Older Games That Did It Better: ‘Planescape: Torment’, the Story

I have mentioned before that I despised the notion of praising a video game story just because it takes itself seriously and is thus “good enough for a video game.” Don’t get me wrong, both story and writing in most games are still shit and the general standard in the industry remains low. However, good examples are not rare enough to be treated like a bearded lady; they are constantly out there and they keep popping up persistently. Game developers, like Valve and Rockstar, among others, continue to put in the effort and the time, which should not be ignored under any circumstances but should instead be used to zealously shame the Capcoms and the Bethesdas of the industry.

The former can’t spell their own fucking games or name or anything. The latter is high on glue.

Having said that, in over a decade of decently written games in an industry that has not been ignoring the aspect of storytelling, a new standard is yet to be set since 1999. That’s because that year, came a title with the best story video games have ever produced. If you are familiar with the alternative vGA’s, the so called ‘Vidya Gaem Awards’, then you know what game I am talking about (or you could just read the title :/ ). If you still do not know, for whatever reason (hey, it’s possible), I would like to bring your attention to the vGA’s writing category titled “Planescape Award for great writing” and the reason it is called that is because the gold standard in video game writing is epitomized by… I hope you’re ready for this!… Planescape: Torment, a Black Isle Studio’s PC role playing game.

Back when all RPG’s looked like this.

I know what you’re thinking: “who made you the ultimate authority on writing, you can’t even spell “video game awards”?” Well, I know about writing as much as Shakespeare knew about PC RPG’s so I’ll keep this short without any embarrassing attempts to appear smurt but let me hit you with some knowledge. Planescape: Torment’s story spans over 800000 words, which makes it the length of the first six books of Harry Potter, 30% longer than Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and twice the length of the complete Lord of the Rings. Now, that alone does not mean much. I can write an endless book by starting it with a character getting into a car and ending it with said character getting out, after a million pages of “brrrmmm brmmm, bbrrrrrrmmm.” The real achievement here is that this really long ass story is actually really freaking good!

“I personally guarantee it… Brains.”

How could it not be when pictured up there is the producer of the game, Guido Henkel (look at that picture again and tell me you’d dare produce mediocre work), while the lead designer is none other than my fellow Hokie, Chris Avellone, whom you may know as the guy behind such gems as Fallout 2, Icewind Dale, KOTOR 2 and more. I could quote praises of the quality of that very element of the game all day long, from every gaming site that’s worth a damn and not only would that be pointless at this time but it would still not drive the point home because when someone thinks of a good video game story, they don’t think of Planescape unless they’ve played it. It’s that good. I think that the most important point anyone can make about this title, in today’s generally inadequate view of what a video game story should be, is summarized in this piece, or more specifically in this line :

“Torment is quite simply the greatest story ever told in a videogame, but that isn’t setting a high bar. Even when compared to the best examples in other media, however, Torment stands tall. Unfortunately, no one can be told about Torment; you have to play it for yourself.”

And if you’re  still not convinced, here are a few quotes from the game:

Nameless One: “It insults the dead when you treat life carelessly.”

Morte: “Women were the reason I became a monk… and, ah, the reason I switched back.”

Vhailor: “Justice is not blind, for I am her eyes!”

Ravel: “There is no room for ‘2’ in the world of 1’s and 0’s, no place for ‘mayhap’ in a house of trues and falses, and no ‘green with envy’ in a black and white world.”

Me: “Go buy the freaking game!

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