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The great potential of Awake

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Joined: 26 Mar 2016
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PostPosted: 26 Mar, 2016 19:50    Post subject: The great potential of Awake

A year ago, in bed with a light fever and overcome with nostalgia, I typed “Diablo I” into my browser’s search box. That, my friends, had been a game. There was nothing quite like starting a brand new character, hopping on battle.net and cutting through some 8 levels of dungeon in one sitting with a random partner or two. Sure there was no economy to speak of – but that was a blessing in disguise. It made the game more communal, you see. If you were playing a warrior and found a good mage item – what could you do with it? There was no point in saving it – you couldn’t easily pass it down to your own character and it had no trade value as duping was all too prevalent. The logical answer was to just give it to the mage character who you were playing with.

This way, when the two of you went back down into the dungeon, you were that much closer together, and you could feel it because, much of the time, you were actually on the same screen. That’s right, this was not diablo 2 with characters running left and right like decapitated chickens. Rather, the tempered walking speed proved to be an excellent design decision as kept the game, how shall I put this?... ‘centered’ (until teleport, teleport was a bit of a problem, true).

Lying in the comfort of my bed, I was indeed tempted to take the plunge again but the results of my search gave me pause. “Diablo I MOD” read the little letters of my google results page. I scratched my head – what harm could it do? …and I clicked the link.

That brought me to the Diablo Awake MOD which I then proceeded to play – and I will be honest, that MOD blew me away. It’s my opinion that the first 4 levels of Awake are the best stretch of dungeon-crawling goodness to be had in gaming.

This is thanks to three things:

First, durability. You heard me right – that stupid, money-wasting bother that never seemed to make a damn bit of difference in the actual game (unless you were using the butcher’s cleaver). In Awake, things break. Your items, that is – they are fragile and you must be constantly weary of wearing them through. More than that, repairs are expensive to the point where you must sometimes choose between getting a health potion and repairing that cap. It’s beautiful feature and it makes the game more intense.

Secondly, the bad-guys. I will never forget the moment when I first encountered that giant skeletal monster guy on the first level of Awake. I’m a grown man, but it was a scary moment. More importantly, he didn’t want to die. In fact, most of the bad guys you meet in the cathedral part of awake are pretty darned tough to the point that playing that part of the game as the warrior is a tactical experience. You read that right. Every step counts. Every little barrel is a way to manage a crowd. You actually have to think and its great until you find a door. Then it gets a bit easier, but not completely thanks to the gravedigger monster class – monsters that refuse to walk into the narrow doorway and that actively push you back from it. The intensity goes up another notch.

The third wonderful thing about the first four levels of Awake is that you don’t know what you’re going to get. That begins with the aforementioned winged skeletons and other original bad-guys but is especially true thanks to the bosses. You don’t know what exactly is waiting for you in the butcher’s chamber. You don’t know what to expect from Duriel on level 3. Oh yes, Duriel on level three – this deserves its own paragraph…

Duriel on level 3, as it turns out, is an innovation in-himself – he fundamentally changes the character of the game. He is basically a super-boss that you know is out there. Every time you see a little glowing square across a wall, you have to wonder if its him. You want to kill those other bosses. But if its him, you pretty much have to run – Leoric was somewhat like this in the original as well, but Duriel just takes it a step further. This is beautiful because it gives level three of Awake a totally different character from the rest of the game. It gives it its own deliciously horrifying feel. Even if it may not have been intentional, the result is a fantastic playing experience.

All these put together make the first four levels of Awake into its own game that stands above other dungeoncrawls. It’s not just a slot-machine with swords anymore. It’s a horror game that takes advantage of Diablo I’s unmatched atmosphere and amplifies it through intelligently improved mechanics.

Yes, the first four levels of Awake are wonderful. The first four. Yes. Unfortunately. Only those. What goes wrong?

Mostly, it’s the balance. Andariel’s Wand is insanely strong, as are some of the other unique items you get from quests… but even those aside, the catacombs and caves are way easier than the dungeon. Part of it is that the monsters are too weak. A more important part is that they are too slow. Possibly the most important part is that there are too many bottle-necks – isolated doors and bridges. Only in hell does life become somewhat interesting again.

So, what’s the point of this post? Why am I even writing it?

Well, I’ve been playing another Diablo MOD for the last few days. “Belzebub” also knows as “Diablo HD”. It’s quite amazing what the author of that MOD has done in terms of remaking Diablo I in Diablo II’s image. Quite wonderful, in its own way. But you know what? I already have Diablo II and playing Belzebub only makes me yearn the more for the path not taken. The path that Awake opened for us.

There is just such enormous potential on that path. For that potential to be reached, though, items and monsters would have to be balanced. Doors and bridges would have to appear in clusters so that they no longer present bottle-necks. …and each level should have its own interesting twist, like Duriel. Incidentally, I’ve thought many of these twists through and could post them here. If, that is, there is some real interest and a chance that something like this will actually be made.
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PostPosted: 03 Apr, 2016 5:29    Post subject:

I think belzebub is the final and best version mod for diablo 1

there's not a lot that can be done on such an old game engine
and I doubt there is anybody that has the time or knowledge to do it
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PostPosted: 09 Apr, 2016 18:06    Post subject:

Well, you may be right about nobody wanting to do it. However, I can't agree with you about the game engine. From what I've seen its perfectly enough to make the very best version of diablo possible.

It turns out that it's the little things that really make the game.

For example, running really hurt Diablo II while the decision to make durability an actual problem in Awake was brilliant. Similarly, while I'm really enjoying the Belzebub mod, its decision to let players keep their items after dying makes the game a lot less intense than it should be.

Here's another case in point. I'm currently, playing a sorc on belzebub and am again faced with the odd circumstances of having dozens of spells while only using a few of them. This makes the game less interesting but once its recognized as a problem, its not that hard to think of solutions. For example, what if, every time the sorc read a book, it would raise the magic requirement for reading any other book in that same spell level? A simple tweak like that would allow for actual sorcerer builds and make the game more interesting. No new engine needed.

Its like boardgames: chrome doesn't equal theme. Simple and effective design decisions is what makes theme. For example, belzebub has loads of quests but most of them are kind of the same - go somewhere, kill stuff and then kill the boss. Or run around fetching stuff. Ditto for D2. They all *feel* the same though a few look different... and yet there is so much potential for creating situations that actually feel different.

For example, you could have a quest where a fallen one is running away with all the level's loot and no-one on that level will drop anything If he reaches a stairs, he is gone. But if you kill him, he will drop a key to a special super-loot chamber. ...or a level where there are two giant monster armies fighting each other and the trick is to manipulate the really difficult enemies to face off. ....or a level where three computer controlled warriors are out for vengeance but they are fragile and reckless. If you keep them alive until a certain boss dies, you get something. ...or a level that's underpopulated until you get to a certain room and them monsters spawn everywhere and town portal doesn't work. I could go on.

Changes like this could make for a dynamic and surprising game. Imagine if every single level of the dungeon had one of three possible unusual features like that (or not any). That would make going down those stairs pretty darn exciting, wouldn't it?

...not to mention a more fleshed out 'no town' variant where the difficulty would be slightly tweaked and everything would dropped pre-identified. It would be all about how far you could get in one go. So much amazing potential in this game!

Its hard to believe that it's been over twenty years and the industry still hasn't caught on to any of these possibilities but keeps going for stuff that is bigger and brighter but also a lot less interesting.
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