Showing posts with label Torment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Torment. Show all posts

What is the numenera?

From the AMA pile, Surface rfl says:

In a recent interview, among lots of superb stuff (great companions concepts! can we call the ball of goo... Ballte? Goolte? no? ..damn...), - ive noticed this line:

- "Magic" in Numenera is performed by tapping into the ubiquitous numenera around you--even in the air and the dirt--and using it to reshape the world. -

I know thats most likely a convenient background lore explanation explanation and i dont expect "magic" to be realistically explained, but im curious when it comes to the setting... what exactly does this "ubiquitous numenera" mean?
Did you refer to various technological remnants of previous epochs like cyphers, artifacts and other actual numenera that the player will find, or maybe some kind of more microscopic nano machines saturation... or is it something else?
Im asking because so far ive gotten use to thinking about numenera as small objects basically, and any still functioning or malfunctioning rogue nano machines as something exactly specified, like the Iron Wind, for example.


Yes to all of the above.

So a brief recap for those unfamiliar: the setting of Numenera and Torment is Earth one billion years in the future, known as the Ninth World. A billion years is as far removed from us as we are removed from being single-celled organisms. In those epochs, a number of great civilizations have risen and then disappeared into obscurity, each one orders of magnitude more advanced than all but the wackiest science fiction could even imagine.

The people of the Ninth World, however, are at approximately medieval technology levels, but they live among the debris and leftovers of a billion years of civilizations. Of course there are no books or other degradable things still lying around, but there are massive monuments made of metals nobody recognizes, giant crystals floating in the sky, mutated descendants of bioengineered creatures, automated military constructs following orders that don't make sense anymore, and other weirder things that have withstood time.

The Ninth Worlders don't understand how to make any of this stuff, but they know enough to cobble together useful artifacts from what they find.

To (finally) get to the question, "this stuff" is the numenera, but it doesn't just mean sci-fi devices you find lying around (you actually don't find sci-fi devices lying around much, but have to cobble your own). It also means the invisible forces still in the air. It means the datasphere that some civilization built around the planet -- the one that can be accessed if you know what you're doing (not that you'll understand what you find) and beams the occasional strange vision (known as glimmers) into people's heads at random. It means the creatures that look like they stepped out of a horror film. It means the dirt itself, which has been worked, refined, manufactured, or grown and then ground back into soil by time.

Although we do frequently use "numenera" to refer to the items and devices you will find in Torment, it really is ubiquitous and can be used by the clever or knowledgeable in infinite ways.


Got a question? Ask me anything.

How to Become a Video Game Writer

From the AMA pile, Anonymous asks:
If someone wants to become a writer for video games, what would your advice be?

My super short advice is to do these in any order: (1) get a video game job and (2) learn to write well.

More in-depth (and hopefully useful) advice follows.

If you have a video game job, you need to learn to write well and squeeze yourself into positions where you have opportunity to write. You can learn to write anywhere: books, blogs, school, reading, but most importantly by actually writing and getting critiques from other writers.

I suspect, however, that the other order (learn to write, get game job) is the one most of you will be interested in. Here are some options:
  1. Get known for your writing and make your interest in gaming publicly known.
  2. Watch for game developer job openings. For example: inXile, Obsidian, Bioware.
  3. Make friends with other game developers. Note that I said "friends," not "acquaintances who can help me get what I really want." Remember: self-serving has a smell.
  4. Learn skills related to the game industry but that you also enjoy and/or excel at. For example: 3D art, 2D art, programming, web development, game design, etc.
  5. Find similar-minded friends and make quality games (or mods of existing games) on your own time.
  6. Become a game tester.
None of these are mutually exclusive. In fact, the more you do, the greater your chances of getting what you really want.

I know game writers who have followed all of these paths. The goal is to get noticed any way you can, so when someone asks a friend of yours, "Do you know any good game writers who might be available for this?" your friend can go, "[Your name here] might be interested, and his [type of work you do] is always good and on time. Want me to ask him?"

Incidentally, my path is here. It's a stranger path than most, but I did #2 and #3 for my first job, and a combination of #1, #3, and #4 for my current one. So my advice applies to at least one person? I guess?


Got a question? Ask me anything.

AMA: Torment Companion, "The Toy"

Garrett / Claive says:
I am fascinated with the idea of the "Toy" companion.  How much "growth" will there be from when you first encounter this creature to when it is finished with you?  How much influence will we as the player have on that growth?  Will that "directed growth" be predictable, variable, random, feed it fire seeds and pray?

Background: Early during our Kickstarter, we announced the following stretch goal: "Our initial plans for Torment included four possible companions for the player and at this Stretch Goal, we will be adding a fifth, which we’ve nicknamed “The Toy.” (That’s not its in-game name. ;) ) The Toy is a changing ball of goo: Is it a pet, an abandoned toy, a dangerous weapon? Whatever it is, it responds to the way you treat it by changing its appearance and abilities to reflect what it perceives as your desires. Its ultimate secrets are... well, you'll have to find out."

The Toy is part of the numenera, some leftover creature from a prior world, or maybe a byproduct of some ancient technological process. Who knows? What it is now is an extremely strange and loyal pet.

I can't tell you in detail how much growth it'll have from start to finish, but it'll be equivalent to the growth your other companions go through over the course of the game. The main difference is the Toy's development will affect its form as well as its abilities.

As it's master (if you choose to be so), you'll have a decent amount of influence over it, but you won't always know what you're doing. The Toy will learn from you, from what you praise or punish it for, from what you ask of it, and from what you yourself choose to do. If you encourage it towards violence, it might get better at that and become a killing machine. If you encourage it to be quiet, it might take that to the extreme, even to the point of becoming invisible.

Or it might not. We know what we want the Toy to do, but there's a lot of design and implementation left before we know what this specific character will do.

And like all the numenera, the Toy will occasionally do things you don't understand and don't expect. Nothing about the numenera is entirely predictable, and the Toy is a major example of this. Especially if it can't make sense of your desires (or maybe even if it can), it may occasionally swallow your enemies or burp a black hole or... who knows? You just can't tell with this thing.

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.

AMA: Adapting Numenera to a CRPG (and what that means)

Thomas said: 
A lot of Numenera's rules seem to be designed around a push-pull between the players and the GM. Are you finding that difficult to adapt to a cRPG where the "GM" is static content that is predetermined?  
This question I thought would be of broader interest to Torment backers, so it is answered in today's Kickstarter Update.

Steve MC said:
Can you explain the above question before you answer it? 
For my faithful blog readers (who are, perhaps, beginning to feel as though they've been dragged into something beyond their experience or comprehension... which is probably kinda true), first some definitions:
  • Numenera is the tabletop role-playing game (RPG) whose rules and setting we have licensed for Torment: Tides of Numenera.
  • A tabletop RPG is like D&D and is played something like this.
  • GM = gamemaster, the referee of sorts who determines what happens as a result of the things the players try to do.
  • cRPG = Computer RPG, which is basically the same thing as the tabletop except now the computer is the GM.
Hopefully that gives you enough context to already understand the question, but to take it further...

Tabletop RPGs, and Numenera in particular, rely on the imaginations of the players and the GM to collaboratively tell a story. This works because the GM can adapt to anything, even to the point of changing the rules.

In a cRPG, we have to somehow limit the player's options (so we can handle the consequences in a believable and satisfying way) while simultaneously making the player feel like they have freedom of choice in any given situation. It's a tricky wire to walk, and that's what the Q&A is primarily about.

Got a question? Ask me anything.

AMA: GM Intrusions and Messing With Time

Surface Rlf says:
Hi Adam, very nice of you to provide this channel into your brain. :P

Gm intrusions... how about achieving them through gameplay itself. You mentioned a simple example of getting a sword knocked out of players hands so im going to stick with that (because its easy). How about it is done by some enemy or some monster in the game? Or an environmental event, or some artifact in another scenario or situation... and so on?

You also mentioned player being able to revert his latest action? Is that like some quick time travel backwards... like some kind of Prince of Persia sands of time mechanic - trick?
Just checking.

Great to hear that changing Foci will cost something - and even better hearing you dont like respecing... respeccing? (what an awful word too). I was afraid that might be included. 

GM Intrusions
A brief definition for those new to Numenera: GM Intrusions are a means for the GM of a Numenera game to spice up a situation by introducing a difficulty, without making the players feel like he's screwing them over just because. This is accomplished by giving players an out; if they accept the complication, they gain 2 XP, or they can refuse the intrusion by spending 1 XP.

In Torment, this is trickier to pull off because there is no GM and because intrusions have a way of reminding the player he's playing a game (a thing we'd rather not do in a CRPG).

Your suggestions, Surface, are pretty much along the lines of what we've been thinking. As I said in that interview, we haven't solidified how GM Intrusions will work in Torment yet, but we do have some goals that give us a framework:
  1. Intrusions should be cool (not "good," but cool), something the player wants to accept. Of course, giving them XP is a major part of this.
  2. Intrusions should change an encounter in interesting ways, not just make things harder for the sake of making things harder.
  3. Intrusions should be framed as complications arising from external events, not from the PC screwing up (pretty much what you said, Surface).
Some ideas we've had along those lines are things like: extra guards appearing, a bridge going down (changing the terrain and the tactics of an encounter), a Broken Hound confers a Diseased fettle in addition to their normal attack, an item turns out to have been misidentified doing something different from what the player thought it would, etc. Will these feel right? We won't know until we can prototype them and try them ourselves, but it's in the right spirit.

In my mind, the real hard part is not what the intrusions will be, but how they're presented to the player. We have yet to delve into that UI in depth.

Reverting an Action
(Surface's question here is in the context of the interview again, where I mentioned that the player might be able to spend XP to undo a recent action.)

The tabletop game doesn't explain how this mechanic works narratively, probably because it's easier to immerse yourself in a story told around a table. We haven't talked about how this will be explained in-game for Torment. It might not be explained at all, simply something you can do, just like how you can use "renown" in Banner Saga to purchase items and food.

But the way you describe is not out of the realm of possibility. Numenera does actually have an "Undo" ability that lets you do exactly what you describe, taking back a character's most recent action. For Torment, we're talking about additional abilities along these lines as well, ones that let you fiddle with time in interesting ways.

The Ninth World is a strange and magical place, where nanites live in the air and dirt, where mysterious forces can be called on by someone who knows what they're doing -- or even some people who don't. It's entirely possible that this XP mechanic is one such situation.

Got a question? Ask me anything.

AMA: Self-mutilation in Torment?

hightechzombie asked:
Do you intend to add self-mutilation to Tides of Numera like in Planescape: Torment during Ignus "lessons"?

Probably asking this way too early, considering that you are still in pre-production. Still, this is very important to me!

Backstory (because my audience includes non-Torment fans as well):
In Planescape: Torment, you played the role of an immortal who lost his memories each time he died. Because you're immortal, we were able to include moments like plucking out your own eye and replacing it with a demon's, or having a powerful wizard (Ignus) teach you how to use powerful fire magic by, literally, burning the lesson into your body.

In Torment: Tides of Numenera, you don't play an immortal, but the castoff shell of a man who cheats life by jumping from body to body (he doesn't realize the bodies he leaves behind wake up and have their own lives after he leaves them).

So you're not immortal, but the castoffs are quite hard to kill. We haven't drilled down into the details of every area yet (which is where a lot of this stuff will surface), and I'm not allowed to give spoilers, but there is definitely the opportunity for PST-like moments like Ignus and Ei-Vene.

Got a question for me? Ask me anything.

Status of the Update

For those of you who don't read every single one of my Facebook posts (it's cool; even my wife doesn't read them), here's a quick rundown of what's going on and where.

I sent Ninjas off to my agent. You probably know this. She's still reading it, but I'm naively hoping she likes it and wants to start submitting like really, really soon. Cuz getting published (and paid) would be rad.

I went to California. I spoke at my church, had meals with a quarter bazillion people, played and occasionally acquired new games, and then spent a week at inXile HQ where...

I got promoted to Torment's Design Lead. That does not mean I'm in charge of the whole thing (thank God; Colin's still Creative Lead (making sure the story, characters, writing, etc. are awesome) and Kevin's still the Project Lead (making sure the game actually gets done)). It does mean I'm in charge of the game's rules, systems, interfaces, and other designy tidbits. It's pretty much the same stuff I was doing before, except with higher expectations and less ability to blame others when things go wrong. Should be fun.

I watched like 8 movies/shows on the plane trip back. And I have determined that Disney's The Lone Ranger is stupid. BBC's Sherlock, however, is intelligently awesome.

I got home. Wherein I've played a bunch of games with the boys, given out cheap American candy, seen Catching Fire with the wife, and done very little work (except the work of getting over jet lag, which is ongoing).

Tomorrow I plan to play Wasteland 2, write >= 500 words (I've lowered my standards, for reasons), and entertain a 3-year-old tyrant. Among other things.

What have you been up to?

Writing Game Dialogue

A lot of you know I'm a multiclassed programmer/writer. Before I drafted four novels and got an agent, I had a Computer Science degree, scripted for Planescape: Torment, and completed a few dozen Project Euler problems (until they got too hard). Unfortunately, since I've been more focused on writing, my levels in programming have gone largely unused.

Until now. It turns out game dialogue is the perfect job for my class combination. It's nowhere near as complicated as writing a program to solve Sudoku, but it's got all the puzzle-solving aspects of programming that I love.

And it's not as hard as it sounds. Here, I'll show you.

Typical dialogue in a novel goes something like this (excerpt from Post-Apoc Ninjas):

     "Tell me who you really are," the Marshal said.
     Here we go. The Marshal had already guessed much. Kai would have to be careful. "As I said, I grew up among mercenaries in Rivaday, though the mercenaries themselves were from all over."
     "Ah, so the story changes. How much did my grandson pay you, then?"
     "Pay me?"
     "In reward. Surely a mercenary would not rescue the Lord of Gintzu and take nothing in return."
     Kai hesitated. Marshal Aryenu was much sharper than his appearance made it seem. It felt very much like talking to Domino. Better to turn the questions on him. "How much of what Lord Domino told me was true?"
     "Your reward, mercenary?"
     Both sharper and more stubborn than his grandson. "Two thousand."

     "A lie. The boy doesn't pay anyone he doesn't have to."

Game dialogue is not so different from this, at least for a game like Torment. Prose-wise, there are only a few changes:
  • Dialogue tags ("the Marshal said") are rarely necessary, since the character speaking is usually indicated on the game screen.
  • The Player Character's thoughts (in this example, our PC is Kai) are not tied to the PC's lines, if they're included at all; sometimes all information is conveyed through dialogue or item description instead.
  • PC lines are typically very brief. (In some games, you don't even get a line, just a motive or emotion that the game designers interpret for you).
  • Any description is written in present tense and second person (though I suppose it doesn't have to be).
So a more Tormenty version would look like this (speaker tags added for clarity):

Marshal: "Tell me who you really are."
PC: "As I said, I grew up among mercenaries in Rivaday."
Marshal: "Ah, so the story changes. How much did my grandson pay you, then?"
PC: "Pay me?"
Marshal: "In reward. Surely a mercenary would not rescue the Lord of Gintzu and take nothing in return." He examines you carefully. Suddenly, he seems much sharper than his appearance first suggested.
PC: "How much of what Lord Domino told me was true?"
Marshal: "Your reward, mercenary?"
PC: "Two thousand."
Marshal: "A lie. The boy doesn't pay anyone he doesn't have to."

Those differences are primarily cosmetic. The real difference, and the most fun, is that game dialogues allow the player to choose what they say.

Marshal: "Tell me who you really are."

[Lie] "As I said, I grew up among mercenaries in Rivaday." 
2) "I'm a ninja."
3) "How much of what Lord Domino told me was true?"
4) Attack the Marshal.

Each one of those choices goes to a different branch of dialogue (or exits dialogue and starts combat, in the case of the last one). It's pretty much exactly like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel combined with a combat mini-game.

But a game should be better than that, no? We can respond, not just to what the player chooses to say, but to their other choices as well -- things they've done in the past, how they've customized their character, who they choose to travel with, etc. We call this reactivity.

Marshal: "Tell me who you really are."

[Lie] "As I said, I grew up among mercenaries in Rivaday." 
2) "I'm a ninja."
3) "How much of what Lord Domino told me was true?"
4) Attack him.
5) (If the PC betrayed his clan) "I'm a ninja, and a fugitive from my clan."
6) (If the PC killed the guards outside the keep) "I'm the guy who killed your guards."  
7) (If the player took the Read Minds ability) Try to read his mind.

And then each of those responses might have reactivity as well. The lie in (1) might succeed if you have a high deception skill, for example. What you learn from (7) might change depending on your level in the ability.

What you end up with is a branching, interlinking dialogue tree, hopefully one that is every bit as interesting for the player to navigate as combat or exploration.

It might seem overwhelming, but really such a thing evolves gradually as you write each line and think about what the player might want to say in reply. In fact, it's difficult NOT to write a huge, unwieldy conversation tree. For me, that's half the fun: trying to figure out how to guide the player to all the information I want them to get, without forcing them.

Here, if you want to play with a free, online example, try this online game where you play a dragon. But, um, don't blame me for any productivity loss.

Dead Boys, Invisible Girls, and Teens That Can't Read Minds

I apologize for the blog silence. I'm deep in the drafting tunnels of a certain science fantasy novella and/or role-playing game. I'll resurface once I get this novella worked out. Until then, please see the last part of the official blog schedule.

But I'm sending this missive via miner's canary* because there are three very important books I need to tell you about. All of them are cool, written by exceedingly cool people, and I think I'm in the acknowledgements of two of them (which ones? You'll just have to read them to find out!).

* Please send the canary back, by the way. The air in these tunnels is starting to smell funny.

Jack of Hearts by Ricardo Bare
Jack lost someone, causing a deep pain he could no longer endure. Most boys would take their own life. Jack gave his heart to the Lady of Twilight and has become her heartless assassin. Now he feels nothing, even as he does the Lady's bidding in hunting a thieving wizard.

But when he meets a beautiful girl trapped in a mirror, something stirs inside of him. A shadow of what he used to be. He wonders if he made the right decision after all, but getting his heart back from the witch will prove more difficult than any mission he's been on.

Jack of Hearts, is Ricardo's debut novel that came out just a couple weeks ago. He is one of my most awesome critique partners, and also happens to be the lead designer of the critically acclaimed stealth action/adventure game Dishonored, released last year. Check this book out, folks.

Transparent by Natalie Whipple
Touted as X-Men meets Godfather. Fiona McClean was born invisible, which makes her the perfect daughter for Vegas's biggest crime lord. But when her father pushes her too far, she goes on the run and tries to live a normal life in a small town far from her father's reach. Far, but not far enough. When her father tracks her down, she has to decide how far she'll go to protect the people she loves.

Transparent is Natalie's debut (that doesn't actually come out until next week, but you can pre-order it now). She's a good friend of mine, and it's been both heartbreaking and exhilarating to watch her journey to publication these last few years. She is (as I've said) hugely imaginative, and it shows in her ideas. She is also part of our writing team for Torment, which makes her and Torment extra awesome. 

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn
Kiera is a zero, a non-reader in a world where everybody can read minds. Until the day she accidentally control's her best friend's mind and discovers she's an entirely different kind of freak: a mindjacker. It turns out she's not the only one, and she's soon drawn into an underworld that she never suspected existed.

As it happens, this was Susan's debut as well. Yes, okay, this book came out two years ago, AND I've already talked about it. But I'm bringing it to your attention now because Open Minds is, now and forever, free to download.

So what are you waiting for?

Final Torment Info

So the Torment Kickstarter is in the last week of its campaign. We've raised over $3.25M, but we hope to raise even more to make this game bigger and better, to make a game that truly lives up to the Torment tradition.

So this is the last you'll hear me plug it, but I wanted to bring to your attention a couple of things, including one bit of news that hasn't made it to the Kickstarter page.

Bit #1: Pat Rothfuss is on our writing team. I know, right? MIND. BLOWN. It might even be part of my job to review Pat's areas which, if I remember correctly, is one of the signs of the apocalypse.

Bit #2: Natalie Whipple is on our writing team. I know that's not as big as Pat (which is one of the main reasons this hasn't hit our Kickstarter page), but though this announcement might not excite the internet at large, for me this is HUGE.

I've been following Natalie's career since way back when she won one of Nathan Bransford's 1st Paragraph Contests, and since then I've been lucky enough to critique a few of her novels. I even got to read the first chapter of her upcoming "X-Men meets Godfather" debut, TRANSPARENT. Guys, it would not be a mistake to pre-order that.

Natalie is hugely imaginative, and she brings a cool, new perspective to the Torment team that I'm really excited about. Seriously, I cannot wait to work with this team and see what we come up with.

If you want to help the project, you can still do so. I, personally, would really appreciate it, considering the bigger this game gets, the bigger my job gets and the better I can support my family :-) We've added new tiers and rewards since the Kickstarter began, and you can see them all here. Some of the new rewards are additional novellas and a digital comic book (which it sounds like I might be co-writing :-).

I know not all of you are gamers but are still interested in supporting us, or maybe in reading the novella I'm going to write. Well, you can get certain rewards -- like the digital novella compilation -- without even getting the game. Information on how to get these "add-ons" is here.

I still cannot believe the series of events that has led me here. It's like the weirdest road to publishing ever, but I ain't complaining :-)

Torment News and Me on Video

If you head over to the latest update on Torment: Tides of Numenera, you might see a familiar face. (Or maybe not so familiar, since some of you have never really seen my face).

This, by the way, is why I'm a writer, not an actor.

Also talked about in today's update is the series of Torment novellas we offer as a reward. I'm really looking forward to writing one of these, and I hope you guys will read them. Cuz listen: you don't need to know anything about Torment (neither the old game or the new) to enjoy the novellas. Each will be a self-contained story within a ridiculously cool world.

Sorry to go all salesman on you for a sec, but you can get the (digital) novella compilation at the $39 tier along with the game and the strategy guide. Or if you're not into games, you can get just the digital novella compilation as an add-on for just $15 (see this page for how add-ons work).

Plus, you know, you'd be helping me get a more stable job, and you'd be helping us make a really epic game. So, you know, there's that.

Or you could just watch me talk about state-of-the-art RPG alignment systems. You know, whatever.


UPDATE: Holy crap, you guys! We funded in just SIX HOURS! Keep going! Maybe we really can make this game as big as we want it.

We have 30 days to raise almost a million dollars as big of a budget as we can, so go pledge now! GO! GO! GO!

Wait. What is this? Where are we?
You may recall I'm a designer/writer for a computer game called Torment: Tides of Numenera, which is a successor to a game I helped make 14 years ago called Planescape: Torment. The new Torment will only happen become awesomer if we reach our funding goal on Kickstarter. Hence the noise.

Planescape what now?
Planescape: Torment. A computer role-playing game from 1999 that won a lot of awards and became the standard for deep characterization and storytelling in PC games (a standard which many feel has not been met since). It didn't sell very well at the time, but it has gained a lot of fans since then.

Why should I give you money?
Well, first, you're not giving money to me. But if Torment reaches its goal, it means I'll have a job (the extent of which depends on how much Torment exceeds its goal).

You should give money to the Kickstarter if:
  • You are a fan of Planescape: Torment, or have even ever heard of it.
  • You are a fan of RPGs with deep, emotional stories.
  • You like what you see in our pitch video or on the Kickstarter page.
  • You like my writing and want to see more of it (I should add here that one of the rewards includes a novella from me).
  • You like me and want to help me have something approximating job security.
Whether you pledge or not, please spread the word!

Actually I don't know what pledging is. Or Kickstarter.
I probably should've asked this first...
Kickstarter is a funding platform for any kind of creative project. You pledge money to projects that you want to see happen, because most of them won't happen without your help. If the project doesn't meet its goal, then they don't take your money (which is why we say "pledge" instead of "pay" or "donate").

Learn more about Kickstarter here, and read here for how it's been used in the recent past.

So, is this all you're going to talk about for the next 30 days?
Don't worry. I'll leave a short sticky post at the top of this blog throughout the campaign so you can watch our progress. Then, with the exception of a couple of posts here and there (which you'll be interested in, trust me), I'll return to our regular schedule of First Impact critiques, drawings, and what not.

But seriously, you should go pledge right now.

What I've Been Doing Instead of Blogging

I hate having only First Impact posts go up, but I am trying to make money at this writing thing, so. Anyway, here are some of the things I've been doing in the last few weeks instead of blogging.

Designing an alignment system. Basically codifying all of human experience and emotion into little boxes so we can tell the player things like, "You're Lawful Good." (Note: We're not using Lawful Good.) FUN LEVEL: High.

Thinking about what makes RPG combat interesting. There is quite a lot of debate in the hardcore CRPG world about whether combat should be turn-based or not. Part of my job has been to think about this a lot. FUN LEVEL: Medium (only because I'd rather get into specifics, but I can't yet).

Writing design docs. Fact: if we don't document it, it gets forgotten. FUN LEVEL: Tedious (but like our producer told me and Colin the other day, we don't get to do the fun stuff until we actually have money to do it).

(Anyway, tedious is a relative term. The most boring game design task is way cooler than anything I did for my Office Space job. I just want to think up cool stuff all day and have someone else write it down for me, is all.)

Writing Kickstarter copy. You'd be surprised how much work goes into a major crowd-funding campaign. I mean, look at a typical big-budget Kickstarter. Someone has to write all that stuff. FUN LEVEL: Tedious.

Planning Kickstarter videos. FUN LEVEL: High (until they start talking about my video update, then Abject Terror).

Iterating. I get an e-mail asking what I think of a design doc. I critique said design doc. What do I think of the latest concept art? Review and reply with my thoughts. Music? Videos? Someone's possible response to a forum question? Review and respond. Oh, and also respond to all the critiques of my stuff. FUN LEVEL: Surprisingly High.

Waiting on Air Pirates. Submissions, man. FUN LEVEL: Zero.

Revising Post-Apoc Ninjas. FUN LEVEL: Really slow.

Playing chess online. Our producer, Kevin, saw this drawing and said he might challenge me sometime. I can't let him win. FUN LEVEL: High.

Playing games with the kids. We raise gamers. I can't imagine why. FUN LEVEL: High until their attention spans wear out (so about five minutes).

Fending off tiny tyrants. This one, in particular. She gets mad at me when I work. Or cook. Or read. Or do anything except give her 110% of my attention. FUN LEVEL: I don't like it when she screams at me.

Driving. Yeah. I'm basically a soccer dad. FUN LEVEL: Usually High (this is where I come up with ideas).

So... what are you all up to?

Torment Concept Art

Hey, if you're interested in that game I'm working on, we've got some concept art up.

This first shot is a work-in-progress picture of The Bloom, a literally living city, with tendrils creeping through other dimensions. The concept artist who did this is one of my (new) favorite artists ever. His name's Chang Yuan, and you can see more of his work here.

This next shot is one of the weapons in the game. Our setting is kind of a Dying Earth setting, where the highly advanced technology of the past becomes the scavenged weapons and magic of the future. Some of you might know this is exactly the kind of setting I love to work in.

So listen, I'm not gonna post every single tidbit of the game here. If you want to follow news about it, you might try liking the game's Facebook page, or else following my Twitter feed or Brian Fargo's (being the leader of inXile, whose Torment-related tweets I pass on).

I will for sure let you know when the Kickstarter goes off, so don't worry about that. Otherwise, I'll try to stick to writerly posts in general. Today, though, I just wanted to share with you the pretty.

Top Secret Project is No Longer Secret

Let me tell you a story about a little boy and his dreams. This boy (we'll call him Adam) wanted to make video games since he was 11 years old and Nintendo Power ran a contest to design your own game.* Back then (the late 80's), the only career paths to video games were computer programming and art. Believing he was no good at the latter, he studied computers for the next twelve years.

But Adam wrote too. Oh, God, he wrote -- and designed, because for him it was always about creating the games. Programming was just a means to an end.

In early 1999, Adam got his wish. Feargus Urquhart, head of Black Isle Studios, took a chance on a rookie programmer not quite out of college, and Adam became a scripter on one of the greatest RPGs ever made. And he impressed some people. So much so that when he told them he wanted to be a designer on the next project, rather than a programmer, they happily obliged.

But it didn't last. Oh he loved the job, but the hours were many, and he was commuting 2.5+ hours a day on top of it. When Adam got married, he decided a less demanding (and possibly better paying) job would help ensure the longevity of his new family.

And then he went crazy and left it all for Thailand.

It was all good, though. He'd found a new creative outlet in his novels, and being a full-time dad actually gave him opportunity to write. Of course he missed game design, just like he missed steak houses and the ocean; it was just one of many sacrifices he'd made for the greater good.

But Adam, like so many of us, underestimated the power of the internet and social networking.

Now, this is happening. My old friend, Colin McComb, asked me to be one of the primary designers on a successor to our beloved Planescape: Torment. We're working with Monte Cook (one of the creators of my favorite edition of D&D) and other equally cool people that I can't even mention yet.

We're still in pre-production, and there's always a chance the game won't even happen: big publishers don't want this thing, so we have to go directly to the people who do (BTW, if you're one of those people, we'll talk later).

But just the fact that there's a chance I can do game design again is kind of blowing my mind. We're living in the future, guys. Next stop: teleporters and flying cars.

* Before 11, I wanted to be a jet fighter pilot. I blame Iron Eagle.