David Bowie – I’m a blackstar

It’s hard for me to write about Bowie. His death has hit me, and it has been surprising. I’ve been telling people for decades that I don’t give a shit about celebrities or their lives – they live their lives and I live  mine, and if we have interactions it’s primarily mercantile.

But Bowie was different in this, as usual. In part, it’s because he was a constant background presence in my life from the time I really became aware of music. I was a fan of much of his work, and he was one of my favorite musicians, though I couldn’t tell you much of anything about his personal life, nor could I outline the more esoteric parts of his career. I listened to his music. I bought his albums. I appreciated his music. That should have been the end of it. If I were mourning one of the markers of my childhood, that could explain some of the loss I’ve felt over the last couple days.

It’s not just that, though. His work – his life – helped define our cultural space. He showed what one visionary can do and be if unfettered by fear of failure. He was careful and calculating in his projects, yes, but he always presented himself with honesty, pushing toward a new frontier, bringing other perspectives into the limelight.

Monte wrote:

Perhaps more importantly, this lesson speaks directly to artists and creators. Be who you are. Do what you want. Don’t fit into anyone’s box. Remember that your vision is the important one. Look what David Bowie—fearless, fearless David Bowie—accomplished by doing just that.

There’s a connection to Torment here, of course. One of our central themes is legacy, and one of our central discussions is about what is left behind when we are gone. (There’s a secondary connection, in that one of our central characters is the Changing God – but the Changing God is a man who struggles against his mortality as he changes his faces, while Bowie’s transformations came from a place of creativity and joy.)

Here. “Lazarus”, his final video.

Watch it, knowing that he knows he’s dying, and soon, and he’s fearless about his image. This is the face of a man who knows what he has done with his life, and he is – not quite content, but accepting – accepting that he cannot go on, that he has been a creator and a visionary and an inspiration. The communication, the medium, the message is everything. A last gift, a gracious message to those who had grown up on his work, a reminder that we can create and build and write even to the end, and that we can fill even our final moments with the joy of creation.

It is that mindset that won him the space in our hearts. He did not give us permission to live like him – he just showed us how it’s done, and invited us to follow him. I am grateful for his example.

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar

 

Invading our world.

The dream Adam and I began discussing nearly 3 years ago with Kevin Saunders and Brian Fargo is slowly nearing reality. Its tendrils reach into our world, tearing apart the fabric of existence, birthing itself through force of will.

A couple of weeks ago, we released our first Alpha Systems Test, A0. This test contains both the first conversation in the game, “Falling”, and the first playable space, in the Labyrinth. This is also a narrative character generator, which means that the choices you make within that area help determine the skills and abilities of your character throughout the rest of Torment: Tides of Numenera. (I freely admit that our inspiration was old-school Ultima)

Yesterday we released B0, the first taste of the PC’s experience in the real world, allowing our players to explore the Broken Dome and the Reef of Fallen Worlds, and introducing two of our companions: Aligern and Callistege. The area was designed by George Ziets, and much of the text in this area was written by Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie, with Adam Heine providing design oversight. Environment art for these two areas was created by Paul Fish and Jon Gwyn.

More is coming. I think you’ll be happily surprised.

 

 

Sundry

I returned from California last night from another hugely productive design week at inXile. Coincidentally, I was there just in time to attend the launch party for Wasteland 2 (for which I wrote the Mannerites in LA), so I got to congratulate the team for their achievement in the launch, hang out with some of the backers, and see old friends who accused me of traveling there too stealthily for them to make plans to hang out with me. (note: this is actually true, because I was working pretty much the whole time)

Post-party-hangover, the remainder of the week was spent writing dialogues, learning how to deal with technical issues, and having some excellent personal interaction with the Torment team. We tightened trickier aspects of the story, and are continuing to answer other questions that pop up as we iron down other aspects. Story in games is an ongoing process through development, as aspects of the story come into sharp relief and require answers that won’t break other parts, and each discussion we have is aimed toward honing the player’s experience and deepening the story’s significance.

Wednesday night, Jesse Farrell taught Steve Dobos, Nathan Long, Kevin Saunders, George Ziets, and me how to play Chaos in the Old World, and I would have won if Mr. Dobos hadn’t pointed out I was going to win. I had two paths to victory, both eminently achievable, and all those rat-bastards (Nathan especially; he was playing the Skaven scum) teamed up to deny both paths… opening the way for George to defeat me, 54 to 49. (Perhaps I spoke too soon when I announced to the table that they couldn’t beat me.)

This is the part where I give a shout to Jason Dora for his excellence with the Torment website, and to Charlie Bloomer and Alisha Klein for their stunning work on the TTON video. I realize I’m supposed to be all cool about this job, but seeing ideas brought to life is a thrill that never, ever gets old. Working with this team is a pleasure and a privilege.

On that note, I’d also like to thank Adam for his patience, his memory, and his enthusiasm. Working half a world away can’t be easy for him, but he’s always ready with an incisive look into story, design, and other aspects of the game, and his patience with changes and his understanding of the ramifications of those changes is always amazing. Plus, as he notes, he’s great at revision.

Enough. Time to get back to revisions and rebuilding Unity.

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.

The Kickstarter for Torment: Tides of Numenera is wrapping up in a few hours. I’m sitting out here in California, at inXile’s office, for the wrap party, and I’m looking at the numbers climbing and climbing. They don’t even show the PayPal number, which at last report was approximately $127K.

Back when Brian first suggested a new Torment to me, I was terrified at the thought. I still kind of am, but it’s a channeled, focused terror rather than the blind panic: “Oh no! What if I blow it? Am I even good enough to do this?”

Apparently the hours, days, weeks, and months of work that Adam, Kevin, and I have poured into this project (to say nothing of the time spent by all the rest of inXile’s talented team) have put that fear to rest. Rather than asking whether anyone will get onboard with my ideas, now it’s a question of how I’ll be devoting my time and managing my team.

I am (and I know I’ve said this before) truly humbled by the faith you all are putting in me. I’m grateful to Monte to making a world we can play in, and to Ray and Shanna for their help in pushing it along.

We’re making this game.

Holy shit, we’re making this game.

This is going to be so cool.

Concept art of the male PC after the jump.

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Oh, hi there. Also: LINKSTORM!

These last few months have been a little crazy. I mean this, of course, in the very best way. They’ve also necessarily entailed a lot of quiet-mouthedness, but now the veil can be lifted on Torment: Tides of Numenera. On which I’m (gulp) the Creative Lead. I mean… yes! Woo hoo! All right, it’s both scary and exciting. I’m going to lean toward exciting.

Numenera? Yes, Numenera! Monte Cook’s Numenera, set in the Ninth World, is going to be the host for the latest addition to the Torment franchise. I had the opportunity to playtest this with Monte (and Fiery Dragon‘s James Bell, editor/writer Shanna Germain, and editor Ray Vallese), and man oh man is it cool. I’m so excited to help our players tell their stories in this world, and I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to do it. Thanks, Monte!

As an introvert, it’s frequently difficult to get out and speak to people to drum up interest in something like this, but for a project like this, it’s a lot harder to remain silent (not least because my friends at inXile might drive here to kick me in the shins and points north if I did remain silent).

This is a roundabout way of self-promoting (on my very own blog? the nerve!) some of the interviews Kevin Saunders and I did to promote the Kickstarter for Torment. But first, let me extol Kevin’s virtues, because working with him is a pleasure and a joy. He’s incredibly smart, detail-oriented, quick to see issues and possibilities alike, and he’s supportive of his team. Plus, it’s really, really hard to imagine letting Kevin down… just thinking about it makes me want to work harder. (also, Adam Heine has been invaluable along the way. Seriously, he is just amazing at his job, and he’s a really good person, too… as in, “Hey, how about I move to Thailand to care for orphans?” good)

Anyway.

So, the first interview: IGN! I misspoke about combat in there; this was not Casey’s fault, but mine. “Real-time smart combat” is word salad, and I was apparently chewing with my mouth open. Sorry about that, Casey, and sorry to everyone who thought that we’re doing real-time. We’re still figuring that out, and we’ll make our decision with the aid of our backers. But be assured that we have some foundational rules that we’ll lay out and then we’ll design our system based around those ideas. What’s most important to us is that the combat feels like an integral, functional, and enjoyable part of the gameplay.

The second interview was with Polygon’s Dave Tach. I have nothing to add to this, except that I was perhaps a little excitable and needed some reining in. Good thing Kevin was there!

The third interview was today, with Destructoid’s Fraser Brown, and that one will be out on Wednesday, which is when (HOLY CRAP) our Kickstarter begins.

Oh, and tomorrow night it looks like I may be appearing on Geek and Sundry with Pat Rothfuss, Jerry Holkins, and Veronica Belmont. That’s… uh… no big deal? ::gulp::