Torment: Tides of Numenera has been a long time in coming. Originally slated to release a couple of years ago, the spiritual successor to Planescape sees release today.
It’s been a long road from the Kickstarter campaign to now, and htxt.africa was lucky enough to be able to talk to development team members about what punters can expect from the game. We sat down with creative lead Colin McComb, area design lead George Ziets, Crisis design lead Jeremy Kopman and the game’s senior writer, Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie for the full skinny.
htxt.africa It’s been quite a while since Torment: Tides of Numenera was successfully funded. How much has the game evolved beyond its original pitch since then? Have any elements with regards to story/mechanics/world building changed significantly since its original inception?
Colin McComb The mechanics have been updated through playtesting and prototyping, as is typical with most games in the course of their development. We’ve largely tried to stay true to the Cypher System, though we’ve had to make some modifications. The world map for the game is significantly different than it was in the first few iterations – the critical path of the game wound around an area of shifting energies that, once I drew it on a whiteboard, was dubbed “the Moldy Bacon” (I am not a good artist). The lore has been updated, and the story itself has undergone some major revisions.
However, the basic vision of the game as outlined in the vision document remains true. The broad outline of the story is still the same, though we have some new plot twists, some major revelations, and other things that weren’t the case when we were first developing the vision. We used the vision doc as a touchpoint throughout development to make sure we were still delivering the experience our backers asked for and made possible.
htxt.africa Torment: Tides of Numenera is an RPG with a twist. Rather than battling your way through this RPG like you would in say, Diablo, players can talk their way out of situations. Where did the idea for that come from and how much of a challenge was it to implement?
Colin McComb It was a somewhat organic process. Once we started asking, “What does one life matter?”, we had to assume that some players would say, “Every life has meaning.” Once you answer it that way, the idea of killing people to advance the story takes on a different moral framework.
Plus, many backers asked if they could complete the game without killing anyone – it was possible in Planescape, but it involved kiting trash mobs. Since we had promised that we’d make our encounters meaningful, we eliminated the trash encounters. But then we needed to find a way to make an encounter interesting.
That was a challenge, but once we made the decision to go turn-based, it became easier. Talking to someone in the midst of combat, for instance, or using environmental objects, or sneaking through a monster-infested lair… those were all back on the table.
htxt.africa Is it possible to get through the entire game without a fight?
Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie A fight? No. But it is possible to get through the game without killing anyone (even though it’s definitely not easy). Our Crisis system encourages players to try multiple solutions to the dangerous situations facing them.
htxt.africa Speaking of fighting, the combat system has been described as far more flexible than that of most RPGs. Can you go into some more detail about that?
Jeremy Kopman Unlike most RPGs, many of our turn-based encounters are not focused on combat. Goals range from simply escaping a dangerous situation before certain death arrives to stealing an important relic without being detected. Even when harried by enemies, you can often talk to them or interact with objects in the environment.
Some opponents can be swayed with money, others by appealing to their better angels, others through intimidation. Ancient Numenera artefacts in the environment can be reactivated to hypnotise, weaken, or entangle foes, taking them out of the fight without killing them. All of these dialogues and interactions are handcrafted for the encounter and use the same conversation and challenge mechanics you see outside of Crises.
The solutions to these scenarios are varied. Say you are in an antagonist’s fortress and one of their minions is taking several rounds to energise a powerful device with ominous effects (a real scenario from the game with details removed to avoid spoilers). You can choose to confront the main enemy head-on in combat or find a way to reach the minion, who is protected by energy shields. Nanos and Jacks (2 of the 3 character Types) can gain teleportation abilities, allowing them to pop past the shields.
Some cypher items allow this too. If those options aren’t available, you can rewire the teleportation devices built into the fortress by interacting with them and completing Intellect challenges. Once you’ve reached the minion, you could once again resort to violence, but you could also try to persuade them to side with you. Or you could hack the device and refocus its power on yourself. Whichever option you choose, the subsequent events react to your choice.
Even when conversation fails and violence seems to be the only choice, you can often find an open door and flee (though not always).
htxt.africa Yours is probably the only game I’ve ever seen that has a city made of meat in it. The game is set billions of years into the future – was a reason for this so you had complete freedom in the structure and look of the environments you wanted to create? Has anything survived from present day that players will recognise or will it look totally alien to them?
George Ziets We didn’t actually create the setting ourselves – the world of Numenera was designed and Kickstarted by Monte Cook Games in 2012. However, we chose this setting because we knew it would allow us to create a game that was just as bizarre and unique as Planescape: Torment. Monte Cook gave us a part of his world to develop from scratch, and we filled it up with places like our “meat-city,” the Bloom.
Numenera is set a billion years in Earth’s future, and countless hyper-advanced civilisations have come and gone, leaving behind their wild technologies, life forms they created, new forces of nature, and more.
Over millions of years, Earth has been changed so much that it’s unrecognisable. In the time of our game, most of the land mass is arranged in a gigantic super-continent (which may have been designed and engineered by some prior civilisation). Nothing from our present-day world remains. In fact, the idea that the 21st century world is completely gone is a core tenet of the setting.
All this gave us a tremendous amount of creative freedom. Thanks to the ancient technologies and the changes that have been wrought upon the world, we were able to justify literally anything we could imagine, which was a lot of fun. (The Bloom is a great example of this – I had a blast designing it.)
htxt.africa TTON is described as the spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment. What improvements have you made on the basic structure/mechanics of that game?
Colin McComb We’ve updated the mechanics from 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to Numenera’s Cypher System – a tabletop storytelling system. The system itself is streamlined and well suited for the game we wanted to make. As for the structure… well, we identified and adopted four pillars (outlined in our vision document) that we thought made were a large part of Planescape’s appeal, and we used those pillars to help establish our own framework for narrative and mechanics.
htxt.africa Since this was funded through Kickstarter, how much has fan feedback affected the development process?
Colin McComb Significantly! Early in the process, we allowed backers to submit questions and ideas, and we worked hard to integrate those into the game where they were appropriate. Some backers created items, and others created shrines or NPCs. George and Adam [Heine, design lead and writer] took those NPCs and made them integral parts of quests, so that those characters wouldn’t feel like afterthoughts.
Some of our most entertaining characters are backer-created. Another example is the introduction to the game. When we launched the early access beta, we received a lot of feedback that the pacing at the beginning was poor, and we reworked that portion of the game significantly. Our backers have been instrumental to the process, and we’re hopeful that their trust in us hasn’t been misplaced.