Diablo II: Resurrected and the challenge of staying true to the original

Creating a game is no easy feat. During the pandemic, things get unreasonably tougher.

And then you have the likes of a much-beloved title in Diablo II that has left an indelible mark in the gaming industry. With the pressure of remastering such a classic, everyone will certainly have their eyes on you and your work, especially with a passionate community and following.

Diablo II: Resurrected goes live later today to tens and thousands of fans worldwide. To some, this will be their first foray into the series. For others, a piece of their childhood is making its long-awaited comeback.

During a recent roundtable discussion, Rob Gallerani and Michael Bukowski of Vicarious Visions (now a part of Blizzard Entertainment) talked to various members of the media about Diablo II: Resurrected and how challenging it is to remaster such a timeless gem.

Parts of the interview have been edited for brevity and clarity

Question (Q): What was the main idea behind remasting a classic such as Diablo II and bringing it to the modern generation?

Rob Gallerani (RG): So, the thing with Diablo II is it’s a really really important game for Blizzard, Blizzard’s history, and for the action-adventure genre in general. It’s been over 20 years and we really felt that at this moment we had the technology to fully realize [the vision] of the original game.

Diablo II was made with 2D sprites and 2D images, but it was trying to be a 3D game and we now can do a full 3D game with real lighting and the fidelity we could bring to it, we felt we had the capabilities now to really do it justice.

Q: Could you take us through some of the major enhancements in Diablo II: Resurrected that gamers who play the original Diablo II 20 years ago will appreciate?

Michael Bukowski (MB): I mean the most obvious thing that’s going to be there right at the front of this is the art and the visuals. The game has been completely rebuilt in 3D and it’s using a very modern rendering pipeline so all of the graphics are what you would expect out of a modern game in 2021.

On top of that, all the audio has been remastered. The original sounds cleaned up, touched up but then in addition to that new ambient sounds and new variations, things like when you have different types of armor on and you’re walking through different areas. In fact, I think one of the armor sets was recorded using Rob’s armor that he has from his garage.

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Q: In terms of making the game accessible to newcomers of the franchise, what were some of the design decisions that were made to appeal to them?

RG: So we knew going into this that we were essentially going to have two groups of players – we’re gonna have people who were very knowledgeable of the original and they either still play it today or they loved it and played a significant amount of it when it came out years ago.

Then we have this whole other group who maybe weren’t born when this game came out, or they’re very used to Diablo three and they’ve only heard things about Diablo II.

They’re definitely very different groups, but we didn’t want to change what Diablo II was. The goal was to preserve what Diablo II was and just bring it forward and make it more accessible. In that regard, there are no options that are going to put a dot on your map of where to go, there’s nothing that’s going to play the game for you, there’s nothing that is going to recommend the right gear to make the game easier.

But we want to make it easier to play – things like players are used to just inviting people from their friend list, players are used to playing on their console, players are used to using a controller or having cross-progression or being able to play in Colorblind Mode.

These are kind of the approaches we took to make it more accessible to more players without actually going in and making the game easier.

Q: What were some of the most challenging or exciting parts of development?

RG: I think the biggest challenge but also the most exciting was the controller [support]. We’re trying to create a very nostalgic experience but there’s nothing about what the game was like on a controller.

There are just different ways you interact with the game and you have obviously a significant number of buttons, less on a controller than you want on a keyboard. Just that entire approach is very different from how you control the game.

And so, pretty much saying you have to keep the exact same game, but you have to control it completely different was the most challenging but also most exciting.

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Q: There was a lot of collaboration done with the community especially during the testing phases. Could share with us a bit about how this collaboration helped shape development?

RG: One of the great things that happened right off the bat with our Alpha was that we got a lot of really low-level actionable feedback – it was like “the exact shade of this one gem in this one icon is off” and we’re like “we’ll fix that.”

The fact that the community was so clear about what they wanted, that really helped us.

The other thing I think was that we were very clear with the type of game we were trying to make, we’re trying to stay true to the original. We definitely got lots of suggestions of new things we could add and we’d love to do that at some point but that’s not really what we’re targeting right now.

Special thanks to Activision Blizzard for the opportunity and to Rob Gallerani and Michael Bukowski for their time.

Q: Are you looking to develop any new content updates, like new classes, once the game launches?

RG: So we most definitely hear our community and we know that this has been asked a lot. All of those ideas really excite us but I think the big thing is that we want to make sure that we get it right. That’s our target.

And so, if we get a really great foundation, then we can discuss other things, but right now we’re really targeting it to be true to what you remember.

Special thanks to Activision Blizzard for the opportunity and to Rob Gallerani and Michael Bukowski for their time.

Diablo II: Resurrected will be available later today for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Switch, and PC.

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