Updated our Journal (26): Decision
TL;DR: Combat vote results completed – statistically it was a tie! Torment: Tides of Numenera’s combat (and Crises) will be turn-based combat. We’ll address concerns expressed by Real-Time with Pause fans in our design.
Your participation in the combat discussion and vote has been terrific! Almost 20% voted and over 2000 comments were made on our forums alone. That’s twice the turnout I expected, and it’s great to see all of the passion our backers have for the project. I’d like to thank everyone who got involved.
It’s been an exciting vote! The leading system changed a couple times early on and the final tally is: 7,267 TB, 7,052 RTwP and 782 Indifferent. With the vote at 48% to 47%, and with those who voted “indifferent” being more than triple the difference between the TB and RTwP camps, it is essentially a draw.
As we explained in Update 24, we were leaning toward turn-based combat because we believe it’s better suited for the kind of tactical complexity we're looking for through our Crisis system. We believe it’s a stronger fit for bringing narrative elements, including dialogue with NPCs, into hand-crafted combat situations. We have considered the vote, but more important than the vote are the comments (not just in our forums, but on many of the community forums and articles on this topic). Your comments have helped us greatly in understanding why people have the preferences and concerns that they do.
We have decided to go with turn-based combat. Ultimately, there are no losers here. This is all part of the process of making an RPG we are all passionate about and we think you’ll like Torment’s combat even if you voted for RTwP. While we have not been looking forward to disappointing half of our backers, we were happy to find that many of the reasons people gave for disliking TB and preferring RTwP can be addressed through the details of our combat system and encounter design. I’d like to go over some of the more common comments we saw either for RTwP or against TB and explain how we will address them.
Comment #1: Turn-Based combat can be tedious
If one were to take Planescape: Torment and, changing nothing else, switch to TB combat, the result would be miserable for many. You'd be stopped midstride in every Hive back alley to perform the same boring actions on meaningless thugs and zombies.
This isn’t what we’re going to do.
Turn-based combat certainly can be tedious, but that comes down to encounter design. As we stated during the Kickstarter, Torment will have no trash mobs—those hordes of filler battles that require little thought from the player. That type of gameplay is at odds with our emphasis on the story and character development, so each Crisis in Torment will be hand-crafted. It will have narrative relevance and consequences. We'll iterate on them until each one is a quality encounter and provides the experience we seek for that moment in the game.
If any combat situation in Torment were tedious, it wouldn’t be because it's turn-based. It would be because we failed in our goal. And our Crises aren’t just combat. They contain exploration, dialogue, and time-relevant actions and events that can exist outside of combat, like pursuits, environmental puzzles, and application of special skills. You’re going to have to work throughout the game toward your goals, and the Crisis concept is a primary way that we put your intentions to the test.
We understand the importance to you of combat not being tedious. Emphasis on encounter design is important for any CRPG, but for Torment, the bar will be even higher – we believe that through well designed encounters, and extensive gameplay iteration on them, we’ll be able to address the majority of the concerns expressed by those who favored RTwP.
Comment #2: Turn-Based combat can break immersion
"Immersion" is a tricky term that can mean a lot of things, but generally this comment is referring to the jarring sense a player gets when they're walking through a town and suddenly the whole world stops because, say, a feral dog saw them coming down the street.
Again, this isn't what we're going to do. In general, we don’t plan to “surprise” you with a Crisis. Through the design of the areas and the pacing of the game, you’ll know when and where combat is a possibility. The situation will feel tense and in some cases, you will be explicitly initiating the Crisis. This doesn’t mean we won’t ever ambush you, of course, but if we do, it will be very deliberate and not an arbitrary event.
We get that you don’t want to be pulled out of the game in this way and we’ll look for ways to keep you in control and prevent Crises from disrupting the normal flow of the game.
That said, Torment isn’t an action game. Real time doesn’t pass in conversations, for example – you have as much time as you want to decide your choice. And while exploration occurs in real-time, it won’t include twitch elements. All of your decision-making throughout the game will consistently be free from real-time considerations. Torment is a game about thinking and deliberation and will not have any actual time pressure, so turn-based combat will maintain a more consistent feel.
Comment #2a: Turn-Based combat isn’t realistic
A variation of the concern about immersion is that TB gameplay isn’t realistic. In a real battle, you don’t patiently observe while your opponents orderly take turns one at a time.
This is true, but the lack of realism is inherent in most videogame combat and gameplay (again, turn-based conversations come to mind), and RTwP combat isn’t immune to this issue. What we strive for isn’t realism, but creating an immersive experience that allows you to suspend your disbelief. In other words, realism is not at the core of Torment’s party-based combat.
That said, we will strive to make the combats as dynamic and visceral as possible – attacked characters will animate appropriately when struck instead of standing lifelessly, for example, or perhaps having readied actions such as overwatch or interrupts to take actions on the opponent’s turn. We will maintain tension and flow, creating the sense that you are in actual danger and making your tactical and strategic decisions matter.
Comment #3: Controlling the entire party in Turn-Based can be boring
The idea behind this concern is that if only one character in your party is relevant to the combat (e.g., it’s in a narrow passageway or a specific skill/weapon is needed for some aspect of it, etc.) then gameplay gets bogged down. It’s not fun to have to skip most of your characters’ turns, cycling back to the one character who can actually do something.
This problem also comes down to encounter design, and we’ll be paying close attention to this aspect in our specific Crisis designs. Strong support of ranged combat will help, as melee-focused battles can exacerbate this problem. The Numenera rules also help here because skills, while beneficial, generally aren’t required to accomplish specific tasks, and Effort can be expended to give any character a better chance of success at tasks outside their character build. Adam discussed how this works in Update 21 (in the context of dialogue, though it applies to Crisis gameplay as well), but we’ll copy it here again so you don’t have to search for it.
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.
Note also that party members can “assist” others in particular skill-based tasks, boosting their chances for success.
In short, we’re fully aware that cycling can be a painful way to play, and that this aspect of gameplay is important to you, and we’ll design the Crises to keep your entire party engaged.
Comment #4: You should implement both RTwP and TB and make it a gameplay option
This solution may sound ideal, but it wouldn’t give anybody what they really want. Area and encounter design needs of the two systems are very different. Designing for both would dilute the quality of the encounters for one or both systems, and most likely require so much time and resources as to impact the rest of the game. In a deep RPG like ours, where combat isn't even the focus, trying to implement two combat systems would lead to an inferior game across the board.
Comment #5: Planescape: Torment had Real-Time with Pause combat, so the new Torment should too
This is a reasonable perspective and valid point of view. Shouldn't we stick with what made the original great?
But is RTwP combat what made Planescape: Torment great? For some of you, the combat may have been an important part of your PST experience, and we hope that you’ll find the combat in Torment: Tides of Numenera to be at least equally enjoyable. But we don't think PST’s combat system was what most players loved about the game.
We believe PST is considered one of the greatest RPGs of all-time, not because its combat was Real-Time w/ Pause, but because of its emphasis on the narrative and on role-playing your character. We explained this in the four pillars we described in the Kickstarter, which are the foundation for Torment: Tides of Numenera:
1. A Deep, Thematically Satisfying Story
2. A World Unlike Any Other
3. A Rich, Personal Narrative
4. Reactivity, Choice, and Real Consequences
We’re using all four pillars to influence and reinforce our Crisis and combat design. Throughout the campaign, we stressed that we would find an approach for combat that worked well with these pillars. With the approach we have planned – including turn-based combat – we hope to integrate more narrative and more choice and consequence into the combat experience.
Though Planescape: Torment is the starting point for many of our design decisions, Torment: Tides of Numenera was never intended to be a game that, by default, duplicates everything PST did. It is a thematic successor that is inspired by PST, not derivative of it. The themes we are succeeding are the things that made Planescape: Torment a classic – the four pillars and other elements as described in our vision document – and we don’t see the specific combat system as core to PST’s legacy. We have several of the people from the PST team involved in the project and we hope that you continue to trust that we will deliver the type of CRPG experience you crave.
"The Planescape: Torment experience was never defined by its combat. In Torment: Tides of Numenera, the combat is intended to complement both the narrative systems and the basic gameplay mechanics. It is a challenging decision for the team to make, and I respect and support their decision to choose turn-based."
-- Chris Avellone, Lead Designer of Planescape: Torment; Creative Director at Obsidian Entertainment
Comment #5a: Why all this focus on combat? Planescape: Torment wasn't even about that
This is kind of the opposite sentiment as the previous comment, or rather it's the other side of the same coin. Rest assured that combat is not, and never has been, our primary focus, as you can see in the four pillars above. Torment is very much about the story, the characters, the conversations, and the world, and we are focusing most of our efforts in those areas – it wasn't until six months after the Kickstarter that we even started talking seriously about combat in our updates.
If it feels like we are suddenly focused on combat, it's only because our recent updates have had that focus. In a month or two we'll talk about something else—art creation or story design or exploration gameplay or something—and then it'll feel like we're 100% focused on that.
Moving Forward with You
We're excited about what we have planned, and as you see more of what we’re doing, we think you’ll be excited, too. We’ll be talking about other aspects of the design in the near term, but we’ll certainly be talking more about Crises and combat down the road. We hope that you’ll continue to trust our judgment and dedication to the project and to you. Remember that you’ll have future opportunities to influence the game’s development, including aspects of its combat. We’ll be seeking your feedback in the future and you’ll be able to weigh in on details later to help us hone the experience.
We're grateful that we can solicit your feedback and your input throughout this process. This style of development would never have been possible even five years ago, let alone fifteen. It's encouraging to see your interest and passion in what we're doing. We learn a lot from your comments and posts on these topics, and we come that much closer to creating something great.
We will not take for granted the trust that you placed in us this past spring. We are making this game for you, our backers. When you play Torment, we want you to feel you trusted us wisely. We’re not looking for mass market success – our only metric is your satisfaction, and we are working hard toward that goal every day. Thanks for your support and understanding,
P.S. We have a couple more things to say, but they’re more about our communication and our gratitude, so we’ve put them on tumblr to keep this update focused on combat.