RPG Codex Interview: Adam Brennecke on Project Eternity
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee
on Fri 28 September 2012, 16:06:50
Tags: Adam Brennecke
; Obsidian Entertainment
; Pillars of Eternity
As most of you know, the folks over at Obsidian Entertainment are currently running a Kickstarter campaign
for an isometric party-based CRPG provisionally entitled "Project Eternity," with over $2 million already collected and 18 days still to go.
For this interview, we reached out to Adam Brennecke
, the project director on Project Eternity, to ask him about his job, the Kickstarter campaign, and the game itself.
RPG Codex: What does your position as the project director on Project Eternity entail, and what will it entail after the crowdfunding drive is over? What was your role in preparing for the Kickstarter campaign?
Adam Brennecke: The Kickstarter campaign has been a team effort! My contributions have been leading the team on the pitch video, the Kickstarter website, the concept of the project, and the rewards tiers. We are still waiting to assemble the team based on the final Kickstarter number, but when all of this is over in October I'll be acting as the co-project director on the game as well as the lead programmer.
RPG Codex: Can you tell us a bit about other Obsidian games you were involved with prior to Project Eternity and your role on them? In particular, you were the project director on a project back in May 2011 already. What was it?
AB: I've been credited with programming on KotOR II, NWN2 + Expansions, Fallout NV, and Dungeon Siege III. The project directing credits back in May were for the DS3 DLC, Treasures of the Sun, game. I've been here at Obsidian my entire career, and I love it here. It's been a great experience to learn from the best in the business, and to have a chance to work on so many great titles.
RPG Codex: When did you start preparing for the Kickstarter campaign, and what were the main points of debate and the major challenges involved in coming up with the campaign's concept? Were there any strong alternative ideas for this Kickstarter?
AB: We started working on the Kickstarter pitch a few months ago. Initially we had a brainstorming meeting with Chris Avellone, Feargus, Tim Cain, Darren Monahan, and Josh Sawyer, to toss around ideas on what we wanted to move forward with. We had a few different ideas, but one that we all were really excited about was revisiting the top-down isometric RPG, and we felt it would be a great fit for a Kickstarter too. After the meeting, I got working on the logistics of doing the Kickstarter, assembled a team, and started to prepare the pitch presentation.
RPG Codex: The budget of Obsidian’s other games has, I assume, been considerably higher than $1.1 million. Was there any hesitation about moving away from publisher-funded projects to a game with a much lower budget? Why did you set the initial funding goal at $1.1mil - would that really have been enough to develop the kind of game you wanted to make?
There were long discussions and meetings about the name, the concept of the world, and how to pitch the game - It's been an unusual (and sometimes scary) process, since these decisions are typically made during pre-production, but we had to go public with our ideas immediately.
AB: Yep, you are correct to assume that $1.1 million is very small compared to our larger titles, but we felt we could have made an enjoyable title with that amount of money. With this type of game we won't spend money on superfluous extras like cutscenes and next-gen graphics (although with that said, I think you all will be impressed when you see what we've been working on). These things can cost a lot of money, especially for games with larger scopes such as RPGs. Thankfully we can focus on the fun stuff, and devote all resources to gameplay.
RPG Codex: Project Eternity is different from other major kickstarted RPGs such as Wasteland 2 or Shadowrun Returns in that it is supposed to take place in a completely new setting. What influence do you think that has on the Kickstarter campaign? Can it be a benefit given today's "sequelized" market?
AB: I personally think it's great that we are doing something new. It's exciting that we can tell a new story, with all new characters. As a programmer and a fan of our games, it's always fun to see what our designers can come up with. It's one of our strengths as a studio, and now it's a great chance to do our own thing.
RPG Codex: When you say you're the point man on the project, does that mean you also oversee all systems design decisions and get to decide on the mechanics that designers suggest? What are the guidelines you have in mind when approving or rejecting the ideas that flow your way?
AB: My philosophy is to let the designers design because they are much better at it and I trust their decisions. My role is to make sure that they are staying true to the overall vision and plan. As a project director, I have a high-level view of the project across disciplines of art, design, and programming, and it's my job to make sure that all the departments are working well together. It's always a team effort though, and games are never designed by one person. It's a large collaboration from everyone on the team, and we are in constant discussion and debate to make sure we make the best game possible.
RPG Codex: From your own experience as a programmer at Obsidian, how different will this project be from the other games you worked on? As the future lead programmer on Project Eternity, what do you predict will be the main programming challenges involved in creating a game of this type?
AB: We have a good idea of the type of game we are making on day one, which makes programming go smoother. The programming team can hit the ground running and not spend months on R&D. Currently one of the challenges is to figure out how to capture the look and feel of the isometric games. We have a few programmers and artists working it out right now.
RPG Codex: Considering there are some extremely fine-tuned RPG systems available free of charge, such as Pathfinder OGL, why have you opted for the effort of creating your own system? What does this bring to the table compared to using an already existing one?
AB: We can create the game around a real-time system that fits our world, and it's great that we have experienced designers like Tim and Josh to tackle creating our game system from scratch. It can be very difficult to convert pen and paper rules over to a computer game, and things get lost in the translation, or the rules detract from gameplay. We don't have to make those concessions moving forward.
RPG Codex: Do you think it's a risk going with a "project name" rather than the game's actual name? You're getting all this publicity for "Project: Eternity" and all the google links, and then you're going to change the name. Why not just come up with the name first and get as much publicity for it as possible?
AB: Project Eternity is the best name for the game right now, and I think it's a perfect fit for the type of game we are making. It's fantasy, IE-like, and has a connection to our world. The team went through a process of trying to name the game with an actual name. However we felt that it was too difficult creatively, because the story and themes of the game are in such early stages of development. We don't want to be stuck with a name that doesn't fit the game. We put "Project" in the title to make sure people don't confuse the title with something that's final.
RPG Codex: In one of his tweets, Chris Avellone said Project Eternity won't be using the Onyx engine because that would be "too expensive considering the middleware attachments." Can you elaborate on that? Didn't Obsidian develop Onyx specifically with the purpose of having your own engine that you could use for projects like this?
AB: Mr. Avellone is correct that the Onyx middleware costs are high for a project like this, and we needed another solution based on our small budget. Middleware is dev-speak for software that gets included in the game code such as physics, sound, video playback, UI engine, animation, etc. Unity includes everything that we need out of the box, so we don't need to spend a large portion of the budget on the engine alone.
RPG Codex: How much of the project can we reasonably expect to see before the Kickstarter campaign is over? Do you plan on sharing anything like screenshots, tech videos, or design documents with the community, or will it be too early for that?
AB: We have more things in store for you before the Kickstarter is over, and even afterwards we plan on keeping everyone updated regularly on what we are up to on our website and forums. This is something new to us, so please give us feedback on how we are doing our updates on the Project Eternity forums. (Most of us lurk on the Codex too).
RPG Codex: Is Obsidian going to hire more people for this project, or do you intend to work with the staff you already have in-house?
AB: Once we have our final budget, we will look at the staffing plan. Right now it's too early to say at this point if we have room for more people outside the studio. With a higher Kickstarter number the team will get larger, and we will staff up to fill in the extra spots.
RPG Codex: If, hopefully, Project Eternity turns out to be a success and sells well, can we expect more oldschool tactical CRPGs from Obsidian in the future? Is it going to change the way the company interacts with publishers and the kind of projects it is likely to get involved with?
AB: If it turns out to be a success of course we will make more games! Personally, as a gamer, I would like us to do a sequel with the same companions and continued storyline because I like that sort of thing.
RPG Codex: It seems that one of the factors that make crowdfunding viable today is the rise of a huge digital distribution market. In your view, what other factors have contributed to the current success of crowdfunding as a real alternative to the publisher-driven model?
The Kickstarter doesn't change how we interact with publishers. We still want to do large projects, and have enjoyed working on great franchises in the past, and are looking forward to continue to do so in the future.
AB: Digital distribution is one of the reasons, but I also think that many of the Kickstarter projects are hitting a sweet spot with many gamers. Gamers are showing that there is still a market for many types of games that we all enjoy that haven't been made in a while. The internet is also wildfire now - news spreads very quickly, and it's amazing how many people we were able to reach in one day.
RPG Codex: How would you describe the main points of difference between crowdfunding and the classic publisher model in terms of designing a pitch and obtaining the necessary resources? Ideally, do you think the crowdfunding model should become the prevalent one?
AB: It's been quite a bit different that's for sure. Making games is a creative process that takes time, revision, and iteration that happens behind closed doors. With the Kickstarter we can involve the fans and collaborate with the community in this process, which has been really fun so far.
RPG Codex: What are your thoughts on modern CRPGs and how they compare to classic ones? What are some of your personal favorite CRPGs?
As early adopters of crowdfunding, I feel that we need to be responsible to make sure we deliver a good game at the end of the day. It's important that we show that this new way of funding games can be successful for the future. Ideally, I think there should be a market for both traditionally funded games and crowdfunded games. My favorite games were traditionally funded, so that type of system does work too, and I wouldn't want to see it go away.
AB: Modern CRPGs are fun in their own way. They offer a different experience than the classic games for sure, but they are still fun. I play anything and everything - I played Darklands over the summer because of Josh's stories about it, and I just picked up Borderlands 2, but I haven't been able to play it yet. Some of my super favorites are Fallout, Baldur's Gate, Deus Ex, and Daggerfall.
RPG Codex: To conclude this interview, what do you think of the response to your Kickstarter so far? Are you fully happy with it?
AB: Everyone at Obsidian is amazed and really overwhelmed by the contributions, support, and encouragement that we’ve received since launching. No one expected it, and we are sincerely grateful to everyone who has pledged so far. Thank you for the interview Codex! <3
RPG Codex: Thank you for your time.
Thanks also to Zed, Grunker, VentilatorOfDoom and DarkUnderlord for their contribution to the interview.
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