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"Ultimate Torment Interview" at Rock Paper Shotgun, Part Two

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"Ultimate Torment Interview" at Rock Paper Shotgun, Part Two

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Fri 20 June 2014, 01:02:30

Tags: Colin McComb; George Ziets; inXile Entertainment; Kevin Saunders; Torment: Tides of Numenera

Rock Paper Shotgun's Nathan Grayson has published the second and final part of his "Ultimate Torment Interview" with the lead developers of Torment: Tides of Numenera. Between the Pillars of Eternity publicity blitz and the beginning of the Steam Summer Sale, this part of the interview is a bit starved for attention. It's just as good as the first one though, with a focus on the differences between between the new Torment and the old one, and on George Ziets' role on the team. Have a snippet:

RPS: Have you come up against any design dilemmas where you decided to do something that – from the outside looking in – would appear to be in direct opposition to Planescape’s design? What other factors do you take into account in these situations? Beyond the obvious surface-level, “Well, PST did it this way or that way” stuff?

Heine: In most cases, we’re just taking what PST did and pushing it further. The Tides are a prime example of that. PST pretty much broke the rules of D&D’s alignment system to achieve its goals. Now that we’re not tied to any system, we thought, “What were those goals, and what’s an alignment system that could accomplish them even better?” The result is a more organic and nuanced system than what PST had.

When we do break from what PST did, we have to ask ourselves why PST did it that way, what they were trying to accomplish, and is our proposed solution better than that? For example, early on I had assumed that combat would be allowed anywhere – because that’s how PST did it, and because I, being a relatively old-school gamer, had never played a game where you couldn’t do that. Others had assumed the opposite.

The ensuing discussion forced us to ask important questions. Did PST allow combat anywhere because it was the right thing to do or because that’s how the Infinity Engine worked by default? Was it a critical part of PST? This is a tricky question, because for any given aspect, there will always be some people who believe that it was. Did it work and was it a good decision for PST?

We determined somewhat reluctantly that it wasn’t critical to PST and that it added a lot of work for the designers and scripters at the time. Then we had to decide: is our proposed solution better? What does it gain us? What do we lose by it? In removing the possibility of combat anywhere. We lost some perceived freedom, but we gained more focus on our core vision – no trash mobs, quality, handcrafted encounters that support the narrative, etc, and a heck of a lot of time that would otherwise be spent designing, implementing, and debugging reactivity to handle the case where any combination of NPCs might have died. Because that time would be spent improving quality and reactivity elsewhere in the game, where it would be more likely to be seen by more players, we decided to drop the “kill anyone” approach.

But then as dialogues and designs started coming in, we realized it was almost too restricting. I mean, sure, we don’t have to cater to the player who just wants to slaughter everyone to see what happens, but if an NPC is in your way and really pissing you off, shouldn’t you have the option to smack them down? The problem with this is that our Crisis concept demands a limited number of handcrafted situations, but we couldn’t go through the whole game handcrafting every possible scenario where the player might want to get into a brawl.

The solution was what we called mini-Crises, or Tussles. They’re basically shorter, non-handcrafted combats that are always entered into by player choice or occasionally by player failure, but usually the player will be aware that he’s trying something that could start a fight. In this way, we can give the player freedom to attack people that are reasonable to attack, while still maintaining control over which NPCs can die and when. It also gives players who want to focus on combat more opportunities to do what they’re good at.

Though, as with everything, we still need to prove out how well these will work, or how much extra effort will be necessary for them to work well, before we can commit to it. If Tussles as we currently imagine them prove too ambitious, we have some fallback ideas that would allow for this type of freedom in other, simpler ways.

RPS: PST wasn’t a perfect game, despite how revered it is. What are you hoping to improve, fix, or redesign from the ground up?

Heine: Combat is the obvious one. Many felt that PST’s combat was tedious and uninteresting, and we have set out to improve that from the start. PST also many times had to wrestle with or completely break its own RPG system. While we didn’t choose Numenera because of its flexibility, it has turned out to be a huge boon on that front, giving us the freedom to do many things we could not have done otherwise. The only pushback we’ve really received from Monte Cook Games has been in terms of how we portray the Ninth World, and because we are eager to present the Ninth World correctly, we have been extremely happy with this feedback.

One thing we keep pushing on in TTON is that there should be no best solution, no best ending, and no preferable playthrough. PST did okay in this, but if you went in with a high Int/Wis/Cha character, you would experience a deeper and richer story than other character builds. And although PST’s endings were pretty nuanced, there was one that is generally considered “best”. In TTON, we hope that each player will feel that they got the best playthrough, because it was the playthrough that was best for them. This is a high bar, and I don’t know if we can reach it, but we’re sure as heck going to try.​

The interview also has a question about the game's companions. You may find the first paragraph of the answer to that question to be eerily familiar. Is this sort of thing going to become a recurring inXile design trademark? :)

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