Yesterday saw the release of Reaper of Souls, Blizzard’s big attempt to fix many of the mistakes they made with Diablo III, so why don’t we take a moment to look back at a time when they, against the odds, got it all right? Let’s look back at the original Diablo.
Made by a small, largely untested team working in a genre that wasn’t popular at the time, Diablo wasn’t supposed to make it, but somehow it did and in doing so lit a spark that would eventually grow into modern MMOs. So, stay a while and listen to a few facts about one of the most important PC games of all time…
1) Diablo wouldn’t exist without The Justice League. A small independent studio by the name of Condor Games was responsible for creating Diablo. Before getting into demon slaying, Condor worked on a few rather forgettable licensed titles, including a lousy DC Comics fighting game for the Genesis called Justice League Task Force.
Now, Condor was far from the only company slumming it in the world of licensed games at the time — another small, upcoming company named Blizzard was contracted to work on the SNES port of Condor’s Justice League fighter. It was through this collaboration that the leaders of Condor and Blizzard first became acquainted, which led directly to Condor pitching Diablo to Blizzard. The rest is history, although the Diablo initially presented to Blizzard was quite different from the game that eventually ended up in players’ hands…
Task #1 — Find ourselves a less s–tty game!
2) The game was originally going to be turn-based. Yup, the quintessential mouse-mashing action RPG was initially going to be turn-based. Early versions of Diablo worked like a Roguelike, with you and the monsters in the dungeon taking turns — you take a step, they take a step, you swing a sword, they swing a sword and so on.
3) Also, it was going to have claymation graphics. Okay, so who else now desperately wants to clobber claymation skeletons and goatmen?
Remember those couple months during the 90s when all games had to be made out of plasticine?
4) Your character was supposed to have an actual backstory. The protagonists of Diablo games are always generic ciphers, but apparently that wasn’t always the plan. According to Diablo previews including in WarCraft II, the hero of Diablo was originally supposed to have grown up in Diablo’s hub town of Tristram and was returning to avenge the death of his family. Much of Diablo would have been devoted to solving the mystery of what happened to your kin, as opposed to chasing down random quests given to you by townfolk. There’s a good reason this was changed though…
5) For much of development, Diablo only had a single class. Classes were a relatively late addition to Diablo. Initially the game only had one warrior-like class, with the emphasis instead being on giving the player greater freedom to craft a unique character. This explains why the hero once had a more detailed backstory and why that backstory was dropped later in development when multiple classes were introduced. It also explains why the warrior is the only class shown in a lot of cutscenes, and why the warrior is the one that ends up killing Diablo according to official canon.
Three classes may not be a lot, but it’s better than one.
6) Tons of content was cut from the game. While classes made it in at the 11th hour, far more stuff was unceremoniously chopped from the final version of Diablo. Well over a hundred spells, monsters and items were removed from the final game, although most of them remained on the disc for hard-working hackers to uncover. Some of these items would eventually show up in later expansions and sequels, but many would never see the light of day.
7) Diablo originally had a time limit. One of the most interesting items cut from the final version of Diablo was the Map of the Stars. The map was a quest item that foretold a moment when the stars and planets would come into alignment, making Diablo even stronger. In gameplay terms, it meant the game originally had a time limit — if you didn’t reach Diablo within a certain timeframe he would become far more difficult. Ultimately the developers removed the Map of the Stars and time limit, since it discouraged exploration, but the removal was far from seamless. Those who have reached the end of Diablo know the final boss is kind of a pushover, likely because the version of Diablo left in the game was the easy version meant as a reward for getting in under the time limit.
8) Battle.net wouldn’t have been added if Diablo’s developer had their financial house in order. Diablo’s most enduring legacy (aside from all the cases of crippling carpal tunnel syndrome it’s caused) was Battle.net. Battle.net was an online service that allowed Diablo players join up and hack their way through dungeons via the Internet. It was a groundbreaking idea at the time, and you can pretty much trace a direct line from multiplayer Diablo to modern MMOs like World of Warcraft.
Diablo’s developer Condor had absolutely no plans to include anything like Battle.net in the title, but as they were nearing completion of the game they flat out ran out of money. Blizzard came to Condor’s rescue, purchasing the studio and renaming it Blizzard North. The guys behind Diablo now had more cash and resources to work with and wanted to expand the game. Their new overlords at Blizzard suggested an online multiplayer mode, which seemed like a swell idea to the Diablo guys, so in the last couple months of development they hastily tossed together Battle.net, and history was once again accidentally made. So yeah, if Condor had managed to stay financially solvent, there would have been no Blizzard North, no Battle.net and probably no World of Warcraft. Three cheers for financial irresponsibility!
We’ve come a long way since 1996.
9) All the game’s levels were planned to be playable in multiplayer mode. Battle.net may have been rushed, but the original plan was to have all the 16-levels of the game playable in multiplayer. Unfortunately there just wasn’t enough time and only four levels were playable, but that was enough back in 1996 to make Battle.net a hit.
10) You can still play Diablo online. By the way, nearly 20-years after it’s release, you can still sign onto Battle.net and play Diablo online, which pretty much has to make Diablo the longest supported online game ever.
11) Diablo wants you to eat your vegetables. At one point you hear Diablo saying something in creepy demon-speak — some sort of evil soul-flaying incantation no doubt! Well, actually, if you play the dialogue backwards he’s really saying, “Eat your vegetables and brush after every meal”. 9-year-old me was right! Broccoli was the work of the devil.Subscribe to UPROXX
12) There was once a Game Boy version of Diablo in the works. Diablo wasn’t the most graphically intense game on PCs, but still, a Game Boy version would have been quite a stretch. That didn’t stop Blizzard from giving it a shot sometime during the 90s though. Hmmm, it may not have worked on the Game Boy, but man, I would absolutely go for some Diablo on the 3DS or Vita.
Somebody thought this was a good idea.
13) There was/is a Diablo movie in the works. While nobody’s heard much about it recently, Legendary Pictures does own the rights to Diablo and apparently a movie is being worked on. I would guess Diablo won’t go into full production until producers see how the development hell-ridden Warcraft movie does in theaters.
14) The makers of Diablo were big Natalie Portman fans. If you play with your computer’s colors during Diablo’s boot screen, a couple secret messages appear. One is “Buy War II” and the other is the more random “Natalie Portman Rocks”. By the way, Natalie Portman was only 15 when Diablo was released, so that may explain why this particular declaration of adoration was kept on the down low.
15) There is no cow level. Okay, it’s time to talk about the cow level. There’s totally a cow level, right? I mean, the first thing you think when somebody mentions “Diablo trivia” is, “Oh, wasn’t there a weird cow level in the game?”
There wasn’t. The cow level never existed.
Perhaps it was a side effect of Diablo being so addictive — people gobbled every scrap of the game’s content and wanted more, so somehow rumors spread that abusing the game’s cows in certain ways, for certain lengths of time would take you to a MAGICAL COW LEVEL. To this day it remains “common knowledge” that the cow level exists. It does exist in Diablo II, but sadly not in the original game, so for the love of god, stop doing that to that poor cow.
WHAT DO THE COWS MEAN? BETTER SPEND ALL NIGHT CLICKING ON THEM.
Thanks as always to Joel Stice for lending me the Fascinating Facts format! What are some of your favorite Diablo memories or moments? I’m a soul in search of answers, so let me know in the comments.