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Diablo: Alpha 2
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Date: February 1996 or later

The Alpha2 (not an official name) is the second earliest version of Diablo we know. As far as we know, this version wasn't turn based anymore.
The interface has been redone and now it's a lot closer to the final layout. At this point most of the interface is likely to be non functional, as you can see by the lack of buttons to click. The log inside the window remains, but gets changed in a later Alpha2 revision and the health/mana bars have been replaced with the famous orbs, currently held by two claws. We wouldn't see the final angel&demon images until the pre-release demo.
Other notable properties of Alpha 2 include the absence of lighting in many, but not all of the screenshots, and the info/target bar working on some shots. Mana and Life are still on different sides of the screen (mana left instead on the right as in the retail/beta and vice versa)
It is of course highly speculative, but there are probably three versions of the Alpha2.
Here's our theory:
  • Alpha2-BrokenOrb

    You can see that enemies are highlighted, but their name doesn't appear in the info bar. Also in the upper left corner of the message box, you can see the rectangular outline of the mana orb sprite covering the first letter of the text
  • Alpha2-Fixed Orb

    Basically the same, but the mana orb has been fixed and is layered below the message box text now
  • Alpha2-Target

    This revision disables the message box (replacing it with a generic "Welcome to Diablo" message) and enables the ability to see the name of the currently selected enemy in the info box above


This is just a theory, but we're pretty sure that this is the logical course of the development. The developer option to turn of lighting (present in the prerelease demo) might have been used in several screenshots, which explains the seemingly random Occurrence of Alpha1&2 shots with lighting. We also don't know for sure how enemy highlighting worked. In the versions we have available, there is a mouse over effect, but it could be possible that the early versions allowed to select an enemy and only when using mouse over would the info bar be active. Because there is no sure way to tell if there were actually different versions of the Alpha2, we won't create any larger Alpha differentiations and just make these sub versions of Alpha2.

Some other facts:
  • The Butcher was probably introduced in this version. We've seen a screenshot of the butcher's chamber in Alpha1, but no trace of the butcher himself. The Overlords however did exist in Alpha 1 as a regular enemy in the cathedral
  • Probably the introduction of the active enemy name display broke the message log below as you can't see the combination of both
  • There was a small sub-version of Alpha2a, but we're getting into too much detail here. Compare the first and the second shot, where the "D" in the upper left corner of the message log is being overlapped by the mana orb sprite in one version, but not anymore later
  • Some time between the first and last known Alpha 2 revision, there was a minor layout change in Leorics chamber, as can be seen by the addition of the added flame on the brazier
  • There is still no line of sight blocking to other enemies, but transparency has been implemented compared to Alpha1

Alpha2 - "Broken Orb"

Warrior, Level 12, in Leorics Chamber

  • In the background you can see a removed enemy class: Yellow fallen ones. They don't have a name and exist only in very few screenshots. What's noteworthy is the fact that they were for a long time (maybe still) visible on Blizzards Diablo 1 page
  • Double Damage hits are still present in the retail version, although not visible to the player. The chance for such a hit is clvl% in retail
  • The warrior is casting nova, a very advanced spell not available at that dungeon level and nowadays not castable by a warrior at that level, unless he focuses heavily on magic. Probably casted for testing or promotional-screenshot purposes
  • The grave-tiles on the wall behind the warrior were originally also used in randomly generated dungeons, but (among other tiles) they got removed from the random generator later in development. The only place you can see them in retail is this custom level
  • In later versions of the game, the brazier in Leorics chamber is burning. The brazier graphics were overhauled at least twice. Once to add fire and once to add different fire
  • There exists a fakeshot variant of this screen, where Blizzard removed (very badly) the orbs and added other player characters to give the impression of multiplayer. Unfortunately the multiplayer mode was rushed in the end, so most single player areas are inaccessible in multiplayer and the scenario they showed in the faked screenshot can't occur
  • See the "D" in the upper left corner, which is displayed incorrectly. This is fixed in a later build and one of the ways to tell the versions apart. Usually shots with the full interface are the easiest to categorize


Warrior, Level6 in Cathedral

  • One of only two complete and high quality Alpha2 screenshots
  • Yellow fallen one in the top, if I'm not mistaken. Very rare Occurrence, much rarer than the Ice Stalker
  • I don't exactly know where the fireball shooting at the player comes from, so that's a mystery in itself. But I also believe this fireball animation isn't used in the final version anymore
  • When there's blue floor with pink walls, the sarcophagi are using a different palette in this version than in retail. This is another way to spot different versions: Watch for palette changes
  • LevelUp experience requirements are also completely different from later versions



Alpha2 - ?

Warrior or Archer in Town

  • The only town shot of Alpha2. It's not 100% confirmed, but several signs indicate that it's an Alpha2 shot
  • It can't be an earlier shot, because this one has been modified to hide the Life and Mana orbs. If it was Alpha1, there wouldn't be any signs of modification
  • We believe it's NOT Alpha3, because at least in the press alpha right up until the pre-release demo, the Butcher quest starter was ALWAYS present. He's not here. While the Butcher has been implemented in Alpha2, it's likely that the quest leading to him wasn't there or much different
  • Due to the date of the shot it's also not possible for it to be a beta or retail shot with the Butcher quest not active in single player
  • Other than being the only Alpha2 town shot, this has actually nothing interesting to show whatsoever. It's just a neat example of Blizzards screenshot modification and how to date a shot



Fighter in Cathedral

  • A very early shot, unfortunately only available as a version modified by Blizzard to include a second multi player character
  • This premade room was still in the MPQ files of later versions, but isn't used anywhere in the game anymore
  • The shot features two removed enemy types: Ice Stalker and the nameless Fallen Ones
  • So far we've seen Skeletons, Burning Dead, Horrors and Ice Stalkers in pre-release shot. It's pretty safe to assume that Ice Stalkers got replaced by the Corpse Skeletons later
  • Originally thought to be unmodified, after extensive research and comparison of tile graphics and transparency patterns, we've discovered that this shot was also modified and so we moved it from Alpha1 to Alpha2


Catacombs

  • Originally of unknown origin, we have determined this shot to probably be Alpha2
  • Earlier is extremely unlikely due to the fact that this shot has also been modified to hide the tops of the life and mana orbs at the bottom
  • Later is also a little bit tricky, because of the mouse cursor. With Alpha3 the steel glove cursor had been implemented and there are no shots with regular mouse cursors from Alpha3 forward, but there are several from Alpha1+2
  • Prior to this discovery we didn't have any Catacombs shots of Alpha2, making this a pretty important milestone. Unfortunately we can't determine the exact Alpha2 build, because the interface is missing
  • The content isn't too exciting, but it's the first appearance of the Goat enemy type. If you look closely you can also see a Horror skeleton close to the west wall



Caves

  • Originally we weren't sure when this shot was taken, but we finally found where Blizzard covered the life and mana orbs. So it's not Alpha1 and because of the date of this and "new" lava shots, we are pretty sure this shot is Alpha2
  • small difference with this one as it has the old lava. So far we've only seen the old lava in Alpha1 shots, but now we have our first later old-Lava shot and it's from Alpha2, this is an important breakthrough
  • But we might be safe to assume that this is an early appearance of the Warrior in heavy armor, as there are no other player characters in this shot and the lava shows it's an early version
  • The fakeshot includes a bunch of other characters and enemies
  • The original version of this screenshot was named "nasty" and released together with the one below



Warrior in Catacombs

  • Version: Most likely Alpha2
  • Transparency, but no lighting makes it a good candidate for Alpha2 or 3
  • This screenshot has been edited to remove the Life and Mana orbs on the bottom, so it can't be an Alpha1 shot
  • Shown in a lot of different Magazines and Ads, this shot was most likely a promotional shot by Blizzard to show off the spell effects
  • Due to the similarity with some Alpha3 shots, we were originally leaning towards that version, but it seems, the shot was released alongside the one above
  • We also found out that this shot was probably released simultaneously with the one above, its original name being "magic"


Warrior in Cathedral

  • This shot is either from the "Broken Orb" or "Fixed Orb" build, but because there's not enough text in the log and the resolution is so low, we're not sure. It can't be the later "Target" version, because the "Welcome to Diablo" message isn't present
  • We think the message log is working a little bit different in the Fixed Orb version, which is why we're leaning towards this being from the Broken Orb build, but that's highly speculative, as we don't have enough material to analyze from Alpha2
  • The player just killed a Fallen One. The message box reads: "Fallen One Kill" and "+## EXP L:# E:##". The low digits show it's an early character that hasn't gotten a lot of XP yet
  • The bright "thing" might be the default windows cursor. It's too bright for an item, but we can't tell for sure



Alpha2 - "Fixed Orb"

Warrior: Graynor in the Cathedral

  • This is also an infamous screenshot that was later used by Blizzard in a modified version on the Diablo box itself. They removed the orbs and added a wizard casting a spell
  • Originally we only had a version of this shot with very bad quality and missing elements, so we couldn't say for sure how to date it. But now we've found several new variants, one with the interface and one in perfect quality
  • You can see the Ice Stalker skeleton in this screenshot, or at least its palette in use
  • This dungeon formation can't be generated in the retail version anymore
  • Note how the info text box shows the warriors stats. We don't see a character panel or inventory screen until the next version, so perhaps this debugging information was used to see the characters stats
  • Here the mana orb doesn't cover the message box text anymore, so thanks to the filled message log, we know it's a new build


Warrior: Graynor, dead, in the Cathedral

  • Graynor has died, but the important feature is the visible zoom function that's implemented here. Originally it was a means of getting better performance out of lower end computers. This is the first known occurrence of the zoom feature
  • In later versions, the screen fades to red and a menu pops up when you die. These features weren't implemented yet, as demonstrated by this screenshot



Alpha2 - "Target"

Warrior in Leorics tomb

  • Blizzard chose to show off Leorics tomb in a later build of the Alpha2 again. There are several signs that tell us this is a different build
  • Although already seen in Alpha1, the further development progresses, the more the lighting effect is turned on. Not a sure way to tell anything, of course
  • Compared to the other Alpha2 shot in Leorics tomb, this one has a different class of skeletons spawned. Due to the bad quality of the scan it's uncertain whether we're looking at regular skeletons or corpse skeletons
  • There is fire in the brazier. Compare this to the other screenshot, where the tile used was clearly different. This sprite would be changed once again later on
  • Note the glitched level layout in the lower left corner, just right above the mana orb


Warrior in the Butcher's chamber

  • First known screenshot of the Butcher. The Overlord enemy was available in Alpha1 but not the uniquely modified Butcher sprite and name
  • The small bonefires are (if it works as in retail) skeleton spawns. Here they spawn in the Butchers Chamber, which doesn't happen in later versions. The fight is already really difficult for a melee character without abusing the pathfinding AI, so a chance of a skeleton camp spawn added to the bossfight was probably the reason why they removed random spawns from the area
  • This dungeon layout isn't possible anymore. The Butcher's preset level chunk has been modified in later versions, but the old one can still be found with a level editor