Monday, November 2, 2009

The Simple Things

It's easy to lose perspective sometimes, being caught in trying to realize the potential for games to express things that are deep and meaningful. Thinking about the future of the medium, what changing demographics will mean, the consequences of the growing gulf between AAA titles and other projects; all very serious, weighty subjects. And of course, organizations Infinity Ward/Activision doing things that range from questionable to outright idiotic bullshit can make one shake their head at the industry too.

But at least part of the reason why games are interesting is because they can be really damn fun (and yes, I mean "fun" fun in this case). And Torchlight is really damn fun.

If you haven't heard of it, Torchlight is a Diablo-esque click-y, loot-y action RPG. It was made by Runic Games, which consists mainly of Blizzard North veterans responsible for Diablo and Diablo II. Given they have nearly 13 years of experience making action RPGs that hit that "holy crap, how did it get to be 3 AM?" sweet spot, it's hard to imagine Torchlight being anything but fantastic.

Two things about it are particularly interesting- how well it matches its aspirations and its price point.

Torchlight is intentionally simple. It seeks to take that fundamental Diablo formula, polish it in a few places and that's it. Runic built it in 11 months with a team of less than 30. Admittedly, the game had basically been built once before as Mythos, an internal prototype at Flagship Studios. Still, it's very clear that Runic had a clear vision for Torchlight and executed on exactly that. They even managed to stave off feature creep, which alone is an impressive achievement.

Such a exact focus and relentless schedules means Torchlight probably didn't cost that much to make. Correspondingly, it doesn't cost that much to buy. I've purchased three copies of Torchlight so far, one for myself and two for friends as birthday gifts. At any more than $20-30 (i.e. what most games cost), that never would have happened.

One of the things I appreciate about the PC as a platform is that there is space between cheap downloadable games and AAA blockbusters that doesn't really exist on consoles. Steve called them "Single A Games," and while they pop up time and again in XBLA/PSN, the PC is where they really thrive. Of course, the PC is also host to the casual games ghetto, so it's not all roses. Still, the flexibility and breadth offered by the PC is laudable and I wish that advantage of the platform got more acknowledgment.

Even with Diablo III coming down the pike, Torchlight is still a perfectly viable and entirely fantastic game. Obviously, I don't want all games to share Torchlight's intentionally paper-thin story and shallow, kill-monsters-get-loot gameplay. But I'm glad games like these come about every now and again, especially with such an obvious PC genesis. In terms of polish and focus, there's a lot that can be learned from Torchlight. And damn, it really is fun.



Blogger Unknown said...

I'm with you 100%. First time I played I thought, "Damn, this is Diablo all over again". Next thought? "Who cares?"

November 2, 2009 at 9:34 PM  
Blogger Nels Anderson said...

@Brandon Especially when it's most of the folks that made Diablo in the first place. In a way, it's almost like the band got back together :)

November 3, 2009 at 10:05 PM  

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