Showing posts with label questions/answers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label questions/answers. Show all posts

How do you write a good twist?

Phil says:
I'm writing a sci-fi story as part of a game, and one thing I'm having trouble with is how to gracefully drop hints of an upcoming twist.

One character is set up so that everyone assumes he is a villain; the midpoint twist shows that he's actually just misunderstood and trying to survive; he actually has a lot in common with the player character.

I want to drop hints of this fact earlier on in the game. I think I can do this without it giving away the twist, but I'm worried that players will assume the apparent contradiction is due to sloppy writing rather than building to something intentional. Is there anything I can do to help readers embrace the ambiguity rather than try to resolve it too soon?

There are few things more satisfying than blowing someone's mind with a good twist. Done right, it'll stick in the player's (or reader's) head, making them need to talk about the story for years to come.

Done wrong, it's lame. If the hints are too obvious then the twist is predictable. If they're too subtle, it can feel like a deus ex machina. Achieving the balance between the two is super tricky for two reasons:

1. You are always too close to your story. It's almost impossible to tell what clues a reader will or will not pick up on when you know what they all are and what they point to. Everything's so obvious to you, so you keep things super subtle. Or you over-correct and make it too obvious. You can't win.

2. It really, really depends on your audience. Ever notice how kid's stories are more predictable than adult stories? That's not because kid authors suck. The opposite actually: they know their audience and are really good at writing for them. They know what tropes kids are familiar with, which is far fewer than most adults.

(Which is not to say you can't write a kid's story that subverts the tropes. You most certainly can.)

It's not just age-dependent either. Someone who has never seen a sci-fi/fantasy movie in their life might be completely blind-sided by a Chosen One or its many subtropes.

So what's the best way to find this balance? I'm gonna say it in really big words, because it's pretty much the same solution to all writing problems.


No, wait, that's not it. It's


You are too close to your story, so get others in your target audience to read or play it. Fresh eyes will help you nail down where the story is working or not. And if you can get detailed comments as they go through, you can even see where they start to guess things and what those guesses are.

For a game, I'd recommend writing up the story as a synopsis first -- revealing information as the player would discover it -- and running that by a few people. (Unless the game's playable, of course, then running that by people might be more useful). It won't be perfect, but it'll get you closer than you can get by yourself.

And perfection's not the goal anyway. No matter how many eyes and how much revision you get on a thing, there will always be people who see the twist coming and people who think it dropped out of the blue (although the latter seems less egregious to me, which suggests you might want to err on the side of too subtle rather than too obvious). The point of getting fresh eyes is to get perspective, not perfection.

"But won't the twist be spoiled?"

For your early readers, yes. But they know that's the deal for getting an exclusive look.

For other people? Maybe. But that kind of spoiler leakage only really matters if you're writing the next Empire Strikes Back, which -- if you are -- I'm flattered you would ask me how to do this. But also if you're at that level in your career, you've probably had enough practice twisting stories that you have a feel for the balance of it by now.

That's another trick, too: practice, practice, practice. Until then? Critique and revision.

Anyone else got tips for Phil? Tell him in the comments!


Got a question? Ask me anything.

Q: Big Pot Cooking Recipes?

Erik says:
You're a foster father of 10. Got any good big pot cooking recipes to share?

Actually, I do! Here are two of my favorites (my kids like them too, as it turns out).

Note that, as far as I'm concerned, cooking is essentially magic. So these numbers aren't exact (as evidenced by the ranges below). I usually try different amounts of things each time until I figure out what feels right. Tasting as you go also helps.

CASHEW CHICKEN (ไก่ผัดเม็ดมะม่วง)
Roast 1 1/4 cup of cashew nuts and 1 1/4 cup of chopped green onions (actually, I tend to fry these in oil nowadays, but you can do what you want). When they're nice and brown, take them out and set them aside.

In 2-3 Tbsp. of oil, fry 1 cup of dried chilis. When they get dark, take them out and set them aside. (IMPORTANT: Take them out before they start smoking, lest you fill your house with face-melting, eye-scalding chili smoke. My children hate me for the times I've done this. They still won't let me forget it.)

In the chili-infused oil, fry a bunch of garlic until it's brown, then add all of this stuff:
1 kg of chicken
1 green bell pepper
2 onions
1-2 big carrots
5 Tbsp. soy sauce
5 Tbsp. oyster sauce
5 tsp. sugar

Cook that for a few minutes, then add 1 cup of chicken broth. Cook it some more until it's done (see? magic).

Turn off the heat, and add the cashew nuts, green onions, and the fried chilis (the latter is optional -- most of my kids complain when I leave these in, so now I just put them in a separate dish for the spice-immune teenager).

Serve it on rice (we make 7-8 cups for our family). Feeds at least 12 people.

YELLOW CURRY (แกงกะหรี่)
I loved this stuff as a kid. It's even better now that I live in a country where the spices are native.

If you can get yellow (or Indian) curry paste, then use some of that with an appropriate amount of coconut milk (it'll probably say on the package what proportions to use).

If not, here's how I made my own curry sauce:
3-5 Tbsp yellow (or Indian) curry powder (sadly, if you can't get this, I don't think I can help you)
Lots of garlic (I put in like 10 cloves)
1-2 Tbsp red chili pepper
2-3 Tbsp ginger
2-3 tsp salt
1500 mL coconut milk

Pretty much just mix that in a pot, then throw this stuff in:
1.5 kg of chicken (or whatever meat you want, really)
4 big potatoes
2 big carrots
2 onions

Bring it to a boil, and then leave it on low heat for like 30-60 minutes. Serve it on rice (we make 7-8 cups for our family). Serves at least 12 people.

Anyone else have any good big pot cooking recipes to share? I only cook like four things. It wouldn't hurt to discover other options.


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Q: Which is harder, game writing with a team or solo-writing novels?

I actually got this question on Twitter, but I thought it deserved more than 140 characters. Although if you're into the tl/dr version then here you go.

So which is harder? Writing a game or a novel? Writing solo or on a team?

Game vs. Novel
First, you should know that I've never written for a non-Torment game, and Torment has lots (and lots and lots) of words. It's entirely possible there are games for which writing is a piece of cake. I wouldn't know what that's like.

What's difficult about game writing is the lack of control. In a novel, the characters do exactly what I tell them to (my characters do, anyway). But in a game, the player can do anything he wants (within the rules of the game). So a character I intended to be major might die before he gets a single line, and the writing has to handle both options equally well. So a dialogue that would be 150 words in a novel becomes an enormous branching, interlocking tree.

Novel writing has its own challenges, of course. For one thing, it's more than just dialogue. A lot more. A Torment game has more descriptive prose than most, but it still doesn't come close to what you need in a novel. The novelist has to let the reader into the protagonist's head, to feel what she's feeling. In a game, that's done for you -- the player's already in their own head -- but in a novel, that connection is a lot of work.

(As an example of how much work... By far, the biggest critique note on my Ninjas novel was, "Not enough description and emotion." It took me two months to revise that critique away, increasing the size of the novel by more than ten percent -- 10,000 new words almost exclusively adding description and emotion!)

Solo vs. Team
The best part of working on a team is that I don't have to write all the words. Torment has several writers working part- and full-time, so most mornings I wake up to finished conversations that I never wrote. It's like having an infestation of word fairies!

The hard part of working on a team is trying to agree on everything. We have strict conventions and pipelines to get everything to an equivalent level of quality with minimum fuss. When I'm in a writing role, I need to follow those conventions and get the approval of (usually) at least two other leads.

Even in my role as a lead, there are sometimes disagreements on how we should handle certain things -- anything from what the jargon of a town should be to the voice of a player companion to whether we should use one dash or two in place of an em-dash. Fortunately, we have a pretty great team, with a high level of professionalism and a low ego average, so even difficult decisions are rarely Difficult.

And really, the decision-making as a team is a lot of the fun. When I'm writing a novel, I have to make my own decisions, second guess myself, and be my harshest critic. My novel has no awesome story meetings with people I enjoy and respect (it's just me). And it is really, really hard to be objective about anything you make yourself.

Which do I like better? I like them both. A LOT. Honestly, if I had to choose only one of them, I'd probably rebel and just keep trying to do everything.

Oh wait, that's what I'm doing.


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Q: A couple of TTON details vs. Pillars of Eternity

Alessandro Gambino has two questions today:
a couple of questions that arose directly from my playthrough of Pillars of Eternity.

First question:  As far I remember, in Torment we will have separate inventory screens for each character, won't we? And if so, any hope you guys are reconsidering this part of the GUI?

I'm not sure where I might have mentioned separate inventory screens. If I did, it was either very early in design or else a mistake. Our inventory design is based on Pillars of Eternity's -- partially because we had just gotten their codebase at that time (so we could see how they were doing things) and partially because a single inventory screen for the entire party is just a good idea.

Additionally, as you mentioned in the full text of your question, Alessandro, TTON's weapon sets will be representative, so a single weapon can be used in multiple weapon sets. See this update for more info on that.

My second question: in a another KS update you wrote (quote): "For us, a “puzzle” isn’t an attempt to divine the will of the designer, but rather an obstacle with multiple solutions involving various Difficult Tasks and their applicable Effort and skills".

Does this mean that Torment won't have any puzzle/problem with not-so-obvious solution? Which is to say: Will the puzzle-solving elements of the original game be dropped in favor of the effort management of the new one (please don't do that. If you are not 100% convinced, I can send you my boxed copies of all Quest for Glory games, as a reminder of how you can have puzzles that feel like real puzzles even if they can be solved in multiple ways according to your character skills :D)?

I can see how your concern might arise from my quote. Rest assured that PST is our primary example in terms of how conversations are designed. "Puzzles" in TTON will take many forms. Simple ones might require one of a couple of Difficult Tasks, but many more will require you to talk to people and pay attention to your surroundings (or at the very least, they will be made much easier by doing so).

What we won't do is, for example, require the player to decipher an elaborate and unique sequence of actions to collect an item they don't even know they need. We also don't want the player to get stuck because they missed some foozle or failed the wrong Task. We are trying to emulate a tabletop RPG session more than a graphic adventure, and that means doing the best we can to anticipate what things players will want to try, and implementing what might happen for each one.


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Q: What's your favorite part of the writing process?

Trevor asks:
What's your favorite part of the writing process?

My favorite part is the part where I make money, followed closely by the part where people tell me how awesome my writing is.

Is that... is that not what you meant?

So, in terms of actually creating the story, I prefer planning, by far. I'm a notorious, obsessive, ridiculously detailed planner (which is perhaps why I make a decent game design lead). I like to outline my stories down to each chapter's beats and cliffhangers, if I can.

I'm also a big fan of revision, but only after I get critiques and after I've recovered from the bone chilling soul-death that comes with them.

Not a fan of the soul-death.

Or drafting. I hate drafting. In fact, given a choice between drafting and soul-death, I'd take soul-death every time. At least it means I'm staring at a finished story instead of that unholy blinking cursor of oblivion, mocking me while it sits there and does nothing...

You know, it's a wonder I like writing at all.


Got a question? Ask me anything!

Q: How do you have time for everything?

Trevor asks a very pertinent question:
How do you have time for everything? 
Seriously, I see that you have 10 kids, work remotely on an anticipated game, and write, among other daily challenges I'm sure. Was there ever a point when you wanted to let go of any of these passions? Do you ever worry that you can't devote enough time to each of them?
Do I ever worry I can't devote enough time to everything? Constantly. How do I make sure that doesn't happen?

I have no idea.

Well, that's not strictly true. I have some idea of how I pull this off, but I'm so notoriously bad at everything below that it's a miracle I get anything done. For what it's worth, here are the things that help me run my life:
  • Priorities. My family comes first, then paying work (98% of which is Torment), then my own writing projects (i.e. those that are currently unpaid but will hopefully be paid later), then boring things like fixing stuff around the house and watching Fast and Furious 7. When one priority threatens the happiness of another, they get cut off in reverse priority order... which is why nothing ever gets fixed around here.
  • Knowing my limits. I'm pretty terrible at this one usually, but occasionally I will have bursts of genius, like when I signed on to Torment with a 25-30 hour/week commitment instead of fulltime (although that usually turns into 30-35, and even more during crunches, but commitments! Yay!).
  • Schedules. This is easier when the kids are in school (which they're not now, oi). I try to do Torment work from 7-12 in the morning, then lunch, then write for 1-2 hours, then pick up kids from school, then spend time with kids, then usually more Torment work, then spend time with my wife, then pass out. And somewhere in there I get on Twitter and play chess. No, I don't know how that works either.
  • Very little TV. We don't have Netflix or Hulu out here, and we try very hard not to pirate anything. That leaves Crunchyroll, Legend of Korra DVDs, and our collection of Friends episodes. (We actually have more than that, but we rarely get to watch anything as it airs, making Twitter a constant spoilerfest).

Have I ever wanted to let go of something? Yes and no. I certainly enjoy the financial freedom InXile has given me (especially when we needed it most), but part of me thinks I'd be okay with having time to focus on just my writing and family again. (Then the other part of me starts shouting, "Hey, remember how hardly anybody paid us for our own writing?!").

Giving up writing is also an option, but I don't know if I could give it up completely. I've been writing my own stories in some form since I was seven. For now, I'm content to just take it slow.

Obviously my family is not on the table. They're what I do everything else for.

I've already given up a lot of things to make this work: blogging regularly, keeping up with Naruto, any kind of serious board game design, most movies and computer games that I can't enjoy with my kids... These are costs I'm willing to pay in exchange for creating cool things and raising awesome children.

And if my other commitments become too much, I'll cut those too. Until then, I'll just keep trying to live three dreams at once (four, if you count sleep... which I do).


Got a question? Ask me anything!

Q: Will Torment use Unity 5?

Mark asks:
Is Torment going to be / has Torment been developed with Unity 5 in mind?

It turns out this was a more complicated question than one would think. We're planning to move to Unity 5, but we weren't sure about that for a long time (and even now, there's still a fair amount of work to do before the move is official).

Further details from our illustrious wizard/programmer, Steve Dobos:

We started work on Torment before Unity 5’s full feature set was announced.  By the time Unity 5 became a known quantity, we had already done much work on the engine for Unity 4.  So the benefit of a move to Unity 5 will be limited for Torment.  The primary justification for a move to Unity 5 is the new Mecanim system.  We’ve put much effort in to the animation of our characters, and the Mecanim upgrades will help organize our complex animation trees. 

Unfortunately, all of the cool Deferred Shading tech they released in Unity 5 doesn’t function with an orthographic camera, which Torment uses. So while we're doing some interesting things graphically, largely thanks to the Pillars of Eternity technology, Torment won't really benefit from Unity's graphical enhancements. Sadness.


Got a question? Ask me anything.

Q: How do we know who wrote what?

Haran asks:
About writing credits in games - in most big games, you can't know which part of dialogue\text was written by whom, just that there is a "lead writer" and other writers. Is there a secret way industry people like you guys use to know this? And for Torment, will you list somewhere who wrote what?

The "secret way" is we ask people what they were responsible for. The answer we get back is rarely simple.

The thing is that most big games are a team effort. Although one person might initially be in charge of an area or a character, by the end of the project so many people have had their fingers in everything that it's often difficult to say who wrote what.

The best we can do (which is what you often see in interviews and the like) are things like: "Well Joe did the high level design on Sagus Cliffs," "Luke was primarily in charge of the Oasis," or "Kate wrote most of the characters in the third act of the game." That's about as specific as we can get.

We could maybe list those vagueries in the credits, but even that might be disingenuous. For example, right now George Ziets is in charge of the Bloom and has written a couple of the conversations. But Colin has written most of them. I've written a few, as has Thomas Beekers and a couple of our other writers. Some of the conversations have been gone over many times by multiple people. I've thoroughly reviewed (and sometimes revised) all of them, and George plans to do the same.

So who wrote what? I could maybe tell you right now, but I'd have to break it down node by node in many cases.

By the end of the project? All I'll be able to tell you is, "Well, George did the high level design on the Bloom...."


Got a question? Ask me anything.

Q: What kind of writing samples do you want for game work?

Gunther Winters is looking for a writing position in the gaming industry. He says:
...all those ads [that interest me] require the submission of "samples" of one's own work, and I suspect that those that don't clearly require it just take it for understood. ...what is adequate for "submitting"? How many "pieces"? How long? Of what  kind? Most ads mention no details whatsoever...

Any other advice for an aspirant "writer" who is trying to approach the gaming industry?

I can't tell you specifically what other people are looking for, but I'll tell you what we look for. Since Torment is looking for a number of words on the order of 2-3 George R. R. Martin novels, I hope my advice will be applicable (if not over-applicable) to other positions as well.

Mostly we want to get the sense that you can do the work we need you for. Length of the samples is not very important, so long as it's a couple of pages' worth. Quantity of samples can be useful to get a sense of a writer's breadth, but again is not critical.

The type of sample matters more. For us, we like to see game and fiction writing (and because Torment is a bit more literary* than most games, we slightly prefer fiction writing to get a sense of a writer's skill). If an applicant sent us links to his Twitter feed or blog posts, it wouldn't tell us much about whether they could write character dialogue.

* Read: more wordy.

In general, it's a good idea to send exactly what is asked for. If they don't ask for samples, or you think you might have too many, then include a link to more samples in case they're interested. If they think you look promising, they can always ask for more.

Lastly, although the requirements of every game writing position is different, being technical enough to structure branching dialogue is usually a good skill to have. Fortunately, there are many game design and modding tools that can help you learn this sort of thing.

As to other advice, I've written on that before. Short version: learn to do something related, and do it very well.

Gunther adds:
Last, if the choice is between getting Torment released and replying to me, by all means please just work on the game and release it already. I'm dying here [insert pun about my "torment" here].
Heh. Fortunately for you, my brain needed a break and your question provided it. But I appreciate your anticipation!


Got a question? Ask me anything.

Q&A: Can you rest anywhere in Torment?

Alessandro from Torment's Italian fan blog says:
You've talked extensively about Effort in many occasions by now, but there's still a piece of the puzzle missing, at least to me. How do you intend to limit rest in the Torment?

I mean, managing Effort is an interesting gameplay mechanic. but only because Effort is a limited resource. If players are able to rest whenever they want, the whole thing explodes.

Now, I know that during Cryses time is a factor, so resting will be either limited or impossible, but what about the "normal gameplay"? Will Players be able to rest freely in exploration mode?

Not usually.

Background: I explained the Numenera concept of Effort, and how we're adapting it for Torment, in our latest update here. Short version: Effort is a limited resource used to make difficult tasks easier. This resource can be replenished with healing or rest.

Alessandro, you are absolutely right (as are others I've seen around the internets who have expressed a similar concern): if healing is freely and easily attainable -- as it would be with a "rest anywhere" mechanic -- then Effort becomes meaningless. You could just use it all up on a task, rest to replenish, then use it all again on the next task.

So obviously the player will not be able to rest anywhere they want for free. You'll have quick rests you can use anywhere, but those are limited and they won't restore all your Stat Pools. Eventually your party will need to sleep. To do that, you'll have to find a place that will let you sleep for a price you can afford. Every Zone will have such a place, of course, but you won't be able to rest wherever and whenever.

Can you just head back to the rest spot in between tasks? Sometimes, sure. Other times you won't be able to get back so easily. Sometimes you'll need to do a few tasks in a row to accomplish something. And sometimes sleeping (which makes time pass) will have other consequences as well.

So sleeping will usually come with a cost. That cost might be trivial or it might be quite high. It will depend on what you want to do, where you are in the game, and what's more important to you at the time.

Q: Game quality on a variety of systems?

Taking advantage of asking me anything, Steve says:
If one writes a book, the reader gets exactly what the writer put across. Doesn't matter what format they read it in - it's basically the same experience.

But with video games, everyone’s machines are different, from ancient to cutting edge. With all the variables of OS, RAM, video cards, and everything else thrown in as well. Which have changed since you began the project and will have changed again by the time it comes out.

So my question is, how do you design a product that will have the best quality when played on such a wide spectrum of equipment? Is there some kind of statistical system requirement formula for reaching the greatest number of gamers? Or do you just go for the best game you can design, and hope people’s computers will catch up to it in time?

Note that this is uniquely a PC problem. Console games also benefit in that if a game works on one XBox, it works on all of them the same (basically).

So it's certainly a trick. Although we do try to keep things optimized as we go, we're generally more focused on getting the game working first, and then getting it working fast.

Most of our developer boxes are semi-high end for this reason. If the developer's build of the game starts slowing down on a computer, it's usually easier to upgrade the computer than to slow down development while we figure out how to optimize whatever's slowing things down.

Though some optimizations do occur as development goes along. If we toss ten NPCs into a scene, and everybody's machines slow down, that's something we need to figure out (especially if we know we're going to need more than ten NPCs in our scenes!).

That only talks around your question though. To answer it more directly:

Step #1: Get the game playable. Period.

Step #2: Figure out what configuration of machine, level, and graphics quality things start to slow down.

Step #3: Figure out what's causing the slowdown and fix those spots. For example, if 10 NPCs is slowing down a scene, is it slowing the scene down because there are too many polygons? Too many light sources and lighting calculations? Too many shadows? Transparency? These things can be fixed globally to improve the game on all systems (for example by creating NPC models with fewer polygons).

Step #4: Identify features that can be scaled based on the user's system specs. For example, maybe there are three levels of NPC models: high, medium, and low. And each level has a different polygon count. These features then go into Game Options for the user to adjust the graphics to the quality/speed balance they are willing to put up with.

Then we run the game on various systems to determine our recommend system specs (which can run the game with all options turned up and no slow down) and our minimum system specs. Large developers have QA departments to do this for them. A small-to-midsize developer like inXile can do some QA, but also benefits hugely from public alpha and beta testing. The more folks we have banging at the game, the better the final product will be.

Of course we aim for the lowest system specs we can, so that as many people as possible can play the game. But there's always a certain threshold at which the work required to optimize the game cannot be justified by the number of customers we gain with those optimizations.

On Torment, we benefit from using Obsidian's technology for Pillars of Eternity, which lets us create high quality backgrounds without requiring more power from the system. That doesn't mean everything can be at a higher quality (NPCs and light sources still require a fair amount of processing power), but it gives us a lot more leeway than if we were making the game entirely in 3D.

Sorry for the hugely long answer, but I'm glad you asked the question. Among other things, this is why we can never give a straight answer when people ask us what our target system specs are going to be. The answer is invariably, "As low as we can make them."


Got a question? Ask me anything.

Q&A: Gold Novella available anywhere else?

Bester says:
Sigh... Are you planning on selling "From the Depths" on any site at all, separately from other guys?

Not at this time.

So first, the Gold novella was written as a work-for-hire, which means all the rights to it belong to inXile and not to me. So "I" (Adam) will not be selling the novella anywhere because contractually I cannot.

"We" (inXile) do not currently have any plans to sell the Gold novella -- nor the other novellas in the From the Depths compilation -- in any way beyond how you can get them now. That doesn't mean we won't sell them on Amazon or something after Torment ships, it just means there are currently no plans to.

I will say that $15 for seven novellas is a pretty good deal, especially with some of the authors involved. If you're at all interested in Torment or in Numenera, I'd say (biased though I am) that it's well worth it.


Got a question? Ask me anything.

Torment Game Modes?

From the AMA pile, Arumaxx89 says:
As you said, you want neither to encourage nor prohibit save scumming.
So I want to ask you a question: "Will there be different game modes in T:ToN?" (like, for instance, trial of iron in pillars of eternity or ironmode in XCOM)

We haven't finalized our game modes yet by any means, but we are tentatively planning some sort of ironman/permadeath mode. Of course "permadeath" doesn't mean as much to a tough-to-kill castoff of the Changing God, but it would mean something for your companions.

And it would mean your choices and failures were irreversible. By itself, I guess this wouldn't be too bad in Torment, where we are trying to make failure states worth continuing through anyway. But even though most things won't kill the Last Castoff, he's not immortal. There are things that can happen in the Ninth World that can wipe out even a castoff, and some of those things are hunting you...


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Numenera Creatures: Burden or Opportunity?

JJL asks:
So I lately got Numenera corerulebook and bestiary and read them through, fascinating stuff, but It makes me wonder about the video game.

I mean, Numenera seems to be really hard setting to make stuff for since like, one of things book states is that all animals from modern world are extinct so if someone talks about scorpion, it might not be scorpion in same way we today understand what that word means. That and the fact that bestiary is weiiiiird(in cool way) makes me wonder how that affects the game design

I mean, when you are doing normal fantasy game setting, you can just include vampires and skeletons and whatever without thinking about it too deeply, but in numenera straight up magic doesn't even exist, everything is caused by really advanced science and bestiary doesn't contain any monsters from traditional fantasy setting. Heck, book even recommends against using words like dragon or griffon or such to describe creatures. So yeah, does that make job much harder for you guys or do you guys consider it more of opportunity to do interesting things? 
(I'm assuming you guys aren't ignoring the setting described by rulebook completely xP I mean, for all I know, if you guys want to include undead and straight up dragons, you guys will do that)

We're professional world-builders working on a brand that intentionally steers away from normal fantasy at every opportunity. So yeah: huge, HUGE opportunity. This is why we chose the setting in the first place.

(And yes, there will probably be zero vampires, skeletons, or dragons. We do have one creature called a wight,* but it's not what you think.)

* See the novella compilation in Update #7.


Got a question? Ask me anything.

Wait, wait, wait: One BILLION Years?

AstroBull has a question about the Numenera setting:
I have a question about the TTON time scale. In a previous AMA response, you mention "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." This brings up questions regarding biological evolution. As far as I am aware, many/most characters in TTON will be recognizably human, though I'm sure with changes both genetic and technological in origin. Still, it would take quite the suspension of disbelief for me to believe that Homo sapiens as we know it would exist in this future, rather than some potentially un-recognizable descendent.

Couldn't the premise of ages of civilizations with vastly advanced tech followed by a dark age work for, say, 20 million years? Will there be some explanation as to why humans still exist in the unfathomable distant future?

You are absolutely right. In one billion years, humans and everything else will have evolved, the continents will have come back together and split apart again, and none of it will matter because the sun will have expanded to the point where life on Earth will be impossible.

Assuming nobody does anything about it.

That's the thing, though. In those billion years, at least eight ultra-powerful civilizations have arisen (or arrived) and then disappeared, each one advanced to incredible power far (FAR FAR) beyond what we are currently capable of. And each one messed with the Earth in substantial ways.

At least one of them had mastered planetary engineering and stellar lifting. At least one could fiddle with the laws of physics the way we play with Legos. At least one explored parallel universes and alternate dimensions. And more than one wasn't human.

So why are there humans at all, or anything even remotely close? The Ninth Worlders don't know the answer to that. Their recorded history only goes back about 900 years, before which humans lived in barbaric tribes and isolated farming villages. No one knows how long it's been since the previous civilization disappeared, nor where Ninth Worlders came from. They have a sense that Earth was once theirs, and then it wasn't, and now it is again, but they have no idea how this could be.

Will there be some explanation for you, the player? Not in Torment, and maybe not in Numenera at all. It's not critical to Torment's story, but more than that, it's part of the mystery of the setting. And mystery is critical to making this setting work.

As for why a billion, instead of some other large-but-sufficient number, Monte Cook has a better answer than I could give.


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About What We Do

From the AMA bag of holding, Surface asks:
Not to only ask about Torment - Im genuinely curious about your involvement with that orphanage.

How did it happen, really - and so far away from home? Im imagining you were probably on a vacation and just happened to run into it and then just... felt the call? Am i correct?

And how do you finance it? Seems like an impossible task just for one guy and his wife.

Is it you who is keeping it all together or are you helping or... how does it all work really?

This might be the first question for which my new readers need the backstory. Or just the story, I guess.

Like it says next to my picture over there, my wife and I foster a bunch of kids in Thailand. We're not an orphanage (though we used to work at one). We don't even really like the term "children's home" (though that has more to do with certain connotations that has out here -- technically, we are a children's home). We prefer the term family, because that's what we try to be in every way.

We take in kids that have nowhere to go. We try as hard as we can to treat them like they were our biological children (we have 2 of those as well, which gives a good point of comparison). We currently have 10 kids -- 9 at home and 1 in college -- from all kinds of backgrounds: orphans, refugees, abused, abandoned, Thai, Burmese, Lisu, Karen. Our only real criteria is that we are their last stop. These kids have had it hard enough; the more stability we can give them, the better they will be able to heal.

So our "children's home" is just our house and our family. We're the parents. We have no employees except a house helper (who is, herself, more family than employee). We almost never both leave at the same time because (1) it's hard on the kids and (2) it's hard on us!

How did this happen? The simple answer is what you said: God called us. The run-on sentence is that Cindy's had a heart for orphans since she was young, so when we felt called to come here (it was a more gradual thing, culminating in a very strange moment at a pastor's conference where we both *knew* God was asking us to go), we had a vague idea of running an orphanage/planting a church in whatever country we ended up in. About a year after we got here, we had something of a reclarification, in which we realized we didn't want to manage an orphanage. We wanted to parent a family.

Financing our home has mostly come from friends and family who support our vision, as well as from our own savings. Over the last few years, our family has grown beyond our income from supporters, and our savings have been gradually exhausted. It was almost exactly two years ago when we were considering fundraising (blech), but then I got this job you might have heard of.

So yeah, your Kickstarter dollars help support orphans in Thailand. That's how awesome you are. Seriously.

You can't believe how grateful I am -- to you the backers, to Colin and Kevin and Brian, to God. I never, ever, ever, ever thought I'd get to be in game design again without quitting everything we do out here (which isn't going to happen). The fact that I get to work on this amazing game, without taking any time away from my amazing kids, has been blowing my mind for two years straight now.

Thank you for the question, too. I appreciate the opportunity to share my family a little bit.


Got a question? Ask me anything.

About Torment's Crisis System

Two related questions from the AMA desk today.

Baudolino05 (aka Alessandro, from our wonderful fan-run Italian tumblr) asks:
What can you tell me about the quest design in T:ToN? I mean: only part of the quests will be handle through Crises, right? As for the remaining part, can we expect complex/interrelated quest-lines? Will they feature puzzle-solving/exploration elements like in the original Torment? No combat at all, right?

Along similar lines, Surface Rfl says:
One additional question more about Crises themselves, since you mention their apparent duration as one reason why saving in TB would be possibly, or most likely, allowed.

Im wondering about their general structure.

Does your answer mean that all of a Crises will be done in TB mode and so be all combat related?  I thought there will be other things to do inside Crises. And usually, for things other then combat, we go back to normal real time gameplay in games like these.

Torment's Crisis system (which we introduced in ridiculous detail here) might best be thought of as our "more than combat" system. Or better yet, think of it as a tabletop encounter, where combat is certainly one way to handle things, but where players have many, many more options available to them as well.

Yes, Crises are all turn-based. But no, they are not necessarily all combat. We use the Crisis system whenever there's some kind of time-based pressure the player must deal with. For example, it would be a Crisis to sneak out of a prison or to try and rescue people from a rampaging horror. In the first case, the pressure comes from the guards who are patrolling or responding to alarms. In the second, of course, it's the horror itself that provides the pressure. In both cases, while combat is a possibility, it's not the ideal solution to the problem.

So the "other things" you can do depend on the individual Crises themselves. You might be repairing (or disabling) ancient devices, persuading people that you're on their side, creating distractions to temporarily stop the horror, etc. We wouldn't be able to do this kind of thing well in a massive dungeon crawl game, but since we're focusing on quality over quantity -- on a dozen or so handcrafted scenarios, woven tightly with the narrative and environment -- we can afford to make each one really interesting.

As for quests, certainly there will be some that result in a Crisis, but just like PST there will be many quests (maybe most quests) that you can solve with just conversation and exploration. We're excited about the Crisis system, but this is still a Torment game, after all, and that means that conversation and narrative are king.


Got a question? Ask me anything.

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.