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Interview with Josh Sawyer and Brandon Adler at Rock Paper Shotgun, continued

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Interview with Josh Sawyer and Brandon Adler at Rock Paper Shotgun, continued

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Tue 29 July 2014, 21:06:09

Tags: Brandon Adler; Darklands; Fallout: New Vegas; Josh Sawyer; Obsidian Entertainment; Paradox Interactive; Pillars of Eternity

As part of the recent Pillars of Eternity publicity blitz, Josh Sawyer and Brandon Adler were interviewed by Rock Paper Shotgun. The RPS guys are fond of splitting their interviews in half, and so they waited until today to publish its second and final part. In this segment of the interview, Josh talks a bit about Fallout: New Vegas, but quickly returns to the topic of Pillars. Here's an excerpt:

RPS: Do you do anything similar in the design of Pillars of Eternity? Is there a way to make those Infinity Engine style rules work with the themes and story?

Sawyer: I think it’s harder in a game like this. So many of the mechanics are very D&D-ish.

Early on, and this isn’t going to happen now, we had some ideas that people might still be interested in. We use souls, your own and other peoples’, as a justification or a reason as to why powers work the way that they do. But ultimately, many of the ways that those powers work, mechanically, are locked into existing ideas. They’re not necessarily executed exactly how you’ve seen before but we are a little limited in how we can build our classes because we want them to be understood by a D&D audience. We can’t go too heavy on the souls.

So we don’t move too far away. A lot of people will come to this game and make one character that they use in all of these kind of games. A sneaky rogue or an intelligent wizard. If we don’t support that kind of class, or make it play radically different than what the player is used to, it can be frustrating. Because this is a nostalgia-driven game, I think it’s important that we meet that expectation.

But in terms of the setting and narrative, we try to make sure that a lot of the quests, plotpoints and issues that your companions have revolve around the same themes. People who have issues with their identity or their relationship with the gods, and thinking about how souls should be used. These plotpoints are all tied together so that you can see that the issues are real, practical and pressing in the world.

RPS: There’s a huge amount of text, even in what I’ve seen today, and the storytelling seems to be more important than necessarily inventing new playstyles. Is it fair to say that a lot of the team’s work has gone into making as many approaches as possible work in the game, both in terms of roleplaying and skillsets?

Sawyer: In the good old days we just kind of wrote dialogue, and added options, and sometimes they were good, sometimes they were bad and sometimes they were meaningless (laughs). Over time, those dialogues got refined and sometimes that was done in ways that were productive and good, eliminating bullshit options, and trash options that were just bad writing or bad places to go.

But with that refinement there was also a very tight streamlining, so in some games it got to the point where everything except the one good and one bad option was lost. That felt wrong to me. I wanted to write dialogue in a way that gives the players a sense that they’re allowed a good range of expression without falling into approaches that are just the expected ones in any given circumstance.

How do we also make those choices feel like they have weight within the context of the game’s systems and mechanics. That’s why we have the reputation systems and why we don’t have a dialogue skill, we trigger things off your attributes, class, background and race. That way we get a broader spectrum of activity. It’s not a question of ‘do you have the speech skill?’, it’s a question of what class are you, what choices have you made?

If you’re in a conversation, Might may be important because you can try to intimidate someone with a show of strength, or you might want to use Dexterity to pick a pocket. Maybe you want to psych someone out by using Resolve, which is kind of a replacement for charisma, but it’s more a case of personal drive and intensity. Or maybe you use Intellect for a logical deduction.

So instead of needing a Speech skill or Charisma for cool dialogue options, we make sure there are plenty for musclebound bruisers as well. It’s not about building ‘The Speech Character’, it’s about letting players create the character they want to play, and making sure that the game has plenty of options and reactivity for that character.
Josh also has a bit to say about Obsidian's work with Paradox Interactive, and about his beloved Darklands.

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