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.