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So Runic, What's Next After Torchlight II?

Fuel For The Fire

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It’s been a long road to the release of Torchlight II. Not Diablo III long, mind you, but it technically started with the original Torchlight, which didn’t even release until 2009. And all the while, there’s been Torchlight ports and constant demand for a Torchlight MMO – among other things. I wouldn’t be surprised if talk of Torchlight-branded torches, lights, and lighters crept into the conversation at some point. Point is, Runic’s been stuffing loot pinatas and shuffling dungeon tiles for quite some time now. So then, is it time for something new? I asked Runic CEO Max Schaefer as much during a recent interview (which you’ll be seeing all of soon), and he told me many things.

Max Schaefer sounds stressed. Of course, his wearied tone is only natural, given that he’s in the final stages of guiding his company’s flagship game to a safe landing. Years of hard work and multiple delays are about to pay off, but it’s always the last few hours that are the most agonizing. But there’s a tinge of excitement in his voice too. Insanely ravenous herds of fans are about to tear into Torchlight II, after all, and there’s a certain closure in finally getting the meticulously tweaked ARPG into the hands of the public. Plus, it means something else as well: freedom. Well, kind of.

Schaefer begins our discussion at the top of the to-do list. Priority number one? Er, don’t do anything at all – at least, for a little bit.

“We’ll just kind of sit back and catch our breaths, catch up on sleep, and look at what makes sense [for us to do next],” Schaefer tells RPS of Runic’s plans for the immediate future. “Whether that’s DLC for a while or a full-on expansion or maybe a tablet version – you know, the options are so wide open that we really want to have a good head on our shoulders and see what the landscape looks like before we make that kind of decision.”

“[An entirely new, non-Torchlight project] may actually be the thing we decide we want to do next, because we might be so tired of making Torchlight that we’re kind of burned out. Maybe we want to cleanse the system a little bit before we go back to Torchlight. Because, I mean, we’re gonna go back to the Torchlight franchise, obviously. But we may do something else in-between. That’s on the list of things that sound kind of cool, and we have to evaluate down the line.”

Specifically, Schaefer goes on to cite tablets as a big area of interest, as well as – more broadly – Minecraft. “I’ve played a lot of Minecraft over the last year,” he notes. “I’d love to infuse some sandbox-y mechanics into that style of universe.” However, he also adds that “we have 30 guys in the office. I’m sure we have 30 very distinct opinions on what the coolest next thing could be.”

You’d have to search pretty hard, however, to find the oft-mentioned Torchlight MMO on that list. Originally, Torchlight II was supposed to be a multiplayer bridge between the original Torchlight and its MMO end goal, but a lot can change in three years. Unfortunately, things are markedly less straightforward these days.

“When we started the company, we had more imminent plans for it,” admits Schaefer. “And we still want to, but now there are lots of other cool things to consider as well. I think what the Torchlight MMO would be is changing, because we definitely don’t want to make a traditional MMO. We don’t just want to make the standard MMO in the Torchlight universe. We want to change up the genre and put a unique stamp on it.”

“[MMO fatigue] definitely plays into it – not only in the market, but in our own minds. We want to get away from that, but still have the cool parts of an MMO, which is having lots of people interacting chaotically in a big world. I think EVE Online is a good example of a non-traditional MMO that’s obviously successful. It’s kind of hard to break the mold and make a new style of game, and kudos to the EVE guys for doing it. But yeah, it’s gonna have to be done, because MMOs are all a little too much alike for my tastes. It’s time to really break out of the box a little bit.”

Moreover, he explains that an MMO’s a serious commitment for any company, but when you’re as tightly knit as Runic, developing and expanding such a game could see you “spending a good chunk of the rest of your game career making this MMO.” That, of course, would be slightly counter-productive to the goal of doing anything else, er, ever. “I would say it’s pretty likely that it won’t be the next thing we do,” Schaefer concludes.

So for Runic, things are pretty open at this point. No, nothing’s set in stone, but options are hardly a bad thing to have. Well, you know, soon, anyway. Soon-ish? “When hundreds of thousands of people hit on Thursday, lots of things can go wrong,” Schaefer laughs. “So I’m sure we’ll do some emergency patching and make sure everything’s running smoothly.”

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Nathan Grayson

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