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January 12th, 2000

[6:00 AM] A First Look At Diablo 2 From Blizzard Entertainment by Cory Harrison

Prior to Diablo's release a few years ago, anticipation for the title could be physically cut with a knife. There was a distinct lack of good quality dungeon crawling RPGs available for the MacOS, and Blizzard had an instant hit on its hands when Diablo was released. Despite the lack of a detailed and robust story, and the relatively small number of levels, the game filled a niche for Mac gamers that was previously barren and went on to be a commercial success. Blizzard's next project, Diablo II, is shaping up to be another huge sensation. The Mac Observer was there to check it out first hand at Macworld Expo San Francisco. Screenshots of the game are available at the conclusion of this article.

Diablo was a great game, no doubt about it. It had its inherent flaws (relatively small levels and the game didn't take long to complete), but considering the game was already over a year old when Mac gamers got their paws on it, this can be forgiven. However, the random weapon generation, or "rarity" feature, three separate character categories, several difficulty settings, and hordes of evil and slavering monsters out for your blood saved the title from the dustbin. Searching out that perfect combination of magic weapons, plate mail, crown, ring and amulet became an addiction worse than heroin. Building up each character online destroyed many a relationship and ruined many a career...and those trials are about to begin all over again with the introduction of Diablo II. So divorce the wife, send the kids to Grandma's, and lock the door, we are in for another epic ride.

I managed to get a brief interview at the show with Brian Love, senior quality assurance analyst for Blizzard Entertainment. When I arrived for our interview, he looked a little besieged by the hordes of fans crowded around the one terminal he was lovingly stroking as he showed off the features of Diablo II. He seemed a tad impatient as he answered my questions; then again, if I were asked "when is the game was going to be out for the Mac" 38 times an hour for five days straight by hordes of teens, I would be close to cracking, too.

Brian walked me through the Necromancer character for roughly three experience levels of play, which gave me a fairly comprehensive idea of the various new additions and improvements found in Diablo II. First of all, he explained, the game will be made up of four acts, each of which has one town. Each town has a surrounding countryside to explore, with one or more subterranean dungeons or caves. Most subterranean areas are one level only, but occasionally you will find multiple levels. The total game will consist of four CDs, with a DVD version to possibly come later. As the Necromancer walked around the town, chickens ran underfoot, and peasants and townsfolk wandered around certain areas, giving an added level of realism to the game's environment. The Blacksmith, for instance, would walk about her place of work, fiddling here and there, then go back to her anvil and begin to pound on a weapon in progress.

A new feature will allow you to sell an item to a store or blacksmith, and when you come back you can buy it back at an increased price if you decide later that you want the item. No more magically disappearing objects! Another interesting feature is the storage chest. Each character gets a storage chest, allowing you to collect items and treasure that you don't want to sell or drop. The chest is found in town and when you move to a new town, it will follow you on the next courier cart that comes along.

Day and night cycles are now a part of the new Diablo experience and, along with weather effects such as rain and lightning, give the game a truly creepy and dark feel. Snow has not been added, but has not been ruled out yet. (It would be nice to see a splinter adventure go up north to a snowy wasteland with winter beasts ravaging at your flank.) The rain effects are particularly nifty. Lakes and rivers produce rings on the surface of the water as the rain falls, and reflect beautifully.

Blizzard also addressed the problem with items that are dropped as your enemies die. In Diablo, the monsters you defeated would fall into jumbled piles of limbs and bone, potentially obscuring any rings, crowns or daggers that may have fallen in the melee. Now, a fallen item is identified by a glitter and when the option button is pressed, a tag appears over the item identifying it.

Graphic effects have also been added with the support of 3-D acceleration. Both 3dfx and OpenGL will be supported when the game is released and will add features like improved transparencies, improved color depth, smoother transitions between light and dark, smoother shadows, atmospheric effects, and improved frame rates. Spells looked fantastic, and the beasties were particularly cool to watch. The gaming environments look to be much improved on the previous game, with forests, grasslands, lakes, rivers, bridges, and ruins added to the Diablo world. Shrines have been re-done, and now you won't be faced with cryptic titles for each. Now, the shrines aren't named, but titled according to their function. (Personally, I don't see this as a good thing, as the hazardous nature of temples made the original game a little more interesting.)

There is now a feature everyone will be very happy to hear about: running! You can now run your character around an enemy, away from a nasty fight, or back and forth between town and hostile territory. No more 10-minute walks to get back to town when you forget to equip yourself with a "Scroll of Town Portal". A newly designed "Quest Log" looks to be a well thought through feature that allows you to keep track of your character's missions. The weapons system has also been re-vamped, with a new "socket" system, and the addition of "sets." Brian described "sockets" as being spots on your magical weapons and armor in which certain gems could be embedded to improve its magical performance. "Sets," on the other hand, allow a character to hunt down or buy specific groups of weapons and armor that work together and give additional powers and abilities once complete. These type of improvements over the first Diablo are going to make this title even more addictive than before. . Controls have been improved as well, with up to 8 magic keyboard presets (F1-F8) to give you quicker access to spells and scrolls (the original had only four presets). Unfortunately, the game will be limited to 640x480 resolution. The multiplayer game will be no less than 4 players, with as many as 10-12 players total, although there are no set guarantees...and Blizzard isn't talking. Finally, another interesting feature to be added to Diablo II is the addition of a "Hardcore" mode. In Hardcore, once your character dies, there is no resurrecting him. He's down for the count, no matter what. This feature will most likely only be made available once a player has completed the game once, Brian added.

While we sat at the Blizzard booth, there must have been 30 or more people that came up and asked when it would be released. Brian would roll his eyes, and say "Diablo II will be released.....when it's done." Any hope of seeing a Mac version out before next Christmas? This Mac Observer thinks not. But we won't know until it's done.....

Until then, Baldur's Gate will have to do.

You can find more information on Diablo2 at Blizzard's web site.

Blizzard Entertainment

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