Diablo's Original Pitch Document Opened Up To The Public

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅21.03.2016 15:40:52

David Brevik, co-founder of Blizzard North and more recently CEO of Marvel Heroes' developer Gazillion Entertainment, hosted a GDC 2016 talk last week discussing his experience developing one of the most important PC titles of the 90's: Diablo. Sadly that talk won't be available online for a number of weeks, but at the close he pledged to make available the original pitch document Condor Inc. delivered to Blizzard prior to being given the green light. True to his word Brevik posted the pitch in PDF form on his personal blog (http://graybeardgames.blogspot.com/) over the weekend, and it's a fascinating read.

Diablo was originally envisioned as a project that Condor Inc. would undertake as a separate entity from Blizzard, two years before Condor were assimilated into the studio as Blizzard North. It was pitched as a return to action-RPG sensibilities, a game with modest scope that focussed on addictive gameplay in a fantasy setting rather than a gargantuan 'media extravaganza' many titles and franchises evolved into in this period.

Clearly some aspects of the pitch made it into the final game, after a few tweaks of course. Most recognisable of these is the setting (the Gothic Horror of Tristram), unique emphasis on random level and item generation for dungeons, and the isometric view with diamond-shaped tiles. Joining Blizzard's own Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, Diablo was also slated to become a pioneering multiplayer title allowing between 2 and 10 players. However there are a few key differences to be seen.

Somewhere between the pitch and final release the game moved from turn-based to real time, a reflection not only of how even a game with modest scope needed to adapt with the changing mores of video games. Had it retained turn-based gameplay Diablo may have been remembered very differently, and perhaps not as fondly. These core mechanical and gameplay changes aren't the most surprising aspects of the pitch however, that honour goes to the spectre of so-called 'expansion packs'.

There are really two products here: Diablo, which stands on its own, and its expansion packs. These packs would consist of one disk and maybe an information card in a small package. The Disk would contain new elements that are directly installable into the base Diablo game. These elements would include: new magic items, new creatures, new traps and new level graphics. Expansion disks would all be different(or maybe 16 or 32 combinations) and would contain approximately 16 new elements in vary degrees of rarity. A sample disk might contain: One rare sword, three uncommon magic items, eight common items, two creatures, one trap and a new hallway type.

A player would buy a new expansion disk or two, go home and install the new data into his game. The new elements would be incorporated into the random mix when a new level is generated. Perhaps a player's character should have one goodie directly placed into his inventory for instant gratification.

We believe these expansion disks should be priced at around $4.95 with the hope that they would be placed near cash registers as point-of-purchase items. Players would buy these packs as an afterthought, or maybe in an attempt to collect them all. A 'collector'-type art card, representing the rare item in a pack, could enhance this sense of collectability.

The Condor Inc. team drew inspiration from Magic: The Gathering, a TCG that was spreading like wildfire and endures to this day, but it's easy to draw parallels with the trend of microtransactions and ever more thinly-sliced DLC packages that plague today's AAA games. Perhaps the pre-broadband world simply wasn't ready for this distribution model, or maybe cooler heads at Blizzard prevailed, but in the end Diablo would switch to a traditional videogame release model, as well as opening up the game to modding in a limited fashion. Both sequels would follow in its footsteps, even as modern-day AAA development focusses on monetisation models that Blizzard downplayed in their core franchises.

Very much a product of its era, down to the speculative single year development time (including testing!), you can read the entire pitch document here. David Brevik's current work can be found at GrayBeardGames.com.

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