Gameplanet: Why have you decided to create The Book of Cain?
Chris Metzen: The Diablo story, over time, was constructed by a lot of different people. As a result I’ve felt, over the years, that there was a lack of clarity or cohesion relative to the lore of the setting. As we began to develop Diablo III many years ago, it was a great opportunity to tighten everything up, to really shore up the franchise story and the history of the world; to substantiate the plot of Diablo III. The more we got into it, the more we realised it’d be really fun – critical – to make this information available to the playerbase.
Separately, we also always thought it’d be fun to do a source book – many of us at Blizzard grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons, so we’re all very hip to having world source books and things like that.
So it seemed like a confluence of those two things. The time was right to attack this as a project. We also had a friend of ours, a writer named Flint Dille, was also contracted to help us with some dialogue and such on the game, and as he got more and more familiar with the lore we’d been developing, we thought it would be a great opportunity to use Flint to do this source book as well. As he had fresh eyes coming in and helping us on the game side, he’d be the perfect person to chronicle this fiction that we had constructed.
Gameplanet: Speaking of Dungeons & Dragons, that’s an influence on Diablo’s lore – also that Christian or monotheistic interpretation of Heaven and Hell, but where else do you look for inspiration when working on Diablo lore?
Metzen: Everyone likes different kinds of horror, but I remember as a kid, the horrors that always tripped me out were the ones that dealt with the devil, movies like The Exorcist or The Omen, those movies always had a particularly creepy feeling for me. So you know, the Heaven and Hell thing was something I thought a lot about as a kid, and definitely movies inspired the way I thought about that stuff. There was a movie called The Prophecy with Christopher Walken and Eric Stoltz that came out in the ‘90s, it was by the guy that did Highlander. The Prophecy really zapped my head, the idea that there’s this secret war between Heaven and Hell playing out unbeknownst to the broad masses of humanity was very interesting to me.
Around the time Blizzard North had developed the game of Diablo, when we really started thinking about the lore behind the game, I remember thinking it’s nice to have a contrast between Diablo and the other fantasy universe we were developing at the time – which was Warcraft – such that it’s a fantasy setting but it doesn’t have dragons or elves or any of those classic motifs. That this world was a little grittier, a little more grounded, a little more versed in darkness and the shades of grey, that the real battle in Diablo is the battle within the human heart. All these themes really sang to me and made this universe distinct from anything else we were chasing at the time.
Gameplanet: Just picking up on the development of the original Diablo and then building the lore around it, where does lore fit into the design process? Does one come first, drive the other, or are they co-developed?
Metzen: I guess I’d have to answer that relative to the games themselves. On the first game there wasn’t a tremendous amount of story put forward. It was really just a lot of great game design and it was a lot of fun, but there wasn’t much of a sense of world and the quests that had been developed didn’t really string together in a super-cohesive form.
So I remember feeling a little anxious about that, and I worked with another developer, a guy by the name of Bill Roper. Bill took the town of Tristram and developed those characters, the context of Griswold and Wirt the peg-legged boy, and a lot of the characters that were really fun in Diablo, and I took the mythology background stuff. I was intent to build a kind of meta-fiction that really was the backdrop to the quests you were doing in the game.
So you know, we banged that out and it turned out fairly well. I don’t know that the story was super-cohesive in terms of the gameplay, but Diablo – as an overarching experience – certainly had a lot of personality.
When it got around to Diablo II, Blizzard North’s designers really stepped up and they had much more story for that offering. They had done a lot of world development – places like Lut Gholein or Kurast, different areas in the world – they had [also] developed a lot of specific lore around their character classes that time out. So they really had stepped up on the sequel and also [the expansion] Lord of Destruction, but in those intervening pockets of development there were a lot of inconsistencies and a lot of really good fiction was developed but it didn’t really match.
Then of course we had the long silent years since Lord of Destruction’s publication where we were putting out books and novels – Richard Knaak was a writer we worked a lot with in that era – where we were just trying to keep the torch lit. We didn’t know when the next Diablo game would come out but we wanted fans to have some fiction that they could sink their teeth into.
So there was a lot of fiction developed outside of the scope of the game series. Book of Cain as of a couple of years ago was just a perfect place to get everything down on paper, everything published – everything we’d held internally, everything the fans knew and did not know, and it provided us with a wonderful opportunity to get it all straight.
Ultimately, the purpose of The Book of Cain is not only to get the fiction of the history straight, but also really be a product that sets up everything that Diablo III is.
Gameplanet: Going back to those concepts of Heaven and Hell, good and evil: they’re really easy concepts for people to understand quickly but in their purest forms they don’t necessarily make for very interesting storytelling. What makes “good” good and what makes “evil” evil and does The Book of Cain seek to explain this in any way?