Torment: Tides of Numenera Post-funding Update #21: Writers Meeting, Dialogue Design and More

There's a new, fairly meaty update for the Torment: Tides of Numenera Kickstarter, with a write-up from Colin McComb on the recent writer's meet, one from environment artist Gavin Glenn-McDowell on the environmental art pipeline, some words from Adam Heine on the game's dialogue design and a few more assorted tidbits.

Here's a rather generous excerpt to get you started:
On Dialogue Design

Adam here. I was not able to join the team for the writer's meet, which is a shame, but Colin's writeup on it does give me the perfect opportunity to talk a bit about something I've been spending a lot of time on: working with the conversation editor we're using for Torment (obtained through our arrangement with our friends at Obsidian Entertainment, with some of our own modifications planned). I've been using it to write example dialogues and establish our dialogue guidelines for the game.

Conversations in Tides of Numenera will be a lot like what you remember from Planescape: Torment. The NPC will tell you something (maybe a lot of something we're thinking up to 300 characters per NPC node), and you'll have a list of responses to choose from. Some of those responses might include actions to perform, skills to use, or telling the truth vs. lying.

What options you have available, and what the NPC says in response, can depend on many different things: what you've said or done in the past, how you've customized your character, who you choose to travel with, etc. (I recently wrote a post on basic reactive dialogue, if you're interested in how that works.)

And there are some design aspects unique to Tides of Numenera. There are the Tides, of course, which are shaped by your choices, and which affect what certain NPCs say and do. These work very similarly to how alignment worked in PST, but they're more complex. We're working through what those complexities mean now, and how they'll impact dialogue design, exploration, and combat.

Using skills will be different, too (side note: I say "will," but we're still in pre-production, so any of this can change). Say there's a difficult task you want to attempt lying to a prison guard or deciphering the text on an ancient puzzle box. Typically, in D&D-style RPGs for example, if you don't have the associated skill, your chances of success are very low, or you might not be able to attempt the task at all. In Numenera, all such tasks are treated the same, and anyone can try them. Training in a related skill or skills will lower the difficulty of the task, but even if you're untrained, you can still apply Effort.

Effort is a concept from the Numenera tabletop game. Essentially you spend points out of the appropriate stat pool (Might, Speed, or Intellect) to lower the difficulty of a task. The idea is, even if you've never been trained in lock picking, a very smart or dexterous character can, with some Effort, increase their chances of cracking a lock.

Your stat pools are renewable with rest. And of course, all of this is balanced. If you're trying to crack a combination lock created by a culture that died out millions of years ago, which requires a combination of smells rather than integers, well . . . you'd have to have a high-level character specialized in the task, who spent all the Intellect they had on Effort, just to make the task possible. That character would still have to roll ridiculously well.

Effort provides more options to customize your character and tackle obstacles. If there's a task you want to attempt even if it's something normally contrary to your character build you still have a chance of succeeding if you can use enough Effort. On the other hand, someone who has trained or specialized in that sort of task will have a greater chance of success, and will maintain that edge in similar tasks throughout the game.

I hinted at die rolls above, which brings me to something else I want to share with you. Active skills that is, skills you choose to use and have the option to apply Effort to will be done with die rolls. In dialogue, these skills will usually be things like Persuasion, Deception, and Intimidation, although other skills might find uses in dialogue as well. In some cases, if you fail a task, Effort can also be spent to gain a second chance.

But we have a whole category of Lore skills that represent your knowledge. These skills will enable certain response options in dialogue, giving you choices that a player without the skill wouldn't have. When this happens, there won't be a die roll, because the skill is being used without requiring effort on your part. The unlocked response options are just there.

You won't know a special response has been unlocked until after you choose it. I'll explain why in a second. Take this example:

NPC: "Here's the device Colin gave me, though I haven't opened it yet. I want my wife to have that honor." He shows you a capsule made of synthsteel. Shadows seem to slide off it, making it appear brighter than everything else in the room. It bears strange, jagged markings.
1. "Where did he find it?"
2. "Do you know what these markings are?"
3. "I think these markings mean 'Death'."
4. "Do you mind if I keep it for a bit to examine it?"
5. Open it.

Response #3 would only be available if you're trained in Lore: Linguistics. But that skill would only be mentioned after you choose it. The reason for this is because many RPG players ourselves included have been trained that specially marked or specially unlocked responses are always going to be the best ones. And so we choose them without thinking.

Of course, you'll eventually be able to figure out which responses are available due to your skills, like when your linguistically inclined character is always deciphering texts, but you'll have to read and think about the responses to do so. More importantly, the Lore-based responses won't always be the best options, just different ones.

If you select Response #3, for example, you might find that admitting your knowledge to this NPC means you don't have the capsule for later:
3. "I think these markings mean 'Death'."

NPC: [Lore: Linguistics] "What?!" He glares at the inscription, as though anger alone will enable him to read it. Then he tucks the capsule back in its bag. "That bastard. I'll get Colin back for this, believe me!"

If you add the concept of Truths and Lies to this scenario, things can get even more interesting:
1. "Where did he find it?"
2. "Do you know what these markings are?"
3. (Truth) "I think these markings mean 'Death'."
4. (Lie) "I think these markings mean 'Wealth'."
5. "Do you mind if I keep this for a bit to examine it?"
6. Open it.

Did I mention we're implementing those, too?