Remembering Runic Games

After Runic Games was shut down by Perfect World, Kotaku reached out to one of the studio's co-founders Travis Baldree, who was happy to reminisce about his times at Runic Games. The resulting retrospective article goes over the original pitch for Torchlight, Runic's almost successful partnerships with Microsoft and Turbine, the general atmosphere at the now-defunct studio, and much more. An excerpt:

We pitched Torchlight (when it was still codenamed Delvers) to Big Fish Games here in Seattle. No pitch was off the table! I had a horrible cold, and was loopy with Sudafed. Their conference room was oddly set up, with a table projector, but no nearby power outlets, and a distant wall that was at a 30 degree angle. I stretched the cable from my laptop to an outlet high on that wall, balancing my computer on some books, while the PowerPoint presentation was projected trapezoid-ally at an off-angle. I can barely remember anything from the pitch - I’m sure it was awful. And someone leaned forward over the table afterward and said, “this is all great, but we don’t really make... games.”

We sat down with Frank Gibeau at EA Redwood Shores, did our song and dance, and at the conclusion, he said: “The ink will be dry on the contract next week”. We never heard another peep.

I can still clearly remember my first visit to Perfect World’s old offices in Beijing, wandering through the long tables of artists and engineers and the incredible (and colorful) proliferation of animal-themed humidifiers scattered everywhere, blurting steam. The big tiled bathrooms, cold because of open windows, where everyone was smoking cigarettes.

Zynga contacted us out of the blue. They had been looking at leasing Flagship’s old office space in San Francisco, and had seen a video of Mythos running there. We met with Bing Gordon and a few other folks in their old offices, seated at a table covered with dry-erase scribbles. We talked about their games, and at some point, Bing leaned back in his chair, jutted out his lower jaw and made suggestive wiggling motions with the first two fingers of each hand as he said, “And now, I’m going to part the kimono,” and prepared to divulge their secrets.

I wish you could see the first technical prototype of HOB - I used Wind Waker models, animations, and effects. We had a little Link running around on Outset island, pushing blocks, throwing rocks, cutting grass, swimming, scaling walls, and shouting ‘hya!’ from an isometric camera, just to make sure that the fundamental navigation would work.

It took us so long to find a name for the studio, that in the interim we were incorporated as ‘Surprise Truck’, Max’s vote for the company name. Since my phone number and address were used, I got a steady stream of phone calls asking if ‘Surprise Trucking’ could assist in a cross-country move.

We pitched Torchlight to Microsoft and had extensive meetings, a company vetting, and it all seemed to be going so well. To our shock, at the end of the arduous process, they decided they’d rather have us make a Fable game for them. We declined. Right before Torchlight shipped, a Microsoft rep came up to me at our first PAX and cried “Why didn’t you come to us to publish this?”

We came very close to becoming part of Turbine, and working on a Hobbit themed title. I had the best Old Fashioned I’ve ever had at our first dinner with them.