One of the better presentations I attended at PAX was “To Hell and Back Again: How the Game Industry Has Changed Since Diablo”, presented by David Brevik, former President of Blizzard North. The majority of the presentation was a historical recap of how the original Diablo came about, and then the changes in the industry and for David’s team between Diablo and Hellgate:London. Lots of fun facts were shared, such as Diablo being a claymation game for two weeks, along with an inside look of just how the game was pitched and ultimately delivered.
One very interesting point made was that during the making of the original Diablo, if David wanted to add a treasure chest mechanic to the game, it would take about three hours total from idea to in-game. That same idea (a chest) would take two weeks or so for Hellgate:London, and would involve a dozen people jumping in at various points (and potentially falling behind on whatever else they were doing). What David and his team were able to get away with and making Diablo great ended up crippling Hellgate.
The first thing that came to my mind was “why”? Why do we need something like a chest taking two weeks to develop now? It’s not like the idea is radically different today, or that somehow it’s more fun to open a chest today than it was back then thanks to that extra dev time. Of course software complexity is somewhat inevitable, but to that extent? Yes, some systems are just outright more complex and better than older systems (Rift’s soul system vs WoW talent trees for instance), but this improvement/complexity does not apply across the board.
David wrapped things up by stating he believes the PC space is going to return to a similar state it was in during the early-mid 90s, where new ideas from the ‘small guys’ were rampant and lots of cool stuff was being released. We are seeing some of that with titles like Minecraft, Plants vs Zombies, and others. Steam also helps out by making mass distribution easier, and gamers being more educated about their hobby means a good title is more likely to get noticed over the mega-corp driven noise (have you seen the TV add for Dragon Age 2? Ugh).