Interview: The team behind Tides of Numenera on making a follow-up to Planescape: Torment

Nearly twenty years after the release of cult-classic RPG Planescape: Torment, InXile Entertainment has given the gaming world Torment: Tides of Numenera, an isometric RPG which mixes gameplay elements you'll remember from the classic age of Black Isle RPGs with a game system and setting unlike anything we've seen in games before. 

We spoke to Lead Crisis Designer Jeremy Kopman and Writer Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie of InXile to get some insight into the game's development and what it's like to work on a "spiritual successor" to one of gaming's all-time great RPGs.

GameCrate: What sort of game is Torment: Tides of Numenera?

Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie: Torment: Tides of Numenera is a single player science fantasy role playing game with deep and reactive branching dialogue, set a billion years in the future. This is a game where tiny decisions have big consequences. It’s built for replayability too: there are over 1.2 million words in the game, and it’s impossible to see them all in a single playthrough.

GC: What should players know about the original Torment before playing this game?

GJF: We love the original game, and we more than a few people from the original team worked on Planescape: Torment. If you haven’t played it, we recommend it, as it’s consistently listed as one of the best CRPGs ever made.

That being said, you don’t need to have played Planescape: Torment to get into Torment: Tides of Numenera. It’s a spiritual successor, not a sequel.

GC: How do you balance making a game that's accessible for new players and properly delivering on nostalgia for old-school fans?

Jeremy Kopman: It can be tricky, but a few aspects of the narrative design help out a great deal.

First, almost every quest and storyline offers numerous ways to complete them. That means that if a player isn’t interested in combat or find one too difficult with their current party, they can spend time looking for other solutions.

Second, a good portion of the quests and storylines are entirely optional. They have interesting reactivity throughout the game (and good rewards) if you pursue them, but if you find something too challenging, it’s often possible to just move on without completing it. This also let us tune up the difficulty on the more optional content, so more seasoned players can test their mettle.

Third, death is rarely the end in a Torment game. Often, even falling in combat or failing a check produce interesting results, so “failure” isn’t always a punishment.

GC: What's your favorite sidequest in the game?

GJF: Geez. Hard to say. Our quests are generally monsters of reactivity with multiple solutions and outcomes, and they often affect each other in wonderful/horrific ways. All of the ones I worked on were fun to write.

I’d probably say it’s a tie between Foreman’s Brood and a certain companion’s unannounced quest. The former has a mix of wacky comedy and heart-breaking horror. The latter is a pretty straightforward quest whose outcome depends a LOT on how you’ve gotten along with this companion. The game’s characters are all far more complicated than they look on the surface, and our quests reveal those secrets in (for me, anyway) exciting ways.

JK: I’m a fan of the questlines involving the Lascars in the Bloom. Without giving too much away, the Lascars are a race of space-faring soldiers who have been trapped on their anchorage for generations, tethered to the Bloom by one of its unpredictable portals. Depending on who you talk to and what information you find in the Bloom, you may be able to help them find their way home or steal their most valuable possession. Regardless of what you do, you have to pull off an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist to complete their story. In all situations, what you learn about them is one of the cleverest bits of world-building in the game.

GC: How many hours do you expect a typical player will take to finish Torment: Tides of Numenera?

JK: As I mentioned earlier, a large portion of the game’s content can be completed in multiple ways or are entirely optional. That makes it hard to get an accurate estimate for a “typical” playthrough, but we can confidently say that fans of Planescape: Torment won’t be disappointed.

GC: What's one tip for new players that will make it easier to get started?

JK: Not to be too much of a broken record, but one thing that sets Torment apart from other games is that failure is rarely the end of anything and there’s almost always multiple solutions for any situation. With that in mind, my tip is twofold: First, don’t reload if you fail a task or die in some grisly manner. See what happens next. Second: You won’t be able to do everything in one playthrough. If you encounter a challenge you can’t overcome with a conversation-oriented party, you may need to do another playthrough with the Last Castoff as a Glaive.

Secondary tip: Talk to everyone, everywhere. Worst case you’ll get a fun dialog with a fascinating character; best case you’ll learn an obscure secret that helps you with a quest or gain a powerful artifact.

GC: Why do you think there's still such a desire for "old school" isometric RPGs like Torment and Pillars of Eternity? Do you think there's a future for the genre beyond these titles?

GJF: Man, I hope so. Games like this are a game writer’s dream.

Torment, Pillars, and the games like it cater to people who like worldbuilding, hard choices, and deep reactivity. More modern RPGs are great (I play pretty much everything), but the technology and money involved in making them does limit the amount of flexibility they can offer. They offer things we can’t, and we do things they can’t. There’s room for everyone at the RPG party.

So, yeah. It’s safe to say we want to keep making games with complex, branching storylines, and I hope people keep wanting to play them.

For more, read our full review of Tides of Numenera and read our tips for getting the most out of the game