At this year’s Gamescom, we had a chance to chat with some very interesting veterans from gaming industry. One of those are Colin McComb (Creative Lead on Torment: Tides of Numenera) and Chris Keenan (VP of Games Development at Inexile) from InExile, people who worked on one of the best RPGs in the 90s and early 2000s. We had a chat about their new game, Torment: Tides of Numenera.
EmuGlx: Have you ever thought about the possibility that you will be making another Torment game after so many years?
Colin McComb: Actually in 2012 Chris Avellone and I looked into the possibility of getting the Planescape license so that we could make a followup to Planescape: Torment. We did not get very far with that, and Chris was like “I have other projects to do”. Shortly after that, Brian got the hold of me and said “Let’s do Torment!”, so that was really cool.
EmuGlx: Yeah. I bet you were very excited about it.
Colin McComb: Oh my god man, I’ve been wanting to do this thing for years.
EmuGlx: How did it feel making that kind of game back then? It was totally different than anything else. I played Baldurs Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights, almost every high-profile RPG title back then, but honestly, Planescape: Torment was totally different. It was like RPG on its own. You took liberty of doing anything you wanted, every crazy idea that some crazy person could have, no offence there, you put it into the game, and somehow that worked beautifully.
Colin McComb: Yeah. Chris Avellone was the great lead designer on that project, and as I said, I worked at TSR (original name of the company that created of Dungeons & Dragons) on Planescape setting where I got to use my degree from philosophy a lot. I was kind of loremaster on Planescape: Torment and also the second designer where I did a lot of writing for it. Basically, Chris gave us the opportunity to go really crazy outside of the main story. It was, boy, I don’t even know how to describe that experience. It was incredibly liberating.
EmuGlx: Most of RPGs are like somewhat streamlined. The publisher wants it to be something and dictate how some things should be in the end.
Colin McComb: Most RPGs are some sort of power fantasy at heart, and Planescape: Torment was a that a little bit but it was about a personal power and not about an “I’m going to save the world” power. “I am gonna save myself”.
EmuGlx: Do you have total freedom about creating this one? You don’t need to follow anyone’s guidelines for it?
Colin McComb: Well, we had to keep it inside Monte Cook’s Numenera setting. We couldn’t break anything inside his world. He has been an incredibly generous licensor, it’s just great to work with him and his whole company. They have given us almost unlimited freedom. They said “Do you want to set your game into main part of our setting?”…well like, we might blow some things up. I don’t know if we want to do that. “Can we have a little corner of the world that’s sorta connected to you?”, and they said “Go for it!”. So we got to invent our whole little corner of the world, with our connections to the Steadfast and the Beyond, and just went nuts. They saw it and in general they loved it, so that was great.
EmuGlx: Is it in any way connected to the previous game?
Colin McComb: No, we don’t have rights to Planescape: Torment. We do have some subtle homages, some references and so forth. You remember Idan, the character who you summon into being? We have borrowed that name. There are other things as well that are a nod to Planescape, but you don’t need to have played Planescape: Torment to enjoy this game.
EmuGlx: OK. Are there gonna be some voiceover cameos, like Mitch Pillegi that was Dak’kon?
Colin McComb: We don’t have celebrities in general voicing this one.
EmuGlx: Is there gonna be some quirky NPC characters, like Ana or Morte in the game?
Colin McComb: Yeah, but not quite like Morte. Allager, the priest whose monument we visited, he has living tattoos that crawl up his arm that he can pull off and throw them at people to attack. Calisty who we saw here as well fractured her mind through realities and she has experiences and knowledge of each of her other sisters as they also funnel their knowledge into her and she needs to figure out if she wants to take over this whole matrix or shut herself off from it completely. We have another guy who is the unwilling hero. He was turned into a hero, and now is forced to act out in an essentially both a comedy and a tragedy for an unseen audience.
EmuGlx: Is there going to be an option for romancing your companions?
Colin McComb: We have deepening relationships with them, be we are not actually having sex with our companions.
EmuGlx: Or the other NPCs as well, no?
Colin McComb: Well there are certain… I don’t want to spoil anything.
EmuGlx: How many hours of gameplay should take to finish this game?
Colin McComb: Let’s see. Chris is saying, our VP of Games Development, is saying about 30 hours on a single mainline playthrough, but this game as I said have over million words in it so we will be having multiple playthroughs and we foresee that its possible to have as much as 80 hours in a single playthrough.
EmuGlx: Will the story be complete when you release it, or…
Colin McComb: Yes. There are no DLCs, we are planning no expansions. This story is complete. We promised our Kickstarter backers a feature – “complete story” and we are gonna deliver on that.
EmuGlx: If you find the chance to continue the story in another chapter of the game would you do it? Or sequel maybe?
Colin McComb: Maybe, maybe a sort of a side branch of the story halfway through, but I don’t want to make any promises.
EmuGlx: Will it be possible to have a (character) build that is strong in dialogue but weak in combat, like in Planescape: Torment?
Colin McComb: It is entirely possible to finish the game without killing people. You will be entering that crisis like we showed you, but there are ways to resolve each crisis without killing people.
EmuGlx: Will those events happen because of stats or because of (player) choices?
Colin McComb: There are some things that will be a little gated by stats, but there are options. If you have tied alliance with the NPCs, then you might have an instant success as opposed to having to try a difficult task. If you deplete all your stat pools and then try a difficult task, that task is possible to fail. But we tried to make failure an interesting choice here. We don’t want people like “I failed! Well… reload.“. We wanted to have certain cases in the game where failure is actually better option for you than success.
EmuGlx: That’s good!
Colin McComb: We don’t want people to be frustrated, but at the same time we also have to make sure that they understand that there are consequences of their choices. Like for instance, we will kill you in the first minute of the game if you make the wrong choices. And if you piss off the wrong people, they can scatter your ashes to the wind.
EmuGlx: Is there gonna be some kind of Early Access for the Xbox fans?
Colin McComb: I don’t think we have any plans for that. I know Xbox is starting to open up Early Access, but I think we are far enough along (with development) that I don’t think this is in cards for us.
EmuGlx: How it’s been with developing the game on console? RPG like this one is not common on consoles.
Colin McComb: Developing on consoles has been… Chris can speak more of this than I can. Our focus for almost the entirety of this project has been on developing the game for PC, Mac and Linux, and it’s only been in the past several months that we realized console was an option. All that we have changed is just the UI for the controller. That radial menu we showed you, that’s basically it. We haven’t changed anything else.
EmuGlx: How will you make the game appealing for the consoles? I don’t think that many pure console gamers have ever played a game as complex as this.
Colin McComb: Right. Well, we released Wasteland 2 on consoles last year….
EmuGlx: Yeah, and how was the game accepted?
Colin McComb: It did very well.
Chris Keenan: We don’t need Call of Duty numbers. We are a small studio. We have 40-50 developers working on games so, huge success is not 6 million units for us.
EmuGlx: Of course.
Colin McComb: If we had six million units, could you imagine?
Chris Keenan: [laughs]
EmuGlx: I really hope that you will have, there is an ocean of fans that are waiting for this since Planescape: Torment. They played that game through all these years. It’s a huge period of time and you could have collected a lot of fans during that time. Hopefully, everyone who loved the original will hear about this game and buy it. It is not a sequel, but a spiritual successor.
Colin McComb: We certainly hope so! It’ been a long road to get here, but man, we are really hoping that people will recognize this as a worthy successor.
EmuGlx: Is there any possibility of porting this game to mobile platforms, similar to tablet ports of Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale?
Chris Keenan: We haven’t really explored anything like that. As a developer thinking about it, it seems like it is doable. It is turn based combat which naturally works well. I’m sure it will be an optimization nightmare.
EmuGlx: There is huge install base on mobile, and because this is a turn-based game you can easily pause it and resume playing when you like.
Chris Keenan: I don’t know what the file size limits are because that could be another concern too. This is a giant game. But yeah I imagine it is doable, just a matter of looking into it and putting time into figuring out the problems and seeing if they are solvable.
EmuGlx: Just a couple of years ago nobody thought that we will ever see an X-COM game on tablets, and now Rome: Total War was announced for iPad for example. That is a huge strategy game, which was impossible to port just couple years ago. We will see what the future will bring to us.
Chris Keenan: Absolutely. We did a game in 2004 called Bard’s Tale, and that one we actually did put on mobile.
EmuGlx: I remember now. I think I tried it.
EmuGlx: After that golden period of PC RPGs around the end of 1990s and beginning of 2000s, somehow RPGs went into totally other direction from the one I would love to experience. Because of that I partially stopped playing them. If you take for example Dragon Age or others, there is not a lot of choices in them. Everything is simplified. Streamlined.
Chris Keenan: It is expensive to do… With Wasteland 2 we took on this philosophical journey, we sat there and went ok, so if we want to create a game like old Fallout and the games you are talking about, we have to be OK with the concept of us designing a ton of content that we will be spending thousands of man-hours that people will never see. And if you work on a giant Bioware game, that gets very expensive when everything is voiced and all those cutscenes… so I can see how it is really hard for those companies to take on a level of reactivity that we do, but that’s why we are doing the games in this style because we love that stuff. We want all of those choices, we want the worlds to change completely based on your decisions.
EmuGlx: It looks like they sacrificed something good for voice-acting and graphics, which is such a shame. It is such a shame that (now) everything revolves around looks more than the core of the RPG which is a story and really good gameplay.
Chris Keenan: It is a different experience for sure.
EmuGlx: I did not notice that the (Gamescom 2016) demo was played on Xbox. It was, right? I thought it was a PC build, but with a controller.
Colin McComb: You can do that.
EmuGlx: When you exited the game I saw the Xbox Dashboard and I got surprised!
Chris Keenan: The PC version was super smooth, and we were working on Xbox version for little more than 4 months. We are using the Unity game engine, so it supports that (porting) stuff very well. The entire first part of work was getting it playable, the getting all the necessary console UI and control work designed, and now we are hitting our optimization work.
EmuGlx: Was it hard to adjust the game for consoles?
Chris Keenan: It was design challenge, absolutely. If you look at the PC version, it is actually live on Early Access, it has a hotkey along the bottom. At first, we thought: “Do we want a hotkey bar”? But that sucks on a controller. Radial UI worked well for us on Wasteland, so we cleaned up some little things that I did not like about radials and made them little easier to use. It cost us more money certainly, but we designed two totally separate UIs if you want to plug your Xbox controller into the PC. You can actually play with the controller-focused UI.
EmuGlx: UI will switch from the mouse and keyboard configuration instantly?
Chris Keenan: Yeah. We were already doing it for the consoles, so we spent a little extra time to make sure it will work on PC.
EmuGlx: Why did you choose to present the game on Xbox One today?
Chris Keenan: It was a big thing. We were working on this game for a long time, and Techland was very interested in the console version. We figured with the convention coming up, it would be a cool thing to be able to say: “Hey look! Not only we are working on a console version, but it is actually running on a console”. We felt confident in that experience, and that is what we wanted to point out.
EmuGlx: What are the impressions from the console version of the game, from people who saw it?
Colin McComb: So far, everybody who has come in here and seen it have been dramatically impressed. We heard no complaints about it. There are some minor graphical issues, but yeah we know. Bugfixes!
EmuGlx: Thank you guys for taking some time to talk with me about your beautiful game.
Chris Keenan: Cool, thank you.
Colin McComb: Fantastic, thank you so much.
Interview was done by Wahad
English transcript by Doktor & DieH@rd