Runic Games was formed out of the ashes of Flagship Seattle, developers of Mythos, an RPG that began its life as a network test for the dismally unsuccessful Hellgate: London, but nonetheless became an awaited PC online game in the Diablo-style action RPG game genre.
Though Mythos never saw release with its original developers (after Flagship's demise, Korean-headquartered HanbitSoft are attempting to complete it), it generated enough positive buzz with gamers and confidence in its developers to move forward with a similar product: Torchlight, which is launching later this month.
Here, Runic's president and project director Travis Baldree and CEO Max Schaefer discuss how the creative lineage of the developers on the project -- including key contributors to the Diablo series -- has helped to feed in to the new project, which Gamasutra featured recently in a special art-related 'making of' article.
The duo also discuss launching Torchlight -- which is beginning as a single-player downloadable title, and will later expand into an MMO version through a Perfect World publishing deal -- into 2009's PC market, community empowerment, and essential design concepts for the action-RPG genre:
Torchlight is digital distribution-only. What's the role of this game in Runic's overall plan? You'll be moving onto an MMO after this.
Max Schaefer: It's a new IP. This is an opportunity for us to get the public aware of Torchlight -- what it's like, and what it's like to play it. It lets the team get a game out on the shelf, which is a great morale boost for them, giving them an energy boost going into making the MMO version, which we're making right after the single-player version is out. And it will give us a chance to interact more with the community and get their feedback on what to put into the MMO.
Travis Baldree: "Springboard" is probably a pretty good way to put it.
At this point, you guys have quite a bit of experience working on games in this genre. You come from Diablo, Fate, Mythos. What big lessons have you learned from those projects?
MS: The bottom line is these games are fun. We make games that are easy to play, easy to approach, give you a lot of tactile feedback -- even something like opening your inventory and moving your potion to another spot should feel good and sound good. That's what we really try to do. We try to make a game that has a lot of tactile feel, a lot of great sounds, and a lot of great visuals all aimed towards being fun.
TB: We tend to generally be immediate, everything having a certain amount of immediacy. Every time we overdesign and add a lot of frippery, it just tends to get in the way and then we end up tearing it right back out. [laughs]
Despite being relatively simple in a way -- just get in there and it's fun -- it is notoriously difficult for developers to get this genre right. Diablo is phenomenally successful, but many others haven't had the same pickup -- Titan Quest, Hellgate: London, recently Sacred 2. Why do you think that is?
TB: I think it gets down to the immediacy. It's difficult to make something that simply feels good to do with one click of the mouse.
MS: From the customer perspective, it seems like it's all very simple and easy, but it's very difficult to get to that spot.
TB: Mostly, it's because it's a lot of different things all have to work together at the same time. In a lot of ways, it's kind of like a fighting game. There's kind of this tangible, feel-good element to those that very few people feel very right.
There's a reason why God of War is a really great game and people like it. It feels incredibly good to play. That's just difficult to do. You can't do any of the elements out in a box. You can't make your sound over here and your art over here and your animation over here. It all has to work together, or it's not enjoyable to do.
MS: Another pitfall that people fall into is they try to go overboard with their technology and graphics, and it just doesn't run well on people's machines. One of our emphases is making a game that will run on your machine. It will run on your old laptop.
It should run smooth and feel good. That's part of the whole feel of it. If you have a game that looks beautiful on a super high-end machine, but you bring it home and it's choppy, it doesn't give you that immediate feel. That's another pitfall that people have. They go overboard with their technology.