Cheating Death in Torment: Tides of Numenera

There's a new two-page "Cheating Death" interview with inXile Entertainment's Kevin Saunders, Adam Heine, and Colin McComb over at IGN today, with the entirety of the Q&A focus being on their forthcoming RPG Torment: Tides of Numenera. There's quite a bit of ground covered here, so I'll quote a few different questions and their answers:

In western RPGs, every time we're asked to choose between options, it's inevitable to choose between either "good" or "evil". In Tides of Numenéra, you are using the Tides and Legacy. What can you tell us about them?

Adam: From the beginning, we have intentionally veered away from limiting the player's choices to good vs. evil. Life is rarely so black and white, so TTON is about difficult choices and ambiguous heroes and villains. So the Tides have nothing to do with good or evil, nor with the player's motivations. They judge what the player does, only venturing into motivation when the player explicitly voices it.

The Tides encompass five broad concepts. Blue represents reason, wisdom, and enlightenment. Red represents passion, emotion, and zeal. Indigo represents justice, a global worldview, and actions that benefit the greater good. Gold represents empathy, compassion, and sacrifice. Silver represents influence, respect, and power. Many of the player's actions and words will increase different Tides, until one or two Tides are considered "dominant."

The player's dominant Tides, then, determine their Legacy, influence some of the people around them, serve as a reputation for the player, and have some gameplay effects. They will rarely define a major branching of the game, but they should provide subtle reactivity throughout.


You're also creating a new item system with the artifacts, cyphers, and oddities. How will they work? Will the players be allowed to create their own weapons and armour?

Adam: In Numenera, while there are all sorts of common items basic armor, weapons, thieves' tools, and even a form of healing the magic items in the game, collectively known as the numenera (little n), are separated into three categories:

1. Oddities are relics of the past that are wonderful and strange but ultimately have very little utility for an adventurer, and thus little or no gameplay impact. For example, a glass sphere that appears to contain an entire ocean inside, complete with tiny little whales and sea monsters. Or a square plate that reverses gravity such that you can put items on the bottom of it and they will stay, but if you put them on the top they fall off. Thematically, oddities emphasize the power and incomprehensibility of the past civilizations. Mechanically, they serve as a kind of gem, being saleable for a little coin occasionally you might find a gameplay use for an oddity, but it will almost never be the use for which it was originally intended. Narratively, oddities should be some of the most fun descriptions to write and read.

2. Cyphers are one-shot items and always useful. Numenera cyphers are typically more powerful than the consumables in other RPGs. Certainly some are healing potions or buffs, but others can confer the ability to teleport, rest anywhere, cause a massive earthquake, or many other things.

3. Artifacts are devices from prior worlds (or cobbled together from the detritus of those prior worlds) that can be used more than once, sometimes indefinitely. They are not always as powerful as cyphers (though some are), but because they can be reused, and in many cases repaired, they are powerful in a different way.

Players won't be crafting their own plate mail, but they will be able to take an existing suit of plate mail and attach various components to it, imbuing the armor with different powers and abilities. Some of this customization can change the item's purpose entirely, so they can create weapons and armor in that sense. Additionally, each combination they try will come with quirks and side effects some good, some not and so the player can, with trial and error or with lore skills, create exactly the kind of weapons or armor they want for a given situation.


What kind of things are you doing now that you couldn't do 15 years ago?

Colin: Apart from working with people who live halfway around the world? Actually, that's a pretty major thing that I'd like to address. The internet was in its commercial infancy when we were working on PST. We had to spend significant time waiting for communications; that's no longer the case. Finding reference materials is incredibly easy, with the advent of more powerful search engines (both text and image). The digitization of the world lets us work almost anywhere and find almost anything we need at a moment's notice.

More specifically for this project, we're not typing our dialogues into a Word template and then importing it line by line into a dialogue editor we're able to write our dialogues directly in the editor and can play them immediately in a snazzy previewer that Steve Dobos created for us. We have a much faster creation pipeline for our areas, and the tools are generally more intuitive.

I'll also add that we know more about character creation, more about dialogue creation, and more about how to develop a convincing, believable companion. We're drawing on the accumulated knowledge of 15 years' worth of development in that field, and we hope to make our characters truly shine.

But the basics of my work remain the same: generating ideas, writing them down, reviewing others' work, and trying hard to make the best possible game we can.

Additionally, because we're working in a new world now, we are no longer bound by the strictures of the alignment system, and we're free to create a morality/ethics system that's all ours. We have a much more streamlined system for our characters, with different classes and stats, and we're free to invent new systems on top of those.

Adam: Like Colin said, a lot of the day-to-day work is the same, but there are three things that weren't around 15 years ago that make this development process very different from PST's.

The first is the Unity Editor. The Infinity Engine had a number of editors for the various components of the game, but ultimately it was designed by developers for developers. Import processes were long and occasionally buggy, and putting a level together required a higher level of technical knowledge (as well as a few different editors) to get it working. By comparison, an area designer can be trained on the Unity Editor in like a day, creating a scene and testing it almost instantaneously, and Unity imports its assets on the fly and with much better error handling. It makes the back-and-forth testing required for area creation go much faster.

The second thing is Kickstarter. PST was a huge risk at the time and almost didn't even happen, and the sales were such that a sequel was never really a possibility. Maybe if crowdfunding had been a thing in 1999, a PST sequel might have been a thing. I don't know, but I do know that TTON would never have gotten off the ground without Kickstarter and the tremendous support of our backers.

The third thing is the internet. TTON's production team is primarily in California, but we've got a creative lead in Michigan, a design lead in Thailand, a programmer in Italy, a line producer in the Netherlands, and writers and concept artists everywhere. I haven't met half the people I'm working with, and yet we're putting together this amazing project. There are occasional time zone hitches, but overall it's pretty awesome living in the future.