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Blizzard: Eye of the Storm

Part 1: Barely a Job
Part 2: Well ORChestrated Rise
Part 3: The Golden Circle
Part 4: Craft and Conquer
Part 5: Loudest Democracy
Part 6: Blizzard Trivia Contest

Part 3

Page 10: The Golden Circle

Momentum was at an all-time high at Blizzard, especially since Warcraft II had taken less than a year to produce and had ended up being a huge hit. Hoping to capitalize on the success of Warcraft, Blizzard rushed Starcraft into production and developed three races: the trailer-trash Terrans, the insectlike Zerg, and the high-tech Protoss. With Diablo scheduled for a mid- to late-1996 release, Blizzard hoped Starcraft could follow soon after, using a modified Warcraft II engine.

At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in 1996, Blizzard was thought to be the developer to beat, especially given Warcraft II's huge success and the buzz around Diablo. E3 that year would also mark the public debut of Starcraft and the announcement that Diablo would include a free Internet gameplay service dubbed Battle.net. At the show, Blizzard had six monitors set up, three for Diablo and three for Starcraft. Unfortunately for Blizzard, the reaction to Starcraft was tepid at best.

Starcraft as it looked at E3 (1996) vs. its final form (right) in early 1998.

"By the last day of the show," remembers Dave Brevik, "I think Diablo was up on five monitors, and they had reduced Starcraft to one lone monitor." If the numbers didn't do all the talking, the fan reaction certainly did. Fans called the game names such as "Orcs in Space" or "Warcraft Goes Purple," referring to the predominately purple artwork that had been swapped in over Warcraft's art. All in all, fans thought Starcraft was a bit too much Warcraft for their own tastes.

"It became clear that Starcraft in its form at E3 1996 wasn't going to duplicate Warcraft's success."

Was this the first sign of weakness from Blizzard, a developer thought to be on top of the world? For those inside the company, Starcraft's showing at E3 hit close to home, especially given the company's policy of releasing only triple-A blockbusters. It became clear that Starcraft in its current form wasn't going to be able to duplicate Warcraft's success.

Bill Roper and Rob Pardo relax on leather couches.
A hard decision had to be made: Should the company continue with Starcraft's current path, take it back to the drawing board, or cancel it outright? According to Bill Roper, the first possibility was never an option: "We know that if our games meet the standards that both our players and we place upon them, we are rewarded with excellent sales that, in turn, support our position and development philosophy." Admitting it's a "somewhat risky proposition" to promise only the best games, Roper also says that "only by taking the time to do things right can our mission be accomplished." If Starcraft came out and disappointed, Blizzard's luster would have been lost; it would become just like any other company.

The rights to Pax Imperia 2, a space simulation designed by an outside development group for publish by Blizzard, had already been sold to THQ in early 1996, when the Southern California-based publisher acquired the game's developer. But Blizzard remained confident it could turn around the internally developed Starcraft. Staying true to Roper's words, Blizzard was willing to take its time, even if it meant that Starcraft's development would be the "longest and most painful [one yet]," as Morhaime later told Strategy Plus magazine in early 2000.

Diablo went gold on December 26, 1996.
No one said developing a golden circle reputation - where each great game leads to another - would be easy. But if the team in Irvine needed a morale boost to help it through the reengineering of Starcraft, it came in the form of Diablo, which went gold on the day after Christmas in 1996. It was on many store shelves by the first of 1997. Even though it arrived in early January, many magazines and consumers were already calling it a shoo-in for game-of-the-year honors. Blizzard had now struck gold twice... in a row.
« Previous Page Diablo Hits the Showers »


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