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Runic Games interview, part 3

Tracey John

There's no Diablo III release date yet, but does its release concern you in terms of your playerbase?

Baldree: Honestly, we tried to go a different way. We knew Diablo III was going to come out eventually, and we know it's going to be fantastic and amazing, but we wanted to make a game that sat in a different slot, so we chose to make a single-player mod-able game and then an MMO with a persistent world. We tried to go on both sides of Diablo.

Schaefer: Diablo III has the controversy with the new artwork being too colorful and not having the somber, gothic tone of the old Diablo games. We went way further, and again, in a conscious attempt to be different. We didn't want to be Diablo. We wanted to be in that genre and do well the things that Diablo does well, but it's a different style. It feels different.

Speaking of color, did you have any debate using colors, since many RPG players like the dark, gloomy color schemes?

Baldree: We definitely talked about it, but I think we were all on board with going for a more, broadly accessible look. It took us a few months to hone in on exactly what we wanted to do. I think the Pixar angle is really the best comparison. Pixar has a style that is really broadly appealing. Who doesn't like a Pixar movie? It's cartoony without feeling juvenile, which is what we were kind of hoping to aim for. We tried to reinforce that with the sound of the music. We intentionally didn't make cartoony music.

Schaefer: I think that we should disclose that we were looking for an art style that was conducive to a low tech approach. One that didn't need all kinds of fancy shaders to look good and didn't have to approach realism, just because we're a team that is two percent the size of Blizzard's, if that, and we need to be more efficient.

Baldree: We have about 25 or 26 people now. We really wanted the game to run on everything we could get it to run on too. So having lower system requirements was one of our internal mandates, and the art style really fit in well with that.

To Diablo fans specifically, why do you think they should care about this game?

Schaefer: Um... we're available for sale and you could play today! (laughs)

Baldree: I think some of the main advantages are it's $20 and it's got a full modding suite, so if there's something you wanted to play around with, you can.

Schaefer: Everyone's a critic about the Diablo style of gameplay too. Everyone's like, "They should've done this or done this this way or fix this mechanic here." Now people can go and do that (in Torchlight). And I suspect we're going to have lower system of requirements than Diablo III.

Baldree: Another thing is, if you like these kinds of games, you'll enjoy it. And yeah, we're going to buy Diablo III and play it in the office. I love the genre, so I love it when games arrive in it.

A lot of people are wondering what Blizzard's next MMO is, and for a time, people suspected it could be "World of Diablo." Would you say this is, in a way, the Diablo MMO that some people were hoping for?

Schaefer: Um, yeah. As far as I know, (Diablo III) is doing more of the matchmaking-style session that Diablo II had. So yeah, (Torchlight) is the action-RPG MMO.

People seem to keep trying to make the WoW killer...

Yeah, we're not really interested in that.

Schaefer: Frankly, that's a terrible idea, to try and make a WoW killer. They put well over $100 million into the budget right now, 10 years, and 200 of the best developers in the world. Why would you try to beat that?

Baldree: What we used to say about Mythos is that we wanted it to be the game you would play while waiting for your WoW raid to start. (laughs)

Do you think it's just dangerous for a developer to shoot that high? Or do you think it's just a ratio of budget to the amount of users you expect?

Schaefer: It's just a losing game because, not only are the resources incredible that you have to put into it, but then you have to make something that's actually better.

Baldree: I think we went down that road in a smaller scale at Flagship. Rather than do that this time around, we went with wanting to build on a smaller success and work our way up, instead of trying to slay Goliath the first time out.

Do you see this game ever coming to consoles? A lot of MMOs these days are trying to make that jump.

We talked a lot about it. I think it would be really neat. I think the first person to do a free-to-play MMO on Xbox Live that uses points for in-game purchases is going to do really well.

Schaefer: We'd like that to be us but it won't be an in-house project. That would be something we would have to outsource, and there's a lot of logistical issues. It's on our wish list, but it's not something we're directly pursuing right now.

What can we expect from Torchlight in the near future, before the MMO?

Schaefer: Lots and lots of mod community action. We left a lot of room in the game for people to be creative and do wonderful things. We had a tiny team here, but there's hundreds of modders out there. So we're hoping that they come out with some really cool stuff over time now.

Baldree: For our part, we'll be spending a lot of time with the modding community, injecting assets, being helpful, offering advice, showing how things work.

What have you guys learned from your time at Blizzard and then Flagship for Torchlight?

Schaefer: Well, I can speak to Blizzard. From Blizzard, we definitely just picked up a real appreciation for production values and making sure whatever you're doing, you're doing really well, even if it's at the expense of cutting lots of features just make sure what you're doing is super tight, super polished and don't release it until it's there. That was the biggest thing from Blizzard that I think we took.

From Flagship, the lessons were myriad from there, but really a lot of it was don't try to do everything for everybody. Start with manageable tasks, start with attainable goals, and just pay a lot of attention to budget, efficiency, team size and partners.

Baldree: Basically, starting Runic and working on Torchlight, what we wanted to do was choose something that we thought we could do and excel at with the time and resources we had. And that also fits in with the single-player game. What we had to work with was a small but really good team.

Do you think of the online PC games market is still healthy despite naysayers?

Schaefer: I think so. I think we went through a little rut where there just wasn't a horribly compelling product being made, because everyone was trying to make WoW killers. (laughs)

Baldree: I think it's definitely changed a lot, and it's not the same market it was years ago, that's for sure.

Schaefer: It seems you're seeing more clever things come down the pipe nowadays.

Like Torchlight?

Schaefer: Yes, exactly! (laughs)

Torchlight is available now for $20. The retail version of the game will in stores on January 5th and is available for pre-order at Gamestop and Amazon. Runic Games also says they're currently working on a Mac version.

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