WarCry recently had the opportunity to sit down with Torchlight developers Wonder Russell, Erich Schaefer and Jason Beck for a ‘post mortem’ interview. We think a lot of Torchlight around here (see our review) so you won’t want to miss this great inside look!
Please introduce yourselves and give us your development background and position at Runic.
Hi, I’m Wonder and I do all sorts of things from helping folks enroll in health care to setting up interviews like this one! My background working in everything from daycare to feature films taught me to be flexible and self-motivated. Working at Runic is the best job I ever had – the second best job I ever had was working at Flagship.
I’m Jason Beck and the Art Director here. I was one of those artists that wanted to do everything…from comics, traditional 2D animation, film, Special FX/makeup, 3D animation, to concept art. I realized I’d never be able to do all of those things…I would have to pick one. But when I found game art it clicked that I had a chance to do a *little bit* of all of those things and here I am.
I’m Erich Schaefer. I’m a designer on Torchlight and have been designing these types of games for a long time with Diablo, Diablo II and Hellgate: London.
For those unfamiliar with Torchlight, what can you tell us about the game overall?
The Ember beckons! Torchlight is a boomtown situated atop a rich Ember mine, the magic ore of the world that empowers weapons and warriors, but is also catastrophically corrupt-awakening monsters and even transforming your friends into creatures themselves. As you descend into the mine to combat the monsters and destroy the Ember source, you discover layer upon layer of lost civilizations that have all at one time in the ages past, attempted to harness the Ember, but were destroyed in the process.
Your mission as a player is save Torchlight from the sort of living-dead fate that has possessed all these other lost settlements – via a time-honored tradition of monster-pinata bashing.
What is the background of the name “Torchlight”?
The story changes very slightly depending on who tells it. We had a long, drawn out suggestion period and numerous rounds of voting to narrow it down, and then a name popped up which wasn’t on any of the lists. A big group of us ended up sitting around a table debating the name over various adult beverages and Torchlight emerged as the name of the game. I tossed in a request of naming the town Torchlight to help myself and others come around to liking it more. From just a structure standpoint…having a name with “bookend’ T’s is a nice little bonus.
How important is story to Torchlight?
WR: It’s definitely important to an ARPG – you have heroes, quests, and a storyline campaign motivating the entire game. That said, this is also a dungeon crawler and players are going to find that they probably care more about the storyline of how much loot they won, rather than NPC-given lore. We’ve tried to include a balance for that tells an interesting story and supports the artwork and gameplay, but isn’t text-heavy either.
JB: Like many games, we like our story to be in the periphery for those who really crave it, but not something that gets in the way of the game. It is more ‘backstory’ and ‘lore’ than it is a plot-driven narrative full of twists and character development. I think the MMO may have a greater focus on story than the SP did, though.
What classes and races are included in Torchlight?
WR: All the hero classes, the Destroyer, Vanquisher, and Alchemist, are humans – locked in combat with anti-humans. The character-classes can also summon non-human entities – zombies and alchbots, for example, that fight alongside you. The classes are loosely based on Melee, Ranged/Rogue and Summoner/Mage archetypes, though all classes can wield any weapon, kit any piece of equipment, and learn any spell that they desire, to maximize creative gameplay and encourage players to explore non-traditional builds.
JB: We’ll expand our playable races in the MMO, as well as the other inhabitants of the world.
Which of the above is your personal favorite and why?
WR: I personally have been a massive fan of the Alchemist from day 1 – it’s his nerdy-chic Steampunk aesthetic that just charms me every time. Plus I don’t like guys who are as ripped as the Destroyer. But lately the Vanquisher is becoming my favorite – something about a pistol packing mama that makes me happy.
JB: I really like all three…they’re standard roles in a less standard presentation and for that I’m real happy with them. From just a player standpoint, I generally favor the ranged classes, so the Vanquisher is tops for me.
ES: I like the Destroyer best, because I’m addicted to the Stomp Animation, mostly.
Are there any ‘rideable’ mounts in Torchlight? If so, what are they?
There are no mounts in the Single Player, but this is a feature we intend to bring to the MMO.
Torchlight costs $20. Is this price all inclusive or are there plans to include “microtransaction” items (i.e. cash shop)?
Torchlight, the Single Player version which is available now, is a $19.99 digital download, and coming to retail in January 5 2010 for the same price.
Torchlight the MMO, however, is in pre-production now. Due out in approximately two years, our current plans are for it to be a separate game that is free to download and free to play, supported by microtransactions. We’re partnered with Perfect World to publish the MMO, and confident that they have the best grasp on how to effectively bring a game like this to market.
Pirates or ninjas and why?
WR: PIRATE NINJAS! Seriously, can you imagine a ninja that spoke with a Captain Jack Sparrow accent, or a pirate who wore black and wielded a samurai sword?
But seriously. Yes.
JB: I’m not a big fan of pirates.
ES: Pirates are a bit sexier, but ninjas are a bit more violent. I’ll grudgingly side with sex this time.
What Many MMO players complain about the “grind” in games. How much “grind” is involved in Torchlight?
WR: Well just to clarify right off the bat, only the Single Player is available right now. And we don’t really like grindy-for-its-own-sake gameplay either, so we try to keep that to the minimum and keep the action and combat high with quests.
ES: [I’m going to disagree and say] Torchlight is all about the grind. If you don’t like our grind, than you probably won’t like the game. That said, we try to bring a series of staggered goals and accomplishments, and enough lore and eye-candy to build a compelling framework around the grind. Overall, our goal is not to reduce the grind, but rather make the grind more fun.
What is the level cap in Torchlight?
The storyline campaign may be beat while you’re around level 30 or so, but the level cap is 100, leaving you lots of damage to do in the infinite dungeon until you retire your character.
Are there adequate challenges for high-level players?
We hope so! We tried to provide a minimal learning curve for new players (Easy setting), and bigger challenges for experienced players with the Hard and Very Hard settings, and especially the granddaddy of all challenges – Hard Core mode, resulting in permadeath.
What would you estimate the learning curve is for new players to Torchlight?
We tried to keep the learning curve low and pretty manageable. A click to attack/move style is more accessible than WASD for new players, and we solicited a lot of feedback from ultra casual gamers with little to no experience with ARPGs to try to make the gameplay as intuitive as possible. Certainly anyone familiar with the genre should have no trouble picking it up immediately.
Will there a PvP component in Torchlight MMO? If so, how will it work?
WR: There will be PvP in the MMO.
JB: We’re still discussing the various options regarding PvP, but it’ll likely be far more than duels. We’re discussing arenas, battlegrounds, competitive leaderboards, and territorial control elements.
May we have a photo of your cubicle?
WR: We don’t have cubicles, how great is that! You can have this picture of our find office hound Falcor, though.
JB: It’s great to not have a *single* cubicle in the office, but now we’re forced to communicate and be friendly with our other team members. Gaahhhh.
What is your favorite in-game area? Describe it to us please.
WR: For me, the Tua’taran Ruins are the best. They are lush and gothic at the same time, they have a real “Lost World” feeling. I think they are visually compelling, like a place I would love to explore in real life.
JB: I am really pleased with the overall variety we got and the way each tileset plays slightly different. From an aesthetic stance…I love the final Black Palace. I’m glad that we could expose the fact that pink and purple are truly evil.
ES: I think the Dwarven Fortress brings a fresh perspective to what could be a pretty clichéd environment. And the random level layouts usually end up pretty intriguing.
What have been your most rewarding moments in Torchlight’s development?
WR: Shipping Torchlight and seeing people’s honest, happy reactions has been pretty momentous. It feels amazing to be a part of such an incredible team with the kind of above-and-beyond commitment and talent that’s been needed.
JB: During development, it was just everyone’s attitude and willingness to do whatever it took to make this game in 11 months. It was crazy and hectic, but it was a ton of fun too. Later on, when we had press copies out, some folks were playing on a live stream and numerous people were seeing it for the first time and chatting about it. It was great to read their reactions.
ES: My favorite moment was when I realized that we pretty much made the best game we could, and that people would be crazy not to like it. That came just a couple weeks before release, and helped bring down my stress level a lot.
What have been the most challenging moments in Torchlight’s development?
WR: There was a lot of uncertainly a year ago when were still running on the fumes of start-up funds and didn’t have partners yet – we have unfailing optimism if nothing else, and at the Christmas party last year was all of us just hung out in the office, drinking spiked cider, eating pizza, and watching Bad Santa – keeping the faith that’d we be okay.
JB: There are minor challenges all along the way, but I don’t think we hit anything major partly because this team has been together for a while now and we had literally just made this type of game. So, we hit our bigger challenges on that previous project and, luckily, learned from them.
ES: This development has been by far the smoothest in my career, which I attribute to the following factors: 1) we’ve made this game many times before, 2) we planned for a limited scope, and most importantly 3) the dedication and skill of the team.
How does Torchlight compare to Mythos, the game you “left behind” when Flagship closed?
WR: Mythos had a lot of things that weren’t necessarily ‘wrong’ with it, but that we would have liked to change -and that’s exactly what we got to do with Torchlight. The biggest example is that for Torchlight, we built our own tools to run on a graphics engine. Torchlight is a much better game now than Mythos was back then.
JB: It’s a much more cohesive world, style, and game type. We played around with a lot of ideas on Mythos and some worked and some really didn’t. Torchlight feels more designed and thought out from the beginning, where Mythos’ scope changed drastically over time and it never had the benefit of proper pre-production and tools.
Does Runic Studios have any other games in development? If so, what can you tell us about them?
WR: Just the MMO!
JB: We’re a team of 26 that just wrapped an 11 month project and are shifting straight into an MMO…there’s no bandwidth for anything else.
What was the best in-office prank ever pulled at Runic?
WR: I don’t know if you consider it much of a prank, but if you move Matt Lefferts’ trashcan onto the other side of his desk, there are spectacular fireworks. Without fail.
JB: Yeah, we are goofy and strange on a daily basis, so there’s never been a big build up to an epic prank. We have however had an *amazing* potato gun shoot out, an all-day scavenger hunt around downtown Seattle, and this one time…I think someone stuck a finger in someone’s brioche. Oh wait, that’s everyday.
WarCry would like to thank Erich Schaefer, Jason Beck and Wonder Russell!