My fellow gamers; Earlier this week I had the distinct pleasure of talking with the fine people over at Obsidian Entertainment about some of their upcoming releases heading your way in the near future. Notably, I had the opportunity to speak with Obsidian co-founder and Narrative Designer Chris Avellone. In the interview we discuss the upcoming Project Eternity, which Doctor Who would make the perfect protagonist for their own game, and not only was the cake not a lie, it was delicious.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Q: So, Kickstarter yeah? You guys set the gold standard by which all other games currently using this model should aspire to. How surprised was the Obsidian team when they saw how high and fast the funding was coming in for Project Eternity?
Chris Avellone: I don’t know if we hold the gold standard (inXile’s Torment: Tides of Numenera and Chris Roberts’ Star Citizen certainly have done better, and Roberts continues to crush the world with continued crowdfunding – it was over 19 million as of writing this), but as for Obsidian’s Project: Eternity - we were surprised by the success, yes. We certainly didn’t expect it to hit the funding goal as quickly as it did... well, most of us didn’t. Our Art Director, Rob Nesler, did. The day after launching he promptly went around and said “I told you so,” to all of us to remind us that he had been the prophet that had predicted our success. And possibly to taunt us. Because Rob likes to do that.
Q: Speaking of which, how's it coming along? Have you guys locked down a title yet?
Chris: It’s coming along great, we’re building cities and districts and dungeons for players to explore, and it’s all looking beautiful – we’re currently tackling the first major city in the game, Defiance Bay, and it’s shaping up great. It’s not often that people can come into work and say “well, today I’m building a city,” but that’s the kind of workplace we have here at Obsidian. And that’s just the start – it’s not just the city itself, but the locations throughout the Eternity world (above and below) are shaping up beautifully, and the designers are adding a lot of great quest lines and content to thread them all together.
As for the title of the project: We have not resolved the “lock down a title” quest line yet. So no XP for us.
Q: You guys have stated that Eternity will be a pretty mature and dark-themed game. Slavery, drug use, etc. Are you afraid that might turn off some potential fans, or cause some unintended controversy within the gaming media?
Chris: If it’s true to the story, we’re afraid of nothing. There are a lot of elements we’ve often wanted to explore in previous titles that we haven’t had an opportunity to do, and Eternity gives us free rein to deal with those subjects. We don’t include elements like these for shock value – if they fit in with the game’s themes and if they add weight to the player’s moral choices for the player, then they are absolutely worth adding to the world. Similar themes worked well in interesting ways in Fallout 2, for example, and seeing some of those same evils explored in Eternity from a different perspective is something we’re looking forward to - and that’s only a small part of what we have planned.
Q: Will Eternity allow players to explore companion storyline/quests like they might have experienced in Fallout: New Vegas?
Chris: Each companion is intended to have a storyline, background, and quest that either advances them, ties them to the game story, or ties them to the theme, and preferably, some combination thereof. It may not be exactly like the New Vegas quest structure (we go as far back as Torment internal quests and the KOTOR2 advancement arcs), but companions will have agendas and quests of their own. More on this will likely come out in the coming months (and it may change as the companions are fully fleshed out), although the specifics will likely wait until the players are actually playing the title.
Q: You've also stated that the current consoles are, well, pretty limited in what they allow insofar as content when compared to the PC. With the looming next gen consoles coming our way, is there maybe the chance that Eternity might see its way on them instead?
Chris: Haven’t given it much thought. Our focus is the platforms we promised the backers.
Q: Now that the team has delved into the publisher-free domain, will you ever go back to any of them in the future?
Chris: We continue to speak with publishers, and will most likely continue to work with publishers in the future. While Kickstarter has been good to us, we have continued to speak about a number of properties with a variety of publishers.
Q: You guys have a history of taking pre-existing titles and really giving them some very creative elements for players to try out. KotoR II, Fallout: New Vegas, Dungeon Siege III just to name a few. Have you guys been approached here recently about continuing to "pimp that ride" so to speak from other developers?
Chris: Not from developers, no, occasionally from publishers who have wanted to see a return to the some of the titles that have been lauded by the public and they believe that we can help their titles realize that vision.
Q: You're also very supportive of your modding community. KotoR II comes to mind first and foremost. Are you amazed at some of the creative content they seem to add to an already impressive list of features?
Chris: Yes, and to our joy, fans have added more than we’d have thought possible to our titles across the board: systems, weapons, quests, bases, and more - allowing for an editor and a modding tool in a game has clearly proven its worth. If we have the resources to implement it in a release or allow for fans the ability to make their own content, it’s always our desired course of action. It worked out well for NWN2, for KOTOR2, and especially for Fallout New Vegas. Some of the mods that came out for New Vegas were brilliant, and as far as KOTOR2 goes, seeing all the work the community put in to restore the content with the Total Restoration Mod was amazing. Those developers are to be congratulated, and I tip my hat to them.
Q: A lot--er--well actually pretty much everyone on the Obsidian team are former Black Isle Studio team members. How'd it feel to "come home" when you guys started working on Fallout: New Vegas?
Chris: It was a nice change of pace. We’d been working on Fallout 3 at Interplay for a number of years (codename Van Buren), so seeing a lot of the game design of that title achieve fruition in a new Fallout game was great. A good percentage of that design had been directly taken from pen-and-paper games and the design docs for Van Buren – the Hangdogs, Hoover Dam, Caesar’s Legion, the mental illness caused by the Stealth Boy technology, and more. Some of the Van Buren elements mutated over time and achieved new context and new life in New Vegas (as an example, the “Big Empty” in FNV DLC3: Old World Blues was originally an automated military boot camp run by Mr. Handys in Van Buren, and I think the mutation of the Big Empty in New Vegas allowed for a much richer realization of a cool adventure area).
Q: There are rumors Bethesda is currently hard at work on a Fallout 4. I know you guys can't confirm or deny that rumor. But let's just say, hypothetically speaking, they ask for Obsidian's input and creative touch to help out, would you?
Chris: Yes, without a doubt. Fallout’s always near and dear to our hearts, and I believe that Fallout: New Vegas did very well for Bethesda (we never saw the numbers, but they seemed pretty happy with the sales).
Q: Beyond what you're currently hard at work on, is there any other IPs out there that the team would absolutely love to get their hands on?
Chris: There’s a few: The Wire, Archer, Ultima, Chronotrigger, Deus Ex, Arcanum, Star Wars, Firefly, and Doctor Who, to name a few. I think Star Wars is pretty high on people’s lists here at the studio. Personally, I’d love to do an Eberron D&D game as well, I love that universe.
Q: The David Tennant Doctor or the Matt Smith Doctor?
Chris: Any doctor in the next generation (including Eccleston) and Tom Baker of the old generation would be my preference. But I wouldn’t be the only one working on it, so it’d be more of a discussion beyond that, I expect... I will say the idea of making a brand-new Doctor that has to face off against the older Doctors (next generation or old generation) I think would be an awesome “season arc” for a game title. After all, I think the toughest adversary a Doctor could face is himself.
Q: Would it be safe to say that ED-E is the official/unofficial mascot at Obsidian?
Chris: We have several mascots. It’s a little odd, it depends on the conference room being used. Right now, Nihilus, Atris, Thorton, and the NCR Ranger are effectively our mascots for the different rooms and lounges. It was awesome getting an ED-E cake when FNV shipped, though. Deeeee-licious.
I'd like to thank Mr. Avellone for sitting down and taking the time to speak with us, and I'd like to give a solid shout out to Maria Gigliotti, PR Manager for Obsidian, for helping to make this all possible.
Project Eternity, for all you fans out there wondering, will be on sale sometime Second Quarter 2014.
Gaming A Date With Eternity: My Interview with Obsidian
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