Updated Our Journal #47: Torment Alpha Systems Tests Have Arrived

kickstarter2015-09-16 11:22:58

TL;DR: Torment Alpha Systems Tests underway; Adam on party death; audio from PAX panel that included Adam

Hello Tormented Ones,

Thomas here.

Midway through last month we released Alpha Systems Test (AST) A0, the first of our ASTs for those backers who have alpha systems access as part of their tier rewards or as an add-on. You may remember the ASTs are bite-sized chunks of early-game Torment content, meant to give eligible backers a very early look at the direction we're heading in as well as an opportunity to provide feedback and suggestions. Two weeks after the first AST we released the second, B0.

A0 consists of the opening scenes of the game, including the narrative-based character creation Adam talked about in our previous update. The purpose of this AST was mostly to have our backers experience the atmosphere of the game, play around with the dialogue interface, and get an impression of the quality and feel of writing. The second, B0, consists of two scenes from the very early parts of the game, showing more of our exploration HUD as well as exploration mechanics and a glimpse at the game's companions and even a tease of the items I've been designing and implementing in the game.

It was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking to put these ASTs out there, as it’s the first TTON gameplay we’ve put into players’ hands. I felt pretty confident in how "Torment-like" these scenes and writing felt, but would it resonate with our backers the same way?

Thankfully, the answer was a pretty resounding "yes". Part of my task as a producer on these ASTs was processing the feedback from A0 as we moved into production for B0, and I couldn't help but notice how many feedback submissions consisted of our backers going "brilliant!", "so far so awesome!" and "keep up the great work guys!" (to quote a few). We printed out a sheet of positive feedback and put this "Wall of Praise" up in the office kitchen for the team to enjoy. It's great to get a reminder of what we're working so hard for, and to get encouragement directly from our backers. We greatly appreciate all the kind words you have given us.

Of course, the purpose of these kind of tests is to get an idea not just of what we're doing right, but also of what we can be doing better so that we can iterate and improve on the current experience. There was no lack of this kind of feedback either, with hundreds of direct feedback tickets and hundreds more posts on our private backer forums. Feedback has ranged from the minute (such as adjustments to the font to make periods and commas more distinct) to the major (such as the responsiveness of the PC when interacting with in-game objects), with much of it useful for our continued work on all different facets of the game.

We have a pretty solid pipeline where each ticket, forum thread, and UserVoice post is seen by at least one producer, who has awareness of our general known issues and technical priorities. This producer then makes a suggestion, task, or bug report and submits it to the relevant lead for consideration and tasking out. This way every report and suggestion gets considered. The experience of previously doing this fan feedback and iteration with Wasteland 2 during its beta and Steam Early Access Game (SEAG) phases helped a lot here.

So what's next? We have one more AST planned, called C0. This will be the first look at our Crisis combat system, and several team members including our Crisis Design Lead Jeremy Kopman and programmer Matthew Davey are working hard to bring this to completion, though realistically it'll take a bit longer than it took from A0 to B0. We're very curious to see what our backers think of this next AST.

If you're not already an alpha backer, it's still possible to get alpha access by upgrading your reward level or buying the Alpha Systems Test add-on for 1,000 points ($10) on the Torment website. Check out the backer shop if you're interested! We’ll be removing this option on Friday, September 25th, so if you want to get in on the alpha, now's the time.

Can Companions Die?

Adam here to talk about party death.

One of our core guidelines for Torment is to make failure interesting. We don't go out of our way to discourage savescumming (i.e. reloading to avoid non-game ending failures), but we don't want to encourage it either. As much as possible, we want the player to overcome their setbacks, rather than pretend they never happened. From our website:

"...in many Crises, failure isn't death, nor is it the end. It's just... different. You might find yourself in a prison and have to escape. You might return to the spot of the Crisis and find that you can try again or that your enemies have accomplished their goal and now the landscape of the game has changed. We are striving to create interesting fail states in all situations, but especially so in Crises."

It is partially from this guideline (and from the way our illustrious predecessor handled death) that the idea of the Labyrinth formed. Castoffs are extremely hard to kill, so when the Last Castoff dies, he usually wakes up in the Labyrinth where he or she can explore extra (optional) content or simply choose to return to the real world.

The world does move on when the player dies. Sometimes the player can return to a Crisis to try again, but just as often things have changed. A crime lord may have increased her guards (or decreased them, thinking that the threat was over). The Last Castoff may have been dragged away by his enemies to some new location (or posthumously arrested, for those that know what he is). These branching "failures" are designed to encourage players to continue on after a defeat, if only to see what happens.

The death of party members is a little trickier. Some companions are castoffs themselves—or are hard to kill for other reasons—and so they can get back up after most battles. But the Ninth World holds no resurrection for mortal characters. When a mortal companion dies, it's permanent.

This presents a problem with our "interesting failure" guideline. I imagine there are only a small percentage of gamers who would play through a beloved companion's death, knowing that a happier storyline lay only a reload away. At the same time, if we just let the defeated companions get up at the end of a Crisis, it would take away a lot of the tension of keeping your party alive – despite your player character’s near-immortality, we don't want combat to be a low-stress, "nothing that happens matters" affair.

Our solution (pending playtesting) is an adaptation from Numenera core rules called Lasting Damage. When a mortal companion drops to zero in all three Stat Pools, they're out of combat but not dead. When the Crisis is over, the companion will get up but they will be scathed with a Lasting Damage fettle.

The specific effects of this fettle and how to remove it will be tweaked as needed for balance, but in general:

  • The fettle will have some severe effect, on the order of making all tasks more difficult by two steps.
  • The fettle will go away after the party Sleeps X times. The player can choose to Sleep until it's gone, but doing so will have other effects on the game.
  • There will usually be a skilled chiurgeon of some sort nearby who can remove this fettle immediately for a number of shins. Sometimes this NPC may be hard to find, or their healing might not be available right away, but the player should be able to heal before most major Crises.

With balancing, the Lasting Damage fettle should present a challenge while not being so negative that most players reload. (Some players will reload anyway, of course, but the balance of this fettle is about minimizing that number as much as possible—again, we aren't going out of our way to discourage savescumming; we're just trying not to encourage it).

This design allows the player to choose whether they want to spend time or money to remove the fettle, or whether they want to just deal with the fettle until it goes away naturally. There is a cost whichever way they choose, but there is enough choice that players should feel empowered rather than frustrated, encouraging them to play on despite setbacks and to forge their own story.

That said, certain actions the player might take could result in the irreversible demise (or departure) of a companion. But if and when this can occur, it will be at the player’s discretion (or perhaps because the player ignored the dangers, forgetting that their choices will have consequences), not the whim of a random number generator.

Adam out.

Adam at PAX

Adam was out at PAX Prime in Seattle to be part of the Classic RPGs Forever panel with Annie Mitsoda (Dead State), Josh Sawyer (Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity), Mitch Gitelman (Shadowrun Returns, Dragonfall, and Hong Kong), and Swen Vincke (every Divinity game ever, including Divinity: Original Sin), with Penny Arcade's Jeff Kalles moderating.

Our friends from Larian were kind enough to put the audio of the one hour panel up on their YouTube, so if you missed it you can now give it a listen here:

Other Kickstarters

First up, the Kickstarter-funded STASIS recently released on both Steam and GOG. It is a point-and-click adventure game that uses a static isometric camera to create a beautiful sci-fi horror setting. Whether you love chilling, gruesome narratives, bleak atmospheric games, or old-school adventure games, this one is definitely worth checking out. We've been very impressed by the graphical style and atmosphere Chris Bischoff & The Brotherhood have created with this game.

We also have a pair of very good-looking Kickstarter campaigns to highlight. The first is Divinity: Original Sin 2 from Larian Studios, a direct follow-up to their extremely successful Kickstarted cRPG Divinity: Original Sin. This sequel retains the epic scale, focus on freedom, and turn-based combat of the original, but is even more ambitious, expanding the coop to 4-player with competitive questing mechanics.

And finally there is The Dwarves, an RPG that puts dwarves front and center, with an epic story based on the books of Markus Heitz. One eye-catching feature promised in this Kickstarter is a Crowd Combat System, which mixes an indepth physics-based system with high-level RTS-style strategy for an engaging massive combat system.

Thank you,
Thomas Beekers
ASTociate Producer