Torchlight Interview: Runic Co-founder Peter Hu Shows Us the Light

The pedigree of the Torchlight development team is really something. Max and Erich Schaefer, both co-founders of Blizzard North. Matt Uelmen, composer of Diablo and Diablo II. Travis Baldree, lead developer of Fate and Mythos. The list goes on;

The pedigree of the Torchlight development team is really something.

Max and Erich Schaefer, both co-founders of Blizzard North. Matt Uelmen, composer of Diablo and Diablo II. Travis Baldree, lead developer of Fate and Mythos. The list goes on; Runic Games is basically a who's who of great action-RPG icons. And while you may not know Runic co-founder Peter Hu by name, chances are you know his work if you've played Diablo II. Here's what one of his former colleagues had to say about his contribution to that game: "Synergy? Peter. Runewords? Peter. Perfect Gem Activation? Peter. Ethereals? Peter. Patch 1.10? All Peter."

Yeah. That Peter Hu. Back during PAX, I got a few minutes to quiz him on Torchlight, a game that is now only a few days away from going live. We go over the basics with this one, discussing the way quests function, the all-important mod tool support, and future multiplayer plans.

Shack: You started at Blizzard with Diablo II, is that right?

Peter Hu: I started working at Blizzard North back on Diablo II, worked on the Diablo II expansion. Worked at Flagship for a while with Hellgate, and now I'm one of the founders of Runic games.

Shack: And you helped found Runic after Flagship dissolved. How big is the team?

Peter Hu: From Flagship, there's Erich and Max Schaefer, who were the original founders of Blizzard North. There are a couple artists--Jeremy [Huxley], who was one of the background artists at Flagship. Everyone else that is part of the Runic team was part of Flagship Seattle--they were working on Mythos.

Shack: Right.

Peter Hu: It's actually the whole team that was working on Mythos, but just a few of the people working on Hellgate.

Shack: So with Torchlight, it's back to basics for you guys.

Peter Hu: Yeah, so obviously after Flagship foundered, a lot of us were kind of in the dumps, and we really had to do a lot of soul searching. And we decided that we needed to go back to our roots, do something that was doable with a small team, and not be overly ambitious and go crazy. We just don't have the sort of funding that a company like Blizzard had, when we were making Diablo II.

And we were like, okay, let's start off with a small, simple game, and build up for there. Do something that people will find really fun, do it as a budget download title, do it in a short time span. We've only been working on this thing for 10 months now; we formed in January of this year. So it'll be an 11-month project, and we're really happy with how much progress we've made, starting completely from scratch over the 11 months.

Shack: Yeah, it looks great--very polished. You're launching at a good time as well, getting out far in advance of Diablo III.

Peter Hu: Yeah, that's good. One of the reasons why [it looks polished] is that we really decided that when we try to make something simpler, we have more time to polish, more time to make it fun. With Hellgate, cranking the content was so hard that we never really had time to make things fun. So this time around, we're concentrating on a really fun game that we have time to polish.

Shack: How is the game structured? I saw the town hub a minute ago. Are there several? How do you progress through the game?

Peter Hu: For the singleplayer game, there is one city. You progress through quests, but it's not completely linear. It'll send you to different dungeon areas that are not necessarily one dungeon after another. There'll be branches in the dungeon and things like that.

But the concept is, the city is sitting on top of a mountain where they've discovered veins of a mineral called Ember, which provides people with magical powers. So all these civilizations come to this mountain, start mining the Ember, and gain this power, but then it corrupts them, and they wall themselves off within the mountain.

So as you go through the mountain and explore these areas, you'll find different pockets of civilizations, that are like undead dwarves, or whatever. You'll encounter them, you'll probably kill a lot of them, and slowly reveal the story of what's going on with the mountain.

Shack: I assume there are storyline quests that don't change, but randomized side-quest stuff as well?

Peter Hu: Right, as you go through the game you're going to fight the same major bosses, the same major NPCs. There will be some random quests, side-quests that just sort of happen that are tied into the story. And they don't reveal the history of the world, but they are tied into the main storyline.

Shack: And you're working with [Diablo/Diablo II] composer Matt Uelmen. I'm a big fan of his. How much music is he doing?

Peter Hu: He's doing a lot of music for this game. It's kind of interesting. He has a huge workload, because he's doing both the music and the sound. But he's managed to do a different score for all the tilesets, the town music, and even special scores for the boss fights. There's a fair number of boss fights.

Shack: With Torchlight being singleplayer-only, the mod tools are obviously a pretty important part of the longevity. They look fairly robust.

Peter Hu: The mod tools are what we use to create all the assets in the game.

Shack: So it's the exact same tools you use?

Peter Hu: The exact same tools. So you can obviously create levels, create quests. There's a visual scripting system, so you can create a lot of trigger points. You can create items, or your own skills. You can adjust AIs, create monsters. If you have 3D Studio Max experience, you can add in animations. You can modify textures. Whatever you want.

Shack: How easy is it to integrate that content into the game?

Peter Hu: It's pretty easy. Some people have actually already started mod sites, where you can go and pick up mods once the game is released. But in general, all the mods will exist in a folder on your computer. You can just zip that up, send it to one of your friends, they put it in the Torchlight folder and they can run the mod.

Shack: Let's talk about multiplayer really quick. Is that something you'll be thinking about patching in, or will it be done in a separate game down the road?

Peter Hu: What we're going to be doing is... a lot of first-run companies make an MMO as their first thing, and it's really tough. It's not easy. So one of the things we were hoping to do is, after this game ships, we're going to start working on an MMO. And we're looking to target that for about two years after this game. It'll be set in the same universe, same kind of playstyle, action-RPG-MMO. But instead of mostly instance, we're doing a lot more shared, big-world MMO. A lot of cool stuff. And that'll be free-to-play, free to download, item sales-based.

Shack: Same art style and general feel?

Peter Hu: Yep. Assuming the singleplayer does well. [laughs]

Shack: Thanks Peter.

Torchlight is available for preorder on Steam and on its official website. The game launches next Tuesday, October 27. Look out for our massive interview with composer Matt Uelmen coming up this weekend.

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