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Diablo III: The First Year in Review, Part I

Posted 29 Jun 2009 by

Diablo III was announced last year on June 28, 2008, at Blizzard’s World Wide Invitational in Paris, France. What’s happened since? More than you remember. Far too much to re-live it all, but I thought it would be fun to do some research and type up a month by month highlight reel, with links and references and such. Even just hitting the highlights, there’s an amazing amount of stuff to cover. So much that I had to break it up into four, three-month sections.

A few of the key events that transpired during just June, July, and August 2008: the splash screen countdown drove the community insane with anticipation and annoyed us with that purple penguin, D3 was announced at the Paris WWI event, the “too colorful” controversy began (and never ended), a few of the D2 team dared to comment on D3, Bashiok made his debut, the Activision/Blizzard merger took place, “Caption This” came to D3, Diablo 2 returned to the best selling lists, and Jay Wilson did more than a dozen interviews from GDC. All that, and I’ll venture to throw in a proverbial “there’s much, much more!”

Seriously, click through. I didn’t break these up into 3 month chunks just to get 4 articles out of it. The plan was to put the whole year into one post, but there was so much content there was no way to do the review justice with fewer words. Even these first three months took upwards of 2000 words to summarize.

June 2008

June’s interviews and major media. All of July’s headlines.

Diablo 3’s Secret History
Long before this fated month began, the members of the Unofficial Site Staff had known that Diablo 3 was under development for years, with various stops and starts. We had no idea when the game would be far enough into development that Blizzard felt comfortable announcing it, but when we got word of the Paris WWI in June 2008, we hoped this might be it.  The months leading up to June were full of much behind the scenes toil, as we got ready to revamp the site into a more Diablo 3-themed presentation, while also improving the D2 coverage you guys have come to expect.  As part of our efforts, we put together a fairly massive, deeply-researched article on the history of Diablo III. When all of the various leaks, rumors, Blizzard job openings, and other information was viewed in one place, it made a compelling argument that D3 was well into the development cycle. That didn’t mean it would be announced at the WWI, though.

The Splash Screen Mystery
Shortly before the WWI, Blizzard began uploading a daily splash screen at Blizzard.com. (As they had done before past game announcements.) These huge wallpaper-style jpgs appeared before their main site loaded, one new one each day, the images sequentially depicting a plane of ice breaking open to reveal a mysterious face. There were runes hidden in the ice that referenced other Blizzard titles, and even secret .jpgs with codes in their names that eventually combined to take the form of… a giant, ugly purple penguin? See an article we put together shortly afterwards for a proper retrospective; it features all the splash images, runs down the furious rumor-mongering that went on at the time of each image, and even shows the stupid purple penguin.

Our Bold Prediction
While the splash images were unfolding during the week before the WWI, every sort of rumor was flying. We, being Diablo fans, were of course partial to the rumors that said Diablo 3 would be announced at the WWI. Unlike most of the rumor mongers, we actually had some inside sources, and on the 25th, 3 days before the show, we confidently predicted announced that Diablo 3 would be revealed at the WWI in 3 days. Needless to say, this bold prediction instantly grew an eight-page comment thread which was evenly divided between “Finally!” and “You better be right about this!” We were, and it wasn’t a guess.  We couldn’t jerk you guys around, much less ruin our credibility, by guessing about something that important.

Paris WWI Announcement
At last, after a week that felt like a year, Blizzard sliced through the thick-enough-to-eat anticipation with the big announcement at the opening of the WWI event. The show opening, and all of the other WWI conferences, were streamed live. At least that was the theory. In reality about half the computers on earth were trying to load the videocast, so most fans got, at best, choppy images and no sound. Happily, most of the IncGamers crew were at the WWI, so immediately after the announcement Elly was in our jam-packed IRC chat, answering questions as quickly as she could type. We had to put the channel into moderated mode each night, and then especially during the WWI events, since with literally hundreds of people all exulting at once, it was literally impossible to read the comments.

Fantastic Anticipation
That sort of thing formed my fondest memories of the WWI announcement and the days leading up to it was the buzz of excitement from the fans. Each night as the midnight (California time) splash screen upload time approached, the number of people in our IRC chat room and D3 forum (yes, we made a D3 forum some time before the WWI) would swell amazingly. Each night there was a mad rush to be the first to post a link to the new splash screen image, and each time it happened the thread would immediately be deluged by happy commenters, most of whom had their own theories about what the image and the glowing runes represented.  The IRC during the WWI announcement was incredible, as it was all day during late June and early July.

Full WWI Coverage
There were dozens of articles, previews, and interviews about Diablo III from WWI, in addition to the developer panels, screenshots, artwork, gameplay movie, cinematic trailer, and much more. Check our WWI coverage for convenient links to everything, and see even more comprehensive coverage of every piece of D3 media from that time on the Media Coverage page.

July 2008

July’s interviews and major media. All July’s headlines.

After the fevered anticipation pre-WWI, and then the orgy of goodness when the game was actually announced, the next month was inevitably a slower one in terms of game information. While lots of WWI coverage continued to trickle forth from the various gaming (and mainstream) media who were in attendance, the D3 Team got back to work, giving just a few interviews and making fewer public appearances than Puxatawny Phil. At least that was their plan, until unforeseen circumstances dragged them forth to defend their masterpiece in the making.

The “Too-Colorful” Controversy
For most fans, their main activity in July wasn’t analyzing new content… it was arguing about what they’d seen thus far. The infamous, contentious, and apparently never-ending Art Controversy got started in July, just days (hours?) after D3’s announcement. Our first post on it was July 2nd, just 3 days after the WWI event, and even at that early stage there were dozens of forum threads debating the issue, and numerous fan-altered screenshots showing how they thought D3 *should* look.  We snapped up these images as quickly as they appeared and gathered them in the new D3 controversy gallery, which was soon running tens of thousands of views a day as every fan took a look and formed an opinion.

The Art Controversy took off like it had Tyrael’s wings, and in the days that followed there were numerous articles about it in the gaming media, interviews with defensive D3 team members, interviews about D3’s art design philosophy, comments on the “too colorful” player petition, and WoW design influences. And no, July 2008 wasn’t the last we saw of this issue.

Bashiok, When He Was New and Shiny
In happier news, DiabloWikiBashiok madehis first post as D3 community manager on July 7th. (He’d previously announced himself on the WoW forums during WWI, before there existed a Battle.net D3 forum.) He’s since made hundreds more posts, and we’ll see more D3 CMs added as the game nears release, but there had to be a first, and it’s sort of appropriate that Bashiok used it to talk about how griefing and Pking wouldn’t be supported features (or bugs) in Diablo 3.

Welcome to Activision/Blizzard Inc
The biggest news of the mid-month was the financially-massive merger of Activision and Blizzard into one huge new gaming company. All the quotes from Blizzard peeps were to the effect of, “It won’t change anything/we still have full creative control/it’s a great partnership/etc.” But what else were they going to say, if they didn’t want to end up toiling in Activision’s underground sugar caves?

The D2 Team on D3
One of the things I found most interesting in the early days of D3 was hearing what the D2 designers thought about it. Though most of them are no longer with Blizzard, they’re still working in the industry and could not be induced to say anything about D3. There was some lingering bitterness about the way Blizzard North crashed and their early work on D3 was discarded, and furthermore, most of them are still in the industry and no one wants to risk burning any bridges. Fortunately, we tracked down a few guys on the D2 Team who weren’t afraid to speak up, and while Max Schaefer (who must have been quite distracted by the ongoing collapse of Flagship Studios) had nothing but PR puffery to add, the comments by Mike Huang and Ben Boos provided some great inside info on the issue.

Flagship Studios Closes
One sad development during July was the announcement that Flagship Studios was done for. Flagship was founded almost entirely by Blizzard North employees, among them all of the original creators of Diablo and Diablo II, and there were high hopes for their new RPGs. Unfortunately, Hellgate:London’s development dragged on, a financial crisis forced them to launch the game prematurely, there were bugs and a lack of content and polish, and with the company hemorrhaging money, everything came crashing down. Though some fans were bitter about the poor quality of HGL, most wished the ex-Flagship employees well, out of gratitude for their great work on Diablo II.

 

August 2008

August’s interviews and major media, including the big info releases from the GDC show in Leipzig.  All August’s headlines.

August featured a great deal more info than July, thanks to the Games Convention in Leipzig. Even before Leipzig, interviews and D3 features popped up with much greater frequency than they had during the previous month.

Jay Wilson Speaks
D3 lead designer Jay Wilson submitted himself to numerous interviews during this month, even aside from his press conferences at Leipzig. On August 1st he talked to Mtv and Kotaku about D3’s art direction. On August 4th Jay spoke at greater length about the art controversy, offering a sort of director’s commentary on some of the most-seen fan-modified shots and why they wouldn’t work, or weren’t practical to create with an actual game engine, rather than one at a time via Photoshop retouching. The next day Jay talked about why the Necromancer wasn’t going to return in D3. Plus there were more Jay interviews on the 8th, 10th, 11th, and 12th! He even talked about the drawbacks of the D2 Secret Cow Level. (See the media coverage page for all the links.)

While Jay was dominating the internet, Bashiok was making nearly-daily posts on the D3 forums, and we even got a batch of a half dozen new screenshots on the 14th, leading up to the GDC info deluge.

Diablo II’s Resurgence
One amusing by-product of the announcement of D3 was the surge in popularity of D2. We don’t know if these are new fans being drawn in, or if a lot of you guys had just lost/broken/given away your D2 disks over the long years since that game was released, but since it first returned in August 2008, the Diablo 2 Battlechest has been consistently amongst the top ten best selling PC titles every month. An achievement not a lot of 8 year old games can manage.

Too Colorful Demographics?
As elsewhere noted, the color controversy raged on during August. All of the links can be seen in the archives, but thanks to Penny Arcade there was some levity injected into things. Witness the rage of the Necromartyr!

Runic Games
On August 11th Runic Games debuted. This gaming company is essentially Flagship Studios North reborn, with the entire (small) team who had been creating Mythos still together and back to work on a new MMORPG. (Since revealed to be Torchlight.) Headed up by Max Schaefer and Travis Baldree, Runic Games was small but feisty, and quite talkative and forthcoming, as a smaller gaming company has to be. In retrospect I felt that some of the D3 and Flagship-related questions I submitted in this interview were a little harsh, but Travis answered them all unflinchingly, so I suppose it’s all good? Another meaty interview with the heads of the new studio was posted a few days later.

Caption This
Adapting the familiar blog game to Diablo III, we posted our first series of “Caption This” screenshots in mid-August. There were one, two, three, four images to choose from, with prizes for the best caption on each. Well over 100 of you guys commented on each, and while we’ve only found the time to run one more “Caption This” post since, there will be many more in the future.

GDC Leipzig
The Leipzig GDC ran from August 20-22, and while Blizzard didn’t make any big new D3 announcements at the show, there were more than a dozen new screenshots, lots of new artwork, and Jay Wilson did more than a dozen interviews. Links to all of them can be seen on the media coverage page.

Blizzcast #5
Much to our surprise after all the GDC coverage, Blizzcast #5 was released on the 28th, and it was focused entirely on D3. In the podcast Jay Wilson joined several of the community managers in sharing their WWI memories, before segueing into good info about D3’s skill system, trading plans, making the classes unique, inventory system, the color controversy/art design evolution, and more.

Diablo III: The First Year in Review

  • Part II: Demo, Wizards, Monsters & Skills
  • Part I: Secrets, Announcements & Colours