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A Few More (Spoken!) Words About Torchlight

In my most recent podcast episode over at Immortal Machines, I had the good fortune to be able to speak with several of the members of the team over at Runic who made and just launched Torchlight - we spoke for nearly an hour and covered a good range of topics from art and sound design to gameplay decisions to modding.  Many of the questions were pulled from the Immortal Machines community directly, and some of them got surprising answers.

Many thanks to the folks at Runic (especially Wonder Russell, who put the whole thing together for us) for taking the time out of their very busy days to speak with us about their new baby. On the call we had:

  • Max Schaefer - CEO
  • Travis Baldree - President / Project Lead
  • Jason Beck - Art Director
  • Adam Perin - Tech Artist
  • John Dunbar - Zombie Pyrotechnician
  • Wonder Russell - Minister of Public Relations
  • Falcor - Dog

If listening to those folks talk a little bit about their creative endeavors sounds like fun to you, please go give the episode a listen and see what you think.  It was my first developer interview for the podcast, and I'm pretty pleased with the results.  A direct MP3 link is here, and the discussion thread in our forums for the episode is here. Our podcast is also hosted on both the iTunes and Zune marketplaces, so feel free to get it on your MP3 player of choice that way, too.


A Few Words About Torchlight

So I spent a large part of this weekend playing Runic's upcoming $20, single-player action RPG Torchlight.  I'll be doing an interview with the developers for the Immortal Machines Podcast this week, and they were kind enough to hook me up in advance with a press copy so that I could check it out a bit ahead of our interview.  If you already know about Torchlight, let me say that I've put a little more than 6 hours in, and have a Level 23 Destroyer ("warrior") and a Level 6 Alchemist ("mage").  If you don't know what Torchlight is - well, you could go look at the site - but if you take the randomly generated dungeons of Diablo and add a cartoony look, some well-updated mechanics and a pet that acts as an item mule, you've got basically the right idea.  It's got a pretty great pedigree, with folks who worked on both Diablo I and II on the team, as well as Travis Baldree, who designed the (very similar but far less polished) casual action RPG Fate for WildTangent back in 2005.

I'm not going to do a formal review of the game with a score or anything - I haven't played it enough yet, and I'm not sure that assigning scores is something I ever want to do here - but I've played enough to feel comfortable saying that if this type of game interests you, it's an easy buy.  The visual style of the game is fantastic, the random level designs are really good so far, the loot that drops is varied and fun to sort through, and the combat is some of the best I've seen in an action RPG.  The art and sound come together in combat to provide extremely satisfying feedback for everything you do; as your character grows in power you really feel it in every hit he delivers.  On the Normal difficulty level I've found the game to not be terribly difficult thus far, only getting into tight scrapes a few times, but two higher difficulty levels exist and there's the traditional "Hardcore" (1 death, that's it) mode for those who want them, so the game doesn't have to be friendly if you don't want it to be.

Oh, and in addition to using them as an item mule, you can teach your pet spells.  My dog can cast fireballs, and summon skeleton archers to fight for him.  I'll say that again: my dog summons skeleton archers.

He's such a good boy.

My Destroyer Character, with Best Friend

Torchlight is coming out officially on Tuesday, will be available on Steam, and like I said - 20 bucks.  It's also getting an extremely capable level editor very shortly after launch, free for people who buy the game. (Go check out some videos for that thing, it's really impressive.)

I understand that for some people, when thinking "action RPG" the lack of co-op multiplayer is a dealbreaker - Runic is working on an MMO in this same style to address that next, by the way - but let me entreat you to not let that make the decision for you.  This is a really excellent game at a great price by a team that clearly put a lot of love into it.  I think it deserves to succeed.  Go give it a look, and if you haven't bought it by the time they put a demo out, at least try it then.  I suspect you'll have as much fun as I'm having.


Free And Worth Every Penny - Issue 20

This may only work for those of you of a certain age and a certain background. For those in the right group, however, I believe it will work quite well.

Think back to the first time you played a good Sonic the Hedgehog game. Early- to mid-90's, on your Genesis (or, as I did, on a friend's). Doesn't really matter which one it was. Remember the exhilaration you felt as you got better at the game, and Sonic went from clumsily hopping around, trying not to die, to flying through the levels, careening around at top speed, blasting through enemies - a hyperkinetic, invincible pinball. As your knowledge of the levels increased, completing them became an art, as subtle and impressive as getting through an arcade shoot-em-up on one quarter or beating Contra without using 99 lives.

Now remember the frustration of Sonic's frequently cheap level design. Okay, obviously my own memory is coloring my opinions here, but "learning" a Sonic level really wasn't always fun. Spike walls and bottomless pits were deliberately dropped in your path, and there was no way to know about them or react to them on your first run, you just had to die a few times until you figured it out. It could get infuriating.

Now imagine taking that frustration away, and replacing Sonic with a little star guy. Or starfish guy, maybe? Honestly I'm not sure what he is, but if the image is roughly star-shaped you're pretty much there.

Now if you like what's in your head, go play RunMan: Race Around the World, because Tom Sennett and Matt Thorson made this just for you.

RunMan is pretty much everything I loved about Sonic, without pretty much anything I didn't. It's a straight-up speedrun game, with the simple objective of getting to the end of a stage as quickly and stylishly as you can. You have only the arrow keys, a jump key and a "zoom" key to concern yourself with (well, also a "suicide" key if things aren't going well), and you will only use those keys to move left to right as fast as possible. The game is nothing if not straightforward.

Under that straightforward facade, however, is a surprising amount of depth and - if you're into this sort of thing - joy. When "zooming", RunMan will plow through most enemies and bounce off many surfaces, picking up speed and earning a higher score while the level literally cheers him on. Of course, he's also more likely to careen out of control, or accidentally run into an enemy that can't be zoomed through. There's no death to worry about here, though - hitting an enemy the wrong way simply tosses you back a bit, and even "bottomless" pits only slow RunMan down momentarily before he jumps back out. It's a high-score challenge all the way, with medals awarded at performance thresholds for each level as you make your way across the [very Mario-ish] overworld map. Levels contain multiple pathways, encouraging you to optimize your route on repeated playthroughs. And as you can see from the screenshot, the low-fi (but very nicely animated) graphics emphasize high-contrast color and the sort of attitude these games had before "attitude" meant "edgy" and "dark".

In short: if you like games that challenge you to go fast, you need to go see if you can keep up with RunMan.

RunMan: Race Around the World is:
  • full of personality.
  • impressively large.
  • backed by a pretty awesome soundtrack.
  • the sort of game I want to see more of.
Go check RunMan out here.

Be aware that this game is actually Free and Worth Several MORE Pennies - it's donationware, meaning you can have it for free, but if you like it they'd appreciate you paying whatever you feel it's worth. They'll certainly be getting something from me.

"Free And Worth Every Penny" is a column I collaborate on with Mike Bellmore at Immortal Machines. This piece originally appeared there.
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