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Following the recent launch of Torchlight III, Max Schaefer and Matt Uelmen sat down with Gamasutra to reminisce about the storied history of their action-RPG series that started off as a networking prototype for Hellgate London, then squared up against Diablo III, and finally all but became a free to play title.
The whole thing is quite an interesting read. Here’s a couple of sample paragraphs:
But before those games released, Schaefer, Uelmen, and other Blizzard alumni took a big swing at the genre with Hellgate London, a game from Flagship Studios that launched and then collapsed in a short window between 2007 and 2008. Uelmen described it as "Destiny, 5 years too early." In the process of trying to get an enormous Diablo competitor off the ground, Schaefer described how a spinoff studio named Flagship Seattle had been spun up with Travis Baldree (the creator of Fate), in a bid to build the networking pipeline that would fuel Hellgate: London.
While Hellgate's struggles would doom Flagship Studios, Baldree's team noodled on a particular project that would change the shape of the post-Flagship landscape. In order to test the networking tech that was meant to keep Hellgate afloat, Baldree made a small action RPG that could be used to test the networking tech before it was implemented in Hellgate. That game (tentatively titled Mythos), was what would eventually become Torchlight.
After Flagship Studios entered bankruptcy, Schaefer said that the 14 people based in Seattle still had what seemed like a functional prototype that could be worth building a game out of. And so with Baldree at the helm, the team went back and formed Runic Games, literally with the same furniture and computers that had been Flagship Seattle.
"It's a funny story, when Flagship closed down we sold all of the equipment---desks and chairs and everything---into liquidation just as part of shutting down the business," Schaefer recalled. "And so when we decided to set up again, we're like, 'well, we need desks and chairs and computers and everything, we should just go talk to the liquidator guy and buy back from them!" And so we did, we bought all our stuff back."