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May 20th, 2013, 19:04
You can say whatever you want to say about the RPG Codex, but one thing is for sure they have good interviews. This time the interview is with Colin McComb about writing for Torment: Tides of Numenera.

You’ve credited Chris Avellone with being responsible for a pretty extraordinary 50% of the overall writing on Planescape: Torment, including the first drafts for three-quarters of the characters. T:ToN, on the other hand, seems to be gaining creative contributors almost by the day, one of whom (Pat Rothfuss) is coming to games-writing for the very first time. As the lead writer, how exactly are you planning to manage all of these disparate voices? Is there a danger of an individual vision being lost in the rush to bring in more recognisable, Kickstarter-friendly names?

Having a distributed ensemble writing team is something that we planned for from the start, so while the danger you mention is a risk, we’re prepared for it. Now that the Kickstarter has wrapped, I’m sitting down and fleshing the story out further. This involves outlining specific story beats, levels, and thematic elements to hit at certain points, among other things. It has been a very busy month since the Kickstarter ended and it’s going to be (at least!) another very busy month before we get anyone else really going on the design. That’s just as well, because narrative development is a hugely iterative process, and we’ve already improved and tightened various aspects of the story. By the time our other writers come on board, we’ll have a solid base for them to work from. Further, we’re going to get them rolling in stages, so issues flagged by the first group will translate into improvements for the second, and so on. This staged roll-out will make it easier for me to review their work for consistency and style.

In the meantime, we’ve got our novella writers working on the Tides stories, and we plan to use those to help acclimate the other writers to the baseline of the Tides.

It’s my hope that our writers will feel grounded and able to work with what we have by the time of the first writers’ meeting. At this meeting, we’ll be discussing the story in excruciating detail and breaking it down bit by bit in order to tidy it up.

And then, after they all get moving, I’ll be overseeing and reviewing their work throughout the process. I don’t imagine that I’ll be writing 50% of the game, but I will be writing a fair portion and am going to have my hands in pretty much all of it – whether writing directly, editing, or providing feedback. Fortunately, we have the example of PST to prove that the game doesn’t need to be the work of a single author – multiple writers works just fine, provided there’s good oversight.
The year is 2015, and Torment’s been released. A man appears in a fiendish puff of smoke and offers you the chance to create a game in a setting entirely of your choosing, with absolutely no need to worry about marketability or mass appeal. What do you choose?

Do I have to worry about legal issues? Frankly, I want to keep going with stuff I’ve been involved in and already made a part of me. Numenera is right up at the top there—it’s new, exciting, and the boundaries are wide open. Rothfuss’s Kingkiller world would be pretty great; I know he’s interested in making a game set there. Hell, if we’re novelizing fiction, I’d like to make a game in my Oathbreaker setting, because I’ve been living with that in my head for more than a decade. I’d love to explore the world I created for Torn before they went in a different direction.

If we’re talking tabletop settings, I’d love to work in Birthright again. Doing something with Paizo’s Golarion would be cool, and of course Planescape is always going to have a special place for me.

But even beyond that, I’d love to develop a brand-new setting, because world-building is so goddamn fun. I’d love to do something in the world of Endless Night, where the players are the last bastion of Light… or perhaps the first. Or what about a modern-day horror game being penetrated by dimension-crossing monsters that attack by creating passages through nightmares? Or an urban crime fantasy?

Seriously, though, just one setting? There are so many good ideas out there that I can’t possibly choose one right now while I’m neck-deep in the Ninth World. Let me ask Lucifer (or is it Mephistopheles?) when we’ve wrapped up Torment. I might have a better answer then.
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May 20th, 2013, 19:06
For some reason, I feel like I learned very little after reading that interview…

At some point, even the most completionist of players are going to decide they’ve wrung every bit of reactivity out of an area and move on.

Reactivity is not a word I usually associate with computer games. I think it tells us a lot about Colin McComb's views about proper game design, and for me at least it's not something good. Anyway, this was in response to a question about "…PS:T suffers from a drop in quality from Curst through to Carceri…".

I wouldn't really put it that way, myself. There was a common problem with Bioware and Black Isle games where they front loaded the game, with the bulk of the meaningful content in the beginning portion of the story and the remaining of 2/3 or 3/4 of the game feeling like it's just filler to the string the player along for a while before the grand finale reveal(see, I can do it too). I'm assuming that since this was happening when these companies were at their peak it wasn't a case of them originally intending to do much more than they were ultimately able to and having their development cycle cut short. One of the other explanations is that the designers felt that most players would get bored with the game and wouldn't want to work very hard at finishing it once they decided they were "done". A third explanation is that the design teams thought once the player was godly enough from working all the front-loaded content that they'd want to "enjoy" just being godly and blowing through lots of "trash mobs" and so on and so forth and wouldn't want to have to concern themselves any further with trying to figure shit out. In any case, I don't like it. It's always been one of my biggest complaints with Bioware and Black Isle.

Colin seems to be saying the problem with gratuitous combat is going to be solved by drastically reducing the amount of combat. Basically, fixing it by removing it. I can see how a story guy would think that was the way to go but I can pretty much guarantee that is not going to happen. 75% of the story in the first 25% of the game means that the last 3/4 of the game has to have some mechanic to string the player along for x number of hours. That's going to be trash combat and easy to implement monty haul geewhiz throwaways. It always is with these guys and their interactive fiction. It's too bad they don't fix it via changing the pacing, but that's no accident. Somebody decided front loading the content was the way to go, and they made that decision a very long time ago.

But some choices are mutually exclusive, and we don’t see it as a possibility that you’ll be able to experience the entirety of the game in a single playthrough. In fact, I don’t think you’ll get it on two.

Ah, yes. The infamous "replayability" argument to make people feel better about perceived lack of content. Unfortunately, when all you have is narrative, you don't have much replayability to offer. People don't want to play a whole game through a second, third, fourth time just to hear all the same stuff they've heard before plus a couple lines here and there that are slightly different. It's challenging and dynamic combat that people never get tired of (see Diablo II) and will endlessly keep diving into. Unfortunately, he's already said that they are fixing the boring trash mob combat by removing it instead of making it more interesting and difficult. So… ok… whatever… this is their way and it works well enough, it's just nowhere near as good as they could do if they weren't so hung up on narrative. Narrative is only one tool in the story-telling toolbox.
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May 20th, 2013, 22:49
If replays with different character builds make the combat/gamplay and narrative different, then replays suddenly become much more worth it. DII has the variety of builds that kept it interesting to replay for some.
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