Planescape: Torment & Torment: Tides of Numenera Connections

05 Mar 2017

With the long-awaited release of Torment: Tides of Numenera finally upon us, GOG has an interview with Colin McComb and Adam Heine, talking about the connections and parallels between the new game and its glorious predecessor. An excerpt:

Let's start with the most important thing: can you tell us about yourselves, and your roles in Tides of Numenera and Planescape: Torment?

COLIN: I am the creative lead for Torment: Tides of Numenera, which means I’m responsible for the overall narrative, major characters, and vision. That is not to say that I did this all myself, mind you! People like Adam, Chris, George, Kevin, and Nathan were all extraordinarily helpful in the early drafts of the story and in focusing our attention on how to deliver the proper player experience.

On Planescape: Torment, I was the second designer on the project – when the PS:T team was ready to move into production, I came aboard.

ADAM: As Torment's design lead, my primary role is to design, or oversee design, for the various gameplay systems—everything from combat to conversations to items to companion attitudes. I also designed a few areas within the game and, like Colin, wrote a good chunk of conversations.

On Planescape: Torment, I was a scripter responsible for implementing the areas of the game, including combat AIs and scripted cutscenes.

Planescape: Torment asked “What can change the nature of man?” Torment: Tides of Numenera asks "What does one life matter?" So why these questions, and what makes the answers important?

COLIN: These are fundamental philosophical questions. Chris created the thematic question for Planescape: Torment, and it resonated strongly with our players. We thought that was one of the strongest appeals for our game – the question that would help our players explore the issues in their own lives. These are ongoing questions – they don’t require you to find the answer and then live by it for the rest of your life. You can come back at different stages of your life and find new nuances and fresh perspectives each time you ask, and each time the question will reward you.

The two Torment games explore morality decades apart from each other. So what's your take on how morality has changed in video games, and did you bring any of these modern ideas into Tides of Numenera?

ADAM: Tides of Numenera absolutely explores morality and shades of gray. One of our conventions from the very start—for both conversations and quests—is that there should almost never be an obvious "best solution." If there's a crazed lunatic holding open a portal to hell, maybe you can kill him, trick him into killing himself, or convince him to live with the pain that caused him to open the portal in the first place, but there's no easy option where he realizes he's wrong and becomes a good, happy person.

I think Torment: Tides of Numenera takes morality a step further than Planescape: Torment in that there is no good/evil dichotomy built into the system. Whether it's explicit or not, a lot of RPGs are subconsciously built around D&D's alignment system—I've yet to meet an RPG designer whose first inclination is not to think in terms of good/evil/lawful/chaotic. That inclination is something we had to fight against on TTON as well, and certainly you'll find situations here and there where you're asked to make a choice between right and wrong, but much more often you will find your choices are more nuanced than that, where you're forced to make hard decisions about people's lives.

And if you're fuzzy on the details when it comes to the original Planescape: Torment, Rock, Paper, Shotgun offers a timely retrospective. Be warned that it's peppered with spoilers, if you are sensitive to that kind of thing. A few paragraphs:

It took a slow war of passionate attrition, convincing me over the course of half a year that I should spend my money on this thing I did not entirely understand. I had played Baldur’s Gate. It was like Baldur’s Gate, except it wasn’t. That was all I knew.

The strangeness and boldness of its cover. A blue man, dreadlocked, scarred and scowling. It could be anything. I remember the shop assistant in Electronic Boutique frowning at it in confusion, clearly unaware of what it was, probably thinking it cheap and poor.

I remember staring at it on the bus, and this thing in my hands grew stranger and stranger as the forty-minute journey back to my mum’s house wore on.

I felt at home almost immediately. I delighted in the dark oddness of awakening in a mortuary, being told by a talking skull that I was recently dead myself. I remembered feeling deeply unsettled by the mute, monstrous figures who patrolled that mortuary.

I fell for its mystery – the mystery of who I really was, the mystery of how much Morte knew, the mystery of how I should behave. I fell for Annah. I fell for believing I could help Ignus. I fell into believing that a game’s story and writing was of infinitely greater importance than its action. I could bash buttons and kill men anywhere. This, though, was rare. I felt, for the first time, that games might be important, and not merely entertainment.
 
 

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