Updated our Journal (31): Starting to Ramp Up
TL;DR: Update on our progress; Wasteland 2’s planned late-August launch sets Torment’s to the fourth quarter of 2015; Colin on the Tabaht; Adam talks Toy
Kevin here. You may have heard our recent announcement that Wasteland 2 will be launching at the end of August. We’ve already started welcoming some folks from Wasteland over to Torment and we’ll be continuing to ramp up as people’s work on the post-apocalyptic American southwest finishes up.
As mentioned in Update 29, the Torment team had a week of meetings in April in inXile's offices in California. Adam Heine, Colin McComb, and Thomas Beekers were all here (though alas our sacrifices to the gods of favorable relocation were not accepted, and George’s move back to California wasn’t completed in time for him to be here in person, so he had to attend remotely). It was a very productive visit, and included Adam and Colin discussing the game with groups of the production team to help prep them for coming on board. You can view a few photos from our meetings here.
So, where are we on Torment then? During the last week of our Kickstarter, we had adjusted our target launch date to the first half of 2015. And last December, in Update 27, I mentioned that timeline was still feasible, but that Torment’s schedule remained in flux until all became clear with Wasteland 2. Wasteland 2’s success in Early Access allowed us to spend more time improving it, which also meant we had more time in preproduction on Torment. We’ve had more time to prototype, improve tools, iterate on our processes, etc. before entering full production. This has been a great thing for everything... except for our release date.
Now that we have a more certain roll-off plan for the production team from Wasteland to Torment, we’re better able to predict the shape of our schedule. And, as you may have guessed, the first half of 2015 isn't realistic anymore and we’re looking at the fourth quarter of 2015.
You may wonder how we can extend TTON’s development for a year longer than planned. By running a small core team during the preproduction phase, we have been extremely efficient in developing the foundation and the pipeline for the game – we make decisions more quickly, and we’ll have set a strong vision to help eliminate uncertainty. This will help us make fewer mistakes as the full team ramps up. One year following TTON’s Kickstarter, more than 80% of the development budget remained, so we have a lot of firepower for our production, beta, and finalization phases.
For the last while, we’ve been in what I’ve called a “limited production” mode. During this phase, the emphasis has been on proving out our design and pipelines (i.e,. how exactly we get anything from being an idea to being fully implemented in the game). This is typical for preproduction, but the distinction I’d make is that we’ve been creating actual game content, which is unusual in the industry. During this time, we’ve had relatively few people creating content and have been allowed time to experiment and iterate, prioritizing getting things figured out over getting things done. This leads to greater productivity, fewer mistakes, and ultimately a better game. This goal is generally somewhat at odds with completing feature X by date Y, which is typically what you do during production to ensure that the game can be completed to the quality desired given the time and/or resources you have available.
Over the past months, we’ve been working on three segments within the game. One of them is what we’re calling the Breach, which is the opening of the game. The decision to have the beginning of the game be one of the things we did first was internally a slightly contentious one. Typically, the first areas you create for a game are the weakest because you haven’t figured everything out yet. And you want your opening to be very strong, of course. We chose to put some emphasis on the game’s beginning for a few reasons, namely:
- The Numenera setting is welcomingly simple, yet deviously complex. It’s easy to obtain a surface understanding of the concepts, but there are many nuances, especially in trying to present the exotic world to new players. This isn’t a typical fantasy place and we want to immerse you in the Ninth World in ways that let you explore its mystery and wonder without handholding you.
- Our story is complex, as are our characters. When we combine that with the rich setting, we have a lot of information to convey to you (or intentionally not). The beginning of the game has the clearest parameters here: We know (or assume) that you know nothing about the game or setting. And we know what we need you to grok (or at least be vaguely familiar with) by the end of the Breach. Focusing on this part tests out our ability to communicate to you – if we have too much trouble doing so, we can simplify aspects of the story. That sort of difficulty is harder to detect when working on the middle of the game and it’s harder to correct if unearthed after much content has been created.
- The game’s first Crisis occurs in the Breach. At this point in time you have no Focus or Type, so your abilities are limited. Therefore, to make this Crisis, we have only the core mechanics to work with in creating compelling gameplay. This is doubly beneficial: a) it makes us focus on getting those core mechanics right; and b) less programmer effort is required for all of the necessary features to be available.
- [This is still many months away!] We want to share the beginning of the game with our Alpha Testers. Being a story-driven game, it’s hard for us to share too much without risking ruining the experience. But the first few minutes seems fair game.
- Partially related to the previous reason, we intend to iterate as much as is necessary on the opening to make it great, so the fact that it’s one of the first areas we’re creating won’t affect its final quality anyway.
Another location is one of the Meres, which I’ll refer to just as “G1” (completely unrelated to any Hill Giant chiefs). G1 was the first sample area Adam created a design for – more than a year ago. Over time, it’s gained a more significant role in the story and the design has evolved. Throughout much of preproduction, it’s been in stasis as we’ve been focused on other things, though it was the site of Aaron Meyers’s initial environment experiments, as it is a somewhat less exotic location (compared to, for example, the Bloom), and because its design was understood. (With the pre-rendered backgrounds, we have a strong incentive to have the design as final as possible before working on the art, because art changes are generally more time-consuming to make.)
G1 has been our proving ground for the design and development of dialogue, the creation of environments, and how the art and design pipelines interact. It’s mostly done, with the art and design content at an Alpha state (excluding elements that are dependent upon features that aren’t at Alpha, such as some Crisis elements). Besides serving as our initial test bed, G1 has another important purpose: for new team members coming onto the project, it serves as a representative example of what TTON should look and feel like.
And finally, and where we’re gradually directing the majority of our energy, is the Bloom. It’s one of the major Zones of the game and significantly larger than the Breach or G1. It will be a stronger example of a “typical” TTON location than G1 – the longer stint of gameplay encompasses more features and gameplay types, it’s a more exotic and dire place, and it has greater relevance to the main storyline. It’s been functionally playable for a while now, and we’re beginning to create some of the environments and also the real conversations. (The functional version has placeholder conversations, written by Jesse Farrell, which set up all of the important logic but don’t have true dialogue yet—although some of Jesse's are pretty hilarious.)
Throughout TTON’s preproduction, we have focused on the aspects that make the most sense at any given time – keeping long-term goals in mind, but being flexible about the specifics of how we get there. (Among other reasons, maintaining this flexibility has been valuable in getting the greatest benefit out of our extended preproduction.) For example, some of the reasons the Bloom has become a focus are:
- We all felt George’s initial design was very strong.
- We were able to bring on both Jesse and George full time. They have worked together before, so even though it took a while to get George moved out here, they were able to collaborate well while George was still part time and remote.
- The story elements involving the Bloom are stable and well understood. (Even though the story has been established for a while now, we are continuously iterating on it as we move forward – as is true for all aspects of the game. By detailing out the most established elements first, we can be more efficient.)
- Chang Yuan’s high concept piece for the area sets the mood for TTON very well. Achieving it in-game requires us to answer many technical, aesthetic, and design questions and when we’re done, we’ll have a great representative area.
Beginning with the Pillars of Eternity technology foundation has been a godsend to Torment’s development. Steve Dobos has been a superstar, but he’s been mostly alone on Torment’s tech. He’s implemented a host of modifications for us, some of which have been driven by our different rules system (such as Difficult Tasks, as Adam described in Update 27) and some due to differences in the design priorities between PoE and TTON. Current efforts have been mostly about iteration on the conversation system and prototyping various elements of Crises. Recently we’ve also been making progress on aspects of our animation system, with programmer Jason Jacobitz and animator Josh Jertberg beginning to shift over to Torment. (We’ll have more to say about animation in a future update.)
We’ve been receiving regular code updates from PoE, and these are becoming increasingly time-consuming to integrate as the aspects we modify expand. As programmers roll onto TTON from Wasteland, we’ll likely decide to branch off from PoE, with us having enough programming bandwidth that it will be inefficient to bring over the latest PoE changes (not all of which are relevant to TTON). (Incidentally, this is another advantage to our extended preproduction period – it has allowed us to stay current with the PoE code base for longer, thus acquiring more of their tech improvements. As announced in the recent PoE update, the code is feature complete and it’s just bug fixing at this stage. So if we do diverge before PoE is code-locked, it would just mean that we will have to fix any bugs that they fix late in the project (those that affect TTON, anyway).)
Since late last year, Steve has also had part-time assistance from Paola Rizzo, who happens to live in Rome, who has handled the majority of our modifications and enhancements to the conversation editor. In some cases, the type of dialogue reactivity we want for Torment required new functionality. In others, we increased the automation of certain aspects of conversation authoring, making it less work for writers to follow certain conversation conventions, which in turn increases the likelihood that we follow through on those design conventions to the extent we had planned.
Anything that streamlines content creation, reduces the likelihood of bugs, or provides error checking helps make our complicated conversations more manageable and allows us to push conversations further. This increased efficiency is important for us because we are targeting a greater degree of reactivity and replayability than even Planescape: Torment had, which means that conversations of a certain size (in terms of gameplay time and information communicated) take more effort to write. We’re already able to create conversations 50% faster than we could last summer, and this should improve even further as we go. (We plan to talk more about conversation construction and design in a later update, too.)
Colin here with another lore passage. As before, this is background material and its direct relevance to TTON’s story might be as minor as an item description or as major as, well, something major.
In the earliest histories of the Ninth World, the area south of what is now the Sagus Protectorate saw the marching armies of the Tabaht, a lone tribe that claimed dominance over a vast swath of land. They warred with one another across the face of the Protectorate – as with most warriors, they fought for resources, for territory, for status, for some biological imperative, but most of all they fought to control the Underspine, a great, curving, jeweled structure in an exquisitely carved underground city. Though no reliable records exist to tell the truth, it is thought that the Underspine was both god and servant to the Tabaht, conferring enormous power and directing their people. The histories that remain tell that the Tabaht saw themselves as the chosen people, the rulers of what they called New Earth, but that they must prove themselves against pretenders of their own kind and against those who would seize the land from them. They swore by their honor, though it was (by our standards) a strange and twisted honor that held single combat as the noblest expression of self.
Whatever the truth behind their belligerence, the Tabaht marshalled armies unparalleled in the Ninth World. Although they found a number of devices that could destroy armies in an instant, they eschewed the use of such weapons and vowed annihilation on those who employed them. The Tabaht intended to be the rulers of the new Earth, after all, not the keepers of a destroyed slag pit. They wielded fearsome weapons despite that: beams of plasma, spears of flame and frost, monofilament-tipped shafts fired from hand-held launchers that could penetrate even the strongest defenses, and more. They also activated war constructs, killing machines left over from millennia before, using these machines as prizes, spoils, and dowries. They traveled far to find their weapons, seeking caches of dangerous devices that they could modify in their inimitable style.
Though they did not generally despoil the land with gravitics, magnetics, and time-bending disruptions, their tall, two-legged mounts tore at the earth with their claws and the defenders tore trenches from which to fire their weapons. Some of their battlefields still remain, the trampled soil watered so heavily with blood and the strange energies of their weapons that nature has not yet reclaimed them. Their dominance spanned at least two centuries.
One thing united them, though: outsiders. The Tabaht first thought to exterminate the interlopers, and then enslaved them. Using their slaves to uncover their foes’ defenses, to clear undetonated ordinance, or – occasionally – to replenish their own larders, the Tabaht became a nightmare for the clans and tribes who existed outside the protection of the Underspine.
The newcomers learned to settle outside the Tabaht’s range, but even this was no guarantee of protection. The raiders drove them into the fertile but reality-warping valley surrounding M’ra Jolios, into the lava pans of Ossiphagan, and even up to the ruins that would one day become Sagus Cliffs. It was from these ruins that the others at last learned how to fight back, and from here that they based their power. It was because of the Tabaht that the Sagus Protectorate arose, a band of settlers who had been harried far enough, and who found weapons of their own in the ruins of the old city here and learned how to activate the shields that protect the city even now.
Though there were never official embassies or treaties, the Tabaht at last stopped harassing the Sagus Protectorate, turning their attentions inward. They began to decline, though occasional war bands would ride out again, harrying mutants, abhumans, creatures of nightmare, and other human foes from their lands, trying to destroy the interlopers. Some of their leaders – Kon Virtih, Haran Ein, Sekin Vandars – still live in fairy tales and myth.
But the Tabaht themselves seem to be long gone, their kind wiped out or vanished. Not by the hand of any foe, though: their destruction was not by warfare, but by accident. A massive detonation brought their city down upon their heads, burying both their leaders and the Underspine, and without their god-servant to guide them, the Tabaht scattered into smaller and smaller tribes over the course of a handful of years, becoming first raiders and then extinct as the Tabaht’s long-subjugated enemies wrought their revenge.
The land still shows signs of the Tabaht civilization. Some of their weapons still turn up, crafted and bonded numenera with their distinctive stamp and style on them, cruel weapons of gray and black that rip and tear their targets. Old histories record some of the bloody count of the Tabahts’ battles. But of the Tabaht themselves, they live only in memory and in histories of their genocides.
The Tabaht make a background appearance in two of our From the Depths novellas: Adam’s novella of the Gold Tide, driving the hero’s people into the inhospitable ruins of Ossiphagan, and also in Ray’s novella of the Indigo Tide as a force of catastrophe and ruin, penning their enemies into the mind- and space-bending environs of the valley of M’ra Jolios.
What did the Tabaht look like? From the moment Adam mentioned them in his novella, I saw the poster for Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, but more grim – with the mood of Frank Frazetta’s “Death Dealer”… and it’s only now, seeing these two side-by-side, that I realize that the Wizards poster was likely inspired by Frazetta.
Ask Adam: The Toy
Adam is continuing to answer questions from fans in AMA format over on his personal blog. I wanted to highlight one I feel a lot of you will find interesting, a question and answer on the "Toy" companion:
Garrett / Claive says: I am fascinated with the idea of the "Toy" companion. How much "growth" will there be from when you first encounter this creature to when it is finished with you? How much influence will we as the player have on that growth? Will that "directed growth" be predictable, variable, random, feed it fire seeds and pray?
Background: Early during our Kickstarter, we announced the following stretch goal: "Our initial plans for Torment included four possible companions for the player and at this Stretch Goal, we will be adding a fifth, which we’ve nicknamed “The Toy.” (That’s not its in-game name. ;) ) The Toy is a changing ball of goo: Is it a pet, an abandoned toy, a dangerous weapon? Whatever it is, it responds to the way you treat it by changing its appearance and abilities to reflect what it perceives as your desires. Its ultimate secrets are... well, you'll have to find out."
The Toy is part of the numenera, some leftover creature from a prior world, or maybe a byproduct of some ancient technological process. Who knows? What it is now is an extremely strange and loyal pet.
I can't tell you in detail how much growth it'll have from start to finish, but it'll be equivalent to the growth your other companions go through over the course of the game. The main difference is the Toy's development will affect its form as well as its abilities.
As its master (if you choose to be so), you'll have a decent amount of influence over it, but you won't always know what you're doing. The Toy will learn from you, from what you praise or punish it for, from what you ask of it, and from what you yourself choose to do. If you encourage it towards violence, it might get better at that and become a killing machine. If you encourage it to be quiet, it might take that to the extreme, even to the point of becoming invisible.
Or it might not. We know what we want the Toy to do, but there's a lot of design and implementation left before we know what this specific character will do. [Kevin: Adam is making the Toy sound a bit too cool here. It would be best if you all just assume the Toy will be about as fun as a pet rock or sea monkeys. Then you will be pleasantly surprised when it’s more fun than that. (Like a really cool-shaped pet rock, for example).]
And like all the numenera, the Toy will occasionally do things you don't understand and don't expect. Nothing about the numenera is entirely predictable, and the Toy is a major example of this. Especially if it can't make sense of your desires (or maybe even if it can), it may occasionally swallow your enemies or burp a black hole or... who knows? You just can't tell with this thing.
In Other News
There have been a bunch of interesting interviews since the last Kickstarter updated. IGN interviewed Adam, Colin, and me, covering a lot of ground with different Torment system, setting, and story elements. The original interview was published on IGN Spain.
RPG Codex offers a really in-depth interview with Colin, Adam, George Ziets, and Crisis Designer Jeremy Kopman, with a lot of info on area design, crises and combat, writing and much more.
Matt Barton's Matt Chat 242 features Chris Avellone, with Chris answering questions on the setting and on a lot of Torment's systems such as Tides, Crises, the Combat System and Crafting. Well worth a watch.