Could you elaborate on the things you loved and hated about RPGs that formed the game’s framework?
I’d played a lot of fantasy games (computer and pen-and-paper) over the years before Torment came along and gave me the opportunity to vomit out all my hate for RPG clichés in one game. There were a lot of common RPG elements that I’d been exposed to again and again, and once you can start predicting a game world and seeing where it was leading, the idea of continuing to feed those all-too-familiar concepts was unappealing. Common clichés like elves and dwarves and how they interacted, quests for magic swords to kill evil wizards, the conceit of many games of trying to force you to care about a situation, a nation, a family member, or a princess or king when it flew in the face of the experience of every role-player I knew, which was to keep the focus on their player character and make them the thing that mattered. Torment was a very selfish game, a very personal quest (with larger repercussions), and that was intentional. I didn’t care about anything external to the player’s experience, and I didn’t think other games should try to bother, either, because at the time, they weren’t doing such a great job to the point of insulting my intelligence and taking me out of the experience.
I also was disappointed in several computer interface mechanics – the idea of saving and reloading, for example, struck me as pointless and nothing more than an excuse to stop playing the game rather than continuing to have fun. Why not short-circuit that choice and make it part of gameplay in a new way? Make it a challenge and part of the exploration process instead.
Also, I was tired of many actual RPG mechanics. The idea that you should choose your alignment and your outlook on the world (which D&D required you do) before you actually immersed yourself in the world never clicked with me – again, I’ve seen a lot of players create characters who they felt would make excellent paladins or the most vicious psychotic assassins, and within a single play session, discover that the class of character and alignment didn’t suit them when they tried to actually role-play the character for the first time. So the idea of amnesia and immortality in Torment lent itself to a “blank slate” kind of RPG mechanics where you could slowly shape your alignment over time, rather than decide it at the outset.
You recently mentioned that you were tempted to crowd-fund a spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment. It wasn’t long thereafter that Obsidian launched Project Eternity on Kickstarter. Is this the aforementioned spiritual successor?
No, Project: Eternity is something different. We had considered doing a Planescape: Torment successor, and that seemed like a waste considering the powerhouses we already had in the studio – why not have them come together and collaborate on something? In my opinion, that would actually be more interesting to the public than a Planescape title, and that seems to have proved itself out.
Why did you go with Kickstarter?
It seemed like the best way to get an Infinity Engine-style game funded. It’s already worked better than we’d ever thought (well, except for our Art Director, Rob Nesler, who knew we’d be that successful and hasn’t been shy about telling us so).