Max Schaefer on D3, TL2, and More

Runic Games showed off Torchlight 2 at E3 last week, and the Cynical Brit talked to Max Schaefer for twenty minutes, and it’s an excellent conversation. Max shares his thoughts about Diablo III, says what he likes best about D3 (surprised me with his answer), reveals what he’d have done differently if he were (still) the lead designer of D3, talks about how TL2 handles difficulty with more options and player control than D3 does, says where he thinks the ARPG genre can go or expand in the future, and more.

There’s plenty of interview about Torchlight 2 as well, of course. Max says they’ve been polishing furiously for the past months, making changes based on TL2 beta feedback, and that it’s gone very well. They’ve made dozens of minor and a few larger changes, and the one I liked the most was a change to skills. TL2 has skill points, but rather than all the points just adding +3% damage or the like, they now have “skill tiers” which sound a bit like D3’s skill runes (Though it’s actually just the return of a system they had in Mythos, which evolved into Torchlight I.). At X number of points the skills add a whole new additional function, so there’s much more reason to add more points than just D2/TL1-style incremental improvements. Sadly, there’s still no TL2 release date, but Max said they’re aiming for late-July/early-August.

I typed up a rough transcript of the most interesting Diablo 3-related stuff, and here’s the start of that. Click through for the rest of the transcript, and the video to listen to the full interview. Thanks to Chris for the news tip.

Cynical Brit: How did Diablo III affect Torchlight 2 and Runic Games? Did Diablo III do anything for your development cycle or game mechanics?
Max Schaefer: Nothing really in the mechanics or our approach to the game. We have been playing Diablo III a lot so that’s caused some minor delays, but it’s all good. We think overall that Diablo III’s effect is very positive, since it’s bringing so much more attention to the ARPG genre. They’ve brougth millions of new fans into the genre, they can run TV commercials on ESPN and other things we don’t have the budget for, and all thsoe new fans find out about Torchlight 2 sort of through osmosis. It’s good for us, and good for the genre, and we welcome D3’s presence.

CB: If you were the lead developer of Diablo III is there one change you’d make? Other than including LAN function, of course. Game mechanics, aesthetic, etc?
Max: The aesthetic is great. The art is beautiful. I wouldn’t change anything there. As for the mechanics, there are little details here and there. I prefer making specific builds and being able to assign my own stat points and skill points. I’m not a crazy min/maxer, and I like to make weird builds, so I’d like more individuality in the character development.

Other things I would change… hmm… well, I’d put the crosses and pentagrams back in. I disagree with that change. Those were part of the game and the game world for a reason. But that’s a minor complaint since the art is great and I really enjoy playing Diablo III. I’m glad they made it so I didn’t have to, and I think it’s impossible to meet the weight of expectations after ten years of build up and waiting. I don’t want to seem critical though, since I think they’ve done a great job and they deserve all their success.

CB: What do you like most about Diablo III?
Max: Everything is polished and slick, and the artwork is awesome. Sometimes while I’m playing I’ll just pause and look at the river. I like how they told the story, though. It’s interesting and I’m compelled to listen to it and I like how it’s related. The method they used to tell it is nicely-done, and it doesn’t feel tacked on. I will admit that in previous incarnations of Diablo the story was completely tacked on after the game was complete, and it felt that way. I think Diablo III did a great job integrating the story into the mechanics.

CB: What’s next in the ARPG genre? It feels like the genre is fairly limited with only a few ways to develop.
Max: I wouldn’t agree with that. I think it can be done very different than what we’ve seen so far. I think it’s wide open for different settings, such as science fiction. It doesn’t have to just be fantasy. I think there are ways open for new business models, like what they’re doing with Path of Exile. I think someone will do at least a pseudo-MMO in this style. If not full virtual world at least big hub towns with hundreds of people in them, and lots of instancing of dungeons. There’s lots of room yet to grow for the genre.

There were a few other D3 mentions in terms of TL2’s release date, general industry issues, their future plans at Runic, how they’ll fix “their own version of Error 37” and more. Watch the full interview, or at least listen, since it’s got a lot of good stuff.

Tagged As: | Categories: Ex-Blizzard, Interviews, Media Coverage, Torchlight 2


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  1. Really enjoyed this interview with Max. Looking forward to TL2 a lot! Female Berserker, get them claws going.

    Captcha: “be mine”. Yes. Be mine, TL2.

  2. I expect TL2 to scratch all those itches that D3 hasn’t. Stat points, over-the-top quantities of mobs and damage flying around, etc.

    Equally, I think D3 is the game I’m more likely to play long-term, just because of its MMO-lite backend.

  3. What a pity. I wish this game had a darker theme, not a cartoony one. I think it would be a huge success then. Medieval-like and fighting with deamons is the most obvious one, but there must be something else than a random-cartoon-universe.

    I think that Max is wrong with their approach to the game. I mean the point about swarms of bees carrying a chain mail (and taking the whole thing seriously). Thats awkward, but still D2 had a level of “realism”. If you take his way of thinking, you could make a ranged weapon work in melee… oh, wait…

    • Assuming you mean Diablo 1, (and D2 to an extent) yeah, there is no going back to that old, beautiful world. We are just old men with nostalgia now. When Adria actually wore black clothing (you know, like a witch?), there wasn’t some nice Captain guy greeting you as you came into town, and designers weren’t afraid of symbols and what they really meant.

    • Being dark for the sake of being dark is stupid though, so developers need to be careful. Extra Credits did a good piece on how popular games have done just that, irresponsibly:

      • Agree with the points in that video but unlike the examples, Diablo really did pull off a mature/dark game without the over the top immaturity described. It was tied to the story and characters in a compelling way.

    • I too don’t like the cartoony theme of Torchlight at all but TL with high-res texture mods and better diablo-like fonts looks fabulous.

  4. Won’t last a week.

    • First this comment is just wrong and 2 are you so obsessed with everything diablo that you feel the need to put down other games?

  5. Just imagine – gameplay/artstyle from Diablo III mixed with itemization/skill system of Torchligh II! Would be glorious!

  6. I’d say that games like GW2 and TERA are certainly a step forward in the ARPG genre. What else would they be?

  7. “they now have “skill tiers” which sound a bit like D3?s skill runes”

    Not sure if you’re hinting the idea was borrowed, or if you’re just doing the comparison so us D3 players will know what’s up, but Mythos had skill tiers long before we knew anything about runes*. Glad to hear they’re coming back in TL2.

    * Not to say Mythos invented the concept either; it’s a concept that has evolved along the way. Just saying that the skill tiers in TL2 sound like they’re a rather direct descendant from Mythos rather than D3.

    • Actually, this was in response to a post someone made on the TL2 Beta Forums.

      It doesn’t quite work like D3’s tiered system where each tier is its own skill.

      TL2 tiered system work where each tier adds a new ability to your skill. You final skill is the culmination of all previous additions.

      Say you have a skill called Ice Shot. It chills enemies that you hit for 4 seconds.
      After 3 skill points, it freezes for 2 and chills for 4 seconds.
      After another 3 skill points, it freezes for 2, chills for 4, and splinters into 3 smaller arrows after hitting.

      Etc. etc.

      • Yes, that’s pretty much exactly the system they had in Mythos.

        • similar to titan quest as well. except each tier was divided into its own skill, so you could put points into a specific “tier” to upgrade that portion of the skill, without effecting the rest of the skill, but in the end the whole tier was the same skill and only took up 1 skills lot.

  8. The original Torchlight had skill tiers on a few of the skills. The one that comes to mind is the alchemical golem. As you put points into him, at certain levels he gets new attacks. At level 1 he just smashes with his hands, but I think around level 8 he gets a spinning attack which hits everything around him. I’m glad to see this concept getting applied to more skills.

  9. I don’t understand people that Diss Torchlight 2. It has everything people where whining about that DIablo 3 should’ve had, and now when they get it they’re still whining. LMAO. Diablo 3 isn’t even comparable to Diablo 1 if you want a darker themed game. That doesn’t mean D3 is a bad game. It’s awesome.
    I believe that Torchlight 2 won’t get the business/hype that D3 got, but will be the game people will play for years to come while Diablo 3 will only live on the expansions if Blizz takes the same road to them.

    1 – TL2 has an offline mode and Lan support. As much as people can call online only a good thing, it’s not. Quite obvious. People will play TL 2 while traveling or down internet time or Blizz’s maintenance times. If the game is good, which it will be, people will look forward to new titles of such user friendly games. While I doubt many will purchase D3x (if we ever get one) now that they know what online only is like.

    2 – Mods are a big reason that D2 and D2x got the life it did. Though many were down right bad, some are pretty interesting. People had an initiative to play D2 even after they had done all hardcore and stuff. Mods are supported in TL 2. The only initiative to play D3 after people are completely done with it is the RMAH.

    3 – Torchlight 2 is Diablo 2.5, essentially the thing people wanted Diablo 3 to be, and seriously, they took some serious lessons from the beta testing unlike Diablo 3.

    4 – Game is designed to be a game, not an auction house. No need to explain further.

    Runic is the next Blizzard I’m sure.

    Everybody can disagree with me I’m sure, but please refrain from Blizz Fanboi behavior in comments.

    PS: before anybody says that I should just leave Diablo 3 or should not buy it and comments like that, GROW UP. I like Diablo 3 a lot, but it has some serious flaws that Torchlight 2 is obviously taking advantage of.

    • I don’t understand why people around here seem to have the 1 or the other mentality. I did not pay any attention to TL2 and thought I would not play it but now I am sure I will buy it day 1. Looks fun. I will play it a lot at first then probably bounce back and forth between the 2. Why limit myself to 1 good game when I can have 2? So many fun games out there and so many more have been announced (I personally cant wait for GTA5 and the new sim city) so do yourself a favor and enjoy as many as time permits

      • Like I said Diablo 3 is a good game. Worth playing. My post was just to confront people who think Tl 2 will fail compared to Diablo 3. You make an excellent point i.e Play both games and move on.

        • right, i was just sorta backing up your point. will TL2 fail compared to D3? depends on your definition. it will in no way ever dream of out selling D3 so it fails there but maybe it will be more enjoyable and have a longer lasting? only time will tell, either way i am sure to pump more than a few hours into TL2

    • I don’t know why people actively hate on TL2 or D3, but TL2 doesn’t really have “everything” people complain about in Diablo 3.

      For one thing, it’s even more over-the-top cartoony than D3. Which has remained a big complaint about Diablo.

      Yes, it has Lan, and offline, and mod support. But a lot of people weren’t looking for these things in Diablo 3. A lot of people were hoping for a secure online environment with no unfair cheating and hacking to foster an economy that is fun to interact with. While I think diablo 3’s economy is screwed over by their design decisions on item tiers, those hopes are a non-starter in TL2 BECAUSE of the offline, lan and mod support.

      I also don’t think Mods were that big of a reason for D2 to be popular or even TL’s popularity. It’s a very passionate community, but it is tiny compared to the portion of people who played Diablo 2 on or just played TL in general.

      TL2 has some neat things going for it, but it definitely doesn’t do anything close to what I would expect from a Diablo series game. The existence of mods takes any fun out of interacting with a community of people who aren’t already your friends. That’s definitely not what I expect from a Diablo game…

      • Actually a lot of people ‘were’ looking for At least lan and an offline mode in diablo 3. This was just common sense before last august. I cannot speak for the Mods, whereas I rather agree that they Fuek the game something fierce. I’m sure there was a better way to handle cheating than online only, and that didn’t work out. they are back at what they do best, Ban people.

        You are wrong if you say that Mods were not responsible fir D2’s longevity. Maybe you never got into the modding community.

        Though it may not be fun to interact with unknown people in the presence of mods, it is way lot better than getting hacked and being ripped naked. Thats what I would expect from an online only game.

      • Tl2 is just so much more fun than D3. I was in the beta and having played through the first act, I can say that once you are immersed the cartoon graphics are hardly noticeable. The sound track is great, it gives the game a very dark feel to it, and the stat point/leveling system is much better than D3.

        I feel like this game has many of the old-school elements that made D2 and D1 so good, yet D3 is TO streamlined. There is next to no customization of your character in D3, and levelling up isn’t very exciting because of it. Also, with TL2’s pet system, you can send back your pet with your loot and it will sell it, and also buy you potions if you tell it to. That’s Really awesome because it means you can do entire strings of quests without returning to town, and even if you DO need to go back, there are still good old town portal scrolls for a quick trip. 😀

        My money goes to TL2.

  10. Crazy to hear Schaefer admit that he and his buddies didn’t know how to tell a story as well as D3. Not that blizzard can tell a “great” story. But compared to D1 and D2 … they did a better job filling in holes and any questions I might of had (maybe, as flux put it, it’s because Azmodan shows up as a hologram telling me exactly what he plans to do.. hehehe)

  11. Good stuff. Thanks for typing that up Flux.

  12. I don’t care for the blood effects, looks out of place and occurs too often.

  13. “I think someone will do at least a pseudo-MMO in this style. If not full virtual world at least big hub towns with hundreds of people in them, and lots of instancing of dungeons.”

    Sounds execly like first Guild Wars.

    I’ve played Torchlight 2 beta, and for me it’s nothing really special. I don’t think I’ll buy it.
    For me next action Diablo-like game (I refuse to call those games as ARPGs) I want to play is Borderlands 2 and maybe Grim Dawn.

  14. I’ve been considering TL2, because I did enjoy the first one, but never got REALLY into it. Now TL2 looks pretty damn awesome. And if I can get my friends to play (who are all incredibly bored with D3), it can be a helluva lot of fun!

  15. Grim Dark! He means Path of Exile? My wallet will suffer after another one… Music? I wonder if he (Max) would change the music in D3.

  16. TL2 made by the people behind d1 and d2. On top of this 19.99 price tag?!?!?! cant go wrong, lan coop pvp and EDITOR??? THIS WILL ROCK YOUR 11 year old pants.

    And he is being way too nice to d3 and assvision.

  17. not interested in torchlight 2, never cared for the first, but that is my opinion. i just do not think i would enjoy it.

  18. I bought TL1 and played it for a while, but it never really drew me in. I completely ignored the story, the levels all seemed very similar to each other, the skills were OK but kinda meh, and the items were very meh.

    I’ll read the reviews and consider TL2 depending on whether they’ve improved in those areas. Love offline mode.

    D3 has better graphics, story, and monsters than I expected. Skills are cool but not *amazing*. Items are kinda meh. D2 really did items right.

    • I feel the same about T1 but I’m hoping T2 will be better. I’m a fan of D3 (flame me if you want) and T1 was sorta boring. However, if T2 is improved like they say it will be I’m down for spending the money.

      BTW, that Grim Ward game looks pretty awesome. Looking forward to GW2 although I’m tired of MMOs.

  19. There’s an even better interview that a blogger did with Max at E3.

    It’s here:

    Many of the same questions but asked in a way that they often got juicier answers.
    Of course, since this is on the second page though, few will read it lol

  20. I’m sorry, but I dont think Torchlight 2 is any good…

    The art and UI are just horrible.
    The inventory felt so cluttered, and guns ?? what the hell ?
    The game and characters are so so childish, the first area (in the beta) looks just like whimsyshire, bright colours everywhere.

    You don’t need to be a one-eyed fanboy to see this doesn’t compare to D3.
    D3 doesn’t have skill points .. whoopdy-do, it certainly isn’t TL2’s selling point.

    I have an idea .. take some of “the half bland but with great ideas” game known as Path of Exile .. and mix it with “the childish but some ok features” game known as Torchlight 2 and BAM! .. you have an awesome game.
    Which funnily enough would probably look a bit like D3 ..

    Thank you for your time.

    • Well, guns make a hell of a lot more sense than one-handed automatic crossbows, imho.

    • You know what is more childish? Wanting every game to be grim and gritty. The results? Modern Era Brown Corridor Shooters. And you know which game series had that style, but abandoned it for colorful overblown epic fantasy with cheese written all over it? Diablo.

      No point to adress rest of the post since it’s pure drivel.

      • I agree, having everything too grim and gritty is crap.
        Hence why I think path of exile is too dark and grim (to cater for 1 lot of fans who crave it) and torchlight is far too colourful.
        I have Torchlight 1, I played it for a while. I wasn’t a massive fan, but it was a fresh ARPG and it was different. I think Torchlight 2 though had a chance to be so much more, so I guess that just annoys me. In TL2 the characters look like anime babies, and I was almost turned off instantly, but I gave it a shot and yeah, really tried to like it but I didn’t.

        I think Diablo 3 has a perfect medium on the whole dark/gritty and light colours.

        I’m a D3 fan, love the game, I think it’s awesome.
        I hate TL2.
        Many of you here are the opposite, I guess everyone has their own opinions. 😀

  21. The change they made to the skill system sounds a lot like the “masteries” in Sacred 2.

  22. It would be awesome if Runic could “gobble” up both companies making Grim Dawn and PoE and do something truly elite. Too bad that won’t happen anytime soon.

  23. TL1 was awful despite me playing the crap out of it. Max Schaefer why you so bad?

    I played TL2 beta…

    So far somewhat positive.

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