Why I’m Afraid to Review Diablo 3
Reviewing Diablo 3 will be the single greatest challenge in my career as a gaming journalist to date. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m afraid of reviewing Diablo 3, and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.
Putting aside personal bias will be an issue, of course — the emotional attachment I have for the Diablo series and for Blizzard as a developer could have been accurately characterized as “fanboyism” in the past. But that’s just the tip of an iceberg of concerns. Concerns about backlash from seething Blizzard fans, concerns about souring a professional relationship with Blizzard, concerns about negatively contributing to the game‘s success…
To wit, I’m concerned that I won’t enjoy Diablo 3 as much as I’d hoped, as well as the ramifications of writing a non-stellar review.
And I have strong reason for concern. Today, Blizzard is not the same company it was a decade ago — most of the talent that worked on Diablo and Diablo 2 is long gone. Left with World of Warcraft developers to make Diablo 3, it’s no surprise that up and until a couple of months ago, Blizzard was still iterating on core game systems at a time when it should have been working on balance and content. But most alarming of all, Blizzard has broken its most sacred of mantras: “When it’s ready,” and is releasing an incomplete product.
The Great Exodus
1993 saw the founding of Condor, a company whose games you’ve played and loved. Does the name not ring a bell? You may recognize it as Blizzard North, the studio largely responsible for the Diablo series. Founded by Max Schaefer, Erich Schaefer, and David Brevik, Condor was bought and renamed by Blizzard Entertainment six months prior to Diablo’s 1996 release.
However, in 2003, the founders of Condor and several key members of Blizzard North left to form Flagship Studios and Castaway Entertainment, with roughly 30 Blizzard North members ultimately leaving. In 2005, Blizzard Entertainment announced the closure of Blizzard North — situated some 400 miles away from Blizzard headquarters — because parent company Vivendi was unsatisfied with the branch’s development of Diablo 3.
Apart from Flagship Studios (Hellgate: London) and Castaway Entertainment, former developers of the Diablo series have founded ArenaNet (Guild Wars), Hyboreal Games, Runic Games (Torchlight), Red 5 Studios (Firefall), Undead Labs, Carbine Studios (WildStar), and Click Entertainment.
Who, then, of the original Diablo series developers is left? Let’s take a look at some of the important names involved in developing the mechanics and atmosphere of the Diablo series:
David Brevik: Diablo Senior Producer & Lead Programmer, Diablo 2 Project and Design Lead. Left Blizzard in 2003, co-founded Flagship Studios.
Erich Schaefer: Diablo Senior Producer & Art Director, Diablo 2 Project and Design Lead. Left Blizzard in 2003, co-founded Flagship Studios.
Max Schaefer: Diablo 2 Project and Design Lead, D2: LoD Executive Producer. Left Blizzard in 2003, co-founded Flagship Studios.
Eric Sexton: Additional design for Diablo, Diablo 2, and D2: LoD. Left Blizzard in 2005, co-founded Hyboreal Games.
Ken Williams: Additional design for Diablo, Diablo 2 Producer, Diablo 2: LoD Producer. Left Blizzard in 2003, co-founded Flagship Studios.
Samwise Didier: Diablo Art Director. Still with Blizzard! However, it is unclear whether he has made any significant contributions to Diablo 3.
Ayman Adham: Diablo Executive Producer, co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment (as Silicon & Synapse). Left Blizzard in 2004, remains a consultant.
Bill Roper: Diablo Producer, Diablo 2 Senior Producer. Left Blizzard in 2003, co-founded Flagship Studios.
James Phinney: Diablo Associate Producer. Left Blizzard to join ArenaNet.
Matt Uelmen: Diablo Music & Sound Design, Diablo 2 Music & Sound Design, D2: LoD Sound Lead and Music Composer. Last worked for Blizzard in 2007; joined Runic Games in 2009.
Michael Morhaime: Diablo 2 Executive Producer, D2: LoD Executive Producer, co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment (as Silicon & Synapse). President of Blizzard; his responsibilities are primarily managerial, though he does maintain a design presence in all Blizzard titles.
Matthew Householder: Diablo 2 Senior Producer, D2: LoD Producer. Left Blizzard in 2003; joined Flagship Studios.
Mark E. Kern: Diablo 2 Producer. Left Blizzard; co-founded Red 5 Studios in 2005.
Michael Huang: Diablo 2 Technical Producer. Left Blizzard in 2003; joined Castaway Entertainment.
Stieg Hedlund: Diablo 2 Designer. Left Blizzard in 2000; joined Konami.
Rick Seis: Diablo 2 Lead Programmer. Left Blizzard in 2005; joined Castaway Entertainment.
Phil Shenk: Diablo 2 Lead Character Artist. Left Blizzard in 2003; joined Flagship Studios.
Peter Brevik: D2: LoD Design Lead. Left Blizzard; joined Castaway Entertainment.
Tyler Thompson: D2: LoD Project Lead. Left Blizzard in 2003; joined Flagship Studios.
Anthony Rivero: D2: LoD Lead Character Artist. Not only is he still with Blizzard, but he is the Senior Character Artist for Diablo 3 — yes, we’ve managed to find someone who still has an important part in D3′s design.
Michio Okamura: Diablo Lead Artist, Diablo 2 Senior Artist. Left Blizzard; joined Castaway Entertainment in 2004; founded Hyboreal Games in 2005.
Mike O’Brien: Diablo Senior Programmer. Left Blizzard; co-founded ArenaNet in 2000.
Patrick Wyatt: Diablo Programmer, Battle.net Lead Programmer, Blizzard Vice President of Research and Development. Left Blizzard; co-founded ArenaNet in 2000.
Michael Scandizzo: Diablo 2 Programmer, D2: LoD Programmer, Battle.net Designer. Left Blizzard; joined Castaway Entertainment in 2003.
Stefan Scandizzo: Diablo 2 Level Designer, D2: LoD Level Designer. Left Blizzard; joined Castaway Entertainment.
“What about Chris Metzen?” you ask. I love Metzen, who is credited for story and script for past Diablo games, and I’m certain Diablo 3 will have the awesome lore and thrilling cinematics we’ve come to expect from Blizzard, but story isn’t what made Diablo what it is, what kept people playing for a decade.
So who’s left? In short, practically no one. I haven’t even touched upon people with roles less tied to the series’ overall direction and execution who are now gone, such as Steven Woo, Jeff Strain, Andrea Pessino, William Petras, Alan Ackerman, Ted Bisson, Kelly Johnson, Fredrick Vaught, Doron Gartner, Ben Haas, Kevin Beardslee… the list goes on.
What does this mean?
Diablo 3 was not developed by the same people who developed the original Diablo series.
Throughout its development, critics have pointed out similarities between Diablo 3′s and World of Warcraft’s art style and mechanics. Should this have been a surprise? The game was essentially made by World of Warcraft developers.
Is it possible to write a sequel to another author’s novel? Certainly. But it’s easy to lose the author’s creative vision, the essence of the work, and while the result may be a great novel in its own right, it may disappoint fans of the original.
Has Blizzard pulled off a successful sequel? We’ll soon find out, but there’s a mountain of evidence suggesting they’ve at least struggled to maintain the essence of Diablo.