5 Weird Facts About 2015

These facts are weird to me, at least. Most of these are true this year. All are recently true.

(1) We've lived in Chiang Mai longer than we had lived in San Diego.

San Diego's our home, man. At least it used to be. But we've been living in a place where all TV shows are geo-blocked (and also available down the street for $1/disc), and where Sprite is pronounced "sapai," for more years than any place I've lived in except the place I was born.

(2) We've been attending our current church longer than we had attended our supporting church.
Equally strange. The friends and family who support our foster work have been going to church without us longer than they went to church with us. Heck, most of them don't even go to that church anymore.

Corollary weirdness (but also extremely cool): Our support hasn't dropped off a bit in ten years.

(3) I've been working for inXile longer than I worked for Black Isle.
With the notoriety of Planescape: Torment and the subsequent Kickstarter, one would think I worked at Black Isle for years and years, but really I was only there for about eighteen months. I played Fallout in college, joined up for most of PST's production and the beginnings of TORN, and then I left. Now I'm like a Design Lead or something.

And I live in Thailand. I mean, my commute was pretty bad before, but my current commute is sixteen times worse.

(4) We've been married with kids longer than we've been married without.
This probably shouldn't be weird, but it is. I don't remember what we did without kids. Well, yes I do: we played Settlers and Ticket to Ride and Mario Tennis and SSX Tricky until we remembered that we had to go to work in that nebulous future thing called "tomorrow morning." What I don't remember is how we did that.

(5) I've known my wife longer than I haven't known her.
This also falls under the "extremely cool" category, but it's strange to think that I've known Cindy for most of my life, yet I grew up without her. How is that even possible? Surely I loved her from afar in Junior High, or spent fourth grade staring at the back of her head, or became pretend-engaged to her in Kindergarten. And I definitely walked her home in highschool, stressing about whether I should ask her out or not the whole way. Except I didn't do any of those things. I didn't even meet her until college, but it definitely doesn't feel that way.

Maybe I'll feel better if I photoshop her into some of my school photos, to match what's in my head.

How to Get Schooled by a 4-Year-Old

My daughter Anica is beautiful, ruthless, and ridiculously smart. She embodies every connotation of the word precocious.

In this chapter, she and I play a game called "I'm Thinking of an Animal" -- kind of a kindergarten version of Twenty Questions. (I designed it myself. I'm so very smart.)

Sometimes, Anica gets bored and messes with me.

But that's just her playing around. Recently, she got ruthless.

Trying to outsmart her is futile.

Even when she takes pity on me.

Even when it's my turn.

At least my daughter still has one shred of compassion.

My only hope, at this point, is to curry favor for when she rules the world.

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.

From the Depths: Gold now available

As part of the Kickstarter campaign for Torment, we offered a series of give novellas called From the Depths. The novella I wrote (the Gold one, with super secret hidden title Gate to the Abyss) has been published and is available now.

This marks the second time I've been published (for anything greater than 25 words, that is). Still no novel, but I'm working my way up there! And look: I have two fans!

The enemy of your enemy can still kill you.

After the destruction of Shuenha, Luthiya and the other survivors take refuge in a dessicated land of churning volcanoes and eternal night—the ruins of Ossiphagan. They endure, but barely. So everyday they search the ruins, hoping to find some powerful artifact that will avenge them against the bloodthirsty Tabaht.

Luthiya discovers the fire wights, an ancient race both beautiful and powerful. She's afraid of them, but when the wights scare off a Tabaht scouting party, the other refugees believe they've found their redemption. But are the wights all they seem? Can they be reasoned with or are they bloodthirsty animals?

More importantly, are they working alone?

If you pledged for a reward level that includes the novellas, you can log into our website and download the novella right now.

At this moment, pledging towards Torment is the only way to get the novella. If you'd like to do that, you can pledge toward any of the reward levels that include the novella compilation (the cheapest being just the novella compilation at $15.00). You can do that on the Torment website as well.

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...


Got a question? Ask me anything.

I am not a great writer

(LINK WARNING: The YouTube links in this post are kinda bloody -- accurate metaphors, but bloody.)

Last week I got critiques back on two of my novels. They were great critiques. I mean really great, like editor-from-Tor great. (Don't get excited. They were not from an editor at Tor, nor any other Big 5 publisher; I'm still very much in submission hell.) And this super-editor critique, that I'm extremely grateful for and will probably owe my future career to, well... it totally and utterly crushed my soul.

For two days straight, I was the authorial version of John McClane's feet. I knew I could write in theory -- I mean, people have said so before and even paid me for doing so -- but I couldn't make myself believe it. I didn't feel right reviewing other people's stories or even Torment docs. I felt like I knew nothing about telling a story or stringing words together.

Then I had a revelation, and I want to share it with you because I know all too well how common the soul-crushing critique is. The revelation is this:

I am not a great writer.

But damn can I revise.

Twisting it that way changes everything. If I think I can write, but then I get this critique that rips through my novel like a chain blade through a clan of ninjas, then surely I know nothing. I'm a pretender, a wannabe, and I will never get it right.

But if I consider myself a reviser, then a critique like that is expected -- desired even. It's just more ammunition to do what I'm really good at. Everything I write is going to get critiqued that hard, so it's a damn good thing that I can revise anything.

Don't get me wrong, the critique still hurts, and it's going to take a lot of work for me be happy with it again, but thinking of it that way gave me back the motivation I needed to tackle it. This is something I can do.

Gaming, Women, and Missing the Point

There is a murderer on the loose. Some of the victims are men, but the overwhelming majority are women. Yet for some reason, instead of doing something about it, this conversation is happening all over the internet right now:
A: "Help! There's a murderer on the loose!"
B: "No there isn't. You're just making up that murderer nonsense to get attention."
A: "What? But... dead bodies. Murder. Facts."
B: "Fabricated. I mean, look how obviously these pictures have been photoshopped."
A: "These pictures are from the NY Times. One of the bodies is right over there. Someone is murdering women."
B: "Now you're blowing everything out of proportion. They're not murdering women. They're murdering men, too. But you don't see me complaining about it."
A: "Complaining? I... Look, I'm not saying men haven't been murdered. I'm saying the killer is primarily stalking and killing women. Even most of the men he's murdered were because he accused them of being women. Why are you arguing about this?"
B: "Oh, so now you're blaming me? I didn't murder anybody! You need to get your facts straight. There are a lot worse things than being murdered, you know."
C: "Hey, I heard you're trying to raise this issue about women getting murdered again. I thought you were a rational person, but I guess I was wrong."
D: "Woah! Stop blaming us for the murders! I interact with women all the time without murdering them!"
E: "Oh my God! You're not talking about this 'murderer' again, are you? Shut the f*** up!"
Of course I'm not actually talking about a murderer. It would be so much simpler if I were. I'm referring to online harassment, stalking, threats, and severe sexism -- particularly toward women, particularly in and around gaming culture. A recent public example being Anita Sarkeesian, who was stalked and driven from her home by abuse for bringing up the objectification of women in several mainstream games. I wish it were the only example -- if it were, maybe then we could talk about whether it actually happened -- but it's not even close.

The most horrible part about this conversation is that there are now two problems. There's the "murderer" who is actively killing people (Oh no! Facts! Don't look directly at them!), and there is this small but ridiculously vocal group of people shouting down everyone who tries to do something about it.

(There may be some overlap between the two -- I would not be surprised at all if there was -- but for now, let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say they are separate groups.)

Look, I can understand if you don't see the problem. Twenty years ago, I didn't see the problem either, and it was another decade after that before I saw just how prevalent the problem really was. By its very nature, the problem is invisible to us.

But you have to understand that when you argue with the victims, it makes you a part of the problem whether you see it or not.

This is not a blame game, though (making it such is also a part of the problem). It isn't about you at all. We're probably all sexist at some level, but it's not about labels either. It's about this: what will you do when confronted with people who are hurting? Will you argue that, hey, it's not all men? Will you throw up your hands because that's life and there's nothing you can do? Will you cuss out the person who dared to accuse you of the systemic discrimination that influences every single person on the planet?

Or will you own up to the problem, see it for what it is, and try to minimize it in yourself? Will you try to help and try to do better?

That's what this is for me. The point of this post is not to argue whether or not this crap happens (please don't, it makes you look dumb), but for the people who are where I was, who aren't aware of the problem and its extent, who don't realize that they are part of the problem but that there is something they can do about it.

Because it is a problem. This murderer makes gaming a toxic environment for many, and several times worse for women than for men.

And the second problem: a group who, while perhaps not murderers themselves, make it very difficult for anyone (though again, especially women) to try to talk about this problem. Discussion and awareness are key to any kind of progress, and while the harassers are extremely good at raising awareness (nice work, guys), they are less good about rational discussion.

What can we do? Talk about it. Read about it (you've got 9 good links right up there, most of which link to more good links). Post about it. Call it out when you see it, and don't play with people who do this sort of thing.

God, that last bit is the kind of thing I say to my 7-year-olds. But you know what? When we do or allow this sort of thing, that's exactly what we're acting like. It's way past time we grew up.

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.


Got a question? Ask me anything.

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.

Great Artists Steal

Thomas Hennessey says:
I've always figured the best way to be a good writer is to be a great reader first. Is the same true of game design? Have you come across a game that made you think, woah that's cool, I gotta use that somehow.

I think that's absolutely true, of game design, of writing, of any kind of art.

Because you have to know what's out there. More than anything else, people enjoy novelty. You can't be novel if you don't know what others have already done.

(I guess if you're not selling anything -- you're just making "art for art's sake" -- this is less important. But personally, I don't even understand what the heck "art's sake" is. I make art because I want people to enjoy it (and if they pay me on top of that, enabling me to make more art, well awesome).)

Because consuming and copying art is how you learn to be a better artist. This sounds contradictory to the first, but it's a secret I learned much later than I wish I had: IT IS OKAY TO COPY GREAT ART.

Because this is how you learn. Because there's nothing truly original anyway. And because what makes something original is not that you thought of something nobody's ever thought of before (you didn't), but it's how you execute that idea with your own personal spin and style.

(Note that it's not okay to copy great art exactly and then claim it's your own. That's plagiarism. That's not what I'm talking about.)

I'm talking about copying things you love, figuring out how they work, mixing them with other things and with your own style to create something that's new, something that's yours. It's a secret because we are told that copying others is not creative, but the truth is that -- unless you're ridiculously lucky -- you can't make something good if you don't know what good is.

(To answer the last question, I have most certainly seen things in games that make me want to include them. All the time, in fact. Here's a recent example.)


Have 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.

Why are we drawn to magic?

From the AMA pile, Nameless One (though not the Nameless One . . . I don't think) asks:
Why are we so drawn to the theme of magic?

When viewing cravings, be it one for air, food, sex and something else...they are all based on things that we can observe and acquire, so why do we crave works of fiction that involve magical themes as strongly as we do?

Well, I can't tell you why you are drawn to the theme of magic. I can tell you that there are people who aren't drawn to the theme of magic, who feel fantasy fiction is ludicrous and a waste of time (and I really can't tell you why they feel that way).

But I can tell you why I am drawn to themes of magic: because I want to believe there is more to this world than what we think we know.

I want to believe there are powers we don't understand, worlds we've never visited and can't imagine, wonders that we could accomplish -- right now, even -- if we only knew how.

This sounds superstitious and silly (okay, I guess I can understand why those people feel that way about fantasy), but it's not. Gravity is a power I can calculate but don't fully understand, and I understand black holes and the strong nuclear force even less. The universe is filled with worlds we've never visited and can only imagine by pointing really powerful telescopes at distant stars and measuring how they twinkle.

And we are surrounded by wonders that, whether we can explain them or not, are no less wonderful for that. Cancer survivors are magic. Forests that regrow after a raging wildfire are miraculous. Everything at the bottom of the ocean is a fricking horror marvel.

Shoot, man, my kids are magic. They are people, with thoughts and ideas of their own, who will one day do things that no one has done before. And yet twenty-five years ago, NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THEM EXISTED.

So I don't know about you, but I'm drawn to themes of magic because my world is filled with it and nobody seems to notice. I want to notice. I don't want to think that, just because I can explain or reproduce a thing, it means that thing is now mundane. And I want to believe -- I do believe -- that there are greater marvels out there that we know nothing about yet, or perhaps that we've dismissed because they don't fit our schema of what the world should be like. There's got to be more than this world seems to offer. We just gotta find it.

I don't know, guys. Why are you drawn to themes of magic?


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.

Jules Windu

  • The blog says drawing in the subheader.
  • The last drawing I posted was over a year ago.
  • I actually like this sketch.
  • I finished all my work, played games with the kids, and even wrote words today (read: I've earned a post).
  • It's Jedi week at Anthdrawlogy.
  • Samuel Leroy Jackson.

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: On writing too concisely

Valerie asked:
Do you have any advice for people who write too concisely (i.e., me)? 

Write more.

Okay, kidding. Honestly, I don't know how much help I can be here because personally I try to write concisely. I'm not a fan of purple prose, and I'm not sure how to write elaborate description well without falling into the purple trap (although I know it can be done).

So I aim for concise. I'm not sure you can write too concisely.

Rather than worrying about concise or verbose (which is really just word count, which really only matters if you're getting paid per word), take a look at whether the prose does it's job: to pull the reader into the story. There's like a bazillion ways to do that, but I think it can be done both concisely and verbosely. I've seen great authors do both.

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.

Ask Me Anything

I'm adding a new feature to the blog (poor, neglected blog). You can now ask me anything you want. At any time. About writing or game design or how Torment's going or what it's like parenting a billion kids or living in Thailand or how awesome Firefly and Avatar are . . . whatever. Periodically, I'll answer your questions here (NDAs notwithstanding, of course).

Don't have any questions right now? There's a tab up top and a link on the sidebar. Use 'em.

(Why don't I use an existing platform for this, like tumblr or Formspring? (1) I have control here. (1a) When those platforms die (like Formspring almost did last year), I'll still be here. (2) I have enough platforms, thanks. (3) You don't need more places to go either, I imagine.)

That's it. Use it if you want it. I'll just be over here. You know. Waiting.

Why I Love the Banner Saga

Guys, I think I love this game. I mean, it's over now, which makes me sad, but... Well, maybe I should tell you what it is.

The Banner Saga is a tactical RPG, kickstarted by Stoic Studio almost 2 years ago backed by over 20,000 people. It feels like what would happen if George R. R. Martin hired Don Bluth to make a short version of Final Fantasy Tactics set in a Norse world. You think I'm joking, but play it and tell me I'm wrong.

It's set in a fantasy world inhabited primarily by humans, varl (giants with massive horns), and nasty armored things called dredge. For some reason, the sun stopped moving near the horizon and the world is freezing. On top of that, the dredge are rushing out of the north, crushing everything and everyone in their path. Men and varl have to put aside their differences to save both their peoples, but that proves rather difficult.

And then things get worse.

You play a few different characters across the game, reluctant leaders of men and varl stuck in impossible situations. This is the first thing I love about the game. You don't know how to lead. You don't even want to lead. But the game asks you to make impossible decisions of the stand-and-fight vs. run-and-abandon-our-ancestors-home variety and then it makes you question whether you did the right thing.

The second thing I love is the game makes you feel like your decisions matter. They don't always, but so many of them do that you don't even notice the others. If you stand and fight, you might lose and be run off anyway, or you might actually win and be forced to make a different decision. Do you let the women of your clan train to fight, even though the men are dead set against putting their wives and daughters in danger? Do you encourage a town you pass by to flee with you, as you did, or stay and defend their homes, as you wish you did?

The game itself is a series of macro decisions on how to help your clan escape and survive, interspersed with tactical battles pitting your heroes against a few enemies. These were the third thing I loved. There's almost no dice-rolling; the outcome of your attacks is almost entirely deterministic (some people like to give me crap for designing elements of chance, but guess what? I can love both). And the abilities of the different heroes at your disposal can be combined in unique, sometimes unexpected ways, so that a clever commander can sometimes win even a hopeless battle.

The music, the art, the prolonged scenes watching my caravan trudge across the waste (it sounds weird, but those scenes are part of what really drew me into the game), the deaths, the questioning myself as a leader, the triumph when I finally did something right... It's just a good game. If you like tactical games or RPGs, check this one out. The Banner Saga is strong evidence that games are art.

"You must keep writing, because you are a writer."

You know those writers who say, "I really need to get back into writing," and then two weeks later they're still saying that? Guess who's become one of them.

Well, not that guy. Me. I'm one of them.

You may be familiar with some of my reasons. Drafting is my least favorite part of the process, and with two unpaid novels in the hopper, and a yes-paid job, my motivation for doing the sucky part has been sapped.

And you know what? My reasons are good reasons. I'm doing creative work for my dream job and excelling at it, and I've got novels on the submission train. My priorities are right where they should be. This is what 99.9% of my friends tell me when I bring up the fact that I've written an average of 1,000 words/month lately.

They're absolutely right. Everything's cool. I don't have to write.

But there was that 0.1%, that one friend (I have exactly 1,000 friends; prove I don't), who had to go and say something different that stabbed me right in the gut because it was exactly what I needed to hear. The wonderful and not-at-all maniacal Authoress grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "You must keep writing, because you are a writer."

Ow! OwowowowowieowieOWow.

It's absolutely true that when push comes to shove, the paid job wins (actually the family wins, but they get on a timeout when they shove me, so . . .). But I've been tackling every single day like my job was in crunch time. I am a game designer. But I'm also a writer. If I can't figure out a way to do both, then . . .

Well, I just have to figure out a way to do both.

I know it can be done. I know because I find time to tweet, read, play chess online, and even draw. I don't have to write a lot (see the aforementioned priorities), but if I can't find time to squeeze out even 250 words in a day? That qualifies as pathetic.

Well, pathetic for me. You make your own goals.

What are your goals? How's your writing going?