Koalition Exclusive Q&A with Runic Games CEO Max Schaefer

Torchlight II released yesterday to the delight of gamers the world over. You can download it from Steam right here, but if you’re not too busy playing already, then maybe you’d like to see what Max Schaefer, CEO of Runic Games and former Diablo producer, has to say about it. If you’ve done your homework on this topic, you might know some of this already. For those that haven’t, however, get ready for a history lesson in why this guy is very important:

  • He is one of the original creators of the Diablo franchise.
  • He was an executive producer on Diablo I, Diablo II, and Diablo II’s expansion: Lord of Destruction.
  • He left Blizzard North (Diablo) in 2005 to be one of the co-founders of Flagship Studios (Hellgate: London and Mythos.)
  • In 2008, he co-founded Runic Games (Torchlight I and Torchlight II.)

With all of that out of the way, I had the chance to ask Mr. Schaefer a few questions about his latest game. Read the full Q&A below!

David Jagneaux: Comparisons to the Diablo franchise are inevitable, especially since members of Runic have worked on that franchise in the past. What does the team feel are the biggest differences between that franchise, and Torchlight, specifically Torchlight II?

Max Schaefer: I think the biggest difference is the approach to security and monetization. Both games have incredibly high production values and offer great gameplay. Blizzard has chosen to create a secure economy, so that items in game have real-world value, and there is real competition, ladders, and the like. We’ve chosen to go the opposite route and be more open. So we let you mod our game, and we give you the tools to do so. We let you play offline or online at your choice. LAN play is supported, and your character isn’t restricted to one mode or another. I think both paths are valid, and work for different reasons. Some players thrive on the competition, some just want hack&slash fun.

DJ: How do you strike the right balance between hordes of enemies to loot and kill on screen, and moments of downtime to break up the action? What are the difficulties in designing a game as action-packed as this?
MS: That’s really why you have quests. So there’s a somewhat fictional beginning and end to each portion of the game. Otherwise, you’re basically in one long dungeon. By completing quests, or by leveling up, or by traveling between acts, or by going to town to buy new stuff, you create those down times.
The pacing of games like this is critical. And you only achieve that balance by playing your game a LOT, and iterating and iterating until it feels right. There are so many moving parts, and so many things to juggle so that players have the smoothest experience that it’s deceiving – the end product seems simple and elegant, but the work to achieve it is substantial.
DJ: Do you feel as if you were able to include the majority of what you wanted to include in this game? From what I have played, it seems like the content just keeps pouring out of it.
MS: Yeah, I think we got the level of content about right. Of course, you are never “done” with a game like this – you just pick what you think is the right time to let everyone in. We’ll be adding some new stuff here and there, patching issues, and “fixing” for a while, but this felt like a great time to let people get in and play.
DJ: Why charge only $20? With the breadth of content and features, this game could easily sell well at double or triple that cost.
MS: We want people to associate Runic Games’ products with ridiculous value. We want to be like a Blizzard in that people will buy your games based entirely on a well-deserved reputation for value, while also staying a small, intimate company that connects with their players.
DJ: Are there any tentative plans for paid or free DLC in the future? Maybe new classes?
MS: We will certainly flow in free DLC, but not paid. If we charge for anything, it would be a full expansion. DLC is something we want to add for free, though. Otherwise it’s not “really” a $20 game. Torchlight II is really $20.
DJ: What is your favorite class and why?

MS: It will change over time probably, but I love the Engineer. He’s versatile in that you can make a lot of divers builds with him, and he has that steampunk flavor that I love. I really like the other classes though, so ask me again in a few months!

There you have it, if this isn’t reason enough for you to pick up Torchlight II, keep an eye out on The Koalition for our review coming very soon, along with additional coverage in the coming weeks. Let us know what you thought of this Q&A in the comments below!