Interview with Obsidian Entertainment by LFG.HU
Chris Avellone, Creative Director of Obsidian and a narrative designer on Project Eternity. (Adam and Josh are the Project Directors on Eternity.)
What was your first reaction when you realised that the $1.1M goal was reached in less than three days? Have you ever anticipated this success?
Only our Art Director, Rob Nesler, anticipated the reaction (and then followed it up with, “I TOLD YOU SO.”). The rest of us? We, hoped, but had no idea that an Infinity Engine style RPG would resonate as strongly as it did, and the amount of support from backers has been heart-warming. Guess the old-school isometric RPG isn’t a dead genre after all.
Could you highlight one game/series (Baldurs Gate, PS: Torment or IWD ) as the primal predecessor of Project Eternity („PE”), or all of them have the same importance/impact as predecessors. Chris Avellone mentioned in an interview that he would like to make a kind of “unofficial sequel” for Torment.
Tim Cain, Adam Brennecke, Josh Sawyer, Feargus Urquhart, and I sat down in a room and broke down elements from all the Infinity Engine games we felt had strengths that appealed to players and to us – Baldur’s Gate had the incredible companions, storyline, and world, Icewind Dale took the idea of creating amazing dungeon locales for the player to explore (the fortress of the Severed Hand and the Jungles of Chult are still two of my favorite locales), and we wanted to have dialogues and the depth of interactions that hearkened back to Planescape: Torment.
Project: Eternity is not a spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment – with the team we have at Obsidian, we’re creating something greater than that.
What RPGs (tabletop/PC) or fantasy writers have/had influence on the world-building and/or the game mechanic?
A great many of the ideas for Eternity have largely stemmed from the Infinity Engine games themselves and the mechanics and presentation in those titles. That said, we’ve learned from all the RPGs we’ve worked on at both Obsidian and Black Isle, and each RPG has provided a new mechanic or element we’ve been able to learn from and draw into Eternity… for example, Fallout’s approach to quests and the viability of character builds (such as the ability to solve a quest through stealth or diplomacy), the idea of branching skill development into combat and non-combat divisions to help character creation (it’s a little rough in New Vegas to defeat a Deathclaw if you’re a Barter specialist), the mechanics of crafting across all our titles, the reactivity and reputation in both Alpha Protocol and New Vegas, and the companion interactions in both Knights of the Old Republic II and Mask of the Betrayer and threading the plot and the player’s powers into gameplay. We’ve learned a lot over the years, and we’re looking forward to using that experience in Eternity.
Can you give us some hints about the Races and Classes in PE?
Among the many races and classes we’ve outlined, one that stands out to me is the Cipher class. It’s a class intimately tied to the world of Eternity, and a Cipher’s ability to touch and manipulate the souls of others and their own soul was a means of tying the class mechanics to the lore of the world itself. It’s one of our design pillars in development, and linking game systems to not only the level design but also to the narrative is one of our design tenets at Obsidian.
What kind of freedom will the players have in character development? Are there levels of experience with predefined features (like DnD), or the players can customize the main character with a “point-buy system” as they like?
We do have a leveling system, and there are powers that each particular class can harness and develop. On top of that we want to ensure personal player growth as well, and allow players to have an identity outside their class – to this end, players can shape and customize their powers in personal ways as well… for example, each individual, regardless of class, will have the ability to customize their powers via experience and also through decisions they make in the game tied to their personality and playstyle.
Will the main character have a complex background (like Torment) or only the in-game actions/inactions will be important (like Icewind Dale)?
We don’t want to confine the player to a specific look or background like we did in Torment, we want players to be able to create their character. Players will still be able to select cultural and history customizations during character creation, but that’s their choice, not ours.
Do moral decisions affect the plotline and how?
Decisions, moral or otherwise, have an impact on the plotline, factions, and companions. Without giving anything too specific away, we want the breadth of reactivity (personal and world-wise) to be along the lines of Fallout 2, Torment, and Fallout: New Vegas, all of which we felt were great examples of being able to make an impact on the environment.
Lastly, I wanted to clarify – “moral” decisions aren’t necessarily our focus. Sometimes the right way to determine the course of a nation’s growth or a person’s growth is to simply make decisions with what you know of the world and in accordance with your outlook as a player, and the choices you have to make can all seem equally valid in achieving the goal you desire – do you sternly punish someone who’s drifted from their responsibilities, or do you reach out a helping hand to lift them up? Which one might help the individual more in the end if you really want to help them? At that point, the decision becomes a personal one, and says more about you as a player rather than any attempt to game the system or force a good/evil result with a group, person, or faction.
Do you plan many possible companions you can add to your party or do you prefer less companions with rich background and personality?
We prefer to let the player choose. We have two different breakdowns in companions – one are the limited cast of extremely detailed companions (like Planescape: Torment and NX2: Mask of the Betrayer), but the player can also choose to either take no companions at all, or go to the Adventurer’s Hall (a stretch goal that was made possible by the players – thank you!) and recruit a selection of mercenaries there of their own choosing, not ours.
How common is magic in the world? (Compared to computers in the 80s or 90s.) Doers the technology rely on it? Could you describe the importance and theory of souls in a nutshell? Even the first official video highlighted their importance.
I wanted to combine these two answers, since they’re related. Magic is common – not everyone can use it, but Eternity is a magical world and a variety of people (especially the player character and the companions) have the power to harness souls to perform superhuman feats of strength and power. That said, their physical effect on the world is only part of the larger narrative spine that encompasses the philosophy and the underpinnings of the world. The type and purity of souls, as well as the means by which souls enter a body, change it, and then depart at the end of one’s life all have an effect on cultures and races’ outlook on the world and the factions.
Technology does not rely on magic, no. The two are different, although not at odds (as they were in say, Arcanum).
It were mentioned in the same video that the game will include some mature topics. Can you give examples? Can we meet with very abstract “things” like a living mortality (such as Transcendent One in Torment)? What about sex and violence?
Our goal with the mature topics is not to introduce things that are intended for shock value, but elements that we have wanted to explore in previous titles but they are often perceived as sensitive subjects. When the topics themselves are handled in a mature manner (which I feel we proved with religion in the New Vegas DLC: Honest Hearts, for example), the title is richer for the experience. Most importantly, we leave it up to the designers as they approach areas to come up with themes that fit the area and the story as a while. With us not shying away from more mature themes, it means they can be as creative as they want in coming up in these more localized stories.
Do you have any message for the Hungarian fans desperately waiting for the game?
We’re anticipating it as much as you are, and we’re eager to prove what we can do with everything we’ve learned about RPGs over the years, and now with our own franchise. We love building worlds, and we can’t wait to share it with you, not just at release, but in the coming months as we continue to unveil more and more of what makes Project: Eternity special.
One aspect of this Kickstarter project that’s been especially gratifying is the worldwide support we’ve received, both for translation and offers of help – and not only that, but the ability for us to respond back in kind and reach out to other countries and players there. Often, our interactions with the rest of the world can be channeled or limited by remote offices, but the Eternity Kickstarter has been a great opportunity to extend design and development communication across the world, and the ability to interface directly with fans outside of the United States has been great.