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Feargus Urquhart talks shop at GamesIndustry

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Feargus Urquhart talks shop at GamesIndustry

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Tue 19 July 2016, 01:54:44

Tags: Feargus Urquhart; Obsidian Entertainment

Two months ago, Obsidian Entertainment CEO Feargus Urquhart was a speaker at the Digital Dragons convention in Krakow, where he was interviewed by the representatives of various websites, including our own, and revealed that Pillars of Eternity 2 was in development. For some reason, it took GamesIndustry until today to post their interview with him. It's a more professionally-oriented piece, discussing Obsidian's past relationships with publishers and the challenges the company faces today. There are no real revelations here, but it does offer a more detailed look at some familiar Feargus themes. Here's an excerpt:

Q: For me, you were doing really interesting work in that period, on Fallout: New Vegas and Alpha Protocol in particular. Nevertheless, and I'm sure you're aware of this, Obsidian ended up with a reputation for bugs and technical issues. Is that a necessary consequence of towing the line, and working to imposed budgets and time-scales? These aren't simple games you're making.

FU: So, with Alpha Protocol, the challenge was that we weren't even totally sure what we wanted to make until, like, way into the game - and that's bad. You can do that with your own money; when you're doing that with someone else's money they're just getting mad, they're getting mad at you more and more and more. The story's bigger than that, but I think I'd go back to what I was just saying: you've gotta cut it early. For that reason, as a developer, you have to take it on yourself to prove your ideas quickly. You need to show yourself that you can make the game, that you understand the game.

It's too easy to not be critical. To not say, 'Okay, that all sounds wonderful, but what's the plan? Like, really, what is the plan?' That's where we've made big mistakes in the past: not holding to our plans. That doesn't sound like sexy development, right? But if we haven't proven it, let's know that now. Let's look at it and go, 'Oh, it's like an ugly little child. That's not good. So what do we do with it?' And it's too easy at that point to add just a little bit more here, and it'll be good, and everything will be fine. No. 'Should we cut it?'

I think publishers should kill way more games way earlier, but if we do that ourselves it makes us more reasonable about what we can actually accomplish early on. We weren't doing that, and that put pressure on our publishers.

Q: Isn't that the publisher's call anyway? You say more games should be killed earlier, but surely Obsidian wouldn't decide that.

FU: No, it wouldn't be my call, but we always should look at the fact of, 'Wouldwe kill this game?' It's nice if the publisher keeps on paying us for another year, but if we would kill it then it really should be killed. So back up from that: what are we doing today to make sure we can do what we want and have the game not be killed? We're now doing that on day 2, and not day 430.

That's what we did too much of before. We just kept on going, sweeping this and that problem under the rug - sweep, sweep, sweep, it's all fine. And you get to a point and it's screwed.

Q: Obsidian has been around for thirteen years now, and it would have been impossible to predict the ways the industry has changed in the time since you started. How has the reality matched up to your expectations back in 2003?

FU: I thought we would have our own engine at this point - and we tried. I thought we would have been purchased by now. I thought we wouldn't be as big as we are.

Q: The last two seem almost at odds with each other.

FU: Yeah, exactly. And the big thing I've learned from all that is, it's so hard to plan this stuff. If you told me four or five years ago that we'd be working on a free-to-play tank game, and our own crowdfunded IP, and that we'd shipped a South Park game - there was nothing in our business plan five years ago that said any of that. There isn't a single thing we're doing today that was in that business plan.

Q: So what do you want from the next 13 years? Do you still want to be independent?

FU: I am fine being independent in 13 years. I would be okay if we got purchased, but I would be fine independent. Ultimately, we need to be good at what we do. It goes back to what we were saying about things that are beyond our control. Well, there are things that are in our control, so let's not screw those things up.

We can keep doing great stuff with Eternity. I'd love to turn Eternity into more like a Skyrim product. I'd love to do a science fiction game. I just want to keep making role-playing games - I do, and the team does. Whether that's independent or not, making RPGs we can be proud of is the goal. And that's what I can look back on. We've been very proud of a lot of what we've done as a team.

Whether the Metacritic was 75 or 95, we've been very proud of what we've done.
Episodic Skyrim - the dream lives on. According to Feargus, one problem that Obsidian faces right now is that some of the Armored Warfare developers want to switch to RPG development after three or more years of working on the same game, but they've got nothing to switch to. Perhaps that will change as Pillars of Eternity 2 and whatever Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky are doing progress.

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