Former Torchlight devs have teamed up for a new co-op game

Former developers from Torchlight and Hob creator Runic Games, which was shut down by its publisher Perfect World last year, have founded a new studio to build a “PC-first” co-op combat game. 

Monster Squad Games was founded by former Runic head Marsh Lefler, as well as Patrick Blank, Allen Fong, and John Dunbar, who also held senior positions at the developer. It is currently eight-strong, with most of the staff made up of former developers at either Runic or Borderlands developer Gearbox, including art director Wes Parker, who was a senior character artist on Borderlands 2.

Although the founders would not reveal many details about their first project, judging by the answers to my questions it’s safe to assume it’ll be a co-op game with a mixture of shooting and melee combat against AI opponents. When asked about PvP, the team didn’t rule it out, but pointed to their background as co-op game developers, and said they weren’t working on anything “competitive”.

It’ll have plenty of loot to grab—as you’d expect from a game made by former Torchlight and Borderlands devs—and it’ll have an Early Access period during which the team gathers feedback from fans. 

Players can expect elements of story, but not a “large campaign”, according to creative director Blank. “The focus first and foremost is on gameplay, rather than anything else—it weighs heavily on that side. Torchlight 2 was a huge, very long campaign. We don’t want to do that again.”

"There will be monsters in the game, and it’ll feel really satisfying when you hit them, whether you’re shooting them or beating them with a club.”

Gameplay director Dunbar added that they “want to focus on player satisfaction." 

"There will be monsters in the game," he said, "and it’ll feel really satisfying when you hit them, whether you’re shooting them or beating them with a club.”

When I asked what perspective the game would be played in, they said it was “something new” for everyone involved. That suggests it’ll be a third-person game: Torchlight had an isometric view, while Borderlands was a first-person shooter.

One of the reasons the team is not making another singleplayer, story-driven game like Hob is that it wants players to get their hands on it early in development. “[With Hob], it was hard to talk to our community about it without spoiling the story,” Dunbar said. “It made development a bit lonely, and the best times were the occasional game show where we'd have a booth and actually get to show the game to people and talk about it.

“It made me miss the connection to players we had while developing the Torchlight games and … we want to get back to that. It's really motivating to make something and then put it in front of players right away. You find out what works, what doesn't work, and what's missing really fast, and if you put things out right after making them then the community can be a real part of the conversation about what the game is going to be.”

Studio head Lefler told PC Gamer that, in contrast to the development of Torchlight, the team wants to continue supporting its new game after release to ensure it “grows and evolves”. 

“We had an old school mindset that once we released [Torchlight], we were done and onto the next project,” he said. “We as a studio were never built to keep that product alive, like Blizzard did with Diablo 3 and Grinding Gear [did with] Path of Exiles. That was an opportunity with the Torchlight series that we missed out on.

“Now, it seems players want games that constantly grow and evolve. Early on, we … realized whatever we were going to make needed to be something we all could work on for years to come with our community, and we all needed to love it.”

The team also spoke to me about the closure of Runic Games, which CEO Fong said was “difficult” to come to terms with. “We were all really close at the studio and just put a ton into shipping Hob. Being told the studio was getting shut down as we’re patching the game hit really hard,” he said.

Soon after the closure, the group began meeting and brainstorming ideas, eventually settling on “something we've wanted to make for a very long time,” according to Blank. “It's a culmination of returning to what we're really good at from our past games, and exploring new gameplay systems and mechanics that heighten those elements that we've wanted to try for some time.”

Monster Squad has already secured funding for the project, and the intention is to publish it in-house. The team said they’re looking to hire new staff over the coming year, and that they want to keep the studio small, with a maximum of around 30 developers.

There's no firm release date for the as-of-yet untitled game, but the team said it will come out on PC before console. We can expect more details next year, and you can find out more about Monster Squad on its website.

Samuel Horti

Samuel Horti is a long-time freelance writer for PC Gamer based in the UK, who loves RPGs and making long lists of games he'll never have time to play.