Torment: Tides of Numenera Interview

Over at the RPG Codex there's an interview with Torment: Tides of Numenera's creative director Colin McComb over the writing for the game. Given they're still in pre-production it's pretty much all theory at this point, as Colin is quick to point out, but it does offer some exciting insight into the upcoming project:
The basic T:ToN story hook has been seen by many as an inversion of the original Torment template, with the player character, like the Transcendent One, a cast-off aspect of an immortal being that begins to form its own motives and identity. Could you tell us a little about where the idea came from?

Originally, Adam and I were hashing out an idea that was based on a short story I was writing, in which the player is an angel of an ever-changing god beset by the forces of chaos, and in which the player became a seed of that god as it destroyed itself to save its legacy.

But after a couple of days of kicking this back and forth, we realized that while we could make this story cool, it wasn't a Torment story existence itself was at stake. It wasn't personal... or rather, it was personal, but the stakes were so epic that the NPCs would have no choice but to care.

Then Adam and I kicked some more ideas around, he mentioned something about wouldn't it be cool if the PC was a clone and when he died a clone was revived to take his place, and then we started cannibalizing, and then we got the Numenera license, and that's when things got interesting.

We did recognize that there were similarities and parallels with PST. Frankly, that was part of the draw for us that we could create a thematically similar experience without stealing or cribbing, a game that would carry echoes of the first but earn its own place.

Reading over those old emails makes realize that I need to give Adam a huge amount of credit. I am so happy to be working with him again; he's got a tremendous mind. He's also incredibly modest, and I feel it's my duty to let the world know that he's creative, smart, funny, and productive.

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We already know that companion influence exists in-game in some form, and that it's going to be more explicit than PS:T's morale counter; Kevin Saunders has suggested that we can expect something along the lines of Mask of the Betrayer's system. 'ÂȘIt's something we've seen a lot of in recent CRPGs, many of which have showcased the difficulties of trying to quantify a personal relationship via gameplay (if you agree with Companion X's opinions enough times in conversation, you'll receive 30 friendship points and she'll forget you murdered that orphan in front of her, and so on). Do you have any personal thoughts on how party dynamics should function in T:ToN, from a narrative and design perspective?

What we want to do is create distinct personalities for our companions. Some may be slavishly loyal, bending to your every whim. Some may have stronger personalities. In either case, they'll respond to your choices as fits their character, and they'll have specific reactions to specific events which, I should note, we'll broadcast ahead of time, rather than springing these things on you as a complete surprise. If you discover that the Fallen Priest has a phobia about multi-legged insects because his village was overrun by a murderous, carnivorous swarm, for instance, his reaction to your light-hearted prank of filling his boots with centipedes may very well be to attack you although if you've beaten him down enough, he might just try to cut your throat in your sleep or sabotage your quest. Note that he'd do this only if he knows that you're aware of his phobia; otherwise, he'd just be really, really mad at you and might be less helpful throughout the game until you make amends (why you'd want to fill his boots with centipedes is probably a discussion best left for later).

We can create specific flags and scripting for these characters for instances like this; the question then is where and how we append them throughout the game in order to maintain reasonable character narrative and to use our resources properly. On the one hand, strong companion reactivity is one of the hallmarks of what we're trying to accomplish, and we intend to spend a lot of time on making sure we've got it just right. The other night, for instance, I spent about 50 minutes with Pat Rothfuss talking about his proposed character and how we could make his companion's arc play out and, I should note, this is before he's even technically started, so you know that he's looking forward to the project. Chris Avellone is also hugely excited about building a companion of his own, and I think we can all agree that an Avellone companion is essentially the benchmark for RPG companions.

On the other hand, we have a limited amount of time and availability for all our designers and writers, and we want to be sure that we use that time wisely, and this requires careful planning and scheduling up front, allowing time for iterative design during the process. This isn't a social-manipulation game, after all we've got a story to tell.

From a mechanical design perspective... well, you know the drill. (Systems not designed, still early in pre-production, etc.) While we want to make sure that a lot of our actual design is transparent for the players who want it to be transparent, I have a personal preference that party dynamics should have a certain level of opacity the more your companions feel like living, breathing people, the more immersive the experience. Reducing them to a set of numbers and reactivity points might be fun from a mechanical perspective, but it's too reductive from a narrative standpoint.