Peter Hu, who worked on Diablo 2, Hellgate London, Torchlight, and Marvel Heroes, has been answering questions.
We first met Peter when he was at Blizzard North as a programmer and he was our main guide when we were there testing the original Diablo 2 Beta. He’s been in the world of game development for many years.
Since leaving Blizzard, Flagship Studios, and Gazillion, he’s been working on his new venture Rhino Games which was established in 2016 and who are based in San Francisco. Rhino’s current project is the CCG Mythgard which is available on Steam, iOS and Android.
Today Peter shared some of his experiences working in the industry and his work on ARPGs including Diablo 2. There were quite a few questions asked in the AMA but here are most of the choice questions and answers from the session.
What is your favourite character in Diablo 2? And why is it the necromancer?
Argh, that’s a gotcha question! I preferred sorceress the most, followed by necro, then assassin. I was never a huge fan of melee, and hammerdins were a travesty that should never have happened
Are you able to tell us what went wrong that led to the shut down (Marvel Heroes)?
I heard from the grapevine that Disney/Marvel wanted the license back and had it in for the game. That’s not the only thing of course, but it didn’t help. The licensing fees were impossible to keep up with.
Other than that, I think the company was too top-heavy. It had some great devs, but there were too many mouths to feed and that made it difficult to make enough money to pay for the aforementioned licensing fees. Over time, the company was constantly streamlining, but when it gets into that mode, it’s hard to only get rid of chaff while keeping all the good. It ended up being just a vicious cycle.
The game also released too early (we were running out of money), and not in good enough shape to make a great first impression, which is really key to any game release. That’s an issue that plagues too many games that otherwise would’ve had potential.
Personally, I think the f2p model doesn’t really suit ARPGs on the whole. Different genres of games have different business mechanics. It’s kind of like the Diablo III auction house (which I spent a huge amount of time trying to convince the team was a bad idea). ARPGs are driven by the loot economy, and I think the f2p model impacts that in a negative way to greater or lesser extent.
Did you work on Blizzard North’s version of Diablo III, if so, how was it?
Also, would you like to keep making ARPGs or do you feel you are done with the genre and is able to move on to new things? (I mean, you are making a CCG!)
Any other genre besides ARPG and CCG you’d like to work on?
Yeah, I worked on BN’s version of Diablo III (as well as the unannounced project that was being developed at the same time). There were actually two competing engines that were being built by two separate teams, one for Diablo III, and one for an unannounced title (code named Starblo – make of that what you will). We eventually collapsed the teams together to make Diablo III, jettisoned most of the D3 engine and moved everything over to the Starblo engine (taking a few ideas from the former engine like the particle systems editor). That engine was eventually the foundation for the shipping version of Diablo III (the lead was Jason Regier, who continued on as Diablo III programming lead when everything moved over to Irvine). By the time I left, it was all pipeline and foundational work… not much of a playable game. There were lots of design docs, but I think they all got thrown out by the new team.
I don’t think I’m done with the ARPG genre at all. There’s so much more to do! As far as genres, I play just about everything (not literally, but a lot of different genres anyway), and there’s a lot of stuff that I’d love to make eventually. I think philosophically, I’m into deep games with a lot of gameplay. When I first joined Blizzard, their “style” of games and approach were exactly what I was looking for in a development studio and I thought I was in heaven! I think the main areas where we differed were in UGC and open world games (which I loved, but I don’t think Blizzard was interested in making at the time).
Can you share your thoughts on Blizzard’s current direction and where it went wrong? I would love to hear from someone who actually worked for them during the ol’ glory days…
When Blizzard was young, the people in charge were passionate about playing games. They were making the games they wanted to play, not the games that they thought would make the most money. When it became a big business and the suits came in that wanted to optimize the business instead of the game is when it all went downhill. The developers still love games, but their voice is much smaller now, and often superseded by “business concerns”.
I remember when we were trying to argue that a Diablo on the Gameboy was going to be hit, built a prototype and everything, and it was shut down ‘cuz it wasn’t gonna make enough money. Mind you, it was projected to make hundreds of millions… but it wasn’t “enough”. ffffff.
Of all the games (by other people) following in Diablo II’s path, what are your favorites?
Well, Hellgate:London obviously. But my favorites were actually the Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance series on console. Titan’s Quest was pretty good too. Diablo 3 wasn’t bad. I also liked some random mobile ARPGs during the early generations, but haven’t had time to dive in to anything meaty in the last few ears. Full disclosure – I know there are a lot of good ones out there that I haven’t played!
Any thoughts on the Remaster of Diablo II?
I actually offered to help them with it several months back, but haven’t gotten a reply yet
Is there any bad feelings between Blizzard now and Blizzard North from back in the days? Or no feelings at all?
It’s so long past that I don’t think people think about it much. For the most part, I don’t think there was that much hard feelings in the actual teams.
But in a way, there was always a rivalry. People formed opinions about one another. Overall, they were a mixed bag of positive and negative, kind of like what happens with people who are friends and family members.
I honestly don’t think there are any truly totally negative feelings that have lasted all this time. Personally, I kinda always like everyone – the only person in either organization that I really didn’t like was the CLO (chief legal officer) at Blizzard. Everyone else was pretty darn cool.
What’s a game that you worked on that you wish more people had played?
Hellgate: London probably, and of course Mythgard (‘cuz it’s my baby right now, and I need the $$$ to keep the studio, and its wonderful team, afloat). Honestly, though, I think all of my games (even Diablo II), needed more time in the oven to really reach their potential.
Curious if there’s anything that immediately jumps to your mind that you might have added to Diablo II if given more time.
I ended up spending a fair amount of energy on guilds and more social features that we never finished (there always seemed to be more important stuff to do than finish that).
We also had a lot of ideas around player housing and being able to build your own town in the game, collecting NPCs and perks for it, and doing some “generational” mechanics.
The other thing I was really into was making the engine more moddable. I would’ve loved to have seen a server-supported custom game feature similar to what was in the xCraft games.
The AMA is currently available here.