Monday's GameSpot News entry - written after spending a few hours with Diablo II's main man and Blizzard North president David Brevik - prompted reader mail wanting to know more about Diablo II, Blizzard North, and even some information on Brevik himself.
So it's not Watergate, but spending a few hours roaming from office to office as the Diablo II pieces are being assembled is enough to make you feel like you've got a prized backstage pass to a killer concert. Here's a little report to answer questions contained in various readers' e-mails.
Some 30 miles south of San Francisco, the Blizzard North offices are located in a snug nondescript complex of low office buildings. The buildings sit adjacent to a marina stocked with almost-elegant motorboats and sailboats.
The dozen or so offices that make up the Blizzard suite could easily pass for a well-run travel agency. Or maybe a subdued import-export concern.
Looking for the prototypic wild-eyed game coder? Think again. Music's not blaring. There are no heavily pierced dudes drunk on deathmatching. This is no motley crew.
Window shades are uniformly drawn, leaving some of the hallways almost impossible to negotiate. I use the distant light of computer terminals to chart my course down the dimly lit halls.
As this is the day after the company reached one of its self-imposed milestones, the place is quieter than usual, I'm told. But it is fairly obvious this office is a place of work and concentration. (OK, there is the game room with arcade games Gauntlet, Karate Champ, Galaga, a vintage Atari Star wars cabinet, and a Star Trek pinball machine - but the room is empty of people.)
Monsters are being studiously drawn and redrawn by one of the designers. A background artist is consulting the three terminals that flank his desk - each lit with finely drawn backgrounds (Honore Daumier I presume?). Conversation is quiet. There's not much that fits the category of distraction in these offices. Even the box of donuts in the kitchen - still full at noon - has obviously failed to draw a crowd.
What does draw a crowd - of two - is the latest build of DII. In the now-darkened, windowless conference room, Brevik and one of his colleagues are taking The Amazon through her paces. As reported Monday, the art compositing is in, the flaming sword is in (see today's screens), the real-time lighting and shadow casting is in, 360-degree character movement is in, and the absence of load screens is a pleasure for everyone in the room.
Brevik is battling monsters, changing head gear, exchanging weapons, scrambling through the randomly drawn wilderness, and rendering extemporaneous opinions as to the quality of gameplay - taking mental notes to apply to the game's next build most surely.
He's also getting lost quite a bit. As the lighting moves quickly from daylight to night and then to daylight again (this is done in the demo to show off the shadowing and lighting effects) it's sometimes hard to recognize the way out of the graveyard or monastery. In spite of losing his way here and there, Brevik is clearly pleased with the latest build. "This is exactly what I've wanted to do since I was in sixth grade," he says with a glint that lights up the room in spite of the darkened setting.
At 30 years of age, David Brevik of course finds himself sitting on a potential retail blockbuster. Diablo I - as it's often referred to here - has sold about 1.8 million copies for the PC. If there's pressure from Cendant Corp. brass (Blizzard North's owners) to meet or exceed that figure, well, you'd never know to look at or talk with Brevik. Think nice guy in sneakers.
"I worked on Diablo in my mind for five years before working on it." But you can hardly get Brevik to talk about DI. Almost as soon as Diablo was wrapped, Brevik says he and the Blizzard team started thinking of what they could do to make it better - what they would do if they had a second chance. Namely, just the things gamers are going to see in Diablo II.
"There's an urge to implement all the things you learned along the way with Diablo I into Diablo II," says one of the designers. At the end of DI, the finished product was "hyper-analyzed," said another designer. "You see so many little flaws you almost can't stand it anymore.... You have to do it right the next time."
After about three hours knocking on doors, talking to anyone slow enough not to move out of my random path, and eyeing the donuts (box still full), it was time to go and leave the Blizzard gang behind to push Diablo II to its next level.
"When you finally do a sequel, you say 'Ah, we can finally fix all the little things that weren't exactly right,'" says the remaining coder in the room.
Time to go. Time to let the Blizzard team get back to work.