RPGamer Feature - Torchlight Interview
Developer: Runic Games
Publisher: TBA
Release Date: Fall 2009

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Heading into E3 2009, we knew very little about Torchlight. However, after a nice hands-on with the game, we quickly realized that this was something to keep an eye on. If you've never heard of Runic Games before, you will by the time you finish reading this interview. Have you played Fate or Mythos? Maybe a little game called Diablo? If you've played these games, you've seen some of this team's handiwork prior to founding Runic Games. I was able to take some time for a quick Q&A with Wonder Russell & Erich Schaefer, and here's what they had to say about Torchlight and their company.

So it seems like you guys have been through quite a rocky few years with lots of jumping around and game drama. Are things finally settling and coming into place at Runic Games?
Runic Games: Little known fact - we are part of Drama Queens Anonymous. To date, we've been drama-free since starting Runic Games on August 11, one year ago! Wahoo! In all seriousness, it feels as liberating and yet terrifying as you might expect starting our own gig from scratch. Starting our own company instead of splitting off and taking jobs other places was a big risk, but it has always felt like the right risk. I think that no industry is ever safe from the business roller-coaster, especially in our current economy the important thing is to bring your skills and passion to the table and make sure you're doing your best—and then take a leap of faith. Sounds like a pep talk, but it's also our story. Aw, shucks.

Torchlight seems to be in the hands of some very experienced people. Who exactly is in what role in the single-player game's development?
Runic: You know, a couple websites have tried to keep track of us as we grew, but it's never been official (unless you stalk LinkedIn). This seems like a good time and place! Here is the current Runic Game team, by department:
  • Travis Baldree is the project lead and is also the lead programmer and designer.
  • Programming: Marsh Lefler, Greg Brown, Peter Hu
  • Business Stuff: Max Schaefer
  • Art: Jason Beck (lead), Adam Perin, Sirio Brozzi, Kyle Cornelius, Matt Lefferts, Jamus Thayn, Patrick Blank, Jeremy Huxley, Mike Fisher, Kevin Green, Jeff Mianowski
  • Design: Erich Schaefer, John Dunbar, Patrick Blank, Leo Miller
  • QA: Ian Welke (lead), Jason Lamb
  • Producing/Programming: Brock Jones
  • Admin/PR: Wonder Russell
  • Composer: Matt Uelmen
  • Website: Ben Evans

It's been stated that Torchlight will be released later this year as a single-player PC experience and then the online portion will come later. How is integration currently planned between the two? Are they going to be treated as separate products?
Runic: That's correct, we launch the single player version this Fall, and the MMO is scheduled for release about 18 months afterward. The MMO will be a completely separate game, so there is very little integration between the two. Both games will share some art assets, particularly weapons, some monsters and some dungeons. Many general game concepts will be very similar, including the action-RPG controls and combat and randomized dungeon exploration. And our world's story and lore will be extended from the Single-Player game through the MMO. Other aspects will be completely re-done, however. The character art will be re-designed for more customizability, and an outdoor 'over-world' will need to be created.

Right now we've seen info on three classes: Destroyer, Alchemist, and Vanquisher. Could you share more details about how these classes play?
Runic: I love the names of these classes. Just had to say that.

The Destroyer is a melee warrior who fights primarily with an edged, close-ranged weapon. Think shield and saber, or a big-ass glowing poleaxe. He is going to charge into throngs and deal out the death-blows, heaping the dead around him. He also has a few skills that send out shockwaves that injure or kill enemies that aren't within swinging distance. This is the brute class we all love, he could charge through a wall if he really wanted to – and if we had walls you could break!

The Alchemist – I just have to say that he's my favorite. Sort of geek meets badass. He's got a power glove that shoots bolts of energy at attackers, knocking them back at a range. He is a Tesla-like mage, carrying a staff in one hand and maybe a dagger in the other, using both magic and electricity to dispatch unruly hordes primarily at a distance, but capable of swinging and stabbing at close range.

The Vanquisher is a sleek beautiful undercover government agent. Disguised as swashbuckling mercenary, she is a deadly shot and makes mean use of a musket, can dual wield pistols like a hero in a Western, or double up her strategy with a saber and a gun.

All classes loosely fit the traditional melee, mage, and ranged models, but the important thing is that they aren't locked into those. The Vanquisher can destroy a mob, the Destroyer can learn spells, and the Alchemist can also wield a bow, so the way you want to play your character is going to largely depend on your personal style. And the loot. Because sometimes, a gun or a sword drops that is just too amazing to not use.

And, I really look forward to what you think of their style when you come play the game at PAX – woo hoo!

Any idea yet of how many additional classes you've got planned and what roles they will fill?
Runic: These three classes are the only classes will have in the Single-Player game. For the MMO, I think we'll try to provide at least the level of options players had in Mythos, if not more. No plans are concrete yet – our brains are wrapped around finishing the single player like a boa constrictor around a water buffalo.

Players will have a permanent pet to assist them in combat, what more can you share about that?
Runic: Pets are great, especially in a single player – hey, even avatars need friends! The single player will have two pets to choose from – the MMO will have many more. Right now, players can pick a wolf or a lynx to journey with them into the dark caverns. Just as a Saint Bernard that comes to your rescue in the Alps with barrel of rum is more than a shaggy dog, your pet is more than the title implies; they are the Robin to your Batman, a trained, wily, all-melee furry sidekick. For players that hate warping back to town to keep dumping inventory, pets are great additions, as they come with their own very plentiful stash and can be sent back to town for you to sell loot. They level up alongside of you so that they'll always be useful in combat. You can use your own potions to restore their health, or if their health falls low enough they flee the scene until they recharge – but they will never die or disappear completely. They can also be set to defensive, aggressive, or neutral modes depending on how you want to play. Want your wolf to roam ahead and tear apart trolls while you kick barrels? Done. Prefer that your lynx play defense during your ranged attack? No problem.

Along with normal stat progression, what unique perks will be available as we develop our characters?
Runic: We've redesigned how these systems worked since our first mention. As always planned, when characters gain a new experience level, they receive stat points and skill points to allocate. Now, however, we've integrated our planned 'perk' system, directly into the skill tree, which now comprises both dynamic and passive tabs. Parallel to experience, players also gain Fame as they play. Side quests are the best avenue, but Fame is gained in a few different ways. Each Fame level achieved gives the player a new title, and also gives an extra skill point to assign. So a character rushing through the game for a record time, say, will have fewer overall skills than a character taking his time and completing optional quests.

Since each class is treated like a unique character, will there be any customization options in terms of facial features and body style or will look mostly revolve around equipment upgrades?
Runic: In the single-player game, character customization will be about the gear you find and the weapons you wield (and whatever glowing enchantments they may have). There are fifteen complete gear-sets for each class, and how you find those and put them together will be up to you and your playing style. If you find a complete set, that's going to a pretty awesome warrior fashion statement. Art Director Jason Beck reassured people on the forums that the gear sets have been designed so that even with mixing and matching, players won't run the risk of looking like a "fantasy-hobo-clown" (FHC). We will vastly expand character visual customization in the MMO.

With more and more PC-style RPGs coming to consoles as well as PCs, what are your thoughts of Torchlight's chances of seeing a console release later on?
Runic: I think everyone here would love to do a console game. We love making and playing games for PC, but we love console games, too. That's a lot of love! If you know anyone who wants to help us make that happen, hook us up! Seriously though, it's always exciting to think about making the leap onto another platform, but it will come down to the best use of our resources. If there's enough demand and the time and money present itself, then it's something we can talk about in earnest. Till then though, wouldn't it be nice?

RPGamer would like to thank Wonder Russell & Erich Schaefer and the crew at Runic Games for taking the time to help put together this interview. Torchlight will be released this Fall for the PC.

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