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Who Inspired Diablo?

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Diablo is an action role-playing game series produced by Blizzard Entertainment. The series is set in the fantasy world of Sanctuary. The three games in the series take place in similar geographic areas, with several common areas including the town of Tristram and the region around Mount Areat. The series focuses on the battle between the humans living on Sanctuary and the Prime Evils.
Creator(s): Blizzard, David Breivik
Type: Games
Genre(s): dark fantasy/horror-themed action role-playing, hack and slash, dungeon crawl
Year Released: 1996

Diablo creator David Breivik came up with the idea of Diablo in high school[1], long before he joined Blizzard. He kept modifying the idea throughout college. His chief inspiration for this was two roguelike games: Moria and Angband. The roguelike genre is known for its incredibly difficult dungeon crawls and their tremendous level of detail. The early ones are also known for their use of ASCII characters in place of actual graphics. Moria, the first of Breivik's two major influences, differs in that it is heavily based on JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and its primary objective is to kill a Balrog[2]. It inspired him to keep tweaking his high school idea in college, which eventually became Diablo.[3]

Angband is the second major inspiration to Diablo. It's also a roguelike, based on a port of Moria called Umoria (Unix Moria). Angband takes players 100 levels underground to defeat Morgoth in a Tolkien-inspired setting[4]. Like all roguelikes, the levels are randomly generated, which should seem familiar to players of Diablo. In many ways, Diablo is a “lite” roguelike that retains strong elements characteristic to the genre, but is not as brutally difficult and is also graphically-rich (the question as to whether Diablo is truly a roguelike is a hotly-debated one). When Breivik met Blizzard's Allen Adham during CES, he was able to pitch his idea to him, although in its earliest format it was a single-player, turn-based DOS game.[5][6]

When Breivik set out to create the interface to Diablo, he worked closely with Erich Schaefer. He has later admitted that the “final interface had been iterated so many times” that citing a single author would be impossible. However, he did note that his main influence when developing Diablo's interface was his favorite game, X-Com[7], the now-legendary science fiction game that has itself inspired many games[8]. Breivik was a fan of X-Com's 'camera' view and also its look.

Diablo's monk character draws its inspiration from the monk character in Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition. Unfortunately, the monk was later dropped in 2nd edition but his inclusion in 1st edition brought pen-and-paper gamers a major taste of what an orientally-influenced combat master could bring to a game. Diablo's creators envisioned him as being closer to the type of monk one would find in Eastern Europe.[9][10]

Nethack is another giant in the roguelike genre, and another inspiration to Diablo. And like Moria and Angband, it features randomly-generated dungeons, randomly-placed monsters and forces players to manage inventory carefully based on a large amount of item drops. Oh, and it also takes place in a very deep dungeon. The original pitch for Diablo stated that it would combine Moria, Angband and Nethack with the games Crusader: No Remorse and Doom[11]. Says Breivik of the early roguelikes, “It was all text...But we thought, what if we gave them a graphic treatment?”

Breivik's early vision was to fuse the components of roguelikes, including hack n'slash and randomly-generated monsters and dungeons, with a visual treatment. One of the visual inspirations he listed was Doom.[12]

Crusader is a series of action games published by Electronic Arts; Crusader: No Remorse was released in 1996. The games are set in the future and center on an elite supersoldier that defects from a tyrannical government[13]. Breivik viewed this game, along with Doom, as a graphic inspiration[14] that would be married to Diablo's roguelike foundation.