Torment: Tides of Numenera RPS Interview, Part One

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has published the first part of a fairly deep interview with various members of the Torment: Tides of Numenera's team. The article touches upon the game's pre-production, fan feedback, skill design, the environmental art technology and pipeline and more. Here's a snippet:

RPS: Can you explain Numenera's skill system? It sounds fairly atypical in the grand scheme of CRPGs, but also rather versatile.

Heine: The Numenera skill system is atypical in that any character can attempt any task, and for moderately difficult tasks, even an untrained character can succeed for a cost. This is extremely versatile. We can worry less about whether certain character builds can pass obstacles or not they all can; it's just a matter of how much it will cost them.

Say the ancient ruins you're exploring are trapped by a complicated prior world detonator. To disable this thing would be a difficulty 6 task, which on the Numenera scale is very hard an untrained character could only succeed about 15% of the time. Training in any skills that apply will lower this difficulty up to two steps per applicable skill. So someone specialized in, say, Lore: Machinery would attempt the task as a difficult 4, with a 45% change of succeeding.

Additionally, there's the concept of Effort, where you can spend points from the appropriate Stat Pool (in this case, Speed) to lower the difficulty even further. An untrained character of a high enough level could spend points to use 4 levels of Effort, reducing the difficulty to 2 and giving themselves an 85% chance of success. And if our specialized character did the same thing, they'd reduce the difficulty to 0. When this happens, the task automatically succeeds no roll is made and there is no chance for critical failure.

It is tempting, especially given the worldview of typical skill-use in RPGs, to think that skills aren't very important anybody can succeed at anything if they're willing to spend the points to do so. While it's true that skills aren't as important in Numenera as in typical RPGs, they are still very important. First, they save the PC's Stat Pool points: easy and moderate tasks cost the trained character nothing while succeeding more consistently than for the untrained character. Second, Numenera difficulties range from 1 to 10, and everything above difficulty 7 is impossible without training or Effort. A high-level character, purchasing the maximum amount of Effort, can reduce a difficulty 10 task to 4. For the high cost of all that Effort, they will still fail more than half the time. But the cost and risk for a trained character are greatly reduced.


RPS: One area where you've gone off the road paved by Planescape is combat. You're opting for turn-based even though PST was real-time with pause. What kind of turn-based combat are we talking, though? How intricate will it be? What are your main influences on that front? Which other turn-based games?

Heine: Combat was one of those things in Planescape that many felt was lacking. We had plans to greatly improve it from the beginning, and as those plans solidified over the months after the Kickstarter, we saw how a turn-based system was better suited for them especially the Crisis plan. Wasteland 2 designer Jeremy Kopman built a Crisis prototype based upon Wasteland 2, that proved the concept would work. At that point, we favored turn-based combat internally, but we wanted to know how the backers would feel about the shift from RTwP to TB. So we explained our thoughts to the backers, asked for discussion, and put it to a vote. Both the vote and the discussions were split right down the middle.

But those discussions have helped clarify and solidify our ideas. We learned what people don't like about turn-based combat and come up with ways to address those issues. In many cases, our existing plans had addressed those issues before the backers even raised them, which was very encouraging.

We have a lot of influences for turn-based. One that stands out is Temple of Elemental Evil. I hadn't played this game before the combat vote, but as soon as I did I knew this was a good foundation for Torment. Specifically the way they handled gridless turn-based, move vs. attack actions, and a wealth of tactical choices for the player. The Fire Emblem games have been another formative influence for Crises in general, specifically the idea of goals and actions beyond just (kill the other guy.) While you can certainly fight your way through most Crises, players will frequently have other options as well, like interacting with the environment to use it to your advantage, talking to NPCs to persuade them to help you, etc. And of course we're learning a lot from Wasteland 2 and the feedback that project has received regarding pure tactical combat.