EXCLUSIVE: Vicarious Visions design director talks Diablo II: Resurrected, game developing in Capital Region

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Upstate New York native Rob Gallerani says he never thought he’d have a hand in one of his first and favorite computer games: Diablo II.

“The first computer I ever got, well really the first computer my family got, was the laptop I took to college. I got like a small stack from my friends who said you’ve got to play this game, you’ve got to play this game, and the first one on the top was Diablo II, and I don’t think I ever got to any of the other games in the stack,” Gallerani remembers.

Now 21 years after its 2000 release, Diablo II still claims a spot among the top hack-and-slash RPGs of all time. Gallerani and his team at Vicarious Visions in Albany took on the delicate task of resurrecting the game in the modern era. As the studio’s design director, Gallerani played a crucial role in deciding what stayed and what had to get upgraded in Diablo II: Resurrected.

“It would be like hey, we want you to repaint the Mona Lisa. It was just as much a remaster of a game as it was a preservation, like a little window of history,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton. “If you look at other games that VV has recently done like Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, those we actually rebuilt the game from the ground up. We couldn’t do that with [Diablo II], because what makes the game so special is all these little quirks, all these little things that we knew we would miss one thing and fans would notice.”

Gallerani says Diablo II: Resurrected runs like an blanket of the latest 3D graphics, colors, and sounds laid on top of and powered by the original game’s code. He says some elements like console controller modifications, adding color blind mode, and font scaling all add to catching up to 20 years of game development. However, some bits and bugs were too reminiscent to fix.

“Even though people play differently now, Diablo II didn’t stop. People kept playing all this time, and because a certain bug has been in the game for maybe 20 years, it’s now not even seen as a bug. It’s perceived as that’s just how the game works, and so that was probably where we spent the most time. Deciding okay, this is a little quirk in the game, do we fix it and make it how it was originally supposed to be or do we actually keep it because that’s how people expect it to work?” Gallerani explains.

He says keeping some of the beloved elements of the game came from some of the original developers who still work at Blizzard. However, even though Vicarious Visions had the original code to work off of, Gallerani says many of the files used to create the game were lost. A large chunk of development time for Diablo II: Resurrected was spent tracking people down and asking to see their old computers, hard drives, or even paper sketches and marketing materials.

“In many cases, we didn’t create new concept art, we just went with the originals and in some cases, we even got to use the same models. So Tyrael’s wings, we were able to use the exact same model in our game. There were also texture maps for walls and things, we found those and just brought them over,” Gallerani says.

He says Thursday’s official release went well, with a few of the expected first launch bumps in the road. Gallerani adds new content and improvements for the game aren’t likely to come for some time.

“Our North Star right now is stick the landing, because we are going for a good foundation. We were really trying to make sure we made the same game people remember, so our main focus was on that, watching our feedback. We did an alpha, we did betas [tests] and we have a whole team of people dedicated to making sure things go well, but when you let the entire world play and you have millions of people, that’s really the true test of it,” he says.

Gallerani says Vicarious Visions working on such major projects proves you don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to make great games.

“I was like this is perfect, so close to my family, still get to work on the cutting edge, new games,” he says. “You’re seeing more and more people moving out of the urban areas and looking to places where you have more balance.”

He says as more major games are developed in the Capital Region and as bright minds enter the industry from local schools like RPI, he’d love to see gaming take on an even bigger role in New York’s future.

“We are reaching a new era of the games industry, and to have that choice of multiple studios to come and pick from, I would love to see it continue to go,” he says.

“Because of a lot of the changes we had to do for COVID and working from home, people are starting to realize they can do their job from really wherever they want. Developing this game, we didn’t have the Albany team and the California team or the Europe team, it was like we were all invited to each other’s homes. I saw the kids growing through screens and endless, endless cats and then I got to show them our leaves and our snow. While [the pandemic] is something I would never want to do again and I’m certainly looking forward to being out of it, it did open up new opportunities,” he went on to say.

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