Planescape: Torment is inarguably one of the greatest RPGs ever created, and even though nearly ten years have passed since its release, people are still talking about it – including lead designer Chris Avellone, who recently spoke about the game with BellaOnline.
Few games have inspired tireless conversation like Planescape: Torment, a groundbreaking 1999 RPG built on BioWare’s Infinity Engine. That remarkable durability extends even to the game’s creators, who still find themselves talking about it nearly a decade down the road. In a new interview with BellaOnline, lead designer Chris Avellone admitted to a certain level of trepidation prior to the release of the game because of how radically different it was from previous RPG products.
“Once it hit Quality Assurance the reaction we got was, ‘Man, this sure is different than the other RPGs that have come through here,’ and that wasn’t necessarily a positive reaction,” he said. “I think the biggest concern was just the amount of text we were throwing at the character, not the actual content, if that makes sense.”
He also stated that he would make a few changes to the game’s design if it was being developed now, most of which related to the game’s combat. Saying he’d throw more combat into the beginning of the game, Avellone explained, “The beginning is very slow and exposition-heavy, and I don’t think that helps get the player into the mystery of his character. This is something I tried to correct in future opening levels of Black Isle games (notably Icewind Dale 2, where you’re in trouble the moment you step off the boat in Targos). Also, I would work more extensively in creating more dungeon and exploration areas, and do another pass on the combat mechanics in the game – the story and quest structure in the game ended up becoming the primary focus of design, and I think the game suffered as a whole when it came to combat.”
Not that such a do-over is likely: Avellone said he’s never considered remaking the game for modern systems. “Securing the rights to Planescape is kind of convoluted (if it still exists as a brand at all), and I’d much rather see new stories and adventures in the Planescape universe, like the NWN2 mod community is doing with Purgatorio.”
I would certainly never presume to argue with Avellone, particularly over one of his own RPGs, but his comments about the addition of more combat to the opening of the game are disappointing. I’ve always believed the game’s focus on “story and quest structure” instead of combat, while admittedly unusual, was one of the things that made Planescape: Torment great. In fact, the game’s climax, which Avellone said “still makes [him] sad, in a happy way,” is noteworthy in large part because it can be handled completely without combat, but still packs a devastating emotional punch. While Avellone may be talking about what he believes would be necessary to make the game a commercial hit, rather than just an enduring benchmark in RPG excellence, I don’t know of too many Planescape fans who think the game was just a few more random battles away from genuine brilliance.
As Avellone suggested, the Planescape setting for Dungeons & Dragons is sadly no longer supported, but gamers interested in learning more about walking the Planes can do so at Planewalker.com. BellaOnline’s full interview with Chris Avellone can be read here.