Blizzard Hosts the Mother of All Midnight Launches for Diablo III
I have been to many midnight launches, but most of these were simple affairs, with maybe a couple dozen people at most. The atmosphere is festive and fun, but for the most part, it is a line of people playing their portable system, waiting to get the game in their hands. So, believe me when I was taken aback by the spectacle Blizzard put together for the launch of Diablo III in Irvine, CA last night. Over 2000 people gathered around a giant stage, positioned in front of a huge Ferris wheel, where Diablo III was the star of the show, like some gigantic rock act.
I had arrived for the launch slightly early, thinking the normal Los Angeles traffic would put a hitch into my journey, but the traffic was lighter than normal, allowing me to slip in quickly, grab a parking spot and set up for the event. Of course, as with any large event, I did not use the entrance where the stage was, and started to set up in front of the local GameStop, which proved to almost be my undoing. Thankfully, I did get squared up in the proper media area, and I was awestruck by the enormity of the event. There was a giant stage, a throng of people waiting to queue into the stage area, and a bank of registers that were still taking preorders up to the final moments of release. People at the front of the line talked about lining up for the event as early as Sunday, to make sure they had a good front row seat for the main event. I found that to be crazy, but Diablo has proven to be no simple brand. I mean, the Diablo II Warchest continues to be a top ten seller on PC, a mere 12 years after its initial release.
First off, we were greeted by our lovely MC for the evening, who was pumping up the crowd with a giant foam axe, getting everyone to chant “Diablo III” for a few minutes, as well as a lot of hollering and screaming from passionate fans. Many had gone so far as to show up in full cosplay, celebrating their favorite characters from the Diablo lore.
With the crowd salivating at this point, we kicked things off with of all things, a live art presentation, showing three of the artists bringing some of the Diablo characters to life. Two of the artists were working on full sized, screen based tablets that I could only dream about owning, while the center artist was using old school inks and pens to create his masterpiece. Questions were asked to the artists about what kind of custom brushes they use, or the specs on the tablets they were using, although one person did slip in a question about who would win in a fight between Tupac and Biggie, prompting one of the artists to toy with the idea of putting thug life in his drawing. One lucky winner was able to get the hand drawn art as well as a stack of Diablo comics that had just released, making for a very rare collectible.
The next hour or so was a mixture between walking down memory lane with some of the trailers and cut-scenes from past Diablo games alongside character introductions for each of the classes in Diablo III. Again more cheers came from the audience as old commercials from Diablo’s past played out on the screen, and the enthusiasm for these old titles was apparent from the crowd’s reaction. Other guests came out on screen to talk about sound recording for Diablo III, including one great scene where we got to watch on of the sound recorders get scorched by his own pyrotechnics. He did let us know that he had fully recovered from the ordeal, but that he had drawn blood to make Diablo III great, which of course, drew a huge uproar of cheers from the crowd.
Lucky fans in the audience were showered down with free t-shirts, mouse pads and more as they cheered on the guests on the stage, although at one point, yours truly was almost pelted by a SteelSeries mouse pad that came flying back into the press area. Obviously, someone was upset that they did not get a t-shirt or one of the few high end PCs that Blizzard was giving away to a few lucky fans. Others got a chance to go up on stage to play True or False with the official history keeper of the Diablo universe. And yes folks, there is actually a history department at Blizzard, that is staffed with several people that are notified of everything that is happening in a Blizzard game to make sure that the official timeline is kept in order and that mishaps are kept to a near zero level.
Another fine tradition that happens at Diablo launch events is the official Diabeards cutting, where many hardcore developers on Diablo projects grow huge beards which were all cut or trimmed live on stage to celebrate the completion of Diablo III. Even one of the female developers had a little fun with this, as she came out with a huge paper beard strapped to her face to celebrate the trimming of the untamed beards.
At this point, I was lucky enough to score a few minutes with Josh Mosquiera, the Lead Designer on the console exploration of Diablo III. We talked a little bit about how it feels to get a launch like this out the door after so many years in development as well as the future goals for Diablo III. And yes, we did get a bit into the console exploration, but we will have more on that with a full audio recording of the interview (praying I can clear up some of the background noise before posting).
Things started to wind down a bit as the show reached its apex and the countdown came on for the final few seconds before midnight and with a flip of a switch, Diablo III went live, and fans were ready to scurry home to play the game they have been waiting twelve years to enjoy. Blizzard put on one hell of a show that had people coming in from as far as Texas and Georgia to enjoy the festive atmosphere from a huge Diablo launch. Now with the game here, many of the Blizzard folks I talked with seemed to have the same sentiment as the crowd – “now we can go home and play some Diablo III”.
Note: Yes, some of the pictures did not come out as well as I thought, but I wanted to give you the chance to see all. I did have to cut the Diabeards stuff, because the people were moving around too much to get solid still shots.