How Diablo 2 Was Almost Lost, And Why A Remaster Is Less Likely
"Irrevocably, fatally corrupted."
As part of wide-ranging and fascinating conversation at ExileCon 2019, the creators of the Diablo franchise--Max Schaefer, Erich Schaefer, and David Brevik--shared a number of stories about the series that popularized the action role-playing genre. One of the more intriguing stories came about when the moderator asked the panel to recall a scary moment in Diablo II's development.
There was one story in particular that sounds like a developer's nightmare. Erich and Max Schaefer recalled that in the 11th hour of Diablo II's development, the entire backup of the game's source code and assets was lost. "Not just our code, but all of our assets. Irrevocably, fatally corrupted," Max Schaefer said.
His brother Erich added, "It's all gone. We were supposed to have a backup but neglected it. We spent a day or two in sheer panic."
The team at Blizzard North was thankfully able to reconstruct a lot of the code and assets from the version of Diablo II that developers took home to play. However, the root code and assets were apparently lost, which means Blizzard would have a tough time making a Diablo II Remaster today.
"[We] finally rebuilt a lot of it through what people had at their homes," Erich Schaefer said. "I had a big chunk of it. Went home, pulled out the hard drive or whatever we did back then. Spent a few days reconstructing it, which ended up working fine, except that we lost all the history. We lost a lot of the assets, art assets. It would make it very difficult for Blizzard to do a Diablo 2 remaster because all the assets we used are pretty much gone. They'd have to make them from scratch."
One of the pre-BlizzCon 2019 rumours was that Blizzard was planning to announce a Diablo II Remaster, but that did not materialise. The company did, however, announce Diablo IV to much celebration from fans following the tepid reception to the Diablo Immortal announcement a year prior.
The Schaefer brothers and Brevik developed the original Diablo at their independent studio, Condor, which Blizzard acquired just before the release of the original Diablo in 1996. Erich Schaefer said the buyout couldn't have come at a better time because Condor was in dire financial straits. He recalled that the studio was just scraping by, and apparently didn't have enough money to pay some of its taxes.
"We never paid our payroll taxes. These are taxes we withhold from the salaries of our guys, and we're supposed to mail them to the government. We never mailed it to the government," Erich Schaefer said. "We were pretty much out of money. We come in one morning and there's a notice on our day that's like 'Three days to pay or you're going to jail.' It was rough. It was really scary. We scrounged up some money [to pay the taxes], and luckily the deal that turned us into Blizzard came around right at the right time to save our butts."
Also during the panel, Max Schaefer revealed that Condor signed to make the original Diablo for $300,000, which was "woefully insufficient." He said the studio, at the time, was "always completely out of money," which was very stressful. No doubt the financial security that an acquisition by Blizzard could offer was attractive to the team, which eventually went on to make Diablo II as well.
The original Diablo exceeded all expectations. The Schaefer brothers said they envisioned the game selling 20,000 copies, which would be enough to make a sequel. The game of course sold many more copies than that, and it helped establish the ARPG genre that is immensely popular today.
The Schaefers and Brevik left Blizzard after Diablo II, and went on to create new studios and work on new projects. Brevik held a number of positions at different studios in his post-Blizzard career. Among his most notable new positions was head of Gazillion Entertainment, which made Marvel Heroes. He then started his own studio, Graybeard Games, which is currently working on an ARPG called It Lurks Below. Just this week, the game was announced for Xbox One, in addition to PC.
Brevik said he sees the ARPG genre as one that still has lots of room to grow and evolve over time. He said he can foresee elements from MMOs and ARPGs coming together to form a new kind of game that is more socially inspired, with players working together to take on raid-style bosses and other cooperative elements. He said Gazillion tried to achieve some of this with Marvel Heroes, but unfortunately that game was shut down at the end of 2017.
Disclosure: Grinding Gear Games is paying for GameSpot's flight and accommodation in Auckland, New Zealand to attend ExileCon.