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Blizzard North: Condor and Diablo
One of the first people to take notice of Blizzard and Warcraft was David Brevik. In September of 1993, David formed the game company Condor with his friends Max and Erich Schaefer. As luck would have it, Condor's first project was programming Justice League Task Force for the Genesis. At the time, says David, "We knew that the publishing company SunSoft had hired someone to do the Super Nintendo version of Justice League Task Force, but we didn't know them. At some point, we said, 'Let's see what the other guys are doing.'" And so, the first auspicious meeting between Blizzard and Condor took place. Allen Adham and David Brevik began by comparing notes on Justice League Task Force, but the conversation eventually grew beyond that initial scope.

Justice League Task Force Justice League Task Force Diablo
Justice League Task Force Justice League Task Force Diablo
Says David, "At CES in Chicago in spring of 1994, Max and I were hanging out at the SunSoft booth. I met Allen there. We were talking and he said, 'You want to see this PC game we're working on?' They were showing the current build of Warcraft I. I was really impressed. It looked like a really good game."

After the show, the guys back at the Condor office were excited about Warcraft, and Max pushed Dave to call Allen and get a copy of the game. During this conversation, Allen and Dave started talking about the future. Says Dave, "Allen was asking, 'What are you guys doing next? We are looking for people to make PC games for us.' At that time, Allen was looking for more games to publish because Davidson wanted him to grow the game business." The timing was fortuitous. Condor had decided that making console games was too risky, and it was already thinking about developing PC games instead. Says Max, "One of the things we were doing at CES was looking for contacts. We were hustling for business. We actually had the Diablo proposal there and were shopping it around. Everyone at the show turned us down." But with Blizzard showing interest, Condor decided to pitch its new game.

"Blizzard came out in January of 1995, and we pitched Allen the idea for Diablo. They got it right off the bat."

At the time, Diablo was just a proposal, but Max and Dave's vision was clear: "We wanted to get back to the roots of role-playing games. The game that we proposed was different from the game we ended up making. The story these days is that we were proposing a single-player, DOS-based, turn-based claymation game. That's a bit of an exaggeration. We wanted to make a more broad-based RPG. We wanted to emphasize that you were killing monsters within a few minutes into the game." Says Max, "The claymation idea didn't come until a few months into the project, and it was never seriously considered."

After the pitch was done, Blizzard decided to pick up the game, and the two companies signed a contract in February of 1995. As development began on Diablo, the game started to change. "The first decision we made was to go with Windows 95 instead of DOS. That wasn't that big of a deal."

Then came the fateful decision to convert Diablo to real-time. "Originally, we modeled our world and look after X-Com. We had a cursor box just like in X-Com and a tile-based look where you could click on a square and your character would move through all its turns to the new tile. Development was going really well, and we liked the design. Then late in the spring, someone from Blizzard proposed that the game should be real-time. We fought heavily against it. We said it would ruin the strategy of the turn-based action and that it would take weeks to mock up." After more heated discussion, Dave finally agreed to mock-up a real-time game. It took him three hours. He saw a monster, clicked on the monster, his character took a swing, and the monster went down. Dave said, "This is so cool. We're going real-time." Says Max: "Then we added more monsters and more rooms and it really took off."

With development now in full stride, Blizzard started making the first overtures to acquire Condor. Says Dave, "We got along really well. Our design philosophies were the same. Our goals were the same. Then around Christmas of 1995, right when Warcraft II came out, they gave us a phone call and Allen said they wanted to acquire us. We weren't thinking about being acquired, but we saw how well Warcraft II did. We saw it all over the place, so we knew that their distribution was going to be great. We were getting along. And we were excited about the exposure we would get by working with Blizzard."

Max says, "I was taken by surprise by the turn of events. It was unimaginable, and still, to this day, it seemed like they were offering us so much money. We didn't know how much they were going to offer us. They set a day for when they would fax their offer to us. We were all standing around the fax machine for 20 minutes waiting for the fax machine to ring. When it came through, the number on it was one where we knew this acquisition was going to happen."

Much like Mike and Allen had done at Blizzard in the early days, Dave, Max, and Erich had struggled to make payroll, so they were happy to take the offer. Blizzard was giving Condor autonomy, just as Davidson had given them. The deal was finished in February 1996, and Condor became Blizzard North.

"That completely changed the Diablo project," says Max. "Before that, we had the traditional developer agreement with the publisher, meaning we had distinct milestones and we only got paid after hitting each milestone. Now, all those constraints were gone. Now, we could make the best Diablo we could, instead of basically building towards milestones. It was almost like we had a complete redesign. Being bought freed us up to do everything we wanted to do, instead of fitting a budget or fitting a timetable."

Development was energized, and Dave recalls another turning point soon thereafter that revolutionized the game. "We had thought about modem games and LAN games, but Blizzard came up with the idea for playing Diablo over the Internet. That summer, they came up and started work on integrating it into Diablo." would become crucial to Diablo's later success. Says Max, "I think people were surprised when they bought Diablo and found out how easy it was to play a game over the Internet. One click got you playing with people worldwide. I think a lot of people were taken aback by how significant that was, because we never had that before. And now it is something everyone takes for granted."

Finally, after nearly two years of development and some major revisions, Diablo shipped on December 27. But Max says, "We were worried. We missed the holiday season and no one knew what that meant. Everyone had already bought their games for Christmas we thought." "We blew it," adds Dave.

But as it turned out, Blizzard North hadn't blown it. Max says, "We were thinking that if everything went well, we would sell 100,000 copies. After we got buzz from the press, we realized that it would sell a lot, but we thought even then it would sell 400,000." Says Dave, "Yeah, we thought, 'Hey, we could sell half a million.'" Of course, just as Warcraft and Warcraft II had done before it, Diablo sold better than expected. "Part of it was that it was a great game and people were waiting for it," says Max. "But it was also because there weren't any other games released after Christmas, so we were the only game in town for a long time." Not only did Diablo continue Blizzard's string of hits, but it also marked the first time that Blizzard missed Christmas so that a game could truly be polished. Max says, "We learned a lesson there that you don't want to rush out a product just to make Christmas."

Blizzard North was elated, and also relieved, at Diablo's success: "It was cool. At that point, we thought, 'Okay, we are rightfully part of Blizzard.' To match Warcraft II's sales numbers of a million was such a ridiculous target that we didn't think we had to meet that. We thought 'Maybe it was a fluke hit.' But when we sold a million copies of Diablo, it gave us a boost. We can contribute our share to this company."

Diablo Diablo II Diablo II
Diablo Diablo II Diablo II
Soon after, Blizzard North began work on the sequel to Diablo. Despite going through an even longer development process, a more ambitious design, and unprecedented delays, Diablo II also became a monstrous success. Every Blizzard game since Warcraft has succeeded in topping everyone's expectations, and Diablo II was no different. In three weeks, Diablo II sold one million copies worldwide, becoming the fastest selling computer game in history, and only six months after its release, it had already sold as many copies - 2 million - as Diablo had sold in its four years of existence.

The success is stunning to everyone at Blizzard. Says Max, "We didn't think there would be a Diablo franchise. We thought there would just be one Diablo game. Our success has substantially exceeded all our expectations." "Now," says Dave, "we realize that Diablo will be with us forever. There are so many things to do, so many great ideas. The future holds a lot of great promise for Diablo."

Frank: Warcraft! Bob: StarCraft!

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