Updated Our Journal #46: Narrative Character Generation

kickstarter2015-08-13 19:24:21

TL;DR: Adam at PAX; an update on production and interfaces; Adam on character generation

Hello Tormented Ones,

Kevin here.

First and foremost, if you happen to be attending PAX Prime in Seattle in a few weeks, be sure to check in on the CLASSIC RPGs FOREVER! Panel on Sunday, August 30th at 11 AM in the Sasquatch Theater. It will feature not only DoubleBear's Annie Mitsoda, Obsidian's Josh Sawyer, Harebrained's Mitch Gitelman, and Larian's Swen Vincke, but also our very own Design Lead Adam Heine! Don't miss it!

Most of the team is focused on the Sagus Cliffs content, the opening major area of the game. Environment art is finishing up and will soon be moving on to other sections of the game. Design is executing on George Ziets’ expansive and thorough design for the Zone. (The Sagus Cliffs Zone Design Document weighs in at over 200 pages and 120K words—our largest by far.)

Beyond being rich in content, Sagus also has a high degree of reactivity. It is a a very work-intensive area to write and implement but is a strong depiction of just how weird and wondrous the Ninth World is. We’re about halfway through its writing, but because of the interconnectedness of much of the content, it can’t yet be played through as one complete area. Over the next several weeks, we looking forward to having enough content complete that we can experience the city of Sagus Cliffs and begin iterating on its design content.

One more thing I'd like to talk about is user interface. As conversations are the core of TTON’s gameplay, the first interface we developed (around a year ago) was the Conversation UI, as seen in the First Glimpse video. We began creating our interfaces using a popular and powerful interface plug-in known as NGUI. Leading up to Unity 5 (late last year), Unity released an improved native user interface layer, UGUI. We assessed it at that time and determined that UGUI would solve several technical obstacles we had encountered, so we decided to switch over. Currently most of our interfaces use UGUI, but our Conversation UI remained with NGUI, while our engineers focused on support for Crises, animation, and various other features required by the team. (In fact, at least the first Alpha Systems Test will be released with this NGUI version of the Conversation UI, but we have plans for an even better one.)

As we gear up for a Beta release in the future, we’ve now undertaken the work of rebuilding the Conversation UI in UGUI. This includes adding in various enhancements we’ve identified over the last year. This work is notable because it is a shift from engineers focusing on functionality required by the team to focusing directly on the player experience. We now have two of our five full-time programmers concentrating on UI development. We’re prioritizing revising the Conversation UI over work on the front-ends of other interfaces (such as inventory and level advancement) because we want to first ensure high quality of our core gameplay. This will allow us to, for example, better integrate Effort use into conversations.

Our second UI priority is Crisis UI. As Crises are one of the more experimental aspects of TTON, we believe it will be especially important for their UI to be well-polished, intuitive, and smooth to use. We’re currently completing a major iteration pass on the Crisis UI. The previous version provided the functionality that Crisis designers needed to test and iterate on their content, but was too user-unfriendly for others. After this round of revisions is complete, the team will be better able to assess and give feedback on the Crises. There will be some additional minor iteration on the new version and then it will be ready to include in an Alpha Systems Test.

(Speaking of Alpha Systems Tests, we’ll be launching the first one very, very soon. It will include the first Scene of the game, including the beginnings of character generation that Adam talks about below. Those of you who have Alpha Systems Test access as a pledge reward will be contacted with additional information and instructions about how to participate.)

Narrative Character Generation

Adam here! Let's talk about character generation!

In the first Torment, character generation was unusual for a CRPG at the time, especially one in the Dungeons & Dragons lineage. When you hit New Game, you were given 9 points in each stat plus 21 additional points to distribute as you desired. That was it. You didn't do anything else before jumping into the game – no class, feats, talents, or alignment. Everything else was either predetermined (name, gender, appearance) or determined through gameplay (class, skills, and alignment).

In Tides of Numenera, we are taking that even further, handling as much character generation through gameplay as we reasonably can. The results so far are pretty cool, but it's a challenging for a couple of reasons.

First, TTON has a lot more to teach than PST. This is a challenge because it's hard to teach rules and systems through conversation, especially without breaking the fourth wall (which we are loathe to do). And while many players knew at least the basics of AD&D before playing Planescape: Torment, we have to assume that a larger portion of players won't know Numenera's rules.

Second, TTON has more starting choices to make than PST. Although both Torments have three classes, Tides of Numenera offers many additional choices in the form of your Descriptor and your Focus (more on these later).

Instead of walking you through a standard, step-by-step character generation process, we wanted to get you into the story as fast as possible. For TTON’s themes, we felt it was appropriate to have character creation occur in-game, but we didn’t want to compromise the narrative to do this.

At the start of the game, the only immediate choice you'll make is what gender you want to play. Like PST, your name and appearance are predetermined, and you’ll start with 9 in all three Stat Pools (Might, Speed, and Intellect).* With that, you'll be dropped immediately into the world.

Early in the narrative, you explore several memories and, in doing so, allocate 6 additional Stat Pool points while also showing a leaning toward what Descriptor best applies to you. The way you will do this is entirely in-world and part of the story. Your Descriptor gives you a few first Skills and some Stat adjustments, defining a flavor for everything you do. TTON has seventeen different Descriptors for the PC to choose from. That's too many to sift through in an RPG conversation. Instead, the opening of the game will pay attention to the choices you make and how you decide to handle the situations you come across. As you interact with the environment (through scripted interactions), you'll be given a subset of TTON’s 17 Descriptors based on those choices.

You'll have a chance to review your choice after the fact, and even choose a Descriptor outside the subset—so you can still face the full fury of 17 Descriptors if you want to. Our method of having gameplay decisions guide character creation does not mean you will be locked into the options the narrative provides for you. You can freely pick between all options if you wish.

Choosing your Type (i.e. class) and Focus will be similar, though simpler. Unlike PST, you can't change your Type whenever you want. Instead, all three are presented at once in a unique part of your mind created (presumably) by your sire. The Numenera Types—Jack, Nano, and Glaive—are pretty straightforward, so handling them in the narrative is relatively simple (before this choice, your Type is "Castoff"). As with the Descriptor you will have opportunity to review your choice and study the details of each Type if you want to do that.

Last is your Focus—the abilities that make your character unique. You will be able to change your Focus throughout the game (for a cost of course, though the first one's free), and you can discover and unlock additional Foci later. You'll unlock the first set in the opening quarter of the game and choose your initial Focus there. Learning about the Foci and choosing your first one will be wrapped in the narrative like Descriptor and Type.

The goal of all this is to combine learning the system with playing through the story. In the same way that your Tides (being your alignment, so to speak) are determined organically by your actions, your mechanical choices will also be a natural extension of how you choose to play the game.

Adam out.

* Those of you familiar with Numenera rules will have noticed that we are handling starting Stat Pools a little differently from the Corebook, but don't worry. The resulting values will be the same once you choose your Type.

Other Kickstarters

There's been quite a lot of activity on Kickstarter lately, and we'd be remiss if we didn't share some of those most promising projects with you.

First off, Monte Cook Games is back on Kickstarter creating another bundle of Numenera books. These three books (Into the Night, Into the Deep, Into the Outside) expands on previously unexplored parts of the Numenera setting, taking us into the stars, deep beneath the Ninth World's ocean, and into other dimensions and worlds. Previous books touched on the possibilities of going beyond the Ninth World's shores, and now we can jump in both feet first! The campaign funded in just an hour, and now has a series of meaty stretch goals to reward its backers even further.

Our friends from XOUNTS have an ongoing Kickstarter that you may have seen pass by. They were offering a special early bird deal on The Bard's Tale IV Style Xounts before, and now have expanded that deal to also offer Torment Styles! What is Xounts? It is an all-in-one sound and light system, perfect for your living room or wherever you prefer, with very high-quality sound and atmospheric lighting, easy to set up with any computer or handheld device. Watch an unpacking video with our associate producer Thomas Beekers, or listen to our CEO Brian Fargo speak to his Xounts experience.

Last but not least, one of our contract programmers Nathan Fabian has been working on a fascinating project now on Kickstarter, called Disciples of the Storm. This spiritual successor to 1997's NetStorm is a fast paced RTS set in a fantasy world that has been torn apart by an ancient fued between its deities. Battles happen on the floating, shattered islands of the world, with a unique and expansive bridge-building mechanic between these islands as part of the core design. We hope you check each of these projects out!

Until next time,

Kevin Saunders
Project Lead