Here at Curse we had an opportunity to sit down with Jason Beck (Art Director), Max Schaefer (CEO), and Travis Baldree (President/Project Lead) of Runic Games and catch up with them after the whirlwind release of their single player action RPG Torchlight. Torchlight has garnered a lot of love from the blogosphere as well as webcomic heavyweights such as Penny Arcade, for its old school Diablo-esque feel and fun gameplay. We wanted to find out how things have gone since the release as well as any future plans for this hot little title, so check out their answers below!
Curse: Let's start out by taking your temperature. Game releases are always hectic and insane. How are you guys feeling, post-release, about the reception of Torchlight?
Max Schaefer: Really good I'd say. You know, it's been a bit of a scramble since the start of the game - taking feedback, sitting on the forums, squashing little bugs here and there that you scramble to fix. The period after release is always incredibly hectic, but we've been really, really happy with the way people have responded so far.
Curse: It's fair to assume that Torchlight has garnered a fair amount of attention from bloggers and webcomics for its gameplay. What's been the most surprising or best reaction you've heard from around the 'Net so far?
Max: Yeah. That was good...that was good.
Travis: We giggled like little girls.
Curse: I see that on the frontpage you have a nice little montage of the comics that have given you some love, and I can tell you guys are just as excited as they are for the game.
Max: Totally. And I think that's what's surprised us the most, is that people are responding to one of our main mission statements with the game - it's just to make something fun, and not to have too many pretenses, not try to be "this-killer" or "that-killer", but just make something fun. And I think people are responding to that really well.
Curse: I'm asking the obligatory "sell your game to our readers" question, but I'd like to hear your reasons from a more personal perspective as developers, rather than just the marketspeak we've already seen. That being said, answer the simple question, "What's the big deal about Torchlight?"
Travis: It's a game that we really enjoyed making, so we put a lot of love into it - and we hope the people see that that comes through and that they just have a good time playing it.
Max: Yeah, I think that's the main motivation for us was to make something that we enjoyed playing and again, not aimed at some sort of "marketing target" or another game out there - just make something that we wanted to play that we didn't think was well-represented in the marketplace...and I guess other people were looking for that too.
Curse: Do you really think the visual style of the game is something that helped draw in that target to get to with the game that you've got?
Jason Beck: We certainly hope so. Art styles are kind of a tricky thing. There's people that will have a very negative response to something that is kind of out of their comfort zone, but I think that what we've seen so far is that people have been pretty positive about the looks of the game and the fact that it runs really smooth. Hopefully it's something we've kind of hit a happy medium as far as appealing to people who aren't really into these types of games, but also something that's not entirely off-putting to established fans.
Curse: Give us a couple of things you've identified since release about the game that you're working on. How significant has the community of players been in identifying these?
Travis: They've been pretty active. We've got some ridiculous amount of posts in our forum for the past two weeks. We had an initial patch that went out, I think, Thursday night or early Friday, that included lots of little fixes for things people found as well as some hardware fixes that we did. We've still got reams and reams and reams of feedback to go through on all aspects of the game. People love to speculate on how things might be a little bit different.
Curse: One of the things that I said was "wow, the load times for these levels are long,", but I installed the (1.12) patch and I saw a great reduction in that.
Max: That was one of the big ones.
Travis: Yep, definitely.
Curse: Torchlight is a single player experience, but the whole design of the game practically screams multiplayer. You've said you're in the process of creating an online multiplayer action RPG in the future set in this world, so what do you think you will get out of the single player release that will help you develop that?
Travis: Well apart from the feedback we're going to be getting from players on everything from class balance to how the dungeons are handled, all the tools that we've used to build the single player are actually going to be used in the MMO. So it really wasn't a detour for us so much as it is a step on the road. It's been really useful already.
Jason: Yeah, and just from a creative standpoint, we saw the single player as essentially a small little bite-sized chunk of a world, and it's nice to be able to reserve bigger ideas and grander thoughts for an MMO. You can kind of have a nice little test run with it in the single player game, and get people's reactions, and just sort of build on it from there.
Curse: Obviously, the whole Torchlight experience is evocative of Diablo, for those that have played. While this is good in many aspects, how do you feel you have carved a unique identity for Torchlight, now and in the future?
Max: Well, it's definitely in the genre of Diablo, and the control schemes are the same, much like traditional MMOs use the WASD movement and free-look with the mouse, and first-person shooters have their control schemes that are very common between them.
I think that we've carved out a different style - certainly in contrast to Diablo. Diablo is a very gothic, very somber, very serious game, andTorchlight is more of a rollicking adventure sort of thing that doesn't quite take itself so seriously. So I just think through style, and through polish and some little extra features here and there, we definitely are trying to give Torchlight its own identity.
Curse: One of the things that struck me when I started playing was stylistically it was just different (from Diablo), and the movement was smoother...you just keep going with it. It's definitely got that "Diablo but on crack" kind of way about it.
Max: Yeah, there were some of those mechanics from Diablo that we brought over - constant rewards that keeps you going and going.
Curse: ...but yet one of the new features was that whole "sending your pet to town to sell" thing, because all the mobs explode loot. That's a great addition and I hope more games adopt something like that in the future.
Max: That's definitely something that's proven to be popular among fans.
Curse: Torchlight's including the level editor, and you've already seen some player-created mod content. How are you planning on encouraging and fostering the community of Torchlight editors out there?
Travis: Well, we'll be spending a lot of time in the forums. Actually we're hoping to release the editor sometime today (editor's note: it's out as of 11/10/09, and you can get the editor as a free download). We've already had mods from the get-go. We released a big asset pack that includes a lot of the raw art from the game, so we included all our original 3D Studio Max files. All the characters, all their wardrobes, all their animations, full tilesets, weapons monsters. So we want to give them as much raw material for them to work with as we can.
Curse: As you know Curse has a big modding community for a variety of other games, so to hear that you guys are going to be there with them from the get-go is awesome.
Max: Well, one thing we aren't going to be doing is hosting mods, because we're a very small studio, very small group of guys, and to have to review everything people are making so that it isn't violating copyright is not really tenable for a studio like us. So what we're doing is working closely with a couple of fansites who have set up big mod databases and they're basically going to carry the weight for us with that. But we'll be working with them a lot just to make sure that it's as good as it can be and that people are having as good of an experience with it as possible.
Curse: How can your community best give you feedback and thoughts about the game?
Travis: Well, we're really active in the forums, so the forums are a great way to go. I don't know how many posts I've clocked in the last two or three days, but it's at least 300. We're super-active in them, we try and read everything as much as humanly active.
Max: They're basically our best communication line to our fans.
Jason: As we move into the MMO, we'll be trying to get a beta going as quickly as we can, so that's a great way for people to jump in there.
Curse: What's coming down the pipe in the future for Torchlight? Anything you can tease or reveal at this time?
Max: Well, we've pretty launched into making the MMO version of the game, now, and while we do that, we might make some assets here and there that might trickle down to the single player guys. Also, I know some guys in the office like to play around with mods too, so some of the mods you might see available at the fansites will probably be generated by some of our guys. Those are basically the only firm plans. We don't have any firm plans right now for a specific expansion, or another sellable thing of any kind, but we'll see how things go - not ruling that out either.
Curse: What are the developers looking forward to the most, now that Torchlight is out and it's received so much praise?
Jason: A nap.
Max: A nap, royalty checks, things like that. *laughter*. But hey, we'd also like to have a little time to check out Dragon Age (Origins),Borderlands, things like that that have come out at the same time we've come out that we haven't had a chance to play. We came out at a crowded time!
Thanks again to Jason, Max, and Travis from Runic for taking time out to talk about Torchlight! Be sure to check it out at the Torchlight website if you haven't yet - it's a title you don't want to miss.