Updated our Journal (21): Books & Writers
TL;DR: Numenera books shipping; writers meet; crafting a screenshot; designing dialogue; programmer joins the team; new concept art by Chang Yuan.
Hello Forgotten Ones,
Thomas here. After a period of relative quiet, we have a really expansive update for you today, with a lot to talk about: from Colin’s report on the writers meet last week to Gavin discussing the art process of the game to Adam talking dialogue design.
But first an important bit of maintenance: we have finished importing and processing Kickstarter information into our account management system. You will now be able to input your shipping address and see the amount you donated, though we have not yet implemented tier and add-on management. We’ll let you know as soon as its full functionality is implemented.
A week ago we posted that we’re closing the tiers eligible for the Numenera Player’s Guide or Corebook, both digital and physical: that is, digital tiers $75 and $125+, and physical tiers $250+. Upgrading your tier will not be possible, either, but you can contact us directly through the contact inXile form on your account, if you have any questions or requests, or if you just feel like talking! After the account management system is complete, we’ll reopen higher tier options.
The Numenera books are coming out very soon (August 14th) and we’d like to get all our backers in on the first shipment. For this reason, if you’re receiving the physical books, we need your address! Our initial deadline was the 19th of July, and we sent out an email to all eligible backers to please input their info. We’ve gotten addresses from the majority of you now, so thanks to all who have given us their info! For those who haven’t, we’re happy to be able to offer an extension on the deadline: if you give us your address by July 25th we should still be able to include you in the first batch of Numenera book shipments.
Last week marked a milestone event for Torment: Tides of Numenera, as we got many of the writers together in one room to discuss the game. This type of preparation is what preproduction is about – our schedule allows us to have these discussions and define the game before the production team rolls off of Wasteland and onto Torment.
Monte Cook gave an advanced rundown of Numenera for everyone (and has gathered some of his thoughts in this excellent blog post) and Colin McComb presented the current version of the story, and then the group brainstormed ideas, iterated on plot points, and discussed processes and design conventions.
We’ve been posting a few tidbits about it on our tumblr, some photos of the meet, the team in a group shot, and George Ziets shared his thoughts on the process on Formspring. To give a more complete picture, here’s a full report from Colin:
We've been planning this story meeting for months now - we started putting the gears in motion the day after the Kickstarter ended, in fact. Kevin and I sat in my hotel and plotted out the steps necessary to ensure that we'd have a fruitful and creative meeting. To that end, for the past three months I've been working on various story docs. My primary outputs for the story docs (apart from helping Kevin and Adam direct, design, and define various templates, briefs, and assorted other documents) have been:
- story flowcharts
- area flowcharts
- area list, with areas prioritized and sized appropriately in order to get an approximate idea of art resources required to develop the game environments
- companion summaries
- summary of the game's overarching story, themes, characters, and special features
- longer story doc that acts in part as a location list
Kevin, Adam, Chris Avellone, and I shared around a number of these prior to the meeting so that we could establish a baseline for all our writers. The above list makes it look like a relatively small output, but in fact each of these has gone through significant revision, iteration, and reiteration (for instance, the first long story doc was ~30 pages and a huge [perhaps unwieldy] list of discrete locations). After review and reprioritization, I trimmed the original list to the essentials for the story, focusing not just on "cool!" but "cool and useful!".
Our goals for the story meeting were:
- introduce, iterate, and improve the story
- present our overall creative vision to the writers rolling in at this stage
- present some of our design decisions and tools
- develop comfort with our tools and procedures
- discuss our reactivity options and constraints
- and more.
The first order of business on Monday morning was a final briefing with Kevin and then a quick presentation of the Ninth World and of the Torment story to the Wasteland 2 team. Monte gave them an introduction to his world, and then I ran through a hugely abbreviated version of the game's story. At 9 am, the assembled writers adjourned to a small (did I say small? probably more accurate to say, "kind of cramped and definitely warm") conference room and began plotting in earnest.
And wow, did we plot.
The first day was focused on presentation: I drew the map on the whiteboard and outlined the story in broad strokes, delving into specific details at crucial points. We defined story terms, and we broke down the companions to reassemble them again. Nathan and Pat introduced their companions to the group to general admiration, and we figured ways to make those companions work within the bounds of the story as defined so far and within the party dynamic. We outlined the Tide mechanics, Legacies, and began to discuss the Meres from a story perspective. It was, as Monte described it, a day that was primarily about creative output, in which this collection of gifted writers offered ideas and solutions for a variety of issues.
The second day was focused more on input - which is to say: we watched, listened, absorbed, and asked questions. We began to discuss technical area design, using Meres designed by Tony and Adam to outline ways to use the conversation editor and describe some critical gameplay features that we hope to implement. Jeremy Kopman, a scripter and designer, presented a walkthrough of the Obsidian dialogue editor. Tony and George took over after that, giving us a technical conversation design presentation that drew on their combined decades of experience in the industry.
Day three was a combination of the two. We tackled the question of how to implement and design the Meres. What is it that makes these compelling? What story and gameplay incentives do players have to explore these? How do they combine with the pursuit of the Angel and the urgency mechanic we've outlined in the past? And do we even want to call the Angel of Entropy by that name? Because we're still discussing these internally, I'm not going to commit to anything, but I think we came away from the final day with a new and exciting perspective on the future of this game.
From a purely personal standpoint, this was one of the highlights of my career. A free and frank discussion with titans of the industry, with everyone purely committed to the project and no egos clashing and no one with anything to prove, this was precisely what we'd hoped to accomplish - a thorough iteration of the story and its associated pieces, and a heightened dedication to making sure this game is a truly unique experience.
We didn't bring everyone out for this first meeting because we're staging our writers -- we want to improve on our processes by using some of our current team to test them out before everyone is involved. We want to make sure we've got a solid footing for our existing writers as well, and want to ensure that each of them gets the attention they deserve for the areas they're creating.
We did feel a keen lack of Adam during the meeting, sadly. As he’s been deeply involved with the project since day one, his presence would have added a lot, but circumstances prevented him from joining us. We tried to make up for this by inserting, "Adam is awesome!" comments where appropriate, but given the time difference, the only time we could have caught him would have been at 7 am or at the very tail end of the day. Next time. Next time we'll have him.
I'd like to thank Chris Avellone, Monte Cook, Steve Dobos, Tony Evans, Matt Findley, Shanna Germain, Jeremy Kopman, Nathan Long, Monty Markland, Pat Rothfuss, Kevin Saunders, and George Ziets for contributing their valuable insight to these three days. It really was fantastic.
Crafting a Screenshot
My name is Gavin Glenn-McDowell and I am an environment artist here at inXile Entertainment. Currently I am spearheading the environment art pre-production on Torment: Tides of Numenera. I would like to update you on our current progress, as well as some behind the scene peeks of how we plan to make some of the areas and environments for the game.
I think that we are all aware of how unique and well-crafted the Numenera setting is. I speak for the entire art team here at inXile when I say we are incredibly grateful and excited to work on this project. Creating this game will require an immense amount of creativity, which is a good thing. Even though the theme and aesthetic are extremely interesting, what is even more exciting is the methods and technology we plan on using to create our environments.
In order to start the pre-production properly we returned to the Kickstarter screenshots and videos for insight and deconstruction. Peeling back the layers of the Kickstarter art efforts has been eye opening and informative. We created a technique for making backgrounds that we haven’t seen before and that we are continuing to explore.
Presently, we are evaluating the overall process and working on some experiments and tests to ensure that when production starts, all the kinks have been worked out and the entirety of the team is ready to go.
2D pre-rendered games have been around for a long time, arguably since the beginning. The goal has always been the same: to create a 2D image with as much believability and visual story telling as possible. With Torment: Tides of Numenera we decided to reset the way we think about creating those 2D images. The tools have changed a lot over the years, but some of the newest advancements in production software have allowed us to really break tradition in 3D game development. One of the drawbacks to 3D has always been getting those games to run on typical machines. On a typical 3D development cycle, an artist spends about 30-40% of their time optimizing and preparing assets to run in real time. Returning to a 2D pre-rendered production with modern tools has resulted in some new ideas about the way artists work and present their efforts. With the technique and methods we have created so far, our artists will be spending more of their time creating content as opposed to optimizing it. This purely creative process means that we can really push the environment art to levels unseen in classic 2D pre-rendered games.
With some fancy software and talented artists, we are discovering that the amount of detail we can achieve is astounding and the impact this has on the background art makes the game far richer and beautiful than we have previously seen. The content created during the Kickstarter was just the tip of the iceberg.
The next couple of months will be exciting for both the project and art department as we further develop and refine the visual development of the game. I hope to provide you with further updates and insights in the future. Until then, here is a dissection of one of the screenshots illustrating the process (full size). Thank you again for all your support. This wouldn’t be possible without backers like you.
On Dialogue Design
Adam here. I was not able to join the team for the writer’s meet, which is a shame, but Colin’s writeup on it does give me the perfect opportunity to talk a bit about something I’ve been spending a lot of time on: working with the conversation editor we’re using for Torment (obtained through our arrangement with our friends at Obsidian Entertainment, with some of our own modifications planned). I've been using it to write example dialogues and establish our dialogue guidelines for the game.
Conversations in Tides of Numenera will be a lot like what you remember from Planescape: Torment. The NPC will tell you something (maybe a lot of something—we're thinking up to 300 characters per NPC node), and you'll have a list of responses to choose from. Some of those responses might include actions to perform, skills to use, or telling the truth vs. lying.
What options you have available, and what the NPC says in response, can depend on many different things: what you've said or done in the past, how you've customized your character, who you choose to travel with, etc. (I recently wrote a post on basic reactive dialogue, if you're interested in how that works.)
And there are some design aspects unique to Tides of Numenera. There are the Tides, of course, which are shaped by your choices, and which affect what certain NPCs say and do. These work very similarly to how alignment worked in PST, but they're more complex. We're working through what those complexities mean now, and how they’ll impact dialogue design, exploration, and combat.
Using skills will be different, too (side note: I say "will," but we're still in pre-production, so any of this can change). Say there's a difficult task you want to attempt—lying to a prison guard or deciphering the text on an ancient puzzle box. Typically, in D&D-style RPGs for example, if you don't have the associated skill, your chances of success are very low, or you might not be able to attempt the task at all. In Numenera, all such tasks are treated the same, and anyone can try them. Training in a related skill or skills will lower the difficulty of the task, but even if you're untrained, you can still apply Effort.
Effort is a concept from the Numenera tabletop game. Essentially you spend points out of the appropriate stat pool (Might, Speed, or Intellect) to lower the difficulty of a task. The idea is, even if you've never been trained in lock picking, a very smart or dexterous character can, with some Effort, increase their chances of cracking a lock.
Your stat pools are renewable with rest. And of course, all of this is balanced. If you're trying to crack a combination lock created by a culture that died out millions of years ago, which requires a combination of smells rather than integers, well . . . you'd have to have a high-level character specialized in the task, who spent all the Intellect they had on Effort, just to make the task possible. That character would still have to roll ridiculously well.
Effort provides more options to customize your character and tackle obstacles. If there's a task you want to attempt—even if it's something normally contrary to your character build—you still have a chance of succeeding if you can use enough Effort. On the other hand, someone who has trained or specialized in that sort of task will have a greater chance of success, and will maintain that edge in similar tasks throughout the game.
I hinted at die rolls above, which brings me to something else I want to share with you. Active skills—that is, skills you choose to use and have the option to apply Effort to—will be done with die rolls. In dialogue, these skills will usually be things like Persuasion, Deception, and Intimidation, although other skills might find uses in dialogue as well. In some cases, if you fail a task, Effort can also be spent to gain a second chance.
But we have a whole category of Lore skills that represent your knowledge. These skills will enable certain response options in dialogue, giving you choices that a player without the skill wouldn't have. When this happens, there won't be a die roll, because the skill is being used without requiring effort on your part. The unlocked response options are just there.
You won't know a special response has been unlocked until after you choose it. I'll explain why in a second. Take this example:
NPC: "Here's the device Colin gave me, though I haven't opened it yet. I want my wife to have that honor." He shows you a capsule made of synthsteel. Shadows seem to slide off it, making it appear brighter than everything else in the room. It bears strange, jagged markings.
1. "Where did he find it?"
2. "Do you know what these markings are?"
3. "I think these markings mean 'Death'."
4. "Do you mind if I keep it for a bit to examine it?"
5. Open it.
Response #3 would only be available if you're trained in Lore: Linguistics. But that skill would only be mentioned after you choose it. The reason for this is because many RPG players—ourselves included—have been trained that specially marked or specially unlocked responses are always going to be the best ones. And so we choose them without thinking.
Of course, you'll eventually be able to figure out which responses are available due to your skills, like when your linguistically inclined character is always deciphering texts, but you'll have to read and think about the responses to do so. More importantly, the Lore-based responses won't always be the best options, just different ones.
If you select Response #3, for example, you might find that admitting your knowledge to this NPC means you don't have the capsule for later:
3. "I think these markings mean 'Death'."
NPC: [Lore: Linguistics] "What?!" He glares at the inscription, as though anger alone will enable him to read it. Then he tucks the capsule back in its bag. "That bastard. I'll get Colin back for this, believe me!"
If you add the concept of Truths and Lies to this scenario, things can get even more interesting:
1. "Where did he find it?"
2. "Do you know what these markings are?"
3. (Truth) "I think these markings mean 'Death'."
4. (Lie) "I think these markings mean 'Wealth'."
5. "Do you mind if I keep this for a bit to examine it?"
6. Open it.
Did I mention we're implementing those, too?
After a significant search, we found a programmer to join our ranks. Steve Dobos will join us on August 5th (and was able to come down early to attend the story meeting). We interviewed numerous talented programmers and had a number of very promising candidates. Steve came to our attention in a roundabout way – he wasn’t initially applying for the position. Steve was one of the first people Kevin ever hired, bringing him on board Shattered Galaxy in 2000 as a technical designer. Steve contacted Kevin recently, seeking only a recommendation as he began a new job search. But it turned out that he was a serendipitous fit for our open position. Over the last decade, Steve had expanded greatly as a programmer and had substantial experience in both C# and Unity. We expect his strong 3D math skills to be a big help in solving the various challenges we face in pursuing the approach Gavin discussed.
And it just so happens that Planescape: Torment is one of Steve’s favorite games – in fact, he had it in hand, having just purchased it, the same day that he and Kevin met more than thirteen years ago.
There’s a pair of Kickstarters currently ongoing we’d like to give a shoutout. Both are part of Kicking It Forward, and thus pledges to spend 5% of their eventual profit (not of crowdfunded money raised) on promising Kickstarter projects.
First is Satellite Reign, a real-time, class-based cyberpunk strategy game from the creators of Syndicate Wars, and a spiritual sequel to that title. They recently released an engine gameplay visualization to give you a better idea of the game, and are now nearly funded with 5 days to go. Take a look and see if you want to help them get over the hump!
Another Kickstarter that appeals to our old-school and post-apocalyptic sensibilities is the vehicular combat game with RPG elements, MotorGun, which returns a lot of the old Auto Duel concepts. Long-time inXile employee Maxx Kaufman is one of the leads of the title, making a great team along with Mike Arkin, Dave Jaffe, Zack Norman and Scot Kramarich, among others. Check out the gameplay footage and their pitch and see if it’s up your alley.
There has been some great Torment: Tides of Numenera coverage since the last update, in particular this in-depth interview with Kevin Saunders and Adam Heine discussing theme, systems and combat. Another good read is this GameStar interview with Colin McComb, Kevin Saunders, and Adam Heine talking Kickstarter and Torment: Tides of Numenera details.
Last but not least, we have a new concept art piece for you from the incredibly talented Chang Yuan, “The Forge of the Night Sky”, wallpapers available from our website. It shows the Ruins of Ossiphagan, as described in the third Kickstarter update:
The erupting volcanoes and surging lava fill the air with acrid smoke and choking fumes. The bones of an enormous beast lie sprawled across the obsidian fields, its ribs splayed open as if it had been torn open by some unimaginable predator. The ossified bones have been hollowed out as homes by some intrepid or foolish citizens, and the wind howls through the openings in a mournful whistle like a giant flute. In the wastes beyond, creatures of flame and focused minds trawl the lava and skim its valuable nutrients.
Until next time!