The CEO of Runic Games wants you to fight Torchlight 2’s monsters, not its menus
Max Schaefer is the CEO of Runic Games, the developer behind the upcoming hack-and-slash game Torchlight 2, and he’s getting a little tired of talking about Diablo 3. “We’ve been talking about it since we started the company 8 years ago, it was kind of looming out there,” he told the Penny Arcade Report. “It’s a relief that they’ve set their release date and they’re going to come out, and we don’t have to worry about that anymore. We love the Diablo series, so we’re excited about it coming out as gamers, but yeah, it will be nice not to talk about it.” I had a chance to play the latest build of Torchlight 2 at PAX East, and in many ways I’m more excited about the $20 downloadable title than I am Diablo 3. Torchlight 2 won’t require an always-on Internet connection to play, and will offer LAN support. Torchlight 2 will be easy to mod, and the post-release content should keep the game fresh for years. There is also one thing that stood out as I explored the game: Torchlight 2 is very fun to play.
Find the annoying things. Remove them.
It doesn’t take long to fall in love with Torchlight 2, but the feeling still almost crept up on me. Within minutes I was flying around the game’s menus, and after being shown a few key shortcuts the interface felt smoother still. The game seemed to enjoy being played, and everything about my interactions with the menus felt right. It was like petting an unfamiliar cat and being delighted when it pushes back against your hand and begins to purr. “User interface is so important. We have iterated on it since we started working on the game to a few tweaks I made the last time I played it a few days ago,” Schaefer said. “It’s something we work a lot on, you have to keep at it and keep changing it as you play and find things that are annoying about it. It’s from the front of development to the end of development task.” He’s proud of the interface, and it shows. When I asked about his favorite additions to how the game’s play, he lists the little things. “The ability to shift-click items from one place to another instead of having to physically drag them. All windows will close with a click of the space bar. Little tricks, little shortcuts that keep you focused on the game.” You can give your pet a shopping list and they’ll return with the potions and items you need. The game will use the appropriately sized potion if you hit the button to heal; you won’t waste your largest potions if you’re only lightly wounded. All these details are nice, and welcomed, but at some point isn’t the game almost playing itself? “That’s a good question, and you look at some of the MMOs that are out there these days, especially the Asian ones, and they pretty much play themselves for you. We just want to reduce the annoyance factor, we put those things in as we’re annoyed by something in the game.” The interface was designed around one guiding principle: You don’t want to fight the interface, you want to fight the monsters. It’s a refreshingly clear take on user interface issues. “If we find something that’s annoying, and that you’re doing repetitively, we’ll find a way to remove it,” Schaefer promised. Based on my time with the game, Runic Games is succeeding in that challenge.
So how soon is launch?
The game’s content is done, but that just means it’s time for another pass for polish. “What we’re doing now is going through from the beginning of the game to the end and polishing things up. We’re about through Act 1 and starting through Act 2 stuff. It’s a slow march, but a steady one.” There are no technological hurdles left to clear, now the only challenge is making sure the game play sings. Of course, this presents its own problem: How do you stop feature creep? “You have to be a little bit disciplined about it,” Schaefer said. “Everyone has good ideas and they are good ideas and we should put them in, but you can do that forever and you’ll never get there. We’re going to take the time we have left, and we have a little extra time because a certain competitor is releasing about the time we’ll be done, and we’re going to take that time to hone things to a shine.” Which gives the team a very interesting challenge in the home stretch. “It’s going to be a struggle to keep out people’s good ideas,” Schaefar explained. You can preorder Torchlight 2 right now.