Black Isle Announces Torn at GDC

Black Isle Studios, well known among AD&D fans for such titles as Baldur's Gate II, Icewind Dale, and their highly anticipated Neverwinter Nights, unveiled their brand new RPG title at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose this week, and RPGamer was there to bring you the story. Entitled Torn, this latest Black Isle endeavor promises to take players in a whole new direction of gaming, while enveloping them in a world of deep mystery and cryptic prophecy.

Wielding the Lightning Sword

The story behind Torn stretches back to long ago, when the world was split into three parts by the "Sundering." Entities that can roughly be compared to order and chaos were trapped outside the world of Torn, and desperately sought to find a way back in through meddling in the affairs of humanity, tipping the delicate balance in hopes that it would topple and allow them entry, giving them complete control over Torn. Of course, the humans and other creatures of the mortal realm are completely unaware of this, and have no idea that they live their lives in the midst of a battlefield for these beings. As well, a mysterious third group of beings exist within the mortal realm who actively defend against the efforts of these entities. Whether they aid the mortal's side or take action for reasons of their own remains to be seen...

Fry those zombies!

The game's hero is, simply put, cursed by fate. Wherever he travels, misfortune follows, people die, and bad things generally keep happening. Obviously, this has led to a fairly depressing life of constant travel, where there is no telling what new tragedy tomorrow will bring. During this endless journey across the world of Torn, the player finds himself in the city of Orislane, where he will meet a man who could be a prophet, or might just be completely out of his mind. As can be seen by this well fleshed-out back story, Torn is meant to be an RPG with great depth and meaning. As a Black Isle representative put it, the game's world "makes sense." The game will focus heavily on such concepts as fate, prophecy and free will. Black Isle promises that the game's story will keep people guessing through to the very end.

Controls and gameplay within the title are somewhat comparable to Icewind Dale, using the mouse to move and attack, and the keyboard to alter the camera view, all of which take place in full 3D. This is made possible by the Lithtech Development System, which Black Isle is implementing into the title's production. Through this, a sophisticated multiplayer system is being worked into the game. While the title is heavily oriented towards single-player gameplay, there can be up to six characters in the party at a time. Much of the time, these will be controlled by the game's AI to fight alongside you. However, as many as five friends could connect over the internet and journey together through the game, each controlling a different character. This will add not only a multiplayer element to the title, but also allow for more strategy within the game. Players can excel in certain areas, rather than everyone simply hacking their way through every level. Black Isle is considering making an additional online portion of the game in which many players could meet at once, but their current focus is on the main story.

As well, this new 3D system will allow them to implement a level of graphical detail never before obtainable. For example, the character's onscreen image will change to reflect the currently equipped armor and shields. Further, this equipment can be modified within the game. Ever want to add a couple spikes onto the shoulder plates of your armor or into the center of your shield? Well now you can.

Waterside town

Adding to this extensive depth are the many options players will have to choose from in playing their game. Decisions and conversations with other characters along the adventure will all change the world around you, and ultimately have lasting effects on the manner in which the adventure unfolds. This allows for a game which can be played through many times in totally different ways. One of the most major factors lies in deciding on a character type, a choice which will greatly impact the way the story and events occur in the course of the journey. There are six races to choose from, including humans, dwarves, elves, halflings, ogres, and the sidhe (pronounced "she"), a mysterious cat-like race. Unlike many other RPG titles, characters are fleshed out not only through the plot, but through their traits and attributes. For instance, the strength of an ogre will be far greater than that of the very strongest human. And by choosing a halfling, the player will gain nature-related abilities, magic and traits.

Panning across the docks

What truly makes the title unique in this respect, however, is the attention to small details. For instance, players will find numerous bars and taverns across the world of Torn, wherein characters can order a drink, which will have some low-level healing effects. Naturally, if you drink more than you can handle, you're character is going to end up drunk and useless for a while. However, if you happen to be playing the game as a dwarf, you'll be able to drink everyone else under the table, slamming back as much ale as you like. These are the minor aspects that not integral to the game, but which enhance it beyond the typical RPG title, and which Black Isle hopes will help Torn stand out in the PC RPG market.

In an effort to create a world where things "make sense," Black Isle is also hoping to closely integrate its website with the game's world. The site will feature extensive tomes, containing details on the world's past, vast information on the many creatures across the land, and ancient lore with details on the intertwined history of each race. The hope is that the knowledge and information players will discover on the website will enhance the gaming world and deepen their gaming experience.

At Black Isle's GDC booth

Black Isle Studios plans to have Torn available in stores by the year's end. The game will be available for PCs, although the company hasn't ruled out the option of later making a console version, possibly in the style of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. Although the game is still in early stages of production, it's already looking quite impressive, with dynamic real-time lighting and shadow effects, as well as a well-implemented NPC system. More information on this unique and very in-depth RPG will be reported as it becomes available, and fans can look forward to seeing an even more advanced version of the game when RPGamer meets with Black Isle again this May at E3.

by Matthew Wanlin
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