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Josh Sawyer on the Evolution of RPG Reputation Mechanics

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Josh Sawyer on the Evolution of RPG Reputation Mechanics

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Mon 6 April 2020, 00:41:50

Tags: Baldur's Gate; Darklands; Disco Elysium; Fallout; Fallout 2; Fallout: New Vegas; Josh Sawyer; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

Even before GDC 2020 was cancelled due to the coronavirus epidemic, Josh Sawyer had decided to boycott the event due to his increasing dissatisfaction with its speaker compensation and pricing model. From now on, he plans to speak directly to the masses and record a new talk every year about a design topic he finds interesting. His talk today was about RPG reputation mechanics, a topic he decided to address after experiencing the wonders of Disco Elysium. It begins with a historical overview of RPG reputation systems, from Darklands through Fallout 1 & 2, Baldur's Gate and Fallout: New Vegas. But the main event here is Pillars of Eternity II vs Disco Elysium.

Josh is clearly still upset about the failure of Deadfire's topic-based companion relationship system, which he says led to a combinatorial explosion in terms of the amount of work the writers had to do and could have easily been replaced with something simpler. It compares unfavorably with Disco Elysium's two reputation-like mechanics: the skill check modifiers you can acquire based on previous actions and the famous Thought Cabinet. Josh seems to be particularly fond of the former mechanic, viewing it as a way to avoid the excessive scope of an actual reputation score while still preserving some of its systemic abstraction. The Thought Cabinet is good because much of its reactivity is internal to the player character and thus easier to design, but it'd be hard to imitate without being accused of ripping the game off.

The lesson Josh has learned is that one must always remember that reputation mechanics are abstractions, and there's no point in designing an abstraction that becomes more complex than the underlying thing it's trying to model. It seems that he's concluded that the traditional Obsidian reputation system has reached a dead-end, and that it's time to step back a bit and experiment with mechanics that hew closer to standard scripted choice & consequence.

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