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Runic Games talks Torchlight, the upcoming MMO, Diablo comparisons, more

Tracey John

Can't wait for Diablo III? Try Torchlight. The single-player action-RPG, available for just 20 bucks via digital distribution, has got PC gamers talking.

But why should Massively readers care, you ask? Because eventually, in about two years or so, developer Runic Games will make it a full-fleged MMO.

We spoke with Runic Games CEO Max Schaefer, who worked on the Diablo series, and lead designer Travis Baldree about what they plan for the Torchlight MMO, what they learned from their time at Flagship Studios, and if their game will be the World of Diablo we've all been waiting for.

Massively: Why make Torchlight a single-player game first and then an MMO? Could you explain the strategy behind that decision?

Max Schaefer: Well, we did it for a lot of reasons. If you look back in history a little bit, we were a team that was working at Flagship Studios on the MMO Mythos, and we were getting to the late beta stages of it and almost getting ready to release it when the studio had to close down.

We were right near a release and it was ripped from us, so everyone was really anxious to get something out quickly just to get the tastes out of our mouths. One thing we actually wanted to do on the Mythos project that we talked about a lot, was peeling off a single-player version because it would be a lot of fun.

So when this opportunity came around, we thought it'd be great to get a little boost for team morale by getting a product on the shelves, make a little money -- which would help the MMO because the more we make, the better and more beautiful the MMO will be -- and it also gets the game out there so that people know the (intellectual property), know the style and what to expect when the MMO does come out. So we're not launching something completely out of the blue.

So part of it then, would you say, is that the initial investment is less risky, rather than doing a full-fledged MMO first?

Schaefer: Sure. We have funding for it, but it certainly helps and it takes a little of the pressure off.

Travis Baldree: There are other things we like about doing a single-player first too. One of the things we wanted to do was make a mod-able game. We've always loved doing mod-ability and a single-player game actually gave us an opportunity to do that. It's not something you can really do when you put together an MMO.

It was also a good opportunity for us to get feedback from people early on about what they wanted to see in the MMO. Since the MMO is essentially going to play a lot like the single-player (game) as far as what you do moment to moment. We're already getting tons of feedback from players on what they want to see going forward and what we think will work best for the MMO, so it's a great way to get some advanced input.

We can also make sure it's going to run on everything we need it to run on, and we get to solve a lot of technical issues up front to polish and ship a game. The fact that we shipped all of our tools means we had to actually build them, which a lot of game companies never get around to doing. So basically, we already shipped a game; we know the process of getting it out the door, so we have a solid base to build from, and we kind of know the parameters we have to work in, which is actually really nice.

What will the major changes be in the game between the single-player experience and the MMO?

Baldree: The major carry over will be the basic gameplay of beating the monsters and leveling up, but as far as the structure of the game, it will be substantially different. They'll be large, shared outdoor overworld regions. They'll be PvP and a lot of the things that people have become accustomed to in playing MMOs, but with a gameplay style that's never really been successfully done in an MMO.

Schaefer: We're going to keep the control schemes the same. It's going to be an isometric camera. You're going to click to move, and, like Travis said, the pacing and feel of the game should be the same. It's just layering it into a real world where you'll see other people wandering around, and you'll have the chaotic interaction with lots of other people.

Will you still be able to have that single-player experience when the MMO comes out?

Schaefer: The MMO will definitely be solo-able, but we'll also always have the single-player. It's nice to have something you can play on a plane.

Baldree: They will actually be two separate games. You won't be carrying your characters between them. The classes probably won't be the same, and there will be substantial differences. When you're playing the MMO, it's not going to feel like, "Oh, I already did this."

Schaefer: The MMOs require a lot more character customization than single-player. There's really one look for our characters right now. And in an MMO, everyone wants to be unique so you got to let people pick their hairstyles, body type and all that stuff. So we're really going to be re-making the characters from scratch.

Baldree: The only things that will really carry over are the basic gameplay mechanics, the visual style, and the world. I mean, the rest of it is all going to be different.

Why should people who may only be interested in the MMO experience later on start playing now? Are there any in-game benefits?

Schaefer: No, you're not going to be able to carry anything over from the single-player to the MMO, but you might get a little bit better at our style of controls and gameplay. We'll probably be structuring some of the dungeons the same way that we're structuring them here, and you'll pick up little cues from what we do now that might carry over into the MMO.

Do you see a major difference in people that like to play single-player RPGs and those that enjoy MMOs?

Baldree: I think that there's overlap, but there are certainly people that are just turned off by the sometimes obnoxious crowds in MMOs, or who want to play a game on an airplane or somewhere where they don't have internet connections. So yeah, I think they are markets with a lot of overlap, but they are definitely separate.

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