Exclusive Interview: Torchlight 360 & Torchlight 2 with Runic’s Max Schaefer
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Torchlight is one of PC gaming’s guilty secrets. A game built by the teams behind Mythos and Diablo, it captures the essence of the old “klick-n-kill” action RPG formula, all for the cost of a fast food lunch. Runic Games has now announced a 360 translation of the popular indie title earlier this week as a part of Microsoft’s X-box Live! House Party event.
While details on the Torchlight console version were revealed, GameFront got to speak with Max Schaefer, co-founder of Runic Games on his way out the door to CES today about the history of this version of the game and how it informed the company’s efforts to improve and release Torchlight II this summer.
“We’ve been working on the Xbox 360 version of the game for about 6-8 months now in various stages.” Schaefer was quick to point out that the game is more than a simple translation of the PC version, which relied on mouse and keyboard as its interface, and required a complete overhaul to not only the controls but also the graphical interfaces.
“What we thought originally was going to be an out of house port ended up being a lot more collaborative than we expected. We worked with an external team to move the game over to the Xbox 360 because the [Ogre] engine Torchlight runs on, has an Xbox 360 version. That ensured it would be easy to convert and not result in the ‘worst console port ever’.”
“What we found was that making the 360 version of the game presented us with a number of game design challenges.” Schaefer laughs, “It also resulted in a few discoveries that led to improving Torchlight II on the PC. We learned how to better optimize things like memory and loading screens that we could translate back to the PC engine.”
Schaefer indicated that the move to the Xbox 360 was not just a matter of leveraging technology, but also of expanding the reach of the Torchlight franchise to new players. “While I’m not one who believes that PC Gaming is dying obviously, there are a lot of people out there who will only play console games. This was an opportunity to do something we’d all been talking about since we released Torchlight – to play from the couch.”
When considering how best to translate the PC gameplay, Schaefer says the team really looked at classic Snowblind Studios games like Champions of Norrath and Baldur’s Gate for direction. “That was how we knew Torchlight could work on a console. We just looked back to those games as inspiration.”
For fans of the PC version who also play console games, Schaefer stressed this game is not just a carbon copy of the original. “I look at Torchlight [on 360] as a whole new game. It had to be in some ways because the way you play console games is so different from PC games. We made changes to adapt the game to the controller. It led us to make some cool changes. We’re also adding some new things. We have three new armor sets, a new pet and some of the skills – like those involving throwing items – like potions are re-worked to let players control how [hard/long] the throw is.”
Schaefer said that the game would stay a single-player experience but that the company was integrating things like Achievements, including unique achievements that differed from the Steam versions and possible support for add-on DLC content if the game sold well. “We’re doing avatar gear and icons and that sort of stuff of course, but we want to take a wait-and-see approach to [DLC] if the game does well. We can definitely create it, if the gamers show they want it. Though that’s not on our roadmap at the moment but it easily could be added.”
The company’s next game – Torchlight II – initially had a Spring/Summer release window and Schaefer stressed that the PC sequel would likely still hit those promised dates. “We had a little slip when things changed and we got more involved with Torchlight 360 but honestly it’s by days not months. We still plan to have Torchlight II out around May/June. If things go as we expect, definitely by summer.”
Torchlight was also one of the first games available on Steam for the Mac, and Schaefer confirmed that Macintosh gamers would still get a shot at the sequel. “The Mac version sold very well for us. Not as well as the PC of course, but we didn’t expect it to.” When asked if the game would be available on PC and Mac out of the gate, Schaefer cautioned that the PC version would come first. “We’re going to work to make the delay a lot smaller this time.”
We asked if there was any update to the plan to deliver Torchlight, and its setting, as an MMO but Schaefer responded that Runic focuses on doing the things that it feels will make that MMO better first. “We’re a ‘one thing at a time’ sort of company. We want to stay small and focused on our goals. Even once Torchlight II is released we’ll have localizations, ports and support to consider. Our goal is to bring Torchlight to an MMO, but we want to take it slowly and finish Torchlight II, then decide what a Torchlight MMO should look like.”