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Torment Kickstarter Update #40: Nathan Long on Companion Design

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Torment Kickstarter Update #40: Nathan Long on Companion Design

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Thu 26 March 2015, 21:09:08

Tags: inXile Entertainment; Kevin Saunders; Nathan Long; Torment: Tides of Numenera

Although everybody might be too busy playing Pillars of Eternity to read it, this month's Torment: Tides of Numenera Kickstarter update by Kevin Saunders is quite interesting. After giving Pillars the obligatory shout-out, Kevin hands the microphone to Nathan Long, who explains in detail the team's process for designing companions, using the Aeon Priest companion Aligern as an example. Here's an excerpt:

Well, though I had the honor of developing one of the companions from scratch, more than half of them were created by our fearless leader, Colin McComb, who wrote up a series of what we are calling CDCs, Companion Design Constraint documents. CDCs are bare-bones descriptions of the characters and what role they are supposed to play in the story and the party. They are two or three pages at the most, with a paragraph each for appearance, personality, history, motivation, a few sample lines to get the feel for the character's voice, and a brief outline of their arc and how it hooks into the Last Castoff's story.

Aligern is one of the companions Colin came up with - a crusty old Aeon Priest weighed down with guilt, who uses the tattoos that cover his body to power devastating attacks and daunting defenses - and a few weeks ago Colin asked me to flesh him out and start writing the barks, banters, and dialogs that he'll have throughout the game.

My first step was to read carefully through Aligern's CDC and then expand it into a CB, otherwise known as a Companion Brief, a ten to fifteen page document that goes into more detail about Aligern's back-story, his goals and personality, and gets specific about where and when in the game the Last Castoff will meet him, at what locations his story will advance, and how many different possible endings he will have. Most of these things had been figured out in the abstract long ago, but I fleshed out the details.

Once I put together something I thought felt pretty solid, I showed it to Colin, Kevin, George, and Adam, who gave me a raft - several rafts actually - of notes, and we had a flurry of email and Skype conversations as we discussed their suggestions and the best ways to implement them.

After several revisions and reviews, Colin and the others gave me the okay to take Aligern to the next step, the Companion Design Document - or CDD for short - which I've never ever confused with the CDC or the CB. Never! (We also have ZDCs, ZBs, ZDDs for Zones and MDCs, MBs, MDDs for Meres. Is your head spinning yet?)

The CDD is a 50 to 70 page behemoth of a document where the character's back-story, personality, and story arc are finally turned into actual dialog. Within it are endless lists of situations that the character will be able to react to in the game, from the moment they first meet the Last Castoff, to battle cries, to threats, to reacting to the environment, to banter with the other companions, to moments of revelation, to moments of treachery, to leaving the party.

And normal dialog is just one way you can interact with your companions. There are also the companion's Reflections, who you can meet in the Labyrinth, and who may tell you secrets about them their real-world selves won't.

Filling in the CDD takes a while, but once it's done and reviewed to make sure I've captured Aligern's voice and kept it consistent, I move on to the last step of the process: creating Aligern's Global Dialog. Some of the companion writers, such as Chris Avellone and Patrick Rothfuss, don't continue on to the Global Dialog creation. We don’t need them to become experts at the conversation editor, and a full time designer can use their CDD to implement the dialog. (Though the original writer later does a pass on the implemented content to make sure it stayed true to their voice.)

The Global Dialog for each companion is typically a massive dialog tree, into which go the conversations that companions can have with the Last Castoff throughout the course of the game. To include the degree of reactivity we want in Torment, we decided to break up these Global Dialogs across the game’s major story points. Even so, these tend to have more than 150 nodes each (though some of these nodes are duplicates, or at least similar, throughout the game). For Aligern, these include heart-to-hearts about his story, reactions to significant events in the Last Castoff's story, reactions to things that recently happened to the party, and reactions to things the Last Castoff asked Aligern to do for him, or did to him. This dialog is where some of the deepest, meatiest, most heartfelt - and sometimes painful - conversations in the game are found.​

Not included here are the samples of dialogue with Aligern that Nathan provided. He's definitely Tides of Numenera's equivalent of Dak'kon...but with more collar grabbing.

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