Planescape: Torment is one of the best role-playing games in history of game industry. Authors not just create an interesting RPG, which players can end almost without killing anyone, but came up with very tragic story about life and death. It is very difficult to find such serious story in modern games (it is believed that they are not needed it at all), so Planescape actual even today, despite the fact that the game released 13 years ago. So, if you haven’t seen it — try it, you will never regret.
If we say that announcement of Torment: Tides of Numenera was a good news for those who familiar with Planescape universe — we say nothing. Spiritual successor to the famous Black Isle Studios game. Philosophical parable about human life. Deep and complicated RPG. The game still in early development stage, but we have talked to authors about the story and the main aspects of Torment: Tides of Numenera.
Hello! What post do you occupy in the studio?
Adam Heine: I’m a writer and designer on Torment, though I'm not actually in the studio. I work from my home in Thailand where my wife and I foster kids with nowhere to go.Thanks to the magic of the internet, though, I've been working closely with both Colin on the story and Kevin on the game systems.
Colin McComb: I’m the Creative Lead for the project, which means that I’m responsible for developing the story, companions, and general creative vision for the game.
Kevin Saunders: I’m the project director for Torment. I’m ultimately responsible for all aspects of the game. I work at inXile’s office in Newport Beach, California. At this early stage, I get to work with Colin and Adam on many aspects of the design, but my role is primarily about planning the project, leading the team, and ensuring that Colin’s creative vision is realized in a high quality game.
What do you think is Kickstarter a long-term project and is it firmly entrenched in the industry? How do you assess its prospects?
Kevin: I think crowdfunding is here to stay, and it will become an increasingly viable option for video game developers. I can see many ways in which it will readily expand — much of the earlier crowdfunded games were about resurrecting past experiences and types of gameplay that haven’t received much attention in recent years. But I think it will increasingly become a way for developers to innovate in new directions.
You applied to Kickstarter because publishers were not interested in your game. How they explained their refusal?
Kevin: Brian Fargo sought a publisher for Wasteland 2 for many years and the general response was that there wasn’t a strong enough market for the game. For Torment, we didn’t even try to get it published, to be honest. We think it would have been a challenge to get a publisher because the total sales for the game probably wouldn'tbe very interesting to a large company.
But why would we want a publisher for it? The crowdfunding approach provides so many advantages, especially for a game like Torment: the dialogue with, and accountability to, the players; the ability to focus on the game quality; creative control that is free of market considerations; etc. If Torment had not funded, that would have meant there wasn’t the demand for the game we wanted to make — it is better in that scenario to not make it.
There are not so many people works in inXile Entertainment. Still you are developing just two games now. Is it difficult to create two highly anticipated games simultaneously?
Kevin: No, it’s only exhilarating. Having the two projects simultaneously is a deliberate production decision to make things easier. The vast majority of inXile is concentrating on Wasteland. Meanwhile, the team working on Torment is very small, detailing the game’s design. Then, as Wasteland 2 wraps up we will have a well-defined project for our production team to move onto. This is an ideal situation.
Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera are the games by which many gamers judge the future of Kickstarter. If they will not meet the expectations of the players many of them will be disappointed in crowdfunding. What do you think about this?
Kevin: We do feel this pressure, but it is manageable because it pushes us in the same direction we’re already focused — making the best game possible for our backers. The open dialogue we have with our backers gives us a lot of confidence that we’re on the right track. The response to our Wasteland 2 gameplay video from February, for example, was overwhelmingly positive and we’re excited to be so well aligned with our fans.
Tell us about the story and the world of Torment: Tides of Numenera in more detail? Who is the main character? Whom he will fight?
Colin: The Ninth World of Numenera is a far-future Earth — a billion years in the future. They call it the Ninth World because they say that eight great civilizations have come and gone on the earth: civilizations that onceacted as the hub of star-spanning empires, or that mastered the folding of time of space, or who had mastered the shaping of worlds, and more. They have left an indelible imprint on the face of the planet, and they share another feature: they have all vanished, leaving behind remnants of their knowledge and their tools. Now humanity rebuilds on the shattered ruins of these ancient civilizations, in a world filled with the unimaginable energies of forgotten races, and begins to discover its place in a universe that is very, very different from the one we know.
It’s against this backdrop that our story begins. A man decided he did not want to die — his reasons are lost to time — and discovered a way to grow a new body and transfer his mind into that new body. Over the course of thousands of years, he has lived countless lives in countless bodies… but what he doesn’t know — or perhaps doesn’t care to know — is that when he leaves those bodies, they don’t die. Instead, they begin their own lives in near-immortal shells, with no memory of the mind they housed before.
Something about the process has awoken an old enemy — the Angel of Entropy. It finds the Changing God and vows to eliminate his works, and now it hunts the PC.
You play the Last Castoff — a shell of the Changing God, on the run from the Angel of Entropy, in a desperate search for answers in a world where it seems nearly anything is possible.
Is the fact that you do not acquire the rights to the Planescape universe the only reason why the actions of the game take place in Numenera?
Colin: The only reason? No. Initially, admittedly, I wanted to create a game in the Planescape universe — after all, I was one of the three main writers for the Planescape setting, along with David «Zeb» Cook and Monte Cook. But that was before Monte Cook had begun his Numenera Kickstarter, and before I’d had a chance to look at his world.
Now I’m glad we aren’t set in Planescape. Numenera offers us the opportunity to continue a thematic journey without the attendant expectations from the first game. The themes of Numenera dovetail perfectly with the themes from Torment. This is the best possible fit for the game we want to make.
What about the gameplay? What can you say about the role-playing system of Tides of Numenera?
Adam: We're adapting the system for Monte Cook's tabletop RPG Numenera. Numenera has a ridiculously smooth tabletop system, with only three character statistics, broad skill definitions, and a strong emphasis on collaborative storytelling. But we won't be creating a computerized version of the tabletop game—that would be too simplistic for a CRPG. Instead, we're working closely with Monte to adapt and add to the tabletop rules in a way consistent with Monte's vision for the game, while still being complex and interesting enough for a CRPG.
We're still at work adapting it, but what we do know is there will still be three character stats. There will be a defined set of skills, including some skills not found in a typical RPG. And we're working on ways to adapt Numenera's unique GM intrusion and XP mechanics.
There are some companions will be in the game. Tell us, how much they will affect the main plot and story development? Will we be able to communicate with them, to reveal their secrets? Will we get some unique quests from our companions?
Colin: I don’t want to give away too many details this early in production, but we do anticipate that the companions will have an effect on the storyline, that they will have some unique storylines of their own, and that you’ll get the same rich sense of a real personality that you’d expect from a Torment game. Given that we have Chris Avellone and Patrick Rothfuss (among others) designing companions, I expect that they will be truly memorable.
How much the player will be free in choosing what he will do? Will an open world be in Torment: Tides of Numenera?
Adam: It won't be a true open world in the sense that you can go wherever you want in search of the next story thread. But giving the player choices that matter is very important to us. So while the player might not be able to walk all over the world map until they meet certain story beats, they will have a variety of choices of how to reach those beats, each of which will have a significant impact on the story and the world. Additionally, though the story beats may determine which locations the player has access to, they will have significant freedom of movement within those locations.
How serious our choices and actions will affect the storyline? How many endings will be in the game?
Adam: Like I said, one of our primary goals is to give the player choices that matter. They won't be easy choices either. You might be asked to choose between sacrificing a companion or allowing a village to be destroyed—or you might find a third option which will have consequences of its own. The theme driving the story is "What does one life matter?" and throughout the game, you'll find that your choices and actions matter very much.
We're still talking about how many endings there will be. Though that might even be the wrong question. The main conflict of the story might have a limited set of ways it can play out, but the ending as a whole will probably be a more organic combination of story pieces, naturally evolved from the way that you played the game.
What common things will be between Planescape and your new game, despite the fact that actions takes place in a completely different universe?
Adam: Before we even launched the Kickstarter, we spent months talking about what we loved about Planescape: Torment, and what made it great. What both Torment games will have in common are things like: a rich, literary story; deep characters, unique from anything you'd usually find in a traditional fantasy RPG; complex conversations, where your choices of what to say and do can change everything; and subversions of many of the tropes found in traditional RPGs.
The unusual and compelling universe of Numenera's Ninth World is also something both Torments share in common. The Planescape setting was unlike any fantasy setting to date. Both Monte and Colin worked closely with that setting, and Monte even considers Numenera's Ninth World to be a spiritual successor to it. We consider that to be as much a part of the Torment tradition as anything.
What is the most difficult thing in the process of game development without the financial and other support of publisher?
Kevin: For a game like Torment? Nothing really. We have to accept certain limitations due to budget constraints, but those limitations don’t get in the way of our vision for Torment anyway. For example, to craft the type of experience we envision for Torment, we don’t need fully voiced cinematic cut scenes. ($4.2M sounds like a lot of money, but it’s very small compared to high profile published titles,especially after taking into account the Kickstarter fees and rewards for backers.)
Besides financial support, a publisher can also aid a developer by providing expertisein aspects of the industry that developers often aren’t focused on. But through their years at Interplay, Brian Fargo (CEO) and Matt Findley (President) are used to handling all of game development themselves, so we already have this type of experience internally.
It is clear that most of the people who gave you money on Kickstarter mostly those who have already played your games and they understand that they will receive in the end. It is a core audience. What do you have for casual audience? Torment: Tides of Numenera is the hardcore role-playing game. However, the hardcore audience is not the only audience that plays games.
Kevin: We care only that our backers like the game. We aren’t going to make compromises to try to appeal to a broader market. Being able to focus on our core audience is one of the luxuries of a crowdfunded project.
You have two successful stories on Kickstarter. What impressions do you have? What advice do you have for those developers, who are only going to make a crowdfunding campaign? What pitfalls they may face?
Kevin: Your game needs to be something that players can’t find elsewhere — it needs to provide an experience that will never be created unless it is crowdfunded. The biggest challenge is reaching your game’s fan base so that they know about the crowdfunding campaign. Just launching a Kickstarter isn’t newsworthy anymore, so it can be a challenge to get the word out. Developers should build up awareness long before launching the Kickstarter campaign — launching it and hoping that people will show up isn’t a realistic path to success unless it is for a very small project.
You are not the first year in the game industry. What has changed since time, when you developed games in Interplay? Was it easier then now, or vice versa — more difficult?
Kevin: Crowdfunding is a completely new option and while it brings its own challenges, is in general much easier — with crowdfunding, developers have much more influence on their own fate.
Over the last decade or two, budgets and team sizes for AAA games have grown tremendously in size, making each project a major investment. Innovation or new intellectual properties increase the risk further, which lends itself to sequels and familiar types of gameplay. But at the same time, new platforms and distribution methods are available, making it much easier for independent developers to experiment and find their own niches.
In recent years, the concept of role-playing games was blurred a bit. For example, we have The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim with hundreds of skills and spells and endless loot, and we have Mass Effect with pure action gameplay. Nevertheless, both mentioned games are RPGs, and each of them has the high scores from players and press. What is the role-playing game for you?
Kevin: Even in their earlier years, RPGs had quite a wide variety in terms of the gameplay. Wasteland had an open, reactive world and conversations with NPCs. Eternal Dagger had intricate tactical combat and extensive character customization, but no NPC interactions. Legend of Zelda had action gameplay and environment puzzles. I think some of the distinctions have become clearer over time because there have been more games — you can start to group several games together whereas initially each RPG was pretty much its own type of experience.
My introduction to RPGs came with D&D in 1980 and then games like The Bard’s Tale, Zork I (I know this may not be considered an RPG today), Treasure of Tarmin (for the Intellivision), Ultima III. For me it was indeed about the «role-playing» part. By this I mean that you were imagining yourself as this other person (or group of persons, or yourself in some cases) creating a story of how they responded to (and influenced) the world and its situations, how they achieved their goals.
I don’t worry about definitions very much anymore. I don’t mean that definitions aren’t important — having common terminology is critical to communicating with others. But what makes something an RPG, or not, doesn’t strike me as a very practical thing to consider. Each game is trying to create its own experience for the player and there are so many valid combinations of features and approaches.
That was one thing I love about «Torment». With just that one word, gamers have a pretty good sense of what kind of game we’re making. By describing our four pillars of gameplay (a deep, thematically satisfying story; a world unlike any other; a rich, personal narrative; reactivity, choice, and real consequence), we further cement what Torment is about. It provides a strong, clear vision — one that our backers have told us they want. We know what we are making; now we just have to craft it.
Thanks for your answers. We are looking forward for the release.