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"Had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong.” - Mordin Solus
OP 7/02/09 9:23:09 PM#1
Everyone watched as Hellgate struggled, matured, and fell, and they’re watching as Diablo III inches toward us. What they should be watching is Torchlight, Runic Games’ first title since their formulation in the wake of Flagship Studios’ demise. This game looks like a truly interesting take on the hack-and-slash RPG genre, something we haven’t seen in a long time. In this interview, various designers at Runic answer a variety of questions, so that you can get a look at what’s going into this awesome-looking game. Read on.
TC: Runic’s development team has some impressive credentials: you have people who worked on Diablo and people who worked at Flagship Studios on Mythos. You have a lot of experience with action-RPGs. What do you all bring with you from those various backgrounds that really makes Torchlight something interesting and different?
The entire Runic team was developing Mythos, and our leads created Fate and Diablo, so we are really lucky to have that background and be able to apply that expertise towards Torchlight. The more we play and work on games, the more features stand out to us that we love - like any fan, it's easy to pinpoint exactly what makes a game really fun to play - interesting lore, satisfying combat, great loot, charming mini-games. Our history has really streamlined what we would list as 'the best of the best' when it comes to RPG,'s so that's what we're doing with Torchlight - making the game that we ourselves would buy and play!
TC: In the same vein, what was your goal in making Torchlight? What were you shooting for when you started out?
Probably one of the biggest goals in making Torchlight was to start fresh and do it right. Mythos was made using the Hellgate London engine, which was always a challenge just because the games were so different. This time, we get to make the game we want, from scratch. That means writing our own tools, designing brand new characters with art styles we all really enjoy, drawing on everything that we love and find addictive about RPG’s to make one kickass game.
TC: While Diablo and Mythos are obvious influences, the version of Torchlight I played had something you rarely see in games: it was incredibly easy and smooth to play. It wasn’t over-simplified, it just felt like all of the extraneous stuff was gone. It was free of the unnecessary clutter that a lot of action-RPGs have. What did you have to do to attain this feeling?
Thanks for the high praise, that’s definitely a feeling we’re going for.
We all love games at Runic, but as we get older and take on more personal r9017428
esponsibilities, gaming time is harder to come by. Since play time is becoming more precious, our tolerance for the tedious or boring parts of games is getting pretty thin. We want to get right to the meat of the experience, anything else is just frustrating.
That ties in with our tendency to iterate a lot. We have ideas and put them in the game, and then everyone tries them out. If the new system overcomplicates game play or creates a boring distraction, people are vocal about that and we will either fix it or rip it out. Features that have become standard in the genre also have to pass this test, which is why we end up with things like auto gold pickup and pets that sell your loot for you.
Oddly, item identify passes the test. It seems like it would be one of the first things to go, but the games feel less satisfying without it.
TC: The art was pseudo-cartoony, “stylized,” you might call it. It looked pretty, but it also made playing the game easy, as creatures and environment clearly stood out from each other. How did you decide upon the look for the game, and has it evolved much over the course of development?
The look of the game a natural extension of our basic goals – we wanted something that would work for pretty much all PC systems; we wanted to create a world that was immediately fun and accessible to new gamers, but also recognizable and appealing to established gamers. We also have a great opportunity to define our own look, and this was a big step in that direction for us, drawing on classic animation techniques and finding a balance between the charming and archetypal. We describe it as “Dragon’s Lair meets the Incredibles.” That captures the flavor of the characters and environments – just dark enough, and just quirky enough.
TC: In keeping with the uncluttered feel of play, the inventory, skill, and attribute pages (along with the UI) were all simple yet styled in the same manner as the rest of the game. It was obvious that with skills, skill-swapping, item combinations, and pets, you’re going to have a lot on your hands. If anything, the pet/weapon combinations alone are more complicated than those seen in contemporary action RPGs. Were there other games that influenced this design direction, or were these features supposed to be this way from the beginning?
We designed the UI to be clear and unintimidating to players new to the genre, while still providing the depth that experienced players want. There’s definitely an art to fitting a lot of information into a small, uncluttered panel, but luckily we’ve had a lot of practice putting together similar panels in Diablo, Fate, and Mythos.
TC: The game’s cannon fodder bad guys were fun, but obviously your enemies will ramp up in size and quantity as you progress. Is this a Diablo II type game where you’ll be swarmed by tens of enemies, or will you be encountering larger, heavier bad guys with regularity?
We offer a lot of both scenarios in Torchlight – we have the swarming mobs that are spawned by a boss or even surprise you when you accidentally ‘spawn’ them by setting off a trap or some other trigger. Each level has its unique set of basic bad guys, the pawns who just charge into the fray, but sprinkled throughout are the Champions, sort of mini-bosses that you have to figure out how to fight while still dealing with the mobs. There will be several Champions per level, and of course capped with big bosses. Needless to say, the more you level up and the deeper you travel into the mine, the worse kinds of bosses you will face, right up to the endgame.
TC: As of right now, you have three classes announced. They’ll be shipping with the single player portion. Do you have any idea of how many will be included in the multiplayer version?
Right now, we don’t have a specific number of classes, but we are committed to offering a diverse world. We’ll see how many we can put in!
TC: The single player portion is going to be mostly dungeon-based. What do you feel is the benefit of keeping the SP campaign in indoor areas, and opening up the game for the MMO sections to be released later?
Indoor areas generally work better for hack and slash games, and they also fit our storyline about exploring deeper and deeper into a labyrinthine mountain. It’s difficult to do outdoor areas well and not have the walls seem forced and unnatural. We’ll definitely make outdoor areas for the MMO, but for single player our time is better spent making a lot of really interesting indoor spaces.
TC: The game world isn’t expansive vertically (as opposed to Dungeon Seige’s deep chasms and high mountains), but youe engine can render other levels of the dungeon in the “filler” sections under bridges and the like. What made you decide to go with the more Diablo-like level transitions as opposed to contiguous, connected levels?
Dungeon design is a balance between giving players enough room to explore, and not giving them so much room that it feels like a maze. Our levels have areas that you can see but not get to, those sections add atmosphere without complicating game play. With our engine it’s possible to make every square foot of the dungeon a playable area, with stairs up and down to all the different sections, and I’m sure people will make dungeons like that after we release our editing tools. After some experimenting we found that slowed the pacing of the game and was less fun, but I’m sure someone will make cool rooms in that style.
Our levels are randomly generated, and that works a lot better if they’re broken up with level transitions. It also has the benefit of making memory management a whole lot simpler.
TC: One great thing about your weapon and item system is that anybody can use any weapons, and that you can tailor your skills to make these combinations work. This always seemed like something that should be in other RPGs like Titan’s Quest or D2, but isn’t always. How deep is this flexibility going to extend? Will I be able to have very high level fighters using magic wands, or will that prove difficult to play?
We love having the flexibility to pick up a bow and use it if you want, even if you’re a melee class, or use a sword if you’re a caster. It is a lot more fun to experiment and play with different weapon sets and still be formidable. We are keeping the flexibility, but there will be weapons that are little more useful to certain classes than to others. This helps keep the classes unique while still providing varying gameplay. In your specific question, for example, you probably wouldn’t want to use a wand at a high level if you’re playing the Destroyer, because he levels better with strength rather than magic – doesn’t mean it’s out of the question, though.
TC: Are the characters customizable appearance-wise, or is that kind of customizability saved for items and pets?
For the single payer, customization will be more found more in gear sets and weapons. The MMO will present a lot more of the customization you would expect from playing in highly populated world to really make your character stand out.
TC: On a related note, I saw a dog accompanying my character at E3. What other pets can you have, and how can you level and modify them?
Right now, we have a wolf, and a lynx. Those will be the two pets available for the Single player. They will level along with you, and you can also feed them different types of fish you catch, to transform them briefly into monster types that are in the game – and they will briefly take on all those monster’s abilities. It’s really cool to see your dog turn into a giant spider and attack the undead!
TC: You pets can be gifted with skills; you can even teach your pet to pick up loot for you. Are there similarly interesting perks and skills in the pets’ futures?
One feature that’s really great is your pet has an inventory for extra items you pick up along the way. And if you fill up your inventory but don’t want to port back to town, you can have your pet return to town and sell all the items, and come back to you with all the gold! Now that’s some training!
TC: We know that there will be socketable and enchanted items. How are you planning on integrating/updating this to fit into a bigger, more complicated MMO economy?
It will change to accommodate the MMO that’s for sure! We can probably get more specific about that when work on the MMO is underway.
TC: You’ve made a conscious effort to create active powers that really look powerful, as opposed to increasing damage dealt by 1%. How does this affect high level characters? How are you helping high level players manage all of these active skills?
The skills actually do level up with % damage. As skills do get higher level the visual actually can change to reflect the increase in damage. So we can make them look stronger as they level up. As for managing the skills you can hot-bar up to 10 skills.
TC: The environments I played through seemed pretty interactive. I even set off a trap (but narrowly escaped it, only to find my pet had been trapped). What other environmental events and hazards can we expect?
There are lots of fun traps – doors that suddenly close, or secret mine shafts you can open with dynamite, bridges that extend once you find the correct lever, and more. It makes each level a lot more varied and challenging.
TC: What’s the music going to be like in Torchlight? I love Diablo, but I really like it when a game has over-the-top symphonic scores, like the music in Dungeon Seige. Which side of the spectrum is Torchlight going to fall in?
We’re really lucky to have Matt Uelmen who did the music for Diablo, doing all the music for Torchlight. It has a great feel –epic and dark without being overpowering, a little more rock than symphonic, and a great soundtrack.
TC: Finally, it’s obvious that anyone familiar with Diablo and its successors will be at home with Torchlight. The prospect of a similar game with amazing graphics, interesting monsters and environments, and the smoothest controls around sounds great. For everyone else, what do you think would interest them most about the game?
One thing we haven’t touched on too much here is the toolset and our support of the modding community. All the tools we wrote for Torchlight are being released with the Singleplayer, making it a real life modder’s paradise. It’s intuitive enough that beginners can play in it and test it, and complicated enough that more dedicated modders could make a virtually new game with new levels, tweaked skillsets, new weapons, etc. Its’ one of the most exciting features, for both the creativity promised and getting to see what people come up with!