Developer Retrospective: Runic

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posted 3/15/2012 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
Platforms: Multiple
A retrospective is an agile development term for a team meeting at the end of a development cycle where the team determines what things were done well, what things could have been better, and what things they were going to try to do better in the next cycle. It's a great way for teams to celebrate what they did correctly and identify the things that they need to improve on. 
 
Given the state of flux that the video game industry is in right now I thought it would be an interesting idea to do several small retrospective with folks from around the industry with the end goal is to develop a holistic view of the state of the video game.
 
The format is fairly simple. We've asked each company the same four questions about what they did great last year, what they could have done better, and what they plan to do in the coming year. We then asked them how they thought the entire industry answered those questions. To keep things interesting we also asked a few company specific questions too.
 
We'll be running a retrospective each day for the next few weeks. We've got a nice variety of opinions ranging from game developers to publishers to hardware manufactures and everyone in between. This is one of the more ambitious projects we've ever done and we think you'll enjoy seeing the wide spectrum of opinions on the industry.

Today we are talking to Max Schaefer, the CEO of Runic.  Runic is one of the great success stories of the last few years as they were able to come out of nowhere and deliver Torchlight a fantastic update of the third person action RPG.  They are currently working on Torchlight II,  which should be out later this year.
 
Looking back at the last year what were the things that Runic did right? What things could you have done better?
For the whole of 2011, we've been buried in Torchlight 2 development. While the project is turning out better than any of us could have imagined, we are nevertheless struck by just how taxing making this sort of game can be, both mentally and physically. Torchlight 2 was supposed to be "the multiplayer version of Torchlight 1". But of course, the natural tendency is to want to push every part of the game, from music to level design to character design to combat system, to UI, to a new level. That takes time and patience, and we're not patient people.

What do you think went well for the game industry in 2011? What do you think the industry could have done better in 2011?
In 2011, we got Skyrim, KTOR, Minecraft, Portal 2, Uncharted 3, a great year at PAX and E3, and a lot more cool stuff coming in 2012. We could still improve as an industry in pushing innovation more than $200million projects. We stifle ourselves and our customers with over-produced, 5-year development, derivative games.


Looking ahead, what are you most excited about from Runic in 2012 outside of Torchlight II? What’s the one thing you’re planning on doing now that you weren’t doing in 2011?
All I care about right now is releasing Torchlight II. But I also am truly excited to sit down with the guys and figure out what we do next. The one thing we're planning on doing that we aren't doing now? Rest, relaxation, and planting some new gaming seeds and seeing what happens.

What are you looking forward to most in 2012 from an industry standpoint? What should the industry do better in 2012?
I'll get in trouble for this, but I look forward to the end of boxes and disks. Kill them with fire for all I care. The retail market has historically starved developers and narrowed the market for available games. Now we need to take advantage of services like Steam with innovative pricing, business models, and games.


What’s the one thing that makes Runic different than all of the other developers out there?
Runic has an independent spirit, a love for game-making, a respect for our customers, and a fierce desire to stay small, nimble, and responsive. We're not trying to be the next EA, or the next Blizzard. We don't want an empire. We just want to carve out a niche where we can provide great games with incredible value.

We know it’s a bit cheesy but where do you see Runic in 5 years? Will we be on Torchlight IV by then or do you see the company branching out into new IP’s?
In five years, I'd love to see us with 2 or 3 IPs, all of them semi-active, but none of them in constant development. We want to keep doing one thing at a time as a company, but we would like to so something other than Torchlight too. I expect us to still be about 30 people, and probably in the same office.
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