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Default Torchlight II - Eric Schaefer Interview @ The Critical Bit

July 14th, 2012, 00:10
Runic's Eric Schaefer has been interviewed at The Critical Bit about Torchlight II and starting a studio. Here's an interesting quote, leading on from talking about the compexity of the game systems:
I could expound on the complexity forever, but it’s pretty dry to discuss and probably not that much different from any other RPG, so let me digress to where I think our methods are different, and where it gets fun, for me, at least. I don’t even try to balance the game!
I suspect that’s a shocking statement, considering how much balance gets discussed in reviews, within our team, and amongst my peers in the industry, and it may come back to haunt me if our game isn’t well received, but I think we do it differently here at Runic. One reason, as you allude to in the question, is that the game is simply too complex; there are too many systems and too much randomness for my puny brain to deal with. But the more important reason is that I think balance is boring. I specifically want you to find a weapon that’s just too good. I want you to discover a skill combo that makes killing certain monsters seem too easy, and I want your summoned Nether Imp to feel “way overpowered.” But these imbalance spikes are designed to be temporary. A few levels deeper into the game, you might be struggling to find a replacement weapon, your skill combo won’t work as well against the new monster varieties and your pet will start to seem weaker. The multiple, overlapping systems and heavy randomness work to my benefit in this respect. I just stand back and try to manage the chaos. So all my spreadsheets and assumptions become less important as we finish development, and I concentrate on playing over and over again, getting tons of feedback, and ironing out the really crazy peaks and valleys. Fun always trumps balance.
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July 14th, 2012, 00:10
let's see what the fanboys say. I translate this into an insecure man making excuses.
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July 14th, 2012, 00:35
I actually agree — balance is boring! Remember in the first Diablo how much more powerful a high level Mage was than anything else? It was a little harder at the beginning but totally worth it at the end.
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July 14th, 2012, 02:02
Right on!

I agree with him *in part* (and I've said as much in the past). Some level of balancing is absolutely necessary - you don't want to have one class clearly inferior to another one (especially in a multiplayer game), or for things to get so bad that it's a frustrating, un-fun level of imbalance.

But by his description, he's got that covered. A course level of balance and assumptions are given - getting rid of the really crazy peaks and valleys, as he says. But beyond that - it's really more fun to NOT be perfectly balanced. Exactly as he said. I think we've got a problem these days - particularly with multiplayer becoming such a critical part of every game ('cuz it helps fill out a really short single-player experience, I guess) - with things getting TOO balanced and feeling too even.
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July 14th, 2012, 09:42
I agree that balance can make for a very boring experience - and I think he understands the genre better than most.

However, I must say that his approach to story is a potential problem. This was supremely evident in Hellgate - because that game suffered immensely for having such a half-assed story and delivery.

If he has a mental block related to following a story - then that's fair enough, but he's mistaken if he thinks that's a universal problem. I know there are people on the team that are likely to care more about story - but it really should be the lead designer holding the reigns. That vision is what has to be the example for the team - and there's nothing I hate hearing more than a designer go: "Well, I don't really care about that feature - but we have a great team on it."

I could say the same thing about something like multiplayer or PvP - where I often hear about lead designers that aren't into those things, but are confident their team can pull it off because a part of the team is passionate about it. It has to be a unified whole - or the end result will suffer. Most certainly on a team this small - that they've basically created to be of a managable size. That's when you absolutely can't delegate a vital feature like story without being very invested as a lead.

I do understand what he's saying though, and I also have a tendency to ignore the stories in a lot of games. Well, not so much ignore - but I tend to forget them the second I exit the game. I'm not really a big story guy myself - but I would be a fool to deny the power of a story told well.

Even in an action RPG like Torchlight - it would be a fatal mistake to ignore story, if you want to make it the best it can be. Pretty much every game will benefit from an interesting story - and it can hold our attention sometimes, when the actual gameplay grows stale.

Torchlight 1, specifically, was such a boring game - and the mechanics were not very interesting. I put that down to a short development cycle more than anything - and I really hope Torchlight 2 is more like the work they've done in the past. Otherwise, I'll have to write them off completely.
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July 14th, 2012, 12:41
Variety is the spice of life, balance just for the sake of balance is boring. The dude knows what he's talking about.
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July 14th, 2012, 16:05
The guy opens with the claim that he doesn´t try to balance the game and then follows with the ways describing how he tries to balance the game (imbalance spikes being designed to be temporary, ironing out "the really crazy peaks and valleys").

I specifically want you to find a weapon that’s just too good.
A few levels deeper into the game, you might be struggling to find a replacement weapon,
That´s balancing.
I want you to discover a skill combo that makes killing certain monsters seem too easy,
your skill combo won’t work as well against the new monster varieties
Also balancing.

A good kind of balancing in my book, I might say; as opposed to finding a weapon too good at every step/not finding anything remarkable for 15 hours or providing a skill combo that makes killing all monsters seem to easy.

Fun always trumps balance.
is a false dichotomy.
It´s pretty much the same as saying fun always trumps design.

"Fun" doesn´t just appear out of nowhere, it´s derived from stuff like balance.
The point is to balance the game in a way that this design aspect positively contributes to the game´s fun factor.


Optimistic reading of this interview tells me that they´re not balancing player´s experience at every step, but they´ve applied general balancing measures to make player´s experience eventful and to reward experimenting throughout the game.
Pessimistic reading tells me they threw everything into a blender and weren´t quite able to contain the mix that came out.

Originally Posted by rossrjensen View Post
I actually agree — balance is boring! Remember in the first Diablo how much more powerful a high level Mage was than anything else? It was a little harder at the beginning but totally worth it at the end.
But there´s short term balance and there´s long term balance.
Apparently, your example is a class that was balanced to be more difficult to play in the beginning, but as a payoff became super powerful in the late game.
The reason it was "totally worth it at the end" is very likely because there were balancing measures at work.
Let me adjust your statement:
I actually agree — balance is boring! Remember in the first Diablo how much more powerful than anything else a Mage was throughout the entire game? That was totally worth it.

Not that it couldn´t be totally worth it, but this example would be more in the vein of design I´d expect from a developer who "doesn´t even try to balance the game".

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Last edited by DeepO; July 14th, 2012 at 16:19.
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July 14th, 2012, 17:53
You're ignoring what he's really saying, DeepO. He's not saying he makes zero effort to balance the game, but that he wants the game to "break" when it's fun. As in, he wants you to wade through monsters with little effort at some points in the game - just as long as it's not the entire game.

What he means by fun trumping balance isn't that there's no balance. He means that if there's a decision to be made that can either be to have something balanced or fun - the fun will win out. Because sometimes balance IS boring, especially when it's predictable and it curtails your sensation of power or challenge.
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July 14th, 2012, 23:05
DeepO, I think you are over-analyzing a bit. You're absolutely right with what you said, but it seems pretty clear to me that when he refers to balancing, he is referring to classes being varied but equal, and the game presenting a consistent level of challenge throughout (and I think that this is a definition of 'balance' that most people think of when a developer says it is balancing a game).
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July 14th, 2012, 23:39
I'll be buying this for sure as long as two things are true…..no need to be online, and it's priced under 100 bucks. Nuff said.



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July 15th, 2012, 00:56
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
You're ignoring what he's really saying, DeepO. He's not saying he makes zero effort to balance the game, but that he wants the game to "break" when it's fun. As in, he wants you to wade through monsters with little effort at some points in the game - just as long as it's not the entire game.
3 .. 2 .. 1 .. .
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
What he means by fun trumping balance isn't that there's no balance. He means that if there's a decision to be made that can either be to have something balanced or fun - the fun will win out. Because sometimes balance IS boring, especially when it's predictable and it curtails your sensation of power or challenge.
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July 16th, 2012, 17:38
If my tactics, spells and whatever do have to change every few levels I'll be happy. The reason I lost interest in the original Torchlight was because you could quickly figure out what the best attack was for each character and it never changed.

The only reason to do something else was because it got boring doing the same attack for the last 90 levels. Well, it got boring for me anyways, I know how nutty some of Diablo/Hack'n'Slash fans can be about doing the same repetitive task for a .0001% chance of a better item can be.
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