12 - All About Planescape: Torment

Here we are at the end of Planescape and I am pretty satisfied with how it went. Although I did complain a lot about the combat, the game was very well made and has a great story to it. The mechanics may have not fit the subject material, but I am glad that somebody was brave enough to make a game like this that puts a lot of responsibility on the player to read, invest in the story, and try to put some meaning behind it. This would never get made in the modern game market, unless it took place in the burgeoning indie scene.

About the game part of the game.

[Awesome picture from Brainy Gamer.]

Planescape: Torment’s artistic sensibilities are some of the strongest I have experienced from this generation of games. I played and loved Baldur’s Gate and similar titles, but they were dry in that you knew what everything would look like going in. We’re in wooded area x to find the magical y of strange name to return to character n. This formula gets flipped into some strange calculus function that becomes all sorts of crazy in PST. You’re not restricted to the normal 1) Good choice 2) bad choice or 3)neutral I don’t care choice. You can talk the character out of doing something, you can do the quest, you can lie to them for no reason other than to be a jerk, or you can promise to do the deed. It seems like fluffiness and unneeded content, but it really helps with your characterization and to feel like you’re making some impact in the world.

This leads into the writing which is some of the best in any video game I have played. I won’t get into saying that it’s equitable to a novel, because it’s not. Let’s be honest, these games didn’t have that kind of budget, and even if they do, they won’t write heady or subliminally enough to go over the average person’s head for fear of losing a large section of players. Planescape demands that the player/reader follow these lines of thought, make decisions based on their feelings and not simply ‘game the system’ for the best results. It also made me stop to think about my own life in terms of story beats that I will get to later.

The art and sound work is excellent with a different style from any other similar title I have played. I don’t really know what they could have done to make it better with the engine limitations so I will leave it at that.

Finally, I never got to show off the spell effects of the game. In fact, I never got to USE the high level spells because by the time I had leveled up enough, I was at the end of the game. This had to do with missing lots of game content, but that’s OK because we have YouTube. Check it out:

[The Mechanus Canon.]

[Celestial Host. I had this one!]


[Meteor Storm. Had this one.]

[LIGHTNINGBOLT. Nah, Deathbolt.]

[Abyssal Fury. Had it.]

[Symbol of Torment.]

What the story meant to me.

Earlier in the blog, I think in entry 1, I was talking about how I had bought a boat load of games because of a rough patch in my life. I actually went through a bit of a depressed period where I would focus entirely on video games and hermit myself in my house to play them, no matter what else was going on. It beat the Sisyphean task of going out into the city and doing stuff, and was pretty debilitating sometimes. I’m still a bit of an agoraphobe, but I think it has more to do with growing up in a small town where people are more polite to each other. Living in a big city, such as Hong Kong, can be pretty shocking sometimes. People pushing you and bumping into you with no care, shoving themselves onto trains before you even get a chance to get off, passing in lines and carelessly ignoring traffic laws all gets pretty old. Even though I consider myself pretty much recovered, I still get sore about these things sometimes.

What is really bad is owning and living with the things you may have done in the past that you aren’t proud of. This is what I really connected with in the story. During the depression, I was kind of a prisoner in my own head. I would get angry and flip out for no reason, avoid others because it was too much of a hassle, and try to forget everything by going all OCD on games or sports or whatever. I don’t know how to explain better than David Foster Wallace did in Infinite Jest when he describes it as constantly being under attack by your own body. It is literally impossible the consider other people because you are in so much physical and psychic pain that it is like torture and you can just barely deal with yourself. That it is "a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it". The worst part of what happens is to your relationships. As a person who was a bit sick and is now better, I can see a black and white difference and feel the change. The one who is with that person is just a normal person doing their best to deal with the situation. In many cases, the partner will sacrifice his or her own well being to satisfy the one they love because they don’t know what’s going on, only that this person is hurting and they want to help. This can turn into a self defeating cycle in which you always sacrifice what you want to do to help the other person. Trust me in that this can put major stress on a relationship and also leaves scars.

After recovery, we still have some trouble with the shadows from the past. Even though I am a normally functioning person, I still look and sound the same. Certain facial expressions or sounds will trigger a Pavlovian response in which my wife will revert to submitting to what I want to do, or what she thinks I want to do. Even though we are doing very well and this is a problem we are working on and defeating, the game made me think about it.

The Nameless One has things in his past that he has no control over now. He can only do what he feels is right in this immediate life. That does not change what past incarnations have done nor does it make the events any less real. This is how I feel. I remember incidents that happened, seemingly outlined in dark fog, that I feel like I had no agency in. I know this is entering  cop out territory because I could have been seeking help, but didn’t know anything was wrong. Now I need to own those mistakes and make up for them. When the nameless one absorbs his other incarnations, I saw this process occurring. I’m not two people that were split then and now, I am one who needs to own and deal with what happened. It’s very liberating.

Also, the characters that choose to fight along with you even after going through so many terrible experiences resonated with me. Morte has been following the longest and has seen the best and the worst of the Nameless One, but he continues to follow him because, I feel, he thinks he’s a good person deep down. I can attribute this to my wonderful wife who has stuck with me through thick and thin and never been anything but supportive. That’s not to say everything was easy, but we have never doubted each other and never will.
These observations are things that have grown on me since I last played the game and would have never even crossed my mind as a teenager. Experience and time makes it necessary for us to revisit media such as books and games to gauge our own growth as those pieces are always constant and unchanging. I found out that I have grown up and value time differently: the combat and padded parts of the game annoyed me, but I have also grown emotionally and can attribute abstract ideas to my own experiences and maybe connect a little to what the author may have intended, even if he/she didn’t. This is the meeting point of the artists who write and create and the consumer who reads and watches. You can never know what the other person is thinking as they are writing; they simply release a piece of art that you absorb and interpret. Your attribution to their writing meets their intention and makes a sort of bond in the middle that should always occur while consuming good media. I love this feeling and am glad that it was able to happen in some measure while playing Planescape: Torment.

Oh yeah, I forgot to review it. I give 5 hot wet kisses to the game despite the horrid combat. (I hope you like Check it Out with Dr. Steve Brule or you have no idea what that means.)

[Maybe my favorite show on TV right now.]

What’s next?

Well, I’m going to take a week or two off from the blog to do some reading and more casual gaming stuff before beginning the next game. I’ve been on a literary tear and have been averaging a book a week which is pretty good for how much time I have. I’ve finished The Ruins (Scott Smith), Books of Blood Vol. 1 (Clive Barker), The Silence of the Lambs (Thomas Harris), and am reading Vol. 2 of Books of Blood. Next I’m going to move onto Vineland by Thomas Pynchon, one of my favorite authors. After that one, I’ll only need to read Mason & Dixon and I’ll have read his entire book collection which is awesome. I'm really looking forward to it.

Oh yeah, what’s the next game? Well, I stated several times that Sherlock Holmes is a no-go which disappoints me to no end. I really wanted to play it, but I can’t stomach it -- literally. So, let’s go to the random number generator (www.random.org). The next game will be…

Checking back to number 44, we find it’s Psychonauts by Tim Schafer! I am looking forward to this one having played and loved pretty much all his games that I’ve played: Indiana Jones Adventures, the Monkey Island Games, Grim Fandango (Amazing), Full Throttle, and Maniac Mansion. It’s a great pedigree and I hope this one will follow in those footsteps.

See you in a week or two for Psychonauts!

--Backlog Killer