Tristram, 20 Years Later

If you’re a fan of Blizzard’s games, there’s a good chance you caught the news out of BlizzCon last month. Blizzard used its annual convention to roll out a slew of announcements for the half-dozen or so games that they’re actively supporting.

I’ve been on a bit of a Blizzard kick this year, thanks to some clever updates to card-battler Hearthstone and an unexpectedly brilliant expansion to World of Warcraft. And of course, Overwatch has stolen my heart (and my free time) in ways that only one other game can touch this year.*

But my real love — my first love — is Diablo. And at BlizzCon last month, Blizzard announced that it remade the original Diablo within the Diablo 3 engine

All you need is 640x480. Anything else is just frivolous.

All you need is 640x480. Anything else is just frivolous.

Okay, great. So why does this matter so much to me? Let's start at the beginning.

Twenty years ago, Diablo arrived and did a few things in rapid succession: 

  • It scared the hell out of my ten-year-old self with its grim aesthetic and spooky demons
  • It frustrated me after my twentieth death against The Butcher, Diablo’s iconic first boss
  • It won me over with its randomly generated dungeons, effortlessly addictive loot-driven hooks and robust character customization options

Diablo was also the first game that my friends and I played consistently online. We each had characters who we invested dozens of hours into, and the opportunity to play online was exceptionally tantalizing. (It was even worth the challenges of begging permission from our parents to tie up the phone line for an hour on Battle.net.)

I’ve been a devoted fan of the series, sinking more time into its sequel, Diablo II, than probably any other game before or since. I could probably make a compelling argument that Diablo II was the best game in the series, or maybe even the controversial Diablo III, but there’s still something incredibly special about that first game for me.

Of course, I’m talking about one person’s nostalgia here. Who’s to say whether this 20th anniversary remake is appealing to a large number of Blizzard’s fans? Just about every genre under the sun has borrowed from Diablo’s loot system and randomly generated dungeon designs, and twenty years is a long time in video game terms. I’m willing to bet a few people reading this post weren’t even alive twenty years ago!

But I’m glad Blizzard’s bringing Diablo back, because I think it’s emblematic of a promising trend in games: preservation and recreation of classics that contributed to the greater good of the medium.

I’m fond of the old adage that “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” Studying the past yields dividends when seeking to create the future, and there’s a real joy to understanding what made the great works of the past come together. It’s why I value reading old literature, studying history, and, uh, why I’ve spent a lot of time lately finally watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. 

With games, we consumers and creators don’t seem to value preserving and celebrating old games the same way we do in other media. There are more “HD Remaster” editions of games on the market now than you could possibly play through, many of which are meager updates to games that are less than ten years old. But very few of them dig into the history of those games or seek to preserve their constraints and design decisions, warts and all.

In contrast, this Diablo remake is going to force players to strict eight-way movement, a constrained UI in the style of the original game, and a visual filter that conjures up the feel (if not the precise appearance) of an old VGA display.

Of course, if you want the authentic experience, you could always try to track down a copy of the original Diablo. (Blizzard no longer sells it through its website, unfortunately.) But even though Blizzard does a great job of supporting its older games on modern systems, eventually we’ll reach a point where it’s either not practical or desirable to play old games in their original format. With that eventuality in mind, it seems praiseworthy that Blizzard is honoring one of its classics with a tasteful and conscientious recreation in a modern game engine.

While the 20th anniversary remake arrives in early 2017, I had a chance to run through recently it from start to finish on Blizzard’s public test realm. And maybe this time I finally managed to drop The Butcher on the first try. Twenty years of dungeon-crawling experience ain’t for nothing, after all.

Feel free to watch the full playthrough here:


* What’s that one game? Well, all I’ll say is stay tuned for our Game of the Year feature, coming in December. ;)