What gave you the Idea to come up with a text based game like Torn? What inspired you?
I had played many other text based games in the past, none of them offered what I was looking for. I worked with many game developers, and tried to get them to implement ideas which I thought would work with their games, and be successful, but I was still not satisfied. I bought a book on PHP & MySQL and set off building the best online RPG game for me personally, luckily many other people seemed to like my concepts and designs, and joined the site. I’m still building the game (now with many other developers) to continually improve it, and make it perfect in my eyes.
If you think you have a totally original idea for a game, and have the dedication to start one up, I suggest you take the leap. You can’t just steal other ideas, or use initial game engines to start building a game, you MUST work from the ground up with concepts that people haven’t seen before. That is the only way a successful online text based game works, we’ve seen literally hundreds of Torn clones – and each one of them completely flopped. Coding a game is easy, and can be done in a matter of weeks, anyone can do it, the design and concept behind it however… is not.
Do you have any intentions on one day passing the ownership of Torn to someone else?
I don’t think I could ever sell Torn. My life has revolved around it for the past 6 years, my blood, sweat and tears have gone in to it. Torn is also so huge now in terms of content, it’d take a huge amount of time to teach someone how to modify it, and what does what. My coding style is also rather controversial, as the other devs may tell you. At first, I never indented or commented my code, as I never assumed there would be anyone else needing to understand or modify it.
Does it surprise you to see how large this RPG game has become?
I don’t think I ever really thought about it. People just kept joining at an exponential rate, it became normal very quickly. I still feel there’s a huge market out there just looking for something like Torn, and I’ll do whatever I can to give it to them. We have grown from a tiny shared server costing $10 a month and myself alone, to a huge business running over 20 servers and many employees, costing tens of thousands of dollars a month.
Were you quiet about Torn before your interview debuted in local papers?
I was, and still am quiet about Torn. The newspaper story was huge when it hit, but it quickly became ‘yesterdays news’ and everything went quiet again very quickly. Torn is a huge part of my life, but when I’m with friends and family, it’s not a huge topic of conversation. If anything, the newspaper stories probably had a negative impact on Torn, people suddenly assumed I was making millions of dollars, when this is clearly not the case. I certainly wouldn’t say I was rich in real life, but I make enough to live comfortably. I give myself a standard wage each month which does not change. Most of the money goes straight back in to Torn for servers, employees and advertising.
What is your motivation for continuing to develop Torn City?
My biggest motivation is simply providing entertainment for tens of thousands of people. I love making updates and then just watching how people use them and progress. Having a picture in my head, and then seeing if it turns out the way I expect when it’s live. Watching thousands of people in a database, progress and use your system in many different ways is quite a sight for me. I can’t really explain it. It’s also really motivating to hear good feedback, as you’d expect. Seeing that people are happy, and asking for more, just makes me want to work harder.
For me, money is a very small factor in terms of motivation. I could have easily turned Torn in to a cash cow, making it pay to play and offering more to people who pay more. Like ‘Elite donator status’ with 200+ energy e.t.c. Or offer expansions and updates for a cost, instead of giving them out to everyone for free. I could then have just sat on my ass watching TV. But I’m disgusted by that idea. It really angers me when I see Microsoft, Activision and EA just milking their customers for money. Selling tiny, but heavily overpriced expansions and map packs (EA’s battlefield / Activision’s Call of duty). Sacking the developers that designed the great games which made them all of the money in the first place, just so they can have all of the money (Activision vs Infinity ward). Using crude tactics to make their consoles look better by paying the companies making the games to make them worse on other consoles (Microsoft vs Sony), or buying the rights to certain games and expansions so only their console will receive them, blocking everyone else from enjoying it. The whole gaming world at the moment is ALL about money, nothing else at all. It’s very sad.
When Torn City ends, what do you plan on doing?
I don’t see Torn ever ending, any time soon at least. I will do whatever I can to keep it going. It will certainly still be around for many decades to come. Maybe there will be less players? Perhaps even more? Either way, I’ll still be here working on it.
Out of all the various updates and additions to the game, which are you most proud of, and why?
I think the poker system was the most complicated script I ever had to make. In some cases, it’s almost like building an artificially intelligent bot. Do you know how hard it is to make a computer figure out what a hand is actually worth? Unless you’re willing to write out the 2,598,960 different combinations of hands individually, you have to make a bot to figure it out, which is surprisingly difficult.
Most recently I’d say racing was quite a feat. A huge amount of design went in to that, and I was very happy with the result. A number of us worked on the design and planning, and required some outsourcing to get it perfect. It’s still far from complete, we have many avenues to expand.
What gave you the idea to create Torn City and did you ever make a prototype RPG game before Torn City?
I have been designing games since I was a child. When I was very young, I remember playing Super Mario on some ancient games console. I’d lay out hundreds of sheets of the old school printer paper and draw out a massive level, stage by stage. I have no idea what I expected to gain from it. It was just a waste of paper! The years leading up to Torn, before I started coding, I had many ideas and I knew the general direction I wanted to take the game. It was the first real text game I ever designed, and the first thing I ever coded.
Where do you get inspiration for the ideas in the game?
Often an idea starts, and I build on that idea over the course of months, or even years in some cases. Sometimes I look at other console or PC games, MMORPGs, FPS, RTS… I’ll analyse what makes them so popular. And craft something completely different using the same basis as they did. For example, the general idea of the merit system actually came loosely from the MMORPG Final Fantasy 11. The whole concept of crimes came from an old school game I used to play, except their system was very simplified and you had to wait several minutes after doing a crime instead of using a nerve bar. And of course completely original ones like education, jobs, companies, items, properties, the newspaper, the concept of jail and hospital… Before I designed and created these, I had never heard of any other text based browser game using them. They were totally original back then, and as far as I know… Torn was the first.
Chasing awards is my main reason for playing TC these days. Will you introduce more awards to the game?
We want awards to have an end, instead of constantly scaling up forever. Honors however will be constantly added. We’re working on little mini-challenges for some certain honors that you’ll complete without even knowing you’re doing them (unless you’re aiming for it specifically). But yes… we’ll constantly update Torn with honors, forever.
If there was to be a Film made about Torn, who would Ched choose to play him?
How long do you work on Torn City daily, and what is the longest single stint you have worked on TC?
It varies a lot. Remember it’s not just me working on Torn anymore, we have many people working on updates. Some days I may just login two or three times to check up on things and make sure everything is running smoothly. Other times, when I’m working on an update that I’m really excited about, I’ll work for 36 hours straight to stay on ‘the roll’, I’ve done this in the past, but it’s not very comfortable the next day.
What sort of new updates will be arriving and where do you see TC in a years time?
I cannot mention specifically what new updates are coming. But we’re looking at a major re-code of the weapon system, crimes and companies for 2011. My aim is to get every section of Torn perfect, in some cases, this means some big changes. There are some flaws in these systems which need to be resolved. Of course a vote will be held with the specifics included before we begin.
Is there anything you implemented in the game, besides dogs and the warring system, that you regret now and are looking to change in the future?
I didn’t regret adding the old warring system, I just didn’t expect ‘noob bashing’ to be so popular. I expected people to want challenges, and to fight equal strength factions… Instead of mindlessly beating up hundreds of people of lower levels than you, over and over again. This is what led to the whole system freezing, and ending up with no factions left. Of course factions are now completely different, and I believe most people are very happy with them now.
I guess the only one I regret is the old stock market, which had a massive flaw. We knew there were issues, but we had no idea they were such huge issues. It led to a very small amount of people becoming super rich. This huge amount of money slowly trickled down through the players (and still is to this day) which has caused inflation in the economy. It will eventually trickle down completely, and be spent… Eventually. With the steps we made after the stock market was changed, things will return to normal. We even expect deflation in the future, especially when more new players sign up.
How do you cope under the pressure of owning and managing a huge RPG game like Torn?
I enjoy working on the updates for Torn, it is not stressful at all. What is very stressful is when something goes wrong. Just knowing that people are having a problem accessing the site, or there’s a hacker, or some massive glitch is being abused, or a server has gone down… These are all nightmare scenarios. And it’s a lot of work in a very short period to get everything back to normal. It makes me sick when I see games that don’t seem to care at all about their players (if you’ve played Call of Duty : Blackops on the PS3 you’ll know what I mean. It’s as if, once they have your money, they don’t care about you anymore). Although I may not show it all of the time, the players are my primary concern. Thankfully today, we have many people working on the site so any big issues are handled very quickly, by multiple people.
If you could go back in time to the very beginning of the development of the game, what aspect would you completely change and what aspect is there no chance you would have changed even knowing what you know all these years later?
There are a few small things that I may have done slightly differently if I could. I could mention them, but I wouldn’t want the Torn clones taking the ideas. Any multiplayer game which goes on for years and years without resetting has issues, there’s no real way around that. But I’m very happy with the way Torn has turned out, and managed to survive through them.
We all know that you do not play your own game and probably do not want much to do with a computer in your off time…so what is it you like to do outside of computers?
I play many different games, on the PS3 and PC, although when I’m playing, I usually call it ‘research’ I have a three year old German Shepherd that I walk every day (which gives me all the fresh air I need), an Audi S3 which is great fun, and some very close friends whom I love <3.
When Torn City was started, I am sure you did not expect it to go to this level. What are some of your ideas for TC in the future and advertising for it as well?
It’s often very difficult finding the correct market for Torn. There are many, many totally different routes to take online advertising, and we’re trying each one, one by one, until we find the route(s) which suit us. We’re also constantly working on our new player journey to improve the retention rate for all users who sign up. It’s always interesting testing the different avenues and viewing the detailed logs to see how different people have experienced Torn.
As with anything else, without changes and new things to do periodically, your older players could become stagnated in the game and lose interest. Who handles the creative side of Torn City and comes up with new ideas to prevent this from happening in the future?
It’s often difficult deciding whether to work on updates for very old players (which maybe 1,000 people would experience) or working on updates for everyone (which tens of thousands of people would experience). I think we have a pretty good system at the moment and we’re trying to release updates for new and old players continuously. In 2011 hopefully we’ll see some more missions and perhaps some exclusive areas for some high levelled players, as well as some more pretty huge updates.