Final thoughts on A Mind Forever Voyaging
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Gamer's log: Planescape Torment - Day 1

Planescape_startroom For information on this project, be sure to check my post, In search of narrative, character, and empathy.

This one will take awhile. I'll continue posting on other subjects while periodically updating this log as I make my way through the game. A Mind Forever Voyaging can be completed in a few days; Planescape: Torment will require at least a couple of weeks. I hope you'll stick with me.

Narrative in RPGs is a unique and fascinating beast. Your avatar demands a tremendous amount of attention. So much, in fact, that regardless of the game's setting or story arc, a significant portion of the storytelling inevitably emerges from the ongoing growth and evolution of that customized character. You aren't merely progressing through a predetermined story. You're enabling your avatar to confront that story in an individualized way.

It's telling that when RPG players discuss their experiences--and this applies to both tabletop and video game players--they nearly always compare notes on their characters and their chosen race, class, alignment, etc.. These things matter in an RPG, and they augment the overarching story in ways the player can manage and control to a certain degree.

Planescape: Torment is no exception, and developer Black Isle nimbly exploits this avatar/narrative symbiosis by centering its story on The Nameless One, a mutilated warrior who awakens in a mortuary with no memory of his own identity, aside from the writing carved into his back. Video game RPGs customarily rely on such a "blank slate" approach, which mimics the traditional D&D procedure of rolling a new character, and PT does its best to present those options from the outset. The first decision you make in the game is determining how to distribute 21 character points among the traditional six D&D abilities.

I have completed the opening Mortuary chapter and have just entered the Hive. I'll include more substantive impressions in my next post, but a few brief notes:

  • Running a 640x480 game on a widescreen LCD monitor SUCKS. My two options are: maintain the original size and aspect ratio (resulting in a very small image in the middle of my very big screen); or enlarge the image to fit my screen (resulting in hideously pixelated images). I SO regret getting rid of my old multi-sync CRT monitor. If anyone knows how to overcome this issue, please let me know
  • If you're going to incorporate a sardonic sidekick character to teach the player the ropes and join his party, be sure to model that character after Morte in PT. He's funny, but not overbearing; useful, but not in your face. And who doesn't love a floating talking skull?
  • Choices matter. They are presented if you seek them out, and they directly affect the story and experience. I began the game killing everything that moved, ignoring Morte's advice. I got the job done and escaped with little knowledge of what had been going on in that mortuary. I then restarted the game and made the effort to speak to a few zombies, including Vaxis and Deionarra, and my whole experience was dramatically altered, both in terms of items received and memories retrieved. If you want a rich narrative experience (the first short chapter alone contains hundreds of lines of text), PT will deliver it to you.

FYI, I'm playing PT with no mods installed. The Infinity Engine driving the visuals is definitely showing its age, but I'm reacclimating to it. I keep reminding myself that only 8 years ago, these  graphics were state of the art. I wonder if I'll feel the same way about the storytelling.

More soon.