Recently I watched a good video by Mark Brown about the Last Guardian. He analyzes how the game communicates story through gameplay and he looks at one specific moment in the game. If you don’t mind mild spoilers on the Last Guardian then go check out the video, it’s pretty good.
This got me to thinking about other moments in games when story is being told through narrative.
Of relevance is an older post I made about Riven and how it manages to merge narrative and gameplay so that they are one and the same. The image at the top of the post is also for Riven, but there’s no storytelling going on there. I just like that view.
The Necromancer was always my favorite class in Diablo 2, and one of the things that always struck me was how unique he was compared to all the other characters. His entire design paradigm was completely different. This uniqueness changed slightly in the expansion with the arrival of the Assassin and the Druid, but this is primarily because those two classes cribbed some of their design from the Necromancer.
(I analyzed the unique and intriguing design of the Necromancer in a post long ago, but that analysis was obfuscated by me also trying to do other weird gonzo, humor things; in early posts on this blog I did a lot of experimental things that didn’t pan out.)
This has also been on my mind recently because I am designing a coop dungeon crawler board game and some of the character classes are inspired by my revelations about D2’s Necromancer design.
So, let’s get into what makes the D2 Necromancer so unique and different from the rest of the D2 classes (I’m not really going to talk about Diablo 3 at all, fyi).
Replaying the original Diablo recently reminding me of a little (or should I say, big) aspect that was never duplicated with as much success in the sequels.
I’m talking of course about the boobs.
Players who managed to reach the deepest levels of Diablo were given a break from the sight of skeletons and goatmen, and were rewarded with the welcoming view of the Succubi and their massive, swinging breasts.
In order to achieve this level of breast fidelity Blizzard North had to use the third party proprietary software known as TittyTech™.
I think that the height of game design lies in the designers ability to give the player the freedom to choose how he approaches the game, and nevertheless the player still gets a specific and intended experience.
There’s a moment of perfect game design in Diablo (by Blizzard North), and it is has to do with the Butcher.
When you first start playing Diablo, you’re almost guaranteed to get the Butcher Quest. It’s your first quest and it’s your first boss battle.
The Butcher’s room is unique. And when the players first encounter it they can immediately tell that there’s something special and foreboding about this room. The room is on the second floor (very early in the game) and its isolation, design, and bloody, gory props are completely different than anything the players encountered so far.
They’re almost guaranteed to make the connection between this room and the Butcher Quest. They know what they will encounter behind the door to this gut strewn place.
Already this is pretty good game design. But this is where the design of this boss battle becomes ingenious:
At this point, there is no possible way that players can beat the Butcher.
I recently was thinking about the original Diablo, which is still my favorite of the Diablos next to Diablo Cody and El Diablo, the Mexican Satan. But in terms of the video game series begun by Blizzard North (and later watered down by Blizzard Blizzard), D1 was a weirder, more interesting, and grittier game. It was definitely more Rogue-like than its successors, and while it had some rough edges, those rough edges gave it more character.
One thing in particular sums up what I like about the original Diablo and how Blizzard’s design principles changed over time.
Unique items were absolutely bonkers.
I opened the manila envelope. I read through the files. The picture they painted was a panorama of how the Sublime Society tried to influence the development of Diablo 3 so it would include an Archivist mini-class.
At the top of the stack of papers was the start of it all, a hand written memo:
The Archivist should be able to:
1) Read books
A memo dated a few weeks later elaborated:
The Archivist should be able to:
1) Read books
2) Put books on shelves
3) Know things
I nodded my head. This all made sense so far; those are all things an archivist should be able to do.
A few days later I met with Hermit Crab. He was supposed to be a member of the Sublime Society and he promised to give me more information about the two secret factions that were battling over the dominant trends in the game industry.
We met in a multistory parking garage. Hermit Crab called me to a corner where he was hidden among shadows. He was wearing a longcoat, with a hat pulled over his eyes. He had a stuffed manila envelope tucked under one arm.