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The Cutting Edge / Technology News | Gamers' Corner

A Role Play That's Easy to Master

March 16, 2000|AARON CURTISS

A good computer role-playing game sucks in players with characters and locales rich in detail. "Planescape: Torment," the latest role-playing adventure based on the worlds of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, is just such a game.

If ever life gets you down, just be thankful that you didn't wake up this morning in some creepy underworld mortuary wearing a tunic, talking to a floating skull and without a clue as to who you are or how you got there. That's how players begin "Torment," which sprawls over four CD-ROMs as it reveals planes of existence that are both fantastic and believable.

Players assume the role of The Nameless One, a guy who doesn't know if he's dead--or even what death means in this strange place. His first of many companions is a wise-cracking skull named Morte, who dispenses advice crucial to navigating the game.

Using the same game engine as "Baldur's Gate," "Torment" shares many of the best features of that great title. Movement, inventory control and character development--all critical aspects of role-playing games--are easy to master, but refined enough to allow considerable flexibility. Everything players need--from maps to journal entries to rejuvenating spells--are within one or two mouse clicks, putting the emphasis on play rather than on navigating confusing menus.

Play unfolds in a top-down, three-quarters perspective and anyone who has ever played a real-time strategy game such as "Age of Empires" or "Starcraft" should feel right at home with much of the top-level interface. Want to make The Nameless One go somewhere? Click on him and then click on the spot you want him. He responds with a verbal affirmation--usually something like, "I'm gone,"--and moves smoothly to a new location.

Fighting is relatively straightforward, although I had a difficult time refining my attacks much beyond simply snapping someone's neck or flailing them with a dagger. Among the cool elements of the game is the ability to learn new skills from masters in various disciplines. Experience in battle counts, but it doesn't automatically transform players into killing machines. That requires education.

In fact, the game unfolds according to how players play. The Nameless One's development is dictated by how players decide to control him. Other characters in The Nameless One's party, which grows as the game progresses, develop at their own pace, but players are wise to take care of everyone--not just The Nameless One.

"Planescape: Torment" creates a world of its own. The result is a game in a class of its own.

"Planescape: Torment" requires a Pentium 200 MMX with 32 mb of RAM and 650 mb of available hard disk space. The game's publisher recommends a Pentium 266 MMX with 64 mb of RAM and 800 mb of available hard disk space.

'MTV MUSIC GENERATOR'

The "MTV Music Generator" would be a bargain at twice the price. Although not a game per se, "Music Generator" is about as much fun as I've had with my Sony PlayStation in a very long time.

"Music Generator" allows PlayStation owners to mix their own music tracks and then set them to video. It's been done before, but never this well. With PlayStation prices as low as $100, I would recommend that folks who love to tinker with music pick up a unit solely for use with "Music Generator."

Music creation software of the past--especially for set-top consoles--has generally produced tunes one very small step above the jangling noise unattended kids bang out on the electronic keyboards at Costco. The problem has not always been the software's ability, but its accessibility to those without a master's in music theory.

"Music Generator" takes the guesswork out of the process, allowing even those with the tinniest ear to cobble together something that actually sounds like music. Granted, my compositions will never knock Bach off his perch, but I'd gladly hold them up against some of what passes for music these days.

Users assemble music piece by piece, selecting from 1,500 sampled riffs in various styles. For the truly adventurous, the program includes 3,000 instrument sounds that can be composed into unique melodies. I chose to build my masterpieces from the prepackaged riffs.

The process is simple. Clicking on a riff provides a preview. Then it can be laid into a grid that allows multiple tracks to play simultaneously. So users can lay down a bassline and then build a melody over it.

Videos are made the same way. Dozens of backgrounds, camera effects and characters permit thousands of combinations. By using the same grid as the music, videos can be assembled to match the song.

The best part about "Music Generator" is that tunes and videos can be saved to a memory card and played over and over--or shared with friends. And the sound? My game machines are all hooked up through stereo speakers that deliver pretty decent sound. I cranked my tunes as loud as the wife would permit and they were clear and crisp. After all, it's all digital.

Aaron Curtiss is participating in a management training program, where he currently serves as assistant to the senior vice president of advertising. He has no financial dealings with the companies he covers. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send e-mail to aaron.curtiss@latimes.com.

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Essentials

Planescape: Torment

* Platform: PC

* Publisher: Interplay

* ESRB rating: Teen

* Price: $39.99

* Bottom line: Sprawling

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MTV Music Generator

* Platform: Sony PlayStation

* Publisher: Codemasters

* ESRB rating: Everyone

* Price: $39.99

* Bottom line: Totally cool

* Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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Next Week:"Battlezone II: Combat Commander," "Die Hard Trilogy 2," "South Park Chef's Luv Shack" and "South Park Rally"

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