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« on: June 13, 2013, 08:02:54 AM »

If you've ever wanted to make a Torment game, but didn't know where to start, this 10-page interview with Kevin Saunders (the project director on InXile's Torment: Tides of Numenera) and Adam Heine (writer/designer) will surely help you.

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1. Since it’s a Torment’s spiritual successor, let’s talk about Torment first. What Torment did really well and where did it come short?

Kevin: PST caught the player off guard. It presented situations we weren’t used to encountering, forced players to think more than they were used to. It brought companion complexity and depth to a new level and was a strong example of the possibilities for reactivity. It could have been greater still, had these elements resonated through all aspects of the gameplay. For example, while it was cool for Wisdom to finally do more than determine how many bonus spells your cleric got, it was unfortunate that Strength served little purpose.

Adam Heine worked on PST, so he has the insider’s perspective on what worked for the game:

Adam: Well, obviously Planescape: Torment's shining achievement was its story and characters, the kind that are still stuck in our heads almost 15 years later. And what made PST unique to me was that, instead of handing you this story on rails, it was delivered in a game where your choices actually changed things. Characters like Morte and Dak'kon, for example, were bound to you through [spoilers], and I loved that through the course of the game you could either just mess with their heads, turn their chains into wings, or stick Morte in Hell and sell Dak'kon into slavery. And it all *mattered*. When we talk about Tides of Numenera being a successor, this is the kind of stuff we intend to succeed.

As for where it came up short, I think the refrain we hear most often is combat. It just wasn't a focus of PST, but the AD&D rules only gave us so many ways to get the player to the levels we needed them at to keep things moving -- which meant random monsters and ridiculous XP awards ("You had a memory! Gain 1,000,000 XP!"), especially toward the end of the game. I don't think the combat was terrible, but it could be a chore at times. For Tides of Numenera, we're still going to follow the Torment tradition of providing intelligent ways around combat, but when you do fight, it'll be fun, strategic, and tactical. Not a chore :-)

2. Making a proper Torment game is a very challenging task, mostly because what made the original so special is the writing (story, characters, interactions, etc). Thus, to make a worthy sequel, “all you have to do” is to write a great story with great characters and dialogues. How's InXile approaching it?

Kevin: We’ve talked about the basic structure of our writing organizational approach before, so I’ll just mention that part briefly here: we’re spending considerable effort in establishing our design and writing conventions and designing example areas and characters to serve as a foundation to help guide our many writers. And we’re writing the five From the Depths novellas upfront, which will acclimate several of our writers to the setting and provide us all with a deeper understanding of the Tides.

But I think this only partially touches upon what you’re asking. =) One key component is the strength of the creative vision. Developing and communicating this vision is one of Colin McComb’s primary responsibilities and my part is to help him succeed.

I don’t think it’s this simple, but I believe that, in general, design by dictatorship yields the best results. To that end, I’m helping Colin be a good dictator. Colin is great about soliciting and extracting value from the feedback of others, but I try to push him to make sure he doesn’t compromise his vision in doing so (including freely ignoring (most of) my feedback when he wishes =) ). Colin’s a sincere, thoughtful guy, and empathy for others can hinder one from being an effective dictator. I also try to identify and champion the aspects of Colin’s vision that I feel are the strongest. Brian Fargo has also been doing this at key points in preproduction – reviewing we’re where at and calling out both the areas of risk he wants us to focus on and the areas of greatest potential he feels we should emphasize.

Related to the creative vision, and Colin’s ownership of this aspect of Torment, is the other writers being empowered to own the vision for their sections of the game. The strong foundation, conventions, and examples that Colin, Adam, Tony Evans, and I are working on are all toward this end – if we provide the right guidelines to the writers, then they can exhibit full creative freedom from there, with a much greater chance that what they come up with will complement Colin’s vision. This means there’s less chance that Colin’s feedback to the other designers will require a lot of rework, so they’ll be able to build momentum and create content that accentuates their strengths. Not that we’ll perfectly achieve this, but it is how we are approaching the game’s development.

We have added safeguards simply through the creative talent we have involved in the process. Not only do I have a lot of faith in the team (in many cases stemming from first-hand experience working with them), but I’m hoping peer review further helps us refine the content. For example, Chris Avellone has been reading everything and giving feedback along the way aimed toward strengthening the story and characters and helping Colin flesh out and communicate his vision. Finally, we’re planning for a lengthy finalization period, which will give us time to iterate and improve anything that we feel doesn’t come together well enough initially.

I think if we were to concentrate on “this must be a worthy sequel!” then we’d hamstring ourselves a bit. We’re not explicitly attempting to ”compete” with Planescape: Torment in terms of its writing, characters, and storytelling. We are making a game that places focus on those elements, but we’ll allow Torment: Tides of Numenera to organically become its own game.

3. Torment’s theme was ‘what can change the nature of a man?’ You picked ‘what does one life matter?’ as a theme to explore and build a game around. Admittedly, it’s a great question and I can’t really think of a better one. Why did you pick it? Were any alternative themes considered?

Kevin: Colin and Adam settled on this prior to me meeting them, so I asked Adam to comment on this:

Adam: Colin was really the one who came up with this theme. It came up in our very earliest talks, before we'd really considered theme at all. And honestly, we didn't really consider any other themes afterward either -- this one just made sense. I don't know about Colin, but for me this is a question I've struggled with for at *least* the last 15 years. It's part of the reason I moved to Thailand and am fostering kids with nowhere to go. You'd think I'd have this question answered, but I *still* wonder almost every day if what I'm doing matters.

It's a question without any easy answers, which makes it the perfect theme to spend hours exploring. Not that Torment's going to repeat that question over and over, but there will be some moments in the game to make people really question what matters in a life.

Kevin: I’ll add just a couple things. First, we credit Nathan Long (one of the Wasteland 2 writers, who talked about writing story in Tales of Torment #6) as for distilling the Legacy theme to the question “what does one life matter?” Also we do have two supporting themes (abandonment and mystery, which you can read more about in our Vision document). This approach of identifying and defining multiple story themes is something we did on the canceled Dwarfs (Brian Mitsoda was the creative lead), Mask of the Betrayer (George Ziets), and Storm of Zehir (Tony Evans) and I felt it was very helpful in all of these cases.

4. At the same time, Torment’s theme is fairly straightforward and the question can be answered in any way, including ‘Nothing’.

Feeling that nothing can change your nature – bad to the bone and all that – is much more satisfying that feeling that your life doesn’t matter in the least (although it’s delightfully depressing). My point is that it’s much easier to provide acceptable and satisfying in-game answers to the first question (truth, death, regret, a woman, nothing, etc) than to the second. Any thoughts on that?

Kevin: Ah, but this question seems to imply that the true answer is that our lives have no meaning. =) Are you so sure? (Personally, on an intellectual level, I do believe that life is meaningless. But I just won’t accept that and refuse to live on a day-to-day basis as if it’s true. I make many decisions as if the world were the one I want to live in as opposed to the one we’re really in. Normally, I’m a proponent of honesty, but I’m at peace with this sort of self-deception. (Hope, you might call it.))

I can think of many things that allow people to find meaning in their lives, possible answers to “what does one life matter?”
I’m not expecting that this question will necessarily be posed to you directly in Torment. (In fact, I think it’s unlikely.) It’s not a direct analog to PST’s “what can change the nature of a man?” It’s more a way to provocatively capture the Legacy theme. This helps us in two ways. First, we felt it was important in the Kickstarter to give a glimpse of where we intended to take Torment: Tides of Numenera. While we didn’t want to spoil any of our plans for the story, we felt we had to talk about some of it so that people could understand our vision. Also, having something concrete provided more context to talk about other aspects of the game.

The second goes back to your question about writing a great story – it helps solidify the creative vision of the game for its writers. I really can’t stress this part enough – the more thoroughly everyone on the team groks its vision, the happier, more productive, and more coordinated each person will be, and the better the game will be. It’s not this simple, but I believe the three most critical factors in the quality of a game are focus, a strong vision, and ownership/empowerment of the team members. (And note that these factors overlap a lot – a focused game bolsters the vision’s strength and a strong vision facilitates empowering the team.)

And there’s a meta aspect to Torment that isn’t lost on us. Here we are, trying to craft this game that both entertains and intellectually challenges people, encourages them to think about their lives. And in doing so, it is one of our feeble attempts to create legacies for ourselves, to have a hopefully positive impact on the world. Really, it was this aspect, combined with the serendipity involving the project, that gently tipped the scales in my decision to take this job with Brian Fargo last November.

Colin has put it this way: “it’s the reason many of us in the creative field do anything. The leaves of the tree of history fall from it in staggering profusion, but we want to write our names on that tree anyway. Every time a professor dies, a library burns... but we accumulate knowledge anyway. To what end? We’re essentially social animals, and a gain for one of us becomes a gain for all of us... but only if we all honor that contract and that biology.”

5. You mentioned that the Numenera’s PnP system is too open-ended for a computer game, while adding that “Torment’s systems will likely have more complexity than the PnP rules do.” Can you elaborate? What makes a good skill system?  

Kevin: Part of Monte’s vision with Numenera is for the narrative to be a focus of the game. To that end, its rules are streamlined – relative to some other PnP games – so that the pace doesn’t get bogged down. (After reading Numenera’s character creation rules, Chris Avellone commented: “Liberating, like someone used the Jaws of Life to crack open character design.”) In a cRPG, we still have to consider how the complexity affects the game for the player (in both good and bad ways), but from an execution perspective, from the GM’s perspective, complexity doesn’t slow down the gameplay or get in the way of the narrative. So we can take things quite a bit further without many of the negatives kicking in. (That said, I don’t believe in complexity for complexity’s sake – what’s important is the overall experience for the player and what you’re trying to achieve.)

One thing I’d like to accomplish through the player’s skill choices in Torment is to give them ways to modify the gameplay to better suit their preferred play style. A hypothetical example might be an encumbrance system. (I can’t comment at this time whether or not Torment will have one.) Some players enjoy the tradeoffs and realism that encumbrance can provide, while others find it tedious and frustrating. In a game with an encumbrance system you could have a skill that (perhaps among other effects) largely mitigates the impact of encumbrance. Then players who really hate that aspect have a way to disable it (and might gain genuine gameplay benefits as well), but at the cost of some other capability. This is an example of reducing player frustration, but even better is when a skill can enhance gameplay that the player enjoys. Combat skills that provide new tactical options are an obvious example, but there are non-combat possibilities as well.

There are other uses for skills as well. Those that give a flat bonus are the least interesting because they don’t demand anything more from the player. But, you know, it’s very time-consuming to come up with enough really creative skills and systems to provide as much meaningful character customization as we’d like to have. It’s not about coming up with the ideas – it’s about then figuring out what that really means in terms of the gameplay (and making it fun) and then injecting it into enough of the content such that it’s a satisfying choice for the player. We’ve all played games with some character customization options that we later realized weren’t well balanced. It’s a lot easier to achieve balance with a combination of more “boring” skills and creative ones that truly affect the gameplay.

And not only can it take a lot of effort to devise these abilities and ensure they’re sufficiently propagated throughout the content, but even if you achieve this, you have this extra strain from the RPG system on the rest of the game. Whether at a conscious level or not, your area designers are molding their designs around these requirements. Maybe you find that an area of the game that you envisioned as an interior now needs to be adjusted to be an exterior area because you have a Wilderness Survival skill (Torment probably won’t have one, by the way) that hasn’t received enough love. So now you’ve altered your creative view of the game slightly. Of course there are many other factors involved – maybe with how your game is built, there are different artist skill sets required for interiors versus exteriors and your best guy is an interior guy, so you favor those. Or maybe you’re determined to have a day/night cycle with visible impact, but it’s time-consuming to get it to look right so you want to have very few exteriors so that you have the time to polish them all. There’s myriad considerations that you’re at least subconsciously weighing in your decisions and so if you’ve got skills in the mix, too, there’s just one more facet that influences decision – you lose some of the game’s focus.

Of course, it’s also possible for these factors to be synergistic, to support each other and improve focus and the overall game quality. This is, of course, what we aim for, but it’s impossible to get everything right on a finite budget. So we make decisions, sometimes accepting compromises, that we feel will maximize the overall quality of the game. (And having a strong vision can make it much easier to see which compromises are acceptable and which factors are too important to cut. Initially, the vision isn’t static, but evolves as you delve deeper into the game’s design and implementation.)

So. Skills. I think you want Skills to provide the player with interesting choices at both the strategic level (i.e., “what skill should I pick?”) and the tactical level (i.e., “given my character, what action should I take right now?”). I also think you want at least enough complexity in the Skills such that, to the extent that they aren’t perfectly balanced, the imbalances become a matter of personal preference, or at least debate. And you want them to complement the rest of the game’s design.

6. It’s been mentioned several times that most if not all combat will be avoidable (I assume by making certain decisions and using certain skills). Why do you feel that designing avoidable combat is a good decision?

Kevin: That’s an interesting question. I would agree with the perspective that we shouldn’t arbitrarily make all combat avoidable “just because.” I don’t think we should have “is the combat avoidable?” on a checklist of area design requirements. I think it’s more about designing situations that are sufficiently complex that other options would be available.

Sure, we could potentially have an encounter with some feral creatures with combat being the only realistic outcome (though even then, there may be other reasonable options, such as evasion or some tame animal ability). But given our other goals for the game, an enemy with motivations simplistic enough that you must fight them, or a critical path encounter that must begin and end in bloodshed… these things don’t feel like a good match for the experience we are hoping to create.
I should mention that one reason we’d like to have avoidable combat is because attempting to be a pacifist feels to us like a legitimate part of one’s legacy, even in a fantasy world. One of the primary characteristics of RPGs is that nearly all problems can be solved with blood—but if we’re making a game about what one life matters, surely the taking of lives will have an impact on your answer. Colin feels pretty strongly about this part, and per my answer to #2, I support him in his creative vision. =)

All that said, we do feel that Torment’s backers are expecting to be at least somewhat surprised by what they find in the game. So maybe we’ll ambush everyone by making Torment a roguelike instead. (Just kidding!)

7. While it seems that you (as in the team) are very certain on what you want, you’re still undecided on the combat system and willing to let the backers to pick one. First, why is that? I mean, not the backers thing, but why are you undecided? Second, what are the different pros and cons here? If you can’t answer this question as a project lead, I’d welcome your private ‘gaming enthusiast’ opinion.

Kevin: I’ll start with explaining the origin of the decision to be undecided. We had an early interview with Rock Paper Shotgun in which Alec Meer asked the turn-based versus real-time-with-pause question. This was back in January, soon after we announced our partnership with Monte Cook and officially acknowledged that we were planning Torment. Our focus had been on the story elements, with our game systems attention being given to conceiving and developing the Tides. So we hadn’t given the combat system much thought, though we were well aware that it would probably be a polarizing factor among players.

[Another tangent: If you haven't noticed, I loathe saying anything about a game’s design unless we are certain about it – I don’t want us to get caught in a bind a year from now because something we promised turns out to have been a bad idea. Having the ability to flexibly modify a game’s design is incredibly powerful in making a high quality game. The further you get into a project, the more rigid the design gets, and this is a good thing – strong vision and all that.

But sometimes you find yourself cemented in a non-ideal decision. For example, maybe you steered the game toward having a lot of interior areas, in part because of that amazing environment artist I mentioned. But then he leaves the company to live closer to his ailing parents. (You may have even taken into account the risk of him leaving when you made the decision to emphasize interiors, but it still seemed like the right call.) Or maybe a new idea emerges that is so compelling that you realize you should change the design. (And it was brought up by the brilliant new game designer you hired, so if you run with that idea, you can empower her to own it, which you know will be a source of inspiration for the team.) When possible, you want as few irreversible design decisions as possible just so that you have the flexibility to adapt as the project evolves.]

In the case of the TB vs. RTwP question in this interview, it seemed like it would be a missed opportunity not to gauge the preference of Torment’s fans. So while I said that we were undecided, I mentioned a slight preference toward RTwP – given that’s what PST had, it was the default. My answer certainly revealed feedback as I had hoped – I was a bit surprised at how strong the reaction was to even suggesting a slight leaning. Brian and I were sitting in his office talking about combat for Torment. I noted that I felt we could achieve our vision for the game irrespective of the type of combat. He said something like, “then this is exactly the type of decision we pose to the backers.”

You see, it’s important that we define a clear vision for the game, and we don’t want to bend that vision to appease what players may think they want. Not only have we been designing and creating games for a long time, but we are much more into the details of all of the factors involved in the game’s development – it’s what we do and think about the majority of our waking hours, after all. We do want feedback from the players on our plans, but to create the best game, we have to control these decisions. But there are countless less fundamental design decisions, many of which have multiple viable solutions, and we can be more flexible about these. Combat type is a pretty substantial aspect of the game and probably pushes the limits of what one can seek this level of player feedback on, but for Torment, I really do think there are multiple systems we could make work.

I should clarify that we don’t intend to go so far as to “let the backers pick one.”  We’ll present a couple designs to the backers, get feedback on them, through both comments and a vote, and then, keeping in mind the arguments pro and con for each style, choose the route that best fits the game. It's the debate that is important here, so that we can hear the voice of our backers. It's a debate we’ll conduct internally, too – while we share many common design sensibilities, we have different perspectives as well. The input of the backers helps balance and inform our internal discussion.
As for the pros and cons, this is something I don’t want to delve until months from now when we know enough about our specific design plans to discuss them in that context. Speaking as a gaming enthusiast, I know that how much I like a combat system comes down to the specific implementation and the entire game. I don’t think that talking about what type of combat system is better (for Torment) in the abstract would be very productive – it depends on the details.

8. Any thoughts on combat difficulty? Should every player be able to beat every fight or are you ok with drawing the line a bit higher and letting the weak suffer?

Kevin: While by no means strictly linear, I expect Torment will be considerably less “open world” than some CRPGs, so we should have a pretty good sense of the PC’s power level going into each combat. This means that we should have an easier time than average in balancing the combat difficulties to provide the type of challenge we want from a design perspective.

On every role-playing game I’ve worked on – to some degree -- it’s been an important design consideration that we not get the player stuck in a situation because of difficulty (combat or otherwise). Simply put, we didn’t want to frustrate players. (Aside: This is the type of direction I’d generally hear from producers at publishers, who for many titles have a strong motivation to appeal to as large a fan base as possible. I don’t mean this as a criticism of publishers, but I do think this is a concrete way in which we can note how if a publisher were involved in Torment it might have a different direction.) Couple that desire with any time/budget pressure to get the game done, and you tend to err on making the combat too easy, because if you didn’t get to iterate on the combat enough, that’s the route that’s less likely to disappoint.

In general, I agree that frustration is not a highly desired emotional state for one’s players, =) though I do think periods of frustration can have their place, too. But in Torment, we are freed in several ways from having to make the combats easy.

First, I don’t think our audience is asking for “easy.” While it would be a mistake for us to bog down Torment with tediously difficult combats, we can have fights that are challenging and I think our backers would welcome that.

Second, we’ll have parts of the game that aren’t part of the critical path (though players may not immediately know which exactly these are), and optional content is a great place to include very difficult challenges. (We did this in MotB, for example, as a way to instill some greater combat challenges without bogging down the game for those who were more into the story. I think it was an effective approach.)

Most importantly, since we plan to provide non-combat options to resolve conflicts/encounters, if a given combat is exceedingly hard, there are other options to overcome it. So players who don’t like, or aren’t good at, combat challenges will have other possibilities. This is an approach I haven’t had the opportunity to apply before and I’m excited at how much liberty it provides. (I should also mention here that non-combat resolutions won’t necessarily be easy, either – just difficult in a different way.)

Finally, there’s also game difficulty options. I recalled having some good conversations with Josh Sawyer on this topic, so I asked him about it again, particularly with respect to the design of Project Eternity and Torment. I really liked his response:
“I know it's become a cliché, but the ‘By Gamers, For Gamers’ motto of Interplay is a good one.  Especially given the types of games we are making, we should be designing them for people who want to play them, not for people who want to skip through them.  Combat designed for people who like combat, conversations designed for people who like conversations, explorable areas designed for people who like to explore.”

One of Josh’s points was that the difficulty level shouldn’t be used to effectively skip gameplay. Difficulty is to allow players who like combat, but who aren’t as good at it, to still enjoy themselves. So the types of effects difficulty has on combat should keep this in mind. For example, increased difficulty could alter the mechanics to create greater challenges, such as the hardcode mode in Fallout: New Vegas. We haven’t yet examined in detail how we’ll use game difficulty in Torment, but it’s another approach we’re planning to take.

9. It seems that choices and reactivity are one of the main (if not the main) features and many KS goals were aimed at expanding the reactivity and depth. I understand that you can’t talk about the game yet, so let’s talk about theory here. If you wanted to design a very reactive game, how would you do it? What would be Kevin Saunders’ technique?

Kevin: Thank you for the “out” of not having to speak directly about what we’re doing in Torment. =) I’ll answer the question from a more general perspective, though I’ll also note how the Tides fit in.

I really like things to be systematized. From a practical perspective, having a well-defined game system is yet another tool in communicating the concept to the team and ensuring that everyone’s on the same page. But it’s also just how my mind works – I like it when all of the pieces fit together well. So I’d start with an underlying system that serves as the foundation of the reactivity. For Torment, the Tides serve this purpose.

But forcing all of the reactivity into a single system could feel too formulaic when played out in practice – in some games and contexts this might work out well, but I think many players enjoy something more organic, especially when the reactivity is in the form of how NPCs respond to you. For Torment’s reactivity, we need something less rigid – which also gives our writers more flexibility to stretch their creativity. For example, if we made sure at every point in a dialogue you have exactly five responses, one corresponding to each Tide… I think the result would be pretty dreadful.  In part for this reason, we decided early on that we didn’t want the Tides to be in direct opposition to each other.

After figuring out the core aspect that will drive reactivity (the Tides in the case of Torment), then I’d identify all of the various other ways that I, as a player, would be expecting, or hoping, the game would be reactive. These aspects fall into two basic categories – character customization and actions taken during play. The former would be things like your stats, skills, abilities. The latter would be how you choose to respond to a certain NPC, which quests you completed and how you completed them, which companions you take with you (or leave behind), etc. Some aspects could fall into both categories – having a certain item equipped might be such an example. You may have acquired that item through actions you made, but then using it is more of a character customization option.

I’d think about the reactivity elements in this way because I’d want to make sure both types of choices are important – again this depends upon the details of the game. I’m assuming an RPG with rich character customization options, which is my personal preference as a gamer. Torment will have reactivity toward both of these aspects but given the central importance of the story, your choices about what you do will have the most dominant effects.

Having laid out all of these tools that I have available to me to incorporate reactivity, I’d think about how they should be balanced throughout the game. What is the scope of the impact they might have – for each reactivity trigger, does it result in just cosmetic changes (like an NPC response being slightly different, but no real impact on outcome) or can it drastically alter what happens? For example, as mentioned earlier, I’d want every skill to serve a purpose. Some skills might not directly affect reactivity (a passive combat skill, for example) or might affect reactivity in only a limited way – a combat ability that gives you more tactical options affects your choices within a battle, but probably doesn’t change the outcome (either you win the battle or not). Other skills might open up new options that may bring into play the action-centric reactivity I mentioned. An example of this would be in Planescape: Torment how having high Wisdom unlocked conversation options that could have a significant effect on the outcome if you chose them.

Given all that… how much do I care about how much each possible option occurs throughout the game? How balanced do each of them have to be? The answer will depend upon the specific game I’m making and the flavor of gameplay we are seeking. For example, say in an RPG I have a militant society in which using missile weapons is frowned upon for reasons that stem naturally from their religious beliefs and concept of the afterlife. But javelins are a singular exception that arises from a specific myth involving one of their favored deities. So when the player comes across this specific settlement, there’s significant NPC reactivity if the player is carrying a bow versus a javelin versus an axe. This wouldn’t mean that the game then has to have another society that worships bows. (And in this simple example, I’d want the reactivity of the settlement to be interesting in all cases, such that there isn’t really a “right” answer.) Conversely, the core reactivity element (e.g., the Tides in Torment) should be meaningful throughout all areas of the game – or if they aren’t at some point, there should be a reason for that.

So I’d figure out what role each reactivity trigger plays throughout the game. I’d revisit these ideas as I designed out areas, wrote conversations, etc. to make sure I was achieving what I had hoped. And I’d also want to allow for exceptions – one-offs that may not fit into one of my predefined categories, but that just seem right for a specific situation. Ideally, players won’t ever reach a point where something that they feel they should be able to do (given the context of the world and game you’ve created for them) isn’t an option. When this does happen, I’d think about why, and whether there’s something I should change in the system or the situation to keep my contract with the player.

One final component is that I’d identify a few specific choices that can have a profound effect, a vastly different outcome. Maybe an entire section of the game plays out differently, for example. To identify these, I’d see what came naturally from the story and characters. You have to be judicious in what types of effects reactivity can have – the design, implementation, and QA time can quickly get out of control – but having a couple specific instances where you take reactivity to the extreme can create a very memorable experience for players.

10. The Tides sound like a much more logical and interesting take on the DnD alignment system. Other than tracking and categorizing your actions, what do the Tides do? How do they affect gameplay?

Kevin: Adam owns the design of the Tides and Legacies – here’s his description of our current thinking:

Adam: Yes, at a basic level, the Tides are how you gradually choose your “alignment” (your Legacy, in this game) based on your actions and choices. Unlike most alignment systems, though, the Tides aren't tied to any morality. You might slaughter people out of a sense of zeal, or because it serves the greater good. Or you might save someone's life for selfish reasons. Heck, you might do both at once. The Tides are designed to take complicated scenarios like this into account and, rather than shut you in a box, we hope they'll reveal something of the legacy you're leaving behind.

System-wise, your Legacy will work similarly to how alignment worked in PST. As your Legacy changes over time, it'll give you bonuses to different items, different reactions from ancient or perceptive characters, and unlock mutually exclusive subplots within the game. We're also tying it to Numenera's character foci, so that your Legacy will unlock new abilities (that you may or may not choose to explore). These abilities might be anything from greater lore to healing abilities to sheathing yourself in armor made of fire or ice. And we're constantly looking into other ways the Tides and Legacies can positively impact the reactivity of the game, so there could be more before we're done.

Obviously, the Tides will have roots in many of the game's systems, which can increase the player's desire to meta-game—to make choices based upon the gameplay effects, rather than upon what their role-played character would actually do. To some extent this is fine; everybody plays for different reasons, and we will cater to the meta-gaming aspect at least a little.

But we really want most players to think about their choices based on their character, or even their own beliefs. Meta-gaming can break that immersion. We're still figuring out how to resolve this tension, but the more we're able to have the gameplay effects complement the role-playing aspects, the better the game will be for all styles of player.

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This is one of the best interviews I've ever done. The credit, of course, goes to Kevin Saunders for actually talking about design. Hope you guys have enjoyed reading his thoughts as much as I did.

« Last Edit: June 13, 2013, 08:16:47 AM by Vince » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2013, 09:19:05 AM »

This is one of the best interviews I've ever done. The credit, of course, goes to Kevin Saunders for actually talking about design. Hope you guys have enjoyed reading his thoughts as much as I did.

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« Reply #2 on: June 13, 2013, 12:48:31 PM »

Great interview Vince!
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« Reply #3 on: June 13, 2013, 01:26:35 PM »

Great interview indeed. Thank You for this. Good job.

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« Reply #4 on: June 13, 2013, 04:09:12 PM »

Great interview! Although, sheathing yourself in an armour made of fire and ice sounds rather impractical.
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« Reply #5 on: June 13, 2013, 04:29:48 PM »

This is a terrific interview. I haven't been following this forum for some time, so apologies in advance if this sort of idea has been discussed, but with a narrative path made so complicated by the different tides, I would think that as a developer you would want some unique tools to easily display the collective data behind a player's decisions. If I were working at InExile, I would create a series of behind-the-scenes tools to visually display the collective impact of a character's story choices across the entire adventure. For example, you assign each tide a color, and then have a meter that displays in colored shades how heavily toward one tide path or another a character leans at any given point in the adventure. At the end, the tool would display the tides that were most important to that character, thus assisting with determining the outcome.

As mentioned, you wouldn't want to have a standard set of five responses in each situation, but visualizing data helps you determine the weak areas of the story where you might need to offer the player a greater variety of choices. It's akin to the covert alignment metering in Planescape. Of course, this would require strenuous work in tagging each quest outcome with the appropriate marker -- for example, if an NPC is killed, you need to evaluate whether the player chose to fight, kill the NPC via a dialogue option, or decided on the path of peace only to have the NPC die anyway (spoiler ahead: for example, if you convince Trias to ask for forgiveness but he's murdered anyway because Vhailor's in your party). Still, a lot of work in the short term might save you a lot of QA in the long term. And it's the kind of thing that can be done on "paper," without handy tools.
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« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2013, 01:44:11 AM »

Nice, Vince - good to see you keeping up this part of the boards. Those two were both thoughtful and insightful. I can't wait (well, I don't want to wait Wink ) for the Great Kickstarter Harvest of 2014-15, but material like this makes it worthwhile.
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« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2013, 03:24:51 AM »

I'm guessing this is the interview equivalent of striking oil Smile

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« Reply #8 on: June 14, 2013, 05:52:39 AM »

Great interview! And still stoked for this game. Don't screw up inXile Haha, no


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