Torchlight Post-Launch and MMO Q&A

Released last week, Torchlight is a single player, dungeon crawling, mod-friendly action RPG from Runic Games, a Seattle-based studio that boasts a cast of developer from critically-acclaimed games such as the Diablo series. In two short years (give or take), Torchlight will become an MMORPG that carries much of the story into a persistent online experience. It might seem like a long time to wait, but Runic has given us plenty of cool stuff to do in the meantime. We spoke with Max Schaefer, Travis Baldree, and a great cast of Runic developers regarding some of the ins and outs of Torchlight, post-launch plans (including when we might see the highly anticipated Preditor level editor and the Mac OSX version), and some initial plans for the Torchlight MMORPG. It's all in this in-depth post-launch Torchlight Q&A with the Runic Games team.

Released last week, Torchlight is a single player, dungeon crawling, mod-friendly action RPG from Runic Games, a Seattle-based studio that boasts a cast of developer from critically-acclaimed games such as the Diablo series. In two short years, give or take, Torchlight will become an MMORPG that carries much of the story into a persistent online experience. It might seem like a long time to wait, but Runic has given us plenty of cool stuff to do in the meantime.

We spoke with Max Schaefer, Travis Baldree, and a great cast of Runic developers regarding some of the ins and outs of Torchlight, post-launch plans (including when we might see the highly anticipated Preditor level editor and the Mac OSX version), and some initial plans for the Torchlight MMORPG. It's all in this in-depth post-launch Torchlight Q&A with the Runic Games team.


Post-Launch Plans for Torchlight


Ten Ton Hammer: Congrats on launch. Is there general euphoria at Runic Games this week?

Max Schaefer, Runic Games CEO: There’s always fires that need putting out and customer support after launch, but I’d say there’s euphoria on hold. It’s going exceptionally well, and there will be euphoria, but I think it’s going to take a good night’s sleep first.

Though ten tons is the theoretical ceiling for an awesome hammer, somehow Runic developed an Eleven Ton Hammer for the live game.

Ten Ton Hammer:  A number of fans and modders anxiously await Preditor. Any idea when we might see Torchlight’s incredibly robust level editor?

Travis Baldree, President, Torchlight Project Lead: We’re hoping this week [the week of November 1st].  Basically, what we’re doing right now is taking a lot of assets – the 3D Studio Max files, the characters, the wardrobes, the tilesets, monsters - from the game and give them out with the editor. The editor’s ready to go, it’s just a matter of packing it up with a little bit more documentation. We’re getting one patch out the door first, and that’s the plan. It should be real soon.

Ten Ton Hammer: How comprehensive is the editor and assets you’re handing out. Will we be able to recreate all of the game, most of it, some of it…?

Travis: Our hope is that people will be able to edit just about everything.  We’re not going to give out every last raw asset that we have because it would be gigabytes upon gigabytes of data. We’re trying to give out the things we think that people will want to modify the most, and representative sets of things like tilesets so modders can use these to extrapolate and create their own or just modify without trying to make them shoot down our entire source directory.

Jason Beck, Art Director: We’re also packing in mini tutorials for the basic tasks to get certain assets in the game. We’ll have little write-ups for characters, for weapons, for exporting animations, things like that.

John Dunbar, Story / Quest / Particles Designer: A lot of the stuff that people will want to do with the editor won’t require all the parts anyway. Level building, stat adjustment, particle effects, and all that is really easy without all the extra stuff.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will modders be able to teach themselves by reverse-engineering what they see in the game?

Travis: You’ll be able to open up every asset that’s already in the game in the editor, so you’ll be able to load all of the level sets, items, data, and skills and change them until your heart’s content. So nothing’s really blocked off.

Preditor will allow modders to recreate all the Torchlight action, plus make their own unique content.

Ten Ton Hammer: You mentioned a patch, and we know that some users we’re having the (usual) trouble with UAC in Vista. Will that be fixed, and what else will be included in the patch?

Travis: There’s several priority fixes we’ve been keeping track of in our help and support forums - a couple of issues people have had with specific hardware combinations, a lot of load speed optimizations – and we’re really just trying to roll it out as quickly as possible. There’s always a few bumps in the road after you launch a game and we want to be really responsive and get a patch out quickly.

Ten Ton Hammer: We know a Mac OSX version of the game is in the works. Any timeline for that at present?

Travis: We don’t have a final date yet. I think it will probably be a couple of months. We hope for the new year – we’ll see how that pans out. We’ll be putting a little bit more focus on that now that the game proper is out the door.

Ten Ton Hammer: Beyond the patch coming out this week (the one that's targeted at improving the launch experience) and the Preditor patch, are there any patches that fans can look forward to that add new functionality?

Travis: What we’ve talked about doing all along is to take the assets we’re generating for the MMO, rolling them up, and handing them out for the single-player, since they’re really set in the same world and have the same look and feel. We also would like to do a patch where we patch in in-game key bindings and some better item text sorting on screen (for when you have piles and piles of loot on the ground). That and a few other odds and ends, plus any balance things that people bring to our attention.

John: We also have a pretty big modding community, so I think we can look forward to some kickass mods.  The great thing about that is that it’ll be a great surprise for us developers as well as everyone else.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will there be an official portal for Torchlight mods?

Travis: There are actually two already, all set to go.

Max:  If at all possible, we would like to not be in the business of approving mods, just because… wow, that would be a lot of work.

Travis: We’ve released a couple mods: one that lets you respec, and one that lets you hide your pet.

Questions about Torchlight (single player)


Ten Ton Hammer: One thing I wanted to ask you about was key mapping. I know that keeping things simple was imperative for the team, but at present there’s no option to re-map keys. Will that be added to the game in a future patch?

Travis: You can remap keys now, but it’s hidden in the settings file. We didn’t quite have time to get the in-game interface for that, but it’s my hope to patch that in later.

Max: Obviously schlepping around with your settings file is not optimal. (laughter)

Ten Ton Hammer: The game has tons of items, they have cool names, they look awesome. How did you approach item creation on the whole?

Erich Schaefer, Chief Creative Officer: I’ve been doing that stuff since Diablo 1, and I guess I’ve used the same thought process all the way through. I usually come up with some clever names – I usually have a batch of 200 or something like that, and I come up with about 10 clever ones, 20 or 30 ok ones, and the rest are just jibberish. (laughter) Whenever people in the company complain about some of the names, maybe I’ll change them. But it just feels like I’ve made items for fifteen years straight now and I don’t know any other way to do it. I just keep cranking them out. It’s very much just iteration on the Diablo style.

Ten Ton Hammer: I take it you have a well-thumbed thesaurus on your desk?

Erich: Yup, or just thesaurus.com on the computer, and I just type in some random words. Some of them are sort-of related, and I’ll just go surfing around and ‘oh, that’s a cool looking word.’ Sometimes I’ll just keep a database of cool looking words.

Ten Ton Hammer: On the subject of items, it seems like sometimes I’m playing the game and the gloves I have equipped are really obsolete. All of the sudden, five pairs of really awesome gloves will drop. Are drops tailored to the user?

Erich: It’s all completely random, but it always feels that way. We’ll have people complain that, ‘Oh, I just got ten shields in a row. Something’s wrong!’ And we always look into it and nothing’s wrong, it’s just that people recognize patterns even when there’s no set pattern there.

Max: In Hellgate: London we did a little bit of tailored drops, but that’s the only game we did anything like that in.

Preditor will include many of the assets you see in the game.

Ten Ton Hammer: I wanted to ask about the differences between the difficulty levels, and I think the “hardcore” option for each difficulty level (where if you die, it’s game over) is really interesting.  Are there any special considerations if you go hardcore, maybe more potions or drops, and are there any special rewards or surprises waiting for you in this mode?

Travis: There’s definitely no special considerations – it’s hardcore! We actually don’t have anything except prestige for doing hardcore.  We will have the ability for players to add items after the fact that only drop in hardcore, although we didn’t do that for the initial release.

Ten Ton Hammer: Some of the really cool timesaving  ideas in the game – having your pet run back to town and sell items for you, the traveling troll merchant that shows up deep in dungeons – are these original ideas for Runic?

Travis: The pet selling and traveling merchant were from Fate, which is another game we made. At some point a lot of what you see in game was original for some of us, but at this point what you see is the evolution of what we’ve done before.


The Torchlight MMO


Ten Ton Hammer: Moving on to the Torchlight MMO, first a point of clarification. We’ve heard 14 months after single-player Torchlight for release, we’ve heard 18-20 months also. Now that Torchlight has released on time, do you want to set a new timeline for the MMO or confirm what we’ve been hearing?

Torchlight single-player is a prototype of the upcoming MMO in many ways.

Travis: I guarantee you it won’t be 14 months. (laughter)

Max: Internally we’re looking at 18-24 months, but asking a game developer how long it’ll take is like asking a smoker how to quit. We’re notoriously bad at guessing, but on the other hand we hit the single player close to where we we’re aiming for. But no guarantees.

John: We’re really looking forward to having a beta again, so it’s not like you’ll have to wait two years to play the game if you’re really interested.

Ten Ton Hammer: Have you been working in the background on the system support you’ll need for the MMO?

Peter Hu, Chief Technology Officer:  I’ve been working on the backend of the MMO, I can’t really say too much on what’s been done so far. It’s mostly technology. When we first started Runic, we were really lacking in technology.  There’s a lot of bits and pieces that go into making a Massively Multiplayer game.  We’ve basically used the single-player to throw out a few ideas and see what the players would react to. We’ve given out a little bit of information but we still have the flexibility to go different ways – playable races, zones, storylines, etc.

Ten Ton Hammer: How will core gameplay change in the MMO? In the single-player, combat is pretty frantic. Will you have to slow it down to allow for group dynamics and that sort of thing?

Travis: The aim is to keep it as fast as possible; as close to what we have in single-player as possible. There will necessarily be some things that have to change. Some skills, for example, might be too brutal for PvP combat, we might have to have PvP specific rules. There will probably be cases where we have to have cooldowns. But the basic gameplay of beating the crud out of a ton of monsters is something we really do want to preserve.

John: We got to experiment with that in Mythos, and it actually seemed to work pretty well. It was chaotic and crazy when you were playing with a group, but it was a lot of fun.

Torchlight's classes may or may not make it into the MMO in playable form.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will we see the Vanquisher, the Destroyer, and the Alchemist in the MMO, or are you leaning towards a whole new set of classes?

Travis: We’ll say maybe – it’d be nice if in the MMO they were fresh and you weren’t coming in saying ‘I’ve played all these skills before in single-player.’ If they do show up, I imagine they’ll have some substantial changes just to make them fresh for players who’ve already experienced them.

Jason: Again, nothing concrete, but one of the things we played around is essentially the roles of these three classes in the larger picture of the world. For example, the Vanquisher is playing a role as the arm of the capital city’s law enforcement. So, whether they’re playable classes or not, they’ll be present in some form.  Maybe they’ll become NPCs, but we haven’t ironed all of that out.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you give some idea of the scope of the world you’re planning for the MMO? I’m guessing it’s fair to say that there will be an overworld experience – it’s not just going to be the town of Torchlight and surrounding dungeons?

Travis: Absolutely. Torchlight is just a small place in the world. There will be expansive outdoor areas, multiple cities… it’s certainly not going to be relegated to a single town and dungeon setup. It should be the scale of world that you’re accustomed to finding in an MMO.

Ten Ton Hammer: Ok, rather than me asking a series of MMO questions that you probably aren’t ready to answer in depth, let’s do a lightning round of possible Torchlight MMO features and you can give the thumbs down, thumbs up, or thumbs sideways. That sound ok?

Travis: Sure, let’s do it.

Ten Ton Hammer: Awesome, we’ll start easy.

The Torchlight MMO Lightning Round!
Customizable avatars Travis: Yes, definitely.
My favorite NPC mission giver, the Trill-Bot 4000 Travis: Yes, I guarantee it.
Talent trees

Travis: Maybe.

Erich: Level-uppable skills and talents, of course.

Jason: We’ll iterate on it and change it like we usually do.

Travis: That was the worst lightning round answer ever. (laughter)

Pets for every class

Travis: It’s a maybe that I would like to be a yes.

John: It feels strange to present it in single-player and then yank it away.

Max: Maybe leaning towards a yes.

Player housing Travis: Maybe. All the artists say yes, everyone else says maybe. So let’s qualify this, not everything necessarily at launch. I doubt that there will be player housing at launch.
Crafting, apart from transmutation and enchantments. Travis: Yes.
Player-generated content from Preditor.

Travis: I don’t think we’ll be incorporating anyone’s actual mods.

Max: We may be inspired by them.

Player vs. Player

Team: Yes, absolutely.

Travis: Required!

Emotes Travis: Yes, definitely.
An auctionhouse Travis: Yes.
Integrated voicechat Max: There’s so many good third party options for that. Maybe Xfire support or something.
A Matt Uelman soundtrack

Matt: Matt’s part of our team, he’s not contract – he’s a full fledged employee.

Travis: We’re tying ropes around him and not letting him leave. (laughter)


Ten Ton Hammer: You guys have been great, and I’m sure we’ll be talking much more as the MMO moves along. But is there anything more about the MMO you wanted to talk about at this time?

Max: The only thing is we can’t wait to get going. One of our things is to get a server up and get people in as soon as possible (if we don’t kill Travis along the way), and get people into the game.

John: I’m definitely looking forward to when we can start playing multiplayer just here in the office. It sure was a lot of fun with the last game.


We'd like to thank the Runic Games team for taking time to discuss post-launch plans and the Torchlight MMO with us during a busy launch week.

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