Part 50: Bonus Update #1: How Did We Get Here?Bonus Update #1: How Did We Get Here?
In lieu of a real update today I'm going to post the bonus update I've been meaning to post for a while. If I have time after the NFC championship tonight I'll go get us the Doom Pepes, but I'm not convinced.
The thread discourse has turned to the "hey, this is just like Planescape: Torment" with the introduction of O and the Endless Battle (which is totally not the Blood War!) that, while I posted in the OP that this was going to be judging the game on its own merits...we really can't completely do that if we look at designer intent. This is going to be less of a comparison between the two games, and more of a look at why the designers made the game they did.
Let's start with the kickstarter. It's still up, but more importantly let's look at the stretch goals.
Seeing a pattern yet?
Look at their team bio page.
This is supposed to be an attempt to get the original team back together to remake a game that they made nearly twenty years before Numenera came out. For bonus points look at the writing staff - you have people writing Warhammer and Star Wars novels, RPGs, Patrick Rothfuss and his empty books...there's a lot of people who have technically written something, but mostly nerd fiction about nothing. This is marketed as a deeply philosophical work about the value of life, but these are not the people I would trust to do that. Nothing in these bios suggest that any of these people read anything not by and for the insular nerd community, even though much non-fantasy literature deals with this and it's not exactly a new theme. Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again has much more to say on this subject, from Wolfe eulogizing a suicide victim pointing out that for that one instant, he was a man or the protagonist witnessing a Jewish man dragged off by the Gestapo. You can argue this for Moby Dick, Oliver Twist, Huckleberry Finn - where the protagonist is willing to accept eternal damnation to save his friend Jim - but my point is that a lot of good literature is going to directly or indirectly touch on the value of human life. So what does Numenera have to say for itself?
Numenera is mostly going to present variants on the trolley problem. For those who don't know, the trolley problem is the old "is it worth shoving one man in front of a train to save two more who are tied to the tracks" question, and it's not very interesting. We've seen it a little in the squid quest (do we kill the squid for an underwhelming reward from that guy and some XP) and we're going to see it a lot more in various sidequests as the game progresses (do we kill the Stichus for that rich dude, do we save Ris at the cost of starting a riot, etc) as well as the main quest. While Melville and Dickens assume the reader isn't stupid and won't bluntly hit you over the head by stating "HEY AHAB IS A BAD GUY BECAUSE HE DOESN'T VALUE THE LIVES OF HIS LOYAL CREW IN HIS MAD QUEST TO DEFY GOD," this game will bluntly hit you over the head by having characters directly ask you what you think the value of life is - as a matter of fact, the last character will basically ask us this to determine our ending.
Why Numenera? I'll let Colin McComb explain.
Specifically, this is about legacy and mystery. Now, I could quibble and point out that all of this stuff has been explored elsewhere and better - you could go watch the Ring Cycle for 5 hours to answer the power or love question, listen to some beautiful music, and spend less time than with this game - but ultimately the thing with mystery is that we need to be involved with the mystery to actually care. A mystery novel will have one central mystery the protagonist has some reason to be involved in and along the course of solving it we will explore not just the plot but our protagonist as well. Numenera throws so much stuff at you that it's impossible to care, and the answers tend to be easily decipherable and uninteresting. Who are the Adversaries? Devils. Who is the Changing God? Given we share his body and his memories I'll let you figure that one out. Who are we? Who cares, we have no characterization. What legacy are we leaving? Doesn't matter, everyone goes through the same main plot and it affects...maybe the ending slides. We will get to the Tides much later as they are very stupid.
So who is this for? Not new players, obviously, this entire game is wrapped in the shroud of Planescape: Torment to the point where the fan communities for both have the same subreddits and wikis.
This is a game marketed for old Planescape grognards by the original team trying to recreate the fire they struck nearly 20 years ago, much like the Star Wars sequel trilogy is desperately trying to recreate the original trilogy and floundering on similar grounds. Don't believe me? Let's go back to the original kickstarter. One of the stretch goals was that Colin McComb, the head creative guy responsible for this mess, would apologize for a D&D Second Edition book he wrote called "The Complete Book of Elves". This book was incredibly poorly regarded at the time of publication for constantly explaining that Elves were better than you and giving elf characters undeserved free powerups. Now, old grognards will recognize this book, but this won't mean anything to the newer Dungeons and Dragons crowd who is listening to Critical Role or got into it because of Stranger Things. You'd expect him to have recognized decades later that the book was bad, or maybe to just not put this goal up at all if he was still sensitive about it?
Ha ha, nah. It's garbage like this that makes me consider "Tabletop RPG designer" something that if I ever saw on a resume, I would not hire that person. Now, there is a second apology video which is basically making fun of how shitty the first was, and I will give McComb the benefit of the doubt that he was parodying the self-important game designer per video two, but that's a real risk to take when people thought your book was awful enough to give you money to apologize.
More analysis as events warrant.