AMA: If You Could Make Any Game...

The aftermath of my trip to California has kept me ridiculously busy, but I've finally snuck a little time to answer another question. And it's a good one.

Samuel asks:
You are currently the project lead for Torment: Tides of Numenera for InXile Entertainment. With that in mind, if you could be the "boss"/project lead for any type of Compute role-playing game, and decide everything about it's setting and design, what would you make?
(Clarification: I am not Torment's Project Lead. That distinction belongs to Kevin Saunders. I'm not even sure it's a job I'd want. I am Torment's Design Lead, in charge of gameplay systems and Numenera adaptation. And sometimes Colin and Kevin even let me write stuff.)

With that clarified, I'd make the game that I started 11 years ago: a space trader game set in my own Air Pirates world. If you know what both of those are, you can skip to the end. Otherwise...

A space trader game is an open-world (or at least pseudo-open world) space simulator in which the player is the pilot of a relatively small, outdated starship and must work his way up to some awesome, customized super star destroyer of his own design, by trading goods, accepting missions, and taking risks.

Often the game world has a number of factions the player can take missions for, gaining the goodwill or ire of each, and unlocking special missions, ships, weapons, etc. Many such games also have a story you can follow (or ignore). My favorite space trader games, in reverse chronological order, have been: Wing Commander: Privateer, Escape Velocity, and the BBS text version of Trade Wars.

Air Pirates is the world in which my single published story "Pawn's Gambit" is set, as well as the novel that got me my agent.

Air Pirates is not set in space, and it has almost nothing to do with space. It's really all about the airships and the pirates (hence the name). So that's the first thing I would change from the space trader formula: it would be set in a world and not in space.

The second thing I would tweak is I'd focus it on story and reactivity. I wouldn't remove the open-world aspect of it entirely, but for me that would be a side game. The story and the characters would be what was important, along with giving the player multiple really interesting ways to get through the game the way they want to.

Will I ever get to make that game? Probably not. But you asked, Samuel, and it's fun to dream.

Got a question? Ask me anything.

AMA on the Road

I am currently in Incheon Airport in Korea, awaiting the end of my 8-hour layover so I can finish another journey to Newport Beach and another week of design meetings, pizza, more design meetings, Greek food, brainstorming meetings (you know, where we brainstorm design), Mexican food, and the beach. Except for the part where I leave my family for 10 days (and, you know, kill 8 hours in an airport), I'm pretty excited about it.

But I do have some questions to answer! So let's get to these.

All these questions are from Surface Rlf:
If the player it to be forewarned about possible failure, or chances for that failure - shouldn't that be dependent on level of his skill for that specific task?
So, a low level, beginner thief would not be able to know how dangerous some trap or lock is with any greater precision (this lock looks challenging, duh), while a master thief would be able to evaluate the dangers with more exact precision, presumably knowing the exact type and maker and specific of the lock or trap.
Or at least be able to deduce the potential risks with more precision?
- instead of some global knowledge available to everyone - of that class?
These are cool ideas, and if we had more resources to devote to implementing and debugging this kind of gameplay, I'd put it in Torment.  (I know it doesn't seem all that complicated, but even a small thing like this can increase balancing and debugging time exponentially.) At the moment, pending prototyping and iteration of our exploration gameplay, we're allowing the player to choose how much of the task difficulties they see (actual numbers vs. abstracted numbers (default) vs. none), primarily focusing our resources toward conversations, Crises, and reactivity instead.

Save scumming in usual gameplay may be fine, but what about saving during TB combat?
It's likely this will be possible in Torment (our Crises are planned to be longish, in-depth affairs), so I stand by my statement in this interview. Namely, we are taking care in our design so as not to encourage nor require savescumming, even in TB combat. But for some folks, that's how they want to play, so we're not going to expend tons of resources to prohibit it.

- have you played Age of Decadence?
Sadly, no.

As for [random number generation (a topic dealt with in the same interview)]... isnt that what gives RPG mechanics a very valuable sense of authenticity and believability? Lets look at... Sergei Bubka, at his prime. World recorder and master champion of his sport with no one equal or even close in skill at the time. Did he succeed in every single jump? Furthermore... shouldn't RNG lessen the more skilled a character is and be greater the lower level of skill is? (but never be completely removed?) Seems reasonable and believable to me.
I agree (though as I said in the interview, deterministic can be fun too). Sounds like you'll enjoy Torment's design :-)

Oh, i guess the fact that the player has the option of switching between all those Foci will be excused through narrative - of player being a castoff.
Something like that, yeah :-)

Have a question? Ask me anything.

AMA: 7 Quick Answers

The lovely Authoress asks:
Why aren't you writing a novel right now?   :)

Brian Fargo (my boss's boss) has been quoted as saying that we have generated 800 pages of design documents, and I'm personally responsible for about 150,000 words of those documents. (That's an excuse, I know. I am writing a novel, but much more slowly than before.)

Sandra asks:
What will you look for in an intern? What are some basic skills the intern must have? What kind of attitude should s/he have if they want to apply at a company? (Given that, ofcourse, the company you work for, accepts interns)

I, personally, do not look for interns. There are more than enough people in my house who require me to teach them everything I know for next to no pay, such that I don't need any more. I don't know if inXile takes interns, but I'm sure you can find out.

The even lovelier Cindy Heine asks:
What's the next gift you're going to give your wife? 

Either something from the States, something from an airport, or a hug. Maybe all three.

Ali Martinez asks:
Are you guys going to make the [Torment] combat system like Planescape/Baldur with the pausable real-time mode?. Because right now there are WAY too many "turn based combat games" like Banner Saga , Blackguards , ShadowRun, Wasteland, Divinity Original Sin ETC. And I really think that many people want that old school RPG complex combat system, so it would be great if you guys go with the real time paused system :) 

Torment's combat will be turn-based, which we've talked about (and there were "many people" on both sides of that decision).

(Also, real-time w/ pause = old school? Am I that old?).

Hiver asks:
How come the Changing God doesnt get that his discarded shells are continuing to live? He seems as a rather smart guy and he makes them himself. - Does every shell survive or just some? How come?

I can't answer too much without spoiling, but he does get it (at some point).

David asks:
Can I play T:ToN without having to learn the massive lore beforehand? Can I as a layman play the game and learn about the world and rules through playing the game rather than having to study beforehand?
I ask because whenever I see an interview or an update, I've got the strong sense I'm missing a vast amount of knowledge.

I backed both Project Eternity and Torment Tides of Numenera, but my attention had been focused mostly on following Project Eternity. I now have this idea that starting T:ToN I might be well out of my depth. I hope not, because so far, I like everything I've read. And as a fairly critical person, that's rare.

You will absolutely be able to play Torment without knowing anything beforehand. If you come in having read every post and novella, you'll notice cool things here and there, but we are explicitly assuming the player has no background knowledge coming in.

Hugo Chavez asks:
You're pretty cool. What's your shtick?

Clean living, Jesus, and a barrel of children who won't let my head get big for even a second.

Got a question? Ask me anything.