We're getting closer to release, and that makes it a race to get you all the awesome content we've got in the works as possible! After all, who'll want to read anything after the game is out?
Today I present the painstakingly (on Jerich's part) recorded and transcribed interview with Jerich and Travis Baldree. Not only did Travis sit down (more likely stayed standing) for a good 45 minutes to answer all of our questions, he also answered all of the community questions we received as well! Be sure to thank both Jerich and Travis, and read on after the jump!
Jerich: Will you ever tell us how many pre-orders you sold via Steam and Perfect World?
Travis Baldree: We might... we might... I don't know.
Jerich: In your view, what's a realistic guess at how many sales you could have for Torchlight 2 within the first month, including pre-orders?
Travis Baldree: Wow.. I don't know... I don't know. I haven't got the faintest idea. I don't even want to say anything because it feels like I am jinxing it.
Jerich: That makes sense
Jerich: (This Question was asked in your Twitch TV feature, but Webb was trying to ask about customer service, etc, as much as he was asking about the server capabilities.)
Some – maybe all – of us at RGF think TL2 could easily sell a million copies in the first month ...
Travis interjection: That would be nifty and I would be very happy if that happened
Jerich continues: perhaps widly even double that. If such a fantastic turnout did happen, do you think you could handle the influx of people? This includes the maintaining match making and relay servers, handling customer support, etc.
Travis Baldree: We certainly hope so, we have already set to contract out customer support in advance of the release. Because we're not running a centralized server system, scaling is not as demanding as if everything had to be simulated remotely. In fact during the beta, the lobby crashed umpteen times. No one ever noticed and the reason no one noticed is that the lobby can restart in over 30 second and it reestablishes. Now that's not to say that something can't go horribly wrong, but Justin's been working hard to make sure we can scale things up on the cloud as demand requires and we try to do our best to make sure that will happen smoothly. At the end of the day, at the very least you can continue to play in single player and then bring your character right back into multiplayer.
Jerich: Torchlight 1 was restricted in how many files it could handle for mods without directly editing the game's core files. Have you put Torchlight 2 to the test to make sure it could handle something as heavy as a total conversion?
Travis Baldree: Our mod system is pretty different than it was in Torchlight 1 as far as how the packages are handled. I think there's a max file handle count of 512 that can't be exceeded. That's a lot of things. If problems arise, we'll do our best to rectify them but we haven't sat around taking in multiple piles of mods. Let me qualify that a bit. Basically when we're updating the game we basically do mod it. Whenever files are downloaded from source control they basically generate a small package. It works kind of like a mod and we clear them out when they stack up to about 500 because that's where you start to run into problems.
Jerich: Do you think we'll see any working mods before TorchED 2 is released?
Travis Baldree: I wouldn't be surprised if some happen. People are very ambitious and it's not like our package system is designed to obfuscate our files, so I'm sure people will extract and fiddle around with stuff. But there's going to be a limit to how much pain you want to endure before the editor comes out, you know.
Jerich: What do you wish you could have implemented into the game but didn't have the time or
resources to get in?
Travis Baldree: One thing we talked about really early on was basically ancestral bonuses for finishing the game that benefited all of your characters. So it would have been like a skill that any character you subsequently created would have had access to. We talked some time about having unlockable abilities for pets and pet specific skills that we would have per class, so you would have pet support skills. We didn't really get around to doing that either. For the most part, the big ticket things we wanted to do we did. We overhauled the skill system in combat, we added all the outdoor stuff and the times of day, we added multiplayer and those were kind of our big, “Oh let's try and do this” goals.
Jerich: Are our Runic Accounts going to be developed into profies of some sort, allowing for social interaction outside of the game?
Travis Baldree: I don't know. We don't have any initial plans for that. I will say that we are going to be making it so that you can associate your Runic Account with your Steam account. When you do that you will inherit your friends list for Steam so that you can quickly play with people without having to laboriously set up a new friends list with your accounts on our side. That's kind of the extent of where we've gone with that. That's about the best I've got... (Jerich: Nice!)
Jerich: Will there be a Steam-based way to join and host games, or connect with your friends?
Travis Baldree: I guess I sort of answered that.
Jerich: You did.
Travis Baldree: You're still going to use our lobbying system, but we're going to attempt to... as long as you and your friends agree to associate your steam account... let you take advantage of the network you've already built up on Steam.
Jerich Some players during the beta were complaining that there was only one viable build for the Berserker. How has that class since been changed?
Travis Baldree: There's been tons of balance changes and there's a lot of skills you didn't see. Several of the skills that were in the Berserker went away and were replaced with other things. So... the Berserker's still my favorite class, and there's several way's to do life steal if you're going to do that. But there are also changes to the innate resistances for the Berserker... There's some other stuff in there that you should definitely take a look at. There is a shield skill for instance. They have an ice shield that you can use if you need to build up your tanking ability a little bit more. There's a party buff and self buff called Battle Standard that increases attack for everyone within a certain radius, so you can lay it down for every in your party including yourself and your pet. Have a look!
Webbstre's Note: Doom has actually been working on a pretty nice theory-craft article for Berserker builds, which we should have online very soon.
Jerich: Will modding be less buggy and better supported for the Mac and foreign language versions of the game this time?
Travis Baldree: We would certainly love for it to be. We're not going to have modding tools for the Mac again, simply because we are not Mac Developers. It's beyond the skill of what we can do. However, we would like it to be less a pain in the butt. Really, it should no longer be a problem because you no longer have to... you shouldn't have to... compile the mods. The uncompiled versions will hopefully just work. That's the aim... in the same way that it is the aim that Mac people should be able to play seamlessly multi-player with PC.
Jerich: Will Life and Mana Leech still only work on normal attacks, or has it been integrated into skills somehow?
Travis Baldree: I believe it can happen on skills, but it's different per skill. We have flags for whether steal is allowed, mainly for basics. If a skill does large AOE we tend to not allow steal because it's ridiculous. So it's on a case by case basis.
Jerich: Have you tried doing something like D3 did where it scales steal percentage based on attack type. So a large AOE attack may only use ten percent of your steal amount?
Travis Baldree: We've talked about it. We haven't done it. We do have things that scale based on it but we haven't added scaling for leech.
Jerich: Is attack speed only applied to normal attacks, with cast speed for all skill animations, as it was in Torchlight 1?
Travis Baldree: I believe that attack speed... there may be an exception here... I want to make sure I get it right... I'll try to get it right. In general attack speed is only for your attacks and cast speed is for all of your skills, however, there are some weapon based skills that I think may benefit from attack speed. But I cannot remember off the top of my head.
Jerich: Is the Block chance cap still hardcoded?
Travis Baldree: I don't know if it's hardcoded or not. If it is I could make sure it's not. (laughs) Somebody just wants to mod it don't they?
Jerich: Can we have some details for how mods will be managed, both in the game in general and for multiplayer match-making?
Travis Baldree: So the plan is this: When you have mods, there will basically be... if you've played Oblivion you will have an idea of how this works... a front end application that shows you a list of your mods and you enable them and prioritize them. Those mods are then loaded in priority order when you start the game. When you go to play multiplayer, there will be a list of mods associated with the game you are joining. If you have those mods, when you join the game it will restart if required, activate the mods that you want, and then join the game. We're going to be using Steam Workshop. We are going to be allowing that to happen... just because it's really useful for us. We may be able to do a higher level of automation with Steam Workshop as far as automatically getting the mods. We are exploring that right now. So... that's the basic gist.
Jerich: Great! I think that was in a future question too.
Jerich: How challenging was it to get a balanced and working action-RPG while still trying to leave it open and not cutting down on player choice for builds, gear setups, and the like?
Travis Baldree: I think for the most part it's trying not to balance everything to the point of boringness. We want you to feel overbalanced and overpowered from time to time, it's about how long you feel overbalanced. I mean, the Alchemist's beam of death in Torchlight 1 (Emberlance) was a bad balance problem because it was universal and it was for the whole game. In general I think the skill system is much better balanced than Torchlight. There are reasons to use other skills, expecially as we introduce things that require some counters... at least it's much more effective to counter. I don't think it will ever be perfectly balanced, but we're going to do our best to make sure it is balanced to be fun.
Jerich: Now that Torchlight 2 is coming out, has there been any thought to making Torchlight 1open source?
Travis Baldree: I hadn't thought about it at all actually. It hadn't entered my mind. I don't know if we will or not. It's not we have on the docket shortly though. We'd have to go through and find all the things that were not open sourced and we licensed and it's kind of a big exploration of, “What are the legal ramifications?”
Jerich: That seems like a ton of work
Travis Baldree: Well, we can't give you fmod that's for sure... We licensed this or this... etc.
Jerich: Since Ogre 3D is open source, does Runic contribute patches (features, bug-fixes) back to the project?
Travis Baldree: We send a few code changes back. We don't do much with bug fixes because Ogre really isn't that buggy. Most of our changes are about stripping things out. Because Ogre is kind of more for general use there are a lot of things we don't need so we ripped a lot of the guts right out of Ogre in order to free up memory in a lot of cases... or in order to do things that was really more custom for our game. So by and large our changes aren't useful for people that want to use Ogre because they might break Ogre for the way that they use it.
Jerich: Now that Runic has had good success with Torchlight 1, and is on the verge of releasing Torchlight 2, if you could turn back the clock and prevent the closure of Flagship Studios and continued working on Mythos, would you?
Travis Baldree: That's a tough one. So on the one hand, yes because a lot of good people lost their jobs and you don't just want to say, “Oh no never.” That would be terrible. There were things we could have done that were really cool with Mythos. By the same token, I'm happy with where we're at. I'm happy with the opportunities we got as a result of it, so I wouldn't really be inclined to to do it except to help others.
Jerich: Roughly how many copies of Torchlight 2 do you think you would have to sell to break even on development?
Travis Baldree: Let me see... What is the break even number...? It really depends on if they are full price copies or not. Ahh... I can't do this math in my head right now... (pauses) I don't know off the top of my head. Maybe... thee hundred thousand copies or something? Maybe? Maybe? I don't know.
Jerich: That makes sense
Travis Baldree: Too much mental math for me... You have me doing long divisions and I don't know... (laughs)
Jerich: For the future Torchlight MMO, what are your thoughts on the best way to successfully monetize it without turning it into a Pay to Win game?
Travis Baldree: Hahahaha (laughs)... ahh the MMO...(laughs)... I don't even want to think about the MMO. I might as well be frank. MMO is not going to be my first choice of what to do after this. Everybody... I'm sorry... I'm sorry.
Jerich: Yeah.. I like the Minecraft, Torchlight 2 hybrid idea.
Travis Baldree: Obviously the biggest challenge for us with Torchlight 2 is just the sheer amount of content. So now imagine that we have to have enough content to feed an MMO with the team our size. It just doesn't look like a challenge I want to take on right this instant. Besides I've made four action RPGs in a row. I'd like to do something a little fresh. It's not to say that we don't want to serve Torchlight and patch in some goodies and do right by the game.
Jerich: That makes sense
Travis Baldree: But who knows, maybe after we've shipped and we've all sat down and been able to drink a lot then all of a sudden we'll want to do that, but we'll see.
Jerich (I asked Max a similar question later): What kind of future projects do you see yourself doing after Torchlight 2 ships. You've mentioned maybe doing a sandboxy type, building type, minecraft style or something completely different.
Max Schaefer: I think that to the extent that we do RPGs into the future whether they be MMOs or whatever, and we are going to. Not necessarily next, probably, but not necessarily. I would love to introduce more sandbox and less theme park if that makes sense. People crank through content that you make and architect so fast, but if they have the ability to create and build on their own, for example Minecraft you have very simple blocks, but there's infinite variety that you can do with them. So I think you need both, but I think in general for RPGs I think we need to get more sandbox into them. And I'd love to the first one to do that. Or at least on the forefront of it.
Jerich (Back to Travis): I'm going to add an unscripted question here. What kind's of genres do you think would be personally really fun to make?
Travis Baldree: To be frank I'd like make something that isn't specific to any known genre. I'd like to play around a little bit more. I love role-playing game elements and randomization and for me having those elements in a game is important. And I'd like the next game we do to have some of those elements, but there are a broad range of things that can include those elements. So my personal vote on what we do next should include some randomization. There has to be some sort of advancement mechanic, role-playing if that's what you want to call it. But beyond that, there are a lot of things I'd like to do.
Jerich: Has there been a revamp of Embermage skills, in regards to level-based and DPS-based damage? Why were the skills' damage designed as they were? I think this question comes from beta where people were commenting that some skills scale more than others at max level.
Travis Baldree: So a lot of them are based on a percentage DPS. That varies pretty wildly and a lot of them will have changed from beta. A lot of things changed from the beta because as we play deeper and deeper into the game and balance against it we make adjustments to take that into account. We use DPS because it's a way to keep your skills viable and keep them from becoming worthless. We do have skills that do damage that alters based on player level and will scale up even if it's not DPS. A lot of Embermage skills have a mix of those. As far as balance... we continue to balance and it will be very different from beta. We also went through a big mana cost change where the mana cost increase per skill point was halved, but the amount of mana you gain per level was also reduced. So you can still beef it up with points but what that does is make it less beneficial to keep an early skill level with a much smaller mana cost and spam it and it makes the advantages of the later versions of the skill more compelling. There's also less sticker shock if you're putting a point into a skill, “Oh, God... three more mana per cast... Oh.”
Jerich: If you saw a mod for Torchlight 2 that was insanely popular or that you really really liked, would you consider making it an official part of the game?
Travis Baldree: I don't know. I don't really know what the legal ramifications are of that honestly. I don't think we would ever want to be in the position of stealing someone's work or purposefully copying their idea and putting it in because it's kind of a slap in the face. So I honestly don't know. It's a gray area for me that I don't fully understand the ramifications of.
Jerich: What specific changes have you made to the engine since Torchlight 1, aside from higher polygon counts?
Travis Baldree: We added... some of these are going to be boring, but they're there... background animated objects can now be hardware skinned which means we can have more animated objects in scene that are not characters without killing performance. We added soft shadowing. We added bloom. There have been changes to the lighting module in the way in seperates out the passes for shadows and everything else so you can get shadows stretching on the walls. Obviously there have been changes allowing us to do time of day and cross-lens. You can also do that between regions inside of an area so you can make a lighting change as you move around. We now hash and calculate path nodes differently and much more optimally so it is faster to repath areas...
Jerich: That's awesome
Travis Baldree: ... or to revisit areas you've already been to. The UI is now moddable inside of the editor. What else... we have full key mapping that is available from within the game. Obviously multiplayer was a big addition.
Travis Baldree: Our level system is more robust as far as aliasing objects so it's much easier to take an existing tileset and just change the parts you want for something else and you can do that after the fact. You can also alias units so this monster was in here and you had him set to free spawn but you can swap him out with something else. Man... You can do footstep particles. You can squish creeps! A ridiculous number of things have changed. The automap system is better. You no longer have to create pieces for the automap, it just takes care of it. You can do things like change the opacity of the automap. Yeah... lot's of stuff.
Jerich: Will any bosses have different stages during a fight, or is it still a straight out bash them until they die?
Travis Baldree: Several of them have different stages. Some of them have environmental changes that happen as they get further and further down on health and what have you. Yeah... it depends on the boss. Some are not staged and some are.
Jerich: In the first game, I noticed that a lot of bosses are the type that have a lot of adds. Do you have mixture of some that have adds and some that don't this time around?
Travis Baldree: Yeah, we have some that have adds (additional monsters) and some that have very minor adds. Like the Manticore battle that they're doing here. I guess there's a minor add, the Manticore's mate flies in halfway through, but that's more part of the boss battle. There's very few actual adds in that battle. We tend to have adds in many of the boss battles because otherwise in multiplayer it becomes more of one note, but the degreee of those varies pretty wildly.
Jerich: Is there a favorite class among the office? If so, what is it?
Travis Baldree: My sense is that most people tend to favor the Engineer. It's got a lot of Engineer lovers.
Jerich: Will Matt Uelmen do something like sidenotes for the most major tracks from his work on TL2 music, as he did for Diablo 2? (Webbstre's note: I have no idea what this means)
Travis Baldree: I don't have any idea. You'll have to ask Matt on that one.
Jerich: Would it be possible to design a hybrid tower defense/ARPG version of Torchlight 2 in the editor?
Travis Baldree: Huh... trying to think...maaaay-bee??? You could make character classes that have no advancement for the most part... kind of static. You could script a certain amount of it. I don't know... I don't know exactly how far you could go. It would be interesting to find out.
Jerich: What was the development/communication method used to develop TL2 and did any problems arise from that?
Travis Baldree: It's going to be a really boring answer but we all just work in one big room so communication involves turning around and saying, “Hey.” And just listening to what's going on around you. We don't like meetings. We don't use agile development or other things... buzzwords... We're a very small development team and we just try and be aware of what we're doing. I wish I had a more exciting answer, but...
Jerich: That sounds great.
Jerich: Will it be possible to alter animations (or other aesthetics) without being labeled as a modded character?
Travis Baldree: At present we don't know how you would do that because we just don't have a way to differentiate, and even the most cosmetic stuff actually has gameplay implications. If you make an animation longer, it actually takes longer to do. So you can alter someone's combat by mucking with something as simple as an animation. You could also make all their icons invisible...
Jerich: How does the team feel being regularly mistaken for the entirety of the old Blizzard North team?
Travis Baldree: (Laughs) It's a little odd. To be serious a lot of us would like to just be known for what we do. Ahh well... (laughs)
Jerich: It could be worse... right?
Travis Baldree:We correct them as best we can. We have a specific area of our web site where we try to do that.
Max Schaefer (I asked him the same question): Yeah, people say, Blizzard North... they left to make Torchlight. It's my brother, me and our composer. But obviously, Blizzard North influenced a lot where Runic is today, but this is an exceptional team that has advanced the genre on their own. And so it kind of bugs me that they don't get their individual credit that's due to them. A lot of people see Blizzard North in what's happening here, but these guys are really really good and every bit as talented as we were back then. So it only bugs me that they don't get their credit for what they are doing, but at the same time it is flattering.
Jerich: What have you done to ensure that all skills stay viable until the endgame?... or can you even do that?
Travis Baldree: Play them as much as we can, try bizarre builds, try to make sure those builds are viable and hopefully enjoyable to do. Adjust the skills as needed. To be honest, there is no way you're all going to be 100% happy with the balance of the game at launch and that's not even possible. Our commitment is to make sure that it's balanced to be as fun as possible post launch and if you perceive problems we'll do our best to correct them in reason where it makes sense and we agree... which won't be always. But we want it to be chaotic and weird and fun. Part of the fun of these games is finding an exploit and exploiting it... it's just a matter of whether I can exploit it for too long... so long it makes the game unfun for me.
Jerich: Concerning the charge bar, is dealing damage to monsters the only way to build it up, or did Runic just make it that way for the four included classes to keep things sort or balanced? Could it be modded to build up with some other method?
Travis Baldree: Yes... it can be modded to build it up differently. It's not hard coded into the game.
Jerich: Does it do it differently now?
Travis Baldree: Each class build's charge differently, yes. So the Embermage build's charge through elemental damage while the Berseker only builds it through melee attacks. We have skills that build charge. For instance there's a skill on the Engineer where it build's charge based on how many units are around you. And you can change those mechanics if you want.
Jerich: How far can the interface be edited? Is it possible to add new widgets and functionality with TorchED2?
Travis Baldree: The interface is scriptable. You can do logical scripting with the interface. There should be some interesting things you can do. I don't really know how far you want to take it. And there are ways to set widgets because that's how we made the game. For instance there's a movie player and a trigger that if you click on it plays a movie and you can do that.
Jerich: So could you do a pet / minion bar?
Travis Baldree: We kind of do that with buff icons right now actually. We show buff icons for pets as they are summoned on the top left next to the pet. I don't know exactly how far you'll be able to take it. If I sat down and thought about it for a while I could probably come up with some pretty interesting stuff, but I'm drawing a blank right now. I know that there's stuff you can do. I'm trying to think of some changeovers between interacting with things in the game versus things in the editor and exactly what kinds of commands you can serve.... but... I guess we'll see.
Jerich: Could a character's health be used as a resource for an ability? Aka costing health instead of mana.
Travis Baldree: Yes... you can could make an ability that did something based on your percentage of health and reduced your health for instance.
Jerich: What happens when a player joins the game of another person who is at a different part of the storyline, when the player who was there first doesn't have the newer NPCs that the other player normally sees? Does everyone see the same town?
Travis Baldree: I think so. We have the concept of local only NPCs so you'll see what's appropriate to you. Your quest progress should never be blocked by someone else. You should be able to complete your quests and do your thing. In multiplayer there are certain ways to get ahead of where you should be. We let you warp to players so you can get past barriers, but you're usually not going to have a prerequisite quest so while you can kill stuff and play along with them you may not be able to complete certain quests and you may need to come back later to do them. But the idea generally more like an MMO, you get to complete your quests regardless of what anyone else is doing.
Jerich: Will it be possible to swap the look of two pieces of equipment while keeping their originalstats?
Travis Baldree: At present there is no way to do that, but it is something we've talked about a lot. We've never got around to doing it and there's some complications with multiplayer that have to be explored before we would do such a thing. It's certainly not going to happen for shipping it.
Jerich: Are “+ to X Skill” and “+ to All Skills” items in the game?
Travis Baldree: We can do it, but I don't feel like we have any + skill items in the game right now. We have items that give you skills so it may execute a skill while it happens... but maybe Erich's got something in there and I don't know about it. You'll have to ask Erich. I can't remember. (Erich unfortunately was not at PAX)
Jerich: The camera appears to be centered around a main character skeleton bone that moves a lot (even during normal attack animations the camera shakes and moves) – is it possible to prevent those shakes by adding some tolerance of centering on a more stable spot? (To prevent head dizziness while player the game for a long time) Is this aspect of the game moddable or hard coded?
Travis Baldree: I'm trying to remember. I feel like we may have added some kind of camera shake off property that Marsh added ages ago. So there are two things you're talking about here. One is centering on the bone. So if there's slight movements it picks it up. There's no way to turn that off right now, but it's potentially doable... but not a moddable thing. It's something that we'd have to add. I feel like we already had a hidden setting for turning off camera shakes altogether. I feel like someone requested it and Marsh did it.
Jerich: Can map scrolls drop from monsters this time?
Travis Baldree: I believe... do we have them doing that right now?... they can... I don't know if we have them set to right now because map scrolls are only usable in the map room now. So getting them before you have access to the map room makes no sense. We're just trying to figure out exactly where to put them. They may just be in a vendor or we may just only have them available in map rooms as drops or something.
Jerich: Is the final decision on the max number of players in the game still 6?
Travis Baldree: Yes.
Jerich: Can you please describe in detail the plans for the End Game Maps?
Travis Baldree: So currently what happens with end game maps is as you get to the end of the game the map room opens up. There are various vendors in the map room, enchanters, what have you. You get a map. Maps can go to different tilesets with different monster sets and different champions or bosses in them. Maps can also have random effects on them which apply to either all the monsters or the players in the level. You can continue leveling and getting loot and stay in the map room if that's what you want to do.
We'll have a certain number of types of random maps we'll have at launch. We'll probably add some more as we go along because they're fairly easy to add. I think that's it.
Jerich: So I have two more questions. One is New Game+. How much play testing has been done of New Game+ in Elite difficulty. Two, what new things do you have in New Game+ that are different than normal?
Travis Baldree: So basically we're just testing a bunch of this stuff right now and trying to decide on the exact final wrap around numbers for each New Game+ playthrough. Because you have to kind of do it each time to get a proper anchor. So we're still in the process of doing that which is why we aren't releasing today. All of our stuff works off of the same curves and it's all extrapolated over time so to a certain extent New Game+ is the same as playing maps off of the end of the game.
Travis Baldree: There are some random dungeons that open up off of levels that are new for New Game+ that is just side stuff. For a while we had it so that you could do random quests like the crummy random quests that you got at the end of Torchlight 1, but we just kind of didn't like them so we turned them off. There's still plenty to do in the main quest line and plenty of loot to get. We just figured that that was the map room. If you just want to do random things and kill foozles, just use the map room. The current plan is for the map room to be opened up for you in New Game+ earlier in the game so that you have the way to get there any time if that's what you really want to do.
Jerich: And balancing for New Game+?
Travis Baldree: We're just doing our best right now to make sure it's as balanced as we can make it. (Laughs)
Jerich: Thank you for your time Travis. Like always, it has been a pleasure talking to you.