Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Diablo. Or How To Quit Talking About It and Actually Do It.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 15, 2012

So I hear there’s some kind of action-RPG that was just released today? Kind of a niche action-roguelike or something? I hope their budget was small, because those kinds of games just don’t sell…

Seriously, though, I’m a big fan of the first two Diablo games. The reasons I’m holding off on picking up the long-anticipated third game are: #1 – I’m waiting until after my trip to France (dunno what my bandwidth will be in the hotels, friggin’ online-in-single-player mode thingy…), #2 – I promised myself I wouldn’t pick it up until I finished Grimrock, and #3 – I promised myself I wouldn’t pick it up until I got this dungeon rendering system for Frayed Knights 2 completely functional, and it’s just received yet another major overhaul (New engine, new way of handling dungeons).

I’m also kinda waiting to hear the reviews, but, you know, DUH. Like they aren’t going to gush about the awesomeness of the game?

But setting the wayback machine just a little… well, okay, something like 16 years ago (sheesh!), I wanted to comment a little on the importance of the original. Yes, I know, many of us blame Diablo for turning the RPG genre into a click-fest, but on the plus side it probably deserves a good share of credit for making the pronouncements of the death of the genre sound foolish.

But there were a few more interesting tidbits.

First of all, as some of you know, Diablo was originally planned as a turn-based game. The guys at the original Blizzard shop managed to convince the developers that it was a bad idea – and in retrospect, if selling a couple of million copies is your goal, they were probably right.

But there were two discussions that were going around in some of the magazines and Usenet groups for a few years before Diablo‘s release. (Wow, magazines and Usenet… it really has been a long time, hasn’t it?). I remember this because both topics really fascinated me. One was the commercial viability of roguelikes. Fans of roguelikes – particularly Nethack – wondered out loud (or at least in print, or digitally) what would happen if a quality RL had nice graphics and a mouse-driven, pretty user interface built onto the system. Granted, they already had their answer, as Rogue had long ago had a commercial release, and 1993’s Dungeon Hack was a roguelike using the Eye of the Beholder engine and D&D rules. But the discussion continued.

The second discussion, generating far more arguments over the years, is how one might implement a peer-to-peer RPG. MUDs and the like were already common, but the question was how a company could implement a system that did not require a server to store the characters and the game state. A lot of the ideas that found their way into Diablo were discussed. I don’t know if the original design team was ever a party to any of these discussions prior to beginning development. I wouldn’t expect so, but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to hear that that anybody there was.

When Diablo was released, I won’t say it put an end to these discussions, but it certainly pounded a big ol’ gold-plated stake in the ground that forever changed the argument. My attitude when I played the game – especially playing multiplayer for the first time, was “Holy Crap! They did it! These guys finally did it.” These discussions and arguments had been going on for years, in the vacuum of the Internet and bulletin board systems. It had all been theory, and the talk had felt endless. Finally, it seemed to me, somebody had quit talking and done something about it. It was far from perfect. In fact, its imperfections were pretty glaring. But now, instead of talking in circles about nebulous ideas, we could talk about how things should be done better to “get it right.” But someone had to get in there and put a stake in the ground. It was a big step.

They took the idea and ran with it. And in this case, they were very successful at it.

Nowadays, while that’s not exclusively in the realm of indies, it seems like the larger studios and publishers are more focused on refining and polishing tried-and-true ideas than running with new ones. But we still need guys who will take ideas and run with them, proving (or disproving, as the case may be) some weird ideas. Someone needs to be first. Or second with a new twist. It’s where we’re getting games like Braid (experimenting with time-control mechanics), or Canabalt (experimenting with a single, simple control), Depths of Peril (adding dynamic worlds and competing factions on a Diabl0-style foundation).  Minecraft, Gratuitous Space Battles, and – yeah, I’ll crow even about Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon here and note how it was created on the idea of having that first-person party do the comic-book style dialog with each other.

We need the indies doing just that. Quit talking about it and do it.

Filed Under: Game Development, Retro - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • Ruber Eaglenest said,

    Well, you can count on you about build a dungeon crawler with story and characters with relations that progress with time.

    Something I miss a LOT in Grimrock is THAT. Ok, the game is oldschool and it is amazing, but we are in 21 century, I mean, this guys could speak some lines from floor to floor isn’t it?

    (maybe they cut their tongues before throwing them in the dungeon…)

  • JTippetts said,

    I’m currently in the process of creating a party-based, turn-based RPG that draws heavy inspiration from roguelikes, with pretty animations and a mouse-driven interface. (Shameless self plug: http://www.gamedev.net/blog/33-why-you-crying/ ) I’ve been fiddling with the turn based version for a few weeks now. It follows on an earlier action prototype, and based on the experience of creating each version I have to say this: turn-based done right is tough. You wouldn’t think it, since turn-based RPG came before action in the grand scale of things (more or less, anyway). But turn-based works really well in more simplistic graphical systems. Things can get kind of tricky when you throw in animation, as far as scheduling turns and keeping things feeling snappy and not tediously drawn out. You end up having to juggle different modes (combat mode, non-combat mode) and it is hard to do the mode juggle without the whole thing feeling clunky.

    In a way, going ARPG is almost a cop-out. But it’s a very attractive cop-out, one that can still result in a very fun game as we have seen, and one that still sings its siren call to my ears, if only to finally resolve some knotty problems for myself. Still, I sort of wish the original Diablo had gone turn-based, even though I am well aware that would have precluded the vast commercial success that followed. Diablo was first and foremost accessible, in a way that a dense, slow-paced and stats-heavy turn-based would not have been.

  • JeffSullins said,

    The chatter between characters is probably my favorite feature of Frayed Knights.

    BTW — I have often wondered: was that at all inspired by the character chatter (voice acting) in Wizardry 8?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Nope, I had actually not played Wizardry 8 until after I released the first “pilot episode” of Frayed Knights. It actually evolved very deliberately from my thought process. I wanted to do a first-person perspective, party-based RPG. So what could I do that the older games didn’t do? The big thought (in my mind) was that the party (usually but not always player-created) really didn’t have any ‘character’ to them – they were just piles of points and a portrait jumbled together. When trying to think of how to make the party come alive, I was inspired by a combination of thoughts ranging from MST-3K, the “table talk” of Knights of the Dinner Table, Order of the Stick, and my own dice-and-paper gamings and the chattering (both in-character and out-of-character) during those games.

  • JeffSullins said,

    It works, glad you did it!