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    RGF Exclusive Interview with JD Wiker

    Welcome everybody, to one our rare and special exclusives on Runic Games Fansite! In this three part epic, we interview Runic Games' writer, JD Wiker, digging out his background info, his thoughts on Torchlight 1, and the direction of things for Torchlight 2 and the Torchlight MMO.

    JD very graciously let us ask a lot of questions, so to make this digestible we will break it into sections and pages, with each section being released over the next few days. We'll update this intro page when new sections are added, so be sure to check back tomorrow for part 2!

    Update! The full interview is now online! Click the page links to check them all out!

    Introduction
    Part 1 - About the Author
    Part 2 - Looking Back
    Part 3 - Looking Forward
    Conclusion



    *********

    Welcome everybody, to one our rare and special exclusives on Runic Games Fansite! In this three part epic, we interview Runic Games' writer, JD Wiker, digging out his background info, his thoughts on Torchlight 1, and the direction of things for Torchlight 2 and the Torchlight MMO.

    JD very graciously let us ask a lot of questions, so to make this digestible we will break it into sections and pages, with each section being released over the next few days. We'll update this intro page when new sections are added, so be sure to check back tomorrow for part 2!

    Update! The full interview is now online! Click the page links to check them all out!

    Introduction
    Part 1 - About the Author
    Part 2 - Looking Back
    Part 3 - Looking Forward
    Conclusion



    Part 1 - About the Author

    So first of all, how about a little self introduction? Who are you, where are you from, your history, etc.

    I'm JD Wiker. I'm originally from Indianapolis, but I moved to Seattle in 1994 to work for Wizards of the Coast. I started in Customer Service there, and served on the Ars Magica RPG team (until the game got axed). In 1998 I started working in the RPG R&D department, on the ALTERNITY RPG, then moved to the Star Wars RPG about a year later. During my time there, I worked on a lot of different projects--including a sourcebook adapting Diablo II to the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset.

    I left Wizards in 2002 and started my own game design studio, The Game Mechanics. In 2005 I moved to San Diego and worked for Upper Deck Entertainment. They bid me a fond farewell in 2007, and, about a year later, I moved to Virginia to work for Mythic Entertainment--doing quests and live events for their Warhammer Online MMORPG. If you played that game at all in 2009, I'm sure you saw some of the quests I worked on. In fact, if you're playing that game now, some of my quests are no doubt still showing up there.

    RGF Exclusive Interview with JD Wiker
    How did you get involved with Runic Games?

    After I left Mythic I spent some time working on a novel, but the guy who had told me about the job at Mythic told me about a writer position opening up at Runic, and so I sent in my resume. It took a while before I heard anything concrete from them--mostly that they wanted to see writing samples, then samples of quests, and so on--but, eventually, they called me about scheduling an interview. One phone interview, one on-site interview, and one weekend later, they offered me the job, and my wife and I began packing up our stuff for another cross-country move.

    What other games have you written for in the past?

    In as near a chronological order as I can recall: Ars Magica, Vampire: the Dark Ages, ALTERNITY, Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars (original core rulebook and revised core rulebook, and later the Saga Edition), d20 Modern, a couple of unpublished RPGs, Pathfinder, the Warhammer: Online MMORPG, and, now, Torchlight 2.

    You recently talked on the official forums about writing events for Warhammer Online. What did those events involve?

    I contributed a bit to the first Keg End, which was the Warhammer setting's equivalent of Christmas (and took place, what do you know, during the Christmas season). I helped write quests for Heavy Metal, which was the live event that introduced the Blackguard and Knight of the Blazing Sun classes. Then I contributed to Night of Murder, which was a Dark Elf-themed version of Valentine's Day--lots of killing enemies and sending them their own heads through the in-game mail system. I worked with the team developing the Tomb Kings expansion to create an introductory event for that: Beyond the Sands, which involved tracking down relics from the Land of the Dead (Warhammer's version of Egypt) and fighting off the undead things that were trying to track them down. The autumn event that year was The Wild Hunt, which was all about the God of the Hunt, Kurnous, rampaging across the world, taking his revenge for the damage done to the wilds during the war. That one also involved the Hunter's Vale, which was an outdoor "dungeon" set in a kind of pocket dimension, where the avatar of Kurnous roamed free; it eventually became the Tier 1 dungeon--something I felt was long overdue ...

    I'm personally not familiar with most of the games you worked on, but perhaps you could describe one or two of your favorite things from those games? A quest and an event maybe? What were they about and why were they your favorite?

    I think, perhaps, my favorite setup was in the adventure for The Final Church sourcebook for Dark*Matter, for the ALTERNITY system. The Final Church was all about demon-worshipping cults, and the players, despite being assigned to investigate the case, are kind of in the dark the whole time. At one point, they find themselves exploring an unused wing of a hospital--and running into one ambush after another, all perpetrated by hospital staff who happen to be members of the cult. And a few of them are being all crafty, pretending they're not in the cult, that they're innocent bystanders--and, then, of course, they lead the players into ambushes, or try to kill them, or whatever. Now the players don't know who they can trust.

    A few encounters later, the players are instructed by their superiors to check out an abandoned school, and run into much the same situation: more cult members posing as janitors, teachers, etc. But then they encounter one of their superiors, who claims that he got there just ahead of the players and was forced to hide and wait for backup--that is, the players.

    So now you've got the players being forced to make a tough decision: Do they trust this guy? They're on a time-crunch--is there time to escort their superior back outside (against his objections, mind you)? Or do they split up the group, and half of them go on while the other half make sure this guy is out of the way? Or do they just shoot him and claim that they didn't recognize him?

    I love that kind of stuff in games: Moral and ethical dilemmas--the kind of stuff that can't be resolved by a die roll, or kicking down a door, or killing a monster. The kind of stuff that has consequences if the players make the wrong choice. That sort of thing gets the player more engaged in the story.

    What kind of writing process do you have? Do you build up a world in your mind and on paper first, or do you just write as you go?

    A little from Column A, and a little from Column B. I tend to stare out the window and form a general idea first, then fill in the details as I lay down the foundation.

    What are your thoughts about retcons?

    In games like Torchlight 2? Well, I don't mind them, but, honestly, it's not necessary for this particular setting. The world of Torchlight was barely developed in the first game, so it's easy to build off of that for this one. That being said, I've put my own touches on the story of Ordrak, and the dwarves, and what Ember has to do with all of it--and some of that may contradict what players found out in Torchlight. That's okay--the real world works like that, too. New discoveries are made every day, and they sometimes conflict with what we "knew" yesterday. It's all part of developing a game world.

    Part 2 - Looking Back

    On to the Torchlight questions! I assume you had to do some research and play through the first game pretty thoroughly. What did you think of the story? What did you like about it, not like about it, what needed work, etc.

    Torchlight didn't have much of a story. It was about going dungeon-delving. And that's fine! In a hack-and-slasher, you don't want to spend too much time developing a plot, or giving characters tough choices to make.

    Still, there were elements that seemed somewhat unrealized--like Ember, for example. Almost as soon as you start playing, you find out that you've been "corrupted" by it. But what does that mean? I spent the entire game thinking that there were going to be dire consequences later one, but, although the NPCs kept warning me that I was getting more and more corrupted, nothing bad ever happened to me. I kicked ass and took names. Why is that bad, again?

    That being said, I liked that Torchlight's quests had clearly-defined goals that were easy to meet. You didn't have to go too far out of your way to complete side quests; the monster you needed to kill, or the item you needed to find, were almost certainly a floor or two away. The only real side quests--the ones granted by Hatch, the guy who can open portals, and the maps you can buy--don't really take you too far off the trail. And, in fact, from a gameplay perspective, they're probably a little too abundant; a couple of side-quests, and you gain enough experience that the monsters back on the next floor down in the storyline dungeon just aren't as much of a challenge.

    Who actually gets the credit for killing Ordrak? The Destroyer, the Alchemist, the Vanquisher, or all three together?

    Well, the general philosophy here is that all three of the characters participated in Ordrak's demise. It takes a little hand-waving to explain why they didn't see each other there, but there you go.


    Who built the ruins above the Dwarven Fortress? John Dunbar said a while back those Goblins and dwarves had nothing to do with it.

    RGF Exclusive Interview with JD Wiker
    Remember what I said about retconning?

    The dwarves are responsible for about half of the ruins in Vilderan--and about 90% of all of the Ember-related stuff. At one time, their empire covered the majority of the world, and the Estherians and the Zeraphi were little more than upstart races. When the dwarven empire collapsed, the Estherians and Zeraphi enjoyed a period of expansion, and prosperity--and they made their own decisions about whether and how to use Ember. They explored the ruins of dwarven civilization (much the same way that players do in the game), and ran into their own problems with the denizens of that mine complex. Remember those Dark Zealots, in the Black Palace? They're the legacy of those explorations; you'll notice that they bear a resemblance to some NPCs in Torchlight 2 ...

    About those Dark Zealots, and for that matter Ordrak, what are they? In the first game Valeria talked as if Ordrak was one of them before he corrupted everything. It was kind of vague on whether or not they were part of the same race, or what. Will we learn more about her race and Ordrak's story in Torchlight 2?

    Well, the Dark Zealots are the corrupted version of a race that existed when Ordrak was active, a long time ago.

    Ordrak was, well, a dragon. A corrupted dragon, who had acquired a taste for Ember.

    Will you learn more about them? Absolutely. You'll learn about the race that the Dark Zealots used to be, and you'll find out how Ordrak got down at the bottom of that mine.

    I'm going to ask this one coming from my personal feelings, but will we see Ordrak again? I've gotten a little tired of games/movies/television deciding they need to bring back the same bad guy over and over again.

    Ordrak is indirectly responsible for some of the events of Torchlight 2--but you will not be seeing that dragon again.

    RGF Exclusive Interview with JD Wiker
    I'm just going to bundle a few race questions together and you can answer however you like:

    What race were the little gem/socket guys in the first Torchlight? There was a debate a while back on whether or not they were living dwarves. Are they?

    Nope. Gorn and Furl are not dwarves. They are ... something else.

    Are any dwarves still alive?

    The dwarven civilization is long, long gone.

    Were the Estherians humans?

    No.

    Were the people in the Crypts humans? If so, why were their skeletons so short?

    Humans are new to the continent of Vilderan. Torchlight--and its tiny little graveyard--is pretty much the extent of the human civilization in that area. The crypts beneath the mines are not human crypts, and the bodies inside are not human bodies. Therefore, the skeletons (and zombies) are not made from human remains.

    Part 3 - Looking Forward

    What can you tell us about the Destroyer, Alchemist, Vanquisher, and Syl from the first game and their appearances in Torchlight 2?

    As people saw in the demo at Gamescom (and will see at PAX), the Destroyer is one of the first people you meet. It's been a few years since he was an active adventurer, and he's got that "retired football hero" vibe about him. When you meet him, he's stuck at an obscure tavern in the middle of yak-herder territory, and he's bored out of his mind. Imagine being a great hero, and then being stuck in that Tibetan tavern run by Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark for weeks on end. That's what it's like for the Destroyer at the Crusty Kettle.

    Then there's Syl, who's gone into seclusion in the last enclave of the Estherians, to recenter herself after the events of the first game. Only recently she began to have dreams about the return of an ancient evil from, literally, beyond the stars, and she asked her old allies--the Destroyer, the Alchemist, and the Vanquisher--to help her out.

    Speaking of the Alchemist, he's sort of playing the role of Henry Jones, from The Last Crusade; he's blazing the trail for the players to follow--but it's not going so well for him. When the players finally catch up with him, he's in bad shape.

    The Vanquisher ... well, she plays a part in Torchlight 2 as well, but I'm keeping that a secret for now.

    Who are the Zeraphi and Ezrohir mentioned in your other interview?

    The Zeraphi are one of the oldest races in the world; their empire flourished right after the dwarves' faded away. They're masters of alchemy (where the Estherians are masters of elementalism), and they've used their alchemy to achieve a kind of immortality, via the medium of "soulsuits" that contain their spirits after death. Now, millennia later, there are no living Zeraphi--just these immortal spirits encased in alchemical suits.

    The process of achieving immortality, however, involved Ember, which alarmed the Estherians. The Estherians tried to warn the Zeraphi that the misuse of Ember had brought ruin upon the dwarves, but the Zeraphi wouldn't listen. The two races clashed. When the Estherians decided to withdraw from the conflict, though, the Zeraphi were divided about how to proceed. Some of them wanted to just declare a cease-fire and get back to their research, but some of them wanted to pursue the retreating Estherians, and wipe them out. It caused a cultural rift, with the "hawks" becoming the Ember-fueled Ezrohir, and the "doves" finding a much safer way to achieve their immortality.

    RGF Exclusive Interview with JD Wiker
    Can you give us an example of a side quest or story in Torchlight 2 that you are really proud of?

    Most of the side-quests are still in flux, but I've designed one where the players pick up an ally--a Beornen warrior named Brool, who is full of confidence and the spirit of adventure. He helps out the players during part of their journey through the Estherian Steppes, during the battles with the Sturmbeornen.

    What you said earlier about moral choices was really interesting. Will we see anything like this in Torchlight 2? Like, being given a choice to follow a quest in two different directions? I know some fans have been hoping for this since before the first game was released.

    I'm a big fan of branching quests, particularly when there's not a "right" or "wrong" choice. But they have to remain necessarily brief--on a quest-by-quest basis, rather than as part of a quest chain. Some players might feel a bit "cheated" if they discover that they missed out on a game experience that they would have otherwise loved.

    As to whether or not there will be branching quests in Torchlight 2, well, that's still up in the air.

    Do you plan on doing any novel work for the Torchlight universe?

    I would love to! But, of course, whether or not we pursue that isn't up to me. Book publishing is a whole different ball of wax than game development, and I don't know just how interested Travis and company are in that particular endeavor. So, for now: "Reply hazy. Ask again later."

    Has there been any talk of doing any kind of live events for the future Torchlight MMO?

    Heh. Yes--if you count my asking about the possibility as "talk." I like live events, and I think they're a great way to drive interest in an MMO.

    Last Question! Anything you want to tell us that you haven't had a chance to yet? This one is open ended, so the stage is yours.

    I can't think of anything we haven't covered.

    Conclusion and Thoughts

    First of all, I want to thank JD Wiker for being so kind and letting us ask so many questions. He's got quite a challenge, working for Runic as a writer, and building up the lore of the yet-unnamed world.

    I think the most reassuring part of this interview is that the story is in good hands. There were a lot of complaints about the first game, and how it was light on story. Yes, it was direct and to the point - kill the bad things - but it is nice to know that the new game will be less linear and allow for more exploration and purpose.

    If you have any questions for JD, feel free to leave them in the comments to this thread, or over on the official forums, where he sometimes visits. Don't forget to check back here for more interviews and articles in the upcoming months leading up to the launch of Torchlight 2!
    Last edited by Webbstre; 09-03-2010 at 07:54 PM.

  2. #2
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    I'm eager for part 2, hoping to fill up the wiki with new info or more detailed stuff.

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    Re: RGF Exclusive Interview with JD Wiker

    Hehe, yes, information like how Ordrak is actually a ******** with a ****** for ******, or how the Destroyer is now ****************************** at an Inn for ********* cause he's basically like a football star.

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    For some reason I am getting a square with a red x where the interview should be. I can't read all the goodies held within it

  5. #5
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    What browser is this with?

  6. #6
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    Everything is now online!

  7. #7
    Nice work, Webbstre. Enjoyed the interview.

  8. #8
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    Just like Killious, I can't see the images as well. I'm using Safari.

    Cool interview though, nice work!

  9. #9
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    Re: RGF Exclusive Interview with JD Wiker

    I bet I know what's causing you to have images not appear correctly: Adjust your security software settings to allow the server domain files.runicgamesfansite.com on port 9090 (you might have to type it all in like this: /files.runicgamesfansite.com:9090 ) to load, otherwise the site-wide redirect won't let your computer show our image files. It's set up that way as a major way to save bandwidth/server power.

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