I like to think I’m pretty decent at games, but I also know that I make a lot of mistakes and often play quite poorly compared to many people out there. Old school gaming meant that I’d have to replay the same sections over and over again until I got them right, learned to perfect my approach and stop dying all the time. Torment: Tides of Numenera doesn’t just treat death as a respawn moment, but actually integrates death as something other than a failure.
Explained by Senior writer Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie, death isn’t just a restarting point, but can be an alternate solution to a problem in the game. Depending on your choices, Torment: Tides of Numenera can be rewarding – sure, you might fail along a certain path, but there are often rewards in the form of different items, story branches, etc along other paths that form as a result.
It’s also worth noting that the difficulty of some tasks you attempt are mitigated by careful investigation of the problem at hand. To make up a fake example: you have an option to intimidate a guard to let you pass. You can try right away, but this might be a “Very Hard” task. By speaking to the guard (or discovering secrets elsewhere), you might learn that he’s sensitive about his mother. By returning, you might discover that a new option has appeared: the ability to threaten his mother unless he lets you pass.
This is a totally fake example, but one that represents a typical alternate path in T:TON. It should also be mentioned that you rarely have just one way through a situation like this. You might be able to charm the guard, for example. Or buy a pass from an unscrupulous vendor. Or fight the guard. Or have a companion bluff past them. Or…
I find this really intriguing. I’m always the type to think of alternative routes to a solution. Sure, you could just fight everyone in your way, but I really do prefer to persuade or intimidate instead. Usually, this takes a while in games – you need to level up particular skills and can only really start using your brain to outsmart enemies once you are of a certain level. In Torment: Tides of Numenera, though, this can happy way sooner thank to a unique approach to the approach to skills.
Characters can attempt any task, even if they aren’t trained in the relevant skill. Obviously becoming trained or specialized will increase your chances, as well boosting your stats, but even as a newcomer you will have some chance of success. Of course, if you do want to specialize in something, like me with my powers of persuasion, you can do that very early on, as explained by George Ziets, Area Design Lead:
I should also point out that our skill system enables a character to quickly become a specialist at a particular type of task. For example, if you want to be a master of persuasion, you can use a combination of skill points, descriptor, and focus to specialise in dialogue skills at a very early point in the game. You’ll have to sacrifice other things, but there are many paths through Torment, and each will give you a different kind of experience.
This is particularly important because how you play the game could influence your Tides. The Tides are the morality/reputation system of the game, and it’s how the game interprets your actions and your answer to the central question of the game, “What does one life matter?”. With every conversation the player responds to reflecting a philosophical outlook on life, choosing the answers and actions that interest you will mean changing how the characters in the world view you. Some characters might even try manipulating the player based on their dominant Tide. But it’s not as simple as good guy or bad guy gameplay. Jurgens-Fyhrie explains:
It’s worth pointing out, by the way, that none of the Tides impose a value of good or evil. Even the Gold Tide (which represents charity, sacrifice, and empathy) can reflect someone who hurts themselves and others to save someone.
Speaking of others, players will have companions in Torment: Tides of Numenera. But they aren’t just minions; all the companions are something other than they immediately appear. Not only will their stories come out over the course of the game, but their opinion of you will change depending on how you play the game. Your reputation with them might change how their story ends, and might lead to disaster.
The more I learn about Torment: Tides of Numenera, the more I realize that my experience of the game would be very different to most everyone else I know. I know you’re all a bunch of angry fighters who rush into battle compared to me and my persuasion fascination. But surely boss battles or “Crises” would be universal. Well, no actually they are also unique and not just a matter of finding a Dark Souls-esque means of cheesing to death. Jeremy Kopman, Crisis Design Lead elaborated:
All of our turn-based encounters are termed “Crises,” as they are limited in scope and handcrafted. The vast majority allow you to resolve them in numerous ways, including, but not limited to fighting. That said, we spent a good deal of time building unique AIs for each of the major NPCs and monsters (which covers most of the enemies you encounter). The primary goal for those characters was to create behaviors that match up with their personalities and story-derived abilities. For instance, a slaver NPC uses attacks that immobilize and slow you, so countering with teleportation or support abilities that remove debuffs are smart approaches. An insane biomechanical squid monster can fire energy beams out of each of its tentacles, so staying spread out and slowing it down is a wise strategy.
In general, our NPC behaviors – and the Crisis scenarios in general – prioritize interesting interaction options and driving the story over tactical complexity. The challenge comes more from looking at the environment and characters, considering the context of the narrative, and choosing an overall approach than move-by-move, chess-like precision.
Of course I assumed that experience would be rewarded based on killing all the things, but actually the game isn’t built that way. Combat isn’t a positive or negative approach, simply an approach to a problem. Experience isn’t rewarded for killing enemies, but rather for resolving quests and making discoveries. Of course combat is a viable way to do those things, but it also has repercussions (like all things) that may be good or bad.
With such a focus on narrative and choice, we’ve heard rumors that the script is over a million words. Even so, there is a lot that’s left on the cutting room floor. Jurgens-Fyhrie explained how they decide what gets cut and what stays in.
Lot of potential answers to this one, so we’ll try to stick to the interesting ones. We developed a lot of content that didn’t make it into the game, because of quality, resource, or time constraints. Generally speaking, we stripped out or rewrote content that didn’t feel as good to us or playtesters as we originally hoped it would. Other times, we cut or replaced lines that would have otherwise added layers of complexity that we didn’t think justified the amount of time that it would take to do it justice.
A generic example would be a character that mentioned an interesting place outside the game world. Naturally, some players would want to learn more about this place and its history. If this was confined to one or two conversations, that wouldn’t be a problem. But if that backstory conflicted with another character’s more critical-path information about the same area, then that would step up the amount of changes necessary to make that original content fit into the overall game.
In other words, the first character’s interesting content would be cut (or more often, modified), since it was essentially an optional conversation with larger implications for the game as a whole.
With so many options, so many choices, Torment: Tides of Numenera is designed to be replayed. Most of the quests can be solved in different ways which will change the path of the world. This means that a lot of the content is mutually exclusive – players are encouraged to play the game as they want and see their way through the endings and epilogues, realizing the kind of world they’ve made. Then play it all again, making different choices, discovering new things with companions, the world, the story.
A game like this could only have been possible on this scale with the kind of funding they received through Kickstarter. Obviously their scope and development process changed a lot thanks to crowdfunding. Colin McComb, Creative Lead, said they originally asked for $900k and hoped for $2 million, thinking that would be sufficient. Then their Kickstarter blew up and they had to rescope dramatically:
We suddenly had a whole lot more game to play with. We got even more ambitious. It wasn’t until later that we realized we’d perhaps gotten too ambitious. Planning a game from start to finish is never an easy task, and it requires constant iteration. We bit off a bit more than we could reasonably handle, so we had to make some changes to the expanded scope. Still, our goal was always to make the game deep, reactive, and replayable, and I’m confident that we’re delivering that to our backers. It’ll be expansive, entertaining, and thoughtful.
If you didn’t back Torment: Tides of Numenera on Kickstarter, you can still go pre-order it if you’re so inclined. It’s releasing 28 February on PC (including Mac and Linux), PS4 and Xbox One.