PlanetDiablo | Diablo 3 | Preannouncement | Development History

Development History of Diablo 3

It's no secret that Blizzard Entertainment has been working on a follow-up to Diablo II since the game's release back in 2000 and its expansion's release in 2001. Here we provide a brief history of the events affecting the former Blizzard North, the team that developed the Diablo series, and its development activities from 2000 until now.

Material in this article is based on fact and quotes from former and current Blizzard Entertainment employees in published interviews. Rumor and speculation have been mostly avoided, but are clearly cited as unverified when used.

Development History of Diablo III
Moving Forward - Key Points
Departures and Blizzard North's Close
Progress on the Next Diablo Project
Additional Information and Links

Moving Forward - Key Points

A few quick and helpful points:

  • Development on the new project began as early as 2000, in addition to Lord of Destruction.
  • Employees including the group's founders left Blizzard North in 2000 and 2003 to form new game studios (ArenaNet, Castaway, Flagship).
  • A new project was being worked on long before the original founders left to form Flagship Studios.
  • Confirmed: That project was Diablo III, but Blizzard HQ scrapped that version of it to start anew.
  • Flagship Studios' first commercial release was Hellgate: London, a 3D Action RPG.
  • Although Blizzard North was closed, the remaining team was not. They were moved to the Irvine headquarters in 2005.
  • Blizzard Entertainment has for years been hiring for "Top Secret" projects associated with "Diablo and Diablo II" and "Next-Gen MMO."
  • Reiterated several times, the Sin War novels by Richard Knaak serve as the basis lore for future Diablo titles.
  • An announcement was rumored for the WWI 2008 event in Paris, France on 28-29 June, which coincides with Diablo II's release date.
  • Diablo III was indeed announced at Blizzard's WWI 2008 event.


Departures and Blizzard North's Close

Blizzard North remained strong in the face of a few instances of employees leaving the studio to form new development firms, until the founders of Condor left with Diablo II Senior Producer and Blizzard Vice-President Bill Roper in June 2003.

The departures began long before then, however.


ArenaNet (2000)

Three notable programmers including the Lead Programmer of the free Battle.net gaming service left to form the company that created Guild Wars. This marked the first significant departure to new studios that would compete with Blizzard Entertainment's existing properties.

Irvine, March 7, 2000 - Triforge, Inc. will be the next venture for Pat Wyatt, Mike O'Brien, and Jeff Strain, the three senior-level programmers who recently departed gaming giant Blizzard Entertainment. The Triforge team includes the creators of Battle.net, the world's largest online gaming service, the developers of the network code for all of Blizzard's best-selling Internet games, and the developers of Blizzard's 3D rendering technology. Their new venture, Triforge, Inc., will focus exclusively on producing top-notch original titles that advance the state of the art of multiplayer Internet gaming.

Pat Wyatt was Blizzard's Vice President of Research and Development, and was the current Team Lead and Lead Programmer of Battle.net. Mike O'Brien was the Team Lead and Lead Programmer of Warcraft III, and was the original creator and Lead Programmer of Battle.net. Jeff Strain was the Team Lead and Lead Programmer of Blizzard's unannounced project, and was developing shared technology for Warcraft III. Since announcing their resignations on Monday, February 28, the three founders of Triforge have been working closely with Blizzard to train replacements.

ArenaNet, originally named Triforge, was acquired two years later by NCsoft. A successful series, Guild Wars begat two standalone variations and an expansion released at the end of 2007. The sequel, Guild Wars 2 is expected to move into a beta test in 2008.


Castaway Entertainment (2003)

The self-proclaimed designer of Diablo II's Battle.net functionality, Michael Scandizzo, formed Castaway Entertainment with level designer Stefan Scandizzo and others. Castaway partnered with Electronic Arts in 2004 to work on an unannounced project, but since then has never revealed a game. As we later discuss, the studio has all but shut in response to financial troubles.

Stefan Scandizzo's short biography on Castaway Entertainment's web site indicates work on a 3D game following the release of Diablo II.

In 2000, Stefan started producing 3D monsters for the character team for an unannounced upcoming sequel.

Diablo II was, of course, a 2D isometric game but it had "3D" elements. This could have been for the Diablo II:Lord of Destruction expansion set but was likely for the Blizzard North team's next game. This cannot be confirmed.

Meanwhile, the company chose a striking name. Could this speak to the programmers' feelings toward Blizzard leading up to or following their departure?


Flagship Studios (2003)

The hardest hit to Blizzard North came when its founders left, taking with them the Senior Producer of Diablo II. The Schaefer brothers, David Brevik, and Bill Roper opened Flagship Studios in 2003 to develop new games with more freedom than was offered with Cendant or Vivendi Universal overhead. The four cited lack of control and security in the midst of financial troubles with Blizzard's parent company, which at the time was Cendant, as part of their motivation.

Frustrations were highlighted in GameSpy's interview with Bill Roper:

GameSpy: There has been a lot turmoil surrounding Vivendi and the attempted sale of its game division. Blizzard, for the most part, though, was fairly autonomous. How did that turmoil affect the company and you and your departed colleagues?

Bill Roper: We have always tried to shield the development teams from the corporate process as much as possible so they could focus on making games. That being said, it was certainly becoming an increasingly difficult task in many regards. While I can only really speak for Blizzard North, the uncertainly surrounding our future in regards to who was going to own us understandably caused a lot of speculation and uncertainty. Our lack of participation in the process made it difficult for us to provide any insight to the people we worked with.

Roper elaborated in Planet Diablo's July 2003 interview:

While gaining the opportunity to have long development schedules and well-funded projects, we had lost the ability to being able to directly affect, or in some ways protect, our futures. Fortunately, Blizzard always survived, and I expect they will continue to do so, even through the current uncertainties concerning the transition of the Vivendi Universal Games unit.

Namco and Flagship formed a publishing agreement in 2004 and the developer has since released Hellgate: London, a 3D action role-playing game. Flagship's Seattle office released in private beta a 2D MMORPG called Mythos. Presently, you may sign up for access to the Mythos beta.


Blizzard North Closes and Lead Developer Leaves (2005)

As a result Blizzard Entertainment's desire to keep closer watch on the progress of the North team, it closed the satellite office and moved members of the remaining team down to its Irvine headquarters. They were then to continue work on the unannounced project that had been in the works at least since the rumored scrapping of the previous secret project back in 2003.

In a statement today, Blizzard president and founder Mike Morhaime said the relocation will "improve our efficiency as a company" and "represents an opportunity for all of our teams to have regular, direct input on each other's projects."
Those from Blizzard North who were offered relocation packages "will continue work on an unannounced project," which most believe is the third installment in the hugely popular Diablo series.

Richard Seis, who was appointed head of the team formerly known as Blizzard North after the founders left in 2003, left the company a month after the North office closed to join the ranks at Castaway. Until then, he was also Lead Developer for the division's top secret project.

Before joining Castaway, Rick held the position of development team lead at Blizzard North, the company responsible for the creation of the highly successful Action-RPG series Diablo. Prior to this position, Rick, who joined Blizzard North in 1994 as one of the company's first employees, served as both a senior programmer on the original Diablo and the lead programmer of Diablo II. He has also functioned as the company's director of technology.


Castaway Entertainment's Financial Troubles (2008)

Due to financial troubles, Castaway in 2008 laid off all but six core employees and to stay afloat is searching for a publisher to acquire it.

Castaway Entertainment president Michael Scandizzo told GameSpot today that his studio was suspending operations due to financial troubles.

"If somebody came in tomorrow and said, 'Here's a whole bunch of money. Can you get back up and running,' then Monday we could be back up and running," Scandizzo said. "But a couple of weeks from now, as we slowly wind down, there will be a point by which we will not be able to get back up and running."

The studio was also said to be in separate negotiations for two projects, both of which fell through.


Progress on the Next Diablo Game

One especially key report suggests that a sequel to Diablo II was being worked on as early as 2000, when the game was released but before the Lord of Destruction expansion set was announced. Indicated by the biography of Castaway Entertainment co-founder Stefan Scandizzo on the studio's web site, he worked on 3D monsters for an "unannounced sequel" before he left the Blizzard Entertainment in 2000.

However, even though Diablo II: Lord of Destruction is a 2D isometric game, there were 3D elements in it, of course, such as modeling work needing to be done to create the new monsters for the expansion set. Let's also not forget the now defunct 3Dfx Glide effects introduced in Diablo II.

Quotes and rumors suggest that in 2003, before the big departure of Blizzard North founders David Brevik, Erich Schaefer, and Max Schaefer along with Blizzard Vice-President Bil Roper to form Flagship Studios, headquarters examined what the team was doing with its secret project and scrapped it. This, along with unverified rumors that the they threatened to resign if not given more control by Blizzard's parent company in the face of its financial troubles, may have fed the fire that resulted in the Flagship Four leaving and later bringing along a number of other key players.

Whether or not the project was scrapped, Blizzard North continued work until its satellite office closed in 2005. Members of its staff who accepted relocation packages moved down to Blizzard Entertainment's central headquarters to resume work under the careful watch of their superiors. The company also continued to aggressively hire designer, developers, and other staff while specifically noting the Diablo series and development team on said job postings.

Blizzard is still listing several employment opportunities for "Top Secret" projects also noting a "Next-Gen MMO." From a glance it appears that it has two secret projects in the works, but there are a number of possibilities. This MMO could be a sequel to World of Warcraft, which seems the most likely case, but it alternatively could be a Diablo or StarCraft universe game. Let's not forget the possibility that Blizzard Entertainment could, also, finally be looking outside its three established series' and producing something entirely new.

Since there are separate job listings noting either the Diablo series or the "Next-Gen" MMO, it seems most likely that these are respectively the next Diablo game and World of Warcraft 2.

Meanwhile, the 2008 World Wide Invitational Tournament is set to take place in Paris, France on 28-29 June. A wide array of speculation attributes this to a possible Diablo game announcement, since it connects with the release dates of both Diablo II and Lord of Destruction, which were both released on 28 June, respectively in 2000 and 2001. Blizzard also has a second opportunity this year to unveil a product at a major event, with BlizzCon 2008 set for 10-11 October in Anaheim, California.



Additional Information and Links

Fan site DiabloWiki has an interesting, similar breakdown of the history of the Diablo franchise since Diablo II's release. Note that this is not endorsed by Planet Diablo or Blizzard Entertainment, and contains considerable rumors and speculation that cannot be verified.



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