The making of Diablo

I came across this gem of a book recently via video-games industry veteran Pat Wyatt’s blog. It’s a breeze to read and I finished the main chapters in a day (I say main chapters, as the book takes cues from its subject matter and contains a ton of optional extra reading).

The book is mainly a behind-the-scenes account of how Diablo came to life. I consider Diablo to be one of the best games I’ve ever played, and it has a permanent place in my childhood. As a personal side story, it was one of the few games that I bought a legal copy of growing up in China – I pooled together 160RMB (~$20 at the exchange rate back then) with two friends and we rode our bicycles to the burgeoning Zhongguancun area (now a renowned high-tech hub) in Beijing to buy the box.

The making of Diablo has a distinct Silicon Valley feel to it – not unlike the other stories from the west coast of how iconic tech brands had very humble beginnings. While Silicon & Synapse (the start of Blizzard) and Condor (the start of Blizzard North) did not literally begin in garages, these two companies were incredibly scrappy and were often fighting to make payroll. And then there’s also the part of overnight riches (due to buy-outs) and how the spoils were shared (or not shared) with the employees.

But mostly, the book is about video-games development – an endeavor that is a mix of traditional software development and a creative effort (like writing a novel or making a film). The Diablo that players loved was a very different beast from its original design document, and that’s a good thing – the fascinating twists and turns of how the product came to be is inspiring and showcases the amazing things that can happen when a group of people share a common vision and passion.

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