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Mercenary's menu Interview

(04.04.2001)

[David] - David Maldonado (Black Isle Studio)
[Yurg] - Yuri Bushin (Freelancer)

[Yurg]: How long are you working on TORN?

[David]: We've been working on TORN for about fourteen months now.

[Yurg]: We heard more than once your aim is to gather all the best ideas under the single name. What are these _best_ ideas exactly? What is inherited by TORN from Fallout, Icewind Dale or Planescape?

[David]: From the Fallout series, there is the skill-based S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system with all the character customization and freedom it affords the player, the concept of multiple solutions to quests, semi-autonomous Companions whose behavior the player influences via dialog, and a gritty, mature world of morale ambiguity and complex plots and characters.

From Icewind Dale, there is the sheer, unadulterated joy of stomping monsters and snatching up as much swag as fits in one's backpack while still enjoying a fantastic story full of great characters. It's easy to forgot how much fun good old hack-n-slash can be while putting together a role-playing-heavy CRPG like TORN, but we're going to make sure that the game has plenty of action to offer the more "adventurous" (i.e. bloodthirsty!) players. There's also the cool random item system (where chests, monsters, etc. would often hold different unique items from game to game) and the ability for players to use their characters in multiplayer games, no matter how far along their characters had gotten or the state of the client's game - in other words, anyone can just "jump right in" with anyone else.

From Planescape: Torment, there is the depth of character interaction (especially with Companions), mature themes, and freedom to role-play whatever sort of personality the player likes... much of what Fallout started but carried to a further degree.

There is also a great deal of more subtle things we learned from our previous titles... methods of production, management, and sundry other bits I doubt many are interested in. Still, they're proving valuable to us as we move forwards on TORN.

I would like to say that TORN is also doing more than a few entirely new things - features that are unique to this project alone. The real-time dialog system that lets all players in a multiplayer game participate in dialogs simultaneously and role-play together, the manner in which we're handling the various aspects of combat and magic, and so on... the list is quite long!

[Yurg]: On what development stage the TORN is now?

[David]: Well, we're look to be out by year's end and while it'll be tough, it's certainly possible! We've gotten much of our technology working and are starting into serious content design.

[Yurg]: Please describe the TORN graphics engine capacities. If I am correct, it is based on LithTech 3.0. But initial screenshot is not overloaded by super high detail level and other advantages. Are they just most initial trial takes?

[David]: The major features of the LithTech Development system from the graphic engine side, have evolved on a consistent basis from when we started with the engine a little over a year ago. At the point we started development we were off and running with version 2.0 of the engine and as we are currently migrated to 3.0 I will focus on the latest features of the engine. Some of the major features that are going to help make TORN an even better game are the move to 24-bit Lightmapping which will help give things in TORN a nice less banded appearance that occurs on games with 16 bit lighting. 3.0 has also gone to a more realistic lighting model which again should help the appearance of things. On the art side it also has improved projected shadows and new bump mapping.

The current crop of screen shots was taken with the engine running under version 2.3 and some of our first areas built. The screens are not overloaded with super high detail because we are currently pushing cautiously towards more and more detail. This is in an effort to make sure we don't loose sight of the people that haven't purchased the latest and greatest beast of a machine. I would not be too concerned with the aesthetics of the game in the long run, we are Black Isle and we will make a game that looks great and plays great. I think you and your readers will be pleasantly surprised by the screen shots that we have come E3 when 3.0 integration is complete!

[Yurg]: Can you briefly describe the game story line?

[David]: The protagonist begins the game as a wanderer, one damned by fate to bring terrible misfortune upon any place he or she remains too long... as well as upon any person they travel with. One would have to imagine he or she is quite lonely and miserable...

Before the game, the protagonist has spent the last few years wandering westwards across the realms of Agathe until coming to the Stormcrown, a range of nigh-impassable, perpetually storm-lashed mountains that separates the continent from the peninsula on which Orislane lies. Forced to move ever onwards by their curse, the protagonist boards a ship bound for Orislane and sails 'round the Storm Cape... and that's where the story begins.

Without going into details, the protagonist is quickly swept up into the goings-on there - from a city that has begun to devour its inhabitants by night, to an invasion by a horrifying army of monstrous abominations from origins unknown, to the battle between a strong-but-aging king and an old friend that has become his greatest foe, and more. Of course, it all ties together - these events, the protagonist's "curse," ancient prophecies, secretive orders, the very nature of TORN, and a number of other things I shouldn't reveal - in a way we're hoping players will remember for a good, long time. Suffice to say that it's quite a tale - sadly, though, one which we simply can't share the whole of right now. It'd ruin the fun!

[Yurg]: Tell us about TORN world. How large is it, how it is possible to travel around this world and what can we meet there (towns, special locations, etc.)?

[David]: The world of TORN is huge - it is an entire world, after all - so I'll confine my babbling to Orislane, where the game takes place. It's a good-sized chunk of land: a relatively recently fractured-then-reunited kingdom with six territories (each with their respective towns) as well as a number of smaller settlements and pockets of monster-infested wilderness. It's easily as big or bigger than either Fallout game in terms of locations to explore, if one is looking to make such a comparison.

Aside from the various settlements in all their respective settings - coastal, forest, mountain, and so on - the game also boasts the sprawling underground ruins of an ancient dwarven capital, the monster-infested remnants of an abandoned arache spider-city suspended far above the forest floor, the undersea domes of... well, you know, I should just let the players find all this out when they get the game. Suffice to say that TORN has many exciting, unique areas that should make for some great exploration and adventuring!

[Yurg]: Why you have decided to resign a turn-based system? It is not among the best ideas developed by BIS?

[David]: I think that one of the ugly little realities of game development is that, in the end, you're making a product for the sole purpose of making money, bank, coin, moola, cold, hard cash. I know I like to consider myself an electronic toy-maker of sorts, doing my best to bring joy to the gamers of the world - but in the end you can't please all of the people all of the time, and if you want to stay in the business you have to run with what the majority is clamoring for... after all, it's them I'm striving to make happy, not myself.

These days, turn-based play appears to be popular amongst only a rather small sub-set of gamers. As a result, we've decided to go with an apparently more popular real-time model for combat. However, we've made sure to include plent-o depth and strategic goodness in TORN's combat system - as well as the ability to pause and give orders - so I think that all the die-hard turn-based fans will still find TORN a blast to play.

[Yurg]: What races will be present in TORN? Will we meet our old good friends from other games or all creatures are new?

[David]: The races - both player-character and non- - are a mix of old and new. Player choices include humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, ogres, and sidhe. The first four are the so-called "standards" of every fantasy setting... but with a slight Black Isle twist, of course. The ogres of TORN are a bit different than those of other worlds, at least as far as intellect and temperament goes - they're still big bruisers, but are honorable creatures and by no means stupid. The sidhe are tailed and bright-eyed sylvan creatures that make for extremely quick and nimble adventurers.

All of the races are covered in more detail on TORN's website... (torn.blackisle.com)

[Yurg]: What is the limit of party size?

[David]: Six adventurers in total may journey together. There can be a mix of computer-controlled Companions and human-controlled characters (in multiplayer games), but the total adventurer limit is still six.

[Yurg]: How are you going to implement game magic? I.e. combine it with S.P.E.C.I.A.L system? Will you do it as additional set of perks and other special skills? What are the mage potentialities?

[David]: A brief technical description: every spell has a set of requirements in order to be cast. A character must know the spell (having been taught or learned it from a grimoire or other source). The character must have enough control and expertise in the proper realm of magic (i.e. enough skill ranks in either Order, Chaos, Alchemy or Summoning magic). The character must have enough Mana Points (and in the case of some spells - especially Summoning magic - Hit Points) to cast the spell. The character must meet whatever statistical requirement the spell has; for example, some spells are so potent and complex that humans cannot comprehend them - only elves or humans aided by Intelligence-boosting magical items can use such incantations. If a character meets all of a spell's requirements, he or she may cast that spell.

Mana, of course, is that metaphysical substance that fuels the fires of magery, and represents how much magic a character can wield without rest or taking restorative measures (sleep, potions, draining it from other creatures, etc.). A character's Mana Points increase much in the same way their Hit Points do - by gaining levels - and may be further augmented through the use of the Mana Focus skill and certain Perks, Traits, and items.

A spell's power is generally determined largely by the caster's rank in the relevant magic skill. Things like Perks, Traits, race, and items (especially fetishes like wands and magical staves) can also affect a spell's potency.

There are four different realms of magic: Order, Chaos, Alchemy and Summoning. Order and Chaos magic are tied to the Spirit Realms of Dream and Nightmare. Both involve using Mana to channel the warping influence of a Spirit Realm into the Physical World, using it to modify one or more of the five elements that the Physical World is made of (Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Time) - either perfecting reality with Order or corrupting it with Chaos. In contrast, Alchemy is rooted in the Physical World - using Mana to rearrange the metaphysical fibers that bind the elements into the Physical World, allowing the caster to understand, transmute, or construct physical objects in a manner impossible via mundane means. Lastly, Summoning magic is tied to no known world - its power to call supernatural beings to the caster's aid (after giving them form by sacrificing a portion of one's own life force) extends to all realities. Used alone, Summoning magic may call forth various nature spirits, elemental creatures, and other such beings that inhabit the Physical World. Combined with knowledge of Order or Chaos magic, Summoning magic can also draw beings from the Dream or Nightmare worlds, creatures of Order or Chaos (often referred to as daemons).

Right now we're not certain how many spells each realm of magic will contain. There are around twenty-five a pop, currently.

Characters may learn as many spells as they like, though which spells they may learn is restricted by their own skill levels and statistics. Our goal is to make it so that any character type can use magic to their benefit. Sorcery isn't restricted to feeble graybeards or broom-riding women with ridiculous, pointy hats - though we've allowed them to use magic too, just to show how fair we are. But again, that's not to say that some characters won't be better than others as far as magic goes - skills, race, and statistics count for a lot - but that choice is in the hands of the player, not an arbitrary set of pre-defined character classes.

[Yurg]: What is the combat system like? It is interesting to know how much enemies can we meet and how the battle is conducted?

[David]: Combat is sort of a real-time variant on the Fallout series' in that it still uses Action Points as a basis for how much a combatant can do in a given amount of time. However, rather than spending and regaining AP from turn to turn, a character must wait a certain amount of time between actions based upon what percentage of their total AP their last action took them (sort of a gross simplification, but it'll do for now). In other words, a character with six AP making three-AP attacks and a character with ten AP making five-AP attacks would both attack at the same rate, as they're both expending 50% of their AP with each action. They player needn't actually worry about any of these calculations, of course.

Something that we've added to the mix is the idea of Special Attacks, Defenses, and Abilities that character may learn. A character gets these in a number of ways - some are automatically obtained when certain skills reach a pre-determined rank, some are earned as Perks, some are taught to the character by NPC's, and so on. Many are race-related, such as a number of dwarf-only abilities (e.g. Grim Determination or No Job Unfinished) that reflect the race's infamously tenacious and unforgiving demeanor in close combat.

A character may know more than one Special Attack or Defense, but may use one of each at any given time - however, the player is free to change Special Attacks or Defenses whenever he or she likes. A Special Attack allows for the chance of a particular effect whenever a character strikes a target: for example, inflicting extra damage based on how badly hurt the character is, reducing a target's Mana Points, stunning the target, or blinding them. Similarly, a Special Defense allows for the chance of an effect whenever the character is struck: taking less damage of a certain type, counter-attacking, or tricking the enemy into thinking they're dead and forcing them to switch targets. Lastly, Special Abilities are, well, special abilities that a character earns which are often (but not always) combat-related. Some are automatic while others must be activated and may or may not have usage limitations. For example, an ogre might gain the ability to loose a fierce battle cry whenever slaying an opponent in hand-to-hand combat (and regain some Hit Points in the process), while a charismatic character might gain the ability to temporarily inspire his Companions and increase their fighting ability.

There's a lot of gameplay and "strategizing" to be had in terms of which Special Attacks, Defenses, and Abilities work best with one another, especially when multiple Companions or players are involved.

While there will definitely be a certain amount of combat involved, how much is largely the choice of the player. While the game may be certainly played as an intense, Hack-a-Minute Death-Fest for those so inclined (*meekly raises hand*), other players might like to skulk about in the shadows knocking out foes from behind and avoiding as much combat as possible, while still others rely on their character's glib tongue and flashing smile (a really BIG flashing smile, if they're an ogre) to woo there way past trouble.

As for enemies... we're uncertain of just how many we'll have right now. We do want to include a good range of monster types in TORN. There are all the various humanoids: along with members of the six player character races (who could always end up as enemies depending upon how the story is going), there are imps, goblins, orcs, trolls, and more. These are often the most interesting opponents because, unlike many more typical monsters, intelligent humanoids often possess different levels of skill and/or ability-bolstering equipment. In other words, not all orcs are their same...

We also have non-humanoid intelligent races such as the secretive arache, spider-like creatures whose utter disdain for other races - most of whom the arache consider suitable for only food or slave stock - is legendary. Their pedipalps have evolved into useable forelimbs; they wear armor, use weapons, cast spells, etc. as any humanoid race.

Also, most realms in TORN boast at least one "legendary monster," similar to the way the mythological Mediterranean of our own world had all sorts of nasty things stomping about - the Lernian hydra, the Gorgonian brass bull, the Nemean lion and so on. Orislane has its own legendary monsters, of course, one of which is the mythological beast Duofaces, a gigantic two-headed wolf whose twin jaws drip ice and flame.

We've got the typical stuff - nature spirits (dryads, etc.), feral animals (wolves, vampiric bats and what have you), elementals, otherworldly creatures of Order or Chaos (daemons, etc.), shambling undead, etc. - as well as a few new baddies we'll leave for players to discover.

[Yurg]: Please tell about multiplayer. What advantages it has, and what game modes are available?

[David]: TORN's multiplayer mode is similar in concept (but not execution) to that of the various Infinity Engine games... Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, etc. In other words, the host plays as the protagonist just as in the single-player game, but may be joined by up to five friends (so six players total) on his or her journey through TORN.

We've tried to implement a number of features that will improve upon the Infinity's Engine's multiplayer play, though. The greatest difference may be the advent of our real-time dialog system, or RTD. With the RTD, dialog is no longer a separate state that requires the game to pause during conversations, but something that happens simultaneously with everything else in the game world. This means that in multiplayer games, no one has to wait for the party leader to finish talking with Baldo the Scabby Vagabond in order to move on - they're free to stand about and watch the conversation (spoken text appears in floating word balloons sort of like a comic's), or wander off to do their own thing. One of the cool things about the RTD is how it allows multiple players to join a conversation. For instance, say Player A is trying to talk a guard into letting him pass (a stunningly original scenario, I know - that's why I'm the Lead Designer!). Player B - whose character has a much higher Charisma than Player A's, as well as a few ranks of the Diplomacy skill - might wander by and take note of the conversation. Spotting Player A's troubles with the guard, he jumps into the conversation. As expected, Player B has dialog options not available to Player A, and is able to shmooze the guards into stepping aside.

As this means that everyone can join into any conversation and make use of their own character's skills, statistics, and responses in dialog, TORN may well be the first CRPG that allows every player to not only enjoy and participate in multiplayer combat, but multiplayer role-playing as well.

[Yurg]: How about the option to equip characters? How much items character can carry, and how much of them can be equipped?

[David]: A character may carry as many items as he or she can hold based on weight and volume, rather than some arbitrary number of slots. Basically, every item has a "weight" in Encumbrance Points that is based on the object's actual physical weight combined with its bulk - so for instance, a five-pound iron ball might "weigh" five EP, while a five-pound wooden shaft that is 15' long and difficult to carry might "weigh" eight EP. The amount of EP that a character may tote is based largely on his or her Strength statistic.

A character may equip up to one helm, one amulet, one suit of armor, one pair o' gauntlets, one belt, one pair o' boots, and up to two rings. We've handled the character's weapons and shield in a slightly different manner, though... basically, there's a primary melee slot, secondary melee slot, shield slot, and missile weapon slot. The player may fill all these slots and a set of controls allows the player to determine which of the items are equipped at any one time (single weapon, dual weapons, weapon and shield, missile weapon, or unarmed). This lets the player switch from, say, sword and shield, to sword and dagger, to throwing axe and shield all without having to remove and replace items.

[Yurg]: More or less philosophic question. Can we consider TORN a Fallout of Planescape world?

[David]: If you mean in terms of things like interactivity, maturity of theme, player freedom, etc., then certainly yes! We intend to carry over many of the gameplay features or concepts of both titles - multiple solutions to quests, Companions with vivid personalities and complex stories and dialog, and so on into TORN.

[Yurg]: Will you present TORN at E3?

[David]: Darn tootin' w e will! Well, barring any terrible disasters like the death of a lead, the invasion of Giant Robot Monsters, or running out of strongly-caffeinated beverages to keep us awake and working all through the night...

[Yurg]: Is TORN beta version planned, and if so - how are you going to arrange the open beta testing process?

[David]: Not currently, though we do intend to create a demo for public release.

[Yurg]: When we can expect to see the release of TORN?

[David]: Q4, 2001 That's right - by the end of the year, baby! Wooo!

[Yurg]: Thank you for your answers! Wishing you good luck and great future for TORN!

[David]: Thank you Yuri, and thanks to all your good readers who've shown interest and taken the time to listen to us rant about our game!

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