Stay Awhile and Listen: Meet the Team #1 - Blizzard North Co-Founders
Oct 21, 2013
Three years ago I decided to do what I could not believe no one else had done: write the complete story of Blizzard North and the making of the Diablo games. The first Blizz North developer to throw his weight behind the project was Eric Sexton, a great friend who reached out to former colleagues on my behalf and got names like Michio Okamura, Kelly Johnson, Matt Uelmen, and others to participate in the project.
Enthusiasm for the project flowed my way from there, and even more former developers joined the growing ranks. Still, I knew there were three names whose support would make or break my book. Without David Brevik and Max and Erich Schaefer, there would be no Stay Awhile and Listen, just as there would not have been a Diablo or a Blizzard North.
I got hold of Dave Brevik's phone number from a relative who had worked at Blizzard North for several years. After punching it into my phone, I stared at it for a good hour before pressing Send while pacing back and forth across my living room. Was I really going to do this? Could I really just call this guy out of the blue and expect him to talk to me about his life just because I wanted him to? Who the hell was I?
I couldn't come up with a good answer, but by that time, I was so nervous I couldn't come up with much of anything. So I sent the call before I changed my mind and prayed for Dave's voicemail to pick up.
It didn't. Dave did.
My pitch spilled out in a rush: "Hi Dave big fan hey my name's Dave too isn't that cool listen I'd like to write a book about Blizzard and Diablo would you mind meeting me for an interview?"
He didn't say anything for a good five seconds. Then: "Uh... Yeah. Sure. Okay."
Reaching out to Erich was slightly easier. I looked him up on LinkedIn, got his email address, and wrote an eloquent request complete with proper punctuation, a luxury my nervousness and fanboyism prevented during my phone call to Dave. Erich was busy, but said yes.
Max was tougher. I emailed, and emailed, then waited and emailed again. Nothing. This is no good, I thought to myself. Two of the three founders? Two thirds of their story? Nope, no good at all. But Erich assured me Max was interested, just busy (the Schaefers were working on Torchlight at the time), and that I should keep emailing. And boy did I ever. At last Max answered, and he confirmed Erich's words: yes, he too would sign on.
They didn't have to say yes, but they did. In preparing to formally announce Stay Awhile and Listen's summer 2012 release, I caught up with them to learn more about what had prompted them to share their story with me, and why they viewed that story as one worth telling.
Q: What prompted you to share the story of your time at Blizzard North and the making of the Diablo games?
David Brevik: It's an interesting story that a lot of people have asked me about, so this book presents a way to get a complete picture of what happened. I think it will be fun for a lot of people to understand the story behind Diablo and Blizzard North, so I thought, why not?
I'd like to get everything down on paper and better understand what happened, so in some ways it was to study what happened and verbalize some of my lessons, communicate an interesting story, and somewhat selfishly, I want a record of that time so when I'm older I can refer to it. Perspectives on the story from a bunch of different people all coming together is what I'm most looking forward to. I think learning everybody's perspectives on what happened is important.
Erich Schaefer: I really liked the idea that somebody was going to get this stuff down just because the facts were starting to drift away in my mind. I worry about that exciting time being lost; the history of Diablo, and of Condor, and of Blizzard North.
So at first I was just really excited about somebody putting this down as a record of that time. But then I came to enjoy talking to you and just talking about the games and that time. I looked forward to our interviews just because it left me feeling happy about what I considered a great time.
And, I don't consider myself anything special, so I kind of enjoyed the attention, actually. [laughs]
Q: How about you, Max? Besides me emailing you seven times a week until you responded, of course.
Max Schaefer: That's the big one, obviously. [laughs] It was getting to a point where some of the details were starting to disappear. It was such a formative period for all of us that it was alarming, especially as you got deeper into your questions, that I didn't remember the sequence of things and the way things went down. Participating in the book prompted a lot of memories that I had, and it's just good to get it down now so that what happened during that period isn't lost forever.
Q: The Diablo games have left an indelible mark on gaming culture. What do you think makes the story of how you all made Diablo, and the trials and tribulations Blizzard North faced making it, so unique?
MS: That time turned out so well, and yet we were so unprepared for it that we didn't consider it would become something that someone would write a book about someday. There were a lot of times where we were near collapse; a lot of things could have gone wrong. But for one reason or another, they didn't, and we had a really good opportunity to do something great.
You realize how fortunate you are later on after it's all done and you're looking back, how easily it could have been different people or a different situation and none of it would have happened. You just feel really grateful about it.
DB: I don't know if our story is much different than a lot of people's from that era, but it's interesting because we don't have a lot of these stories that have been told. There haven't been a lot of books or records of the trials and tribulations of game development. There's lots of stories about movie stars and rock stars and things like that, that are there for the fans. But with our industry being so young and new, here's the story behind a title that became famous. I think that will interest a lot of people.
I don't know if it was unique to us. It was an interesting story just because we had success. People in general want the story of Angelina Jolie, they don't want the story of an extra on Scrubs. So we were really different in that we had success. I think people will relate to a lot of the stories we have.
Q: What would you like readers to take away from the story?
ES: To me, looking back, it was a very action-packed time where all kinds of new and different things were happening so fast. That part was enjoyable to me. I remember having loads of fun. So I hope readers take away an interesting story, and I hope they look favorably upon what we did, warts and all. I'd just like them to enjoy a fascinating story with funny moments, a few sad moments, and hopefully exciting--but that's more up to you than me. [laughs]
I hope people can draw some inspiration and a better understanding of themselves for that era; that would be great. I've read a couple of books on that era, but our story's a lot different than a lot of dot-com and other tech company stories. I'd definitely like to see this set a record for what went on. Friends are interested, and I'm sure my parents have a ton of friends who are going to want this book because they're always asking me for more details about that time.
I would also love for the story to inspire somebody to make great games. I don't know how that would work, exactly, but if you find the right readers and they end up thinking, "Hey, I can do that" and just try big things, that would be great.
MS: What I hope readers take away is that regular people make games like ours, so don't ever think you can't be part of something like that. I hope people feel encouraged to try and do something like we did. That's the important thing for me in telling this story: to let people know that regular people can do things like this, you just have to do them. We didn't have business experience, we didn't even really have professional experience. It's just a matter of having a dream and having a vision, and doing the grunt work that realizing that dream entails.
DB: I think that depends on your perspective as a reader. If you're a reader interested in the back-story and history of how this all came together, and the relationships and trials, and how much work, effort, time, and sacrifice goes into this kind of thing, I think you'll get a good sense of how hard you have to work to get to where we were. Or if you're another developer, maybe you can learn something from some of the mistakes we made. So it depends on what your perspective is as the reader.
Q: What would you like to say to the fans who have supported you, your games, and Diablo for so many years?
DB: Words don't do it justice. I'm extremely grateful people have enjoyed the game as much as they have. I feel very fortunate to have created something that has entertained people in such a way. I'm grateful that they play it and they enjoy it, but also that they're so vocal about it. I look forward to making more games that people get excited about in the future.
MS: Gamers surprised and delighted us from the very beginning. We had no idea that Diablo would be big, much less turn into a franchise; and that was because of the word of mouth of all these people and the community they made. People liked to be part of the community. It wasn't just about the games, it was about the community. So, thank you.
ES: I'd like to say thank-you from the bottom of my heart. I'm extremely happy that people enjoy the Diablo series and got a lot of fun out of it.
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