Runic Games Interview
We recently sat down with Max Schaefer from Runic Games and discussed their latest release, Torchlight 2. We also pressed him about a possible 'rivalry' with Blizzard, annoyed him with questions about the team's next project, and a lot more! Read or watch the interview now, here on Pixel Judge.
Below you will find the written interview, along with a gameplay montage video version.
Apollo: Hey there, honourable game devs and loyal listeners (readers)! Today we are very excited to be joined by Max Schaefer from Runic Games, creators of recently released Torchlight 2! Honoured to have you here.
Max Schaefer: Thank you, it’s my pleasure to be here.
Apollo: So let’s start by telling us how Runic Games came to be. What pushed you to forge your own studio and create a new IP in Torchlight?
Max: The team was born out of, what was the wreckage, of Flagship studios, the Seattle branch. They were working on a game called Mythos and when the studio went ‘kaboom’, a lot of us got together and said this was a good team and a really good idea (Mythos), so let’s see what we can do as a small, independent developer.
Apollo: How did you decide on Torchlight 2? Coming from a Diablo background how did you want to differentiate yourselves?
Max: First and foremost we were trying to do something, as a brand new company, as quickly as possible. We were right near the end of Mythos, so we wanted to get a product on the shelves that was simple and quick to do. So that we, as a studio, could get used to shipping products and working independent. So the plan was to make something that was kind of in our ally as far as styles that we’d done before. Due to our past experience with action/RPGs (Diablo, Mythos, Fate) we decided to start with a new action/RPG IP and slowly build up a franchise out of it.
Apollo: Between Torchlight and Torchlight 2 how did you decide to shift it from a dungeon crawler to an open world? Such was feedback from the fans?
Max: We knew we were going to do multiplayer, we originally thought an MMO, but we thought the best thing would be a basic multiplayer version. We knew that Torchlight was a claustrophobic game, so one of the first things we did (with Torchlight 2) was make a little outdoor area, which became the path you take to town. Just being outside, in the weather, with day and night effects makes it seem so much bigger.
Torchlight 2 is way less claustrophobic.
Apollo: We’ve heard rumours your next game will be something new, can you tell us anything about that?
Max: We can divulge everything about that, because we don’t know what our next project is yet! We have lots of opportunities; from continuing to work on Torchlight 2 with an expansion, Torchlight 3, going to consoles or something else entirely just for a break from action/RPGs. We just want to make it through the next couple months making sure everything is in tip-top shape with Torchlight 2, have the dust settle and see what makes sense for the business, customers and team and make a decision then. We’re only thirty people so we can only do one thing at a time.
Apollo: I know you’re asked this alot, but what kind of rivalry do you have with Blizzard? Because of Diablo 3, and what kind of feedback are you getting from Torchlight 2? What differentiates them?
Max: They’re both reviewed very well and we’re happy to have the conversation, because just by the mere fact it exists, we come out ahead Because we’re a tiny company, it’s flattering. They’re both action/RPGs on the surface, but underneath they’re very different games that do different games. We have a healthy rivalry with Blizzard, in the same way we had a rivalry with Blizzard headquarters whilst we were at Blizzard North. We know they’ll come out with something great, so we know we have to too. That kind of rivalry is good for the industry.
Apollo: Was launching around the same time as Borderlands 2 a worry for you or do you think there’s room for both games?
Max: We didn’t choose to be within two days of Borderlands 2. Torchlight came out around the same time as Borderlands and both did well. We’re mentioned so much with Borderlands 2 mostly because we released in the same week, I see a lot of comparison. I wonder how much we’re helping each other.
Apollo: The game was very well polished, but is there anything that got left behind during the development of Torchlight 2 that you really wanted to include? Could this be included as DLC? Anything you want to add?
Max: The game was done when it was done, but there were things that we could probably do with PVP. More balancing with higher levels, new game+, minor features here and there. There’s polish to do, but we’re happy with what we shipped.
Line for the release of Torchlight 2 would have looked something like this, well if it wasn't released digitally anyway.
Apollo: How has the reception been to Torchlight 2? It has had great reviews, but have there been any interesting criticisms?
Max: You try not to read too much into any criticism, but one of the main ones we already knew is respeccing. Some people want to respec all their skills, some don’t want it at all. People have taken it a lot more seriously than we thought. It’ll be the first mod I’m sure. One of the cool things about our approach is that we or our customers can add things through mods.
Apollo: How seriously did you take mods from the first game when it came to the things players would want?
Max: The main approach was to extend what you could do with the tool. We saw that people weren’t making UI mods (for the first game) because it wasn’t exposed in the tool. Now it will be much easier. It’s easier to do wardrobing too. It’s easier for us as well, because we use the tool to develop, we wanted to add more options for the modding community because the multiplayer aspect makes the modding potential much higher.
Apollo: How did you decide on the twenty dollar price tag?
Max: It was just a gut call. If we were doing boxed games it would be forty or fifty dollars. But since we’re basically focusing on digital distribution it’s economically viable, it’s almost equivalent. We felt this is the future of PC gaming and there was this big gap between dollar ninety-nine iPhone games and sixty dollar boxes that we could fill. It felt right with Torchlight and we felt we could do it again.
Apollo: What about a Mac version? How is that coming?
Max: We’re just starting to look at it. We’re doing language translations and little patches here and there. But we’re really just starting.
Apollo: Do you have a favourite class of your own to play as?
Max: I want to reserve judgment until I’ve done the whole game on Veteran. But right now, I think it’s hard to beat the Engineer for sheer fun. Berzerker is pretty fun right now, but I’m worried about late game melee. But they’re all a lot of fun to play.
They really wanted those ringed pants.
Apollo: How did you set about balancing the game? There was concern in Torchlight over the Alchemist and magic beam, how did you deal with it this time?
Max: That was part of why it took so long. We basically just played and played and played. But you also want to allow for little imbalance because that’s what makes the game fun. You want to be a little overpowered some times, and a little underpowered sometimes. But when it goes too far it’s a bummer and we just tried to fix it one by one.
Apollo: What happened to Torchlight MMO and why is it a “no go”?
Max: We never really intended to make a traditional MMO, but maybe we will. Torchlight 2 just got in the way. Now we’ve released a multiplayer game we know it’s a lot more complicated than single player, it made sense as a stepping stone. But now the team wants a creative break, so maybe we should do something small that isn’t in the Torchlight universe, or radically changes it, and maybe come to an MMO later. We just don’t know right now.
Apollo: How do you feel about the current state of the hack and slash genre?
Max: Right now we’re definitely seeing a resurgence. It seems like we’re getting more action in the action/RPG genre. Hopefully we’re in a renaissance of the genre and we’ll see new things. I think we have a long way to go with it.
Apollo: We think that cell shaded graphics are a spot on choice for an indie developer. Can you tell us more about working with it and whether other developers should use it?
Max: We picked it because it’s efficient to use, it makes things a lot simpler. It also makes it run better, even on old machines. We also took the approach to distinguish ourselves from the grimmer (Diablo) kind of games. But most of it was performance based.
Apollo: Guys, we are ever so very grateful that you took your time off to take our questions. Our team already has at least four Engineers whacking various critters, and we wholeheartedly invite everyone else to play Torchlight II! You can also be an engineer!
Read our full review of Torchlight 2 here.