Torchlight Exclusive Q&A

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Ten Ton Hammer's Danny "Ralsu" Gourley was a big fan of Mythos, and no one was sadder than he when Flagship Studios failed and Mythos disappeared while in development. Now that a lot of the former Flagship staff has teamed up with other industry professionals to form Runic Games, Ralsu has been keeping a close eye on their project, which is called Torchlight.

Ralsu immediately set out to run some questions by the minds responsible for the game. He caught up with Travis Baldree, Jason Beck, and John Dunbar. These gentlemen we kind enough to field queries about design decisions, the choice of Perfect World as a publisher, future goals, and more.

I promise to stop referencing Mythos by question #618, but letÂ’s just get it out of the way right now. Tell us how Torchlight is similar to Mythos. How is it different?

Comparisons to Mythos will be unavoidable.

Travis Baldree: Torchlight is still about fast, action-RPG gameplay - but in many ways we think it's a big improvement over Mythos, at least so far. We've taken the exaggerated look of Mythos much further, we've made combat and skills more satisfying, the environments are more interesting and interactive, and have a much better sense of scale.  Our end goal with the MMO is still the same as it was with Mythos - but of course, we'd like to improve on it in every way.  We've chosen to look at Mythos as a very extensive preproduction period that will hopefully serve to make Torchlight a much better game.

One unique thing Runic Games is doing is building a single player game first and then following that with the MMO based on the same world. Torchlight is the single player game. But it will have an online multiplayer mode, right? And how will it serve to help the development of the MMO?

Travis Baldree: The single player won't actually have a multiplayer mode - that's basically being reserved for the MMO. We're building the single player title on a very short timeline, and will be releasing it this year.  It will be extremely moddable however, and we'll be releasing our inhouse toolset.  As far as serving to aid in the MMO development, the core gameplay, tool suite, randomized dungeons, AI, and in many cases assets will transition in some form to the MMO.  Simply polishing and releasing the title (and the tools) will ensure that we're building the MMO on a good, solid foundation, and should help immensely.  The MMO will also be set in the same world, so story and lore should also transition well. 

Every solid action RPG drives players forward with a compulsion to get that next piece of loot or to kill that last unique monster in a dungeon. Every once in a while, we get a strong plot in those games, too. What will be the most appealing aspect of Torchlight?

John Dunbar: The most appealing aspect of the game really depends on the player.  Torchlight has an interesting setting and a story that runs through the game, but players who arenÂ’t interested in that sort of thing will be able to skip through it.  There are lots of really cool items, and rare drops that you could spend extra time looking for if thatÂ’s how you like to play.  Personally, I really like getting to new areas that feel different from where IÂ’ve been before and seeing what kind of monsters live there.

Hopefully everyone will like the combat and skill system.  We focus a lot on the feel of moment to moment gameplay.  Hitting monsters has to feel really satisfying, because youÂ’re going to be doing it a lot.  To get that feeling the animations, particles, sounds, balance, and combat system all need to be just right.  ItÂ’s a group effort, and I think itÂ’s something weÂ’re pretty good at.

The art in Mythos was stylized. Torchlight takes things a step further.

The art in the two screens of Torchlight revealed thus far depicts super deformed characters and monsters in a world that looks hand-drawn. It is instantly recognizable to fans of FATE and Mythos. Critics of the art in Mythos said it was too cartoony or resembled World of Warcraft too much. It seems Torchlight goes even further with the stylization. What are the benefits of this art style? What are the challenges?

Jason Beck:  I really wouldnÂ’t characterize it as such. Super-deformed, as the term is most commonly used, isnÂ’t what weÂ’re doing.  ItÂ’s generally an easier conversation to compare things to known entities, so I will offer this one up to better define our look.  Torchlight is a little bit “DragonÂ’s Lair meets the Incredibles.”  We have stylized characters for certain, but theyÂ’re more in line with proportional designs you see in 2D animation. Our environments are shooting for a hand-painted, almost watercolor-like appearance.  WeÂ’re trying to define our own look and have drawn some inspiration from the classic animation techniques. The great thing with Torchlight is we can avoid some of those comparisons having an entirely clean slate to work from We arenÂ’t inheriting any art this time.

We defined some very clear objectives for Torchlight.  We wanted to run on virtually any system.  We also didnÂ’t want to go head to head against Diablo 3 and attempt to beat them at their art style; itÂ’s not right for our game anyways.  WeÂ’re also shooting for a broader audience, one that draws in people who donÂ’t normally play these types of games, but also isnÂ’t off-putting to established fans of ARPGs. TorchlightÂ’s look hopefully hits all of our main objectives and itÂ’s a style that comes pretty naturally to the team. The primary challenge is toeing that line between a look that appeals to both the established ARPG players and an entirely new audience for this type of game.

I wrote for a long while about Vanguard, a game that has a dedicated mod community that feels it receives little support from the developers. In an interview with Runic Games Insider, you noted that Torchlight will highly modifiable and that it will “deliver some robust modding tools.” You later pledged to support the mod community. Exactly how will Runic Games support its modding community? Will players be able to create custom UIs and downloadable content? How hard will that be? Will advanced modders be able to provide feedback to the development team for improvements or fixes to the user interface?

John Dunbar: We like to keep close ties with our community.  ItÂ’s pretty easy to get a hold of us on forums, and IÂ’m sure weÂ’ll be having a ton of discussions about modding.  If youÂ’re an advanced modder and involved in the community, weÂ’ll know who you are.  The tools we will release are the same ones we use to make the game, so any improvements we make for the community will help us out as well.  ThereÂ’re already pretty awesome though, Greg has done a fantastic job creating them and adding new features that make our lives a lot easier.

Since your question focused on UI modding, youÂ’re probably thinking about the MMO, and I canÂ’t really tell you what sort of modding it will support.  Right now when I think of mods, I have the single player game in mind.  Modding is one of the coolest things about single player games, and I canÂ’t wait to see what people come up with.  I hope to see new monsters, new dungeons, new quests, everything.  Maybe someone will replace all the monsters with laser space bugs.  As far as difficulty, it varies depending on what you want to do.  If you want to make a whole new monster with new art, then you will need to know how to model and animate.  If you can do that, then adding it to the game will be easy.  Changing item or monster stats is super easy, making particle effects or levels will probably require you to read a tutorial.

Dungeon crawling is more fun with big bosses.

You have mentioned a persistent, evolving pet as one of the gameplay elements youÂ’d like to see in Torchlight or other Runic Games titles. How do you envision a pet evolving in a way that keeps it as fresh as getting access to new pets at different levels?

Travis Baldree: Apart from the fact that you will be able to transform your pet into other creatures using a mechanic similar to the one in FATE, we've talked a lot about having abilities that are equippable on your pets via a collar.  This is stil in flux right now, so I don't want to commit to too many lofty goals just yet, but we definitely want your pet to gain new abilities as you play, keeping them interesting to develop.

In Taylor BalbiÂ’s account of playing Torchlight at the 2009 Game DeveloperÂ’s Conference, he mentions secret doors in dungeons. Can players expect a lot of Easter eggs like that? Will there be a secret Zardon level or something?

John Dunbar: I wouldnÂ’t call secret doors an easter egg, theyÂ’re just part of the dungeons and there will be lots of them. There are also levers that make bridges extend, release monsters, and do that sort of thing. ItÂ’s a lot more interactivity than weÂ’ve ever had in dungeons before, and it makes them a lot more interesting.

If thereÂ’s a secret level, weÂ’ll probably have to do it without Zardon.  For sad.  We can only hope to find a different ridiculous, un-usable monster to idolize this time around.

The word on the web is that inventory will be one item to one space rather that the older Tetris-style system. Why did you make this choice, how many slots will players be able to fill, and can pets really carry items for us, too?

NCsoft has a hit with Dungeon Runners. Surely the market has room for one more action RPG.

Travis Baldree: Primarily it's a question of simplicity.  Mythos actually had single-slot items for a while, early in development. Eventually, we went to the Tetris system because we were unhappy with how the single-slot icons looked - they were small and hard to pick out, and inventory management caused a lot of eyestrain.  In Torchlight the icons are generally much larger, and we're pleased with how the gear looks in icon form, so we don't really miss it.  At present, for standard gear, the player has 15 slots [and[ your pet has an additional 15.  You also have separate areas for quest and fishing-related items (15 each), so that they don't clutter the primary inventory. This is all subject to change, however.

A lot of great publishers put our quality titles ever year. Tell us why Perfect World is the right publisher for Torchlight.

Travis Baldree: Perfect World is both a publisher and a developer. They know what it takes to make a successful MMO in the business model we were attempting, have completed successful launches in the US, and are fantastic to work with.  Even though single player games aren't really considered for development in China, they were gracious enough to give us the time to release a single player title first - we really couldn't ask for a better partner.  In the end, Perfect World was the right publisher for us because of that - because they're our partner as well as a publisher, and they generously give of their resources and expertise to help us make a better game.  They've really been a pleasure to partner with.

Since Perfect World is known for free-to-play games in the West, does that mean the Torchlight MMO will work on a micro-transaction system as well? Will there be a retail box for either the RPG or the MMO?

Travis Baldree: Yes. The Torchlight MMO will have a micro-transaction system similar to what we were attempting with Mythos.  With Perfect World, we really have an opportunity to achieve what we set out to do with Mythos, which is extremely lucky for us.  I'm not sure yet whether we'll have a retail box for the MMO, but we intend to do so for the single player game.

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