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Moon Beast Productions has announced the appointment of Diablo co-creator Erich Schaefer as chief creative officer.
Schaefer will lead the creative direction of Moon Beast’s unrevealed action role-playing game (RPG) project.
They hope to revolutionize the genre alongside Schaefer’s long-time collaborators from Blizzard North. Schaefer previously cofounded four development studios: Blizzard North, Flagship Studios, Runic Games and Double Damage Games.
He co-created Diablo I and II, the Torchlight and Rebel Galaxy franchises, serving as creative director and lead designer. He is also responsible for Hellgate: London, but he survived, phoenix-like, and now has unlimited powers, the company said.
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The team hasn’t previously said that it was working on an action RPG, but it isn’t yet ready to say more about it.
“That’s probably not a surprise to anybody,” said Phil Shenk, cofounder of Moon Beast Productions, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We have ideas for changing the genre with a different approach to progression and trying to solve some of the problems that are beholden to PvE games, especially games, like the Diablo franchise has dealt with.”
In an interview with GamesBeat, Schaefer said he met with company founders Peter Hu and Phil Shenk and found they were working on an interesting ARPG that he became very excited about.
“I’m extremely energized to be teaming up with Peter and Phil again. At this stage in my career, I’m pretty choosey,” said Schaefer. “I want to work on projects that are fun and genuinely try to do something different. It’s impressive what the Moon Beast team has built in such a short time. It fired up my imagination with possibilities, and that’s a huge part of why I wanted to come aboard.”
Schaefer said that a lot of action RPGs are pretty much the same game — titles like Diablo, Torchlight or Path of Exile — with 4X strategy features.
“They’re all essentially the same game. They have a 4X structure. They have five classes, and each has a tab of skill trees. It’s a great space to work on. Obviously, I always loved it. But it’s really hard because the content demands these days are so large. You got companies like Blizzard working on titles with $100 million dollar budgets. These big ARPGs need to have a full campaign. And then you have to have ongoing content now forever. And the ARPG was always super content heavy.”
Schaefer worked for many years with his brother Max Schaefer, who is currently at Zynga working on PC games.
“We started Moon Beast to take a fresh look at ARPGs. So much of what we see today is a fairly linear evolution from the original Diablo,” said Hu. “Going back and reinventing the isometric ARPG genre with Erich is like a dream come true for me. In this short time since we’ve reunited, we’ve generated some of the most incredible ideas and it’s sparked a creative drive that I haven’t truly felt since the Diablo II days.”
It’s a bit risky to play around with the models for the genre. The team wants to make something familiar for players, but not make them feel like they’re starting something over from scratch. But Erich Schaefer liked the ideas at Moon Beast so much that he decided to come out of retirement.
“What they were showing me was very similar to a bunch of ideas I’ve been kicking around in my head,” Schaefer said. “So I thought this was a way to improve the genre, or at least change it up enough to be more interesting. And so that’s kind of where I am.”
Shenk is based in Austin while the company has people spread around the country. Overall, the company has 12 people. It’s small, but with a lot of experience, Schaefer said.
“Erich of us brings a unique perspective and invaluable experience to the table. Erich’s superpower is cutting through the noise to find the heart of the fun. His instincts and skills have been honed through decades of bringing innovation and delight to tens of millions of players worldwide. We’re very honored and excited to be working with Erich again,” said Shenk. “This is the first time we’ve officially said we’re working on an ARPG. I doubt it’s a surprise, given our history, but now we can confirm it. Our mission is to find new ways to make this kind of game more fun for players and more efficient to operate as a service.”
Ahead of the studio’s attendance at GDC 2023, the team is preparing an early prototype to show to select prospective partners. The title will likely be a multiplatform game, and the company will be using a commercial game engine.
“We want something that is familiar, but feels fresh and innovative,” Shenk said. “And it should be easier to operate as a service, with the best of both worlds.”
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