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David Craddock and Two Blizzard North Co-Founders (Video 2 of 2) 14

Posted by Soulskill
from the lots-of-corporate-slashing-and-burning-behind-the-scenes dept.
In this video, we continue our conversation with author David Craddock about his investigation into the early days of game studio Blizzard for his new book, Stay Awhile and Listen. He's joined by Dave Brevik and Max Schaefer, two of the co-founders of Blizzard North. They talk about keeping games accessible, the importance of getting the amount of background story right in Diablo, and whether the creators of these early games have any regrets about them. They also talk about designing The Butcher. (This is video part 2 of 2. The transcript of Part 1 is now available, too, if you care to go back and read it.)

David Craddock: That’s something a guy described to me as the ‘mom test’, right. So your mom can sit down, and be getting skeletons in a few minutes just as easily as any of your core games up there.

David Brevik: Yeah absolutely. That doesn’t apply as much anymore. I don’t think that simply because my mom is much better.

Jeff Boehm : So that kind of dovetails in a little bit to another bigger question: Today it seems like there is a whole segment of gaming structured around metrics and analytics and getting people, eking every last ounce of attention they can out of boomers. Is that something that even entered your guys’ minds back when you were making Diablo?

David Brevik: We were concerned about one metric – unit sales. We were hoping that we could sell 20,000 copies of this game. Our dream would be 20,000 copies and we’ll be set - we’ll be able to make another game. Beyond that, I mean obviously the metrics that mattered back then, were kind of review scores and unit sales. And those were really the only metrics that mattered then.

Max Schaefer: There were no CCU, DAU, or APUs or any of that. And all we had to really go by at that point, having no data, and doing something kind of new, was making something that we thought was cool. Those were simpler times.

Jeff: David Craddock, is that when you interviewed further employees and the guys who made Warcraft and up on through the years, is that been the case as well, or have you seen a shift in how that’s done?

David Craddock: No, I mean that’s pretty much the vibe that I got, nobody was really thinking you know, fast cars, big houses. Everybody had a bonding around what they thought was fun. In fact, that’s something Dave, Max, and Erich encouraged at Condor and Blizzard North. It was if you had an idea, just kind of run with it, and code it up, and see if it works. And if it is so, yes; if not that, better to _____2:24 and get ready to argue but the merits of a good idea, and everybody was really focused on that. It was about making, I think that is the best metric for anything really, I mean it is kind of and going by what Dave said earlier where you are passionate about something - it is not really work, it is you are having a lot of fun making it. And doing what’s best for it.

Jeff: So we talked a little bit about the Rogue like games with Diablo II and Diablo I or Diablo II or _____2:53 do you think there is another level to that at some point, are we going, at some point, want to build a like a full 3D immersion Diablo ten years in the future?

Max Schaefer: I know I want to. There are universal themes to this game that are going to persist forever. The idea of having a guy that goes out and adventures and slays monsters and finds _____3:21. You know, that’s going to be around two hundred years from now in some manifestation. And I think that we succeeded with Diablo because we kind of brought it from the old school of thinking to a modern graphical presentation. And that’s something that just as technology progresses, someone will be the person to do the iteration of that with that new technology. - it’s inevitable. And I think a lot of it is stuff that we didn’t invent. Certainly we didn’t invent bringing a guy out to adventure and kill monsters. We just developed it. And that is going to keep happening I think as long as we are alive.

Jeff: That makes sense. There is one user question or comment, kind of both, that struck me as interesting. He said that when he is playing a game like Diablo he really wants to hear all he can about the story of the game - what’s driving the developer and the inventor to go down and do this, versus when he is in a game that’s just built around a story and there is just quest x after quest x after quest x, he often just clicks through it and looks towards the reward. Was that something you guys wove deliberately into Diablo, this kind of rationing out the story a little bit?

David Brevik: Yeah, I mean, yes. That was intentional. There were two reasons really why: One is that we weren’t really big story fans, we were game fans. And two, we didn’t have very many resources to work on the story. So there wasn’t really a whole bunch of story to write.

Max Schaefer: Even if we had the resources, we wouldn’t like people to like read a wall of text between killing monsters. It’s we want you to be the story. The story is you. And your guys triumphs and passes through these corridors of monsters. And so you kind of make the story. And we wanted there to be a context in a world that felt like it was alive, and felt like people had stories and things were going on. But it is always an intrusion to stop your game and stop your adventures to read RPG text. Which is rarely satisfying anyway.

Jeff: Well, for not putting the focus on stories, you guys managed to create some very very memorable characters.

Max Schaefer: Yeah characters are good. Stories you know, you have to do the minimal amount of story to actually create characters and give you the feeling of a rich and realistic world. As soon as you go overboard though, and start talking about the things, that the guy stops caring about, you kind of lose the guy as a player. And so you always want to stop it and it better stop short of giving all the details than give too many details in my opinion anyway.

David Craddock: And I know that one thing that appealed to me about Diablo right away, was you start in Tristram and it is this town that is bathed in twilight and crome, but these houses, a lot of these doors are ajar but they are empty. So it is like oh did they abandon the town? Were people snatched from their beds at night? And then you go in and you see these visual cues like you see a guy bleeding to death in front of the church, and you are like I don’t want to run into whatever did that to him. And it was all conveyed visually. And I think that Diablo still stands as a test, not to how to make a story, how to tailor it for a game, walls of text, just take up all the stuff and you feel that impressive atmosphere just closing in on you as you descend lower and lower.

Jeff: So I have got to ask: Who is responsible for the butcher?

David Brevik: I actually don’t recall the details of how the butcher made it in there. I do remember the story of Jan Davidson _____7:26.

Max Schaefer: This was the couple that owned Blizzard at that time, Bob and Jan Davidson.

David Brevik: It was a company that they an older couple owned the educational company; so they catered basically to kids. And then she comes in, first time she sees the game, she sees the butcher role, and oh my god what have I gotten myself into here? “Is that full frontal nudity?” And yes, it was. You know, there were very healthy young males back then that employed good violence apparently and I don’t remember exactly who came up with the butcher room. I remember that when we made a tile set that it ended up being part of this tile set we just kind of iterated and went to town. And I believe that it was Erich but I don’t clearly recall.

Max Schaefer: What made the butcher though was the balance of him was spot on, the first time you went and got to the butcher room, he would make a great noise, all of a sudden he is out, and then he will kill you. And that was usually your first time dying at least your first time legitimate screen and indecisively dying in the game. And I think it was timed perfectly and it is something that has been very hard to recreate in subsequent games.

David Craddock: I would like to jump in with a couple of points. I have to agree with Max that the butcher was such a great learning tool. Four years ago demon souls came out, I got really rapt up and the first night I played at the first level, I went right instead of left, you run into this monster that just strikes you down, and I remember thinking of this is like butcher I am being told don’t go here again, go left instead of right - I didn’t need a wall of text to tell me that. And I think I can answer the butcher question, as the legend goes (or Max might remember this), Erich Schaefer said, to the end, we need a quest I will pay five bucks to anyone who writes a quest because we just need some stuff some words in this game. And I believe it was Eric Sexton an artist on the game who came up with the butcher. Eric said he worked on the models of butchers later and he said he took the warrior in robe models, stripped them, impaled them and splashed blood all over them. So that’s as the legend goes it was told to me.

Max Schaefer: Very believable.

David Craddock: I got that from Eric Sexton, he said oh this looks too realistic, you want real, well I don’t like custom, I don’t like browns and brown for a villain, and I actually posted a screenshot of the butcher’s lair on the publisher’s tweets today. And it is still one of the rooms that people remember: Ah fresh meat and everybody has that experience, and the butcher just slaughtering them to hell.

Jeff: So if there’s one thing you can go back and change about the development of Diablo, or any of the early games, what would it be?

Max Schaefer: Boy, that is a tough question. When I look back I think there were so many times where we got just incredibly lucky to be able to just survive as a company. And so many things were timed out just right to conspire to make it work, that it would seem almost I don’t know presumptuous to try to pick something that we would have done differently and done better. Gosh, that is a good question. Dave, I will let you handle that because I just I think it was such a fun time. And yeah, we made horrible mistakes. And did a lot of things right. But you learn from making the mistakes. So I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t want to go through that again. Because you learn more from what you did wrong than from what you did right in a lot of cases.

David Brevik: Yeah, I agree. I think that I don’t think I would change anything that we did, I thought that we did it – I enjoyed working with the team, I enjoyed doing what we did, I am very proud of Diablo and you know, I wouldn’t change anything about it. I think that it wasn’t stuff that was wrong with the game, or that could be improved or anything. Sure yeah there are flaws in anything, but the fact is I am super happy so I wouldn’t really change anything.

Jeff: David Craddock, in your interviews have you detected anything akin to remorse or regret or do you think the other guys would probably say the same thing?

David Craddock: No, in fact I mean that was one of the questions I asked, I was after as many perspectives as I could, I crammed into this book, and no remorse or regrets. I know that the primary emphasis which is something I explore in Book 2 Stay Awhile and Listen was that hacking got really out of control and bad on it simply because there wasn’t a lot of knowledge back then of these sorts to build a very stable multi-player game. I don’t know if it could have been because there wasn’t a time when either division of Blizzard had the resources for server side storage or layered game just to prevent players from jacking their strength from 90 to 9 million or whatever you could do. And so I know that they said well, you know, if there is one thing that we wanted to do better, it would be multiplayer. I think Erich Schaefer said he had a wish list of things that he wanted to do for a sequel and that has had the ball rolling on Diablo II.

David Brevik: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Any of the things that we felt like we didn’t do, that could be improved upon with Diablo we put into Diablo II. And so that’s really it would be for his list that Erich had that really guided us in Diablo II. And again, I don’t think there were stupid things we did like the fact that it was peer to peer, Diablo I was peer to peer and could be completely hacked, we didn’t think anything about it, like well there might be some hackers, you know big deal. So if a few people kind of ruined their games but then we didn’t believe in the logic that one step further, and say, “Oh crap, it is the internet, they could just put the cheat up and everybody can download it. _____13:53 so that one little step that was missing, but at the same time, even if they were to finish Diablo I _____14:09 pretty much in the entire development time of Diablo II, so I thought in the end, it was the right thing to do.

Jeff: So I have a couple of more quick questions: Do you guys still do any coding at all?

David Brevik: I do, I am not supposed to.

Jeff: Why are you not supposed to?

Max Schaefer: He has other things to do.

David Brevik: With a company of 150 people I can’t I shouldn’t be coding. I think that I do a lot of coding on my own just doing prototype stuff I don’t actually code on the games any more.

Max Schaefer: And I was an artist so I never coded. And now like David, I am a CEO so I do a lot of faxing of documents or scanning and sending of documents. But I am mostly doing some design work still and still enjoying it very much, still feeling creative and have a lot of ideas and what to do with games these days, but yes, it has become more of a business role these days. The guys we have are so much are so talented that I’d just get in their way for the most part.

Jeff: Do you miss doing all the work, for all the long hours, the crazy nights coding, and making everything work?

Max Schaefer: Well, you know at the end of projects it is still that way, it is still the long hours, it is still testing and getting all the last minute details arranged and so we still do that. And it is still fun after it is done. When you are in your third night of no sleep it is rough, and sometimes it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But there is still a thrill of getting through those periods of projects and getting the game out, and seeing what happens. It is still just as exciting as it ever was.

David Brevik: Yeah, I agree I think that I still really enjoy doing what I like to do. But I also have romantic notions of what it used to be and look like. “Back in my day” I sound like a grandfather or something, “I coded everything in assembly language - you kids and your modern C Sharp.” I think the romantic in me goes ‘I could do this by myself if anything.’ I did. Then, I was 20 and had no responsibilities. No, wait a second. No it doesn’t make any sense at all. Now I got a family, it is responsibilities beyond just myself. It is much different time in my life.

David Craddock: I have to say just one thing I learned in speaking to Dave, Max and Erich and all their employees was what, something Max said, he said, the guys are so talented that I would get in their way. That was the kind of approach those three took to running Blizzard North. And they are very humble guys. They always downplay it, but that everyone else I talked to, really praised them. They would be they said, I believe it was Patrick Tougas who is an artist on Diablo said, “They hired me to do what I do, and they certainly do it. And I really appreciate that and they really helped me get my start.”

And it is so different from today where you hear about a lot of big companies where everyone has very pigeonholed roles and they have a certain agenda you have to complete for the day. Whereas at Diablo, you know, there were obviously tasks to get done, there were milestones to hit, but they were also allowed to just take the ball and then just run with it. And make something fun. I believe it was Kelly Johnson another artist who said that if you would have removed one person from the Diablo I or II team, the game might have ended up so different. Because Dave, Max, and Erich allowed everyone’s personality and their idea of what was fun, what was cool, to go into that game. So I mean I really thought about that and it is like if you were to remove a slice of that, who knows how Diablo would have been different. Would it have been this epic franchise that we have today?

Jeff: So David, I was wondering if you could take a moment and explain the layout of your book. Because it is kind of a unique layout, I’ve got the e-book version, it is kind of a new layout.

David Craddock: Yeah, I decided to publish it in e-book version first and think I wanted to do that to cater to the format’s strength, rather than read from point A to Z, I felt there was a lot of information I have, and in fact that is one of the reasons I split the book from 1 into 3 so that I could share everything rather than leave all of these interesting stories on the proverbial cutting board. So there are what’s called side quests as we filled it into the game where when you come to a marker you can tap it and jump to this little anecdote that kind of just builds on the _____19:17 where you are nibbling on a main chapter and then from there you can just go back to where you had left off. Or you can just ignore all of this and read all the way till you get to the end of book, and still the enjoy the main story without missing a beat.

So I was really proud of how that turned out. And I think it allows the book to appeal to a lot of readers. People who want a story, that happens to do with video games, gamers who want to know about their favorite wizard games, even if you are a budding developer, _____19:48 gamers. Diablo is this classic enduring game if you want to find out why it has stood the test of time, without the book being a jack of all trades, master of none, so I think I am really proud of how the format was done. I think people could find it enjoyable, and they can dig down and _____20:08.

Jeff: When can we expect the other books to come out?

David Craddock: I don’t know. This is my biggest nonfiction project and I kind of view it as, I am not playing with my action figures, I am playing with someone else’s so I want to treat them very well, I want to make sure that I have all the facts I can, all the perspectives I can. I wish to follow on in the main book before I decided to divide it into thirds. And so I think it is safe to say I am releasing my sequel two next year. I am going to pull up wizard and say when it is done.

Jeff: Fair enough, fair enough. Max, what are you working on these days?

Max Schaefer: Well, last year, we published Torchlight 2 at Runic Games. And it has done big for us and we are going to have some news about that coming up soon, some new stuff. And I am working, the company as a whole is working on a new project and a new franchise that I can’t talk about yet. But it is not Torchlight it is something completely new. And we’ve got a couple of other little surprises in the works that I am giving you a lot of very vague Blizzard like answers because I can’t talk about them yet. But we got a lot going on, that over the next several months we will able to talk in more detail about.

Jeff: Cool. Dave, how about you?

David Brevik: Well, we released MOBA Heroes about four or five months ago now, and we are working on that. We are in all sorts of patches, we got a big journey to ASDA Art coming up in the game that coincides before the new Thor movie that’s coming out in November. But we are doing a whole bunch of bowing to the gods, so we’ve been really focused on that, and that’s done pretty well.

Jeff: Great. Well, gentlemen, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me. Before we go, David pointed out that today is Max’s 37th birthday.

Max Schaefer: It is.

Jeff: So congratulations, sir.

David Craddock: Wait, how many candles are there? I was gone with my sources responding this morning, Diablo helped me light the candles, my mercenary he killed my mercenary so there were so many candles and some of my helpers thought it was so a lot of sacrifice went into the cake, a lot of sacrifice. My wife is the one who Photoshopped it along with the cake, she has also the done the cover for Stay Awhile and Listen, and cofounder of her publishing company. So we just want to wish you a happy birthday and many happy returns.

Max Schaefer: Oh thanks guys. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

Jeff: Alright. So happy birthday. Thank you gentlemen very much for joining us. And take care.

Max Schaefer: Thanks for having us.

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David Craddock and Two Blizzard North Co-Founders (Video 2 of 2)

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