As we began the project, Runic Games had a great team, an idea of the type of game we knew and wanted to make (again), and initial funding to allow us to create a prototype and pitch our ideas to publishers.
What we hadn't completely anticipated was just how much buzz Mythos had generated and the subsequent doors it opened. We quickly found ourselves in the position of having a number of options, ranging from creating a similar style game with some well-known IP, to total acquisition. During this "deal making" phase we kicked off preproduction and experimented with possible routes we could pursue.
This was about as different a beginning as we could imagine to what happened with Mythos. With Mythos, an art style had been set, the game was well underway, team members jumped in and hit the ground running, and we were very much laying down tracks ahead of us as the train was in motion.
With Torchlight, we have been able to strike a far better balance between design and production. It seems quite obvious, and even silly, to say, but preproduction is absolutely invaluable for any project.
Often, and especially with new studios or smaller teams, the push to get into production right away is a difficult force to resist. Sometimes, the deal with a publisher is too aggressive from a schedule standpoint; other times it's a budgetary concern; and sometimes you don't have the team fully assembled yet.
For us, we knew what our deadline was to solidify a deal, and we made the most of our time leading up to that point by creating a prototype, concepting the necessary elements of our game, and creating the tools that would make production as efficient and painless as possible.
With the options that were presenting themselves, we originally targeted a "very casual" look for our game. One of the original ideas was to go even further simplified and inviting than we had done with Mythos. From a practical standpoint this made a lot of sense and we put together some initial concepts for pitches.
The original and "very casual" Delvers pitch image
This look addressed some of the interests of our possible deals, but ultimately it had no champion. However, the idea of using the softer, more painterly environments began here. There was a little something rich and charming here, but the characters left us cold. I think the overwhelming feeling was this was "too kiddie" for us.
We quite literally went back to the drawing board and tried out a few more ideas. One proposal that was pitched was using a unified body mesh with interchangeable heads to create our playable races and genders. The primary benefit was to our schedule, and the simplicity of the art pipeline.
At this point, we were still exploring various game engine options and there was a push to keep things as simple as we could. The art team explored this "unibody" design to see if we could get all the character and contrast we wanted out of this type of construction.
We tried the "unibody" test with some classic fantasy races
The "unibody" test gave us something we enjoyed more so than the original pitch, but we were now faced with the question of "is this a good enough tradeoff?" What's the value in sacrificing our desires to do unique playable character meshes worth the simpler, more schedule-friendly approach?
This was debated by the team while we whipped up a prototype character model based on the unibody sketches. We liked some things about the model, but it became increasingly obvious that the desire of the art team was to go in a different direction. We began to contemplate ways we could create unique meshes for our playable characters without a pipeline that would jeopardize our timetable.