Runic To The Hills: Founders Depart Torchlight Developer

By Nathan Grayson on March 27th, 2014 at 9:00 am.

Is that the first Iron Maiden pun I've ever made in a headline? If it is, I'm a disgrace to myself and my people.

Huh. Well, this is kinda unexpected. Runic, the band of former Diablo devs that produced Torchlight and the especially excellent Torchlight II, have just lost two key members. Founders Travis Baldree and Erich Schaefer are departing the little ARPG studio that could because, er, it apparently grew too large for their tastes. 20 people under one roof? You’re practically Ubisoft at that point. For real, though, both Diablo and Torchlight wouldn’t exist without these two, so it’s pretty wild to see them go. More on that and also Runic’s “crazy, cool, completely secret project” in the loot-ridden dungeons below.

Baldree explained why he and Schaefer are off to form their own mysterious cabal in a forum post:

“I’m announcing my departure from Runic Games, a company which I co-founded nearly six years ago, and have led as its President and lead engineer ever since. I should say from the outset that this is an amicable departure, that I consider the amazing team at Runic my friends and family, and that it is a privilege that they’ve let me get away with running the place for this long.”

“Erich Schaefer, my friend and fellow Runic co-founder, will be departing Runic as well as my equal partner. I’m so gratified to be able to continue working with him. I’m personally excited – oh, hell, I’m SUPER-STOKED – to be getting back to smaller-scale development, where I can wear many, many hats performing many, many different kinds of tasks. Working within the boundaries of limited means and resources is the best fun I’ve ever had, and that sort of work satisfies me in a fundamental way – I can’t wait to be working that way again.”

Their new company will apparently be called Double Damage Games. No word yet on what sort of game they’ll be making, but despite their lineage, I actually doubt it’ll be a hack ‘n’ slash ARPG. The genre is deceptively difficult to spin into gold, and a two-person dev team isn’t the best environment for that. But that’s just me speculating. I could be entirely wrong.

Runic, meanwhile, plans to embrace change on soldier on without them as it gears up to announce its brand new project that is probably not Torchlight III. Wrote CEO Max Schaefer: ”The rest of us here at Runic are excited to move on and continue to work on this crazy, cool, completely secret project we’ve been working on. We’re champing at the bit to talk about it, but will wait until we’re ready to show it off. Travis’ right-hand man for over ten years, Marsh Lefler, has seamlessly moved into the lead chair at Runic, and after we’ve sent Travis and Erich off in a bourbon-fueled celebration/wake, you’ll find that Marsh is more than capable of taking the reins.”

So that’s that, then. Hopefully we’ll hear more from both Runic and Double Damage soon. Until then, though, who’s got some bourbon? I feel like it’d just be rude if we didn’t all join the celebration/wake by proxy.

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31 Comments »

  1. WrongTarget says:

    Schaefer, not to be confused with Schafer, of Double Damage, not to be confused with Double Fine.

    • SomeDuder says:

      I think- yes, it has just happened – studio names have reached critical mass and are accumulating massive amounts of irony. Who know what the future will hold for up and coming developers, who will have to check sites like 4chan and SA for “ironic” “posts” with “wacky” “names” in order to be “random”.

      • povu says:

        Double Plus Good

      • Zap Brannigan says:

        Do you really find the name Double Damage a “wacky” or “random” name for a game company? Really? You’ve never heard this term in any game you’ve played? No board games, RPG’s, or computer games?
        WrongTarget’s completely different point was that there are 2 guys with similar names working for video game companies with similar sounding names. Nothing to do at all with your “point.”

  2. razgon says:

    Did they completely drop the MMO part?

  3. Gnoupi says:

    It’s not that 20-25 is that much. But when you’re the head of a team with 20-25 persons, you don’t really design/program anymore, you mostly manage a project and a team. It’s a different job, and not necessarily what they like to do.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Classic failure point of many a small business.

      Suddenly the business gets so big that the boss is doing a job he or she’s crap at and and/or doesn’t interest him or her, while at the same time also often taking the most talented/experienced team member off the shop floor.

      Smart owners know exactly when to hand over to someone actually interested in, and good at, business development and get the hell out of their way.

    • Grygus says:

      But then you would, presumably, hire people to do the management you didn’t like and just carry on. That isn’t what they did. They sound like they do in fact like the management, they just also like the design/programming; they want it all. So the alternatives are to fire everyone and get what you want, or leave everyone and get what you want. We’ve seen both approaches recently.

      • unimural says:

        I think it’s more about wanting to keep the control, but not wanting too much to control.

        It is exceedingly difficult to hire someone else to take care of the management or business side of things without having those people influence the direction and shape of the company. Business and management aren’t independent parts of the company, separate from development. And it is pretty much impossible (and likely disastrous ) to try and steer the company of certain size while being in the engine room. You’ll either undermine the people who are supposed to handle those things, or you won’t be doing any of the things you wanted to do anyways.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Wowbagger says:

    I’m looking forward to their bespoke range of organic jam I can tell you.

    • pepperfez says:

      They’re setting us up for disappointment if it’s not at least doubly delicious as ordinary jam…age.

  5. Untas7 says:

    ” Especially Excellent ” is not something I’d use to describe Torchlight 2.

    • Philomelle says:

      Torchlight 2 is a strange beast. Its gameplay design is amazing on paper, but all of its pre-release hype dropped like a brick within three days after release.

      The general consensus seems to be that no amount of good gameplay can salvage a lack of personality.

      • Gnoupi says:

        I don’t know, found it had more personality than D3, personally. But maybe that’s just me.

        • Philomelle says:

          There is a difference between having a repulsive personality and none at all, to me.

          D3′s personality is repulsive to me. It treats returning characters badly, reduces new ones to mediocre cliches and twists the Lovecraftian horror narrative into dull epic fantasy romp.

          On the other hand, Torchlight 2′s personality is “It’s like that Blizzard North game we once made… but with steampunk and uh… cartoon graphics, I guess… yeah, uh… whatever, we’ll toss up some art assets together and call it quits”.

          So while D3′s personality can be remembered as a disappointment, T2′s personality won’t be remembered at all. Even the glowing WOT dismisses the story as awful. Sure, you could argue that it’s better to not be remembered at all than being remembered badly, but it still means people rarely discuss Torchlight 2 because doing so feels like contemplating the colors of a common brick.

    • gravity_spoon says:

      Nope. It was marvellous and fabulous. Just like arpgs are supposed to be.

    • frightlever says:

      (second go – frigging dablio trap)

      I played about twenty hours of TL2, about half of that multi-player.

      Meanwhile I played 140 hours of Dablio3, before deciding it was a horrible, bitter disappointment. Never mind the 30 hours and counting since Loot 2.0 and Reappearing of Socks.

      No real urge to go back to TL2 – the combat didn’t feel crisp.

      • Sandepande says:

        Yeah. I wanted to like TL2 a lot more than I did, but the combat wasn’t terribly interesting when compared to (otherwise a bit bland) D3, with all its flying corpses and gibs and bits of furniture. The fights have more oomph.

    • Wytefang says:

      Then you’d be in the minority on that one. And I’d definitely use those terms to describe it. It was an excellent game all around. If you’re unable to see that, I weep for you.

      • reggiep says:

        It’s almost as if different people have different tastes. Crazy. Are you going to weep for everyone that prefers something different than you do? You might run out of tears.

        • Premium User Badge

          Wowbagger says:

          I too thought it was a bit meh and soulless, but the mods made it 50% better.

      • fish99 says:

        That’s just your opinion. As a fan of Torchlight, I personally could not get into Torchlight 2 at all, and I did try. The gameplay was just so flat and repetitive, and there was no attempt to put anything resembling a story or an interesting world in there to keep me interested. The character progression felt meaningless as well.

        It just felt like an empty experience full of endless clicking.

  6. Cigol says:

    Kickstarter proposal incoming….

  7. araczynski says:

    an extremely talented 2 person team could DEFINITELY spin ARPG gold in the mobile market, they have absolutely no competition there, aside from the heaps of f2p imitation shovelware.

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    Voice of Majority says:

    Strangely, I liked TL1 better than TL2. The art direction in particular.

  9. Dances to Podcasts says:

    So they went from making a diabolical game to a diabolicallike game. I wonder what crazy fresh ideas they come up with next.

  10. Noburu says:

    Insert something about how Path of Exile is better here.

  11. Rocketpilot says:

    Can’t see how this increases the chances of the Mac version ever being released.

  12. The Vhampster says:

    That’s nice that they’ve got projects in the works, but Torchlight 2 still has broken achievements on Steam. I sense someone dropping the ball again

  13. somnolentsurfer says:

    What impact does this have on the Mac version of Torchlight 2 that was originally promised day and date with the PC version, and still hasn’t appeared?