Torment: Tides of Numenera Interview

There's a pretty lengthy interview with Kevin Saunders at Brian Fargo at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, focusing on inXile's more recent project, Torment: Tides of Numenera, which is currently in pre-production after a Kickstarter campaign that was, frankly, a smashing success. Here's an excerpt to get you started:
RPS: How much does that change the flow of your process? When you start with the writing on the ground level, how is that different from saying, (Here's this set of mechanics we want to emphasize? Write around them.)

Fargo: They really work in tandem. With Wasteland, Chris is wholly focused on the tactics and the systems. Whereas Matt is wholly focused on the story. We work in tandem with each other. It shouldn't be an exclusive, one or the other situation.

Saunders: I think one thing that is more unique here is, the story aspects drive more of the mechanics than might otherwise be the case.

Fargo: Right. For me, I loved XCOM, but I want to go into the world more, as opposed to getting another mission. With Wasteland, I've got all the fun parts of those kinds of games, but I get to go inside the house and find out what's up there, what's on the roof. I can dive in deeper. I guess that's our jobs, to figure out a way to make those two elements come together perfectly.

RPS: With preliminary work underway on Torment, what are you finding on that front? What are the best areas to close that gap and bring story and mechanics as close as they can possibly be?

Saunders: From the mechanics side, we're being driven by a lot of the requests from the story and from the setting also. Numenera has. The Numenera, in the setting, are these objects from past civilizations that are essentially. Think of them as magic items, or science fiction items. Tech items. Finding these and figuring out what they do and using them is a big part of the game. Crafting had a big role to play in Torment, that discovery aspect, finding things and figuring out how to use them. That's one specific example of how the mechanics are following from the game, from the story.

RPS: Planescape did a lot of things where story and mechanics were very tightly knit. You character was immortal. That changed combat quite a bit. Do you have anything like that, where it's a core system, but because of the way that your characters are, the way that they exist?

Saunders: We have a couple of them. One that's similar to Planescape Torment in a way, the Castoff's Labyrinth is where you go when you die. We'll have death mechanics where in most cases, death is not the end. Depending on the details of your death, there's another gameplay element that takes place there.

Another is this suffering mechanic. You, as the last Castoff. Any Castoff, they project suffering onto those around them. This will have combat and gameplay ramifications as far as choosing to go with that and deflect your suffering to your companions, say, or preventing that from occurring. That will also affect your relationship with your party.

RPS: So the more you do it, maybe, the more your relationship with them deteriorates?

Saunders: It depends on the individual. Different people have different reasons for being with you. They're complicated. Think of people in an abusive relationship. There will be a companion where that's part of the dynamic.

RPS: What is being in an RPG party if not an abusive relationship?

Fargo: You asked earlier about the interpersonal communications of the NPCs in your party. This tends to take that a pretty good step forward.

RPS: Do you think the gaming industry as a whole should place a higher value on writing? I mean, people like people, characters, personality. Are we scaring them away without the common human touchstone of, er, humanity?

Saunders: I think it's a different approach, a different kind of experience. One of the things we're doing in Torment is, in the dialogue, it won't just be the NPCs lines that they say. We'll also have scripted text. We might describe what they do. We're letting our writers be free in terms of that. They can write what would happen. Not all of it is anything we'll be able to show. With a triple-A game, you need to show everything that you want to have happen. You can't describe a scene. It's not a novel. The production expense of showing some things could be prohibitive, or showing everything. But we can take an approach where we can let the writers run free and not have to worry about then executing every crazy and great idea they have.