Torchlight 2 interview with Runic Games

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Runic Games have just announced Torchlight 2. Frabjous day! Quick on our feet as always, we went back in time to schedule an interview with Max Schaefer and Travis Baldree, the company's founders and designers. They spoke to us about Torchlight 2's new co-operative multiplayer, classes, character customisation, setting, mods and undead bears.

PC Gamer: It's been only a short time since Torchlight 1, and you've already talked about the eventual Torchlight MMO. What is Torchlight 2 going to deliver?

Travis Baldree : Basically, Torchlight 2 is going to be the multiplayer people keep asking us for, ever since Torchlight.

Max Schaefer : It's peer-to-peer co-op play with just your friends. It's a halfway step to the MMO.

Travis Baldree : It'll be free online play. It's not a multiplayer extension for Torchlight, it's a full sequel, with lots of new stuff that wasn't in the original game, but it'll have full multiplayer support. You can play through the singleplayer story in multiplayer co-op. We're playing multiplayer in the office right now. We're trying to basically look at all the things people wanted out of Torchlight, that we didn't ship in the initial game, and we're trying to incorporate as many of those as possible.

Max Schaefer : It's safe to say that every review said “where's the co-op multiplayer?” (laughs) It was the obvious thing. Why are we going to launch into the long term MMO right away when we've got everyone that's bought Torchlight wanting co-op multiplayer? It makes sense for us strategically, too, to get a good practice session, if you will, for multiplayer with Torchlight. To make an MMO is a huge endeavour. It takes years, it's a big risk. This way we can really feel out how multiplayer works with Torchlight, and we can give players who have been complaining there's no multiplayer in Torchlight what they want, too.

Travis Baldree : So we have, for the sequel, randomised outdoor regions with time of day that passes and weather. We do character customisation now, as opposed to the three iconic characters we did in Torchlight. You can choose your gender, and when you're choosing your class you can choose different faces and hairstyles and features, and so on. All that stuff features in the MMO, but it just seems like a great time to go ahead and do it.

PC Gamer: What can you tell me about the new setting of the game?

Travis Baldree : You'll go through very distinct outdoor areas. You start in kind of a lush, mountainous region and you spend a pretty significant amount of time in the game in outdoor areas. So the idea is that over the course of the game you're going to transition between some very distinct regions that will hopefully be really interesting to progress through. You'll be going through different cultural areas, and it'll be a much more broadly ranging game than Torchlight was, and significantly larger. We don't want to throw out what we tried to build with Torchlight, there's still that kind of, sort of steam-punky aspect.

PC Gamer: We like the undead bears. What can you tell us about the region in which you encounter undead bears? Talk about undead bears.

Travis Baldree : I think you'll be encountering bears pretty early on in the game. It's almost got a semi-Tibetan feel to it, in a way, kind of like those tumbled rock walls and those grassy cliffs.

PC Gamer: Do you have new pets? Maybe the undead bears could be pets?

Travis Baldree : The plan is that we're doing some new pets, though we haven't finalised what those will be at this point. There will certainly be a dog and a cat, because everybody likes dogs and cats, and we're aiming to add some new pets as well. We'd also like to further the role of the pet and provide it with some more distinct abilities from creature to creature so that there's an interesting choice to be made in what you select.

Max Schaefer : We're not going to just separate the dog and the cat people! (laughs).

PC Gamer: Are they differentiated in any way other than appearance?

Travis Baldree : In the original game, the first two pets were more or less identical, it was purely a cosmetic change. The real differences came when you changed your pet into something else. But we've talked a lot, though there's no final decisions yet, about giving those pets some sort of distinct, innate abilities that make one more interesting than the other for one reason or another.

Classes & Characters

PC Gamer: Shall we move on to the new classes you've got and talk about the customisation?

Travis Baldree : We're only announcing two classes at this point and, man, I hesitate to say what their names are, because they were arguing over them!

Max Schaefer : These are working names. These are not the actual final names.

Travis Baldree : I'm going to check my email, because I'm pretty sure someone had some names down! We're going to get in trouble with our art teams if we say the wrong names. So the two classes we're going to be revealing are the Wanderer, who's almost kind of a... hell, we've got a class description here somewhere!

Max Schaefer : There was some push to call him the Nomad, or the Wanderer...

Travis Baldree : I guess they're called the Outlander, now. Who has, what's a good way of describing this so that somebody also doesn't kill me? It's kind of a Dune Fremen sort of character, someone who's on the fringe and has survivalist tendencies, various facility with ranged weapons and low magic. The other classic is the Railman, who'se like an engineer melee warrior class that basically, on the frontier, trying to push forward into unpopulated areas, and they're responsible for constructing the means of getting there and also the advanced fortifications and they also have to be able to protect themselves. They have some of that steam-punky mechanical bent from Torchlight.

PC Gamer: Are you bringing over the original classes from Torchlight into Torchlight 2?

Travis Baldree : The original classes from Torchlight will actually not be playable in Torchlight 2. We didn't want people to feel like they were retreading the same ground with a class, we wanted to introduce new stuff. We'll probably represent those classes in the game so that it feels coherent, but we're not going to ask you to play them all over again.

PC Gamer: Did you want to introduce new classes simply for the sake of newness? Or were there things about the previous classes that you wanted to mix up?

Travis Baldree : We certainly wanted to explore different dynamics for the characters, it's always interesting to try new stuff and it really frees you up not to have to stick to whatever fiction you've come up with to justify these abilities with the previous classes, you can just try totally different things. There's also the excitement of trying something different visually, and trying to expand on the world by showing a little bit more about the characters that live there.

Max Schaefer : As Travis also mentioned earlier we have increased the customisation of your character so you can pick genders and hairstyles and stuff. Since we didn't have that the first go round we would have had to completely reconstruct those characters anyway to add the facility to do that. So it's a good opportunity to do some new stuff.

Multiplayer, narrative and co-operation

PC Gamer: Is Torchlight 2 a continuation of the original, or are there more fundamental changes to the structure of the game and the mechanics?

Travis Baldree : Given the structure of the world, there's a difference in how you can progress, because there's more potential for lateral movement. In Torchlight it's very much: you go down. There's not much opportunity for branching, apart from a few side quests you can access in the town. In Torchlight 2, once you head out into the outdoors and the wilderness, there's more opportunities to take side paths and to go and explore areas that are not required. We actually hired a writer this time out, so we're endeavouring to have a coherent narrative, and to work that more into the quests that you're undertaking.

PC Gamer: Can you tell us a bit about how the multiplayer works? I'm assuming you're going to have had to change some of the mechanics in the game to make it workable for more than one person to play

Travis Baldree : We're trying to keep it as close as humanly possible, honestly. Obviously there's no pausing, but the aim is for it to feel as fast paced and enjoyable as we can possibly make it. We haven't decided on a final player count for a session. It might be anywhere from four, to six, to seven. It's really going to depend on how fast people are at mowing down monsters. We will probably, to a certain degree, limit the number of summons you can have, to prevent it being a crowd of five guys with twelve zombies apiece wandering the screen, for the sake of your sanity.

PC Gamer: Presumably, there's a degree of balancing between the multiplayer and the singleplayer in terms of pace.

Travis Baldree : The difficulty of the monsters tunes dynamically to the number of party members who are nearby. And we're using loot rules that are pretty similar to Mythos where drops are basically your drops. You pick up what you found and you don't have to fight over loot. In the singleplayer we'll allow you to pause and you will start exactly where you left off and it'll retain the full state of the region that you're in. In multiplayer, because you're going to be dipping in and out of other people's games and everyone's got their own random world, you won't have that. It might not be your game that you're joining, so the world's a little bit less concrete in the multiplayer, just given the nature of play. We want you to be able to go into the lobby and drop in and out of games and just join up with people and play for a little bit, hop back out, go join a different game.

PC Gamer: Are the levels linear in the same way, or is there more exploration?

Travis Baldree : There's definitely more exploration this time out, especially with the outdoor regions and the multiple exits to a level. You can be hunting around and stumble across a cave. We're also putting a focus this time on having random events that occur in the levels that give more structure to the world. You might come across a caravan being attacked and you can choose to stop and save them or go on by. We want little pockets of life that happen, with varying degrees of complexity, that give the world a little bit more flavour and life and reward you for maybe heading off the beaten path and finding something interesting.

PC Gamer: It sounds like in multiplayer it rewards people for not necessarily staying together.

Travis Baldree : There's certainly an advantage to staying together. When you're working in concert, we want skills that are excellent in party situations that give you a reason to be around each other. But, heck, that guy's killing stuff and it's dropping loot for me.

PC Gamer: Do you have any examples of how people might co-operate, cool class interactions, that kind of thing?

Travis Baldree : We've talked a lot about special placeable auras that you can use in the game that provide benefits to party members that are nearby, so that you can nail them down near a boss. We're in the early stages of putting these classes together, but a lot of them really do have to cater to the kind of action the game has. We're not going to have a lot of fiddly, “You need to target a specific character to apply this buff” kind of skills, because it's just not really conducive to the fast, 'run all over the place and beat the crap out of a ton of monsters' play that we have. But we still want to have abilities that provide benefits to your party and provide interesting ways to play.

The MMO, the system requirements, mods, and the release.

PC Gamer: Since you're building this whole world now, are you going to re-use a lot of these same settings for the MMO?

Travis Baldree : I think we'd certainly want to revisit them, although they will probably be more concrete in the MMO. Outdoor regions in the MMO are not going to be randomised, as a rule, we want that sense of persistence where you've got a ton of people in a given region. One of the things we get to do, with this not being an MMO, is have these be highly randomised, but the settings and so on, and the cultures we set up we want to take forward.

PC Gamer: Visually, the first game hit the mark with system requirements by having a particular art style. Are there going to be any changes there? Any graphical improvements?

Travis Baldree : The lighting is a little bit more interesting this time out. As I mentioned earlier, we've got time of day and weather which makes the whole world feel more dynamic. We have a larger art team at this point so we're certainly working to refine the look of the game and to push up against the limitations that we've chosen for hardware. But we still want this to run on really low end machines. We want you to be able to play it in a coffee shop and not have to worry about it.

PC Gamer: Do you have an idea of when it's likely to be released?

Max Schaefer : Let's say the first half of 2011. We can say we're aiming for that. Of course, it's early in development and it hasn't been publicly shown, and we're a game developer giving you a release date so...

PC Gamer: Is there anything else you want to add about Torchlight 2?

Max Schaefer : You'll be able to buy the box and play for free, so there will be no item sales or subscriptions or any nonsense.

Travis Baldree : We're going to continue supporting mods. We've been talking a lot about how we're going to handle that in multiplayer, so it's not finalised yet. Maybe some horrible difficulties will arise that I'm not anticipating, but it's something that we'd like to do. Ideally, what I'd like to see happen is one of the cool things we had with Torchlight was the class mods that people did. We had lots of different class mods that people put together interesting abilities or really weird alternate takes on an existing class, and I think it'd be really fun to go and play with your friends and play really strange classes that somebody cooked up and do that together.

Max Schaefer : I think it's probably important to mention here that we're not aiming with our multiplayer to provide the perfectly secure, cheat free MMO multiplayer experience. The idea here is that you can play Torchlight with your friends, and you can modify that if you want to make the game with your friends all the better. It probably means that it will be somewhat cheatable, but the point of this is not to have a world wide competitive community, the point of this is to have a fun Torchlight experience that you can play with your friends.

Travis Baldree : The aim is basically to provide you with some tools when you're in the lobby environment to play games only with the people you actually want to play with. You can have an established set of friends and set up a game that's only available to them. We've talked a bit about almost a limited TiVo style rating system for players, too, so that you can thumb down people who are absolute hacks.

PC Gamer: But you can play with random people as well?

Travis Baldree : Oh yes, you can absolutely play with random people. We want to give people the ability, if you've got a bunch of morons hopping into your game, to exclude them if you like.

Martin Davies

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