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Diablo: Alpha 3
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Date: Around May 1996

The next major step in Diablo's development was what we call the Alpha3. We can see the interface of the Alpha2 getting more functionality and getting closer to the later versions of the game. The hinted-at buttons from the Alpha2 are now fully functional and we have basically the pre-release demo interface now.
This seems like the first version which was given to the press to play themselves. It's single player only (multiplayer was implemented very late) and so far we haven't seen much beyond the cathedral, except a few catacombs shots.
By the way, it's interesting how much we've discovered within the last couple of years. The Alpha3 press version now has more screenshots than we originally had on the whole website, which proves that there still is stuff out there to be found!
  • Alpha3-Press

    This "red" version was most likely given to the press around April or May of 1996 and was probably playable until the catacombs. The Alpha3 situation is a bit similar to the Beta, where two close versions were available to different audiences
  • Alpha3-Gold

    The "gold", or E3, Alpha3 is probably only a few weeks younger than the "red" Press Alpha3. It was used by Blizzard for a few promotional screenshots and also shown at E3 in May of 1996 to showcase the game. We see very minor interface changes and later levels here, supporting the theory that it's a more complete build, just like the press Beta was more complete than the battle.net Beta


In case you're wondering about some screenshots without an interface, because they look like they could be from retail: These were for the most part scanned from magazines long before there even was a beta or pre-release demo. Also they're usually part of articles showcasing the Alpha3. Except for a few candidates which look suspicious, we've grouped these screenshots with the version that was featured in that magazines issue.

Facts:
  • Mana is now on the right and life on the left, just as it is in retail
  • Item graphics appear and are the same as the ones in the pre-release version. They won't change until the battle.net beta
  • Character classes are implemented but still use warrior graphics
  • The Rogue was called "Archer" in this version
  • The Dungeon randomizer still works a little bit different than in the retail version
  • There are still dungeon tiles present that are later removed
  • A lot of the town NPCs were not implemented yet
  • Interface visuals are still a bit different and will change twice before they reach the final look
  • At this point, we suspect that all classes start with the firebolt spell or scroll by default, as it is present in almost every screenshot as the currently selected spell
  • The character interface and inventory screen make their debut.
  • Amulets didn't exist yet, as you can see by the missing amulet slot on the inventory screen. With them being introduced late in development, it could explain the lack of unique amulets in the game
  • Staves only took up 3 instead of 6 inventory spaces
  • The new glove-cursor has been implemented in this version. For some reason it is visible in a couple of shots, but not in others. In the retail version it can't be seen anymore, using the ingame screenshot function. Maybe the rendering worked differently in the Alpha3 or the method of taking screenshots was different.
  • While we have a lot of Warrior screenshots, there are few where he's using a shield, which means that the starting gear for the Warrior originally included only a one handed weapon and not a shield
  • Blue Sarcophagi are still being generated in the regular dungeon levels, while in later versions, they can only be seen in Leorics Lair.
  • Skeleton camps (or just the skeleton skull bonfires) can still spawn all around the dungeon while in retail, they only spawn in separate small rooms
  • The Info Bar above the message box is slightly wider than in the Alpha2

Alpha3 - Press


Warrior in Town

  • This shot shows the changes the town layout had over the course of development. Griswold is standing at a completely different spot
  • Cain is absent as well. With him being a central figure in many of the quests, it might be that the game is still extremely bare bones at this point, consisting "only" of randomized levels
  • The town map is different as well. The small path in the lower middle isn't there anymore in the retail version.



Sorceror in Town

  • With the character models still being the same for all classes, we can only speculate that this is a sorceror due to the fact he's wielding a staff
  • More differences in the NPC situation. Ogden will later move to the building above and Griswold will take up shop where Ogden is standing now
  • Since Ogden isn't blocking the entrance to the tavern anymore, one could speculate that the player was supposed to enter it at one point. What supports this theory is the removed Wyrm quest, which has an open door in town, and the general fact that the player can enter all open doors/entrances in the game.
  • We see a few shots of the player standing in front of the open tavern. Probably this was the old starting point. This is another theory for the open door.



Sorceror in Town

  • The Butcher Quest seems to be fully functional at this point. The Butcher has been implemented in the previous version and at this point the starting NPC in town was there as well. A few minor details would still change until retail.



Warrior in Town

  • A character that has progressed a bit as you can see by the presence of the Butcher's Cleaver, a bunch of items in the inventory and the fire wall spell in the spell slot
  • Note the absence of gold in the inventory. In later screenshots we will see proof that at this point in the game, gold didn't take up inventory space. Personally I like this better, because with high level characters you couldn't carry around a lot of gold because of different equipment sets you were carrying. Also the inventory gold limit meant that items sold by Griswold and Wirt hat a quality cap, because the player couldn't afford them.
  • You can observe the old (or in this case "new") item inventory graphics and inventory screen for the first time here
  • Also note the staff on the left side of the inventory, which will take up 6 spaces in later versions



Warrior in Cathedral

  • Even though we have a ton of Alpha3 shots, thanks to the press, we have very few shots that weren't scanned from magazines. This is one of them.
  • In these high quality shots you can see one very minor detail that was later changed, which is the small extruding shadow on the left side of the health orb, which becomes more important when we look at the E3/Gold build of Alpha3



? in the Cathedral

  • The Butcher is still not a unique enemy, but a regular one as you can see by the white font and kill count. It is unknown if unique enemies even existed at this point in development or if unique enemies just didn't have a different display than regular ones
  • The Butcher's chamber has changed slightly. It's closer to the retail version, but not quite there yet



Cathedral

  • The wall tile in the north indicates a version earlier than the pre-release demo, as it isn't used in the later random levels anymore
  • The visible cursor shows that this is a version after Alpha2, allowing us to tell this is an Alpha3 shot



Warrior in the Butcher's Chamber

  • We can see the new and improved Butcher's Chamber in this shot. Compared to the Alpha2, there are now mutilated corpses everywhere. These were also shown in the unused Butcher cutscene, maybe he was supposed to have his own level?
  • The Chamber is not final though, as the outer box of columns disappears in the pre-release demo and subsequently the Beta and Retail as well.
  • Other than that it's not a spectacular shot, but one of few in high quality, which makes it stand out



Warrior in Cathedral

  • The Warrior is fighting a Skeleton Captain in the Cathedral. Not a particularly interesting shot, but we can see the "total kills" counter working here
  • The variant Shot has messed up colors, but it's of a much higher quality.



Archer in Cathedral

  • Blue sarcophagi indicate an earlier version of the game
  • This shot confused us for a while because it looks like it's using newer brazier flame sprites than other Alpha3 shots. Turns out there is a skeleton bonfire spawned perfectly behind the brazier so it makes it look like retail flames and not the alpha sprite. Case closed!
  • In the west you can just barely see one of the old, in retail unused, dungeon wall-tiles
  • Also visible: Gold on the floor. So it's clearly an item you pick up, but not one that goes into your inventory yet



Archer in Cathedral

  • This shot was taken just a few steps west of the previous one
  • The wall is more visible and reveals the hanging tapestry that could already be seen in Alpha1 but is unfortunately not used in later versions of the game



Warrior in Cathedral

  • This, maybe quest related, pattern on the floor could actually already be seen even before Alpha1 in mockup shots
  • The whole room is a premade level segment, that's not used in current versions of the game. It's interesting to see it was in use until before the pre-release demo but got removed for an unknown reason



Cathedral

  • The player is casting a spell. The spells name is "Wall of Fire" which was later changed to "Fire Wall". Unfortunately we don't see a lot of spell names in early screenshots, so that part of development is not very well documented



Warrior (dead) in Catacombs

  • One of three known Alpha3Press Catacombs screenshots and in high quality as well
  • The death effect and menu popup has still not been implemented at this stage of development



Archer

  • Very interesting screenshot, showing a number of interface and balancing changes that occurred later
  • Gold is shown in the character screen but not in the inventory screen. Since we've seen gold on the floor, we know it's enemy loot and exists as a currency
  • Less information about the character. No Resistances or information about hit chance and damage values
  • Helmets are usually higher level loot. Unless they changed the inventory image, this is a significant balance change as the character is only level 2
  • The character attributes are also completely different from retail. At level 2 we have 26STR, 21MAG, 31DEX and 21VIT resulting in 21 Life and 23 Mana. A retail Rogue starts at 20/15/30/20 with 45 Life and 22 Mana
  • Experience values changed as well. In retail, characters need 4620 experience for level 3. Here it's just 1512. Although "just" is relative, since we don't know how much experience is gained from enemies at this point
  • The paperdoll for the Archer also shows a male figure. Later, for the rogue, it was changed.



Sorceror

  • Unfortunately the image quality isn't the best, so we can't make out all the numbers, but it seems that the sorceror has different starting stats than the archer. Strength is clearly lower than 20 and Magic seems to be above 30.
  • Gold is at 0 but he's clearly at Lvl2 (same next level experience as the archer before) with an empty inventory. Since gold can't be thrown away, he either didn't find any, didn't pick up any or bought gear (where?) with all his cash.




Alpha3 - Gold at E3 1996


Warrior in Caves, medium Armor

  • This is a video shot at the Blizzard booth at E3 in 1996. It shows a different Alpha3 build than we've previously seen.
  • Gold is now an inventory item, which clearly dates this version as newer than the press Alpha3
  • They changed the shadow of the left orb slightly
  • The "Magic Rock" Quest has apparently been implemented as can be seen by the item in the lower right of the inventory.
  • For the first time since the Alpha1 we're seeing medium armor in action and the dynamic switching of the armor is also active since the player removes the armor for a brief moment and his sprite changes accordingly
  • The item/spell buttons are now golden, which is closer to the pre-release demo which has a golden item button. The spell button is most likely golden because several cheats are activated (the player isn't being hit by anything) which makes spells appear as skills, which are golden in the retail version
  • The item button isn't just recolored, but actually uses a different icon with a new texture and border
  • There are also some minor changes to a couple of the thin gold borders, like the message box. It's not a different look, they just moved the pattern
  • The message box now shows additional information about enemies if you kill more of them. There will be a small adjustment after the pre-release demo where they replace the "Usual depth" with resistance information
  • First appearance of the magma demon enemy type ingame. While the sprite was already worked on in 1995 or early 96, we've never seen an ingame screenshot until now
  • The caves have not been seen since Alpha1 and this is the first caves shot with lighting. Unfortunately there is no lava, which would be quite interesting to see, because the lava tiles changed significantly at some point in development (between Alpha1 and Beta)
  • From what we can see, this version uses the item graphics of the previous alpha which will be used until the pre-release demo. The stats of the Broad Sword are also the same as in the pre-release version
  • Information about items is still a little bit shorter than in later versions, showing no data about durability for example, just brief armor and damage values
  • A small difference from the pre-release demo is the armor the character is wearing. I believe it is a "Ring Mail" but in the pre-release demo the chain mail uses this item icon while the Ring Mail uses a slightly more modern looking armor that seems to be the base for the retails leather armor
  • Other item differences: The Helm is a "Full Helm" which is also a different item icon in the pre-release demo while the pre-release "Helm" uses this "Full Helm" icon
  • The "Long Staff" in the inventory uses the pre-release demo's "Composite Staff" icon while the pre-release demo uses a different staff icon for the "Long Staff"



Alpha3 - Gold


Warrior in Town

  • In town nothing has changed yet. Ogden is still pretending to be a blacksmith.
  • This shot is almost identical to the second Alpha3Press shot, leading me to believe that the tavern originally was the starting point for new characters



Archer in Cathedral

  • The player has made quite a mess in this random dungeon that can't be generated like this anymore in the retail version
  • The gold firebolt icon indicates active cheats, which was a feature at least in the E3 build
  • The fakeshot is hilarious. It was created just a few seconds earlier and Blizzard decided this shot looked so great they had to edit it for promotional purposes. So they slapped in both warrior armor variants. The heavy armor seems to have been still in development, otherwise I can't explain why they used his "town only" idle stance. You can also see that they crudely edited out the health and mana orbs that should be visible



Warrior in Catacombs

  • Cheats are probably enabled as can be seen with by the gold spell icon
  • What's strange about most of these shots is that they're coming from Blizzard and are of high quality but they all have been slightly resized to either 645 or 651 pixels for unknown reasons



Catacombs

  • This is obviously a show-off screenshot for the spell effects. Back then the visuals of Diablo were really nice, especially for an (Action) RPG