Interview - (2004-03-18) Char

Interview - (2004-03-18) Char

Description: Onyx interviews Char for the Phrozen Keep on his d2:elements mod & modmaking guide.

Categories: Interviews


Char is one of the noticeable members of the Phrozen Keep. He was not
around for some time, but now he has returned at full speed bringing us
two different things - a beta of his d2:elements mod and a great
modmaking guide. I thought this was the right time to ask him some


Could you tell us a little about who Char is?


Yeah, i think so ;).

My reallife name is Henning Avenhaus, and I am 20 years old. I am
currently living in Zurich, Switzerland, and studying informatics at
ETH Zurich. But originally, I am german, coming from a farm near
Bielefeld (in the northwest of Germany). I am used to being far away
from home, seeing that I left home at the age of 15, heading for a
boarding school in Brunswick, which is 60 km east of Hannover (well, at
least that city should be known).

My first computer experience was on a 80386 SX-25 with an amazing 1 MB of RAM (on eight 128K modules ;))
my father owned. It also had an amazing amount of 104 MB hard drive
memory. However, it was enough to play games like Dune2 and Warcraft.

Later, at boarding school, I got my own PC. The boarding school
had an internal network, and I learned quite a lot about computers
there (I learned a lot about life there, too...). I also started
playing Diablo1 (found 2 Dreamflanges in 2 days, thats what I call
luck....) at that time, and later Diablo2.

But actually, computers are not the main part in my life I think.
They are important for me, but there is much more to this life than
sitting in front of a PC. So for example, I play theatre in an amateur
theatre group (I also started doing that at boarding school where I was
actually forced to play theatre), I dance a bit, I go out and meet
friends, I love watching videos, ....


What sparked your interest to D2?


Well, actually I was fascinated by the concept of Diablo1, building up
your own character, identifying with it. Searching for items, trying to
find the best ones.

Diablo2 came out, it took me just a few hours to complete it on normal
difficulty. I was playing together with a friend, he played a
barbarian, I played a necromancer. He was much faster for some reason
(well, with that character I don't wonder too much), and ran out onto
the floor on boarding school and cried 'FIRST!!' when he had finally
won against Diablo himself . I played that necromancer character some
further, it was a REALLY weird build, mixture from close-combat necro
and reviving one. It worked quite well until act3 hell difficulty,
where a) the character build was a bit weak and b) a patch came out
raising the cost of reviving from 3 mana to 45 mana.

really enjoyed playing D2 classic, and I was eager for the expansion,
which offered a lot more to find and to experience. Then, I went to and was quite disappointed about the imbalances (too strong
uniques, too extreme MF values) and the cheaters running around there.

started playing uncommon builds (like Charged Bolt sorceress and
Daggermancer) cause they were just way more interesting than the
mainstream ones. But still, i think that classic Diablo2 is way more
balanced than LOD.


What inspired you to take up modding D2 and what was the first modification you made to the game back then?


as I said, I was a bit disappointed that on the one hand, the unique
items were really powerful (and sometimes nearly essential), and on the
other hand, the only way to get them was to either do endless itemfind
runs (quite boring) or cheat (even more boring). Because of that, I
started to look around, and found the modifications.

first modification I ever played was the Middle Earth Mod if I recall
correctly, that might have already been in times before the expansion
though, not quite sure. I really liked some things in it, everything
was so new and unknown. But i cannot really remeber too much from that
time, maybe because of the expansion coming out or something like that.

I tried Zy-El as a bowazon. It was quite funny at normal difficulty,
but after I got my hands on the Zy-El's Memory ring and the Zy-El
runewords in boots, which gave me practically all stats a bowazon would
ever have dreamed of having, i quit. I never made it past character
level 115. I have heard though that things have massively changed since
then, and i am sure Kato is doing a good job there, especially after
reading his interview.

I tried Ancestral Recall, and that was a mod I really enjoyed. I could
build up more interesting characters, and my Elemental Druid made it up
to level 92, also finishing vast parts of Descendants of the Dragon. I
also had some more characters back in those times.

I found the PhrozenKeep and thought to myself: Well, uniques are still
overpowered in most mods I have seen, why not make my own mod, making
rares useful again (the only REALLY unique itemtype btw...)? And
because of that, the first thing I obviously did was increasing the
possible damage on rare items. That was about one year ago, and the
funny thing is that I just recently came back to the
magicprefix/magicsuffix.txt files, restructuring them all yet again and
making all the changes I did back then obsolete ;)

I thought that the mod would be finished in just a few weeks, being
mostly an item-only mod. Then, I decided to put in the elemental
weapons, and quickly after that, things started to grow bigger and
bigger. There was so much I did never really like about Diablo2, and
there were so much possibilities. I even had a look into code


Have you ever modded games other than D2?

I haven't. At least not if you do not count the few maps I made for
Starcraft (Small Game Hunters: My answer to the Big Game Hunters map,
giving players small amounts of minerals / gas per time, no minerals on
the map at all), or removing some things from the maps in Dune2. I was
interested in modifications for games, though. Too bad that this water
starcraft approach (called Aqueous Rift) died....


Tell us about the main features of d2: elements.


Hmm. I would say there are four main features in d2:elements, and I will try to explain them a bit. They are:

- Random Immunities on monsters

- Elemental Weapons

- A new Skillsystem

- Skillpower to enhance Skills

Random Immunities:

Well, this is the most essential I think. In unmodded LOD, there were a
lot of character builds just trying to get one damage type maxed
(Multizon), and not caring about the immunes. Well, if the immune
monsters are just in some places (there are no physical immunes in Cow
Level), and maybe some bosses are immune, too, well, who cares? I just
need to be successful where I am, and if that is just the Cow Level,
everything is okay.

This doesn't work anymore in d2:elements, because every monster
(including Act Bosses) has a certain chance to get one or two random
immunities assigned. This chance increases with the monster level.

On normal, you will not see too much random immunes, but they are
already noticable. But on hell, in the fifth act, you have to expect
that most monsters have a random immunity, and lots of monsters even
have two, making up standard monsters that have up to three immunities
(one standard, two random), and bosses that have up to five (although
the chance for five immunities is extremely low, I never saw such a
monster in my tests).

Elemental Weapons:

If you do not specifically want to kill each and every monster and
are a physical-damage warrior, an elemental weapon in the second weapon
slot will really help you. You can kill most of the enemies this way.

Elemental weapons are the same as physical weapons, except that
they deal elemental damage instead. They share with their physical
counterparts the requirements (level, strength, dexterity), but have
higher damages because they do not get strength or dexterity damage
bonuses. They get a small damage bonus from energy though.

An example: there is a Great Sword dealing 19-34 physical damage.
There is as well a Fluid Sword dealing 28-51 cold damage. It looks the
same (except for the fact that its blue) and has the same requirements.

New Skill System:

I did not like the old one for two reasons: First, nearly all
skills would be either level 0, 1 or 20. Furthermore, if your build was
'finished', there was no reasonable thing you could do with the
skillpoints left.

Because of that, I came up with a new one that does not have a maximum level and no level requirements for skills either.

The cost for increasing a skill is based upon the current skill
level now. You need 1 skillpoint for the first level, 2 skillpoints for
the second level, 3 for the third and so on (it changes a bit from that
theme later on, but you get the idea). The first level of former
higher-level skills now costs as much skillpoints as the former level
requirement was (Concentration: 24, Fanaticism: 30 and so on). This
prevents players from investing in highlevel skills too early.

This should make it easier to spread your skillpoints over more
skills or to concentrate on just some skills if you like (decide
between 7 skills at level 19 and 4 skills at level 25...). One should
not concentrate too much, though. Beware of the random immunities...

All skills have been rebalanced to fit this new system, and i also
made lowlevel skills more useful when doing that. They can now compete
with the highlevel skills.


I did not like the synergy system in patch 1.10, so I removed it
and replaced it with a synergy to Skillpower (former Energy). Most of
the skills (though not all) increase their effects when you increase
Skillpower. The effect this has are numerous and reach from enhanced
damage (Bone Spirit) over increased lightning absorb (Resist Lightning)
until decreased damage to self (Sacrifice). This should encourage
caster characters to care more about their Skillpower value. But there
are, of course, some caster skills as well that do not need Skillpower
to be effective (Nova for example).

There are numerous other things changed as well. The monsters have
been completely rebalanced, all weapon damages have been rebalanced,
some armor stats have changed, skills have been rebalanced, rare items
have been improved, there are new unique and set items, new runes and
runewords, new class-specific items, altered cube recipes, altered
drops (more good stuff for you), ....

I did not make this mod a total conversion though. Its more an
expansion and rebalancing of Diablo2: Lord of Destruction, and most
skills that were in the unmodded game also are in d2:elements.


Why did you choose to make a mod that is so close to the original game?


Well, there are several reasons. First of
all, I really liked Diablo2 (why would I otherwise have modded it? No
liking Diablo2 -> No playing Diablo2 -> No modding Diablo2 ;)

The thing I did not like about it was that there were a LOT of great
ideas in it, and there were some really crappy things that destroyed
the fun playing the game (overpowered but rare-as-hell uniques for

What I liked though was the general idea of the seven character
classes, the general ideas behind the skills, and so on. The problem
was just that they were unbalanced as hell and that sadly, lots of them
were useless.

So what I tried was to make the game be essentially the same, but
giving you a totally new feeling when playing it on the other hand.
Giving people more freedom in the world of Diablo2 (for example with
the new skillsystem). Making new, interesting builds possible. Making
the game challenging while playable with selffound items. Stuff like

On the other hand, 'close to the original' is relative. If you see
mostly unchanged levels and using the same character base ideas as
'close to the original', d2:elements definitely is that. If you count
in game balance, prepare for major changes.


Now, let's say a few words about your guide. Firstly - why have you decided to write it?

I have to say that I started that guide a LONG time ago (about 5
months), and at that time, I realized that there are a lot of people
out there thinking that modding is a better form of cheating or
something like that.
Furthermore, there were a lot of people trying to make the game more
challenging, more interesting, more funny, whatever. A lot of these
people had great intentions, but some of them just went into the wrong
direction because they did not see that they changed a lot of
non-obvious things too when changing obvious ones. I cannot blame them
for that of course, since I was the same when I started, and I had to
learn a lot of things the hard way.
But I guess this community is made for people to help each other, and
so I decided to write this guide in order to help people and prevent
them from having to learn certain things the hard way, which can be
very demotivating.
When I had read this great post on skill and character design by
Brother Laz, I realized that I had that guide still lying around
somewhere, and that I could just finish it, so I did.

have to tell though that this is not meant to say people 'hey, you got
to do it this way', but just to help them understand certain things.


What category of modmakers are you aiming your guide at?


I guess it would be quite good if a new
modder would read this tutorial and might help him / her to come up
with a good mod, but on the other hand, who is gonna read that much
when he / she just started making mods?

But I dont think this is only for people that just started mod
making. Even Joel told me that he got some interesting thoughts from
that guide.... ;)

It can be used as a reference, and when you start modding in a specific
area, you can just have a quick look at that part of the guide in case
you are a bit unsure about how to do it or if you just want to have
someone else's thoughts on that topic.

That is why I added the formulas at the end, too, you can use them
as a reference and do not have to search the forum for them.


Do you still play mods, and if so, which ones do you like best?

don't currently have the time to play mods, but I think I will try
again when I get some more time (and when I need to work less on

of course, now that the beta is out, I will play my own mod a bit. But
I am also planning to have a look at Ancestral Recall / DotD once again
since I really enjoyed that, and of course, I will try Shadow Empires:
Realms of the Unknown and Dark Alliance when they are out . Back to
Hellfire sounds promising, too ;)


Is there anything you'd like to do or seen done in a mod?


Oh well, ideas....

Yes of course there are things that I really would enjoy in a mod. But
some of them are impossible, several of them require heavy rebalancing
and a lot of them require very advanced techniques / code editing and
could not be done in any minor modification.

For example, I like everything that gives you a totally new feeling
when you play Diablo2. Or I would like to have a new system of
resistances where 30% and 40% are not 70%, but 100% - (100%-30%) *
(100%-40%) = 58% (I hope you get the idea). I would like to have a
system where you get 'character points' instead of skillpoints and
statpoints. You can then choose to use them to improve your stats or to
improve your skills. I like any system that motivates you to play your
character much more differenciated then in vanilla LOD (zeal,
fanaticism, .... what do i need more?).

I like any ideas that make elite items better than normal items in
all cases. Why would anyone use an elite orb? Cause it's unique,
well.... and why would anyone use an elite rare orb if he / she can get
the same enchantments on a normal one way more easy?

I would like to see a fourth difficulty that is made for the elite
fighters. No drops (or just few), no experience (or just few), just the
honor you can get if you get through it. Doesn't necessarily need to be
a fourth difficulty, but can also be just some levels....

The most important ideas I had (random immunities, skillsystem rebalances) have already been done in d2:elements ;).

But in general, you can often not tell if a certain modification is
good. What may be great in one mod may be totally crappy in another


If there was a question you wanted to be asked, but didn't, now you can answer it.


Well, yes.

There has
been some confusion about the name of my mod. Its called 'd2:elements',
and most people seem to think that it mainly refers to the elemental
weapons, and some people asked why I did not implement elemental armors
as well.
The title of my mod refers to the elemental weapons, too, but not only.
'Elements' is also to be understood as 'basic elements', somewhat 'back
to the roots'. I wanted to keep and strengthen some elements of Diablo2
which I think are very fundamental and very important.


Thanks for your time.


Thanks too ;)

And now, be sure to try my mod ;)

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