Diablo

2017, Apr. - Succubus & Fallen illustrations gained some color. Thinking making 3D assets at a D1 scale could be pretty fast, using a Q1 style front projection to texture many things like weapons directly from cleaned up concept art. Did I write anything about making the player feel powerful through any means other than showing damage points (e.g. using gibs)?

Foreword

The Diablo games have some really nice game mechanics which I often refer to on my other pages. Each game in the trilogy is really rather different, but I think I prefer the original. Blizzard is arguably the king of polish, but there's a certain charm to games which sprawl out like an unmanaged grapevine (or an unholy tentacle beast) trying to find grip all over the place.

However, I haven't played Diablo 1 in ages. For some reason it's not available in Blizzard's online store. It would be really nice to see a rerelease with some bug fixes, new features and video options (I know there are some fan mods which do this). It got me thinking about what I'd do if magically given resources for such an undertaking (this is my version of Fantasy Football?).

Of course, any such project is bound to escalate, so here's my escalation.

~ Simple 3-step plan to glory ~

  1. Engine cleanup, modernisation, expandability. Release as new patch/ver.
  2. Additional 2D walls/floors/props for stronger location identity.
  3. Realtime 3D models to replace sprite sheets. Same old resolution/palette to integrate with terrain, and to promote larger volume of asset creation. With 3D models, actors can show what they're about.
  4. Actually change some design things to put it further along its Rogue-like vector (ideas below). This puts it into contrast, and not in competition with e.g. D2 and certainly D3 which feel more system focused to me.
  5. Larger Tristram, new areas, quests, mini-bosses.
  6. 3-step plan huh? Well, it's 3 steps if abstracted! If a remaster or HD version gives lateral definition, then this project is purely vertical, adding depth and content to the game. Super High Vertical Definition?

Index

Diablo 1 & 2 monster redesign

I felt that Diablo's bestiary was a bit generic so I never really drew anything from the games, until now (2011/2013). Maybe generic isn't too bad. Diablo 1 was rather realistic in its graphical tone so doing Dragon Quest style wacky-bighead skeletons and colorful striking designs might be wholly inappropriate. The more I think about it, it seems like low readability is very much a part of the game. Diablo 1 is a bit like the movie "The Thing", or some Lovecraft story, where undefined evil lurks in the shadow. For this reason I don't mind the noisy low resolution of the first game too much. I should be painting these designs on a dark background, but I find that working with line art allows me to explore details better.

The idea with the monster lineups below is to develop some kind of interesting light/medium/heavy/unique/boss variants which are reasonably consistent in terms of morphology, and also take some opportunities to have some global consistency across the entire bestiary. For example, maybe all demons have certain anatomical parts which are simply pronounced differently. Maybe the Scavengers and Quill-rats are related? I don't know much about the Diablo fluff though, so I might be breaking things horribly. There are a whole buncha books that I haven't read. Then again, even Blizzard keeps changing the designs between the games.

These concepts are haphazard first or second iterations, and there are a lot of gaps (I was going to say missing gaps but then I caught myself).

Diablo monsters

My style here is a bit line-arty and colorful, but for final assets, things need to look a bit grittier, muted. It may happen automatically due to the light radius and game palette. The original fallen ones sort of looked like generic goblins. I think they're creatures rather than demons, despite looking a bit like imps ingame. Maybe hybrids? The D3 fallen ones are interesting, facially, so I borrowed features from those. Actually those might be based on what seems to be an older acrylics painting.

Having a special enemy appear now and then with a larger backpack, carrying valuable loot could give the player some fun variation. I think D3 had something along the lines of the Golden Axe thieves - they quickly escaped into warps, which is an annoyance. I think it would be more fun to just see the special enemy and look forward to slaying it (similar to an unique). At least, the uniques should have more pouches, belts, backpacks and whatever since they drop so much. Pouches are great since they can reasonably hide gold and smaller items and the player doesn't expect to pick up empty pouches and backpacks seen on the corpses. A backpack + wrapped long object could suggest weapon and armor loot (though it brings up the question why the enemy isn't wearing/using the stuff (maybe it's not compatible)).

Diablo monsters

The D1 Goatmen were great. I'm thinking... perhaps I want to vary their body type rather than color and keep them all in the same clan. Can't do speciation for everything. The Spitting Terrors... I finally figured out what was going on with them, I think... they have little pulsating blisters on their backs. The rocks in Tristram have a splintered look to them, almost like a sandy flint stone. The noise is everywhere in D1 and if redoing the gfx I think it still belongs there. Vile mother could be an unique/boss, like the Alien Queen, nesting somewhere, carefully laying eggs. I don't like enemies which spawn other physical enemies willy nilly.

Diablo monsters

More older pencil roughs slightly cleaned up. The Magma demon was just a texture swap of the Overlord so I changed it a bit. I'm thinking it has rocks or pieces of weapons stuck partially inside. My viper is somewhat close to the original sprite, but has a chinese dragon flair. The Horned demon isn't very faithful but I'm thinking it's a special version with the Fallen One rider.

Diablo monsters

Diablo monsters

I think the D3 Butcher (the final model rather than concept sketch) and its demon designs in general are more cool than scary, and a bit excessive with the horns and armor bits. A disadvantage with heavy horns on 3D models is that they look suspiciously light (and thus fake) as the figure swings around. This is however less of a problem in an older, less analog engine, as the eye expects a certain snappiness to the frames as figures turn.

I'm thinking of putting more of an emphasis on creepy with my redesigns. Using cenobite type nastiness on the uniques, and making things like horns and claws a little thinner (but not so thin they become subpixel at render size. My stuff does look quite cartoony so far because I like doing concept art with line art nowadays, but renders would look different. Texture, saturation and rendering can change the mood of a piece greatly too.

Regarding "idle activity", the Fallen One camp sites in Diablo 2 made the monster populace seem more plausible. It was done mainly (exclusively?) with props though. It would be great if some monsters have rare idle animations which could be interrupted (walked in on). Examples would be nap time, eating, doing dark rituals or just quirky things.

Side note, not omitting the dangly bits somehow makes the designs much more tangible and honest.

Diablo monsters

Succubi variants. I like the D1 ones the most, having plain demon wings on their back. Tried to make the super uniques... unique. Added a Harpy-Succubus from D2. Unfortunately, the different Diablo hells feel like they are convoluted and harder to physically manifest those of Warhammer's Chaos gods, but it would be nice if the monster designs could be branched into different themes (I started doing this with the banners). Andariel seems like she could've been the lord of wretched lust/desire or whatever, with some succubi/incubi under her command, and the Baroness being her wicked fan. I guess Andariel is unlike her mother Lilith, who apparently is the queen of the Succubi. Maybe Andariel had other interests.

Diablo monsters

Tried to get a clear picture of what the factions were by drawing some banners that I imagined the minions drew. Some big themes like Lust and Gluttony go under Azmodan's Sin umbrella. Azmodan's banner has some local Overlord on it because it thinks itself better than Azmodan. I thought Mephisto should contrast Baal. Focused, emotionless efficient hatred versus sprawling twisted gleeful chaos. This means Mephisto could use stormtrooper type minions, and Baal sends forth mutated, asymmetrical what-the-hells.

Thought a Goatman suited Belial's banner better, as those guys were tricked or played (iirc). Their lore is a bit contradictory... which would make sense if Belial was involved. Hatred is another strong theme of the Goatmen though. The minions often haven't seen their Lord (the followers of Belial certainly haven't seen his "true" form), so they take liberties when creating their banners. Diablo's banner has his typical horns and sort of etherial quality with a sort-of-Diablo's-scary-face zoom. Andariel's is inspired by "The Scream" and I added a steel rose & flower theme because maybe the anguish is "sweet". The wavy lines are meant to signify "unsettling" (tremble, sickness or spider sense in cartoon language).

Diablo monsters

Maybe it would make sense for unique monsters to use the model of a higher tier version, with a head swap and/or new texture (such as body paint, scars, luggage and unique marks.) I'm thinking of adding some wing stumps on the lighting demon to make it even more similar to the Balrog... this to give the designs a bit more flow and ambiguity, and a less disparate inorganic gamey feel.

Diablo monsters

Diablo 1 had a tendency of throwing incredibly annoying enemies at you, like those warping mages if you were a melee guy, or the knights if you were a sorc... I think I defeated Diablo after having thrown Berserk on those bodyguards of his from safe outside of his quarters.

Diablo monsters

Playing around with the idea of the Ghoul being related to the Hidden, also being a mage of some sort. I gave the Hidden night vision eyes, but they might actually be blind, if I read that ingame poem right. I'm thinking their mouth looks toothless, but they can fold out a circle of teeth when going into nasty mode.

I love skeletons, but I'm not really a fan of the colored ones in Diablo. I think they should all be bone colored, perhaps with varying equipment and level instead of re-colors. Still, the occasional group of blood skeletons or phosphorus or ash skeleton might be ok, but maybe appearing as special mobs and not repeated general enemies, and they better have some effect applied to them so they don't look painted. Some actual flames on a burning skeleton for example. Unsure how non-human skellies would fit in. Could provide some spice to human skeleton mobs, like an overlord skeleton towering over the rest. There were skeleton demons...?

Diablo monsters

Long ago, some would-be queen was too much of a wicked party animal and got banned from her homeland. She died from a mysterious illness while traveling and got buried with her loyal followers. Well, so goes the story about the Queens Mound just outside of Tristram. Excavators and looters have been avoiding the mound after some unpleasant experiences, so no one really knows what dwells inside.

Diablo monsters

I like my zombies slow, nude and crippled. Unsure if they should be able to hold weapons. I guess there could be Baneling zombies. Since the player can't "turn", giving them poison attacks is best. The yellow "Black Death" zombie would actually lower the player's max HP permanently (eek!), but it was slow so taking it out from a distance worked well. Its yellow+dark warning colors might work since it's so dangerous. Maybe on Normal the HP decrease cures itself after 2 character levels. The Ghoul... I thought they looked similar to the hidden but maybe they are a special kind of undead. Demon undead? I borrowed a little from the Diablo 3 Ghoul design. D1 ones are blueish though.

Diablo monsters

Assorted Diablo 2 monsters. The Tainted gorilla-like monster felt a bit too cool and bulky looking, so I decided to play up the creepy with nasty teeth and a starved look. Then there's the similar baboon demon, which might be the same species, but I don't know the lore. Can't tell what's going on with the face on the Wendigo and Sand Raider so I guessed a lot. I'm not gonna do a lot of variants of the D2 monsters. I'm thinking they are retroactive guest monsters (quest bosses and rare small mobs). Maybe some arrived in a mysterious urn or crate from a far away land. The Wendigo could be like a rare Bigfoot sighting outside of town (they were friendly before D2 afaik). Tamable? It's similar to the Witch Doctor's big pet and I enjoyed the presence of that.

Diablo monsters

Perhaps some poor fool finds a hellraiser cube portal thingy and a tiny bit of one of the D2 bosses (or its essence) slips through, forming a miniboss resembling the real deal. It would also cool to have a quest that plays out as a war zone with 2 demonic factions.

Diablo monsters

Some failed rhino/horned demon exploration. I think it should be more of a sturdy, chunky thing, with a nice charge look to it.

Diablo monsters

I'm thinking that Diablo's appearance (and stats) should vary depending on which difficulty that you play on. If the player arrives late (Nightmare) then there's a quest where an earlier hero has failed (Normal) and Diablo took his/her body (upgraded from the kid) (final hero becomes the wanderer?). This way a M/F Diablo design could be used. As the player starts a new difficulty, the game will have to pretend that the hero just arrived to town. Maybe some quest items need to be renamed (Butcher's Cleaver -> Nasty Cleaver). The player could be asked to pack up his items before starting a new game because in D1 items are persistent and the entire world is the stash (iirc). In Diablo 1, I think restarting the game resets the full campaign, so it's not played like D2 where saving and loading repopulates all areas. I like D1's persistence. The game could perhaps offer difficult shortcuts for powerful heroes doing boss runs. At Hell difficulty, perhaps the player's level progression is slower so the bosses could also be more equal in power, making runs on each boss more feasible.

The toy test

I've written about the toy test that I do elsewhere (LEGO Project IIRC). Basically, if I feel to put one of my designs to the test, I try to imagine it sitting on my table as a toy. Is it worth the desk space or do I put it away? There are some caveats to this test though.

Thoughts on D3's monster design

I've only watched Let's Plays of D3, so take this with a grain of salt...

D3 is indeed pretty snazzy looking and it's obvious that a lot of great artists worked on it, but I feel that there's a lot of random detailing stuff (fashion detailing) going on with the designs for some of the mob monsters, perhaps putting them more into unique character space (monsters with an art/fashion sense?). The more stuff you put on a monster, the less it looks like a plausible minion I think. Is there a hell-smithy somewhere standing around making hundreds of little curved ornate armor plates which are then strapped onto a species of beast using belts?

It's actually a difficult task to make a monster with armor and gear look like it is a part of an army, while still having it look interesting. Perhaps there are certain types of details which we accept more readily as mass manufactured? That said, I think certain factions of hell very well could have a twisted fashion sense that they are enforcing, but I think there needs to be clear visial divisions between the hell factions for this to work and Diablo doesn't have that in the same way Warhammer does (Tzeentch, Khorne, Slaanesh, Nurgle).

Diablo monsters

Details are a bit like color schemes. I like to pick a primary and secondary, a minor third, and there might also be colors like skin tone, bone, leather and chain metal which are naturally appropriate on certain spots. The same goes for greebling up a fantasy or sci-fi design. There might be the curved triangles and spinal repeats as a dominant scheme. That's what I tried to do with mister Rakanoth here. I felt he was just all over the place with his various components. The blades I scaled down to fit my style better. It just looks kind of fake with those seemingly ultralight huge things flailing about as the model twists and turns and goes through attack animations. I think my version feels a bit too sci-fi.

The Armaddon is pretty cool looking, but I don't understand what the armor bits are doing on it. The elbow spikes sort of look cool when they poke up (meant to look like a bat or ptera?), but the primary weapon of this thing is probably the maw and claws so I focused on those. Put a collar on it to suggest it's a loose dog, and made it a sub species of my Tainted (gorilla-nastymouth) design.

Started fiddling on the Subjugator. Unsure how it earns its name. There are so many malt-cross body shape big-armed designs in D3 that you'd think it's related to Digimon. Look up Devimon and Andiramon. I don't mind the gorilla arms too much though (I think I do them myself quite a lot).

Perhaps for the second iteration of these designs it's time to go through every detail and think about function. What does the detail suggest/evoke? A dog collar with a snapped chain would evoke that the thing is loose and really should be tied up. Can it be given a cool function? Tyrael's wings are not just props, they are his facial expression and weapon. Maybe the chest of the Rakanoth opens up for a shoot the core? Maybe it's a reuse of a piece from another monster and the player can tell? Cubone's skull. Maybe there's a piece of actually interesting lore which could form into a detail and help deliver the lore visually? Butcher's apron. Maybe it deserves its place due to being pleasantly and memorably creepy? Alien's banana-head.

Also, I think the spells are better of looking like pieces of parchments, though similar in presentation. They could have a light touch of color. I think doing colorful paintings of fireballs and such breaks 4th wall a little whilst a parchment piece seems more native to the game world.

Visual atmosphere and suspense

X-COM 1 is quite cartoony and lacks gruesome torture scenes, but still manages to remain scary because it has so few and suspenseful (fateful) encounters hidden just outside of vision and behind creepy "did I hear something?" "music". Diablo is more action-gamey and spam-happy with enemies so I think I needs to retain the creepy and muted graphical look of D1, and do what it can with the light radius / LoS and variation in enemy frequency and fauna to keep the player... uncertain but curious.

Still, D1 was not without suspense. There was the fear of running into a Black Death zombie, or opening a door (to find Spitting Terrors eating through your potion stocks in seconds), the Butcher, or when you stupidly charged too far into a room and got stun-lock surrounded by creatures storming in from the surrounding darkness. I felt that these particular deadly encounters were still reasonable. Yes, a pack of Spitting Terrors were nasty to the Warrior, but you could flee, (ab)use the often cramped terrain to your advantage and pick them off one by one. It broke up the "walk into the thick of things and hack away" monotony of the game (well, actually you'd probably stand in doorways and choke points with the Warrior). I found the game's tendency to rubber-band the opposition annoying and artificial though.

If a game is very even in its difficulty scaling and play, no encounter will ever matter. Quirks are a part of the game's character I feel, and they can put the player in new challenging situations. A Sorcerer might be forced to go melee/golem for some time because of enemy immunities.

The Butcher was overpowered, and his charge relentless, but I sort of enjoyed the fear of opening the door to his quarters, then running across the map with him on my heels until I found a place to take advantage of his poor wit. He wasn't difficult because he supercharged or teleported onto you, or did instant ranged damage leaving you hapless and frustrated. You could work with him (and it helped to scout for an ambush site in advance). I guess there can be something pleasant about wrestling out of an unpleasant situation.

I think it's a bad idea to add enemies which can pop out of nowhere or somehow appear near you at any time or do instant damage, because then being careful where you tread loses some of its meaning. If the game is designed around it, then the hero has to be a little ambush proof and safe, meaning s/he can strut around in a more carefree manner. The player should care.

2D vs 3D

While I really enjoy finding unique enemies in Diablo, palette swapping feels archaic (especially when it comes to regular enemies). I suppose it was an affordable and worthwhile way make the game seem a bit richer in content... but the visual effect always bothered me. Maybe there's a way to make enemies look more unique, given the mount of processing power that we've got today?

It might be possible to just make a single 3D model of a typical specimen, then distort it into the needed variations, saving the artist a bunch of work. Rigging and animation shouldn't change much (though I don't know much about 3D workflow). There could be a tool for turning these 3D models into 2D sprite sheets automatically. Perhaps such a tool could even be integrated into the game and run on the fly. Perhaps these days computers are fast enough for realtime AA, shadows and stuff though? I'm still developing for the Amiga so what do I know?

Three cheers for the guy in the skeleton armour! But look at that stone wall and tree. The game doesn't care if five of those trees are on the screen. Also, the Yeti has tons of hair.

Enough people for a party, and this is in only 640x480. The designer has more freedom to go nuts if there's no limit to the amount of stuff on screen.

It's hard to get a good screencap of the details on these guys. The Vile Mother has a ribbed and spiny tail with little protrusions which show in certain frames. The Regurgirator's face is a mass of tentacles, and it has individual bony fingers and sort of wobbly skin with some fat folds which show in profile.

From what I've seen of D3 (while certainly polished and nice looking) it still looks a bit chunky and polygonal (not sure if it was a purely artistic choice). The terrain has many big solid shapes, often clipping right into wavy ground planes in that typical 3D way. The monster skin surfaces look a bit smooth too... 3D still has this feel of everything being wrapped tightly in plastic wrap (similar to a robber face in stockings). The 90's rendered 3D look, while primitive has a quite different manifestation. Also, D1 has a chiaroscuro look with the strong black shadows and terrain self shadows. I'm guessing shadows are omitted on lower settings in a 3D engine.

Also, when frames and snappy angles are used like in D1 there's a digital feel to the mechanics. I think the lack of analog, ambiguous states does things to how the player reads the game. The often overly smooth animations of realtime 3D are artificial in their own way. I'm looking at you especially, ragdoll corpse sliding along the floor on butter and in low gravity.

Perhaps the rarely animated terrain could be 2D, and characters high poly realtime 3D rendered somewhat fancily, but to low-res (and using low-res frames since too smooth 3D animations feel inappropriate). The polycount savings would allow for some gritty thin details on the models, avoiding that robber-stocking aesthetic. Shadow casting and AA would be essential for the look. If D1 uses a 256 color palette (?), that's a good way to gain some coherence. Using 3D models allows for more customisable characters of course and that's worth a lot. There are much less gains to be had with 3D terrain in a fairly static game like Diablo 1. Going 2D is an opportunity to carelessly go overboard with grit.

I suspect some of the terrain is actually partially painted in D1 and D2, but I don't think the pixels on the individual character animation frames for the characters and monsters were hand optimized much, if at all.

Pinups

Necromancer, Amazon-Rogue, Corruped Rogue

Necromancer, Amazon-Rogue, Corruped Rogue (neither very faithful). Also Jamella. The women in Diablo mostly wear some kind of flimsy loincloth rather than a bikini bottom. Diablo 3 is more embroidery happy than its predecessors. D1 feels very bare bones and realistic in comparison (when it comes to plate mail design and such). I'll have to try drawing something a bit more quiet, at least for player characters. It seems unlikely that daemons would drop fashion items.

Rogue

Thoughts on armor truncation. Would be interesting to do a male and female body (which can be any class) (and may have varied skin tone for the sorc), and then do the on-character looks of D1's normal armors (<20?) (the actual 3D models could probably be pretty sloppy if they don't have to be optimized for realtime rendering). The icons for the found armors would then vary slightly in appearance from those. No boots, to keep things simple. Could compensate with more jewelry since it's invisible on the character.

Sorc Rogue and clubs

So many clubs. Well, they are the best weapon in the game. Removed nail/spike on the original club. At some point these turn into spiked clubs or maces. Not sure where bats fit in as they are essentially long clubs. Also, soft leather armour and rogue in sorc's robe (as it looks on the sorc 3D model). And maybe the Succubi drops their thongs? Hey, enchanted thongs aren't crazier than enchanted rings! Yes, and the mummy queen also drops her outfit. That's how it has to be.

clubs

Test render. Maybe too cartoony to work as a texture. Was thinking simple weapons could easily be speed-modelled, then use projected textures.

Random idea: The armours have to be brought to town to be retailored. It would explain why stuff dropped by monsters fit both human males and females. Might hinder the flow of the game though. Along the similar vein, weapons could be personalized for a hefty sum, somehow boosting them or just allowing the player to benefit from their true stats. I also talk about "wearing in" items (and item types) somewhere else (sort of like item leveling).

spiked clubs

Just some spiked clubs. Not sure if these would truncate reasonably into a single graphic for the animated player weapon. Maybe clubs, spiked clubs, maces, morning stars, war hammers share just a few graphics somehow.

Male armours

Some restructuring of the armor item tiers. I'm thinking Full plates are mostly well made and sturdy, whilst Fancy/Ornate plate are more focused on magical bonuses. Maybe some enemy attacks ignore magical bonuses? Skimpy plates let through more criticals, or perhaps have two defense values (full plate and zero) used at random.

Thoughts on combat

As for skimpy clothing on the females (or barbarians, I'm not bothered by unrealistic armor when the related combat mechanics are so abstracted. If you have war axe, it doesn't matter if you hit with the pointy spike (stab), the blade (forehand), or the hammer (backhand) - it just does its damage number and you have to whack that Goatman 12 times getting its health points down to zero. It also doesn't matter where you hit (an attack is just a click), so you can't really stab the girls in the bare midriff for a critical.

Also, Monsters often have arbitrary resistances and stats, and info like that is rarely ever communicated to the player in an intuitive way. No monster ever drops what it's actually wearing. Instead you have stuff like bee swarms dropping breastplates and town portals.

Most computer RPG games are about popping the bubble wrap and climb that nonlinear level curve. See those damage numbers float over the heads of the enemies. So, with systems like that, the issue of practical armour design hasn't really bothered me. All I need to be told as a player is whether my outfit looks cooler than before... so it's relative. One might even say that sexy armour "affordable" with systems like these (could be optional though, and maybe there ought to be some Yaoi type speedo armour for the males?).

That said, I think it would be fun to have a swing (forehand, backhand, stab) * effort (jab, normal, fury) combat system where you can have fun combining blows against enemies, not stabbing the skeletons, not clubbing the fluffy yetis, not cutting the armoured knights. The magicians have fun with their spell combos, but melee could really use some combo mechanics. Right now it's like a shoot'em'mup where you just hold the fire button. Of course, D2 has some complimentary skills for the melee oriented classes and such, so maybe I'm just not exploring the depth of the game properly.

I actually programmed the aforementioned combat system for a Golden Axe project, but ended up doing no animations, because a lot of them would be needed. It was one of those projects where the design doc became so detailed it kind of turned into working code...

Anyways, with warhammers/picks and crossbows around, it might almost be safer to run through dungeons unencumbered in just your shorts (and some magical rings + mana Shield). A more realistic combat system introduces tons of plausibility questions/problems.

Another idea I had was that the player could switch between the last equipped weapons (tagged as secondary once unequipped). Dex would be used to determine how fast this switcharoo is (shouldn't be instant). This way a hero could adapt easier to new monsters appearing.

Thoughts on features and game mechanics

Here are a few of Diablo's features that I liked or didn't like and what I'd change:

Boss runs

If you were stuck in Diablo 1 I think you had to reset the entire game world. Your character kept its stats and gear but had to run through the early game. It was pretty easy since the D1 levels were relatively compact and puzzles were optional (iirc). In Diablo 2 it was enough to save and exit the current play session to reset the enemies and bosses. This made sense since the game was larger and more tangled (too large for my taste). I can see the merits of both systems. It's quite fun to revisit D2's Andariel and defeat her several times just to see what she drops and how much more powerful your character has gotten.

Maybe there's a way to include a 'runs' feature without breaking fourth wall. Three ideas:

Save scumming

If you can save and load anywhere, it would of course be possible to take Diablo down to 1 hitpoint, save, then repeatedly load and kill him until you get the desired drops. I do like how D1 is persistent, and different from D2 where you save and quit, and restart in town with the enemies replenished. I don't think everyone would like to play on hardcore (permadeath). If the player has lives, then the "runs" mechanic might suffer since the player would eventually use up his lives on Hell difficulty, destroying the character.

I'm not quite sure how to solve this, but I'm thinking since D1 is persistent and not terribly memory hungry, it would be possible to generate the entire world with mobs on game reset (new game). Each individual enemy could be given a random seed to be used by the item generator, and this way they would drop the exact same thing every time they're killed in that particular game. It would increase save-game size, but perhaps the seeds could be hierarchal with each level having a big seed, which then generates the dungeon and mobs. This way at least unvisited levels wouldn't have to be saved in detail.

I was also thinking that if the player can only save in town (via NPC), then each venture into the dungeon is like mini-hardcore mode. However, I don't think it's fun to die and have to redo stuff, and since the player can town portal, he can still sort of save scum on bosses (though a rapid HP regen on bosses could remedy this). A limited amount of saves per character level wouldn't work when the player is close to maxed out. Only saving after quest completion means the player can just complete an easy early quest and use it strategically at a difficulty later point in the game (though there are only so many quests in the game...). This just gets very complicated...

It's further complicated by the mechanics of Shrines and Crafting. If a certain Shrine blesses and curses items, it doesn't matter much if the selection procedure is deterministic. They player can save scum in either case, and get his awesome items blessed and a bunch of junk items cursed, or just don't use the shrine if it's being mean. Crafting random items would suffer similar problems. I guess crafting could be associated with a quest, which means autosave, but maybe the player wants to craft more often (if there's gonna be any crafting).

Any other ideas? Saving and Loading could have some sort of cost associated with it... Gold*character level, a sacrifice to the savegame/reincarnation gods. Loading then uses up this gold and if the player runs out s/he has to start a new game (not losing the character). If the player dies 20 times in a row, maybe s/he needs to go back and level up anyways, right? And at least s/he's got new dungeons and quest picks to go through. Also, there could be a mild Hardcore version where death = forced new game but no character loss. Yeah... maybe?

Shrines

Diablo 1's shrines have both good and/or bad effects, which can present interesting choices and I think they are a worthwhile element of the game. In D2 shrines are either good, or deal damage, it seems. However, for a beginner it's hard to tell what effect the D1 shrines will have. I think obscurity of information isn't fun nowadays because it's so easy and tempting to get a guide, and after you have that, it's just a chore to look stuff up. I would consider the solution of having shrines which gives a clear clue what effect they have, and give them effects which are both good and bad. One example: cursing 25% of the items and blessing the rest, when laid in front of an activated shrine.

The Rogue-like solution is to have the character guess the effect based on Wisdom. "No clue", "Some good some bad", "Curses and blesses tho random items". Then the player will have to take a chance based on this hunch. The game also saves to avoid the reloading dilemma.

Rubber banding

Item and enemy rubber banding is... I poop on it! If it has to be there, I'd explain it carefully with a plot blurb at least. Maybe the monsters had time to level up and/or grow in numbers because the player arrived too late (hard mode). Generally though, rubber banding makes my effort feel meaningless... especially in Mario Kart with the AI's always staying on my tail. In D1, if I'm not mistaken, the enemies would match your level somewhat as you descended into the next dungeon floor. I also don't like when drops match my level. I'd rid Diablo of this great evil.

Item restrictions and shops

Level caps and stat caps restricting item use always seemed like such a sloppy, knee jerk solution to prevent players from 'twinking' their character. Yet, I'm not really sure what the alternative is, but I can think of a few candidates.

If an item is judged too good to be equipped on a low level guy, maybe it can be equipped but there's some negative effect, like a "difficult to handle" bow possibly breaking, having lower accuracy, or the player being clumsy because of full plate weight, etc. Maybe the stats of the item halve. This doesn't make sense when it comes to magical rings or very light boots though. Maybe you can just wear the damn amulet because you found it and its your reward?

Slightly related, it could be interesting to add a stat (a sort of passive magical harmony stat) which amplifies magical bonuses on gear. This way the player can make a no-magic-all-strength-Conan type character by not increasing this stat. Feels like one stat too many though. Might be better off as a class trait or difficulty setting.

Shops could be used to transfer items between characters. The shops would assume that the characters don't know each other, so all items would have to be bought at retail price (with the funds going to the seller). This way items which you would normally just discard/sell would feel more useful as your other characters could eventually pick them up. This feature requires that gold can't be sent to other characters of course. Given how D3's auction house fared however, I'm not sure if this solution is a good idea. The fun seems to comes from finding stuff yourself, not just having an awesome stash made by your max level guy or some other player. Maybe the game session universes should be kept separate.

Or, the game could simply allow twinking, perhaps even include it as a core mechanic. One example could be having permanent death of characters, but with a permanent treasure room acting as the actual character. Heroes are simply guys helping future heroes.

Modifiers on normal items

I'd like to see some special special traits on white (normal) items. An overall positive performance results in a Superior flag, and a lower one in an Inferior one. Blue items can on top of this have magical "Enhanced" (Enchanted?) modifiers.

End of the line

You'll gradually pick up better and better items in Diablo, and eventually the Warrior might have something like a full plate. Unfortunately this makes the endgame things look kind of samey. It might work to offer some very rare early items normalized-to-high-level at the later levels. For example, there might be a very special unique club or some such. Shouldn't be overdone, but I think it would mix things up a little.

If I recall correctly, the sorceror had his path formed a bit by luck, which I'm fine with. Eventually there were tomes to buy. Maybe the player can "build" his character by asking Adria and merchants to bring home certain kind of items from their suppliers (I'm assuming they must have some). For example, a sorceror may ask Adria for resurrection stuff and those will be a bit more likely to appear (than others), over time. I like the idea of chance, choice and limited supply forming the character.

Diablo 1's mobs

D1 seems to place groups of the same monster in rooms or in corridors, and I think this works just fine. Occasionally the player will attract different mobs which will mix together pretty nicely. My only wish is that there were more variation to the looks of the monsters, and all of my sketches above is an attempt to address that.

I like opening doors in D1 and be shocked at what's on the other side, then doing some strategical placement of myself or fleeing heads over heel (room full of Spitting Terrors). Chamber of bones was a favourite, with that little square room just packed with skeletons standing waiting.

Resistances

I think the resolution of D1's resistance system works fine. Monsters either have no resistance to an element, or 75% (resistant), or 100% (immune). As a player you'll easily notice the difference, which is important when the game doesn't quite communicate damage well. Of course, if monsters could actually wear and use some of the loot which they later drop (like I've suggested elsewhere), other resistances might come on top of those that are innate to their bodies. I think the monsters should use a data structure similar to that of the player so you can get this kind of behavior for free.

Inventory management and cleanup crew

Unique and special items really makes Diablo, I feel. In some games you just collect fruit, gems, or regular items. Getting items with random-ish stats makes Diablo feel like it's personal and I think the game did it well with the names and different item colors. There's some issues with the too small stash (inventory Tetris) and lugging stuff back to town. I think it would be better to be able to toss stuff into a town portal and clean up the mess later. Perhaps the player has a house and the town portal leads into it. This way town portal transfered items end up inside of the house which seems more sensible than scattering the stuff about in public.

Or how about this... some brave (but not foolish) fellows hang around town. When the player has cleared a level (ignoring trapped barrels and such) there's an audio cue and maybe lighting cue (like in the Den of Evil). Now the player can town portal back to town, talk to the guys and they will march into the portal. There's momentary a fade to black (time warp) and soon they return, having cleaned the level of items. These items are now presented in a list, the player can grab the ones s/he likes and the rest are sold. It'd be a bit like how the map is automatically mined out in HomeWorld once the player has completed the objective. It's assumed that the guys deal with trapped barrels competently (maybe one of them is a trap expert). This way the player won't feel pressure to TP back with every valuable but un-equippable thing and can concentrate on slaying.

In D2 I felt like there was no point in optimizing the equipment early on since you got much better stuff if just pushing towards the next act, and that was a shame since it diminished the fun aspect of item hunting a little. Unsure what to do about it. I suppose optimization is best left to the endgame.

The player will find a lot of items. It would be cool if some of it could be donated to the townspeople, improving the town defenses, or maybe given to mercenaries or NPS on certain locations. Selling feel like too much like deleting.

Of course, D3 added item dismantling and crafting. I like how this feature possibly makes drops more varied. Enemies which wear stuff that normally just teases the player could drop scrap metal, fabric pieces and other material. The game shouldn't get so pickup busy that it's distracting and derails the player from the spelunking. Personally I wouldn't mind seeing some tempo variation in enemy frequency - some quiet areas with more scary encounters, and some more spammy areas with poorer enemies. Perhaps this way the player wouldn't be defeating a gazillion huge armored Knights which all present the possibly valuable full armor corpse or materials.

Finding off-class items can be annoying. One solution to this, and the monotony of playing in general, is having a stable of characters in town. However, with finite enemies, you'd likely have to focus on leveling one character so it's perhaps not much of a solution. Another solution is to include a jack of all trades class... but D1 sort of already supports this (Mage can wear armour and fight, Warrior can cast spells, etc.)... which I like.

Health potions

While the potion spamming felt like a silly reaction mechanic (miss a key press and you're dead, otherwise be almost invulnerable), it's still a part of D1. It's already inconvenient to use potions from the inventory rather than belt, but maybe that aspect can be tweaked a little. I know D3 tried some alternative solutions like temporary immunity (which forced the player to break off the fight and hide) and diminishing effect (spamming was less effective, but apparently people just spammed more).

In D2 I think the regular health potions took some time to fill up the health, and if a potion was active it worked like health regeneration. Maybe this effect could be stacked? Use a few potions and you have health regeneration (intensity and duration stacked with diminishing returns) until the effect wears off. If the player spams then he sacrifices often needed endurance since potion stock is limited. Unsure if drinking a potion should take up a few animation frames. The game is about getting into the thick of it, after all. On the other hand, tactical retreats are also a part of D1 (looking at you, Spitting Terrors).

Random thought: Taking damage could work the same way as filling up health in D2, but it drains really fast (fraction of a second). This would give the player some time to respond. Not sure if a good thing.

Atmosphere

I've heard people say that D2 was less scary than D1, and I think I agree. I think this had to do with the early areas setting the mood. D2 had the safer looking grassy plains, funny imps, sexy rogues, porcupines and yetis. The early D1 levels were set in a gloomy dungeon with undead lurking about in the grayness. Both games were pretty gruesome though. Blizzard is going to run into problems with D3 if they want to continue to go in that direction, as they would have to make zoomable HD models of tortured naked bodies. I'm guessing that they're going for a wider demographic (as the more cartoony graphics and N64 color blotches seem to indicate), so we're gonna see more cool+gothic+skullpile and less guro. * This was written in 2010-11. D3 did have some Succubi breasts, but the gore was more... pants still on body. D3 doesn't seem to have closed roofs over the dungeons which makes it less claustrophobic (epic hall vs cramped crypt).

Minimap, map structure and landmarks

D1 and D2 used the map overlay, whilst D3 uses a minimap. I think I like the less obscuring minimap solution better, coupled with some strong landmark props to help players like me who have problems twitching the eye to the minimap (which is of of the reasons why I'm bloody awful at StarCraft). I'd like to see more variation in floors and walls, as well as locations/rooms which seems functional. Just variation in floor tiling would help a lot. D1 uses one big floor chunk per level, which helps level identification but it makes the level look monotonous.

Diablo style map generation

Content density and diversity

In D2 in particular it feels like each Act has two zones too many per Act (or the zones are just too large). By the time I get to Act III (Jungle), I'm pretty tired of wading through hue shifted enemies. Act I had a few grassy plains too many too. Act II had pretty good environment variation. I think I'd rather see a more compact world (lots of stuff to do in a small space) with reusable areas (e.g. perhaps some low level area gets repopulated later in the game).

Purely decorative items would also make slogging through the dungeons more interesting. Could be simple stuff like floor tile variation, rooms with some once used furniture, etc. In D2 the fallen ones have camps, making their presence seem more realistic. Even stuff like wall placement and room layout can be made more memorable and interesting by tweaking the map generator. There could also be lore relevant terrain, like statues with a story behind them.

I think D2 had too many treasure chests, reducing the impact of finding one (they mostly spilled forth junk).

Character/Monster variation

Although some would say that game pieces need to be predictable in order for a game to be (tactically) readable, I wouldn't mind seeing some variation to regular monsters as well. It might be possible to piece unique figures together from parts providing that the parts are rendered with body obscuring in mind (I think D2 did this). Anyways, as long as the overall look and behavior of a certain kind of monster is coherent, I think a little variation will make the setting seem more plausible and less like clone-wars. Also, this way, monsters could be made to drop something looking close to what they are wearing/wielding sometimes, and this makes the game more interesting tactically I think. Maybe a little Fallen One has found a magical dagger and uses it on the player, and later drops it? If a player is able to spot the special weapon, it might be more fun to try and get it. The monsters could carry unseen stuff as well, of course.

But if monsters drop their gear, won't this create a mess of drops on screen, also making it difficult for players to click-move around without picking junk up? I think this can be solved with two item highlighting buttons. One which shows all items within the light radius (I think the light radius mechanic is important for the game's atmosphere), and a button which only looks for "something special" (doesn't show the common crap). Non-highlighted items scattered on the ground might actually look nice as terrain spice/props.

Light Radius

The light radius was both good and bad for the player. A larger radius attracted more enemies from the surroundings, but made it easier to see things (by the way, I think the player should be able to spot items on the ground within the light radius but not outside). The light radius also has another important feature - it turned enemies into dark silhouettes if seen at a distance, which made the game more atmospheric. I've talked about this elsewhere... Diablo 1 is lowrez and sort of muddy and grainy. One might think that readability is a good thing in a game, because the player needs to be informed so he can make fun choices responding to the tactical situation in the game. However, part of the excitement in Diablo 1 was the fear of undefined things lurking in the dark. Unfortunately the game worked against this when each level had so few enemy types and so many repeated enemies that it turned into a hack and hack "click fest".

Blessings

In Pokémon the monsters have passive abilities (wakening up early from Sleep, heatproof, etc). Maybe something similar could work in Diablo. Each character could roll, say three blessings at the start, but these would be invisible until mid-game when the player is blessed by some NPC and gets to choose a blessing out of the three. This would prevent the player from just rerolling the character during creation. The blessings could be stuff like... attract radius = half of light radius, extra stat points or some stat boost or raised max cap, natural resistances, natural magical ability, less damage from undead, reduced stun, repairman, etc. It could be something to look forward to when playing (a bit like seeing which quests you get).

Sense of history and community

I think there are some similarities between the two first Diablo games and Megaman Legends. In the first game you stay at one place, growing familiar with the characters. Connected dungeons are just nearby, with shortcuts opening up as the game progresses. In the second game the content has been spread out and diluted in favor of showing off more terrain types.

I did like how the starting town in D2 was connected to a plain. I think the town in D1 felt a bit isolated and disconnected (like a small set). While I prefer the catacomb descent layout of D1, It would've been fun to be able to walk out of the town and find out how desolate and corrupt the adjacent lands have become (devastated by Leoric in his madness, and/or by foul creatures which eventually surfaced). This would connect the player to the sense of loss indicated in the story and intro video. Upon reaching the map edge, the player could voice disgust about not solving the obvious problem (or he's just boxed in, or maybe if he leaves it's game over :o).

It would be interesting to have some minor side quests unlocked by stats, like having enough Str to push aside a rock (or push a rock into the spring of the lake to drain it, revealing a hatch in the lake bed. This would give the Warrior early access to the area, but this could be compensated for with annoying ranged enemies inside. But what's good about annoying? I think it's better to just let the landscape of the game be different for each character to increase diversity and encourage multiple playthroughs. The tree could be connected to the church (an old secret escape passage). Maybe it has to be climbed (using Dex). Inside the dungeons, there could be an area which must be teleported to.

It would also have been interesting with a flashback where we see the town full of people and colors, before it was devastated (was it a capitol at some point?). Perhaps the game could open with a non playable ingame segment (deterministic simulation) showing some monsters emerging from the cathedral, causing all sorts of trouble before being defeated (well, someone torched the town). A party of heroes is sent into the cathedral (those who refuse to fight are hung on Leoric's order). The game cuts to "some time later" with the hero character coming back from a trip to the now corrupted hometown. This setup would directly explain the low population, as well as giving the player a bit of extra motivation. Seeing things happen in an ingame format is more relatable, I think.

When the game starts the player finds himself in the midst of the remaining standing houses, haphazardly repaired by the last, persistent town folks. Evil has since subsided but every now and then a stray zombie or nasty little critter appears at the edge of town before being dispatched by some lone rag-tag guard.

Corpse persistence

Disappearing corpses reduces immersion (Aww, the game removed them) and my sense of achievement after having mowed down a horde of enemies. It also removes navigationally important landmarks ("hey, this is where I killed those guys"). It also makes things really hard for my skeleton-only-Necromancer (stuck on Diablo). Since Diablo 1 is 2D, having a zillion corpses and drops sorted in memory buckets should be well within memory and rendering limits. The only drawback I can think of is that it gets messy on screen in certain situations.

Character development and Spellbooks

D2 classes felt a bit too restrictive to me. I think I prefer D1's character development system where you can mix things up a little, having a warrior who can cast a firewalls and stuff when he needs to. It's a bad thing to allow every hero to achieve the ultimate/maxed state though, because I feel that each play-through should have a different angle.

I liked D1's spellbook system for learning magic. In general, we learn stuff from other people, books, by repeated doing, and by magic (That's how I learned to draw. The witch just laughed and said something about paying later... as she flew off on her broom).

I do feel that it could be interesting if the player could have some more choice in guiding the development of his magic, investing more in one path than another, but since the books are found randomly... I suppose there could be a limit to the amount of books that an be read per level, so if the hero has a library of books, he has to choose more carefully which ones to read. This would prevent an achievable ultimate state with all magic learned since there's a limit to the amount of books which can be read. The random nature of book drops would also force players to improvise somewhat with the hand they're dealt (to achieve some kind of convenient synergy) rather than being able to freely choose the "best build" every time. Magicians could be able to read more books per level because of some stat they're likely to be good at and/or some constant associated with their class.

As for the character stats (Str, Dex, Vit, Magic), they are capped to a certain value in D1 (e.g. Warrior can only get 50 in Magic). I think it's actually possible to max out all of the stats with elixirs and leveling. I'm not too fond of having an achievable ultimate state such as this, but the problem is that resources are infinite since the adventure can be restarted. Maybe it would be sound to have the hero becoming partially then fully resistant to elixirs. The hard cap on the stats could be softened so raising does less after soft cap is reached, and eventually nothing when the hard cap is reached. It feels more... organic. Of course, raising a stat after the soft cap has been reached would be inefficient use of the points, but I like having the option to make strange character builds.

Game difficulty

Like mentioned earlier, I'm not a fan of rubber banding and difficulty-based changes to the game universe (like some measly tiny bat suddenly becoming a menace on Hell difficulty). On higher difficulties I'd much rather see new types of monsters appearing, better equipped, or old types appearing earlier, but monster count and monster level (only if visible to the player so there's some kind of explanation) is probably easier to tweak. I can imagine the hero arriving late to the party being a good explanation for why the monsters are further along their evil plans.

In Diablo the Sorcerer was overpowered and I don't really mind being able to use quirks like this as a difficulty setting as well. I don't play PvP so class imbalance is not something I'm offended by. It would be interesting to have a villager class, i.e. a class with no particular talents.

Another idea for a difficulty setting is to support some typical "self-imposed rules", such as no blue/yellow item drops, Permadeath (well, that's hardcore mode ain't it? Best coupled with a graveyard gallery). Playing against the class is also interesting, Maybe a time limit for the speed runner folks, but I really don't like being rushed when playing.

Thinking about it, I don't quite like the idea of beating the game thrice. A lot of content would have to be made if each difficulty has to be a little different. I'd like to play through the game on Normal, then go directly to Hell which is focused on boss runs (restart game to reset). To support this, Hell would use almost flat-difficulty across the levels and come with the shortcuts unlocked. Here I would polish my character, first on the mini bosses if I'm a bit underleveled/undergeared, then on the big bosses.

So, after I beat Diablo on Normal I'm already pretty high level. I restart on Hell and the game now pretends that the Normal mode hero died (mentioned by Deckard Cain). I'm the new more powerful hero who arrived to town weeks later (Deckard informs me that I'm much too late).

Because I was late, the bosses and monsters have almost maxed out their power. I don't think the Normal mode hero did anything major as that would require an explanation as to why things have been reset. I was thinking he might have opened the shortcuts, but maybe these opened by themselves as Hell is preparing for their invasion (Deckard Cain could mention how the hero is too late because Hell could invade any minute.)

Tristram could look in worse shape because of this (unlike Normal mode where the shortcuts are player-opened). It could be achieved my making the shortcuts look worse, and partially sacking some of the houses, maybe adding some demonic looking ground-claws around the cathedral, opening up the graves, modifying a tree or two so it looks nasty (no leaves and more cancer).

If given more resources, the arrival to town intro video could be changed. The original for Normal, and for Hell we see some hell-smithy making Diablo's armour.

Player avatar

Maybe it's Diablo's thing to have different looks for different classes, but I'm thinking it would be possible to make class and look independent. The look will be set by the items worn anyways, unless there are just really few avatar versions like in the original game (with armor worn often grossly mismatching the look of the avatar). I think for this to work, wizard type gear shouldn't end up with warrior type bonuses. A Rogue armor might have a more slender look to it, with the warrior armor being more bulky looking, getting in the way of bow strings and whatnot. Not sure if this makes sense, have to think about it.

Animation

Diablo 1 is very rigid and almost stale in its feel, with the the grid based mechanics and the 90's animation style. Some might consider it a bit dull, but there's something enjoyable about understanding the quanta of the game, with not much analog flair obscuring it. There's something suitable and real to the subdued animation of the idle D1 hero. D3 has more Korean RPG style posturing (and outfits).

Sketch style for lore books

Deckard Cain at work? Maybe too well drawn, how about this one? Here's my attempt.

Ancient-skool illustration

Images like these should be passively present (manual or quest tomes). I don't think they would work in a dramatic presentation. Note that the artist haven't really seen a real skeleton or doesn't have good reference, so many details will be off.

Achievements and unlocks

I don't like when these are announced as they break 4th wall. I don't need to be told that I killed 10 skeletons. Everyone kills 10 skeletons so it's a completely arbitrary interruption of no interest. However, when you kill 30 monsters of the same type in D1 you get to see their stats, but I'm thinking it would be better if the player remarks about this (audio cue). Maybe Deckard Cain mentions it next time you talk to him and adds a Pokédex entry that you can read. If the game is interesting, the player will actively pay attention and pursue information. When the same information is forced on the player, he might just go, "Oh." or "What is this? Not now".

Quest Tomes

As far as I know, the main quest system in D1 is pretty simple. A lore book pedestal will be placed somewhere in a level. It details the quest or the level, and the town folks will comment on what you've read. It's probably tempting to add little independent pieces of lore scattered about, but maybe it would confuse the player, making him or her wondering of something needs to be done. They'd have to be in a completely different format so the player can keep them separate from the to-do list.

Monster announcements

I'm not sure if I like chatty bosses. A one liner is fine, but more taunts from them doesn't make them more scary. I can imagine a situation where the player runs into a thing and doesn't know what it is, and it starts doing creepy things and then, bam, it's a manifestation of Belial. I think breaking the "it's coming, the boss is coming... any minute now... here he is... he's saying plot things, and... now you can kill him, wait, he's saying more plot things!" format would be... fresh.

Let's playability

Diablo Let's plays are rather dull to watch. Why is that? It can be meditative to play, but that's internal to the player. There's not much worth commenting on perhaps?

The game needs more significant events. It is much about optimizing the player character (character builds can be somewhat interesting at least), but an onlooker doesn't see much of this because in between "level-up!" and "new skills!" are long segments of small increments, like hack, hack, hack, new sword with slightly higher DPS. With fewer and more dangerous mobs, time between significant events could be shortened and loot more interesting. Both D1 and D2 felt a bit padded anyways (not much change in scenery or opposition).

Diablo has few fateful encounters requiring an interesting tactical solution (bosses are exceptions). Maybe with fewer encounters, the game would be harder and tactics more important and worth commenting on? A lot of the time you plow through mobs and dying can be a rare surprise even when you thoughtlessly just hack things up. You really only need a few moves to make headway. Even in the newer games where the move/attack library is seemingly larger, it's locked into a progression ladder/tree and specialization pays off so you rarely see a player in an interesting ballet of 12 different moves. Diablo doesn't have situations like in StarCraft where you scout the enemy, see his ball of Vikings, then prepare a counter with Hydralisks or whatever the choice might be. By the time you engage enemies in Diablo, it's sort of too late to fiddle with the inventory.

The game suffers from outcome monotony. If the player fails, he probably just dies. If not, the player is hurt slightly and the enemies die and drop something of little or no interest to the big picture. How could player fail states be more interesting? Maybe the equipment breaks from a spectacular enemy blow (but could be fixed), or the player is disarmed (drops sword and is forced to rely on backup). Victim of some fancy spell (she turned me into a newt!). Spectacular fatalities! Insanity (enemies turn into weird things). None of these effects should be spammed to the point where they become mundane though.

I've talked about combat elsewhere. A forehand, backhand, stab system might provide something to do in hacky situations (the player might decide to not stab skeletons). I've also talked about having a hotkey to a secondary weapon. The player could have a bow or mace on his back and switch to this when needed.

The Barbarian has his leap which might be a bit too spectacular for the Warrior in D1, but the idea of being able to break out of a surround of weak enemies with a tackle is appealing. D1 had consumable spells which worked a bit like grenades, and I think this aspect can be tuned up by making these perhaps quite powerful and something that you save up for that special encounter (where you can spectacularly succeed or fail) (casting a powerful spell above your level could be possible, but disastrous - an interesting gamble).

More stuff could be done with terrain. I think D1's various closed spaces are more interesting than open spaces where tactics can become samey. In D3 the player could lure the monsters into terrain traps but they seem more like a curiosity since there are so many mobs and in some cases the traps just took some HP away. What if Leoric was a pain and you saved that trap earlier just for him? If the game is difficult, the player would treasure these traps. Maybe save the glue trap for those pesky melee knights and laugh at them, bow in hand? Could be a glue spell too. The equivalent of a Zelda 1 meat lure could be used to make mobs go where you want (small room, lock door with key, cast firewall). Abuse is at least interesting. If the effect of the player's cleverness is too weak, trying to do interesting things doesn't come into play.

Comments on similar (looking) games

I actually haven't played that many. Titan Quest looks like it has a more active town with guards defending the perimeters, but I don't know much more about the game. I never got to play NOX, but I liked how the line of sight was pronounced. Baldur's Gate had that nice space-bar pause feature and I really liked going berserk in the town. I'm ashamed to say that I never played Planescape Torment or Arcanum. Or Jagged Alliance. I think I stopped playing Fallout when I found out that my character wore grannypanties or something. While some of these games might only be graphically similar, I should probably investigate them further, because I'm open to experimenting with the action RPG formula.

Torchlight is maybe a bit too cartoony for me. Actually... I don't mind cartoony. It's just that it's Malt Cross cartoony. I liked those kind of proportions when I was younger, but now I prefer... well, the opposite.

To simplify things a lot, I tend to recognize three main proportion styles:

Tree trunk proportions can be cool for certain kinds of blocky mecha (Asimo-like) (using blockyness as a consistent theme), but when it come to armor and demon designs, I want to see some more variation in silhouette flow. I've been avoiding doing demons with Rhino/Brontosaurus (yes I will continue to call it that) legs. Maybe the Shambler is somewhat excused though, because it's all stompy and I just want to hug it. It's arms/hands are pretty OK anyways. I like how the lowpolyness of Quake forced the pointy simplifications of silhouette.

Creating an identity for my Diabloesque

If I were to make a Diabloesque game, I think it's important to give it an unique identity, both in terms of setting and game mechanics. The game would need some kind of punch which gives it instant character.

Setting

It's perhaps more common in sci-fi settings to use a clean, orderly society as the evil antagonist. There have been a few games where the player fights for evil (e.g. Overlord, Dungeon Keeper), but what if evil angels were to invade a peaceful underworld? Instead of having chaos, gothic ruins and skull totems spreading across the land, dull, clean, pompous architecture and orderly columns of mindless angels come marching in.

There are a few problems with this setup. It's a lot easier to think of interesting evil-monster enemies than it is to come up with a varied good-guy bestiary. Equipping things on the morphologically diverse bodies of hero monsters is another problem. Perhaps the player is a very humanoid demon, with monsters being mercenaries or summons.

As for the angel monsters, it might be possible to take classic monster designs and style them with clean clothes, pleasing symmetry, and strict stature. Monsters could be absorbed into the angel ranks in the opposite way that angels are often corrupted in typical RPGs (i.e. they would be tidied up).


Random ideas

Scribble: GUI. I can't use the HP/Mana globes from Diablo, so I came up with a new innovative shape called cylinder (plus clingy stone babe).

Idea: The player can roll/design and manage their coop/mercenary NPCs as if they are player characters. Actually, Diablo 2 : LoD kind of did this. It's an interesting concept to play around with, but it might be frustrating to have a character that you've invested into die because the AI is crap at controlling it. Maybe the player can switch between the characters, or another player can jump in.

Idea: Items can be "worn in", increasing their efficiency when used by owner. When "wear in" has been maximized, the item can be named. Rationale: This feature will increase the character-item bond and make the relationship feel more solid. Being able to just swap out items left and right with no effect makes that relationship feel more flimsy. In real life, we both have close relationships to inanimate objects, and we grow used to handling them or wearing them (cars, pencils, shoes, etc).

On top of this, the player could grow proficient in using, say certain types of weapons, like swords, maces, bows. I can see many approaches to how the level-upping would work here:

Idea: Forcing the player to grind on new enemy types by reducing the XP earned from commonly defeated monsters. Weaker enemy types could have their XP yield depleted faster, because the complexity of the interaction with them is lower. Perhaps the XP yield could regenerate, encouraging the player to move to new areas, or old areas.


Mechanics

My preferences always have a leaning towards less gamey games. With gamey I mean mechanics or visuals which break fourth wall and tells you that you're playing a game. Examples are:

So, if I could have my way, I would design a game which could stand a little player abuse, or demand self-responsible players.

Scrap everything!

New idea! Diablo should be like X-COM (1)! Base with heroes of a holy order (Horadrim? Demon hunters?) who scout out and stop demonic incursions (sort of like Ghost Busters). As they progress they find and identify (research?) demonic artefacts, reverse engineer arcane magic, find ingredients for spells and enchanted weapon and armor. They'll see horrible death on terror missions and witness gruesome sacrifices in demonic lairs (bases). I wonder what the equivalents of the Skyranger & Interceptor ships are though. TP, Vimanas or dragons? Maybe some different mechanic? Long distance portals (cumbersome to set up) might work. X-COM's intercept sub-game wasn't all that. The simplicity of D1's classes fit pretty well... they're more like talents/proficiencies really. Could work like those animé game radial-stat diagrams, a polygon with sorc, warrior, rogue vertices.


- by Arne Niklas Jansson, 2011