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Old 03-18-2013, 07:42 AM   #1
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Torment: Tides Of Numenera Interview


Colin McComb and Kevin Saunders of inXile were kind enough to chat with me about the upcoming game Torment: Tides of Numenera. We laughed and we cried. So join me as we dive into the Tides.

Colin – I’m Colin McComb the Creative Lead for Torment: Tide of Numenera. I started playing D&D when I was about ten; I knew I wanted to do it for a living when I was 15 when I realized that people actually get paid for that. I got my job at TSR when they owned Dungeons and Dragons right out of college. I wrote the Complete Book of Elves for which you can see my apology video. In 1996, I moved California and began working for Interplay in the role playing division that became Black Isle Studios. I was the 2nd Designer on Planescape: Torment. In 2000 I moved to Michigan and then I worked on Wasteland 2, it was talking through Chris Avellone that I was introduced to Brian Fargo who hired me after Wasteland 2 and said “Wow, Colin you seem to have your skills still, would you like to be the be the Creative Lead for Torment: Tides of Numenera?” I said that I would be so happy that I would probably cry.

Kevin - I’m Kevin Saunders, I’m the project director for Torment. In the late 90s I was getting my masters in environmental engineering. My research afforded me the opportunity to play online games. Through a fluke I ended up in the gaming industry in massively multiplayer online games. I later worked at Electronic Arts and then went to Obsidian Entertainment. I was hired to work on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2. I was with Obsidian for a little over five years. I went from design to production and I led Mask of the Betrayer and Storm of Zehir. I left entertainment games to work in serious games for a few years. Basically I worked on multiplayer role playing games without combat where you speak your lines in a foreign language. It was used to teach military going overseas the language and culture of their host country. I worked there until late last year. Chris Avellone was working with Brian Fargo on Wasteland 2 and he got in touch with me and said that Brian was looking for a producer on a new project. He asked if I’d mind if he game my name to Brian. I said no, that I would be interested in talking to him. Brian said he was looking for a producer for a new Torment and asked if I wanted to be the producer for that. I joined the company last November.

CoG – You've both had a pretty interesting trajectory in your career paths.

Kevin – Yes we have. We joke that even though Avellone isn't involved in this project , he’s sort of the puppet master behind it because he introduced both Colin and I to Brian.

Cog- Dance for me puppets!

Kevin – Ha! That’s Right!

Colin- He’s sneakier than we know…


Cog – There is clearly a group out there that wants this game. Do you ever worry that the group may end up being too small? Will you able to sustain development in the long term going from Kickstarter to Kickstarter?

Kevin - I don’t think so, what we’ve found is that with Wasteland and Torment and what we’ve seen with Project Eternity is that there is a pretty good market. It’s too small for the big publishers. For a Mid-sized company like inXile it’s a good sized population. Brian doesn’t want to make this a large company, he wants to focus on role playing games. He wants to hone those skills. We want to continue to innovate as we go forward. My answer might have been different a few weeks ago, because we really didn’t know what was going to happen. We knew there was a fanatic following, but still…

Colin – There were a lot of questions that people might have had that would make them say “Whoa, we’re not going to get involved in with this”. It’s been really gratifying to see the level of support, in fact it’s a little overwhelming.

CoG – Sure, on one hand games are a business, but they are also an art form. I imagine that at the end of the day you want to come home creatively satisfied, and I suppose that larger publishers care about that less than the individual might.

Kevin – That’s one of the best things about this. This is the story that Colin wanted to tell and we are working on developing it because we’re interested in it. Here’s what we want to make. Do you want in?

CoG - Basically “We’re not getting the thing that we want, please make it for us.”

Colin – Exactly, it’s a lot like the microbrewery explosion. You had the big breweries churning out their… beverages. Then all of the sudden you had all this craft breweries making the beer they want to brew and there is an audience for those. It’s not necessarily a sustainable model for a “large” company, but it’s more than enough for them. I think there is enough of market that people will want to sustain this kind of game.

Kevin – Another reason we’re optimistic about the future is that we still find a lot of people who don’t know about Wasteland 2. In our Kickstarter for Torment we created a tier that bundled Torment with Wasteland 2. This is several thousand people who maybe saw the Wasteland 2 gameplay video or just hadn’t heard of Wasteland 2 and jumped in for both games.


CoG – Care to speculate on why Torment received its funding so quickly?

Kevin- Everyone knew we were coming, word got out in early December, so we didn’t ambush people like many Kickstarters do. Project Eternity does their updates every Tuesday. So the night before our Kickstarter launched they told all of their backers that we were launching. We also told our Wasteland 2 backers that we were launching, explaining how Torment would not affect them negatively; so that was even more people that were informed. I think at least some of the phenomenon was awareness.

CoG- You could say that in order to have a successful crowdfunding campaign that you would need to seed the ground a little bit…

Colin – Absolutely, I think that if you don’t do it, people may not even know about it. A few links on twitter or Facebook aren’t going to do it. Kevin has been doing a ton of research on successful and not successful kickstarters. He put together what works and what doesn’t.

CoG – One question that I thought was interesting and made me feel old, How do you plan on selling your game to those who have no nostalgic attachment to a PC game that is a generation old?

Kevin – We don’t want to cater to a “different” audience, but we do want to grow the audience. We think there are more people out there that would like this kind of game and just haven’t had the opportunity before. We’re making the game first and foremost for the backers, the ones who believed in our vision. Hopefully there is enough attention given to the game that people who have not experienced an RPG like this will become curious.

Colin - Planescape: Torment has also consistently been one of the top sellers on GoG.com. There is a whole new generation of people coming up. We’ve seen a pile of comments saying things like “Oh, I just played this last year for the first time.”

CoG – I noticed something similar with the Enhanced Edition for Baldur’s Gate that came out recently. There were many people I know that had never played the original and loved it. It tapped into a need for perhaps deeper, more story driven RPGs. Perhaps this will be something similar.

Colin – I can’t disagree with that.

CoG – What’s the threshold for success with Torment? Is selling to your backers enough?

Kevin – We’re definitely excited for the support we’ve received. With our target funding, we knew that we could make a game that would meet our vision. There is so much more we would like to do, I don’t mean in terms of making a “bigger” vision but a more thorough execution of our vision. The more resources we have, the more we can push the envelope in terms of what’s possible. Our Four Pillars is the game we’re making, but the more resources we have the better we can execute those Pillars. More long term, ideally, Wasteland 2 and Torment sell well. We love the crowd funding approach for so many reasons. If we have more of our own revenue coming in from other sources other than the actual crowd funding, then we can bolster our games further. If Wasteland 2 does really well in sales, then that will only help Torment become even better. Then maybe, we can do something even riskier. With Wasteland 2 and Torment, we’re appealing to the love of that older gameplay style. Large companies are often too scared to try new more innovative project, with success in both of our games we don’t have to worry about that so much. We have a direct relationship with the players, so we can test ideas with them instead of blindly trying to innovate.

Colin – That’s one of the great advantages of kickstarter, is that it does give us that direct interaction with the fans. Instead of developing a ten million dollar prototype and taking it to a publisher and they say, “Well… yeah you know our market research is indicating that is looking for an experience more like this.”

CoG- It’s nice to have that variety in the market, large games, smaller games. There is room for both. That leads into the next question. There seems to be sort of a mini renaissance for these kind of RPGs, specifically though crowd funding.Do you think they could exist outside that model?

Colin – These days? No. Because the market is not big enough for the publishers to be interested. They’re looking for constant steams of many millions of dollars. That’s ok, because that’s their business model and they are accountable to their shareholders. The development budget we’ve put together is a fraction of what does into one of their titles. It makes it very difficult for them to justify putting a full team on a title like this. They’re driving innovation in many other way however.

CoG – There are different sections of the market for different reason.

Kevin – I’m glad they left room for us. (laughs)

Colin – I’m delighted to have this sort of support, like I said before, it’s very gratifying to know there are people who care enough about this piece of the gaming sector to support it like they do.

CoG - What was the impetus behind trying to get this project done next, instead of say more Wasteland 2? Why the return to Torment?

Kevin – Planescape: Torment was a game that Brian was very proud of from Interplay, in that it was a risky game for him to give the go ahead. Though it wasn’t considered a fiscal success, it had a strong following. That’s the market we’re in with crowd funding. The market that’s very passionate about their games. Here’s a game we know that people really care about. As much as people talk about Planescape, there hasn’t been a game that tied directly to it in terms of gameplay in all of these years. It’s in line with what we want to be doing, which is make deep role playing games. It also seemed like a game that there would be a demand for. Part of it is that Colin working on Wasteland, helped plant the seed.

Colin – That was certainly my hope. Chris Avellone and I had been talking about making our own Torment title. We didn’t get very far. A few months later we found out that Brian had purchased the Torment IP. When he brought the idea up to me, I checked with Chris and asked him want he wanted to do. Chris said that he couldn’t do it right now, but that he wanted to give it his blessing. This is a game I’ve been wanting to make for years. The time is right because there is a perspective of years that has changed the nature of the question we want to ask.


CoG – Are you taking any cues from more modern RPGs?

Colin – A lot of current games are going for a more cinematic experience. What we’re going for is a more personal narrative. We want to make this feel like a truly epic story for the person involved. The stories in current RPGs always seem to be about saving the world, or do something important or millions of people will suffer. We wanted to tell a story that would be inward, more introspective thing that still feels like a tremendous story.

Kevin – We do want to iteratively innovate on things like game interface designs. Technology today can do things easier than it was back then. Unity is a great engine to work with. We’re not trying to create the same experience as Planescape from that perspective. We want to make use of things we’ve learned over the years. We want to improve the dialogue system in Torment.

Colin – We’re looking to avoid the traditional “hub and spoke” model of dialogue trees. We’re hoping to update that, but I can’t give anything away just yet. We want to make more of a “rolling hub and spoke system” where it would flag a line of dialogue that has already been used.

Kevin – Another thing we’ve talked about regarding Planescape Torment, as much as it’s acclaimed, it is not well known for the quality of the combat. We’re not emulating that aspect of the game. We want to tie the combat to the narrative. This isn’t going to be an action RPG by any means. We want to follow in Planescape’s tradition of most if not all combat avoidable or at your discretion. We do want the combat to be exciting and rewarding.

CoG - Regarding voice acting, will there be subtitles? We have a few folks who want to know, especially regarding cut scenes.

Colin – We are not going to be doing full voice acting and anything we do will have subtitles.

CoG - What are you cooking up for the “magic” system? Spellpoints, something a bit different?

Kevin- We’re starting with Numenera (the table top) as the foundation. We will be adapting them for a computer role playing game. Monte Cook has been very open to that. Numenera’s philosophy has been to be flexible. It’s a much more flexible starting foundation that D&D’s was. We’re not ready to talk about the details yet.

Colin – It is a very flexible system and the adaptation will remain true to that flexibility.

CoG - With all the extra funding are you able to make the game more open world? Do you even want to? Do you think you can have a strong narrative in that environment?

Kevin – There’s some degree of non-linearity that we want. We don’t want a linear game, but open world is not what we’re going for. Definitely reactivity, choices and consequences, but not to the extent where it would compromise the story.

Colin – The way I approach area design is to start with an open area, but with “gates” where you have to do certain things in the narrative to move past them. Without them things get more and more difficult to design. From a production standpoint we need to make sure we can ensure a little bit of narrative flow. There will be open areas to a point.

CoG - Any chance of easter eggs or nods to Planescape in Torment?

Colin – I would say that’s a 100 percent probability.

Kevin – I would say it’s not going to be the Nameless One strolls onto the screen. It won’t be direct, if you played Planescape you’ll get it.

Colin – Maybe a little plush doll…

CoG - Torment was rightly recognized as some of the best storytelling in a video game at the time, does this put pressure on the team to “out torment” Torment?

Colin – I don’t think so. We’re not looking to make a game that’s in direct competition with the original Torment, we want something that can sit on the shelf next to it. We’ve got a lot of really good writers lined up to work on this like George Ziets, who worked on Mask of the Betrayer, which I loved.

CoG – Well that’s about all I have, is there anything you want to tell folks that I probably missed?

Colin – Hmm… No, because it’s too early to say everything I want to say. I’d get angry folks banging down my door.

Kevin – Just that we are honored in the trust that people are placing in us. Everyone who works in video games is there because they love it. It’s too hard of an industry to be in unless you enjoy it. The only thing better than that is knowing people love what you’re working on. We are very inspired to provide people the experience that they want. To know that that all of these people are interested, just makes us that much more excited about what we’re doing.

Colin – When Brian first approached me about the idea, I had to admit I was terrified. It’s a really strong legacy to live up to. The further we get into this the less terrified I am and the more grateful I am for the opportunity to go for this. It’s a tremendous honor to work on this project with these people. I think the Wasteland 2 demo really showed that inXile can really deliver on their promise and that was just a small taste. I backed Wasteland 2 before I got hired on the project!

CoG- Thank you very much for talking with me today.

Colin – Thank you Jeremy, this was fun.

Kevin- Thanks, Bye!

Last edited by Ghostbear; 03-19-2013 at 03:25 PM.
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Old 03-18-2013, 08:02 AM   #2
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Thanks for putting that together, Ghostbear. It was a good read.

I think the microbrewery analogy is a good one. As long as they can deliver quality products I don't see why an indie company like inXile can't stay afloat from Kickstarter to Kickstarter. If Torment lives up to expectations they'll have me as a regular customer year after year.
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Old 03-18-2013, 08:49 AM   #3
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Yeah, it was fun talking to them, they're clearly very passionate about the game and very grateful for the folks who have given them their trust, product unseen.
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Old 03-18-2013, 08:54 AM   #4
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Thanks for asking my question!

Great interview, I'm impressed that they took the time to write such detailed answers. They must take their fan community very seriously.
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Old 03-18-2013, 08:56 AM   #5
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"write" Man, I transcribed that whole thing. You people owe me my Sunday afternoon back!
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Old 03-18-2013, 09:30 AM   #6
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Great interview, Ghostbear. I thought it was some really cool information on the founding of the game and whatnot. They tap danced around any reveals though, which isn't too surprising given the nature of Kickstarters. They probably are hesitant to reveal to much outside of backer updates for worry about upsetting the people who funded the project.
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Old 03-18-2013, 09:33 AM   #7
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Well that, and developers are traditionally cagey about talking about game systems before they are fully implemented.
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Old 03-18-2013, 09:47 AM   #8
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Especially since they're still in the pre-production phase. Something they talk about now might not actually end up in the final game.
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Old 03-18-2013, 09:50 AM   #9
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Well that, and developers are traditionally cagey about talking about game systems before they are fully implemented.
True enough. I am curious what will happen with Kickstarter games and the traditional press cycle. It's almost implied that backers will know details before others, and I'd assume that includes press.
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Old 03-18-2013, 11:26 AM   #10
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Great interview. It's nice to see what their vision is for the game. I am one of those people that missed Torment the first time, and never could get it to work right when trying to play it in the modern era (the one time I managed to get halfway through the dungeon it hurt my eyes!) although a HD remake of it would be cool....

Still, I think I will pick this up, since it's the type of game that's right up my alley.
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Old 03-18-2013, 11:31 AM   #11
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Great interview. It's nice to see what their vision is for the game. I am one of those people that missed Torment the first time, and never could get it to work right when trying to play it in the modern era (the one time I managed to get halfway through the dungeon it hurt my eyes!) although a HD remake of it would be cool....

Still, I think I will pick this up, since it's the type of game that's right up my alley.
When was the last time you tried? GoG has a great rundown of mods you can install that will improve the gameplay experience, most notably by upping the resolution.
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Old 03-18-2013, 11:55 AM   #12
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Yeah, that'll probably fix the eye strain situation. Torment is made at a larger scale than the other infinity engine games, too, so it looks a bit better than the rest on today's screens.
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Old 03-18-2013, 12:00 PM   #13
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Here's a before and after of what the widescreen mod does for the game.

Before:


After:
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Old 03-18-2013, 01:53 PM   #14
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That might actually help. I last tried like 3-4 years ago but my eyes were actually watering by the time I'd got half way through the first dungeon. Thanks for that though, I'll check it out
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Old 03-18-2013, 01:56 PM   #15
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Judging by the picture I am SUPER stoked to play this game that takes place in the Fortress of Solitude.
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Old 03-18-2013, 01:59 PM   #16
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Seems more like the fortress of Basalt-itude.
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Old 03-18-2013, 02:22 PM   #17
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Yeah, I'm another person that just missed Torment when it was new, and though I'm not a total graphics whore, by the time I got around to trying it the game was just too ugly for me.

It's disappointing to hear that they won't be doing voice acting. I'm sure it's expensive, but it's something that really makes a game engaging for me. Given the wild success that they're having, I was kind of hoping that it'd get added in.

Still, like Ink said, I've really liked inXile's campaigns so far, and as long as they actually produce the games that I've backed I'll continue to fund them.
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Old 03-18-2013, 02:26 PM   #18
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It's disappointing to hear that they won't be doing voice acting. I'm sure it's expensive, but it's something that really makes a game engaging for me. Given the wild success that they're having, I was kind of hoping that it'd get added in.
They're not doing full voice acting. Planescape: Torment has partial voice acting, meaning that there are voices for key lines of major characters, often during introductory scenes and important dramatic events, as well as voice clips used to respond to actions and combat. However, the majority of conversations are text only.

I imagine Torment: Numenera will do the same. Enough voices to give you a good mental impression of the character so you hear them when reading the textual dialogue.
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Old 03-18-2013, 04:24 PM   #19
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CoG - What are you cooking up for the “magic” system? Spellpoints, something a bit different?

Kevin- We’re starting with Numenera (the table top) as the foundation. We will be adapting them for a computer role playing game. Monte Cook has been very open to that. Numenera’s philosophy has been to be flexible. It’s a much more flexible starting foundation that D&D’s was. We’re not ready to talk about the details yet.

Colin – It is a very flexible system and the adaptation will remain true to that flexibility.
For a sight unseen RPG? Hardwood is more flexible than rebar but both are impossible to work with my bare hands.

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We’re making the game first and foremost for the backers, the ones who believed in our vision.
UGGH, you know this kinda sounds like? CPAC



I should have asked a goofier question, like how low of a naraka do you descend into for making a AD&D book?
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Old 03-18-2013, 04:37 PM   #20
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For a sight unseen RPG? Hardwood is more flexible than rebar but both are impossible to work with my bare hands.



UGGH, you know this kinda sounds like? CPAC



I should have asked a goofier question, like how low of a naraka do you descend into for making a AD&D book?
What did you expect out of a game that is in early design? The tabletop game is still under NDA, so them being a little tight lipped is understandable. Also CPAC? Nonsense.

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