I won't delay much longer. Jerich only managed to go to PAX for one day this year, and between these interviews (including the community questions, which will be released later) and the pictures he took of all the character skills, he didn't have time to do ANYTHING else at PAX. Please give him a big thanks for everything. All I do is edit/proofread his work, so he gets all the real credit.
Full interview after the jump!
Jerich: A quick intro: Who are you, what do you do at Runic, and what's your background?
Marsh Lefler: Hi, my name's Marsh Lefler. I'm a programmer, technically the VP. I basically do gameplay and come up with systems. That's about it.
Adam Perin: Alright! I'm Adam Perin. I'm the lead environmental artist at Runic and also I'm more or less the technical artist in-house... as much as we have one. My background is that I went to college for 3D arts and Video Games and I've been doing it for roughly seven years now. I've been at Runic since we formed.
Brock Jones: Brock Jones. I am producer / utility infielder. I basically do a lot of different things. I have a background in programming / development for about ten years as a developer.
Wonder Russell: I'm Wonder. I run the PR for Runic Games. I run our Twitter Account and our Facebook page, and do updates on the site. I do the little Dev videos when I get around to them and when I can convince (the) guys to be on camera, which is rare. But my most important roles are buying the beer, and buying the coffee, and buying the office supplies, and making sure everyone has insurance, and bringing in Falcor every day.
Max Schaefer: I'm Max Shaefer, CEO at Runic. My background has been in video games since 1993... most notably making Diablo 1, Diablo 2 and the Diablo 2 expansion.
Matt Lefferts: I'm Matt Lefferts. I'm the lead animator of Runic Games. I've been with the team since the beginning. Before that I was on the Flagship Team with Mythos, so I'm one of the founding members of Runic. I went to school for it. I've been in the industry for about five years so far.
Tiamat: Hi, my name is Matthew Tanwanteng. I'm a programmer at Runic Games, so I do lots of things actually. Anything that needs to be fixed or extra programming. Anything that needs to be done, if it's on the plate, I get it done. Mostly what I've been doing is probably gameplay type mechanics. Usually stuff that will let you do cooler stuff, so things like the stat system. My background is that I'm a computer science major. I went to MIT and I have a Master's (degree).
Jason Beck: I'm Jason Beck. I'm the art director at Runic and my background is I've basically been doing this for about fifteen, sixteen years now.
Travis Baldree: I'm Travis Baldree. I'm the President and Project Director at Runic. I work on a little bit of everything. Before this I worked on Torchlight 1 and the ill-fated Mythos and Fate and other things that you've never heard of.
Jerich: Torchlight 1 sold well over a million copies in the past three years and has a metacritic score of 83/100 from both users and critics. If Torchlight 1 is worth an 83 what rating do you feel Torchlight 2 will / should be worth?
Marsh Lefler: What I think it should be worth is different that what I think it will get. My gut says we'll end up right around 90, but it should be 98.
Adam Perin: Well, I think Torchlight 2 personally is actually a LOT better than Torchlight 1 in a lot of ways. It's a lot bigger, much more content, just overall more balanced, more robust. I'd hope we get up to the 90s. I think it's worth that, but that's up to the audience to decide. As of right now I definitely think it's better than Torchlight 1, so if we got an 83 on that, I hope we get at least that.
Brock Jones: I feel like Torchlight 1 got knocked a lot for not having co-op multiplayer. We added that, and I feel like Torchlight 2 is better in pretty much every other respect, so I feel like at least the user score of it should hit 90. I would really like to see that.
Wonder Russell: Ideally I'm shooting for 100 because why not? It's lame if you say I'm going to shoot for 85 and then you hit 79. If you assume you're not going to hit a perfect 100, it would be nice to get to the 90s. I think we have a game that is good enough for it.
Max Schaefer: When we were getting those reviews for Torchlight 1, we figured they were taking 10 points off for not being multiplayer. So I would hope that we get some 90s this time around. Anything above 90 we would be absolutely ecstatic about.
Matt Lefferts: Based on Torchlight being an 83, I would have to give Torchlight 2 something like a 96. I really think it's a much bigger step up than Torchlight 1. First and foremost it gives everything that people wanted with multiplayer, and kept everything that was great about Torchlight 1 in Torchlight 2: the modding, the pets, the classes... we've added customization. So with all that in mind I'd say it's a huge step up. Somewhere in the 90s, the high 90s.
Tiamat: Metacritic is crazy, but let's just say personal opinion I'd give it like a 94 to a 92.
Jason Beck: Definitely above an 83. Obviously I'm pretty biased, but it really comes down to how much people have gotten their fill of the ARPG genre. I feel pretty confident that it's at least a high eighty. I would probably go a little higher than that, but that's me.
Travis Baldree: I think it's a lot better. I'd really like to see us crack 90. I can't think of any place where we really stepped backwards from Torchlight 1 and so my hope is with multiplayer and a better game overall that people will see it as a pretty substantive improvement.
Jerich: What have you learned while working on Torchlight 2 that you wish you could have known before you started working on it?
Marsh Lefler: Networking, that would have been nice to know. I did some networking before... but just like sending characters around and how they all move... maybe if we would have been more knowledgeable about it, we could have implemented multiplayer for Torchlight 1. You know, there is a lot of stuff we learned as we went through Torchlight 2, but that's probably the big system one. Other than that, it's just feel... gameplay feel. Just how you go through each combat, what makes combat interesting.
Torchlight 1 just had a lot of fodder. It was still fun to kill stuff, but it was a lot of fodder, and in Torchlight 2 we really had to take a step back and look at what makes fodder not just fodder, but more strategic I should say. Act 1 in Torchlight 2 feels like a lot of the same combat that Torchlight had, but it feels much better... it's nicer... it's crisper, but combat in Act 2 and 3 has a lot more strategy, especially at higher difficulties... where when you try to kill a monster and you hit it once, it might actually move but in normal mode it might die. So in different difficulty modes, the strategy of fighting monsters actually changes quite a bit. So I highly recommend anyone who plays action RPGs to play veteran to start with.
Adam Perin: That's a hard one. There's been a lot of learning going on. To me the biggest thing was having a better understanding of the scale. As always, as development goes, as we grew there was feature creep and that's really hard to avoid, but it's always something you wish you could see at the end because it would have helped scheduling throughout. But overall it's been worth it. It's just hard to foresee that sort of stuff.
Brock Jones: How to keep people motivated for three years to make a game. It's rough to keep everybody really interested in it and involved doing the thing that they want to do the very most the whole time. I think we've done a pretty good job at it, but it's always difficult.
Wonder Russell: How to tell a dirty joke.
Max Schaefer: I have to say that this has been one of the most smooth and fun development cycles that I have ever been involved with. I don't know how much we would do differently really. That would be an easier question to answer when we're actually done and look back on it and after some sleep, get some rest and reflect on it. Like right now... as we go on we've been thinking... wow this is a long slog. Two and a half years to work on something is pretty long, and it starts to wear on you. But realistically, games like this take this long. There's really no way to do them faster. I hope that we can look back and say we got this one pretty well right.
Matt Lefferts: Working on Torchlight 2, I would say that feature creep is dangerous. There were so many little things that we wanted to improve the experience of Torchlight 1 to Torchlight 2. But man, those little things can just pile on so quick. You turn around and suddenly that one little thing has added another week. It's true for any project you work on and this is such an organic experience that it's hard to take that information forward, but looking in hindsight, it's something you just don't expect.
Tiamat: I'm going to cheapen out on this answer, but basically everything I know now I wish I knew at the beginning. There's no one specific thing that really stands out for me.
Jason Beck: There wasn't a whole lot of new discovery with Torchlight 2. It was mostly just doing the stuff we wanted to do with Torchlight but didn't have the time for. A lot of it was more just getting a manageable scope and adding more and more to it.
Travis Baldree: That the amount of content we wanted to make was actually a lot bigger than thought it actually was. We kind of sat down with Torchlight 1 and said, “Oh look, we have this many areas, and we'll add this many more and it will take this much more time.” It doesn't actually work that way, because the areas that we built are all bigger and more interesting and have more to them and require a great deal more effort. The more areas you have, the more things you have to have to populate them. And you start to multiply at the monsters and you feel, “Yeah, this feels kind of sparse. There's not enough variety.. Oh we better fill that in.” So as you start to do that all the way down the line as you already planned for a certain size and structured everything for it. “All the gaps still need to be filled.” So just scale... scale.
Jerich: What is your favorite thing that you personally implemented into Torchlight 2?
Marsh Lefler: I'm going to go with the ability to mod the UI in the editor. I hope some people use it. That's probably my favorite thing.
Adam Perin: That's really tough. Being a small team, we've all done a lot of everything in a lot of ways, so the stuff that I'm the most proud of is more that I've seen myself develop better texturing skills. Starting at Runic, I was much more of a technical artist and I've kind of become more of a traditional sort of artist. I've seen a lot of improvement in myself through Torchlight 2, being able to texture better and just have better art coming out of my own personal work. A lot of that for me is end of Act 1, Act 2, which is quite a significant part of what I did.
The other thing I loved is just being able to know the engine really well. Everyone in the company gets to delve into a lot of things and I think I have a better understanding of how games are put together than I ever did before which is just fun to know.
Brock Jones: It would be adding the launcher / patcher. Having the ability to actually patch the game is going to make things so much easier for us. Hands down that's it.
Wonder Russell: The Falcor Pet. I was also on the advocate team for the Outlander... not the skills, but the look and feel of the Outlander. Those are my two biggest.
Max Schaefer: I'm not really in development any more, but I've been happy to participate in general and advice and direction from the very beginning, at every level. From conception, to going with our composer to Slovakia and doing the music recording and just being a part of it. I'm thrilled to be part of this company. Even though I don't do art work any more, because our artists are way more talented that I was. I guess I'm most proud that I put our company in a position to succeed as a business with the arrangements that we've made.
It's hard for an independent developer to survive and be stable, but that's really what we strive to do. We want to be around for a long time, not get acquired, not grow huge, but just stay kind of the way we are. So my job is really to make sure that happens.
Matt Lefferts: So specifically, in Torchlight 2 as the animation lead, I got to design a system that will allow you to use different animations based on what weapon type your holding. In Torchlight 1, if you were holding a huge two handed sword or an axe or a crystal, you always stood the same way, in one stance. In Torchlight 2, the first thing I did was make it so that you had a unique stance every time you equip a new type of weapon. That also included whether you were dual wielding or had one in the right hand or a pistol in the left hand. I tried to make it as unique as possible.
Tiamat: One of the most memorable things I would say is the Berserker frenzy state. It was one of the first experiments with using the stat system. That came out really well and it's super satisfying, so I would say that's the one.
Jason Beck: I think it's just having and actual sense of place... establishing a little bit of the lore but not an overwhelming amount of story. I think what was missing from Torchlight... it felt like a game... you're in a dungeon, whatever. This time there's an actual story line behind the classes, the cities definitely have a little more going on in them, and it feels like an actual place this time.
Travis Baldree: Oh... this is going to sound kind of dumb, but the enabeling particles to splatter all over the place. Background collisions on particles, dripping splatters of blood, that's terrible, anyway I get more satisfaction out of it than anything else. I'm happy with the way our lighting changed, the softer shadows and better lighting overall. I think they add a lot to the look of the game. A lot of the combat changes we made makes the combat much more fluid and better when you hit stuff. There were a lot of smaller pieces, but it is just better combat overall. I don't know... Optimized path node generation... there you go. Plus all the changes that Marsh and Greg did to make the initial loads much faster. The path node generation and pathing. These level loads are so much faster than they were in Torchlight.
Jerich: What is your opinion on closed economies for items in games? Is it good, bad, necessary, or something else altogether?
Marsh Lefler: I think it's going to depend on the game. Some games, it's kind of required and it doesn't actually hurt. Some other games, it does hurt them, and there are other games where they are trying to make it work. It's hard to say. I think everyone knows what the question is really eluding to, however, that's just their own system and everyone has their own system. They'll get it to work. Everyone gets it to work. The question is, will the population who likes the game stick around long enough to make it work?
Adam Perin: It's something else altogether. Sometimes it's necessary for the kind of game you're making. It can be... If your game is reliant on an economy, if you want an economy and you want to be pushing status or ranking kind of systems... it's a lot more important. Having something that feels secure is necessary if you really believe people want to play in a ranked environment. We didn't choose to go that way. We want people to be able to play ranked with their friends and with the open economy we have, it's up to the player to decide if that's important to them or not. If it is, there is nothing stopping them from playing ranked with their friends, but as far as a general rule across the whole game... that's just not our game. That doesn't mean it doesn't have its own place though.
Brock Jones: I think they're probably necessary for certain types of games. There are games that pretty much need a closed economy to work right. I think a lot of MMOs are essentially based on that, but I don't think they're necessary for all games or the games like we're making. We would like just a game that you can play with your friends and focus on making it the game you want to play rather than a balanced game that's the same for everyone.
Wonder Russell: I think it depends on the game, but it's not something that I'm interested in playing personally.
Max Schaefer: They are a mixed bag. Having a secure economy where the things you get really matter to the community is cool. But to have a closed economy you have to have a really secure architecture. You have to have things like single player online only and some things that people don't really like, but that's just the reality of the world. So it's a mixed bag. Obviously with Torchlight 2 we've elected to go open and let people play how they want and mod the game and be online / offline. We figured on aggregate for us, that was the better path to take, but I think most paths are valid.
Matt Lefferts: We've seen areas where it works really well as far as getting access to the designers themselves to make a little money for the modding community. It's an amazing experience, but I think it is an okay decision as long as it doesn't dictate gameplay.
Tiamat: It's something else altogether. It basically all comes down to game design. When you want a closed economy, you have to design around a closed economy. If you don't want it, you can do all sorts of other things. So on the developers side it comes down to make sure you integrate it into your game if you're going to do it. And on the consumer side it's make sure your expectations are in line for what the game says it is.
Jason Beck: You know, it's one of those things I just have very little interest in it, so it's one of those things I don't really have an opinion on. I think it works for certain games. I think it's part of the process, but for me I like to just get into a game, get lost in it for a little bit and then come back to it when I have time. So for me it's just not a big priority.
Travis Baldree: I don't even know. I'm not an economist. I don't care about economies. I don't want to make an economic game. I just want to make something where you beat the heck out of monsters that are randomly generated and shiny things fall out.
Jerich: Does your significant other / family play Torchlight and Torchlight 2?
Marsh Lefler: Yes. Well they did, and my wife still plays Torchlight 2 when I bring it home and ask her to play. She likes it... a lot.
Adam Perin: Family probably not. I grew up in a small rural town so my Mom's computer is pretty limited. My girlfriend played Torchlight a couple times and seems to really like it, but we just haven't gotten really into it much yet. I hope when it comes out we'll play a lot together, but for now we play a bit at work and that's it.
Brock Jones: My girlfriend, Denise, played a lot of Torchlight 1 - which is odd because she doesn't really play many games besides that. But she did the whole "start playing and lose eight hours of your time" to the game so she played quite a bit of it. She's played a little bit of Torchlight 2 so far, but not a lot so far. She's been busy, but I think she probably will play it.
Wonder Russell: They do.
Max Schaefer: Well my brother (laughs). I have a couple Godchildren who play and all my friends and stuff play, but I have one brother and he's half the company here so he obviously plays. My parents don't play.
Matt Lefferts: Actually significant members of my family do play Torchlight. My uncles, my cousin, my sisters, my dad... my grandparents are interested. I don't expect them to get very far into it, but their interested in seeing what I do. So I do have a good fan base waiting for me at home.
Jason Beck: I've let them play a little bit, mostly my daughters, and they're a little young. Even though it's not like a grim game, there's still a lot of exploding bodies. It's more like looking over my shoulder while I play kind of thing.
Travis Baldree: My wife has played some. My daughter wants to play, she's been playing a little bit of Torchlight 1 on the 360, but my wife's more of a WoW and Old Republic player right now.
Jerich: What is your favorite class, skill and area in Torchlight 2?
Marsh Lefler: Well, I'm definitely going to say Act 3 is my favorite area to play. That's what I've been going through the most. Class wise, I'm going to say the Outlander. I love playing a ranged trappy... I can move quickly... jump out of the way. However my favorite skill is on the Berserker and it's the Shadow Strike... where you basically turn into this shadowy wolf and run through the level. It's just nice... it's really nice to get out of bad situations too.
Adam Perin: My favorite class is the Berserker... mostly based on how it looks which is a silly reason I guess to some extent. But I really love the aggressive stance of it and I like how physical all the combat is. It's a melee class. My favorite skill, which I'm really bad at skill names is Stormclaw, it's what we ended up calling it. When you turn it on and activate it, any time you hit a monster you have a chance of shocking monsters around it with electrical damage, which is just really fun for a melee class because you can actually deal with crowds, but you're still close combat. Favorite area... for me it actually is the desert. I don't know if it is always the most popular all the time because they tend to be a little more bland, but I think we have done a really good job of making our deserts interesting and full of stuff to do. And it's the area that I feel most proud of personally from working on. It's got a lot of work that I think is my better work.
Brock Jones: I think my favorite class I'm probably going to say is the Outlander. I like playing ranged . My favorite skill is Rune Vault for the Outlander. It just feels cool and it's a good damage + escape skill that I like. It's fun to look at and it's functional. My favorite area... I helped a bit in the area where we did homage to the Goonies. I like that area. It's a little pirate's cove. It's nice.
Wonder Russell: My favorite class is the Outlander. I love all the Outlander skills. I probably don't have a favorite. I've played a lot of different builds with it. I still love the green of Act I and I love the Artificer dungeon of Act II. I don't really have a favorite. I just really enjoy playing.
Max Schaefer: I'll start with class. It changes since every time I play a new skill revamp... I've said a couple times that my favorite class is the one I played last. I think that in the end it is still going to be the Berserker. I really really like the feel of it and the up close melee combat. Right now I'm playing an Engineer. I just completed Act II with an Engineer and I'm having a wonderful time. I'm thinking, ahh this is so cool. I love the skills I'm using. I love to throw out spider mines and have them chase me around. I love the aesthetics of the character. But I think ultimately when I have my character that I'm playing seriously at release... it's going to be a Berseker. Favorite skill is probably the Outlander Multishot because it just feels good to shoot like a machine gun. So I like that one, but I also love the bots of the Engineer. I just love the aesthetics, the sound they make when you launch them out. When you're being followed around by a healing bot, it's cool.
My favorite area I can't really talk about because it's the end of the game.
(Jerich: Act 4?) Yeah, just because it's so unique and different and new. It's not what people expect. And it's just so cool I can't wait until people see it.
Matt Lefferts: My favorite skill is probably from the Outlander. The Outlander's have a Glaive skill, actually the starting skill for the Outlander, and I think it is probably the damned near most perfect skill we have for Torchlight 2. The more you invest in it it actually will ricochet off more monsters and bounce around. It actually reminds me quite a bit of a Captain America throw, and I'm a huge Marvel guy so that just blows my mind and makes me giddy. My favorite character class would probably be the berserker. Their very feral. As a Marvel guy I was inspired by Wolverine and Sabertooth and things like that. So I took a lot of influence there. They draw a lot of werewolf aspects and things and has a very cool visceral feel.
My favorite area in the game... there is a level in Act 2 in the Desert, where you enter into the Vaults and it has a challenge room where you have to stay within a circle of light. The light moves around through the level and if you stay outside of it you get burned by the darkness and take damage over time. So you have to keep up and try to gain as much loot as possible by darting in and out of the light and follow it through the level and then as you get to the end of it, huge chunks of the room start flying all around you. It's really amazing. When I first saw it I had no idea we had the capacity to do that sort of thing and I was really blown away.
Tiamat: All of the classes are my favorite child, but right now I would probably say the Outlander doing a focus based build, because I don't have a large bank of shared items yet. And that's a very good consistent way of getting dps out without being like, “Oh I need a great weapon to keep going.” Favorite area... probably the ones that haven't been revealed yet. Favorite skill... You'll find out if you play the game a lot, actually. You'll be able to figure it out if you find the skill.
Jason Beck: I gotta choose between my babies... The Act is definitely Act III. Skills... they've changed considerably. As far as classes go, I definitely lean more towards Outlander and Embermage just because I prefer ranged fighting, but I have a hard time choosing which one's my favorite anymore and I love that. Even on Torchlight I had a favorite. It was clear and never really changed. But this one I'm like... ahhh... I kind of like the new Engineer stuff. So I'm jumping around a lot more. But I definitely have a soft spot for shotgonnes. I tend to go with that no matter what I do.
Travis Baldree: My favorite class is going to be the Berserker. I like beating things to a pulp. I really like Ravage, which is one of the later skills that you actually haven't seen because it wasn't in the beta. Area wise, it's going to be Act II because Act II is my favorite act. Probably the Salt Barrens of Act II with all the boats sticking out of the sea bed.