Playing It Hardcore: Ten Years Later, the Diablo Community Fights On

The stark white tombstones hover over the blood-red background of the graveyard.

"Tried taking on Duriel solo," reads one. "At level 19, I thought it would be cake."

RIP, FROZENBIATCH.

Nearby, another sad epitaph: "My poor golem and mercenary bought the farm immediately. I played the potion keys like a retarded kid playing a xylophone, but that only prolonged my own agony for a few seconds more."

RIP, JonesMcBones.

These are the last words of the hardcore; the truly brave souls that begin Diablo II never planning to see their own corpse. A single death, and the character is gone forever--talents, treasure and all.

The plainness of some notes indicates a clear state of shock: "Bremm Sparkfist got me when I pressed the wrong potion button. I had many rejuvenation potions but hit the mana potion instead."

Others are less than pleased at having suddenly lost days of adventuring progress to a single mistake. "Cause of Demise: I'm a complete moron." RIP, LoudAngryPanda, level 55 Barbarian.

Those looking to pay their respects will find the "hardcore graveyard" hidden deep in the bowels of the leading Diablo fan site, diii.net. Surreal, and oddly sentimental, the many recent entries are at the very least evidence that a decade later, the Diablo community is still busy devouring the addictive action-RPG.

But much to Blizzard's recent dismay, these same Diablo devout can occasionally click on the hand that feeds.

Mob Mentality
Nowhere is the strength, and weakness, of the Diablo fan base more evident than in its latest colorful outburst.

After Blizzard released the first Diablo III footage, many fans immediately pointed in horror at brightly lit caves and rainbow-laden zones, furious that their favorite gothic RPG series had been crossed with a Lucky Charms commercial. They crawled out of their dungeons in droves, staying long enough to start a widely-covered petition against a perceived radical shift in the series' art direction.

Surprisingly, Blizzard quickly shot back, with designer Jay Wilson responding point by point to a set of fan-made screenshots--images that had been created with the purpose of showing Blizzard how to "fix" the game's art style.

"Though it looks really cool," said Wilson of a gritty, darkened-up dungeon, "it's almost impossible to do in a 3D engine because you can't have lighting that smart and run on systems that are reasonable. If we could do that, we probably would in a few of the dungeons."

It is easy to see both sides of the issue. Questioning Blizzard's proven, world-class art team this early in the game is an exercise in credibility suicide. However, by Wilson's own admission, the Diablo III's 3D lighting does break from tradition, presenting a wider view of the dungeon than in the past.

Whatever the case, it is clear that these Photoshops represent more than trivial, trollish jabs by misguided fans. Instead, they seem a result of nervous concern--a natural fear of change to something that thousands of people still enjoy. For as much as Blizzard is keeping the same, there will of course be many changes made to the Diablo II formula. And nobody fears change like a gamer.

So while it is tempting to take sides, what this fleeting controversy really proves is that, after ten years, fans are still rabid over the prospect of a new Diablo game.

They care enough to actively worry about it. They follow the game's development screenshot by screenshot, like anxious, expecting fathers staring at ultrasounds. They mean well.

All developers should be so lucky.