Snow Day

Snow Day
Secret Sauce: The Rise of Blizzard

Russ Pitts | 6 Jun 2006 12:00
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Warcraft sold enough copies to justify a sequel, which in turn spawned an expansion. Blizzard then achieved the trifecta of game sales, a "Gold Edition" re-release of all three titles called The Warcraft Battlechest. Needless to say, the little company in Irvine was doing quite well for itself. Flush with cash, Blizzard then decided to do a little shopping - for third- party game studios.

First up: Dave Brevik's Condor Software.

Days of the Condor
Condor's first effort, Planet Soccer, was a less-than-stellar 2-D offering that nonetheless showed some promise. Enough, anyway, to earn them the Justice League Task Force contract from Sunsoft.

"We were making console games," says Brevik, "in hopes of someday obtaining the clout to develop our own title. Turns out it happened much more quickly than we had anticipated."

Having met Blizzard's Allen Adham at CES, Brevik took advantage of the opportunity to plug his own idea for a PC game: "I came up with the idea for Diablo ... when I was high-school," says Brevik. "It was modified over and over until it solidified when I was in college and got hooked on an ASCII game called Moria/Angband. When we pitched Diablo to Blizzard, we pitched a turn-based, single-player DOS game."

"[Diablo] was radically different then," Says Mark Kern, former Team Lead for World of Warcraft (who joined Blizzard shortly before Diablo was released). "I've heard 'turn-based Claymation,' but I'm not sure."

Whether it was the Claymation or something else, Adham's company obviously saw something intriguing in Brevik's high school dream-game. Blizzard green-lighted the project - with a few, small changes. At Blizzard's urging, Condor changed both the genre and platform of Diablo, re-designing it as a real-time, Windows 95 game, and in the process created a game that would help Blizzard Entertainment take over the world.

"The interface was originally developed by Erich Schaefer and myself," says Brevik, "when we tried to imitate the look and 'camera' view of our favorite game at the time, X-Com. The final interface had been iterated so many times, with so many suggestions from so many people, that it is impossible to attribute it to one person."

That is, until veteran game designer Stieg Hedlund came along.

Hedlund had been working on games since the late 1980s, most-notably on a much-hyped Lord of the Rings game which was eventually canned by Electronic Arts. One day in the early '90s, Hedlund walked into Condor's Bay Area office for an interview.

"It was a small office in a B-grade complex," says Hedlund. "I liked them at once, but it seemed pretty risky and the title they were working on at the time was Justice League, which wasn't very appealing to me. I went to work at Sega instead."

Three years and a few games later, Hedlund returned, "just to say 'hi.'" He was intrigued by Condor's latest project and decided to give them a second chance.

"They ... showed me what they were working on," says Hedlund, "which was Diablo, and that did impress me."

Hedlund joined Condor almost immediately and set about streamlining the design process. "To that point, various people worked on the design, but no one person was responsible for it and they knew that had to change. We were able to work things out pretty quickly." He would go on to serve as Lead Designer for Diablo 2 before leaving the company to work on a variety of Tom Clancy games.

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