Two years after the release of Diablo II: lord of Destruction, Blizzard North had a falling out with Blizzard’s parent company, Vivendi, and its employees went on to form new companies like Flagship Studios and Hyboreal Games.
Before the fallout, however, around 2003, Blizzard North were working on their next game — a game that, judging by some character models we unearthed from the blog of ex-Blizzard employee, Alan Ackerman — looks awfully like a Diablo game.
Here’s a model of what we’re assuming is an enemy — the Flayed Hound. Diablo already has enemies and items with “Flayed” in their names as a prefix or suffix, so it isn’t too much of a stretch, especially given the art style, to imagine that this could have been for a Diablo-related project.
The mystery gets even more interesting if you read what Mr. Ackerman has to say about the dog’s texture map, pictured above:
“We [were] using pretty simple texture maps; at the time, massively multi-player engines limited the technology that could be used on models. It also did not make much sense to use normal maps and such objects that were going to be pretty small in game (at the time there was no planned zoom or camera controls).”
Massively multiplayer engines? Does this mean Blizzard were potentially working on an MMORPG based on Diablo after all? Or perhaps, the game simply ran on the World of WarCraft engine.
Here’s another model by the same artist, this one of an “Immolated Warrior.” Call it what you will, but ultimately, it’s a bloody (literally) skeleton, and skeletons are all too common in Diablo. Oh, and “Immolated Arrow” just so happens to be one of the Amazon’s skills in Diablo II as well.
After a large number of Blizzard North employees left the company, Vivendi shut the division down. At the time, they were rumoured to have been working on Diablo III, which, as we now know, went through several reiterations before Blizzard settled on the final, more colourful style.