Brother None counts down his favourite games

Discussion in 'General Gaming and Hardware Forum' started by Brother None, Oct 22, 2009.

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  1. jero cvmi

    jero cvmi Look, Ma! Two Heads!

    Oct 8, 2008
    Huh? no i was talking about this and i admit i didn't know the whole story , but that doesn't matter to my silly little analogy; you can insert any half done work by a classic if you want there.

    First off i wasn't refferring to run and gun sandbox games like GTA.

    Second, i never mentioned any underlying technology, as i do have only a tenuous grasp of it, (however i would argue that Rick Dangerous is simpler than any RPG). I was saying that in RPGs there's a shitload of different factors that can ruin it for you, as opposed to Platformers, Driving games or Hack and Slash. Call that complexity of experience if you like.

    Third, there's something to be said about whether a game is the millionth clone of the same formula, as most platformers and driving games are, or are trying out some new ideas like Bloodlines.

    Fair enough, that's what i thought you meant :)
  2. Ausdoerrt

    Ausdoerrt I should set a custom tit

    Oct 28, 2008
    I don't think that thing is considered prominent in the classical music at all. From the wiki article, it sounds a lot less than half-done. Also, sound a lot like FO3: let's take a bunch of classical used and unused ideas and mash'em together. That said, I'm not familiar with the piece.

    I guess for your purposes, "Mozart's Requiem" would work.
  3. Brother None

    Brother None This ghoul has seen it all
    Staff Member Admin Orderite

    Apr 3, 2003
    6. Planescape: Torment - Black Isle Studios (Windows, 1999)

    Obligated reading for this entry: Tales of Torment part 1 and part 2, a long interview I did with Chris Avellone and Colin McComb + some must-see stuff like the original vision documents. Quite probably the best interview I ever did, and the reason I got hired to GameBanshee to begin with.

    This pick was left strangely unmentioned as a top-5 contender despite the rampant guessing games at what will or will not make it, until SimpleMinded finally mentioned it just now. It seems a rather obvious pick for someone so tied to BIS and RPGs as myself. I assume everyone's played it but just a warning, this is another spoiler-heavy writeup.

    However, if anything, Planescape's slipped down over the years. If you'd asked me, say, 4 or 5 years ago to name my favourite game of all time, Planescape might well have been a contender. And for a game with limited replayability I've absolutely played this game to death. But when I wrote this top ten about a year ago, Planescape dropped naturally to #6 (the top 10 remained mostly the same since I drafted it a year ago, though Diablo switched places with Psychonauts since, the other four entries I added shortly before starting this thread). So while I still love Planescape my appreciation for the title has both lessened and changed. Why is that?

    Well, if you came to me and told me about the concept people often use to define Planescape: Torment, namely a "dialogue-based RPG", I'd tell you you're stupid. To me, it sounds too much like an interactive novel, which is a fine but limited idea in the same way interactive movies are. Much of the regression of games comes from lack of actual gameplay, and Torment seems to fit into that category more than being outside of it. Even Chris Avellone, mastermind behind the title, notes the dialogue-over-gameplay choice was probably the wrong one. And by default, I'd agree, you're playing games, interactivity is key over both graphic presentation and storytelling.

    But such concepts are needless simplifications as they often are, and it is unfair to dismiss Torment based only on tunnel vision judgments. After all, if Troika proved anything it's that excellent writing can always redeem bad gameplay to some extent. And even outside of that, it's not as if writing is all Torment has going for it. But it's definitely the main thing it has going for it.

    More on that later, but let's first consider Torment as a game. Torment was running on the Infinity Engine, a decent piece of tech for its time, but it came with one built-in problem for me; the combat. I loathe BioWare's RTwP, and the only good thing about it in Torment is that there isn't quite as much of it. Honestly, that's all I have to say on that...

    One noticeable advantage of the Infinity Engine is the painted backgrounds. A somewhat confusing term, it simply means IE allowed for one large bitmap file to be placed as a level background with its layout as an overlay. The backgrounds aren't literally "painted" as much as drawn and graphically edited. You could put painted backgrounds on it, which would have been interesting to see, but no one did.
    Regardless, the painted backgrounds allowed them to express Planescape in a way that I don't think any other engine could back then, and I'd have my doubts about 3D tech tackling it now (though the NWN2 mod looks good, obviously). To be honest, I don't think I've ever been impressed by a game's look as I have been by Planescape: Torment: it is graphically the greatest game I have ever seen. Sure, I like the pumped-up 3D graphics of today as much as the next guy, but art style has been trailing for years, and nothing's really challenge Torment for originality and style in look and feel.

    And then there's the soundtrack. Heh. Just for Fallout and Torment, I'd probably consider Mark Morgan the greatest videogame composer ever. It's rare for one soundtrack let alone two to so perfectly hit the right note in supporting and enforcing the game's atmosphere, as well as just stand on its own as great music.

    So what else non-dialogue and non-story can one discuss about Torment? Not much. Most of the quests are dialogue-centric, obviously, and I'll deal with followers and parties later. Let's just mention two more things here:

    When it comes to setting, which I'll just lift out of writing here for convenience, planescape certainly sticks out. It's a pretty damned original setting, but what's more is that Planescape: Torment handles it really well. From the solid introduction to the realm that is Sigil to exploring many of the other planes (except the Higher Planes for being too boring), and from the obvious core focus on belief as a central plot point. Couple this with the great graphic execution mentioned above and you have an interesting setting which is - most importantly - executed really well.

    Somewhat tied to the setting is its execution of AD&D, which is...well...AD&D purists are probably not very happy with it, but as I mentioned before I don't really like AD&D so I couldn't care less. The mechanics are mostly simple and unobtrusive, but there's one fairly original concept I'd like to highlight: at character creation, you pick only your stats, with your alignment and class being determined and free to change as you go along. This isn't done that often, though it's not unique, and it's implemented pretty well in this game, which is why I love it.

    Anyway, while the above is very memorable, it isn't really what the game is specifically remembered for: the writing.

    Ah, the gets praised into high heavens. Maybe praised a bit too high in heaven. Don't get me wrong, it's good. Hell, take the game script and put it into novel format (as someone has done) and you get a fantasy novel that is better than 99% of the fantasy offerings out there. But that is more testament to the low standards of fantasy writing than it is to Planescape's quality as a novel. Still, with a starved audience out there it is not surprising its fantasy story gets praised to high heavens.

    So what's it about? Well, simply put, the core message is that belief can shape the planes. So much of the game, from quests to dialogue options to followers to the main storyline, relies on this core concept and fleshes it out as you continue. Even the game's oddly-picked iconic phrase "What can change the nature of a man?" ends up as simply a part of this message, both in that whatever answer you give is right as long as you believe in it (i.e. don't lie), but also in what MCA deems the "correct" answer to the question as given by the Nameless One with high wisdom in his conversation with the Transcendent One:
    NAMELESS ONE: “If there is anything I have learned in my travels across the Planes, it is that many things may change the nature of a man. Whether regret, or love, or revenge or fear – whatever you *believe* can change the nature of a man, can.”


    NAMELESS ONE: “Have I? I’ve seen belief move cities, make men stave off death, and turn an evil’s hag heart half-circle. This entire Fortress has been constructed from belief. Belief damned a woman, whose heart clung to the hope that another loved her when he did not. Once, it made a man seek immortality and achieve it. And it has made a posturing spirit think it is something more than a part of me.”

    Another good example is Dak'kon, my second-favourite NPC in the game. Not only does he offer some of the best-written dialogue of all time on the nature of the planes and belief, but the quest tied to him, the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon, is probably one of the best in the game. In it, you puzzle out the meaning of the stories on the Unbroken Circle and discuss it with Dak'kon, learning along the way with him as your teacher, until you come to the very end where your high wisdom allows you to open Dak'kon's eyes. The intrigue here lies in the nature of the Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon, which might have just been forged by the Practical Incarnation to fool Dak'kon, but is at the very least a tool for the PI to control Dak'kon. Yet his belief in it is unwavering, and it is not relevant if its lessons are true or not, only Dak'kon's belief in it, and at the end of the quest, the way you reform his belief.
    By videogame standards, that is pretty damned profound, especially because it fits into the setting so well. What's more, the fact is that Torment does not present it in a linear fashions. Your answers to TNO's search are your own, as is your choice in what to tell Dak'kon, and it is exactly there that Torment becomes more than just a story-driven linear sloshfest that BioWare oft tries to be and truly uses game's interactive nature as a part of its storytelling.

    But what a lot of people miss is that profundity is only a part of Planescape's writing. The whole circling around belief is well-written and presents a more philosophy-driven story than many videogames (even if it does not mete up with the profound meaning of many books or even films), but my personal favourite factor in its writing is "that other one". As MCA put it, one of the "directions for the theme of the game was to turn a lot of RPG cliches on their head".

    Torment does this in absolutely delightful manners, and as I mentioned before I love it when games play around with expectations, whether by breaking through cliches or by more subtly creating situations that are not what they seem, and Torment does this well in many ways. There are lot of small examples here, such as the attempt to mostly stay away from standard spells, the lack of swords in the game, the fact that rats are very dangerous opponents rather than the first things you meet.

    But one of my personal favourites is the way the game plays around with death. Not only is it a non-factor in combat, both for you and your followers (who you can just resurrect), it's also a gameplay elements, one you need to use to progress certain quests. And what I love about it even more is that right when you feel safe in your immortality is when the game shows you that immortality doesn't exactly mean people can't find ways to entrap you, as you can "die" both by the hands of Lothar and the Brothel's Medusa.

    My other favourite is probably the relation and nature of Fhjull Forked-Tongue and Trias the Betrayer. It's not exactly much of a twist to have a good demon and evil angel, but Torment does it well in two ways: first, it does not really explicitly shows the nature of the two the first time you meet them, and figuring them and their relation to each other out is hard going. Second, neither are "good" or "evil" that clearly. Trias is less interesting, as he is good twisted to insanity by the planes.
    But I love Fhjull, who is evil but also twisted by the planes, cursed to speak nothing that is not true but desperately trying to find ways around that. He hates the Nameless One in a way that's easy to miss (and it's hard to read people's attitude towards NTO anyway, Trias sees him more as a tool/obstacle, and the Transcendent One sees him more as an inconvenience, perhaps the Shades hate him as much as Fhjull) and it is hinted that he has done terrible things to TNO in the past. But even though he tries to manipulate things to his own desires, he is impotent to stop TNO's progress, and if anything is a helpful figure.

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    So there you have it. My appreciation of Torment has changed and somewhat lessened over the years, but I've come to see it in different ways over the years, and though I love it less for it, I feel I understand it better.

    Sorry for the 2000-word writeup, but at least you have plenty of time to read it, it might be weeks before my next update.
  4. AskWazzup

    AskWazzup Sonny, I Watched the Vault Bein' Built!

    Aug 21, 2008
    Oh come on! That's not fair, the anticipation is killing me already!

    And as for Torment, i really wish it had turn based combat, because it's pretty lackluster.
  5. Ausdoerrt

    Ausdoerrt I should set a custom tit

    Oct 28, 2008
    ^ IMHO, the game would lose very little by getting rid of combat altogether. It really works just as a Visual Novel, or maybe it could be an adventure game of sorts.

    The spells look mighty awesome though.

    I'm gonna refresh from bashing the list for not ranking the game high enough, too (at least it's ABOVE GTA lol, although who knows what the top 5 is). I also can't say I enjoy the soundtrack so much - PS:T as well as FO. No doubt, it's great ambient music that perfectly captures the feeling, but I never saw it as something that could stand on its own. I would not see myself, or many people at all, in fact, having it on their i-Pod to purely enjoy the music (apart from the Vivaldi piece).

    Also, I find it curious how Torment mixes some very Buddhist ideas with a very Christian ideology. Still, probably the most Buddhist game ever.
  6. Arr0nax

    Arr0nax A Smooth-Skin

    Oct 30, 2009
    Maybe it would even gain accessibility from such a move. With more elliptic combats that would just be graphically mentioned or resolve in a more cinematic manner . Remove all the shitty combat system, make it more poetic and straightforward.

    It would then appeal to a larger audience (non hardcore RPGs players could play it) and wouldn't lose much of its clientele since the combat is not focal in the game.
    The more I think of your idea, the more I think it would be a great idea of Planescape mod to make !
  7. UncannyGarlic

    UncannyGarlic Sonny, I Watched the Vault Bein' Built!

    Feb 6, 2008
    Great game music should enhance the game, not be designed with CD sales in mind. There are some games with great soundtracks that also work separately but they are never ambient. Ambient music is possibly the best style of music for setting and enhancing tone and mood for areas in games. I haven't played enough PS:T to comment on the soundtrack but Fallout does have an excellent sound track.
  8. Ausdoerrt

    Ausdoerrt I should set a custom tit

    Oct 28, 2008
    is what I was referring to when I wrote that.
  9. Brother None

    Brother None This ghoul has seen it all
    Staff Member Admin Orderite

    Apr 3, 2003
    4 out of 5 top titles will piss off/confuse people for pushing down the likes of Torment and Bloodlines.

    I'm a bit unusual in that I do like listening to this kind of ambient music. But I get that most people wouldn't.

    That said, it is important to realise how key subtlety is to gaming music. It's a lost art form since most soundtracks are very in-your-face. I'm particularly frustrated with Dragon Age's piece of shit OST over this. Fallout and Torment simply show how it's done.
  10. maximaz

    maximaz Sonny, I Watched the Vault Bein' Built!

    Apr 2, 2006
    Can't argue with Planescape. I'd put it higher on my list but this isn't my list.

    I like the point about HOW they handled the turning of a lot of RPG cliches on their heads. It's not difficult to do, it's difficult to do WELL. Someone like Bethesda would remove swords from a game and go "there are no swords, you see? get it? cause you prolly expected swords but there are NO swords!" That's what I dislike about them and that's what I hated about Fallout 3 - the constant "get it?" vibe about every interesting idea.

    I'm afraid most people don't appreciate how naturally it's done in PT.
  11. Ausdoerrt

    Ausdoerrt I should set a custom tit

    Oct 28, 2008
    Great. I'm ready for another shitfest :lol:

    Well, the DA soundtrack wasn't all that bad imo. It was the usual cheesy epic-ky music common in RPGs. Bad/distracting/frustrating? No. Mediocre/average? Yes.

    Non-ambient soundtracks can be good, too. Shadows of Amn soundtrack was great; many JRPGs have good non-ambient soundtracks; even extremely in-your-face Rock/Metal-sounding ones like Guilty Gear XX or Ys: Oath in Felghana, or Chaos Legion are great. IMHO, the key to a good soundtrack is not subtlety necessarily, but being appropriate to the scene in the game or genre as a whole. That's why, for example, the FO3 soundtrack fails, because it has an "epic fantasy" sound.

    I didn't notice there are no swords in PS:T until this review (well, actually that's a lie; there IS A SWORD (just one) in PS:T), but I did notice that, for example, spears and pole-arms are entirely missing from Dragon Age. So I wonder if that's by the virtue of the way it's done, or simply that PS:T isn't as combat-centric as many other RPGs.
  12. Brother None

    Brother None This ghoul has seen it all
    Staff Member Admin Orderite

    Apr 3, 2003
    It's puke. And that's my professional game reviewer opinion. That horrid combat music has made me tear off my headphones in frustration, especially when it keeps playing in the loading screen.

    You mean Celestial Fire? Officiously, it's all blades. Also, you obv didn't click the obligatory reading link. Shame on you. The no swords thing is fully intended. Here:
    - Rats became one of the most dangerous creatures to fight.
    - Undead were often more human and sympathetic than their living counterparts (Pharod vs. Stale Mary, for example).
    - Quest givers were usually people you had given quests to, but had forgotten you had (Pharod).
    - Brothels indulged not physical lusts, but intellectual lusts. A LOT.
    - The plane of chaos was incredibly orderly.
    - Gaining information was often more important than increasing your stats.
    - Death didn't end the game, and in places, helped progress it.
    - You didn't get a name until the end of the game.
    - You are frequently fighting against things and traps you set for yourself in previous lives.
    - No swords - and there was an attempt to avoid conventional and expected spells and weapons.
    - No dwarves, elves, halflings, etc.
    - Options were provided for the player to easily raise dead companions so the game could keep going easily.
    - The most prominent Succubi in the game was non-sexual.
    - Devils were painfully honest, angels... well, weren't.

    Also, there's no polearms in DA because it's stupid; there's no weapon reach in that game, one of the various reasons I don't like the game's combat.
  13. Dragula

    Dragula Stormtrooper oTO Orderite

    Nov 6, 2008
    Could you link the NWN2 mod so I could take a look?
  14. Brother None

    Brother None This ghoul has seen it all
    Staff Member Admin Orderite

    Apr 3, 2003
    Here. Trailer.
  15. SimpleMinded

    SimpleMinded Vault Fossil

    Jun 17, 2003
    Fitting that your write up on Planescape is a 2000 word essay that's very compelling. Overall, glad to see it finally appear and while I consider it one of the greatest games of all time, I think you're placement of it is fitting. It's one of the smartest games, and from a narrative perspective, one of the best/most original, but it's shortcomings in the game department seem to be a lot of foreshadowing of what would go wrong at troika.
  16. UncannyGarlic

    UncannyGarlic Sonny, I Watched the Vault Bein' Built!

    Feb 6, 2008
    I think that developers are currently on a thing for generic orchestrated scores and just lack the ability to do something that is both good and stands out. I'd wager that it's linked to them trying to make games more like movies.

    Chrono Trigger (Yasunori Mitsuda) probably has my favorite score but Mark Morgan certainly had some of the best ambient music and Matt Uelmen's Tristram theme is also a great piece of work (though I don't think that he's done anything special since Diablo).

    Agreed which is why I've always liked the sound tracks of the Mega Man X series. I also always that though the Devil May Cry games had extremely fitting soundtracks (style wise). The flip side of the coin would be every game made by Koei. The music may be appropriate for action games but it's a bad fit to the games.
  17. Ausdoerrt

    Ausdoerrt I should set a custom tit

    Oct 28, 2008
    Well, fine, but that's not my personal musician opinion :roll:

    I did read your review, and it pretty much incorporated that list. Officially, it's a blade, but effectively, it's pretty obviously a damn sword, they just didn't make a special wpn class for it.

    As for the rest, that wasn't really the point of my post. I was commenting on Garlic's post about the subtlety and natural implementation of the abovementioned things, and wondering, in the specific case of weapons, whether it's the developers' achievement or the fact that the game's not so combat-centric that it's not very noticeable.

    Also, as for the name, you don't ACTUALLY get it :wink: At least, the game never tells you what it is.
  18. Sander

    Sander This ghoul has seen it all
    Staff Member Admin Orderite

    Jul 5, 2003
    Spoilers be in this post.
    Another one is to die at the hands of the Silent King.
    It's pretty obvious from the moment you enter the Dead Nations that the Silent King is dead or at least not functioning, but you can't get in to see him initially. You need to go through some trouble to get into the throneroom and see his corpse on the throne.

    Now, in many RPGs you'd be able to usurp this power, and Planescape seems to offer this option as well, as you can take the throne for yourself.

    In a twist, once you get in the throne, you cannot get out anymore, and the game ends with TNO being stuck in the throne for all eternity.
  19. Per

    Per Vault Consort Staff Member Admin

    Apr 1, 2004

    But not in the least surprising. Realms of Arkania II still to go!

    Rendered, actually. As an aside, Black Isle's IE titles had generally better background and interface graphics than Bioware's, although Bioware had the edge in clean and stylized spell and inventory icons.

    Well, Mark Morgan certainly did choose some great music to riff on/rip off.

    Actually I wouldn't say that. Most of the criticism aimed at the Fallouts' karma system applies equally if not more to Torment's alignment system. This is an item on my "why Torment is teh overraetd" list.

    The parts of it that are great are great. The bland or bathetic parts are bland or bathetic.

    Except for Trias' and Dak'kon's.

    But it rather undermines the whole immortality deal. TNO is doomed to walk the planes immortal forever without memories, sniff sob... until he gets eaten by fire ants after fifteen minutes and can't regenerate, the end. Also it is a bit inconsistent (and then I'm not even talking about Vhailor being unable to kill TNO permanently in Baator even though he's supposed to be able to do this).
  20. lisac2k

    lisac2k Vault Senior Citizen

    Oct 26, 2004
    I give up.

    There is zero chance that we'll see Leather Goddesses of Phobos on this list.
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