Our very own Allen got his very first interview with Guido Henkel, the producer of the amazing Planescape: Torment, which Allen has covered for us before. Congratulations to Allen and massive thanks to Guido, from all of us, for taking the time.
AL: Apart from being the face of Torment (sorry, I couldn’t resist), you were also the producer. In one of your interviews, you have stated that the position entailed more than is usually the case. Was it mostly technical work or did you contribute creatively as well?
GH: I still get a kick out of the fact that I will forever be the face of Planescape: Torment, even though it happened entirely unintentionally. What fascinates me is that people seem to remember me more for being the producer and face of that game, than my other work, such as the Realms of Arkania trilogy, which was far more successful, commercially.
I was hired as the producer for Planescape but it became very quickly evident to me that there had been a misunderstanding. My background is in game development and production and I was very much looking forward to being part of the creative team of the game while also overseeing its development. Sadly company politics and the expectations set in me as part of my title alone quickly put a damper on that. What was expected of me was purely bureaucratic work, running the numbers, scheduling work, filing project reports, and making sure the team would stay on schedule with the tasks that were assigned to them. I hated that part, and the team hated me for doing it, too, so it didn’t really sit very well with me.
As a result I began to focus on production areas where the project was seriously short-staffed, and applied my experience there. I did a lot of technical design for the game for things such as the user interface and spent long hours coding. I wanted to make sure the game looked and felt differently from Baldur’s Gate, despite the fact that we were using the same engine. So I came up with changes and technologies that I felt added to the experience and would give the game its own unique stamp. Things such as the giant full screen animations inside the game world come to mind, as well as the visual spell effects for which Rob Holloway and I wrote specialized shaders, something that had not been done before in 2D games. I even wrote a complete HTML browser inside the game engine that allowed us to create an in-game manual and strategy guide, complete with embedded images and hotlinks, something that was also an industry-first.
On the creative end, my input was more or less limited to reviewing and approving the things that were designed. I made sure the material was provided in time so that the development process would not stall, and would go over the material with the designers to ensure quality and make sure things fit together properly.
In the end it may have been all for the better that way, because the end result speaks for itself, obviously. Chris and Colin did a tremendous job – and a tremendous amount of work – bringing this bizarre world to life and infusing it with spirit.
AL: Of course, Kickstarter is currently live for a Torment sequel. Are you involved in that in any capacity? It would be interesting to learn your general thoughts or feelings regarding this project?
HG: I honestly have no opinion on that subject.
AL: We were surprised to learn that Chris Avellone, who is often mentioned as the author of the first game, would not be working on the new Torment. Having made an important contribution to the birth of this now video game series, do you feel a sense of ownership? Will you be paying a close attention to this project for that reason?
HG: As I said, I have no opinion on the project and I am not following it in any way.
AL: How personal is the story of the Nameless One to you? Do you get the urge to continue or add to the story via a novel or a game, perhaps?
HG: I thought it was a great story and it was the reason why I signed on to the project in the first place. I had a number of job offers on the table at that time, and decided on this one because of the unique nature of the game. Little did I know then that I would have so little influence over the actual development of the story. Had I known, I would probably have picked the job offered to me by another Irvine-based company instead. It still puzzles me to this day, why I was ultimately courted, when the company was not at all interested in my creative experience and skills.
AL: Not too long ago, you decided to cancel a Kickstarter for a Norse-themed RPG, titled Thorvalla. In the pitch, you made several references to Planescape. How big of a drive was Torment for that project? Was Thorvalla a spiritual sequel of sorts?
GH: There are a number of elements that I truly loved in the Planescape game we did. The deep moral aspects of it. It is something you find in almost every role-playing game nowadays, of course, but back then it was a truly novel approach and had a strong emotional impact because it was integral part of the story and not some put-on gimmick.
I would have liked to take an approach somewhat similar to that in Thorvalla, by integrating moral decision making and the consequences thereof deep into the game. I never thought of it as related to Planescape in any way, really. It was an entirely different concept in my mind, with a very different goal. In fact, I was much more leaning toward my work in the Realms of Arkania games in those regards.
AL: Are there plans to restart it?
GH: No. Just as I announced, Thorvalla has come to an end when we cancelled the Kickstarter campaign. Clearly, there was not enough interest and support for such a game, and in my mind there was no point in flogging a dead horse.
AL: Based on your twitter, it sure sounds like you are working on something video game-related. If that is the case, is there anything you can say about that?
GH: Yes, I am working on a new role-playing game, in fact. I’ve spent the last few months working with Unity and I’ve been creating a concept for a new game that we are working on at this time with a small team. It is called Deathfire, and operates on a very different scope than Thorvalla did. Thorvalla was this huge epic game world with countless layers of depth to its cultures and history, as well as the world itself. It was staged to be a spectacular, really.
Deathfire, by comparison, is going to be a much more intimate experience. It is a more front loaded game that gets in your face with a first-person world and a real time engine, without abandoning the real hard core role-playing elements. You’ll have to check out my blog (http://www.guidohenkel.com) for more info in the coming months, as I plan to cover various aspects of the development as we tackle them in the form of a development diary.
AL: A Jason Dark video game series… how about it?
GH: I’ve spent quite some time thinking about my Jason Dark property, actually, and a good number of people have suggested that I’d make a game. However, despite the fact that I have written and published eleven books in the series at this time, I do not get the sense that there would be enough of a gaming fan base that would make that a worth-while endeavor.
It would be a lot of fun to do, I have no doubt, and it offers a lot of material to truly create a colorful tapestry of monstrosities, action and challenging role-playing elements, but I simply do not get a sense that there would be an audience for it large enough to make it a very successful project. But who knows? Maybe some time in the future… if more people read the books and ask for related games, perhaps.
AL: Once again, thanks to Guido for taking the time and good luck with Deathfire. We can’t wait for updates.