Diablo III may not arrive until 2011 but in the meantime, fans of the series will be able to play an intriguing alternative: Runic Games' Torchlight. The $20 action RPG is set to be released digitally on October 27th and afterward, work will begin on an MMORPG set in the same world. Blend Games caught up with three of the folks from Runic - Wonder Russell (Minister of Culture), Jason Beck (Art Director) and Marsh Lefler (Senior Engineer) - to find out more about the game, the planned MMO, and the possibility of console ports.

Torchlight is often compared to Diablo, because it's an isometric action RPG and your studio employs folks who worked on the first two Diablo games. Do you mind the comparisons? Do you think it sort of pigeonholes your game?

We don’t mind the comparisons, it’s a natural thing for people to do. Since we have the creators of the Diablo franchise as founders, Max and Erich Schaefer, it can be hard not to compare the two. Of course, the comparisons stop once you get past “isometric action RPG, with lots of loot.” Torchlight is a very different art style, created for a different, more casual audience. It’s also inspired largely by what we were doing with Mythos. Knowing that doesn’t pigeonhole us – it helps us find our audience. People who loved Diablo, Mythos, and Fate, will love Torchlight.

In past interviews, I've read that you intend to release an MMO based on the Torchlight world 18 months after the single-player game is released. Is that figure - 18 months - still accurate?

We’ve said in the past it will probably be 18-24 months; we’re still hoping for 18 months, but 24 might be a little bit more accurate. We’d rather under-promise and over-deliver than vice versa.

The Torchlight MMO will be free-to-play but supported by microtransactions. Microtransactions tend to make some players a bit suspicious, because they assume it allows someone to buy an unfair advantage. What sort of things will players be able to buy and what's the typical amount of money they'll have to spend for each piece of content?

Definitely we want to create a game that’s balanced so no one feels there are any unfair advantages – that would ruin the game for us. We want to use the microtransaction model in a social aspect - items will focus on character customization which is particularly meaningful in a MMO world. Loot drops will still be the main source for finding that uber-cool weapon you want. We haven’t started getting down to the nitty gritty of what items will or won’t be included and pricing , but that will be a big focus for us once the Single Player is fully launched and we’re working solely on the MMO. That’s another reason we’re glad to be partnered with Perfect World: they are experts in the free to play market and how to make it fun for everyone.

The single-player Torchlight features a retirement system, whereby you're allowed to pass down "heirlooms" from an older character to a newly created one. How does this work, exactly? Are you selecting specific items from your old character and then giving them directly to the other character?

In a nutshell, yes! You can bequeath a piece of equipment. When you retire, you talk to an NPC who will enchant the item for you and give it special bonuses depending on the item –then it gets passed on. What’s really cool is that you can retire that piece of equipment as many times as you like, and keeps adding incredible bonuses to it. You will be able to make some pretty awesome pieces this way!

Are there any plans to incorporate the single-player retirement system into the Torchlight MMO?

It’s definitely a possibility, but not planned at the moment. There’s so much more to do in an MMO, why retire?

Can you discuss some of the ways that the massively multiplayer Torchlight will improve upon the gameplay of the single-player game?

The gameplay will be just as visceral, satisfying, and fun in the MMO as it is in the Single Player, but there will be many different aspects that work in an MMO world – instanced and persistent dungeons, a persistent overworld, end content, PvP, guilds and guild takeovers, etc. We haven’t seen a successful ARPG style gameplay in an MMO, and that’s what we want to do with Torchlight. So, you will be able to quest on your own, get your friends together and pursue a story quest, random quest, or just go buy a map which opens a customized, persistent dungeon. Or if you’re feeling more outgoing, join a party in an instanced dungeon and play through quests and maps. You can group up with new friends, your close friends, and still keep the ability to be self-sufficient. Awesome A-RPG gameplay, with many “massively” possibilities.

Because Runic would be working on the MMO right after Torchlight is completed, I would assume that any effort to make a console version would require the assistance of another studio. Have you had any discussions with other companies about creating a PS3/360/Wii version of the game?

You’re right that we’re not a big enough team to do that on our own – we’re probably also not the right team, given our experience is richest in the PC world. We haven’t had those conversations – yet! –but it’s nice to dream.
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