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Changing Tides: How Kickstarter success convinced InXile Entertainment to build Torment: Tides of Numenera

InXile Entertainment's initial pitch asked for $900,000 to create a sequel to the post-apocalyptic role-playing game Wasteland. Last April, Wasteland 2's Kickstarter campaign ended with almost $3 million in pledges from more than 61,000 backers.

InXile believes it has learned a critical lesson from its crowdfunding success. The creative leads at InXile believe that the traditional publisher/developer model of funding video games is broken, and the developer is staking its future on that claim.

Today, the developer announced a Kickstarter campaign for Torment: Tides of Numenera, a spiritual successor to the old-school RPG Planescape: Torment. InXile's project director and creative lead explained to Polygon in a recent interview that the game also represents its goal to subvert the traditional business model and sell games players want directly to them.

"There are many very appealing aspects of crowdfunding, especially for midsize or smaller developers like inXile," project director Kevin Saunders told Polygon. "We like how it makes us accountable to the players directly. We have to convince them that we have the capability to give them the game they want to play."

"We like how it makes us accountable to the players directly. We have to convince them that we have the capability to give them the game they want to play."

The crowdfunding process turns development into something of collaboration long after the funds are acquired. InXile defines the vision of the game, pitches it to potential players, then solicits feedback and makes adjustments. As with its theory of the broken funding model, it's more than just talk: InXile has already put that into practice with Wasteland 2. In a recent update on the game's progress, it announced that the game would ship with defaults alongside a "robust settings menu." It was an acknowledgement that "everybody has their own preferences," and a tangible way to react to the game's backer-players.

"Part of the appeal of using Kickstarter is that we are making the game that our players say they want to see made — as opposed to saying, "Okay, we're going to go with a target metric audience here that has been defined extensively though focus groups and consumer testing from our enormous lab,'" creative lead Colin McComb told Polygon.

Like Wasteland 2, the Kickstarter campaign for Torment: Tides of Numenera is an attempt to create a game that publishers wouldn't. InXile believes there is a demand for a successor to Planescape: Torment, a 1999 RPG that has gained a cult following.

The rights for the game are "all tied up in the ongoing litigation with Interplay and Atari and Wizards of the Coast," McComb said, making a direct sequel all but impossible. Last year, McComb and Chris Avellone began talking about a sequel. McComb said he approached Wizards of the Coast, which owns the rights to Dungeons and Dragons and Planescape, about the possibility of using the canonical setting. He didn't get very far.

"After several months of not being able to do anything with it, I was like, 'Okay, you know what? Forget it. I'm not going to do this anymore.'"

A few months later, InXile founder Brian Fargo contacted McComb to join the Wasteland 2 team. He did, and a few months after that, Fargo mentioned that InXile acquired the Torment intellectual property.

In the meantime, a designer of the original Planescape, Monte Cook, had successfully funded a tabletop role-playing game called Numenera on Kickstarter. It was in this new universe that the successor to Planescape: Torment would be built.

By last November, McComb was musing publicly about a successor to Planescape: Torment. Avellone gave McComb his blessing, which was made public in an interview last December. In January, Cooke announced on his blog that he'd entered into an agreement with InXile to bring his Numenera universe into the video game realm.

More recently, Avellone made the NSFW-laden video below to offer his support.

InXile doesn't want to make a direct sequel. Rather, the plan is to create a character-focused campaign that evokes the same feelings as Planescape: Torment.

"It's about finding your place in the world, about understanding who you are, about what legacy you leave," McComb said. "What does one life matter?"

Set amidst a world in which several ancient empires and civilizations have risen and fallen, the single-player RPG will attempt to have players answer that final question from an individual's perspective. It's about being forced to confront the reality wherein you're just one link in a seemingly endless chain.

"Everything sort of spun out from there," McComb said.

Torment: Tides of Numenera won't attempt to answer its central question, however. It's up to the players. As they discover the ruins of ancient civilizations, how will they put them to use? Whether for good or for evil, the game will adapt.

"Characters in the game will judge you — the world will judge you — but the game won't," Saunders said.

Much of that will play out in the game's Tides system, alluded to in the title.

"The Tides are our version of the alignment system in D&D, which is perhaps the closest parallel," he said. "There are five of them, but they don't oppose each other directly. It's not like good versus evil. There's much more complicated interactions between them."

The Tides system is the developer's way to track the results of player action, which are a de facto demonstration of what's important to them. There is no right or wrong, but rather a series of choices with consequences.

"Characters in the game will judge you — the world will judge you — but the game won't."

"There are forces you are manipulating here, but it's essentially an external manifestation of the choices you have made," McComb said. "If you've decided that your choice is to become a bloodthirsty butcher, people will react to you that way, and your powers within the game will change as well."

As an example, McComb offered the Passion Tide, which is color-coded red to give it meaning beyond its one-word description.

'When your Passion Tide is strong, it means you're more driven by the things that move you, as opposed to reason or empathy," he said.

InXile decided to begin the new project now, as Wasteland 2 is still in development and scheduled for release around October 2013, for several reasons. Perhaps most practically, it needs to cover the costs of preproduction. But it's also about moving those in the company to a new project as development on Wasteland 2 ramps down. This is, after all, the studio's experiment in sustained, crowdfunded development.

The Kickstarter for Torment: Tides of Numenera, an isometric RPG, kicks off Wednesday. The game is planned for a DRM-free distribution on Windows, Mac and possibly Linux platforms.

But that's likely the minimum viable product. As the stretch goals for Wasteland 2 proved, financial success changes a project based on backer desires, and InXile is comfortable in its new paradigm. Based on its past, it's willing to adapt. As with Wasteland 2 before it and, it hopes, other games after it, InXile will also use the new crowdfunding mechanisms and the dialogue it has with players to establish the game's final scope.

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