Turn Based Diablo?

The Original Diablo Pitch Document has been disclosed some time ago. If you dabble in game design I think it is a must read, it is a short document that teaches us something new about one of the most influential games ever developed.

A view of the tactical grid

As it turn out, Diablo was first pitched as a turn-based RPG with randomly generated dungeons and a specific action economy. Does it ring a bell? (hint, look at our punchline)

I bring this up for two reasons. As I said above I think that anyone who wants to master a craft needs to study and learn from the giants that came before. In our age and time it is often said that passion and dreams are the most important things to achieve your goals, but for me these are only the first steps: studying and working hard are what bring dreams to life, whit the possible exception of geniuses.

The other reason is to discuss the appeal (or its lack) of turn-based tactical games. In the nineties Blizzard moved away from turn-based to embrace a more action oriented design. Of course we know history and now we understand what a great move that was, together with other smart choices like the focus on a multiplayer component (something hard to do in turn-based games). For a long time the superior performances of PC and connected gaming meant that going the “action” route was the only possible strategy for AAA games; they needed to appeal to a wide audience to sell well and sustain the ever increasing production costs. Turn-based games were niche, and seldom almost prohibitively difficult to approach. Because of that they fell out of fashion for almost a decade on PC. Blizzard adapted his vision and won.

Later, however, Firaxis recognized that there was a hole to be filled, and they risked a lot by developing X-COM: Enemy Unknown, a genuine turn-based tactical game, reboot of an old glory of the nineties. The formula was updated, streamlined and made approachable while retaining a good level of difficulty. The game was a big critical and commercial success.

My own two cents (not really supported by evidences!), besides the great work done by Firaxis in this case, is that the gaming market today is on one hand more mature. Not only the market today is more diversified, but also a decade of game design helped developers in understanding the mechanics that are at the base of the various genres and reconstruct and refine the ideas pioneered during the eighties and nineties. On the other hand new markets are ready to accept these kind of games, in specific the short sessions and limited reactivity of mobile games brought turn-based games (of different kinds) on the spotlight. Now more gamers are familiar with these kind of games and developers found new tricks to increase their appeal and approachability.

To conclude, I wanted to link these thoughts together. When you are an indie you are in some ways free to do what you want and create the game of your dreams, but I think that, to get the most out of the experience, it is important to open your mind and look around yourself at things like past experiences, studies, history.

Dreams are important, as is passion, but don’t limit yourself to a vision.

Thanks for reading.

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