Planescape:Torment

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Name: Planescape:Torment
Abbreviation(s): PS:T
Creator: Black Isle Studios
Date(s): 1999
Medium: computer role playing game (cRPG): PC
Country of Origin: US
External Links: Wikipedia entry
Game summary at Spellhold Studios
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.
PS:T box art depicting its protagonist, the Nameless One

General

Set in the Dungeons & Dragons Planescape multiverse, PS:T departs from the standard pseudo-Middle Ages swords and sorcery setting of most cRPGs. Neither the unfamiliar setting nor the equally unusual cover art helped its sales, which remained unimpressive.

Legacy

Since both critics and the vast majority of gamers who did buy it showered it with praise and love[1] it does have enough ardent and vocal fans to make it a genuine cult classic.[2]

Although there is no active fandom to speak of for PS:T, in the sense that relatively few fanworks[3] or mods[4] were created for the game, among cRPG fans its name has become a synonym for excellent, emotionally compelling storytelling in video game format.[5] The memorable and complex NPC companions are an integral part of its charm, and the game's central question, "What Can Change the Nature of a Man?" is legend.[6]

Still, the extremely text-heavy game (the accepted estimate is 800.000 words),[7] which focused on conversation over combat, was criticized for playing like an interactive novel and the linear gameplay of later chapters.[8]

Planescape:Torment appears on several "Best Video Games Ever" lists [9], and many blog posts, essays and retrospectives have celebrated its memory over the years.[10]. However, despite being a fan favourite, due to its relative commercial failure the game's actual impact on game development has arguably been minimal.[11]

In short, its significance lies in the fact that, despite having been released as long ago as 1999, it is still being used as an (unsurpassed) benchmark for RPG storytelling by fans and critics alike, and its mere mention will elicit squee or other visceral reactions of adoration from fans.

References

  1. As demonstrated by a Metacritic critics score of 91 out of 100 ("universal acclaim") and a user review score of 9.8 of 10. Accessed October 1st 2008.
  2. "Despite the cult status of Planescape: Torment, it was one of the least successful entries in the Baldur's Gate family of games." September 27th 2007. Zonk. Slashdot Games post. Accessed 1st October 2008.
  3. For example, no fanfiction for Planescape:Torment is listed at FF.net (as of October 1st 2008). This is not surprising, as cRPG fanworks tend to be game modifications rather than text-based. There is, however, a fan novelization by Rhys Hess.
  4. Examples:
  5. "[...]In the years since, the coin of its critical worth has accumulated to the point where aficionados regularly cite it as the greatest of the PC RPGs. In fact, it’s rehabilitation has gone too far, with its name being a simple byword for narrative excellence without anyone really feeling the need to say why.[...] September 25th 2007. Kieron Gillen. Retrospective. Planescape:Torment. Accessed September 30th 2008.
  6. "Fans are still arguing over the themes and the ending, like movie buffs arguing over, say, Donnie Darko. And even the players who 'beat' it keep coming back to the question at the heart of the game: 'What can change the nature of a man?' " August 23rd 2005. Chris Dahlen for The Escapist. Planescape:Torment. Accessed September 30th 2008.
  7. cf.: September 25th 2007. Kieron Gillen. Retrospective. Planescape:Torment. Accessed October 1st 2008.
  8. A weakness repeatedly acknowledged by lead designer/writer Chris Avellone himself.
    • On reasons for the poor commercial performance of PS:T: "Story-heavy in the wrong ways. It has a slow start, and while the momentum does pick up in the Hive, there's a lot of reading, and people don't buy games to read, they buy games to play them." July 30th 2007. Brother None. Tales of Torment Pt 1. RPGWatch interview with Chris Avellone and Colin McComb. Accessed October 1st 2008.
    • See also interview with BellaOnline. Date unknown. Lisa Shea. Planescape Torment Interview - Chris Avellone. Accessed October 1st 2008.
  9. For example:
  10. cf. the links above and below and this comment by Phil, May 29th, 2008 (on the RockPaperShotgun blog post "Planescape Landcapes" by Alec Meer):
    Much as l love Planescape above pretty much anything else made of bytes, surely this is becoming slightly indulgent? What with this, speed runs, producers notes, retrospectives, replays and constant, yawning desire to play something this good again pervading pretty much every comment thread relating to story telling, shouldn’t we now be searching for the ‘next planescape’ rather than dwelling on this one? The fact there doesn’t appear to be a ‘next planescape’ is the small flaw in my plan.
  11. "Plane scape [sic] could well herald a new wave of games that are valued as much for their artistic merit as they are for their technical brilliance and the fun they offer." Well, it didn't. April 27th 2000. Seth Schiesel. A Universe Where Ideas Can Trump Actions. Accessed September 29th 2008.