure all the guys were down at Blizzard South providing a lot of the low level libraries). IIRC the networking was also outside the scope of Blizzard North's expertise at the time and most of that part was done by Blizzard South via Battle.net. http://www.mobygames.com/game/windows/diablo/credits

edit: it also took them about twice as long including pre development time.

Oh Diablo. I will never forget how you broke my heart when my hardcore character died because my mom picked up the phone when I was busy slaying demons.

My first experience with programming was making a "dump file" editor for my Diablo character in 8th grade with Visual Basic.

Someone had built a utility to dump the memory for your character to a file, where if you knew or could figure out the addresses, you could edit it and load it back into the game. I spent a lot of time changing a value in game, dumping the memory, and running a little diff tool I built to figure out where everything was. Then I built a little editor that could edit your character and item stats with a ui that looked like the game.

Such huge nostalgia for that game. StarCraft Remastered really brought back memories too. Blizzard is so, so good at game design.

Original Diablo pitch is basically Angband. I'm glad that they made it RT :)

I'm also glad they had the guts to add permadeath mode into Diablo II.

This is written by "Condor." When did Blizzard acquire this?

"Condor" was the name of the now defunct "Blizzard North" subsidiary.

Diablo and Diablo 2 were the best games ever released. Period.

Anyone know how much time it took them compared to the original estimate? So cool how small teams were building games back in the days.

The original estimate is for the proposal, and it ended up taking about twice as long. It was small, but not that small, IIRC Blizzard South did the multiplayer and the cinematics among other things (after buying Condor ) so it's not possible to evaluate the time estimate/team size estimate on its own merits.

Thanks for posting this. Anyone know if you can play a modern update to this on Mac?

Nostalgia overload...

How would I play the full, original Diablo now on my MacBook, if I wanted a trip down memory lane? I wouldn't even know where to begin.

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