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Chris Avellone Roundup: Tom Jubert Interview, Montreal International Game Summit Speech

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Chris Avellone Roundup: Tom Jubert Interview, Montreal International Game Summit Speech

People News - posted by Infinitron on Tue 12 November 2013, 18:45:27

Tags: Chris Avellone; Kickstarter; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; Planescape: Torment; Torment: Tides of Numenera; Wasteland 2

While reading up on the news of Chris Avellone's involvement with the upcoming Advanced Edition of FTL, I found a link to an interview with him from September, by FTL's main writer Tom Jubert. As this is a case of a writer interviewing another writer, the questions are more interesting than usual. Here's an excerpt:

What weren't you happy with in Planescape, and how is that influencing work on Tides of Numenera? And how do you say 'Numenera'?

It’s NEW-MEN-ERA. I could telepathically feel Monte Cook wincing every time I mispronounced it (which was a bonus), and I actually mispronounced it in one of the best takes of the Torment endorsement video. ;)

I thought the combat in Planescape was poor, there weren’t enough Planes to explore (we wanted more), and it could have used more fun dungeon and adventure locations as well. That said, Planescape taught me that you don’t always need to one-up the companion roster, one-up the inventory list, spell list, or any of the systems you’re being compared to as long as you set up the narrative and the world context to explain why and you’ll likely have a much better game for it.

Was I worried about the number of companions in Torment vs. Baldur’s Gate? Yep. Was I worried about the lack of inventory items and weapons you could equip? Yep. Was I worried about the character creation and lack of class options for the main character? Yep. But in the end, if you’re staying focused on making sure you’re providing a reason for all these elements (the companions only like certain weapons or can only logically use certain weapons – like teeth, it’s a more personal journey, you don’t become a priest because there’s a chance you were once a god yourself), no one really cares. And as long as you’re doing one thing really well (I’d argue in Torment’s case, that was the story and some of the game mechanic convention-breakers), that helps you stand out and carve out a game identity all its own.

In Numenera, Kevin Saunders (Project Lead) and Colin McComb (Lead Designer) are conscious of the original Torment’s shortcomings and its strengths, and combat and adventure are not downplayed in any of the design documents and discussions. I’ve also added my cautionary tales as well about player motivation and companion design, but Kevin and Colin already seem to grasp those points well, so it’s like preaching to the choir, really. Which is a good sign.

You've made a name with RPGs and dialogue trees. Do you ever want to try alternative narrative mechanics, or is this a path you're set on? If the latter, are further experiments like Alpha Protocol's dialogue system where you'd like to be, or are you content to further push the boundaries with the systems you have?

I think cinematic dialogue and menu-driven systems has put us in a dialogue cul-de-sac of diminishing returns on gameplay, and there’s more that can be done with dialogue systems, depending on the genre (Brian Mitsoda’s tension-driving, branching-but-linear-with-no-takebacks in Alpha Protocol I think very much complimented the espionage mechanics of the title).

Also, with our Aliens: Crucible dialogue system, we made a conscious effort to make sure the player could never take “refuge” in a talking head conversation – they should never feel safe, they should never feel like they couldn’t be attacked at any time in the environment... because, hey, that’s what Aliens is all about.

Usually the franchise ambiance or engine specs have been our guiding principles for dialogue system design, but there’s more room to grow. I’m really interested in helping develop the dialogue mechanics for Tides of Numenera, as the Numenera ruleset allows for some interesting speech–related applications that would work well in a new dialogue system.
In more recent news, MCA spoke at the Montreal International Game Summit today, where he had a lot to say about his work on Project Eternity, Wasteland 2 and Kickstarter in general. GamesIndustry has a summary:

Downscaling the team from creating fully rendered 3D environments like in Fallout: New Vegas to the isometric RPGs has been "incredibly refreshing," Avellone said. Having the smaller team size (20 instead of 70 or so) has empowered the developers they have to take on new duties and wear new hats.

As much as there have been differences in the development process, the general strategies remain the same. The team still prioritizes everything that needs to be added into the game. They prioritize how systems and powers work, how combat and navigation work before creating the levels and context of the world around them. That process of creating the levels is also unchanged, with the developers designing levels with flow charts to keep track of the players' paths through the game.

Moving on to Baldur's Gate homage Project Eternity, Avellone said the game has a lot in common with the old Infinity Engine games it was inspired by. However, the strategy has changed in number of ways. The Infinity Engine games were based on the Dungeons & Dragons universe, which meant there was only so much the developers could do to create lasting changes on the license. With Project Eternity, Avellone said the team is trying to create a franchise so it still has to be careful to leave things open for the future, but it is their franchise to shape as they decide best.

"We recognize that there are certain things we cannot do with a smaller team on these role playing games, and that's fine," Avellone said. "Because the entire game is not going to be voice acted, we need to approach the dialog as a reader would, as if they're going to be reading these games instead of listening to these games."

Eliminating the resource costs associated with customized animation and voice acting has also opened the writers up to create more sprawling dialogue trees, something Avellone said wasn't always possible with titles like Fallout: New Vegas.

"About two years ago, I would have said that trying to pitch an isometric role playing game was a pretty hard sell," Avellone admits. But thinks are changing. Words like "old school," "isometric," and "windows-focused" weren't very sexy for publishers. However, now that Kickstarter has shown there's a market for such titles, Avellone said publishers have been much more open to the idea. They know they won't get the next Call of Duty out of it, but these types of games can still provide a strong return and bolster a portfolio, Avellone promised.​

That concludes our daily Avellone update for today.

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