Diablo 2 (Retro Review)

“Few games have aged as gracefully as this colossal hit by Blizzard.”

Diablo 3 is probably still about a year away from release as of this writing, and there are few games available to allow gamers to satisfy their thirst for quality hack and slash action. Sacred, Titan Quest, and several others have attempted to copy Blizzard’s successful formula, but just like those who tried to copy the formulas of Starcraft or World of Warcraft, they have failed to even come close to matching what they are blatantly imitating.

Rewind a full decade to the year 2000. Diablo 2 had just been released, and it drove the hack and slash RPG fanatics absolutely wild as the game became critically acclaimed faster than you can say “stay a while and listen.” Ten years later and no game in the genre is yet to make as big a splash as Diablo 2, and it will likely remain this way until Diablo 3 ships sometime in 2011.

So what made Diablo 2 so good? Why has there not been even a single game released in the past ten years capable of topping it? The simple reason is because what Blizzard does well, they in fact do very well. Blizzard strives for excellence in their games, and it shows. Whether you like or hate their games, it’s impossible to deny that they are high quality sources of entertainment.

I consider World of Warcraft to be my favourite Blizzard product of all time, but Diablo 2 is not far off. Since this is a review for that excellent game, it’s time for me to stop talking about other Blizzard products, which includes Diablo 3.

Diablo 2 picked up shortly after the first game. The hero of the first game (Diablo canon dictates that it was the warrior class) has become nothing but a vessel for Diablo as he seeks to unleash his brothers Baal and Mephisto, which would ultimately allow them to rule Sanctuary (the mortal realm in Diablo). Of course, most people didn’t play Diablo 2 for the story, since the game came out just a few years before story telling became the prime focus of almost every genre. Diablo 2 was able to get away with just having great gameplay alone, and it did just that.

If you’re unfamiliar with how Diablo 2 plays, then you have probably been living under a rock. If you have indeed been living under a rock, then I will explain how the game plays in a simple manner. Players assume the role of one of several different classes (which are all 100% unique) and must adventure across Sanctuary from an isometric view, slaughtering demons and monsters almost the entire way. The game is played mostly with the mouse, as left clicking instructs your character where to go while right clicking performs whatever action you may have assigned to a hot key. The left mouse button can also function as a hot key, but you will only perform whatever ability you have tied to the left button when you click on a hostile creature.

Players take on a variety of quests that point them in the direction of Diablo and his brothers. Experience points are awarded by killing creatures and completing quests. Once you level you are able to distribute five stat points to various attributes, and you also get to put one skill point into anything of your choosing in your talent trees. The sorceress can learn new elemental spells from their trees, while the barbarian can learn powerful physical attacks.

Diablo 2 has more pieces of equipment than any game from 2000 should have, as the different gear combinations number in the thousands. This is excluding possibilities that include socketing pieces of gear with gems and runes (the latter are only in the expansion pack) which increase stats, offer resistances, deal bonus elemental damage, and much more.

For new players, Diablo 2 can be a very overwhelming and difficult game until they fully complete at least two runs of the game before understanding how all of the encounters work and what gear should be used and when. Many creatures have resistances or weaknesses that the player will discover, and boss fights are anything but easy on the first play through the game. Diablo 2’s bosses will, almost all of the time, hit like tanks. Stocking up on health potions is imperative in this game due to the extremely high damage output of many creatures and bosses as well, especially Diablo himself.

The game spans several different geographical regions before the player journeys to Hell to battle Diablo (and then to the snowy mountains in the expansion). All regions are very unique with their own unique creatures and quests, as well as a major quest hub each.

Diablo 2 has some of the creepiest music I’ve ever heard, and if it had been used in any other games (such as survival horror titles) then the effect would have been absolutely terrifying. Fortunately for Diablo 2, it is an action packed hack and slash RPG, so you likely won’t feel any fear when you play this game. Certain areas a little unnerving though, such as when you reach Hell itself. The background music, coupled with the groans and wails you will hear, make it very unsettling while being extremely fun at the same time.

Areas that lack the creepy atmosphere come off just as well. Act 2, which is set in the desert, has some fantastic music that is hauntingly immersive. The sound effects are quite good for a ten year old game. While the sounds aren’t particular realistic (in fact many are quite cartoonish by today’s standards), they set the tone very well and compliment the game’s music and graphical style very well. Voice work, which plays a major part in the game, is quite good. Modern games certainly have more emotional voice work that comes across better, but Diablo 2’s is still very decent for it’s time.

The only part of Diablo 2 that hasn’t aged the best are the graphics. While the game looked stunning when it was first released, it is now borderline ugly in some areas. Characters are blurry and lacking a lot of detail despite being 2D. In fact, the entire game world is 2D. Though you would expect the world to be very beautiful to look at, the only areas that have great attention to detail are the towns. Wilderness areas and dungeons look and feel rather generic most of the time, and due to the areas being randomly generated, they suffer severely from what I call “Copy & Paste Syndrome” where you see familiar surrounding all too frequently, resulting in a few cases of deja vu.

Diablo 2’s positives far outweigh the negatives and the game remains a real pleasure to play even to this day. The game was quite ahead of it’s time and, if it was re-released with modern graphics, it would still score very high with practically every reviewer. Diablo 2 is one of Blizzard’s best games, and the love that they put into it still shows strongly even today. If you’ve never played the game, you owe it to yourself to give the game a play before Diablo 3 hit shelves next year.

Final Score

9.1/10

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Don Miguel Interview (December 2008)

Originally written for Gaming World, this interview was conducted with Don Miguel, a Russian man who translated RPG Maker 95 and RPG Maker 2000 and released both digitally.

These days, many people are not sure where Don Miguel resides. Some people believe he is, of sorts, a legend now due to his contribution to the amateur game making community, and due to him being the very reason that sites such as this were even created. As his deeds are well known, but the man himself is seldom seen. Well, I decided to do the RPG Making scene a favour by catching up with the elusive programmer and translator and asking him a series of questions.


Daniel: Don, let me just say that it’s an honour to be interviewing you. Not only do you have a reputation as a legend in the RPG Maker scene, but from my own recollection, you’ve always been a pretty cool guy too so hey, why don’t you tell the folks who you are and what you do? Give them this opportunity to “know” Don Miguel.

Don: I have to greet all the readers. Yo all!
I’m a programmer and translator. I’ve graduated from 2 universities so far. I started working right after the school and haven’t moved from my place yet. It’s very reliable and, well, fine to keep. Since 13, I always had a gamedev hobby. I continue making games for myself and sometimes I’ll sell them. It doesn’t bring in much, so it’s just a hobby.
What do I like doing? Well.. I like visiting friends, like Japanese RPGs, books and anime… I plant cactuses, and I like cats. That’s all I can tell you.

Daniel: You sound like a pretty laid back guy! That’s pretty cool.

Don: My personality is just a mask on the internet, I think. But my real friends find me easy going and such.

Daniel: Anyway.. In retrospect, you’re responsible for a lot of sites existing such as Gaming World, Gaming Ground Zero, RPG RPG Revolution, and so on. Even though someone else would have likely translated RPG Maker 95 and 2000 if you had not, how does it make you feel knowing that you’ve had such a significant impact on the hobbies and leisurely activities of so many people?

Don: I like the feeling of that impact. Some people have become game developers, designers and work in the game development industry. But I also regret that I spent so much time supporting the RPG Maker products Which were nothing more than warez. I made my own maker made in 1995, “Platformer maker”.
And the fun fact is… localization isn’t hard. I finished the RPG Maker 95 translation in two hours and made the RPG Maker 2003 translation in 2 days, I think. So it was easy for anyone with some experience.

Daniel: With experience, yeah. A lot of people who work with the RPG Makers really don’t have that, so people like you really do them a large favour I would say. You say you regret spending so much time on the RPG Maker products.. Was this part of the reason why you decided not to translate RPG Maker 2003? What was the precise reason?

Don: I just waited for a letter from Enterbrain, it was like a nightmare… I mean, I used to put all my free time into the RPG Maker community in place of my own projects. So the letter was a good reason to stop. A few months later, I sold my commercial game. So it all was for good! I won’t name my games though. It’s not on topic with the question.

Daniel:So Enterbrain asking you to stop was your reason for not continuing?

Don: It was the last straw. So yes, it was the reason. I even believed them, helped them to gather some feedback from “future buyers” of the official English RPG Maker 2000, but they postponed the release. It doesn’t matter now.

Daniel: Definitely a good thing for you to do, then. A lot of people don’t know what you’re up to these days, and they seem to think that finding the legendary Don Miguel is a difficult challenge. For these people, why don’t you tell us what you’re currently involved in? Making a game? Programming anything?

Don: I have a bad habit here! I like coding game engines. My latest engine uses LUA (see http://lua.org) as a script language. The engine is very portable and it works on both PC and some ARM based handhelds.
Every year, in July, I teach children how to program at a summer school for young programmers. This school is going to be devoted to some sound effects library coding. It’s my my own workshop.
I have three work in progress game projects, but I have to polish up my engine first before continuing them!

Daniel: Here’s a thinker for you, Don. If you had not translated the RPG Makers, do you think that Enterbrain may have considered releasing them on their own? And if they had, do you think that they would have had as much success as they have had through your translations?

Don: Well, I believe that they would have never released it abroad. I don’t count some Playstation stuff, those are not as serious as the PC RPG Makers.
I know some Japanese people in real life, and they say that domestic market of Japanese RPGs is devoted to “smart people”. Who does the domestic market consist of? You know.
My translations and free advertising brought much attention to their products in many countries. They could have even released it in Russia despite the software piracy.
I don’t know how much they had earned on RPG Makers abroad, but I believe the sum could be less without my “help”. That’s just my opinion. There are many similar (and more professional) products for game making, which became forgotten right before the release of the RPG Makers.

How ironic that back in the nineties I had so much trouble when my commercial games were pirated. I haven’t covered my expenses, but I’ve got some “fame” because my products were wide spread. My next projects were pirated as well…

Daniel: So you rose to fame through piracy? Sounds more like infamy, eh?
Here’s another RPG Maker question for ya. Don’t worry, this whole interview won’t focus on the RPG Makers. This will be the last question focusing solely on this subject.
What are your thoughts on the newer RPG Makers, XP and VX. You may not use them, but I’m sure you’re aware of them? Do you think that they are a step forward, or a step backward? Is Enterbrain giving the amateur game designers the proper tools? I ask this because a lot of people are still using RPG Makers 2000 and 2003 despite these newer engines, and they are reluctant to change. What are your thoughts?

Don: I haven’t used the new makers, but I’ve read about their features and I’ve seen some screen shots. They kept backward project compatibility, that’s good. They added Ruby. That’s good, too. However, I don’t think they (new makers) vary much. So if people want to make games, they could use any tool.
One day users realize that the RPG Makers have their limits. They’re good for starters, good for fun. Being a professional programmer, I still like the idea of RPG Makers. The key is in their simplicity.

Daniel: So you still have a soft spot for the RPG Makers?

Don: That spot is my friends, the friendships that I made through my work with the RPG Makers.

Daniel: That’s pretty nice to hear, but I suppose it was evident since after passing on RPG Maker 2003, you continued at your ezBoard for a bit, followed by staffing at Gaming Ground Zero and then, finally, ending up at Stifu’s forum. You seem to have a close partnership with Stifu, even being featured as a playable character in his Mario Kart hack. How would you describe your relationship with Stifu, another well known figure from RPG Maker’s past?

Don: I didn’t pass on RPG Maker 2003. I just got a letter from Enterbrain and stopped distributing their products. I kept my forum online due to some friends of mine. It was the place to meet. Somehow I parted with GGZ (I never liked to be manipulated and such). It seems that Stifu is a very reliable man. Just look at his site. Stifu is my friend. For me, it’s a honor to have such a friend and be a tiny pixel in his (and his pal’s) project. I like Stifu’s pixel-art talent. Our friendship has grown up from the fight. I hope we’ll finish our cooperative projects and have some projects in the future.

Daniel: Well, I wish you luck! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Don, and again, best of luck to you in your future endeavors.


(2010/05/29)

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RPG Maker: A Look Back

From 1999 until 2009, I enjoyed tinkering with Enterbrain’s RPG Maker products, seeing what I could do and if anyone online thought that anything I made was fun. I could probably still use them even now, but neither the flame or passion are there anymore. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m 24 or that I used the tool kits for so many years that I’ve exhausted myself, but I just find it hard to want to use them anymore.

Despite the fact that I do not actively use RPG Maker products anymore, I still think highly of them and have many fond memories from using the products and talking to others who also did on communities such as Gaming World, a website that used to be the best place to go for articles, games, resources, and tutorials.

I think back to why I first used RPG Maker 95 in 1999, and I’ve concluded that it’s because I wanted to fulfill one basic desire that we all have, the will to create something. As a teenage boy, I had dreams that many other teenage boys had. I, like many others, always wanted to make my own video game. Almost all of us lacked the means to make a game in any efficient manner, so when the RPG Makers were popularized on the internet, I became aware that my dreams could finally be realized.

Like many who started, I decided that the best way to start was by making an RPG with “Final Fantasy” in the title. Fangames were always a large part of the RPG Maker scene, and I was usually smack dab in the center. I still remember my very first game in RPG Maker 95, one that only my brother play tested. It was called Final Fantasy… something. The title escapes me, but I clearly remember the main character being similar to Celes from Final Fantasy IV, and for some bizarre reason the first character to join her was a court jester on a wooden bridge. Why was he there? I don’t know. Did he have a reason for joining? Not really. I was only thirteen or fourteen at the time, so none of that mattered. I was just having fun, after all.

I went on to make quite a few RPGs over time. My first game on RPG Maker 2000, the successor to RPG Maker 95, was called Lost Chapters and in 2001 won the prestigious award of “worst RPG Maker game” at the time. It was truly an awful game, lacking any kind of intro sequence at all. The storyline was hardly coherent, and I tried to fit in an epic adventure into a game that could be beaten in two or three hours. Still just a young teenager, I didn’t know what I was really doing. A female dancer, hungry dragon, and sex changing sorcerer were the primary party members aside from the main character, a demon named Exdeath. Yes, Exdeath. Clearly I was infatuated with Final Fantasy V at the time.

Several Lost Chapters sequels and Breath of Fire/Final Fantasy fangames filled the remaining seven or eight years of my RPG Maker days. I remember always looking forward to publishing my games on Gaming World’s forums to see how they would be received. For the most part, the early ones were met with utter hate while my last few, which are all still incomplete and on my hard drive, were actually met with small amounts of praise. Of course I still had people saying that my latest Final Fantasy game was dull or boring, or that my original game Reminisce wasn’t that fun, but there were people who actually enjoyed playing them and told me that they looked forward to future versions. Just knowing that I entertained even a small crowd of people with games that I attempted to make in an RPG Maker was a cool feeling. It’s not something I’m proud of and I never bring it up, but it does make me feel good. It’s the same as if I wrote a short story or cooked a really good meal and people enjoyed them. It’s the same feeling of fulfillment, and working away on various RPGs that I used to make certainly got me through some very, very dreary days when I used to live back where I grew up.

Overall, I look back on everything and I think that I was just pursuing silly teenaged dreams, but I’m definitely thankful for everything RPG Maker did for me. Because of it, I learned how to take criticism from the public better (ie. receiving comments about aspects of my games that people did not like), and it also taught me better organizational skills. Though I don’t think I’ll ever really work on anything in RPG Maker again, except maybe to kill an hour or two on slow days, I’m grateful for my time with the makers. I still do have a desire to make games (platformers specifically, and I have a really awesome idea in my head that’s NEVER been done) and I would love to try and make something again, but the best days, the RPG Maker days, are behind me now. And you know what? They were damn good days.

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