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Tortured Hearts Q&A

by Kevin "Couchpotato" Loveless, 2015-05-13

In one of his last interviews for RPGWatch, Couchpotato talked with the developers of the NWN mod, Tortured Hearts and their commercial game called Tortured Hearts: Or how I saved the Universe. Again.

RPGWatch: Welcome to RPGWatch. Can you introduce yourselves a bit to our readers?

Lenore: I’m a recovering academic, now lucky enough to be able to stay at home and do more meaningful things than writing position papers. I started playing games back in DOS days and would have been making them too if I had known how. I knew graphics would be an essential skill and I taught myself the rudiments of 2D and 3D drawing and modeling in the hope that someday I could see my creations come alive on a computer. When NWN came along with its modding system it was like a dream come true. Alas, when I finally did get into making games I’ve always been the one to do the writing, not the visuals. This is what comes of spending too much time in school and being brainwashed by grammar mavens.

Zoltán: I’m a game maker and I’ve been doing this since 1990. It interweaves my life so profoundly that I don’t even have time to play games. :) If by some miracle I have a free moment from making games, I play bass guitar or go biking, walking or watch a movie on the net. For focus and mental balance, I practice Kung Fu.

RPGWatch: To start with, let's talk about your two NWN modules: Tortured Hearts 1&2. How did the idea for the two mods begin?

Zoltán: I’m a story junkie and I mean it. :)  After a few years of working professionally on games which were not, to me, interesting, such as strategy games, I wanted to get hired by some big company specializing in RPGs.  I always cared more about the RPG genre, but needed something to demonstrate my skills. My first RPG/Adventure game was Newcomer, which I made for the Commodore 64 and finished in 1994:

Newcomer was influenced by Neuromancer, Dragon Wars and mostly Wasteland I. I think it combines the good features of these 3 into some 8 bit beast of a game. I’m proud of that game, in fact I’d like to get back to creating a PC version of Newcomer after finishing the current Tortured Hearts. The story, even after more than 20 years, is still vital and interesting, even among modern games. The Commodore  faded away to better machines soon enough, I had real life work to think about, and another person took over responsibility for the last iteration of Newcomer for the Commodore. Everything in that process of making Newcomer still affects what I’m doing now. For instance, the non-linear structure of story and activity that I like so much was implemented in the TH mods and in the new game. Another link between Newcomer and the stand-alone Tortured Hearts is that the original artist of Newcomer is the main artist for Tortured Hearts now.

Lenore: *Nudges* Meanwhile, NWN came out with its modding capability and that opened up new horizons. Like the story ideas for the mods and games, where did that come from, Mr. Story Junkie?

Zoltán: I don’t know. Story ideas come out of nothing and I develop them into something playable as I consider them. When I come up with an idea, the entire thing is not in front of me at once. Details will come later as I immerse myself into my own creation. These projects develop over a long time, usually years. Sometimes it’s hard to stop and start a new story.

I think the most important building blocks are interesting characters around whom you can build your story, and it always helps to avoid things the mainstream is creating when possible. That said, after a couple of years of being able to make my own stories into games, I didn’t want to get hired by a big company anymore. My artistic independence is worth a thousand times more than anything else. The game we are working on now is the result of years of independent game production.

RPGWatch: How many hours of development time did you put into creating the mods, and did you ever think it wasn't worth it to continue development?

Zoltán: Each mod took about 4000 hours, the second one maybe a bit more. I had some helpers for both and they should be recognized. For Tortured Hearts 1, there was Lenore and about a dozen helpful people who helped me with proofreading.  For Tortured Hearts 2 there was a very large contribution to dialog by Jim Grimsley, an American novelist with plenty of books to his credit. It was especially helpful that he knew how to use the Aurora editor so all I had to do was write the scripts for his conversations. He also did quite a bit of proofreading. Other contributors to Tortured Hearts 2 were András Gáspár, a Hungarian sci-fi/fantasy novelist and of course, Lenore again as a proofreader and tester but at that time our relationship turned to friendship and we were already discussing a possible cooperation for a sequel.
On top of this there was the NWN community which shared so many good models and other supplements for all the mods. I did the area creation, scripting and story arrangement.

RPGWatch: As a follow-up I'm glad you finished both mods as they went on to win various awards, and got downloaded many times. Did you foresee them becoming this popular?

Zoltán: It was gratifying to think my work wasn’t entirely futile :) Made good friends, even a girlfriend, which is more than amazing for a nerdy job like this. TH2, for instance, is dedicated to this wonderful girl I got to know through TH1.

RPGWatch: I was curious if you had any intention to make a Tortured Hearts 3 mod, or was it scrapped to start your new Tortured Hearts commercial game?

Lenore: The ideas for Tortured Hearts: Or how I saved the Universe. Again.(™) were first discussed in 2007 with the idea of it being a plain TH3 mod to make a trilogy. By that time though, it was obvious that the community was abandoning NWN, so it would have been a waste of time to finish it as a mod, and the good reception of the mods made it seem that it could be made as a commercial, stand-alone game. The problem was, our only way of creating a game at that time was to use the Aurora engine, which we already knew from mod experience would be inadequate. Now we had to be able to create something even bigger and more demanding. For a small team like us with limited resources, it could have been the end. Fortunately the Unity engine came along and it solved many problems.

RPGWatch: Now let’s talk about Tortured Hearts: Or, How I Saved the Universe. Again. (™) Can you briefly describe what it's about for new readers?

Lenore: Well, of course it is a story-driven RPG, and it’s set in a fantasy world with many familiar aspects, but the situation and opportunities for the PC are more like a job than a calling. That is, the PC is an adventurer by preference and profession, not a Chosen One. Yet.
There are many areas, many quests, all areas continue to have some interactive feature even after their quests are done so the world continues to be “alive” and not “used up,” until the very end. To me this is as important as the story itself, that the world isn’t just a platform to allow some quests to happen, but is an immersive, memorable place.

Tortured Hearts is definitely a serious story of epic size: the PC and the other denizens of this world have their opinions, feelings, goals, problems, complicated interactions. Many of the situations reflect universal questions about the meaning of life, not in a preachy or deep philosophical way, but rather with the wry humor and rationalization that ordinary people use to get through their problems. Reflecting that life is both serious and absurd at the same time.

RPGWatch: Does your new game continue your older NWN mods, or is it just set in the same setting?

Lenore: There are references that are in common so it has parallels to the NWN world, but of course that is D&D and proprietary, this is not, so many new names, places, gods, etc. were developed along with new rules about races, weapons, magic. The new game loosely follows the happenings of the mods, but anybody unfamiliar with them can still enjoy it without feeling confusion. Those who played the mods, though, can find intriguing information and familiar NPCs related to the prequels. In fact, in our “spare time,” we are writing the stories of the mods into novel form to make the historical and spatial connection more complete. The first one, covering the story of TH1, is nearly done, the second one roughly sketched out.

RPGWatch: I remember the kickstarter campaign failed to get funded two years ago, so how has development been since then?

Zoltán: We are on our own. It’s hard, it’s slow, it’s painful as it can be, but I’d like to get it done, no matter what. For me, it’s 7 years now in the making, it would be unthinkable to let it go. This is not game development anymore, it’s a holy mission. A life-achievement. Personally, I’m in for well over 20000 hours because I have to do everything but 3D modelling/texturing. I’ve even picked up C# programming to be able to finish this.

RPGWatch: Do you plan to re-launch another crowd-funding campaign, or have you sought other ways to get funded instead?

Lenore: We’d like to get as far as we can on our own, however difficult it is. There is immense satisfaction in being completely in control and beholden to none. It is possible that we’ll make another crowdfunding campaign in the future, we have considered all aspects of it many times since then. Before we did it again, we’d like to be able to demonstrate combat first: everyone wants to know how combat works. However that would mean leaving the NPC models to the last, which was the problem before. Many people looking at our Kickstarter proposal were skeptical without some visual example. We had the story worked out in many ways, even played it a little as a NWN mod as close to the game as we could make it. The mod ended up so hacked from start to finish, and so big, that the Aurora engine could hardly deal with it, plus much imagination was required for situations where there just were no resources. You’d have to say to yourself, “all right, we have something appearing here that we can’t interact with right now, because of no model or no programming, so what would a player do in this situation?” It was excellent practice to help us later when we had the Unity engine but there was no way to show anyone what we were doing, even if we had released our experimental module. Potential backers who did not understand all the hidden components of a game could not imagine why we didn’t have graphics first so they could see something tangible. After all, everyone else with a pitch comes out with nice concept art. That’s easy and potentially deceptive.  Any good artist could make some wonderful concept drawings but it doesn’t mean that in a game it would be the same. We can only say all the writing and planning is a huge effort and no amount of models would be satisfactory without a story. Since we don’t have a big name as an established company, we can’t ask for money based on reputation alone. The result seems to be that the game is going to be almost done before it would be possible to ask for money and convince the skeptics. We’re still happy that we did it this way.

RPGWatch: Well that's all for now, thank for answering my questions. Do you have anything you would like to say before we finish?

Thanks for the memories, thanks for thinking of us in the ocean of information.

Box Art

Information about

Tortured Hearts

Developer: Unknown

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: RPG
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: Over 60 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced

Regions & platforms
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released: 2021-03-01
· Publisher: Unknown

More information

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