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From the Ashes of Mythos: The Art of Torchlight
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From the Ashes of Mythos: The Art of Torchlight

September 3, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

[What happens when developers lose control of a nearly-finished game soon before its planned release? After forming a new studio, Runic Games, many of the developers behind Mythos transitioned to Torchlight. What follows is an examination of the decisions, steps, and key design elements that have shaped the look of Torchlight -- a title produced on an aggressive schedule and modest budget that still strives to for the production values of a big retail game.]

Our Mythos

It is impossible to tell the story of Runic Games and Torchlight without covering what brought all of us here: a little network test that grew up into a game called Mythos. It began as a one-man "team" of current Runic president and lead programmer, Travis Baldree, working with the Flagship Studios team to create a small hack-and-slash game as a network test for Hellgate: London.

Accelerated progress and increased interest in the test (at the time labeled "Project Tugboat") allowed Travis to expand the team to three. Eventually three became five, and then eight (which is the point I joined.) Ultimately, we had a small, focused group of 14 at Flagship Seattle working on Mythos. The scope had changed from a simple test to plans for a free-to-play MMO with persistent areas, a cash shop for items, and a variety of features considered standards in the MMO space.

Mythos had a strange aura about it. It was a fairly straightforward ARPG, very much in the Diablo mold, with a likeable look and easy-to-pick-up gameplay. It wasn't groundbreaking, it wasn't a technological marvel, nor was it particularly shiny and beautiful -- but it absolutely was fun.

We opened it up to Alpha and Closed Beta testers and something clicked. Testers and forum users were having fun, making suggestions, and behaving like -- dare I say it -- reasonable people, with nary a flame war or troll to be seen. This atmosphere was a bit odd to us, as we knew all too well how the tone differed in the forums for the Hellgate: London team down south.

But we ran with it, and reciprocated with constant interaction -- and as thin a veil you could imagine between our testers and what we were working on, contemplating, or fixing. This aura of being in synch with our game's audience was something special; they appreciated our openness and we appreciated the input, enthusiasm, and tone in the forums. We were a few weeks from going to Public Beta and it was all going so well...

Then, in July of 2008, Flagship Studios closed and the Mythos IP was lost in the fallout.

One month later, the Seattle team, along with Max Schaefer, Erich Schaefer, and Peter Hu, formed what would become known as Runic Games. Having been so close to releasing our game only to lose it all on the home stretch, we set forth with an eye to finish what we started... by starting all over again.

The Elephant in the Room

Just as it's impossible to discuss where we are now without mention of Mythos, we're likely also going to be linked by many with the benchmark for ARPGs: the Diablo series. Comparisons to the upcoming Diablo III are inevitable -- so let's get this out of the way.

Our founders, along with Runic's composer Matt Uelman and QA Lead Ian Welke, were major contributers to Diablo and Diablo II. Their expertise and enthusiasm for this type of game has been absolutely invaluable in creating Torchlight. It's one heck of a foundation to build a studio upon.

Any fan of ARPGs is aware that Diablo III was announced and is in production. All of us here are fans of the genre, and are very excited to have a new Diablo game to play. We've also already heard comments that Torchlight is trying to "take on" D3 as direct competition -- or even that Torchlight is a "cartoony version of D3".

Both comments are actually quite incorrect. If anything, we've actively proceeded knowing full well that D3 is on the horizon and that it behooves us to be on a different train track when it comes roaring by. Certainly the ARPG, hack-and-slash gameplay full of loot drops is absolutely a common ground, but we're producing a single player game as a launchpad to a free-to-play, hack-and-slash MMO.

Gameplay similarities aside, the art controversy surrounding the announcement of D3 was somewhat fascinating to me and, in a small way, contributed towards Torchlight's look. My reaction to the first screenshots was that Blizzard had created a beautiful, living painting. To me, it was absolutely gorgeous, and a style that I would have loved to have pursued.

But knowing the direction Blizzard went with the game helped inform our decision to go in a different direction. We didn't want the inevitable comparisons, so in a way... it helped us define which artistic choices were now off limits.

Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

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james lankford
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this is one of the best articles on Torchlight yet

thanks for publishing it

Brent Orford
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The art style looks great, and you guys have definitely upped the bar on level generation since Fate.

From working with most of the Runic guys at a previous company I know a lot of their history already and when they started on Torchlight. It's simply amazing to see how quickly you guys got the game up to being able to produce production quality screenshots.

I'm looking forward to playing Torchlight, keep up the good work! Great article Beck!

JiPi .
profile image article ! The best yet about Torchlight as James said

I am already waiting for this since we know about Runic Games (well, I didn't know it was Torchlight, but already, I knew I wanted their game !)...but now...can't wait !

Love the art arts I have seen in a LONG time...if not ever....

Good job on article M. Beck !

Keep up the good work !

David Kimber
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In short, 'You da' man Beck' :) Well done.

Tim Stave
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Great article. I feel smarter just reading it. As was said before, this is the best article I have read about Torchlight so far.

- Tim Stave (aka Jerich)

Adam Prall
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Please keep in touch with Gamasutra and write more as the game is released… it will be really fun knowing about the progress from “the horse’s mouth” after such an interesting story…

David Reeves
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It's finally nice to see a better and more artistic approach to a new game which varies from the norm. Dark and gritty is SO overdone these days it's becoming Diabloish, excuse the yawn as any good thing is always copied until we the fans are sick and tired of the copycats!

All that aside I am looking forward to having a blash in torchlight when I can get a chance to purchase. Go figure I'm moving house and internet could be axiously missed as I know this releases in a few days.

I second your comments Adam, do bring us more of this style of article, just like the game itself, it's how these games' are presented to us fans.

Moreover, I am always on the lookout to the artist perspective on Devs as I aspire to be one oneday soon.

Eugene Fokin
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Great article! Thank you!