Posted by: markfender | April 10, 2013

The Torment Project

There’s been two recent Kickstarters of old-school RPGs that are interesting. But not in the way you might think.

projecteternityProject Eternity is the first such title. Made by Obsidian Entertainment, it’s designed to bring back the old-school style of games like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment. And that’s cool. But it’s curious that, in all the Kickstarter hype and over 40 updates, they’ve been very coy on the story. Besides a very general overview in their Kickstarter launch update, there’s been little detail on the sort of story they’re doing. Their world, what they’ve shown, is very typically fantasy – so much so that it’s frankly boring.

Which is fine. After all, the pitch was “remember how fun Baldur’s Gate was?” That fun was most typically from the actual gameplay. Their updates have focused on the mechanics of the game as well as how their game engine is going to be creating that gameplay. But it seems weird to me that a game from a studio like Obsidian, which typically focuses on story, is pretty silent on this aspect.

All of that doesn’t really merit a blog post. After all, the Kickstarter ended last year, so this isn’t exactly news. But then the Torment: Tides of Numenera Kickstarter launched. This is an entirely different company that is focused on making the kind of story you see in games like Planescape: Torment. It involves many of the same people as the original Planescape and has attached itself to an untried IP by Monte Cook, one of the principal writers on TSR’s Planescape setting (It amuses me to see how hard they’re twisting the IP into a similar setting like Planescape. That Bloom thing seems like a very similar concept to the city of Sigil in Planescape. But let’s be honest: Planescape is a terrible setting. It’s got the fucking stupid Planes from D&D 2nd edition. However, Sigil is an awesome city. Which creates a weird love/hate thing for me with that particular setting). And all of their updates so far have been about the setting and the story.

I don’t really doubt that they can pull off the story. They’re presenting big high concept questions like in Planescape: Torment and have their principle game mechanics based around those big questions. They’ve got Colin McComb on the team, who was one of those responsible for Planescape: Torment as well as a lot of stuff on TSR’s original Planescape setting (Although, personally, I give him more credit for Birthright. That’s a way cooler setting than Planescape. But Birthright didn’t have a successful computer game that came from it so it’s ignored. Sad.) They’ve got Patrick Rothfuss working on it as well, who’s some sort of real writer (And as soon as he finishes his series, I’ll read it). Everything they’ve shown has looked pretty cool so far. But, where’s the game? So far, we’ve seen nothing. Is it going to isometric? Have team-based gameplay? Use the in-development Wasteland 2 engine? No clue. The only update on the combat system basically said, “I don’t know. What do you guys want?” So helpful.

These two projects are very similar in scope. After all, the nostalgia they’re based on is from the same game. But it’s weird to see two separate projects approach that nostalgia from different sides, and then totally ignore the other side of the equation. Planescape: Torment is in the running for best videogame story ever, but the game engine was showing its age at that point and is basically unplayable nowadays. Will the new Torment suffer from that as well? Likewise, I don’t remember anything from the story of Icewind Dale 1 or 2. Will the story in Project Eternity be just as forgettable?

So, we’ve got two Kickstarters: one with the banner cry of “MECHANICS!” and another with the cry of “STORY!” Both obstesibly based in the same “family” of games. But, I want to know about the other half of those cries from both companies. After all, a game isn’t just one or the other – it’s (hopefully) a marriage of both.

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Responses

  1. They have talked a bit about mechanics and engines etc. for the new Torment game. Same engine as Project Eternity and Wasteland 2 (Unity Engine?) and its going to be isometric. No multiplayer options but companions, at the moment theu are thinking probably 3 max at a time as 4+ apparently becomes much harder to manage interaction wise. But as far as I can tell they are just now entering pre-production so system updates will be hard as its not nailed down at all. Not been keeping an eye on Project Eternity. BG was fun, but I don’t need a new one. On the other hand I just finished a replay of Torment and I still like the story.

    • The Unity engine is just an engine, like Unreal. It doesn’t determine mechanics. “You can talk to people” isn’t a mechanic either. I’m with you on Torment, but don’t you think it’s odd that one of the selling points of Project: Eternity wasn’t “Hey, the guy that wrote Torment is on our staff”? Because he is. So you’d think “story” would at least be a bullet point in the Kickstarter video they could mention. But they didn’t.

      • True, they have been very thin on actual mechanics (mainly because I don’t think they have any at present time) for Torment. In fact they haven’t said much concrete about anything aside from what engine they will be using and shown a brief clip of what the art style will be like. I imagine there will be more information once it actually enters (pre)production. But Torment managed with its pretty terrible mechanics so I’m not too concerned about that aspect.

        As for Project Eternity, I honestly haven’t even looked at the kickstarter page. From what your saying I’m guessing that story isn’t going to be the selling point, but then I don’t really think it was with BG either. It was more mechanically driven than story driven, although there was a story. That they haven’t mentioned story at all for Eternity is a bit odd, especially if you do have some of the people from Torment on there (why wouldn’t you want to cash in on that?) so I’m guessing that story probably isn’t going to be the most memorable ever…


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