Updated Our Journal (51): De-Cyphering the Beta Release Date
TL;DR: Road to Beta, and Item Design with Thomas
Hello Exiles, Brian Fargo here.
Here we are in 2016, 17 years after the original Planescape Torment hit the scene and became a cult classic. This is finally the year for the spiritual successor to become a reality. I’m proud to tell you that Torment: Tides of Numenera Beta will be coming to all eligible backers during the week of January 17th and to Steam Early Access on the 26th of January. The team is incredibly passionate about this game and it shows in every aspect of their work. Having the opportunity to create a wholly original experience and intricate world is exactly why we got in the games business to begin with.
The beta will start you right in the beginning of the game and is quite lengthy for an early beta. It covers the game's introductory sequence (some of which you may have already seen a portion of in the alpha) as well as most of the first major location of the game, Sagus Cliffs. Sagus is a very old city that was built on top of ancient structures that predate the return of humanity to the Ninth World. It's split into five main districts: Circus Minor, Cliff's Edge, Caravanserai, Government Square and the Underbelly. As you might expect from a city location, it is rich in lore to discover, characters to talk with and obviously quests to complete!
Of course, we'll be looking to gather your feedback and use it to improve the game. During the alpha, we had a direct feedback form in the game and we'll likely provide that again, as it turned out to be an excellent way for us to gather feedback in a way that was easy for us to parse and implement. Indeed, many points from alpha feedback informed our design decisions during beta production, iteration is after all key to making our games. I look forward to gathering more unique insights from this release.
In a future update we'll talk more about the details of the beta release, but during the lead-up to the beta we will be providing you with new information on what it contains such as profiles of individual locations and discussion of characters and game mechanics. Keep an eye out in coming weeks for updates, starting with today's setting and design details.
Your leader inXile
The Unusual Items of the Ninth World
Numenera is a setting known for its incredibly strange, quirky, and interesting items, which are a perfect fit for Torment. So when I was offered the chance to take ownership of item design, I jumped to it. For most items, I come up with the concept, determine what exactly it should do gameplay-wise, implement them into the game, write descriptions, work with scripters on any custom events that might be required, and coordinate with our art team on the icon, animation, visual, and finally work to layer in any sound effect needs. While a number of items come from level designers or the suggestions of writers, some were directly from backers, and many others I designed from scratch.
For inspiration, I turn primarily to the Numenera Corebook and Technology Compendium, but most importantly I take time out weekly to play Planescape: Torment and pore over that game's item lists. Even to this day, PS:T stands out to me as a game with great itemization due to how memorable even the most mundane of items was, and this is something we hope to recreate in Torment: Tides of Numenera. Of course, I'm also constantly jotting down ideas as I consume science fiction or fantasy novels and films. The Numenera setting has the flexibility to allow for many different types of items, from the organic, to the "magical", to the impossibly high tech, a latitude we are fully exploring in the game.
As a quick refresher: items are split into ordinary items – swords, armor, and things people can craft with a medieval level of technology; and Numenera – remnants of the prior civilizations, technology so advanced as to seem like magic. These numenera are further split into Oddities, Artifacts, or Cyphers.
Oddities have no apparent practical use, but their uniqueness and rarity make them valuable. Examples: A goblet that appears empty even when it has a liquid in it; a synth flower that blooms only in total darkness; a squirming fishlike creature that gibbers constantly in an indecipherable foreign tongue. From a gameplay perspective, most of these exist to be sold to merchants as a source of income, but the Numenera setting allows for us to give them a much more unique and interesting flavor. And some of them can be useful in the right situation.
Artifacts, on the other hand, are numenera objects that do have an use and can typically be held onto permanently. These uses can range from minor boons to major powers. Examples: A cloak made of golden feathers that stiffens to offer protection when struck; a ring that acts as a transdimensional conduit to strike enemies with various damage types; a device that compresses some of an opponent's blood into a projectile which is then sucked out of the target and into the device. These are very rare and valuable, and from a gameplay perspective serve as the equivalent of magic equipment in a more typical fantasy setting.
Cyphers, however, are one of the most unique elements of the item system in Torment. These have no real equivalent in other games, and offer the most interesting design opportunities and challenges. Put simply, Cyphers are one-time-use numenera, somewhat similar to consumable potions, charms and so on in other games. However, Cyphers are also very powerful, and tend to be somewhat unstable as a result, especially when large numbers of them are carried together. Carry a Cypher around by itself and you'll be fine, but if you start taking too many with you, you will run into side-effects that provide negative Fettles (or status effects) on your characters.
As a result, Cyphers are best used quickly, and because they are relatively abundant, you will always be finding new ones throughout the game. By their very nature, Cyphers counter the hoarding instincts that cRPGs have built up over the years. This requires us to communicate the positives and negatives of Cyphers to players, to make sure that that they are interesting enough for players to want to use, and that the density and distribution of Cyphers throughout the game makes players feel like they're getting them at just the right rate. We don't want Cypher limits to feel like an annoyance, but rather to provide a natural flow for the player to experiment with and use them, and keep the progression of items interesting throughout the game.
Cyphers are extremely varied and interesting. A few examples: a detonation device that increases gravity in a confined area, pinning your enemies down; a sentient spike that burrows deeper into any target it hits; a thick red grub that when consumed will greatly enhance your ability to perform certain tasks while inhibiting others; a foam that makes your enemy's armor brittle as glass; a statuette that when pried open releases an entity that is unseen yet provides a tangible presence, healing injuries and alleviating fatigue before phasing into another reality.
As you can probably tell, there is not a lot limiting the nature of Cyphers. They can be consumed to give a passive bonus to a number of skills or stats, such as Might/Speed/Intellect Pools, attack damage, speech skills, armor values versus a variety of damage types, etc. They can be projectiles thrown at enemies or allies for various effects. They can have instant one-time effects or last until the player next rests. They can even be set to trigger themselves when certain conditions are met. They can target one or many characters, or have an area of effect. Their usefulness isn't limited to combat either: though some can only be used in combat, others can be used during exploration and dialog, and some can even be used in both.
From a design perspective, the challenge of crafting numenera is one all too common: it's not hard to have plenty of crazy ideas, but the real work happens in determining what ideas work for this setting and this game. It is important to give each item enough character to stand out while not making them so unique that you create a crowded field of The One True Item. The templates set up by our programmers allow for a very wide variety of interesting items, and our excellent combat designers Jeremy Kopman and Evan Hill can help me with any custom scripting needed.
But the most important step of all happens once the items exist in the game – testing, polish and endless iteration to get them perfect for our backers. The Beta Test won't feature every last item in Sagus Cliffs – we're still working on the game after all – but it will contain a great cross-section of mundane items, Oddities, Artifacts and Cyphers for you to use and experiment with. We look forward to seeing your feedback once you get a chance to try them out.
As usual, we want to highlight a few more ongoing crowdfunding projects.
First up, you should check out the big news from Lone Shark Games and Monte Cook Games. The Ninth World: A Skillbuilding Game for Numenera is a brand new board game from the designers that brought folks the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Smash Up, and other fantastic games. This is a new type of game that's one part deckbuilder, one part Eurogame, and one part RPG, all set a billion years in the future. You can play Jacks, Nanos, and Glaives all competing to see who can be the boldest adventurer in the strangest world. The game has already met its funding goal, but you can help get cool new locations to adventure, new characters, and new components. The Kickstarter ends January 15th, so hop on it!
Next, our buddies at Double Fine are back to crowdfunding with a long anticipated title: Psychonauts 2. It's been ten years since the original unique platform-adventure cult hit, and people have been clamoring for a sequel. Now with all our help they can finally deliver! They are raising funds on Fig (where Brian is a part of the advisory board), meaning you can support as an investor or as a backer. As of this writing they're tantalizingly close (97%) to hitting their goal, we're hoping to see them run past it in their final week.
We're now entering what's promising to be a very exciting year for Torment and inXile. We were honored to see our game listed on the most anticipated crowdfunded titles on Red Bull, as well as Rock Paper Shotgun's most exciting RPGs of 2016 and USgamer's top games they are looking forward to in 2016. The Torment Beta Test will be our first step towards hitting these high expectations, we hope you'll be there with us for the ride!