We had the opportunity to ask the developers of Torment: Tides of Numenera a few questions about the upcoming RPG title.
Many thanks to those who answered our questions, who are:
Colin McComb — Creative Lead
George Ziets — Area Design Lead
Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie — Senior Writer
Jeremy Kopman — Crisis Design Lead
Hi, thanks for taking the time to answer some of our questions about Torment: Tides of Numenera.
Q:The Numenera setting provides for all kinds of different options for player characters as well as adversaries. How did you go about choosing what options you would make use of for the game? How did you go about finding a good balance for these options?
The Numenera tabletop rules provide an imaginative set of character options that let role-players build a character capable of pretty much anything. One of the trickiest systems design jobs we had was maintaining the feel of the character Types (analogous to classes in other systems) and Foci from the book while providing a little more structured set of abilities and bonuses. For example, when designing the Jack we decided that the most interesting aspect of the Type was the way in which it combined magic-like esoteries and more mundane features. This led us to developing a set-up/execution pattern for the abilities we designed. Many Jack attacks gain bonuses if the target is already debuffed in some way, so the Jack also has access to esotery abilities that confer statuses like Dazed at a relatively low cost. Spending a turn inflicting a fettle (our word for status effects) pays off when the Jack executes one of their weapon attacks on the next round and gains bonuses to damage or additional effects.
Another important facet of our character option designs was to provide multiple strategies for Crises by combining a relatively small number of abilities in interesting ways. If you want to build a cleric-like tank, you can choose to be a Nano with healing and support abilities and take the Masters Defence Focus. This allows you to be a heavily armed esotery wielder, but might limit your damage output. Alternately, you can be an intellectual warrior by combining the Glaive Type and the Brandishes a Silver Tongue Focus. This lets you talk your way through most situations, but fall back on a trusty weapon when that fails. You may not be the most effective warrior, but you’ll be well-balanced across multiple situations.
The Numenera tabletop system is a brilliant tool for improvised storytelling with a clever GM and engaged players, but that openness and reliance on mediation made it a bit harder to fit into the more rigid confines of a CRPG system. That said, I think we’ve done a good job of maintaining the freedom to play how you want.
Q:What drew the team to create a spiritual sequel to Planescape: Torment in the Numenera setting?
Once we started envisioning the thematic successor to Planescape: Torment, Adam Heine (the Design Lead) and I were working on a number of ideas for the setting. The overall idea for the game was gripping and compelling (at least I thought so!) but it was a more epic story, rather than the personal narrative that characterizes a Torment game. While we considered ways to make that story work for us, I realized that a suitable setting had been staring me in the face for some time. Monte Cook had invited me to join the alpha test for the Numenera campaign setting, and when I told Adam about the world, he was immediately enthused and excited to explore Numenera. We pitched the idea to Monte and Brian Fargo separately, and then introduced the two of them.
More specifically, part of what drew us to Numenera is because it is unlike any other world. The setting is evocative of late ‘60s/early ‘70s psychedelic science fiction, heavily influenced by the dying-earth genre, and as with Planescape, allowed us a wildly imaginative setting where we would not have to fight against the standard tropes of elves and dragons. Having a fresh new world unlike anything most players have ever experienced was a huge draw.
Q:The decision of when to use your awesome Cypher you picked up on your adventures is something I’ve quite enjoyed in the tabletop Numenera RPG. Should we expect similar instances in the video game? Do you have a favourite Cypher that you can’t wait for players to find and use?
Definitely. Just as in the pen and paper game, the number of cyphers you can safely carry is limited. Cyphers are inherently unstable, and if you gather too many together in the same place, unfortunate things will happen. Since you’ll always be finding cyphers throughout the game, you’ll have to make strategic choices about when to use them… and hording them is obviously not an option.
(Spoilers ahead.) One of my favourite cyphers is a biomechanical candy dispenser from a long-vanished civilization… basically a living PEZ dispenser with an adorable, animated head. You’ll find it in the depths of the Bloom. I’m also a big fan of our Oddities — weird items that don’t necessarily have a practical purpose. Some of them are usable, and they’ll open custom dialogues that let the player examine and experiment with them, leading to… unusual outcomes. (Keep an eye out for the White Synth Egg, which you’ll find in the same place as the candy dispenser.)
Q:Last year saw the release of the Torment Tides of Numenera Explorer’s Guide for the tabletop role playing game. Should fans who got hold of the book expect to see all their favourite locales and NPCs in the game?
Not ALL, but certainly a great number of them. We worked closely with Shanna Germain during the production of that book, providing her with our concept art, design documentation, and several rounds of intensive feedback. That said, we wanted to make sure that players coming into our game will still find it a place of mystery and danger, so we stripped out certain story elements and aspects that might be considered spoilers.
Q:What broader themes do you address as part of the story? Abandonment is one major theme, but does that permeate in other stories throughout the game?
I cheated and looked at the other questions, and you’re definitely aware of the game’s central question (What does one life matter?). I’d say that a lot of our characters are struggling with or railing against this question in one way or another.
To answer your other question, I’m just going to say that your character is the Last Castoff, not the Only Castoff.
Q:How big of an effect did the stretch goals have on development? In particular to core design concepts.
Pitching a game is very, very different from developing the game. Even with the months of preparation we did for the Kickstarter, we were still unprepared to answer some of the questions that arose during the course of crowdfunding. We launched during the early days of Kickstarter, really, and stretch goals were largely a new concept at the time. We were ambitious and we over-extended ourselves on some of those stretch goals — optimistic cost and time projections became problematic later. We hit the majority of our goals, but we had to sacrifice some of them (like a couple companions, which made me sad) in order to create a better overall experience through the rest of the game.
The most important goals, both to me personally and to the backers we heard from, were the targets for deeper story and reactivity. Those were the ones that guided us most through our development.
Q:Was there a lot of pressure to not deviate from the “classic” mechanics model of story-driven roleplaying games like the original Torment?
Not really. For example, fairly early in development, we decided to take a turn-based approach to combat, which is quite different from most of the classic RPGs of the late 90s and early 2000s. This decision was partly a preference of the internal development team, but it was mainly driven by a survey of our backers. Additionally, when we chose Numenera for our setting, we wanted to adhere as closely as we could to the rules of that world (the Cypher System). In practice, we ultimately deviated from some of them because they didn’t work as well for a CRPG, but they were definitely our starting point. Core elements of the Cypher System like Tasks, Effort, and the player’s stat pools are still a major part of our game.
Q:Tides of Numenera has moved away from the usual good/evil, lawful/chaotic alignment system to the Tides system. What drove that decision and what has that allowed you to do over the more traditional method of tracking character alignment?
Since the game asks philosophical questions, the general idea was that “good” and “evil” wasn’t enough. We didn’t want to judge your choices and answers, but we did want to make the world react realistically to how you treated characters.
The five Tides are answers to the game’s central question, and none of them are good or evil by default. What they can do for us is allow a subtler reaction to your actions than good/evil systems permit. Some characters may recognize you as a fellow knowledge-seeker (Blue Tide dominant), and help you bypass a particularly tricky challenge or tell you something you might not have learned if you were dominant in another Tide.
It’s not all positive, however. Some characters will use your dominant Tide against you, and shift their arguments to manipulate you. “As a learned woman, you surely understand why I must dissect these furry animals,” for random bad example. A Red-Tide dominant character would see an entirely different line.
Check out Adam Heine’s explanation of the Tides on one of our updates. It’s good stuff.
Q:Romance tends to be a tricky subject in modern RPGs with players’ growing disdain towards “be nice to this companion and shower them with gifts to get a scene with them in the final act” mechanics. How did this affect your approach to potential romance/intimacy with other characters in the game?
The Last Castoff does not have any romantic relationships, casual or otherwise. Some characters around you certainly do, however, and you’ll have a variety of chances to shape how these turn out.
Q:And lastly, what does one life matter?
It really depends on your focus. If you consider yourself the most important person in the world (and who’s to say you’re wrong?), your life certainly matters. If you believe in art, an artist’s life matters — but not as much as the artist’s creations. It’s our hope that through the course of the game, you’ll find a number of ways to answer that question, and that each of them will feel right for you.
Hmm. For a game designer and writer, I’d say that our creations are what matter. The stories we write, the worlds we build, and the experiences we create for other people are our legacy to the rest of humanity. In Torment, your deeds matter more than your beliefs or your intent — you’ll answer our central question through your actions in the world and the legacy that you leave behind.
Thank you for your time and all the best with the launch!
Torment: Tides of Numenera releases on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on the 28th of February.
Features include: Knowledge of all things geeky. “Over 9000!” achievement points in World of Warcraft. Groantastic Puns. Marking out for canadian heels.
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