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Interview with Colin McComb & Chris Avellone

Interplay was kind enough to grant us an interview with two writers of Torment: Chris Avellone and Colin McComb. Thanks to Kryptonite (from I Play Games) and Krys Card for giving us this chance and of course to Colin and Chris for putting their valuable time in this interview. Enjoy...

- For those not familiar with the Planescape: Torment story, can you shortly describe what the story is about?

(Chris Avellone) In Torment, you take on the role of a scarred, amnesiac immortal in search of your identity. You wake up on one of the slabs of Sigil’s Mortuary with no idea who you are, how you got there, or how to escape. From the Mortuary, you begin your journey through Sigil (the signature city and melting pot of the Planescape multiverse), the Outlands and eventually, the Outer Planes, coming into contact to the forces of faith and belief that govern the Planescape multiverse.

In short, the goal of the game is to find out who you are, what you were, and what you will become.

- I've read in a gaming magazine that Torment will be for the hard-core RPG-players. Do you agree with this, and how will this affect the story?

(Colin McComb) I'd say that this is probably one of the more role-playing intensive games that's ever been created for the PC. The player will be building a character throughout the game - more than just amassing a wad of experience points and skills - and the NPCs will react to the player accordingly. The game is essentially a story where the player controls the ultimate outcome. We've gone to a fair amount of trouble to ensure that the game plays differently for each player, while still attempting to maintain some coherence and continuity so people can share their stories with each other when they've finished. The game is the story.

- NPC's like Annah, Nordom seem to have their own unique personality. Do we get to play them as we see fit (like in Baldurs Gate) or will they go their own way as the story develops (like in Final Fantasy 7)?

(Chris) You can play them however you want in the game world, directing their actions in combat, using their skills and powers as you see fit, but they will also act independently in other situations: They will break into a conversation you’re having with another person when it’s appropriate, and they will do so frequently. Occasionally, they will ask *you* questions in an effort to figure out what was going on... or won’t let you just back out of a conversation after you’ve said something insulting or something too interesting for them to just let you go. They’ll remember what you said and did, and sometimes they hold grudges. They may act as interpreters for the player, help him out with local slang, provide clues, and even be the source of adventure seeds on occasion.

Despite this, however, their development is solely in the player’s hands. There is no “character rail” that they will be driven along as the game progresses - their development will occur based on the PC’s actions.

- How do you deal with conflicting alignments/ factions in the party?

(Chris) They end up having to deal with it themselves. Expect a lot of bickering and nastiness among certain party members of differing viewpoints, and friendly chit-chat and ego-stroking amongst the others. The player will not be able to make everyone in the party happy, but if he juggles his allies personalities carefully, he can get a great deal out of them.

- The Nameless One is reborn everytime he dies. It seems like there are some game-technical problems that arise when this happens. Like what happens to his inventory. What happens to the rest of his party? How do you plan to solve these (and other) problems?

(Colin) I'd like to tell you that you'll have to wait and see, but ... ultimately, we decided it's not fair to the player to lose everything if the Nameless One dies, nor is it fair to scatter the companions across the maps, so what we've done is located different spawning points throughout the game where the player appears when he's died. Essentially, the idea is that his companions saw him fall, grabbed his body, and got out of there.

- Baldurs Gate was mainly RPG-action, without (m)any adventure elements. Will Torment have more adventure elements and if so, how do you manage to implement them (without the classic commands like "use" and "combine")?

(Chris) There’s a lot of adventure elements in Torment, and they’re handled mainly through the dialogue interface. Usually, the player is presented with a series of dialogue “responses” that are acally actions, and he can manipulate items in his inventory and even use them on other people, objects and even doors through the dialogue interface. It’s not the best solution to handling puzzles, but it still works well, and you can pull off some cool effects with it.

- Can you tell us what the difference is between writing in general (or for a P&P game) and a computergame.

(Colin) Writing for a computer game is much, much harder. It requires that you plan for nearly every contingency that might arise. A pen&paper game allows the DM some latitude in determining what happens next - it allows the DM to wing it, as it were, to change the adventure depending on what the player chooses, to vary the threat level of monsters and to fudge die rolls in order to keep the story moving along. Computer game design requires that we balance the game, that we make sure the monsters aren't too hard or too easy, and that we foster the illusion of choice while guiding the player along an ideal route. It never works that way, of course, and so we have to work on what happens if the player doesn't want to follow that ideal route.

- Will the movies tell the story or will it just give a impression of the scenery (like in (here's that game again) Baldurs Gate)?

(Chris) It’s a mix. Some of the movies will help establish the mood of a plane or a place, other movies are designed specifically to help propel the story forward. Most of the story-driven movies are scripted sequences (much like Final Fantasy 7) where all the action takes place in the isometric view.

- Finally I'd like to know which factions we can join and which planes we will visit. Can you tell us which abilities we get by joining the factions?

(Chris) We can’t reveal all the factions you can join, but here’s some of them: The Dustmen, the Sensates, the Godsmen and the Xaositects. The abilities you get from the Dustmen are the Dead Truce (undead won’t attack you unless you attack them first), the Godsmen give you bonuses to Charisma and reputation, the Sensates allow you the power of sensory touch (you can heal a target by absorbing their pain), and the Xaositects... well, even they’re notsure what benefits you get by being a member.

Each faction has their own advantages and disadvantages, quests, and depending on how strongly you believe in them, they may even have an effect on your destiny. Each faction will grant certain benefits to the player character, either in terms of special abilities, items to sell, spells that can be granted, and faction-specific quests.

As for the Planes, you can visit the Plane of Concordant Opposition, Limbo, Baator, the Ethereal Plane, Carceri a nd a few others here and there. We’ll leave the rest for you to discover when you play the game.

Short Profile

Name: Chris Avellone
Age: 27
Job Description: Senior Designer/Lead Designer
Most Proud Of: Designing New Reno and the Special Encounters in Fallout 2.
Best Game: Ultima Underworld.
Best Book: Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
Best Movie: Three O’ Clock High
The world would be a better place if: Everyone had access to the porn on the Internet.
What do you plan to do plan to do after Torment? Sleep.

Name: Colin McComb
Age: 29
Job Description: Game Designer
Most Proud Of: I'm most proud of Torment. After long years in development, I think it's going to be worth all that we've poured into it.
Best Game: Favorite? Right now I'm going to say the first half of Half-Life, before going to the alien world. Until then it was GREAT.
Best Book: Anything by Roger Zelazny. The Amber series holds up as some of the best fantasy ever written, even nearly 2 decades after I started reading his work. And Lord of Light is a masterpiece.
Best Movie: There are so many movies that I love that I'm hard-pressed to nail one down. Just about anything with Kevin Spacey is a great movie, though.
The world would be a better place if: People would learn to solve their problems by talking instead of by killing. If people would learn to share instead of hoard. If people would judge less and tolerate more. If people were more considerate. If people actually lived up to their potential.
What do you plan to do plan to do after Torment? Sleep. And go away from the office for a long time. See all the friends I've sacrificed while making this game. :)

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