Torment: Tides of Numenera was crowdfunded on Kickstarter, a resounding success of the use of the platform. It’s a game set in the world of Monte Cook’s tabletop RPG setting, Numenera, developed by inXile, although most people will understand it as a thematic successor to Planescape: Torment. With a game that has such long-lasting cult appeal, it’s no wonder their project received such overwhelming support on Kickstarter, Planescape: Torment’s legacy is an important influence on the studio as explained by Colin McComb, Creative Lead:
Quite a bit. Since we’re a thematic successor to PST, we wanted to make sure that we were honoring its legacy appropriately. Early on, we identified four pillars of Planescape: Torment that we thought best exemplified the Torment experience. We required our team members to play the game. We are extraordinarily conscious of the respect our audience has for the original Torment, and we are trying very hard to make sure we’re worthy of being called a Torment game
I now have this hilarious mental image of all the new hires spending their training weeks on the job getting to know their colleagues and otherwise just playing Planescape. In case you are wondering what those four pillars are, wonder no more as they are: a deep, thematically satisfying story; a world unlike any other; a rich, personal narrative; reactivity, choice and real consequences. It’s no wonder, then, that the focus of Torment: Tides of Numenera is so closely tied to its story, characters and choices while being set in such a unique world.
While it is great for fans of Planescape: Torment, it can be a bit daunting to those who never got to play the original game. Are they going to be at a disadvantage as a result? The developers are aware that some people might play the game who never played Planescape: Torment, and they stressed that Torment: Tides of Numenera is built as a new game. It is not a piece of nostalgia, but a new experience that is in the same vein as its inspiration. That said, fans of the original will still find some references and easter eggs to keep them happy, such as “O in the Fifth Eye, who also appears in the Smoldering Corpse in Sigil” or the reappearance of a certain bronze sphere.
The influence of the original is even felt in decisions about pacing and choices. How much time is spent talking to NPCs vs exploring the world, how long you spend making story choices vs fighting enemies is a balancing act for any game. But George Ziets, Area Design Lead, explains it’s always more about the narrative:
For Torment, we leaned more heavily in a narrative direction because we wanted to evoke the experience of the original Planescape: Torment. Players will spend more time interacting with characters and making decisions than they do in many RPGs, so we made sure that our dialogues are entertaining, interesting, or just plain weird. Every NPC should feel like a unique and surprising experience.
Players will still run across dangerous situations, but it will be up to them whether they want to engage in our turn-based combat or not. Torment is a game about choices. Some players will want to break up the narrative with combat, while others want to stay focused on character interactions – both are viable paths.
I really like that so much is left up to the choices of the player. To often, decisions in games feel meaningless. The story is on rails and while there may be some branches, it can end up feeling like most everyone has the same outcomes. Torment: Tides of Numenera seeks to make your choices matter right from the start – everything from the descriptors of your character to your gender can have an impact on your experience. Most interestingly, they manage to do this with references and influences from RPG tropes without falling into the cliches. Colin McComb clarified:
The player will pick a Type (class) and Descriptor at the start of the game. Character creation in the Numenera is essentially, “I am a [adjective] [noun] who [verbs].” For instance, “I am a Graceful Jack who Rides the Lightning.” The adjective is the Descriptor, and it provides stat bonuses – and drawbacks! – for various of your skills. The three classes in the system are Glaive (a warrior), the Nano (essentially a future wizard), and the Jack – a jack of all trades.
I don’t know that I’d say we’re specifically embracing clichés. Every time we see a cliché, we try to break it or deepen it. Planescape did such a good job breaking tropes that everyone wanted to do it after that, and everyone’s so aware of clichés and tropes nowadays that it’s almost impossible to write something without it being compared to something else. Mostly, we’ve just tried to take cool elements of art, music, fiction, drama, what-have-you, and combine them in new and interesting ways.
Something that can feel a bit cliche at this point is the notion of world building in a place that is actually Earth. Horizon: Zero Dawn is doing it, The Shannara Chronicles did it. It’s a cool idea to imagine a post-post-apocalyptic version of Earth, but how can you do it in a way that doesn’t just end up feeling like an excuse to make lazy geographical references? Torment: Tides of Numenera has certainly taken a new approach to this – the game isn’t just based on an Earth in the future, they’ve gone a billion years into the future. Ziets explained that countless civilization have risen and fallen, complete with galaxy-spanning empires, aliens, intelligent machines and more. They are all gone, but each left their technologies behind, made massive changes to the world. This means pretty much anything creators can imagine can be justified, and “Creatively, I’d say that this setting was the most liberating I’ve ever worked with.”
Senior Writer, Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie, says there are some rules, though.
For the writers, this generally meant working with a hidden ruleset. The Numenera setting demands that the world around the players be strange and incomprehensible. Even though the artefacts from prior worlds once served a specific purpose, the denizens of the Ninth World will never understand what they were originally for.
For example, say you found a black sphere with a red dot burned into the surface. As the writers, we’d decide what purpose that sphere originally served (it was a power source for a maintenance robot on an interstellar spacecraft, for example.) The player would never discover the full truth, however. They might touch the dot and suddenly catch a mental glimpse of glowing hallways or the stars outside a porthole, or they might be able to throw the thing and have it explode in a flash of copper light, but that’s it.
Visualizing the game world in this way allows the writers to build conversations in a logical way. If the hypothetical sphere exploded, sang operatic songs, turned into a bicycle, and tasted like fish, it would certainly be WEIRD, but it wouldn’t feel as intriguing as a device built according to some incomprehensible plan.
Thankfully, we don’t have to wait a billion years to play the game. Torment: Tides of Numenera is launching 28 February on Xbox One, PS4 and PC (including Mac and Linux) and you can already pre-order now.