Updated Our Journal (59): Polish & Interface Improvements, Looking Forward
Eric here. We're in the home stretch on Torment, and in the last few months we've been working hard to refine and improve the game. My main role has been to work with our artists and engineers to make our user experience as good as it can be. We are in that magical time when a game goes from being something simply playable but rough, to being truly enjoyable, and that's a wonderfully creative period where iteration abounds and we have the time and energy to really identify all those little things that add up to make a great game.
In addition to all the requisite bug fixes and art updates, our efforts have largely centered around putting in additional layers of polish to make the game look and play better. Many of these features are requests directly from our community, so I'd like to thank you all for writing in and giving us feedback on the improvements you wanted to see.
The conversation screen in Torment is one of the most important parts of the game, because you will be spending so much time using it. As a result, it was critical to make it as polished and enjoyable to use as possible – a goal we have had throughout development. Without a doubt, our conversation UI has gone through more versions than any other interface element for that same reason.
First up, one of the biggest concerns we saw in the beta was that the text scrolling needed to be improved. In earlier versions, text would always appear at the bottom of the interface, which could lead to a lot of extra scrolling or manually expanding the whole conversation screen to read it. As a result, we re-designed this text behavior and engineer Matthew Davey spent many hours re-writing it.
Our revamp for conversation text scrolling now has text appear at the top of the interface rather than appearing near the bottom, so you don't find yourself scrolling nearly as much. When we need to show lots of text all at once, we also added a "Show More" button and a little down arrow indicating that there is more below. Instead of manually scrolling when there's lots of words on screen, now you can just keep hitting the Enter key, Spacebar, or clicking the button, which means that you can focus more on the contents of the conversation rather than getting pulled out of the narrative.
That said, a text box isn't in and of itself the most interesting thing, and for Torment we wanted to do something a bit more special. So, we decided to include additional notifications, audio cues and special effects while you're in conversations in order to highlight key moments.
A great example of this is the new "Item Gained" prompt. All of our items in the game are hand-designed and often written with lots of detailed lore and story elements, and so we wanted it to make it feel like a great moment when you found something interesting. Since so many of these items are given out during conversations or scripted interactions, it made sense to devote a portion of the conversation interface to them.
Whenever you find or receive an item while the conversation screen is open, the game will now highlight the occasion by showing you a special panel on the right side of the window. This has a purpose, too – you can also mouse over the item to view its info in a tooltip, and right-click to bring up its full detailed description just like you would see in the inventory screen. This means when an NPC gives you a cool new piece of numenera, you don't have to wait another five minutes to look at it. It was one of those little things we never realized we wanted in an RPG until we went to implement it.
We've also made improvements to the fanfare when you get other rewards or status changes. Now, we have animated visual effects that play in key instances – most notably, when your Tidal Affinity changes (it is Tides of Numenera after all), but also for other things like XP gains.
Crisis and Combat Updates
But conversation isn't everything. We've also been taking strides in making combat easier to understand and displaying more information about your characters, abilities, and the battlefield's overall state. This was one of the things that wasn't quite at the level we wanted it, and many of our backers agreed judging by some of the comments we received! As a result, we've added far more information to the Crisis HUD.
To start, you might recall we previously talked about anoetic and occultic actions in earlier updates. Now, we've renamed them to your "move" action and "attack" action to make their uses clearer, and given them appropriate icons that display under your current party member (and turn grey when they've been used up each turn). This hasn't altered or simplified any of the previous gameplay or mechanics at all - for instance, abilities can still consume movement in some cases, or no movement in others - but it's much easier to keep track of which actions are which now.
Additionally, our engineers have rebuilt our tooltips when you mouse over an ability. The system we have now is incredibly robust, showing detailed information which also automatically populates and formats itself based on some simple tags the designers can write. Even special statuses and fettles will auto-fill their effects, so that when designers start doing balance changes, they don't have to manually go in and change the text for everything affected. You'll also see how the action cost is also more clearly indicated, tying in with the changes I mentioned above. On the whole, these tooltips are just more readable, more accurate, and a bit prettier looking than what we previously had.
Expanding on our improved tooltips, we have also added a right-click popup window to every ability in the game which allows you to inspect their full details just like in the Infinity Engine RPGs, and each has more flavorful long-form descriptions we've penned for them for you to read:
One more thing we weren't indicating properly in earlier builds of the game was the maximum range of attacks, as well as the radius of any area-of-effect type abilities. Now, we've added visuals for those so you can clearly see exactly where your abilities will land, letting you line them up just right. Below you can see an example – the thin, orange outer ring shows the maximum range, and the smaller orange circle is the area the ability will affect:
Help & Tutorials
We have also been working on some less exciting but no less important elements to give players a helping hand, if they want it.
When a Crisis encounter starts, we now display a small panel on the side of the screen to signal your main objective and some optional possibilities. We won't tell you every route available to resolve an encounter, so there will still be things to discover and experiment with, but this will serve as a reminder in case you aren't sure what your goal is. If you're the type that doesn't want any assistance at all, you can simply hide this popup at any time by clicking the arrow button on it.
On a similar note, we've added tutorials to the early game that will help explain some of the finer points of the Numenera game mechanics, as well as basic control and interface details. These will also show when you encounter something new in the game, such as when you pick up a cypher for the first time. But, we also know that there are those of you who want to figure out the mechanics on your own, so these tutorials can similarly be disabled with a single button press.
Art! Art Everywhere!
It wouldn't be a complete update about the user interface without mentioning that we've gone in and done a huge art pass. We let Charlie, Alisha, Daniel, William, and others run wild adding layers upon layers of extra detail. Every individual element and screen is hand-drawn, and it has been a huge amount of work, but this sort of physical-feeling, ornate and detailed interface is something we expect from a classic-style RPG and we hope you appreciate the extra attention we've given it.
The screens for Character Creation, the Character Sheet, Merchants, and many more have all been polished up with plenty of extra details and visual effects. You can see a few of them below, although keep in mind that the screens are not necessarily final and might still get a few more updates by the time the game ships.
And of course, there's dozens of other little details all over the place. For example, it wouldn't be an RPG without a cool level-up effect:
All of these types of little tweaks and additions add up to making the game go from good to great, and this is exactly the kind of polish and iteration that your feedback has helped enable. We always know we can make things a little better and more fun to play, and we'll continue adding touches like this up until release.
Of course, that begs the question – when will you be able to get your hands on it? We hope to have a new beta update prior to release that will debut all of these improvements and give you a close-to-final look at Torment. Keep an eye out, as we'll have more news about this coming.
News & Updates
Things have been busy with Torment beyond just development as well. First, we've got a brand new trailer for the game introducing the Ninth World, you can see that below.
Additionally, Colin flew off to merry England recently to visit EGX 2016, where he gave a talk about Torment's narrative design. If you would like to see him go into a huge amount of depth about building the world of Torment and its characters, including walkthroughs of the creation of certain in-game quests and content, you can see it all here.
Next, we recently ran a fan art contest! We had many amazing entries, but one in particular caught our eye, and that was this excellent drawing of a nano by Anastasia Prokofeva (Sigurn), which we felt fit right in with Torment and Numenera. You can see her art above (and the rest of the contest entries here).
We also wanted to highlight an ongoing crowdfunded sci-fi RPG that's finishing up its campaign this Tuesday October 11th: Dual Universe.
Dual Universe is a sandbox first-person MMORPG in a sci-fi universe, developed by the studio Novaquark. Planets are entirely editable, and the game focuses on massively multiplayer interactions as well as emergent gameplay including politics, economics, exploration, voxel building, trade, territory control and warfare. We felt many of its aspects, namely the sci-fi setting and editable planets, would resonate with you guys. Their Kickstarter is nearing its end and has almost funded, so this is your last chance to support it!
Our Next Game – Wasteland 3
As Torment heads towards release early next year, and the New Orleans studio continues to work on Bard's Tale IV, many of you might be wondering, what will happen when the Torment team finishes up and it comes time to move on? Today, we can answer: the next game in the Wasteland series!
Wasteland 3 will feature a brand-new snowy post-apocalyptic setting, a more central Ranger Base to build up, revamped combat, vehicles, and for the first time, both a solo and multiplayer story-driven campaign. If that sounds good to you, we hope you'll check out the ongoing campaign and consider backing the game.
This time with Wasteland 3, we're going to Fig. Fig is a relatively new crowdfunding platform, with Brian Fargo on its advisory board, along with others including Feargus Urquhart from Obsidian. It will offer the same kind of high-value and unique rewards you're used to seeing from us, but also allows for investment, helping us to make our games bigger and better than ever.
We know some might wonder about why we need crowdfunding after the success of Wasteland 2 and soon, Torment, and the simple answer is: it lets us keep our independence. Your support means that we are able to keep that all-too-critical control over our games, which means we can continue to stay true to our vision and keep making the games both we and you both love.
We also know some of you might be thinking, "how does this affect Torment's development?" Or perhaps, as we put it last time, "you greedy bastards, why would you launch a new campaign before Torment is even done?!" With Torment, you may recall we were content complete with the game around April of this year, which means that many of our artists and writers have started to have more time available, and for several, their work on Torment has now been completed. Those people are now moving on to begin early production on Wasteland 3, while the designers and engineers whose work on Torment isn't yet finished will continue on with it and see it through to completion.
Brian Fargo has long been a fan of this method of production, as it was practiced both with Interplay and now at inXile. Importantly, getting people working on the next project lets us avoid the layoff cycle you sometimes see at other studios and it means that those cohesive, experienced teams we have built up over the years can remain working together – which we believe leads to higher quality games all around. This is much the same approach we took with Wasteland 2 when Torment was first announced, so rest assured that Torment is still very much on track for its early Q1 2017 release.
All in all, things are coming to a close for Torment, but there's still plenty to do and see. We look forward to giving you another taste of the improvements we've been making soon, and we'll be keeping you in the loop as we continue towards release early next year!