Updated our Journal (22): Creatively Crafting Crises
TL;DR: Info about Numenera books and the Wasteland 2 Beta; area design process; crafting system design; a design concept we’re calling Crises.
Hi Forgotten Ones,
We have a lot to talk about today. It’s been a very productive summer and we’ve been making great progress on the writing and design. Colin, Adam, and I will fill you in on some of what we’ve been up to. But first, you may be aware that since the last update, Monte Cook Games has officially released the Numenera Corebook, which contains both the tabletop system and the description of the Ninth World—the setting for Torment. We’d like to congratulate Monte Cook and team on the successful launch of their system! Follow Monte Cook Games and read about their future plans via Monte’s blog.
The Numenera pen and paper Player’s Guide and Corebook have been shipping to eligible Torment backers since mid-August, and Monte Cook Games (MCG) informs us all packages have shipped. If you are eligible for the physical books (physical tiers $250 and up) and provided your address before our initial deadline, your books should have arrived by now for US backers, and should arrive for international backers within the next week or two. If you forgot to provide your address before the deadline, no problem, simply register here using your Kickstarter email, fill in your address, and we will get you in on an upcoming shipment.
If you backed on the digital tiers $75 or $125 and up, you should have received your digital Player’s Guide and (if eligible) Corebook by now. If you did not receive your code by email, or have any questions about the book shipment, please read this update from MCG.
Some Words on Writing
Colin McComb: I have a few updates for you all on our assorted creative fronts. We’ve talked before about some of our process for developing the areas in our game, but this seems like a good opportunity to provide a little more detail. Warning: this first bit is straight process; I’ll get into the creative side afterward.
We’re building a scaffold that allows us to drill down quickly into particular areas of the story, which in turn allows us to define areas more rapidly. The foundational documents for this are, of course, the story summary and the longer-form story doc (which I’ve just redrafted to accommodate our last several months of decisions).
From these, we break the story down into a number of Stages. Each Stage has a number of Zones, which are broad collections of Areas (for instance, the Bloom is a Zone, with a number of smaller Areas attached to it). When we want to prep the Zone for design, I’ll write up a Zone Design Constraints (ZDC) document that covers our goals for the Zone, any particular constraints we have for it, the critical path and story events that must happen there, a descriptive summary in prose that helps define how the Zone should look, act, smell, and behave, a list of level design constraints that define the architecture and characters in the level, and any assets the Zone Designer must use in creating the Zone. (I realize that we don’t actually have “smell” in the game, but thinking about how a place smells really does help focus the description of how the place looks.)
Once the Zone Designer receives this, she’ll write back to me with any questions, comments, or concerns, and when I’ve addressed those, she’ll get to work on creating a Zone Brief (ZB). This is a high-level summary of what’s happening in the area, with quest definitions, encounter outlines, Crisis ideas (more on those below), and a variety of NPCs and other interesting things going on. We review it and look for ways to improve it; we don’t want to spend too much time on review, but it’s important for us all to be focused on delivering the same experience. Once everyone’s satisfied that it meets their expectations, we pass it back to the Zone Designer for an even-more-definitive take: the Zone Design Document (ZDD), which will have all the information artists and scripters need to implement the area.
George Ziets turned over an excellent Zone Brief and is now working on Crisis design and the ZDD. Meanwhile, Shanna Germain and Tony Evans are working on ZBs. It’s our hope that Shanna’s relative newness to the CRPG process will help us iron out the complexities in our preliminary documentation, and that Tony’s depth of experience will help us create a stronger definitions for our requirements. They’ve both been asking very good questions, and I’m confident that we’re going to be impressed.
So that’s the process. Pretty dry, right?
The truth is: it’s not. At all. This is an evolving framework that provides a structure for the creative work, and that’s where the fun really is.
Shanna’s got strong character design skills (and you might check out The Lure of Dangerous Women sometime; it’s very Planescape-y) and her role as the lead editor for Numenera puts her in a unique position to bring some serious Ninth World flavor into our game.
Tony is... well, he’s Tony, and that means that he comes to the world with a truly unique perspective and a lot of outrageous ideas. If you follow him on Twitter, you’ve seen his daily tweets of humorous game concepts.
An example of the fun stuff: a short time ago I mentioned that I was researching the rate of human decomposition, because George and I were having a discussion about some of our cults and how long the bodies might retain some of our “essential” nutrients. Then Tony asked if we could maybe have an ongoing siege mentality in a certain area, leading to widespread cannibalism (my answer: probably not. For narrative reasons, not because I discriminate against cannibals). And when I suggested that he base a group of villains on the cover of Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules, he leapt at the idea. If that’s not awesome, I don’t know what is.
About the Companions
We’re tweaking, nudging, and adjusting the companions even now. One of our initial companion ideas has been changed to a major NPC role, replaced with another concept that better serves the narrative and party dynamic. Also, Chris Avellone turned in a proposal for his companion, and as you might expect, the companion has so much excellent potential for the game that we’re thinking of... well, I don’t want to spoil anything. Let’s just say this particular companion is really cool and effortlessly overturns one of the tropes of RPG companions. Which is to say: it’s great, and fits nicely into our roster.
Speaking of which, I put together a starting relationship chart for our companions. You can have up to three in your party at a time and they’ll all make their appearances fairly early in the game. We’ve been thinking about how they’ll interact with the Last Castoff and each other and talking about ways to improve the party’s overall dynamic... and, of course, ways to make the companions’ relationships with one another more compelling. We want to keep the process organic, rather than systematic, so having this starting point on how the characters interact will help push creativity and drive some narrative decisions further down the road.
For instance, we don’t want to have the Cold Jack simply count the number of times you’ve disagreed with her in dialogue before she suddenly becomes a (bigger) jerk. We want to have her relationship with you evolve. Perhaps she and another companion have important matters that they need your help with right away—and if you pick his over hers, she’ll remember that... and that will impact your interactions with her later in your story. Regardless of your relationship with your companions, during combat you’ll have complete control over them. But whether they stay by your side throughout your journey may be a different matter.
From the Depths Novellas
The Gold and Silver novellas are largely complete. Adam’s (Gold) has gone around for wide internal review and the feedback has all been very positive. I just received the final draft of Mur Lafferty’s Silver novella, and I’m looking forward to reading it over the next few days. Ray Vallese is working on the second draft of the Indigo novella and should be done by the end of the month. Tony Evans turned in a strong first draft of the Blue novella, and if I hadn’t saddled him with some zone design just a week before turning the critique over to him, he’d be close to done with that as well.
Nathan Long, who apparently has some other game that he’s working on (you might have heard of it—Wasteland 2), sent the first draft of the Red novella last weekend. Now that I’ve finished the major redraft of the story doc, I’ve got time to read it. And given how much I’ve loved his other work, I’m excited to see what he’s come up with.
The great thing about these novellas is that they’re helping us to build our world, and you’ll see the aftermath of some of these stories in the game. They’re helping to define our Tides. A designer can delve into Ray’s story, for instance, to find answers to their questions about what it means to focus on the Indigo Tide—we’re getting a broad range of behavior defined through these stories.
So we’re having some subtle and not-so-subtle connections between the game world and these stories. You won’t need to read the books to "get" the game, but I guarantee that you’ll want to. This is some good writing. We’ll be printing and shipping the limited edition books with the game, but the digital editions will be available sometime next year (including to those who are getting the physical version). You’re in for a real treat!
Speaking of good writing, remember back in Update 13 when we mentioned that Mur Lafferty was nominated for the 2013 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer? She told me that of course she wouldn’t win, and given the excellent competition I thought that while she had a good chance, it would be a tough fight. Well, I’m proud to congratulate Mur here on her victory – she IS the Campbell Award Winner for 2013, and it’s well deserved. I hope you’ll congratulate her as well, and maybe consider her book, “The Shambling Guide to New York City”, so that you can see why she won.
Adam Heine: One of the things I've been working on this past while is our crafting system (which was part of the $4.25M Stretch Goal). The Numenera game, and the Ninth World in particular, is uniquely suited to crafting. Heck, when you categorize the numenera by origin, all but the first are examples of crafting:
1. Scavenged: Discovered and/or identified items.
2. Cobbled: Two or three parts joined together to make something new.
3. Bonded: Like cobbled, but handcrafted to look like a real device. Some even come with a name or instructions.
4. Fashioned: Unique items made from scratch, usually by studying the numenera for years. The rarest of the four types.
Our crafting system (as of this writing, and subject to change based on future design decisions, your feedback, etc.) will primarily deal with cobbled items – although bonded items might make it in, and certain NPCs may fashion numenera for you. Our goal with crafting is to be engaging rather than tedious, to have an aspect of puzzle-solving as opposed to simple recipe-following.
We're leveraging our item design, and thus also crafting, to support both the narrative and gameplay. I'll focus on the system itself for now. Here's the basic idea. There are items, which include both mundane objects and numenera relics. Most items are useful by themselves, but some are components that can be assembled with other items to confer additional effects, or disassembled to use the components elsewhere.
For example, you may have a disruptor device (component) that, when attached to a sword, adds +10 damage whenever it is activated. Or you have a bounder crystal (component) that, when attached to armor, teleports anyone who strikes the wearer; when attached to a weapon, it randomly teleports the target a certain distance away when they're hit; when attached to ordinary gloves, it enables this ability on an unarmed punch.
But the relics of the prior worlds are not so easily understood. That disruptor device might have been a sparkplug for an unimaginably complicated transdimensional engine, or the bounder crystal might have been some kind of child's toy (why would a child play with such a thing? That's the fundamental mystery of the Ninth World). The point is, you can never fully understand this stuff, and although you can figure out enough to make it work for you, there will almost always be unintended side effects and quirks.
Side effects is our term for semi-predictable consequences. The specific combination of items and components—based on what they do and what they're made of—determines what side effects a device acquires. For example (remember these are just for illustration purposes and may not represent actual, final side effects):
- You add a biological grip to a mundane sword (perhaps a severed hand that grasps your wrist when you use the weapon, giving you +1 on attack rolls). You also add the disruption device from the earlier example. But the disruption device has a side effect with biological material, causing 1 damage to the user whenever you activate the disruption device. The result is a sword that gives you +1 to attack rolls all the time, but when you also activate the device, it does +10 damage to the target and 1 damage to you. The damage to you is a side effect caused by the combination of two components.
- You wear a Suspensor Belt which negates gravity enough to give you a +1 Speed Edge. You try cobbling the bounder crystal (from the earlier example) to the belt, so that when someone strikes you, they will be teleported a certain distance away. The belt tweaks gravity, and the crystal uses teleportation. One side effect is that when these two effect types are combined, it increases the potency of the teleportation effect. Now when someone strikes you, they are teleported twice as far away as they would be normally.
- You have an artifact that summons imp-like creatures when activated. You attach it to your azure steel body armor to see what it will do. It does nothing special, but you leave it cobbled together (because disassembling items has a risk of failure, because you can still use the device, and because it actually saves space in your inventory since the artifact is now part of your armor). But the transdimensional nature of the artifact has a side effect when combined with the otherworldly azure steel material, and now whenever you summon the imps to attack your enemies, additional insect-like creatures are summoned that attack everyone in sight (friend, foe, or imp).
Through lore skills or trial and error, you can eventually determine beneficial combinations, or at least combinations that work for your character build and/or the particular device you've put together.
Quirks, on the other hand, are random, unpredictable, and sometimes detrimental. A quirk might cause the device to make a loud noise everytime it's used; or cause the device to graft onto the user's body, so the character can't unequip it until it has been disassembled (also making disassembly more difficult); or it might occasionally knock down all characters within a set range, whether friend or foe; or strange fish appear in the air and swim around you, harmless, but killed by area effects.
A device can acquire a quirk when it is assembled. The chances of acquiring a quirk are increased by the quantity and power of the items you are trying to combine. The chances are decreased with training in the appropriate skills, access to good crafting tools and/or workstations, and applying the Numenera concept of Effort. An inexperienced, untrained character could slap a component onto their mundane sword with only a small chance of a Quirk appearing, but if the same character tried to cobble three components onto a piece of transdimensional armor, they'd find the resulting hack had one Quirk for sure and maybe even two (assuming they were able to successfully assemble it at all, of course).
This is just the beginning of crafting design, of course. We have a lot of details to hammer out and a LOT of balancing to do, but that's the idea we're working with. We hope the end result is not only fun but also emphasizes the strangeness of the Ninth World.
This system also suggested to us some ideas for item identification. We're thinking there might be different levels of identification, including (but not limited to):
1. Basic identification (item description, properties, effects, etc.)
2. Identify Side Effects after two items have been assembled
3. Identify Quirks after two items have been assembled
4. Identify which two items/components caused a specific Side Effect
5. Identify Side Effects before you assemble two components
This system implies that you can use an item even though you aren't aware of all its effects. That means you can cobble a device together using two identified components and see the main effects of your cobbled device, but maybe not the Side Effects or Quirks, but these Side Effects and Quirks would still happen. Furthermore, when you first use the device, you would get a bonus on identifying it, giving you a chance to learn more about the device (like identify those Side Effects or Quirks) through using it.
And if you can use cobbled devices without knowing what they do, then why not artifacts you find in the field? Well, you can! If you scavenge a piece of numenera armor, you can wear it even though you don't know what it does, and by wearing it you increase your chances of learning more about it.
Again, the paint is still very wet on this identification part (seriously, I just wrote the design document last week), so it's subject to change, but this is what we're thinking right now.
Kevin Saunders (again): I’d like to describe one of the gameplay concepts we are currently prototyping. We still have some more aspects to prove out and many details to work through, but we are excited enough about how it’s developing that I’d like to share it with you.
The explanation is rather lengthy, even for a Torment Update, so we posted this five-page PDF summary about Crises, including a brief description of our prototype's design as an example.
Wasteland 2 Beta
Toward the end of the Torment Kickstarter, we announced access to the WL2 Beta as one of the add-ons. That day is fast approaching: we’ve announced that the WL2 Beta text will begin in October. If you pledged through Kickstarter and planned on specifying the $20 for the Wasteland 2 Beta add-on, please contact us through Kickstarter and let us know so that we can make sure you get hooked up. (If you pledged for the Wasteland 2 Beta through PayPal, then we already have you covered – you’ll receive an email notification about the beta when the time comes.)
(You may be wondering why we haven’t yet implemented the ability to select your Kickstarter add-ons in the Torment account center. The web developer who created our system is a long-time inXile employee named Joby Bednar. If you’re thinking it would be odd for a small company like us to have a dedicated web developer, then you’d be right! Joby is also one of the area designers for Wasteland 2. (And, in fact, one of his areas won the “Level-Off” and was selected to be used for the demo at Gamescom last month.) So while we’re eager to take the account system all of the way, we’ve had to balance that with Joby’s critical work for Wasteland 2.)
You Too Can Be a Wasteland 2 Slacker Backer
Speaking of Wasteland 2, here's some gameplay footage including a glimpse of combat (18 minutes):
It’s still possible to become a slacker backer for a $25 pledge (or $250 for an autographed Collector’s Edition). We’ll be closing out these offers as we get closer to finalizing the game. Beta access is also still available for the moment. You can simultaneously secure Wasteland 2 and support Torment by pledging for it here (the Wasteland 2 add-ons are at the bottom).
And if you’re a collector, you may be interested in obtaining a hand-numbered and signed print of the original Wasteland 1 cover. This is a one-time run of 500 high quality prints ($320, shipping included).
In the News
We have been fairly quiet in the press as everyone is hard at work on Torment. Still, while visiting our studio for an in-depth series of articles on Wasteland 2, Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Nathan Grayson took a moment to talk with me and Brian Fargo about Torment and its writing process. Also, Chris Avellone talks about his entire career with RacketBoy on their 64th Podcast, including both Planescape: Torment and Torment: Tides of Numenera.
Not exactly news, but three of our writing team (Colin McComb, Chris Avellone, and George Ziets) have agreed to contribute to the Accursed tabletop RPG setting (for the Savage Worlds game system) as stretch goals. They're funded at $13K, with Colin coming in at $17K and Chris and George at $20K.
That’s it for now. Remember that if you’d like more frequent Torment news, you can follow us on tumblr.
Hope you all enjoyed your summers! Take care,