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When I spoke with Runic Games about the company's soon-to-be-released action RPG Torchlight over the phone last week, Diablo came up. A lot. Many staff members of Runic Games (formerly the Seattle branch of Flagship Studios) once worked at Blizzard North and helped work on the celebrated Diablo and Diablo II. But Schaefer doesn't shy away from Diablo.
"I don't think we want to distance ourselves really at all," laughed CEO Max Schaefer over the phone with me last week. "It was a great time making the Diablo games and working at Blizzard."
"We're still friends with all those guys, so we cheer for their success for sure," he continued. "And certainly with the style of game we're making, we're going to get questions about Diablo III. It's a similar looking game and it is that style of action RPG. And with it kind of looming out there, it's something we get questions about all the time, so we may as well talk about it and embrace it."
At one point, Runic Games was considering a gothic, Diablo-esque look for Torchlight, but after Diablo III was unveiled, the team stepped back from it.
"We tried to experiment with a few things out [and] by a tiny coincidence, the D3 [Diablo III] stuff came out and we said 'well, we can't go that route,'" said art director Jason Beck. "We never really seriously pursued the ultra-realistic, dark and gothic [look] just because we knew the game was much more adventure."
Runic Games could actually see the Diablo III booth from its own area during Penny Arcade Expo back in August and the teams werefriendly with one another. Diablo III team members came and checked out Torchlight and vice versa. But Schaefer does not envy the amount of pressure Diablo fans are inevitably putting on the Diablo III team.
"I kind of sympathize with the guys making Diablo III because the expectations are so high and the community of fans of Diablo are so specific in what they want and will tolerate," he said. "It's kind of nice to be able to what we're doing, where no one's really watching or no one has any expectation so what it's supposed to be like."
And there's one very good reason to embrace the Diablo connection.
"If we can get half the people waiting for Diablo III to come out and buy our single-player game in the interim, we'll be in great shape!" joked Schaefer.
Read more about Torchlight in my extensive interview with Schaefer.