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"How to make a Torment game" - Mega-Interview with Kevin Saunders and Adam Heine at Iron Tower

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"How to make a Torment game" - Mega-Interview with Kevin Saunders and Adam Heine at Iron Tower

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Thu 13 June 2013, 16:58:21

Tags: Adam Heine; InXile Entertainment; Iron Tower Studios; Kevin Saunders; Torment: Tides of Numenera; Vault Dweller

Vault Dweller has managed to score a massive interview with Torment: Tides of Numenera leads Kevin Saunders and Adam Heine. The interview goes over the full spectrum of topics - writing, systems, combat, reactivity - though as the title suggests, it's not so much about the game as it is about how the Torment team plans to make the game. Due to Kevin's penchant for extreme verbosity, there's no way I could possibly summarize the entire thing, so I'll just quote one of the questions and its response:

2. Making a proper Torment game is a very challenging task, mostly because what made the original so special is the writing (story, characters, interactions, etc). Thus, to make a worthy sequel, “all you have to do” is to write a great story with great characters and dialogues. How's InXile approaching it?

Kevin: We’ve talked about the basic structure of our writing organizational approach before, so I’ll just mention that part briefly here: we’re spending considerable effort in establishing our design and writing conventions and designing example areas and characters to serve as a foundation to help guide our many writers. And we’re writing the five From the Depths novellas upfront, which will acclimate several of our writers to the setting and provide us all with a deeper understanding of the Tides.​

But I think this only partially touches upon what you’re asking. =) One key component is the strength of the creative vision. Developing and communicating this vision is one of Colin McComb’s primary responsibilities and my part is to help him succeed.​

I don’t think it’s this simple, but I believe that, in general, design by dictatorship yields the best results. To that end, I’m helping Colin be a good dictator. Colin is great about soliciting and extracting value from the feedback of others, but I try to push him to make sure he doesn’t compromise his vision in doing so (including freely ignoring (most of) my feedback when he wishes =) ). Colin’s a sincere, thoughtful guy, and empathy for others can hinder one from being an effective dictator. I also try to identify and champion the aspects of Colin’s vision that I feel are the strongest. Brian Fargo has also been doing this at key points in preproduction – reviewing we’re where at and calling out both the areas of risk he wants us to focus on and the areas of greatest potential he feels we should emphasize.​

Related to the creative vision, and Colin’s ownership of this aspect of Torment, is the other writers being empowered to own the vision for their sections of the game. The strong foundation, conventions, and examples that Colin, Adam, Tony Evans, and I are working on are all toward this end – if we provide the right guidelines to the writers, then they can exhibit full creative freedom from there, with a much greater chance that what they come up with will complement Colin’s vision. This means there’s less chance that Colin’s feedback to the other designers will require a lot of rework, so they’ll be able to build momentum and create content that accentuates their strengths. Not that we’ll perfectly achieve this, but it is how we are approaching the game’s development. ​

We have added safeguards simply through the creative talent we have involved in the process. Not only do I have a lot of faith in the team (in many cases stemming from first-hand experience working with them), but I’m hoping peer review further helps us refine the content. For example, Chris Avellone has been reading everything and giving feedback along the way aimed toward strengthening the story and characters and helping Colin flesh out and communicate his vision. Finally, we’re planning for a lengthy finalization period, which will give us time to iterate and improve anything that we feel doesn’t come together well enough initially.​

I think if we were to concentrate on “this must be a worthy sequel!” then we’d hamstring ourselves a bit. We’re not explicitly attempting to ”compete” with Planescape: Torment in terms of its writing, characters, and storytelling. We are making a game that places focus on those elements, but we’ll allow Torment: Tides of Numenera to organically become its own game. ​

"Empathy for others can hinder one from being an effective dictator" - when's the last time you saw something like that in an interview with a game developer? Also in the interview - Kevin Saunders' musings on the meaning of life, and even a bit of Josh Sawyer influence. Read the entire thing, it's awesome.

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