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You're in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It's crawling toward you. You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping. Why is that? Why are you not helping?

RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2017 - Divinity Original Sin 2

Editorial - posted by JarlFrank on Wed 13 September 2017, 20:20:34

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Gamescom 2017; Larian Studios; Swen Vincke

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Like every year, I went to Gamescom again to report on some currently in-development RPGs. This time, I only went to see Divinity: Original Sin 2 at Larian's booth, and Starpoint Gemini: Warlords at the Croatian game developers' booth. At least the low amount of presentations and interviews means we'll actually get to see all the Gamescom 2017 articles in 2017, so hey!

At Larian's booth, Swen Vincke presented some new features of the game to me - mostly features connected to undead player characters and the Mask of the Shapeshifter (which was a Kickstarter stretchgoal). Once the presentation is over, I assault Swen with a bunch of questions and he proceeds to give me answers that are confusing even to himself.

“Let’s just say it’s complicated, eh?”

“It’s not! Not when you’re playing it.”

“I mean from a designer’s standpoint.”

“Oh, yeah. It’s super complicated. It’s insanely complicated. The discussions that we have about these things can sometimes take very long since you always find edge cases, but it’s not that because those edge cases exist we shouldn’t do it. Sometimes you might find things that don’t make a hundred percent sense, but essentially our attitude to that is, eh fuck it.” He laughs.​

Larian certainly have the right attitude when it comes to implementing features into the game, don't they?

Read the whole interview and my write-up on the presentation in the article!

Read the full article: Codex Gamescom Report 2017 Part 1: Divinity Original Sin 2

There are 18 comments on RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2017 - Divinity Original Sin 2

Mon 18 September 2017
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a huge success, has already sold nearly 500,000 copies

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Mon 18 September 2017, 22:57:15

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios; Swen Vincke

The Codex community has already amassed a good number of complaints about Divinity: Original Sin 2 since its release four days ago, but that hasn't stopped the game from being a massive success. This weekend it broke the 85,000 concurrent player count, more than double that of all previous Kickstarted RPGs. This kind of news isn't as surprising in the era of SteamSpy, but just as he did after the release of the first game, Swen Vincke has informed the gentlemen at Eurogamer that Original Sin 2 has already sold nearly 500,000 copies. I quote:

It's been a bombastic start for independent computer role-playing game Divinity: Original Sin 2, which has raced to nearly 500,000 sales on PC after being fully released four days ago.

"It is fantastic," Swen Vincke, owner of developer and publisher Larian Studios, told me this morning, "but it is also way beyond what we expected. We're close to hitting 500K units sold which is a number I believe took us two or three months with Divinity: Original Sin 1."

Divinity: Original Sin 2 had been available via Steam Early Access for a year leading up to last week's release. Vincke said the game added nearly 180K sales since the 14th September launch.

The unfortunate side effect of such popularity - a concurrent-player CRPG Steam record (from what I can tell) of 85K players - has meant Larian's servers have struggled to cope but, Vincke said, "We should have them up and running again soon."

Whether this strong indication of runaway success for Divinity: Original Sin 2 means console versions are now a thumbs up - Larian was waiting to see how the sequel sold on PC - remains to be seen, but early signs are good.

"As for the console versions, we're now focused on delivering our first patch for the PC version, something that is scheduled for this week," said Vincke. "Lots of players means lots of support issues coming in and we're trying to service them as fast as we can. After that, it'll be a long well deserved break for the team and then we'll boot up our machines again to work on the next things."
For the past couple of years we've often spoken of a kind of "sequel fatigue syndrome", where the sequels to seemingly popular titles repeatedly perform significantly worse as mass audiences realize that the gameplay wasn't their thing after all. Thanks to Larian, that's been proven not to be a universal law. What next for Divinity: Original Sin 2, then? It sounds like even they're not sure yet, but with these sales numbers, the sky's the limit.

There are 59 comments on Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a huge success, has already sold nearly 500,000 copies

Fri 15 September 2017
Obsidian Media Blitz: The Future of Nu-Obsidian

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Fri 15 September 2017, 22:56:33

Tags: Armored Warfare; Chris Parker; Feargus Urquhart; Obsidian Entertainment

The Obsidian media campaign provided a few more stories this week. There were a couple more Fallout: New Vegas retrospectives - a brief one at Eurogamer and a massive one at Usgamer. Eurogamer also released the condensed version of their Fallout 1 & 2 discussion with Cain, Boyarsky and Urquhart. All interesting enough, but not particularly newsworthy. With today's article, it looks like Eurogamer are ready to cap off their coverage. Contrary to what they may have implied, it has no new information about Obsidian's secret project. What does it provide is a kind of evaluation of the state of Obsidian Entertainment in 2017 - their principles, their plans, why they worked on a game like Armored Warfare, and whether they're really looking for a buyer. I quote:

"What publishers look at a lot is whether you still have the ability to make triple-A assets," Feargus Urquhart, studio co-owner and CEO, tells me. "Can you work on these new consoles?" He can say Obsidian can, "but it's just words". "I can't show a pretty level working on Xbox One.

"One of the things we recognised with Armored Warfare - because the goal of at the time was to make a triple-A game that could transition to console - was this would let us make triple-A-looking tanks and triple-A-looking levels, and we would keep and potentially even grow that competency at the studio.

"Let's say Bethesda called and said, 'Hey we want you to make Fallout: New Vegas 2,' then we would still have the people here who can make these big open-world things."

He thinks for a moment. "I still want to make big RPGs," he says.

"Most of the gaming I do on my PlayStation 4 tends to be the big releases," co-owner Chris Parker adds. We are sat in Urquart's office - surprisingly small and unspectacular considering he is the boss. And a little bit messy. (Maybe that's the point.) "Those are the games that I play, those are the games that I love, those are the games that I want to make and compete with. Given a choice I want to go spend all the money on a big budget title and make something that's unbelievable."

Armored Warfare paid off. Now the contract is over - "very much a joint decision desired by both parties" according to Urquhart - publishers are interested in Obsidian as a result. Those tanks did their job. "Some publishers like Sega are getting back into looking at doing games, and Microsoft is looking - they've had to do some restructuring and they're starting to look again at doing it. It's cyclical, we just hit a long down-cycle.

"I just got off the phone with a publisher who wants us to do something," he adds, meaning that morning before I arrived. "But this one was just a not good timing, not good things that they want us to do and it doesn't fit very well."

Obsidian had a different surprise offer back in March that nearly went all the way. "We went to a meeting with this group and they presented us with this idea and we were like, 'Whoa, okay...' They said, 'We want to move this along pretty quickly.'" Obsidian worked up a pitch and the conversation turned to budget and then bam, all of a sudden the deal fell through. "Something happened and the timing for them was now bad," Urquhart shrugs. But he's used to it, it happens all the time.

Nevertheless Obsidian is working on something. Something big - something to keep the bulk of the 175-person studio busy. "There's a new project," Urquhart says cagily. "Yes" it has a publisher but he won't tell me who it is, nor if Obsidian has worked with the publisher before. "That's too easy!" he says. Then after careful consideration he continues: "We're making a big RPG - and it's not Fallout!" Whether or not it's a new IP we'll apparently see.

Over the course of a four-hour interview I realise I had Obsidian wrong. I expected a company where imagination ruled the roost over getting things done on time - dream big! finish the game later. But what I discover is a surprisingly pragmatic company run and founded largely by producers - people who bring projects back down to earth.

"Our intention is always it's less that is better," Chris Parker tells me. "What we would like to do is make a very minimal amount of stuff and make it really really good and add to that later. That is a much smarter choice than it wind up being scrappy at the end."

Wait what? Isn't that exactly what Obsidian games have been accused of in the past - of being scrappy? Feargus Urquhart shrugs: "They say the path to Hell is paved with good intentions."

Maybe some of it is down to genre. "What we've had to learn - we're better at it but we're still learning - is it's really easy to make RPGs big. It's like, 'Oh just one more quest,' 'Oh just one more class,' 'Oh just one more monster.' Every game is like that but RPGs just seem to grow and grow and grow, and we have, traditionally, done a poor job understanding that scope and managing it well."

As an independent, it's also been harder for Obsidian to get extensions than it generally is for internal studios at publishers. "We sign a contract and we must hit that number and it is the end of the earth if we [don't]," says Urquhart. "We've had to sign away royalties, we've had to sign away ownership of IPs…" He pauses again. "Whereas internal studios, it's just another month - they're already paying the people, it's already in the budget these people are going to be paid."

That said, Obsidian has had offers of acquisition from publishers - "a lot", according to Urquhart. "It's not like we're 'indie for life'," he says, "not like we bleed indie blood. We were an internal studio [Black Isle] for a publisher for a long time and we were successful."

"If the right opportunity came up," adds Parker, "it's certainly something that we would do."

It would certainly be an easier life with malleable deadlines and someone else absorbing responsibility for people's livelihoods. Plus, Urquhart wouldn't have to go out on the road all the time and do "his little horse and pony show" as Chris Parker so brilliantly puts it. But the deals have never been right. "We just didn't think the offers were commensurate to what we're worth and then what we would get to do," Urquhart says.

"The great thing about being independent is we can work on Star Wars and South Park at the same time, where an internal studio couldn't. I can wake up in the morning and say, 'Hey we're going to try and pitch Star Wars for the ninth time.'

And there's something deeper, too. "The industry needs independent studios like us," he adds, "because we're going to make games differently. It's like the ecology of game development: there needs to be triple-A indie developers who can be looking at things the big publishers don't look at at."
There hasn't been any new material on the other sites that have participated in this campaign recently, so this article may be the last of it. This whole thing has been pretty bizarre and I don't understand what Paradox got out of it, but I guess that's 2017 for you - crazy but educational.

There are 65 comments on Obsidian Media Blitz: The Future of Nu-Obsidian

Thu 14 September 2017
Divinity: Original Sin 2 Released

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Thu 14 September 2017, 19:40:17

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios; Swen Vincke

Over three years ago, Larian Studios released Divinity: Original Sin. With an appealing presentation, intuitive mechanics and unique multiplayer capabilities, it found a large audience for turn-based RPGs that nobody knew existed, and turned the semi-unknown Belgian studio into the undisputed kings of the genre overnight. For a while afterwards there was some mystery surrounding the question of what their next game would be, but in late 2015 it was confirmed that Larian were going to go right on to Divinity: Original Sin 2. A bigger and better sequel, like what Baldur's Gate 2 was to Baldur's Gate.

Over the years, many visitors to this forum have wondered - why can't the big publishers of the gaming industry, the ones who originally built their fortunes on games like these, funnel some of their profits into making a really big traditional RPG? Just once, just to give something back. We called them naive, we said it could never happen. Well friends, as far as I can tell, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is that game. Or the closest we're going to get to it. With a development team of some 130 people, which is more than smaller AAA games like Fallout: New Vegas, it's likely the most expensive turn-based western RPG ever produced. I can't overstate how good it would be for the genre if this game succeeds - and by all appearances, it deserves to succeed.

There's no release trailer for Original Sin 2, but Larian published one last Kickstarter update a couple of hours before it was released. Here's the accompanying video:

Divinity: Original Sin 2 is available now on Steam and GOG for $45. There are no reviews yet - Larian sent out review keys only a couple of days ago. Also, due to last minute issues, the Russian, German and French translations will only be released in a patch a week from now. But if that doesn't bother you, buy it now.

There are 109 comments on Divinity: Original Sin 2 Released

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Wed 13 September 2017
Divinity: Original Sin 2 Combat, Feature and Origin Trailers

Preview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 13 September 2017, 23:02:15

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios

Divinity: Original Sin 2 is releasing tomorrow. It's a big moment for RPGs - but I'll have more to say about that when it happens. Today, I thought I'd share the trailers that Larian have released over the past week. They made a spotlight trailer for each of the game's six origin stories/companions - The Red Prince the exiled Lizard royal, Lohse the demon-haunted entertainer, Beast the dwarven pirate, Sebille the escaped elven slave, Ifan the mercenary ex-crusader, and Fane the undead Eternal. Last week they released a combat spotlight trailer showcasing what you can do in a typical Original Sin 2 encounter. And today released a "feature trailer", a thorough overview of all of the game's features. I'll post the last two here:

This game is going to be so much fun. Watch out though, the feature trailer quite blatantly spoils the premise of its plot.

There are 31 comments on Divinity: Original Sin 2 Combat, Feature and Origin Trailers

Tue 12 September 2017
Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates gets a story trailer

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Tue 12 September 2017, 22:49:09

Tags: Coin Operated Games; Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates

Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates is coming out in less than a month yet we still know very little about it. Today the developers released a story trailer describing the game's setting, a flooded steampunk New York City split into independent city-states. The concept seems compelling enough and the trailer is definitely less annoying than the last one, though it can't conceal some pretty janky visuals. I'll post it here, along with the accompanying press release:

Auburn, New Hampshire – September 12, 2017 – Coin Operated Games today released a new story trailer for its upcoming Neo-Victorian RPG Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates. The game will be coming to PC via Steam on October 4, 2017. Developed by a team of industry veterans from such influential companies as Crytek, Creative Assembly, Codemasters and Digital Reality, Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates is a top-down isometric RPG that takes place in an alternate industrial New York circa 1911.

… water is everywhere but none of it to drink…

Gaming fans can celebrate National Video Game Day with a new trailer featuring a story we’re sure you’ve never seen before! Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates tells the tale of a troubled New York which toward the end of the 19 th Century is experiencing the tail-end of a technological and industrial boom the likes of which the world has never seen. Sprinting to a population of more than five million, New York becomes the biggest and one of the most advanced cities in the world… now give a big Empire City greeting to the Great Flood of 1899. New York then meets the new century by being submerged under raging waters, the source of which are unknown. The only thing that is certain is this… the entire city is flooded by rising oceans and the citizens now face a new threat: the fresh water pipes have stopped and there is no water to drink!

Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates features an original story penned by renowned writer/comic artist Paul Noth, a staff cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine, where his work has appeared regularly since 2004. He created the Emmy-nominated animated series "Pale Force" for Late Night with Conan O’Brien and was animation consultant for Saturday Night Live. He's also developed shows for Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Nickelodeon, and his trilogy of middle-grade novels will be published by Bloomsbury, starting in April of 2018 with “How to Sell Your Family to the Aliens."

In the game, players will experience a New York City that has been divided into several varying City States, all vying for control of the city. There’s a colorful cast of characters to encounter – some will be your allies and some will be rivals – as you make your way across New York in an effort to discover a solution to the city’s new water problem, as the fresh water pipes running to the city have mysteriously stopped flowing.

Currently in development by Coin Operated Games, Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates will be available via Steam on October 4, 2017. More information will be shared in the coming weeks once the waters die down…
Now, I said before that we know nothing about Empyre, but it turns out the developers have actually been quietly posting development updates on their official forums. Here we learn that the game's combat might in fact be RTwP (still unclear), and that the writer Paul Noth had actually never played a videogame before being hired. The game has a Steam page now too with some more details. But damn, everything about this is so weird. I can't wait for it to come out.

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More on Obsidian's cancelled and unproduced projects at Eurogamer

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Tue 12 September 2017, 22:01:25

Tags: Chris Parker; Dwarfs; Feargus Urquhart; Obsidian Entertainment; Prey 2 (Obsidian Entertainment); Star Wars: Dark Times

It looks like the Eurogamer guys saved all their best Obsidian stories for this week. We've all heard about Obsidian's various cancelled games, but we know less about their pitches that never got off the ground in the first place. Today's article at Eurogamer describes some of these, and in particular the ones Obsidian cooked up in the summer of 2012 when they were scrambling for work after Stormlands' cancellation. These include a Prey sequel which would have been more faithful to the original game than the reboot that Arkane eventually released, a Warhammer 40K RPG based on the Dark Heresy tabletop game, and a Star Wars RPG called Star Wars: Dark Times based on a Dark Horse comic of the same name. I'll quote the parts about the first two:

"We probably went through about 10 pitches that summer," Parker says. There was a Justice League game pitched to Warner Bros., there were two separate Might & Magic games pitched to Ubisoft, one smaller, one open-world. But the proposals Obsidian really remembers are Prey 2 and Warhammer 40K.

"Prey 2 everyone was really excited about," Parker says. This was before Dishonored developer Arkane set to work on a Prey reboot (released this year). This was in the aftermath of Bethesda shelving Human Head's Prey 2. "Ours had more ties to the old Prey," Parker says. "You're a human bounty hunter and you've gotten transplanted to where all the aliens are. You're a badass bounty hunter in this sci-fi setting."

Mechanically it was exactly what you would expect from Prey, a first-person shooter, married with what you would expect from Obsidian, a role-playing game. There was to be a big hub where you could interact with all sorts of different people, for example. On the surface it sounds a lot like where Human Head was going with Prey 2 - be a bounty hunter on an open alien planet and improve powers and gadgets along the way - but Obsidian was apparently never told much about that game. "[Bethesda] were very close-lipped about what was going on with Human Head," Feargus Urquhart, studio co-owner and CEO, says. "They had a specific 'what they wanted the game to be' - I don't actually know if that was what Human Head was working on or not."

The pitch Obsidian worked up had a lot to do with dealing with different aliens. "Usually in sci-fi games we humanise - we interpret aliens from how they would react if they were human - so we design a lot of aliens as humans in suits," Urquhart says. "What was important was having the aliens not just be aliens in suits. They have completely different desirous wants and needs, they react to different things they see, and they see things in different ways. How could we have aliens in this world really feel alien?"

There was also going to be Parkour, jetpacks and grappling hooks - mechanics "to try and take the shooter into three dimensions", Parker says. "Since it was sci-fi we really wanted to play with vertical space."

But the Prey 2 pitch didn't go anywhere. "Bethesda talked to us about the opportunity, they never promised anything," Urquhart says. Perhaps two years after buying Arkane, Bethesda had Arkane Austin in mind for the game. Whatever went down, what Arkane eventually made bared no resemblance to what Obsidian had in mind.

The Warhammer 40,000 pitch, meanwhile, was ill-fated from the start, what with THQ owning the licence at the time, and THQ being down the swanny (THQ would go bankrupt in December 2012). But Obsidian remembers it fondly. "That was a cool pitch," Urquhart says.

"The Warhammer 40K pitch is 28 pages - I just looked at it a little while ago," Chris Parker says while Urquhart, in perfect synchronisation, finds and opens the pitch on his computer and scrolls through it. It's very decorative and detailed but I don't catch any detail as he whizzes through.

"We wrote a small novel about how awesome this game would be," Parker says. "The idea was: there's a pen and paper off-shoot of 40K about the Inquisition, and it's more individual character-based and you travel around different planets." He's probably referring to Inquisitor, the 2001 Warhammer 40K spin-off, although it wasn't pen and paper. Inquisitor focused on a small group of characters: a shadowy Inquisitor with a couple of henchmen, and carte blanche to root out evil in the world (Games Workshop doesn't support Inquisitor any more but rulebooks are available online). A perfect set-up for an Obsidian RPG if ever I heard one. "We built this role-playing game about you being this new Inquisitor and having these crazy resources and going to all these planets," Parker says, "and there's nothing that's not at war in Warhammer 40K."
Apropos of nothing, the article also has some details about one of Obsidian's cancelled games, the Snow White RPG Dwarfs - what it was about, and what may have led to its cancellation.

But to have a game pitch amount to nothing pales in comparison to having a game cancelled part-way through - and Stormlands isn't the only rug Obsidian has had whipped from under its feet. In 2006, Obsidian was making a Snow White and the Seven Dwarves role-playing game for Buena Vista, the game-making division of Disney. "The idea was a prequel," Urquhart says, "a far, far prequel of Snow White."

"It was supposed to be a much darker world," Parker says. "There's a lot of dark elements to Disney but it's kind of hard to see underneath all the flowery animations. They wanted to capitalise on that and say, 'Here's a story about the Seven Dwarves in a much earlier, earlier state.' The actual character you played was going to be more of a typical RPG character, called the Prince [or Princess, presumably], a young man or young girl, and you would end up bumping into those dwarves and going on this adventure and solving all of these things."

The dwarves themselves were going to act like different tools for different situations. "They had very specific powers and you would travel with two of them," he continues, "and their powers would combine in different ways, so based on who you were fighting against you might want to have, say, these two dwarves with you because they would combine and do these different things. You would also, in a similar fashion, use them to solve different puzzles in the world. For example, this dwarf was the blue key for blue doors, so to speak."

Obsidian worked on the Dwarves game for roughly a year - but then Disney changed its mind. "I don't think it was really that big of a surprise," says Parker. "There were some fundamental differences between what Disney had originally wanted to do and what we were doing. The project we were working on was more lighthearted than they had pitched. What they had pitched originally was very very dark: the dwarves were slaves of giants in mines, then they escaped from the mines and were living on their own, and you meet up with them and they are these hardened, angry dwarves. Ours was like, 'OK yeah all that's fine but we'll leave a slightly lighter pitch on all that's going on,' so there were some disagreements there. Also the way we had taken the mechanics: we were trying to be a little bit more revolutionary and I don't think that worked for them."

Officially, though, and this was a gut-punch for Obsidian, the project was terminated for 'cause'. "In other words," says Parker, "the game we were making was not good enough."

Obsidian was told art quality specifically was the problem. "The tough thing for us was the direction we had from them was they were more concerned about the technological feasibility of having a streaming world in Unreal [3]," Urquhart says. "So we focused on the gameplay and technical aspect for the prototype we put together, so you could go around this world, go inside and outside, and then you get into a big boss fight. It just wasn't super-pretty yet. So we were told 'the art's a big problem'.

"Fast-forward 12 years," he goes on, "and we've heard more little bits and pieces." Maybe Roy Disney hadn't approved Buena Vista offering the Snow White IP out, maybe new Disney boss Bob Iger had different ideas about how classic IP should be used. "These all added up to it," Urquhart says.
Seems like they're finally starting to run out content. What next? In the comments, Eurogamer's Robert Purchese admits that this media campaign isn't building up to some big reveal, but they are going to publish an article about what little they learned about Obsidian's secret project later this week.

There are 64 comments on More on Obsidian's cancelled and unproduced projects at Eurogamer

Avernum 3: Ruined World announced, coming Q1 2018

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Tue 12 September 2017, 15:01:14

Tags: Avernum 3: Ruined World; Spiderweb Software

As expected, the next game from Jeff Vogel's Spiderweb Software is Avernum 3: Ruined World, the remake of 2002's Avernum 3, which was a remake of 1997's Exile 3: Ruined World. It'll be the final Avernum remake, and the final Spiderweb game before Jeff has to come up with something new. As with Avadon 3 last year, he seems to have put up the game's Steam page before formally announcing it on his website. Here's its trailer and description:

The conclusion to our hit indie fantasy trilogy! Avernum 3: Ruined World is an epic, indie fantasy role-playing adventure with many hours of gameplay. Explore an enormous world that evolves as time passes. Towns are destroyed. Refugees flee. Disasters happen.

Your people long to escape from their underworld prison, but the surface world is being destroyed. Fight plagues of bizarre monsters and win your freedom. Enjoy an intricate tactical battle system with multitudes of abilities, character traits, and unique magical artifacts.

Avernum 3: Ruined World features:
  • Epic fantasy adventure with over 60 hours of gameplay. Explore an enormous underworld and a huge surface continent.
  • Rich game system with over 60 spells and battle disciplines and a multitude of beneficial character traits to choose from.
  • Well over 100 towns and dungeons, which change as time passes. Cities crumble as the monster plagues advance.
  • Fight to save the world. Or don’t! Do odd jobs. Be a bounty hunter or merchant. Buy a house.
  • Unique races and settings make Avernum different from any adventure out there.
  • Over 100 side quests and hundreds of magical artifacts.
The story of Avernum 3 is self-contained, and previous experience with Avernum games isn't required.
The Steam page says the game is coming out on January 31 next year, but the trailer only says "Q1 2018". The former is more likely to be up-to-date, so we'll go with that.

EDIT: The Steam page now says the release date is "early 2018", so I guess not!

There are 34 comments on Avernum 3: Ruined World announced, coming Q1 2018

Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky and Feargus Urquhart reminisce about making Fallout 1 & 2 at Eurogamer

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Tue 12 September 2017, 00:30:44

Tags: Black Isle Studios; Fallout; Fallout 2; Fallout 3 (Van Buren); Feargus Urquhart; Interplay; Leonard Boyarsky; Obsidian Entertainment; Tim Cain

In the latest feature in the ongoing Obsidian media campaign, Eurogamer have published an interview they recorded with Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky, and Feargus Urquhart about the development of Fallout 1 and Fallout 2. Though it's really more of a panel than an interview. At 50 minutes long it's quite rambling, but with all three of them in the same room, a lot of fun anecdotes are shared that probably wouldn't have come up otherwise. You'll get a good sense of the timeline of the series' development and how the ideas behind it evolved. There's also a little bit about Van Buren at the end. Watch the video here:

Eurogamer were supposed to publish a condensed "list feature" with selected anecdotes from the interview alongside the full version, but it looks like that's been delayed for some reason. I wonder if we'll see more of Tim and Leonard this week?

There are 67 comments on Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky and Feargus Urquhart reminisce about making Fallout 1 & 2 at Eurogamer

Sun 10 September 2017
Details about Obsidian's cancelled Stormlands project revealed at Eurogamer

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Sun 10 September 2017, 23:47:41

Tags: Chris Parker; Feargus Urquhart; Microsoft; Obsidian Entertainment; Stormlands

Stormlands, also known as Project North Carolina, was a Microsft-published Obsidian RPG that was meant to be a launch title for the XBox One console. Its cancellation in early 2012 resulted in mass layoffs and nearly killed the company, setting them on the path to Kickstarter and their revival as the "nu-Obsidian" we know and love today. The name Stormlands was first revealed at Kotaku back in 2015, but very little was known about the game, other than that it later (kinda sorta) turned into what would become Tyranny. Today, in what is surely the most interesting reveal in the ongoing Obsidian media campaign, Eurogamer have published a special weekend feature about Stormlands, revealing what this unintentionally pivotal title was about for the first time. The article includes several screenshots from the game's pitch demo, which I'll include along with an excerpt:

[​IMG] [​IMG]
[​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

The demo, running on the Dungeon Siege 3 engine, is visually impressive, even now, several years and a new console later. There's a bruised peach tone to the otherworldly sky, which rumbles and crackles with storms while a haunting kind of Arabian music moans in the background. It reminds me immediately of Assassin's Creed or a Prince of Persia, with the main character, a man, wrapped in similar-styled clothes, a cloak slung over one shoulder. There's a brooding atmosphere, helped no end by the bodies a storm has entombed in the rocky mountainside around us.

We eventually come across a female character who was to be one of your companions. She takes her facial armour off before talking to us, which is a nice touch - it bugs me in other RPGs when characters waffle away like noisy, bobbing helmets. A classic dialogue screen of choices appears and the characters interact, fully voiced. On the horizon is a kind of castle we're aiming for and from which, by the demo's culmination, a huge enemy erupts. "That was the pitch that got us the project," says Urquhart as it ends.

He loads a Stormlands development milestone video on his screen afterwards, which revolves around combat and is narrated by one of the Stormlands team. This appears in grey-box form so there are no textures only a smooth grey skin coating everything - characters, enemies and terrain. In this video I see the character rolling to evade attacks, as in The Witcher, and teleporting short distances, as Ciri does in The Witcher 3. I also see a variety of acrobatic attacks used against a variety of enemies, from beast men to wraiths. Crucially I see companion moves too, special attacks you can trigger allies to perform - it would always be you and one other on a level. These companions and these special partner moves were to be a fundamental cornerstone of the Stormlands experience.

Clearly a lot of work had been done. What, then, went wrong? There was a disconnect, a juxtaposition between a dreaming Microsoft on one hand and an Obsidian who had to realise the ideas on the other. One moment Obsidian was talking to a Microsoft executive producer about doing co-op, the next minute a new executive producer was pitching million-man raids. "We look at something like that and it's like, 'Holy Jesus!'" says Urquhart.

But it's important to point out Obsidian never took the million-man raid idea literally, and never believed Microsoft, as ambitious as it was, meant it that way. "This happens with everything," he says. "We do this when we're talking to our people, we give them crazy ideas. The goal was to inspire us to come up with not that, but inspire us to think about how to incorporate all of these elements." It's like the story of the Sony boss running downstairs to the inventors' lair with a pack of playing cards and declaring, "I want a tape player I can stick headphones into that's this big!" and in doing so triggering the creation of the iconic Walkman.

Nevertheless the demands from Microsoft to reinvent the wheel were high. Kotaku writer Jason Schreier talks about Kinect-powered verbal haggling in Stormlands, in his new book Blood, Sweat and Pixels, which I heartily recommend. Chris Parker and Feargus Urquhart don't recall that exact feature when I talk to them but concede there were so many ideas it may well have been one. Ideas piled upon ideas and all the time the immovable deadline to be ready for Xbox One launch loomed closer.

Microsoft's answer? Throw more resources at it. "At some point Microsoft was saying 'maybe this needs to be an even bigger game'," Urquhart says. "'Maybe we just need to add a bunch more people onto it - maybe we don't have enough people to prototype all these crazy ideas we have.' Well no, actually that sounds terrifying, that sounds like a really bad idea for us to do."

"Sometimes adding people to something doesn't mean it's going to get done any faster," adds Chris Parker. "It's actually just going to be more complicated, more people running down the wrong path."

"I just wish I had flown out to Seattle and got a meeting with Don Mattrick and everybody else," says Urquhart, "and said, 'OK we all agree it would be good to have an RPG at or very close to the launch of Xbox One. We can make RPGs, it's been shown. These are the challenges we have on the table:

"Unreal 4 doesn't exist for the Xbox One yet. We can use Unreal 3 but Unreal's transitioning so that's not good, so we're using our own engine and it's doing great in certain ways but we still have to build it up in other ways. The second challenge is we've not done a lot of multiplayer stuff before. The next challenge is this is a launch title so that date, it's not a 'well if it ships here you're late but that's fine'. We're all doing this, and you guys are on board doing this, because you want it to be a launch title. How do we now make a game that is realistic within all those challenges?

"And I didn't do that," he says, "and that probably contributed to the game getting cancelled."
This ride isn't over yet. At the end of the article, the author lists Obsidian's current projects - Tyranny DLC, Pillars of Eternity II, Pathfinder Adventures, a new project that's just starting (ooh), and a "considerable something else". Which of course we know is a reference to Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky's mysterious secret project. Apparently there'll be more information about that next week, although I'd caution against expecting a full-blown reveal.

There are 33 comments on Details about Obsidian's cancelled Stormlands project revealed at Eurogamer

Chris Avellone on lessons learned and future plans at RPGamer

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sun 10 September 2017, 21:43:24

Tags: Chris Avellone; Obsidian Entertainment

There's an interesting new interview with Chris Avellone over at RPGamer. Not so much because it contains any new information, but because of its comprehensiveness. Over two years after his departure from Obsidian, it feels like Chris has his thoughts fully in order about the circumstances that led to that departure, and about what he's looking for now. It's not as abrasive as last year's infamous SugarBombed interview, but in its own way just as brutal. Here's an excerpt:

JS: I have read in interviews that it seems one of the reasons you left Obsidian was due to creative differences you had with management. First, is that correct? And if so, has going freelance helped to allowed you the creative freedom you desired?

: No, the departure was largely due to organizational and management aspects – not anything to do with the developers and folks who worked on the games. And please don't think this is somehow implying I'm a great manager, I'm not. I don't read tons of management books, I don't hang around with agents and business development reps, and I often feel lost around managers and CEOs because I don’t understand a lot of the jargon. In general, my management approach is more about establishing hierarchy, setting expectations, trusting people with the proper title and roles, giving consistent feedback (esp. positive feedback – which is more important when it isn't accompanied by negative feedback), don't play favorites or hire family/friends, and recognizing that if one doesn't have enough money and one doesn't have enough time to make a good game, figure out (1) how it got to that point so you don't repeat it, and (2) what can be done right now to fix both for the sake of a project – even if it means personal sacrifice of time, and your own funds to make a good game.

In terms of freedom, we did get a chance to work on a range of projects and pursue a few of our own IPs. But obviously, there’s things you are never able to do while full-time at a company, there are people you aren't allowed to work with, people you can no longer work with that got laid off, companies you can't collaborate with (pretty much almost all of them), and franchises you'll never be able to contribute to – including genres you can't contribute to, either, because that's not the studio expectation or specialty. Also, it was rare to have a chance to work with the same company twice (to completion), so it was difficult to build a lasting relationship.

Freelancing doesn't fix all these issues, but it fixes a lot of them — there's much more power over your responsibilities, how much you can affect change, the type of work you can choose and the expectations for that work, and a wide range of people, franchises, and genres you can work with. Not only have I worked on more projects in the last two years since going freelance, but I've learned more than I ever did in the last ten years as well. And even better, companies come back to you for more work because you did a good job for them the first time.

Again, I don't have a personal problem with devs at any place I've worked at – some of them I've worked with for over 15 years, and I remain in contact with many of them and see them frequently (sometimes out in the freelance world as well). I wish them all the best.

JS: Do you have any regrets going solo? Would you be open to joining another studio full-time again?

: Family matters preclude me from being able to join a studio full-time (it was much the same thing at the end of Obsidian, which fueled the departure). Although, honestly, while I've worked with a number of studios I admire, I'd rather try my hand at making my own first, although it'd be structured differently than most other game studios.

As for regrets going solo? None. If anything, I work with more people now than I did before, but the structure is clearer (hierarchy, responsibilities, titles, contractual awareness), and I get to choose my work based on what interests me. I'm a little disappointed in myself because I should have done it years ago. I was tempted to do it when I resigned from Black Isle (I got a very brief gig with Snowblind on Champions of Norrath, and that brief glimpse should have been a big neon sign that life's better on the other side).

It's my fault for being afraid, though, I think I had different expectations of what an owner was and also, I was too scared of not having the "standard trappings" of a job without realizing the drawbacks that come with that. In the digital age now, it's even more of a drawback, and I think it's more expensive for companies in the long run.

JS: Have you had a chance to play any of these games yourself? What feedback you would give for elements that could be improved on? What are they doing right?

: I've played all the ones you've mentioned, sure. Any challenges Divinity had from the first one are being addressed in the second – and then some (gamemaster mode, party members with conflicting agendas, etc.). Their turn-based combat is smooth, by the way.

I do think the nature of isometric games carries certain challenges in terms of technical improvement, but often, I think more interesting innovations have to come in customization, setting, and systems, both mechanical and narrative – if you’re not doing much new in those departments, then you might want to re-examine your design.

Also, a lot of it is listening to the audience and what they want and ask for rather than dismissing things they want that have been in previous games they enjoyed. Ex: Being able to customize and mod the game as much as possible without roadblocks? Sure. (And developers should support this, as this will add longevity to the game, and see ideas you'd never even realize come to fruition.) Gamemaster mode? Sure. Multiplayer that doesn’t sacrifice the single-player narrative? Sure. Deeper and more integrated companions? Sure. Other aspects are managerial – the content is only part of the equation.

First, one problem ends up being that developers want to make too much content (or make too many promises they can't support financially), without realizing what that extra content does to the fun and quality of a game. I've been guilty of this, for certain, so please don't think I'm claiming otherwise. To this day, I still have to remind myself that, "I'm a game developer, I will always make games, and that means, I can still 'cut' things and they won't be lost – they're there for the next game, but let's focus on making this game fun." The problem can also come when developers cling too tightly to an aspect of a game, and even when the signs are on the wall that it's very unlikely to get done, they still hold on to it, or still want to discuss it, even though it becomes more impractical by the day.

The second challenge is managing that content – and that means editing, subtracting, and making game spaces and gameplay systems more convenient to play rather than filled with arbitrary filler and challenges – even game systems need an editor (a content editor, not a toolset, although a good toolset helps, too). Also, in terms of management, is the ability to recognize when there's too much content, or if the nature of a developer's "fix" to get something perfect is really the province of that department, or if it's something that can easily be fixed with story and lore. It's a little hard to explain, but I am genuinely one of those people who believe that the writer can fix this; we can. But, we might need some time and trust. ;)

JS: Can you share what you are working on currently, or any future projects you will be attached to in the future?

: A lot were mentioned already in the opening, and the others I can't talk about yet to keep the secrets (even though I REALLY WANT TO). Keep the eye on the horizon, as I can guarantee that at least one of them in particular, people are going to be pleasantly surprised (probably more about the title than my presence), and it's definitely something that wouldn't have been possible if I was full-time at a company.
Hmmm, I wonder what he's talking about at the end there. Could it have something to do with this?

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Sat 9 September 2017
Obsidian Media Blitz: Fallout: New Vegas and Alpha Protocol Retrospectives

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sat 9 September 2017, 22:00:08

Tags: Alpha Protocol; Chris Parker; Fallout: New Vegas; Feargus Urquhart; J.E. Sawyer; Matt MacLean; Obsidian Entertainment; Sega

We end the week with a couple more features from the ongoing Obsidian media campaign. First, another interview at USgamer. It's a 27 minute chat with Feargus Urquhart and Josh Sawyer about Fallout: New Vegas, a game that has become recognized as a modern classic in the wake of Fallout 4's release. Not as interesting as last week's Pillars of Eternity II interview, but Feargus does offhandedly reveal that he's been replaying New Vegas recently for Obsidian's secret project (which isn't Fallout!). I guess that tells us something about what sort of game it's going to be. The interview starts at 36:05.

On the same day, Eurogamer published an extensive retrospective of Alpha Protocol, Obsidian's flawed espionage-themed RPG that has also acquired a kind of cult classic status. The retrospective confirms many of the rumors that have been floating around for years about the game's troubled development. It also reveals that Obsidian had originally planned to make a deal with Sega to keep the Alpha Protocol intellectual property, but were ultimately unable to do so because of the cancellation of their Seven Dwarfs RPG. Here's an excerpt:

With rolled up sleeves and gritted teeth Obsidian finished Alpha Protocol and, according to the team in front of me, did so in time for the advertised October 2009 release. "We were set to ship at the end of 2009," Parker says. "The game was basically done to ship in 2009." Why, then, was Alpha Protocol delayed until May 2010? "It slipped into 2010 for reasons we'll never be able to answer in this room. They [Sega] held it until 2010," he says.

But that was OK wasn't it? It meant Obsidian had more time to polish, more time to fix bugs. Well no. "We had 20 people fixing bugs on the product and they were all going to be done by the end of September," Parker recalls. "But that was when they said, 'We're not going to ship it this year any more,' so the team went to 10 and fixed bugs through to the early calendar year. And then it sat around for around six months."

The team at Obsidian was - and still is by the sound of it - confused. They knew there were bugs in the game and didn't understand why they couldn't use the delay to address them. "We've come this far, how do you guys just leave it in the can and not put it directly to the shelves?" Matt MacLean remembers thinking. "Why don't we use this delay to fix more bugs?"

Presumably - and I've asked Sega for comment - Sega moved Alpha Protocol to avoid other big game releases. In autumn 2009 there was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Uncharted 2. Then in early 2010 there was Mass Effect 2 ("oh dammit - we're going to have to follow Mass Effect 2?" was Obsidian's reaction) Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Conviction. You can see Sega's thinking.

Regardless, May 2010 rolled around and Alpha Protocol's release neared. Obsidian knew the game wasn't perfect but was proud of what had been made. "We always talk about how we think a game is going to rate before it launches," Chris Parker says. "We all expected [Alpha Protocol] to land around 80. We knew it had some issues, we understood all of that, but we thought if people could just get over those things the content would pull through.

"When it launched and it did significantly worse... it was pretty disheartening."

But as time passed, opinion began to change. People looked beyond the jankiness and began to appreciate the web of reactivity and choice and consequence Obsidian had spun. Here was a game which could look very different based on decisions you'd made. "There was one particular cutscene at the end that had so many character combinations in it it took probably 20 days of work time to do," Tyson Christensen says.

[...] And it's for these reasons and more people want an Alpha Protocol 2. "We finished a complete pitch for Alpha Protocol 2," Chris Parker says. "It's a pretty detailed pitch about 35-40 pages long. A lot of it was to do with fundamentally revisiting some of the gameplay systems to get some of the jankiness out of them and shore them up overall. I know the intention was to focus on reactivity because we knew that was one of the things people loved the most.

"I remember there was this idea I didn't think we could ever pull off. It was this choice and consequence web people wanted to have in the interface so you could see your choices and how they spider-webbed through [everything]. There were so many ways to play through the first game I don't think we could ever do that in the second one, but that was an idea people really wanted to pursue."

But Obsidian cannot make Alpha Protocol 2 without Sega sanctioning it, because Sega owns the game, the intellectual property, and when I asked Sega it didn't sound like an AP sequel was part of any kind of plan. But Sega almost didn't own the IP. The real kicker in all of this - the absolute heart-wrencher - is Obsidian almost did. What scuppered it was Disney cancelling the Seven Dwarves Snow White spin-off Obsidian was making after Neverwinter Nights 2.

"When the Dwarves thing happened we were practically done with an agreement with Sega to do Alpha Protocol," Feargus Urquhart says, "but what this cost us - Dwarves getting cancelled and that contract - was the Alpha Protocol IP. Having to get that contract signed right away... Originally we were going to own the Alpha Protocol IP."
And so ends another week of Obsidian media blitzing. I wonder how much longer this is going to continue?

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Thu 7 September 2017
Tyranny: Bastard's Wounds Expansion Released

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Thu 7 September 2017, 21:10:26

Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; Paradox Interactive; Tyranny; Tyranny: Bastard's Wound

Today sees the release of the Bastard's Wound expansion for Tyranny, Obsidian's 2016 RPG where evil famously won. It's an unexpected expansion for an underperforming off-brand game, and even in the middle of a full-fledged promotional campaign for their company, Obsidian's developers didn't seem to know what to say about it. Well now it's here, so we can make up our own minds. Here's the release trailer and overview:

Experience a new chapter of Tyranny, the critically-acclaimed role-playing game (RPG), in Bastard’s Wound, a new expansion that builds upon the game’s compelling story. Tyranny, an original RPG from Obsidian Entertainment, invites the player to make their mark on a world conquered by evil, and the Bastard’s Wound expansion opens up a new area of the Tiers where refugees from the war-torn world have established a haven in secret.

Delve deeper into the mysteries of Terratus as you bring Kyros' justice (or your own version of it) to a new corner of the Tiers. In addition to the new region, Bastard's Wound gives you a chance to learn more about your party in a trio of companion quests featuring Lantry, Verse, and Barik.

Bastard’s Wound will feature:

A Refuge from Kyros:
Players will explore an all-new section of the world, centered around an illegal settlement of those who have fled the devastation of the war. What sentence will you mete out to the refugees?

Companion Quests:
Learn more about Verse, Barik, and Lantry in new quests and interactions to earn their loyalty or enmity. What does Barik truly look like under his armor?

Loyalty and Service: Bastard’s Wound will arrive alongside a free update to Tyranny, including new voice-acting, expanded content in the game’s third act, and an all-new path to an unseen ending. What fate awaits those who remain truly loyal to Kyros?
The expansion has gotten a few reviews. As you'll see, the overall reception is decidedly mixed:

Some of the reviewers like it more and some like it less, but most seem to agree that it's small and inconsequential. Clearly, Bastard's Wound is not what's going to transform Tyranny from a black sheep to the cult classic it hoped to be. Oh well. If you want to try it anyway, the expansion is available now on Steam, GOG or directly from Paradox for $15. The base game is also currently on sale with a 50% discount, although I understand the new content added in the aforementioned free update is nothing too major.

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Obsidian Media Blitz: Josh Sawyer and Feargus Urquhart Interviews

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Thu 7 September 2017, 20:33:44

Tags: Feargus Urquhart; J.E. Sawyer; Obsidian Entertainment

After taking a break for the weekend, the Obsidian media campaign continued this week in full force. There was a rather pointless interview with Feargus Urquhart at VG247, and an interesting but esoteric feature about the graphics in Obsidian's new isometric games at Rock Paper Shotgun. Once again, it was up to USgamer's Kat Bailey to deliver something more meaty - another massive interview with Josh Sawyer. It's a biographical piece that covers Josh's entire life and career, the companies that he's worked at, the games that he's made and the lessons that he's learned. It's incredibly long, so I'll just quote a couple of select bits from it:

I'm not a designer by any means, but I used to make missions and that kind of thing. I would also play the occasional tabletop game, and it did get me thinking in kind of game design terms. Was that the same for you?

JS: Yeah, very much so. I started thinking like, "I don't really like how these rules encourage this behavior or how these rules discourage this a cool and fun behavior." Or, "I don't really understand what this rule accomplishes, like why is this rule here? What good does it do?" That's when I started just modifying rules, just sort of saying to the players, "Hey, I'm going to change this. Does anyone really care?" Sometimes they cared, most of the time they were like, "No, that's fine." Sometimes it was to their benefit and so they were like, "Oh great, sure, change whatever you want.

Then in college, I played a lot more tabletop games. Played GURPS, played Vampire, played Legend of the Five Rings, played a lot of this stuff and so I was getting exposure to different mechanics that were just fundamentally really different from AD&D's. Then I started thinking, "Oh, okay, so this is another way that you can do things and this is what this accomplishes and this is what this really doesn't accomplish," or, "These are the problems that arise in something like Shadowrun." People joke about rolling 20 six-sided dice to do things.

Also, a friend and a classmate of mine, Jer Strandberg, was designing his own roleplaying game and he wanted playtesters. I signed up to just break the rules. I would be the guy who said, "Hey Jer, you know if you do this then you can basically break the game," and he's like, "I don't think that's true," and I'm like, "Here we go, my friend." I'd start building the characters. "Okay, okay, okay, you proved the point, you proved the point!" It wasn't to do anything malicious, it was literally to help him. I said, "There is a structural problem here."

College was when I started developing my own tabletop roleplaying game and playing with my friends. I ran a campaign for a few years and that was really complicated, but it also showed because in my mind, being a young amateur game designer, I was like, "Oh, I want to simulate things more, I want it to be more realistic." But in doing that I also saw, "Oh, this can really slow the game down, there are drawbacks to doing this."

I think that's when I started to understand that design is less about coming up with a perfect decision. Like, "Oh, this is the perfect answer to the problem." It's more about what compromises you are willing to deal with, because there are really tradeoffs to almost any decision you can make. There are people that you're going to make happy, people who are not going to be happy, things that you're going to accomplish, things that you're not going to accomplish, things that you're going to cause to happen that are negative, but you have to weigh them against, "Well, that's a negative, but I think that overall accomplishes something good, so I'm willing to accept that."

Even as an amateur designer I was starting to get a picture of design as about deciding what you want to do. Like fundamentally at a high level, "What am I trying to accomplish with these rules, these characters, these systems," and then thinking about, "Okay, if this what I'm trying to do, how can I get there?" Constantly reevaluating and saying, "Am I still really getting to where I want to go or have I gone astray?" That helps redirect me into hopefully something better.

What was the number one thing that you learned from working with Chris Avellone?

JS: I would say it's thinking about what the player wants to do. There's pictures of Chris around the office with a speech bubble that says, "Can I make a speech check here? Because I really want to make a speech check."

The idea is like if a NPC says something, imagine if you're sitting at a table. You have to write the possibilities of what the player can say. If an NPC is a jerk, think about, "Okay, well how is a player going to want to respond? How are different players going to want to respond? Is the player going to want to slap this character? Is the player going to want to take the high ground and be above it all? Are they going to be quiet and just accept it? Or are they going to want to do something else?" Also like, "Oh, if there's a quest that presents this thing, does that sort of beg, 'Oh, I'm a character with these skills and that makes me want to do these things?'"

He was always the guy who was pushing for us as designers to find ways to respond. Not only to give players opportunities to slap the guy who makes fun of you, but also saying, "Hey, if you have this skill in the game, if you have electronics in the game, you have to find ways to bring electronics to the surface and let a character who specializes in electronics feel like they are a cool character." He reinforced that a lot.

Sometimes when we would play through games, he would make a character with an odd build that would seem kind of unusual and he would say, "Why can't I use these things," which is a good point. Again, if you make a character that's built in a certain way, if the player doesn't have some opportunity to really shine and go, "Ah yes, finally, all those points I put into doctor make me feel like I'm really cool," then that sucks. It feels like a huge letdown.
On the same day, Rock Paper Shotgun published an interview of their own with Feargus. It's about Obsidian's relationship with publishers, a topic he's much more qualified to speak about than what he was asked about in the VG247 interview. Since I've run out of room here, I won't post a quote, but I thought the part about how crowdfunding experience has improved Obsidian's interaction with publishers was interesting.

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Wed 6 September 2017
Pathfinder: Kingmaker Kickstarter Update #41: Chris Avellone Companion Design Guide, Part Two

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Wed 6 September 2017, 22:17:55

Tags: Chris Avellone; Owlcat Games; Pathfinder: Kingmaker

Chris Avellone has published the second and final part of his companion design guide in the new Kickstarter update for Pathfinder: Kingmaker. If the first part of the guide was a free-form checklist of various qualities that a good companion should satisfy, then the second is a more straightforward overview of the process of designing and implementing an Avellonian companion. Character arcs are key. I quote:

First off, if you play rogues and were taken aback at my blatant discrimination of the thief class in Part 1 – I deserve it. I even have an apology written and ready to go, but your rogue will have to find a way to steal it from my dungeon of deathtraps, since I never give away an apology easily especially to some filthy rogue. (Although at some point, I should do a blog about rogues, I have a lot of pent-up frustration there.) And by the way, while I’m at it (referencing Part 1 of this companion update), players choosing rogues and mages is one of the reasons for providing tanks and healers early as companions to act as walls/distractions for your enemies – the tanks absorb the damage and draw fire while you get schwifty with the backstab and of course, the healers are there to mop up all the blood that usually results. ​

Anyway, enough about that – today, let’s discuss change. And companions. Companion change. Should they?

So companions don’t have to change. They can be mysteries you unlock (or mysteries you can’t). They can advance the plot in ways when other NPCs in the world simply won’t do. They may be an emotional rock you can always rely on to act a specific way in specific situations. They can be golems, robots, undead, dogs, or dire wolves (although even dire wolves can change, as proved in a certain popular TV series about thrones and gaming).

However, it’s often better if companions evolve or change in some way – even for the worse – based on your (the player) actions. Maybe you, through example or action, made their lives better. Maybe you left them in a grave – and then resurrected them as an undead. Maybe you taught them to break through some mental block, doubt, or unhealthy obsession. Maybe you caused them to doubt or develop unhealthy obsessions, but you’re both fine with that because now you have a dependent addict as a sycophant that you can count on for emotional support on rainy days. Maybe you had to sacrifice them for the greater good. Whatever the change is, it heightens the role-playing experience. And it may be telling about what kind of person you and your player character are by the companion choices you make.

So what’s the process? Well, we start with the system bits, as described in Part 1. Class, race, rough stats (and also where the companion is found and if their joining the party is optional), alignment, and often the deity the character worships in Pathfinder – essentially, the basics.

From the basics, a paragraph summary is drafted that gives the high-level pitch for the character – the character’s background in broad strokes: what drives them, how they interact with other characters, what will players enjoy about this companion, what will they remember, and what are the big end states for the character – and yes, believe it or not, this is a lot, but we try to keep this short and to the point. The reason is because an excess of detail at this stage can waste time and potentially cause too much attachment to the details as well on all sides – either positive or negative. As a result, the first step is to paint the overall picture, see if it strikes a chord with the team and the Backers, and then move on to increasing stages of detail with the companion. It’s a lot like making a narrative sculpture – chiseling away at the block bit by bit.

Next comes establishing the details of the companion’s development arc. When doing a companion arc, we do it within the framework of an outline that mirrors the chapters of the game. This includes details on what do we want the player to feel toward the companion at each stage, what does the companion feel or emote at each stage (both internal and external), what significant change or evolution occurs in a chapter (if any – sometimes it’s escalation of a character’s trait in either a bad or good way), and what do we see the character’s branching paths being – even if they leave the party, we want the player to understand why the companion left and attach significance to that event. This outline also includes what role the player assumes or can assume in each of these events – are you helpful, apologetic, sacrificial, pragmatic, or uncaring? As the descriptors indicate, this isn’t always a binary choice, and it’s often affected by things you’ve done previously with the companion in earlier chapters – or haven’t done.

We coordinate with audio and the voice casting department during this stage as well – and the concept artists. We establish the adjectives of the character, provide a range of sample lines, and then do auditions to see who hits the right tone for the character (note that sometimes an actor’s delivery can be so unexpected, it’s possible that a voice actor can change a character’s personality, and we’ll write the character with the actor’s voice and personality in mind – this occurred when working with James Urbaniak in Fallout: New Vegas: Old World Blues, for example).

After we establish this arc, tone, and run some auditions, we run internal critiques, kick a few iterations around until we think it’s ready to be shown to Paizo and see what they think. Paizo is easy to work with, so this usually isn’t a huge discussion. No chairs are thrown. (Unless we think throwing chairs would be fun to do, then all bets are off.)

After the approval stage – we take that outline “skeleton” (if you will), then add the organs to it, taking this skeleton of stats and high-level progression and breathing the personality into it. Sometimes people are surprised a designer waits until this stage to really start writing, but I believe it is the best time to find the soul of a character – after you’ve established the systemic foundation and have an idea of where the companion starts and ends – it informs everything about your word choice, tone, and more concerning the character.

And that’s a slice of the companion design process – hope you found this interesting. On my end, I keep forgetting how much pre-production work is involved before you really start writing, so detailing it all out is a good exercise to understand just how crazy narrative designers can be. But we do our best to make great companions that you’ll love and remember – or despise, for all the right reasons.
And that's it, I guess. We now return to our regularly scheduled program.

There are 1 comments on Pathfinder: Kingmaker Kickstarter Update #41: Chris Avellone Companion Design Guide, Part Two

Bard's Tale IV Kickstarter Update #38: Implementing Grid Movement

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Wed 6 September 2017, 18:59:35

Tags: Bard's Tale IV; InXile Entertainment

We interrupt our regular schedule of successive Obsidian and Larian news items with an unexpected new Bard's Tale IV Kickstarter update. This update introduces Greg Underwood, the game's senior programmer and an oldschool Bard's Tale fan. After introducing himself, he goes on to describe how the team have been implementing an oldschool feature - grid-based movement.

What are the duties of a Senior Programmer on Bard's Tale IV? Well, it varies a lot from day to day. A lot of the code I’m working on is plumbing-level stuff – handling loading and in-memory storage of game data, building the components we’ll use to make the puzzles and traps in game (kind of like Lego-bricks for code), save and load of game data, etc. I also range up to do some UI implementation or bolt in the occasional player ability. Another aspect of my job is to act as a voice for the fans on the team – my experience as a player and fan of the original games is part of why they hired me. And so far, they’ve been great about listening to my suggestions and working to incorporate them. A few of those are in the works and today I'd like to introduce you to the first returning mechanic: grid movement.

RPGs back in the day were built on a grid, both because it was familiar (via table-top games like D&D) and because computers and software wouldn’t be able to handle proper 1st person free movement for another 10 years or so. Early RPGs like The Bard’s Tale not only used a grid, but the fact that it was a grid was often part of the puzzle of the game. You knew there were hidden areas on the map because it was a grid and your careful mapping (on graph paper, no less! No automappers yet) shows there’s a spot you can’t see how to get to. That’s an aspect we wanted to bring forward into this new Bard’s Tale game, so supporting a grid-based movement mode has always been a high priority.

However, time has moved on and we want to take advantage of the many benefits of free movement, too. For instance, it allows for more natural, organic, outdoor areas. It also helps areas you wouldn’t think of as being overly organic or natural, like castle or dungeon interiors. A nicely laid out building interior has a lot more soft corners and curves to it than you’d at first think based solely on the floorplan. More importantly, while parts of the building align on a grid seldom do level designers align the entire floorplan to a grid. Finding a system that works with both a free-flowing world and grid based movement presents some interesting challenges. Take for example this screenshot of the interior of one of the castles.

As you can see, the floor plan might be a straight hallway with 90 degree turns, but the art team has done their job in decorating the area and making it feel lived in. This landing with columns, candle stands, benches, and the stag statue create various obstacles to the movement grid system (visualized here as black squares with the yellow arrows connecting them). This layout is a first pass, partially automatically generated using a system I built to take some of the workload off our designers. This allows us to spend more time later on fine-tuning the level to our satisfaction.

You can see how the grid of nodes coming up the stairs wouldn't work well continued down the area between the columns. We will most likely adjust the grid to have a single path go down the center of the columns, and it may or may not line up cleanly to let you walk between the columns in grid movement mode (I've drawn the likely path in red below).

Another concern is how combat relates to movement nodes. A natural assumption is that combat can only happen on a movement node, but movement nodes and combat placement have somewhat conflicting requirements. Movement needs to feel regular and natural, following halls and turns. Combat needs to be placed such that all enemies can line up on their combat gird positions and not be placed inside of a wall. So we decided we needed to split out a separate combat placement grid from the movement grid. I then built tools to help identify if a given combat placement would have concerns with overlapping props or be too close to a wall. This lets the art and design teams go through a level and adjust the placement or collision settings on various objects and make sure there are viable combat start positions available.

Here is an example of the movement grid (changed to green lines here) and combat grid (red, with obstructions noted by the yellow lines). This particular area obviously still needs some attention from level design and art to clean up so combat can be sure to have enough space to start.

As you can see, even with a tool that generates nodes for you, there's still a fair bit of work to make it all fit and feel just right, something worthy of those players who remember the graph paper days. This is just some of what I've been working on for The Bard's Tale IV and I'm looking forward to talking about more in the weeks and months to come.
Well, okay, better than nothing I guess. The update also has some more photos from E3, but there's still nothing about Techland, only a mention of "behind-the-scenes meetings" with unnamed "business partners". Hmmm.

There are 1 comments on Bard's Tale IV Kickstarter Update #38: Implementing Grid Movement

Sun 3 September 2017
Divinity: Original Sin 2 Gameplay Footage on Twitch PAX West 2017 Broadcast

Preview - posted by Infinitron on Sun 3 September 2017, 23:52:52

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios

Divinity: Original Sin 2 may be less than two weeks away from release, but Larian aren't missing any opportunity to promote it. While Swen himself couldn't make the trip, designer Kieron Kelly was at PAX West in Seattle this weekend to talk about the game. Yesterday he appeared on Twitch's daily broadcast, where he was lucky enough to be hosted by somebody who actually knew what she was talking about. The eleven minute stream is all about the Undead racial abilities introduced in the recent Kickstarter update, with gameplay featuring the undead origin character Fane.

By the humble standards of PAX, a very good demonstration. The most notable reveal is that Fane's Mask of the Shapeshifter artifact is capable of transforming not just undead characters, but any character in your party. The infiltration possibilities are endless.

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Sat 2 September 2017
Obsidian Media Blitz: Pillars of Eternity II and Tyranny: Bastard's Wound Interviews

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sat 2 September 2017, 01:51:55

Tags: J.E. Sawyer; Matt MacLean; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire; Tyranny; Tyranny: Bastard's Wound

The video of Eurogamer's visit to Obsidian published earlier this week turned out to be only the first shot in a highly orchestrated ongoing media campaign, whose ultimate purpose is still unclear. It was followed up with a fan contest and an interview with Feargus about Obsidian's rejection of the opportunity to make a Game of Thrones RPG back in 2005, also at Eurogamer, a history of Black Isle Studios at USgamer, and interviews with Feargus about choice & consequence and Alpha Protocol 2 at VG247. None of them were particularly newsworthy, with the Black Isle article coming closest if you're not familiar with the old stories.

Today though we've gotten something more meaty. USgamer have a 40 minute interview with Josh Sawyer about Pillars of Eternity II, recorded by their interviewer Kat Bailey during her visit to Obsidian in early August. The interview starts with some honest talk from Josh about the first game's flaws and a description of the sequel's premise and themes, before going in-depth on some of its new features - multiclassing, companion relationships, character import, and more. There's lots of new information about the mechanics of the game's ship system. Coolest of all, there's the reveal that Obsidian have contracted none other than the Codex's own sser to help with the writing, on account of his work on Battle Brothers. Oh, and Tony Evans too. Here's the interview audio (starts at 18:40):

And that's not all. Rock Paper Shotgun have published an interview of their own with Matt MacLean about the upcoming Bastard's Wound expansion for Tyranny. Much of the interview is actually dedicated to recapping the development of the base game, but there is some new information as well.

Another problem that Obsidian needed to solve was – in a society where evil has already won, how do you then give the player something to do? The solution here was to turn the knives inwards, to have the fighting shift into infighting as thoughts began to turn away from final victory, and more toward who would reap the most spoils. But this led to another issue; the need to contextualise the maelstrom of inter-factional politics that the player was about to be thrown into.

The result of this was the Conquest mode, a text adventure that takes place before the game begins proper, which provides an overview of how the war played out, and let’s the player make a few choices that influence how various factions perceive them as the game begins. Interestingly, Conquest mode was one area of Tyranny that proved difficult to build, and one that MacLean worried, “for the length of development”, would go down badly with players.

“An earlier version of the conquest paired attribute and skill gains to the conquest, and a part of me really enjoyed how the past-defines-your-training vibe meshed with the game’s learn-by-doing system. But it was a level of complexity too far. Players would find themselves not wanting to select things because the story was good but the systemic gains weren’t,” he says.

Although MacLean feels Conquest mode was ultimately successful. One issue that the team didn’t fully solve was blending the focus on evil with the epic fantasy story that is generally expected of an isometric RPG. MacLean states the team “wanted the players’ choices to matter”. But this meant creating a huge amount of content that could only be explored fully with multiple play-throughs, and MacLean admits that “not many gamers have the time for that much gaming.”

“While I love making choice-driven games with branching dialogue, ‘Next time, a linear game’ was a frequent mantra uttered when we found ourselves having to make short conversations many thousands of words long just to accommodate prior choice and conditions,” he adds.

Nevertheless, Obsidian has decided to further explore the world of Tyranny with an expansion – colourfully named Bastard’s Wound. For the DLC, Obsidian wanted to create something that would be of interest to Tyranny players both old and new. “The parameters for the DLC’s design were something that players not yet finished with the game could play, so that gave us the opportunity to add something we just never got around to making – an area accessible in Act 2 that you travel to on your own schedule and not based on exactly where the main story is pointing you next,” MacLean says.

The developers are tight-lipped on details of Bastard’s Wound story, although MacLean does say that the expansion is “less about the immediate conflict of the Disfavored versus the Scarlet Chorus and more about the ripples and consequences of the larger war.” But the expansion will add character-specific quests for three members of the player’s party, namely Barik, Lantry and Verse.

This is an aspect that the vanilla game was lacking, that more personal connection between your character and your party. However, these quests will be unrelated to the game’s core reputation system: “if we had placed something like loyalty or fear requirement for one of these quests, and you fire up a save game where you’ve already opted for the other thing and there’s no more conversation/game left to steer your way into the quests, you’d be rightly annoyed.”

Bastard’s Wound will also address some of the more general complaints about the vanilla game, one of which was an overemphasis on combat. “While adding a strictly pacifistic route through things wasn’t quite in keeping with the general vibe of Tyranny, Bastard’s Wound features quests with more optional violence,” In addition, Obsidian wanted to ensure that, when violence does happen in Bastard’s Wound, it’s better contextualised than it sometimes was in Tyranny. “We also wanted to have less situations where someone already hated you from prior events, bridges seemed pre-burned, and combat was inevitable,” he says.

It’s also worth noting that, alongside Bastard’s Wound, Obsidian will be making some tweaks to the vanilla game that will be available to everyone. “We’re doing a free update to the base game that adds and modifies a few things here and there,” MacLean says. This includes new voice-overs to parts of the game that were previously text-only, and the fixing of certain story “bugs” by adding new dialogues and conversations. “In short, we’ve been working on a lot of cool improvements that all players will be getting, not just those who get the DLC.”
Speaking of Tyranny, there was another livestream of the Bastard's Wound expansion on Paradox's Twitch channel today, this time with Obsidian developers in attendance. Watch me try in vain to get them to speak up about this media campaign about 16 minutes in. What more will we learn in the coming weeks? This seems way too big to be about a mere DLC.

There are 60 comments on Obsidian Media Blitz: Pillars of Eternity II and Tyranny: Bastard's Wound Interviews

Thu 31 August 2017
Divinity: Original Sin 2 Kickstarter Update #43: The Undead Revealed

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Thu 31 August 2017, 18:41:36

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios; Swen Vincke

Today's Divinity: Original Sin 2 Kickstarter update reveals the long-awaited details of the game's Undead race. Like vampires in the Elder Scrolls series, Rivellon's undead can't be seen in public without alarming people and must disguise themselves. At first, by hiding their skeletal faces and torsos, and later on by using a unique artifact called the Mask of the Shapeshifter to transform themselves. An undead character can be of any race, and is damaged by healing spells and healed by poison. The update also reveals Fane, Original Sin 2's Chris Avellone co-created undead origin character, who is unique in that he doesn't belong to one of the game's four playable races. He's the last of the Eternals, Rivellon's ancient precursor race, woken from his slumber after millennia - typical Avellonian stuff. All in all, the undead seem to be the apotheosis of Larian's focus on systemic depth, and so it's not surprising that they decided to design Original Sin 2's Collector's Edition box around them. All that and more in the update's accompanying video:

The Undead Will Rise!

The dead are finally here! You can customize your Undead in the character selection screen. You can give yours a beard, some cool jewels or even change the color of their bones. Which is cool, but also kind of weird. Just the way we like things! You can play an Undead of any race or gender your heart desires. Will you be an Undead Lizard? Undead Dwarf? Dare we say, an Undead Elf? It’s all up to you!

In addition to their good looks, the Undead have some very unique game mechanics in the world of DOS2. For example, they have the skill “Play Dead” in which they can pretend to be a corpse - a great way to get out of combat or avoid attention from patrolling guards. We can’t take all the credit for that one: the skill was inspired by community suggestions! Another racial ability they have is that they don’t need lockpicks to pick locks. They just use ye olde bones!

The Undead also heal via poison and are poisoned by healing potions. So, while your Undead can stroll through poison fog, they’re going to have a devil of a time fighting an AI smart enough to throw healing at it. (Sorry again about unleashing AI 2.0 on you guys because it is TOTALLY smart enough to do this.) You can also use the Zaikk’s Talon, a unique item found in the Hollow Marshes, to turn health potions into poison. Which is rude but hey, do what you like!

A very important thing to remember while playing an Undead is that you cannot just traipse about with your bony face free to the world. You’re a monster. A hideous, frightening monster! So cover your face. Or, consider ripping the face off of a nearby corpse to disguise yourself as someone of that race! The Mask of the Shapeshifter will allow you to take on the appearance of any mortal race you would like.

For example, you can shift to a Dwarf for better prices from a Dwarven merchant, or shift to an Elf to dine on a corpse and learn their memories with the Elven racial ability Corpse Eater. Multiple masks can be made, and they can even be used by other living characters to disguise themselves as other races, allowing them to approach situations in new ways.

Fane! I’m Gonna Live Forever!

But just who is Fane, the sixth and final Divinity: Original Sin 2 Origin character? We’ll tell you! But skip this section and scroll down to the Collector’s Edition header if you don’t want any spoilers!

As some of you may remember, famed RPG dev Chris Avellone worked with us to create this origin story as part of our Kickstarter stretch goals. Fane is a part of an ancient race that predates all of the currently living race: The Eternals. He was an eager and ambitious scholar, entombed by his elders for pursuing forbidden knowledge. Centuries passed, until one day an explorer opened Fane’s tomb… and, for his troubles, had his Source promptly devoured. Much less hungry and free to roam the land of Rivellon again, Fane has a lot to adjust to, as nothing is the way it was during his time.​

Simultaneously with the release of this update, a number of websites (Rock Paper Shotgun, PCGamesN, RPGWatch, TheSixthAxis) published their Original Sin 2 Gamescom 2017 previews. They contain this information, plus gameplay impressions. But in a few hours (21:00 CET) you'll be able to see some gameplay yourself on Larian's Twitch channel. Just two weeks left until release!

There are 63 comments on Divinity: Original Sin 2 Kickstarter Update #43: The Undead Revealed

Wed 30 August 2017
Eurogamer visits Obsidian Entertainment

Company News - posted by Infinitron on Wed 30 August 2017, 00:29:59

Tags: Feargus Urquhart; Obsidian Entertainment

Chris Bratt and Robert Purchese from Eurogamer visited Obsidian earlier this month. As part of that visit, Feargus Urquahart took Chris on an extensive guided tour through Obsidian's offices. He's a pretty entertaining host. Finally we get to see where the people we love (to hate) work and play. Watch for the Anthony Davis appearance at 14:35.

Eurogamer will be publishing several features related to Obsidian in the coming weeks. Judging by how studiously Feargus avoided straying into the Project Indiana area during the tour, I'm guessing it won't be a topic. The article does mention that the trip was funded by Paradox, so I assume at least one feature will be about the upcoming Tyranny expansion. Unless it's something bigger?

There are 34 comments on Eurogamer visits Obsidian Entertainment

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