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RPG Codex Community Q&A: Project Eternity with Josh Sawyer

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RPG Codex Community Q&A: Project Eternity with Josh Sawyer

Interview - posted by Zed on Fri 19 July 2013, 12:03:59

Tags: Baldur's Gate; Black Isle Studios; Eternity; Fallout; Game design; GOTY 2018; Icewind Dale; Josh Sawyer; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; Planescape: Torment

Originally intended for two Obsidianites to answer (including producer Adam Brennecke), it would seem project director Josh Sawyer took it upon himself to solo through everything. Please don't be distraught if you question wasn't asked or answered: you are still a very special person. Besides, you could always ask your questions directly to Josh Sawyer over at Formspring.


Left: Sawyer before Q&A. Right: Sawyer after Q&A.

Now, onto the questions. And answers. Woo!


Starym asked this question in slow-motion:
Details on the slow motion mechanic - will it be adjustable speeds, only one, and whether they're going to spend any/a lot of time balancing how combat works in that mode as it looks like it could be the primary way a lot of people play.

We will probably allow users to adjust the speed of "slow combat". We will also be testing the feature at different settings and looking for player feedback as times goes on. Even if we allow players to adjust the slow combat speed, we want the default to feel good.

Zed developed his own franchise to ask:
With Eternity as Obsidian's own IP, how do you guys feel about taking risks (in game design and narration)? With this in mind: Have you talked about where you want to take Eternity as a franchise in future titles? A continuation of the Baldur's Gate-like formula as set by Project Eternity, or perhaps derivations towards something that plays more like IWD/ToEE, or perhaps something more like Torment/MotB?

Project Eternity is relatively conservative as far as new IPs go, but I think we can grow it in more unusual ways over time. One of the best ways we've found to test out potentially "wild" (sometimes more wild than others) ideas is through expansions or DLCs, but as the IP grows overall, I think we can find a lot of opportunities to create more risky stories and corners of the world to explore.

Excidium transformed into a dog and barked:
What animal forms are available? Is shapeshifting a static special ability or does the druid acquire different animal forms throughout the game?

Druids transform into anthropomorphic animal forms, more like lycanthropes in appearance. We're still figuring out how many forms they will be able to take, but we want it to be something that expands for druids over the course of the game. Druids primarily transform into their animalistic forms to gain the powers associated with that form. Because we're using more "spirit" forms than the standard form of an animal, the powers the druids gains in those forms can be more unusual and magical.

As a side note, druids cannot hold weapons in their special forms, but they can always cast spells.


No-one knew how to light a fire and they all died in the dark the end.

Sensuki once hired a mercenary who asked:
Kickstarter Update #3 and various other postings have hinted that the game will allow temporary characters to join the party under special circumstances. Has this 'follower' mechanic been kept and would it be possible for a non-cNPC to join the party for a certain quest while remaining separate from the party size? Would this possible allow for some larger battles?

The party size can never be larger than six standard characters, but some quests may have NPCs who come along with the party or arrive at a location when the party does. Additionally, the stronghold design currently features hirelings that help protect the stronghold and offer additional benefits, but they do not accompany the party out in the wild.

Roguey scaled this question to your answer:
If you leave a companion at your house or stronghold will they continue leveling up when you do? If not, will you be able to pay for their experience like in Storm of Zehir?

In our current design, companions and adventurers (created at the Adventurers Hall) gain a fractional amount of experience while they are at the stronghold. The stronghold system gives you options for increasing the portion of experience that those characters gain while they aren't in the party.

Mindx2 seeks to crowdfund this question:
Based on the recent problems Double Fine has had managing their Kickstarter project what precautions/ steps/ safeguards/ etc. have you put into place? What major problems/ issues do you most fear and want to avoid? How do you make sure your team can/ will avoid these pitfalls since Kickstarter money is finite (unless you go all Tim Schafer and scrounge for money through Humble Bundles/ Steam/ pre-sales/ episodic releases)?

We have consistently tried to focus on the specific features we told players and backers we would provide. Projecting the specifics of such a large game is not exact, but we can always look at the list of things we need to provide: 11 classes, 6 races, two big cities, a 15-level mega-dungeon, etc.

The most resource-intensive element of the game is, unsurprisingly, the creation of environment art. We have known this from the beginning and have been watching our development pipelines closely all the way through our vertical slice. We're continuing to look for ways to improve our efficiency to make sure our areas meet the visual quality standards we and players expect but don't prevent us from making a large game.


dungdoor_003 being prototyped. Perhaps you shall meet one day.

Space Satan's question is class-specific:
Will there be quests available of for certain classes, i.e. Stronghold in BG2.

We are not planning to create class-specific quests. Sorry.

Hormalakh asked his cat, but his cat won't answer:
Can you discuss what the different animal companions will be for the ranger and whether these companions will play any differently? Will they offer different tactical/strategic choices in combat, different choices in the story, or will their differences just be for flavor?

It is more likely that they will offer different tactical choices than story choices, but we want to make the differences more than just cosmetic. We don't have a full animal companion list yet because we're still developing our bestiary.

Kem0sabe has more faith in his question than in developers:
At this point is there a risk that Obsidian is obsessing over particular areas of the game, like the design of rules and mechanics, leading to an over-designed game with too many discreet systems?

Given the choice between an over-designed game and an under-designed game, I'd prefer the former, but I think the risk is low. We design a lot of the fundamental mechanics up front and let the other systems or pieces of content develop more organically as the project progresses.

For example, the classes were initially designed from levels 1-5 and done in waves (starting with the "core four"). We're not going to develop the remaining character levels until we've played around with the classes in the low range for a while. Doing so will allow us to adapt the classes' remaining content and even adjust their core mechanics if we feel it is necessary.

Tuluse asked this question in another time period:
In regards to expanding PE's world and lore, has any thought been given to setting sequels at different points in time instead of different geographical points? Say about 300-400 years in the future, when the industrial revolution is just getting started. Maybe get Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky and Jason Anderson together to work on it?

Setting a potential sequel in a different geographical area doesn't prevent us from moving the timeline forward more significantly, but our long-term plans for sequels are still loose.


Not even the lustful secrets of inanimate objects are safe from this cipher's mind-reading abilities.

Lancehead whispers:
I believe you said sneaking will be a little more involved than select skill -> chart a course with mouse-clicking; can you tell how you plan to make stealth (more) involving mechanics-wise? What kinds of feedback will the player receive while sneaking? Do enemies have multiple alert levels? If you alert an enemy, is the whole room/area alerted, or is it a viable tactic to pick off one by one (or at least in small groups)? Does stealth have any application outside of combat zones, scripted or otherwise?

Right now our basic implementation is more involved than what was in the Infinity Engine games. Party members have a radius around them (based on their individual Stealth skills) that represents the range at which a creature's perception radius can notice them. This radius can grow larger based on the character's actions, so if you're sneaking around and you start casting a spell, it will bump up considerably.

Creatures do have two detection states (other than not detecting anything): investigation and alert. If you just "bump" the edge of a creature's detection radius, it will typically move to investigate. If it gets close enough, it will switch over to an alert state. If the creature is already hostile toward the party, it will attack and "call for help" (to use an Infinity Engine term), potentially alerting its nearby allies.

Rake took a minute to describe the environment before asking:
What are your thoughts on descriptive text in the log and in dialogues? It's more of a Fallout thing than an IE one, but Planescape:Torment had it and was better for it. Do you think it offers much to an isometric game fleshing out the world to be worth the effort?

We are currently writing our dialogues with descriptive text in the general style of Planescape: Torment. We don't use it on every node, but we do use it when we feel it adds something to the conversation.

Infinitron has an exclusive request:
I'd like us to try to get a Kodeks Eksklusive look at Project Eternity's ability scores in this Q&A. We know they already exist. Let's see how crazy they are.

The specific list may change, but the biggest difference players will notice in Attributes (compared to A/D&D ability scores) is that all of their bonuses are uniformly applied instead of being keyed to specific types of weapons or attacks. E.g. one Attribute affects bonus damage (and healing) and one affects bonus accuracy -- regardless of the weapons or spells being used.

We would like your character concepts to be viable regardless of how you distribute your Attributes. Part of our solution for this is decoupling things like Attribute-based accuracy and damage bonuses from specific types of gear or class abilities. The focus of your character may change based on how you shift the points around, but we want to avoid setting up "must-have" and "must-dump" stats.


Nine out of ten players quick-saved before entering the purple stuff-room. The rest didn't know about quick-saving.

Kaldurenik, the Antichrist, asks:
Within the world of PE are there things like "demons" other dimensions and so in? (i guess this is a lore question).

So far, discussion of "extra-planar" type creatures has not come up much (if at all) in our designs. The gods seem to have a variety of agents or forms that operate among mortals, but it's unclear to people if those agents are elevated mortal souls, an aspect of the god, or something else.

Surf Solar thought of this question while sitting in the dark:
I really wonder if there is some sort of Underdark-alike area in P:E's world. For some reason I love that place.

The Dyrwood and Eir Glanfath do not contain any Underdark-ish areas, but this game is set in a relatively small part of the overall world. Who knows what else may be out there?!

Deuxhero is expecting a gender-specific answer:
How significant will the game's reaction to the player's sex be? Will it just be cosmetic and a change of pronouns? Will some quests have different solutions open to characters of one sex? Are there NPCs that will react different to each sex?

It will be a minor factor on occasion, but reactions to sex will be infrequent overall.

Grunker used [Silk Cloth] and [Iron Ingot] to craft this question:
In most RPGs, the possibility of crafting gear usually means that either 1) Rewards and items in the game world are worthless as crafting is better. 2) Crafting is worthless as rewards and items in the game world are better.
Even if "balanced" the two systems will overlap and often create an either-or situation. In games that solve this, crafting usually makes consumables or upgrades and are thus apart from the item systems so they do not overlap. In PE, it currently looks like gear can be directly crafted. How will you solve crafting's innate problem of either substituting, or being substituted by, other systems?

Almost all of our crafting recipes are used to either create consumables or to add/upgrade properties on existing items. Outside of special quests (which aren't part of the crafting system), we don't intend to use the system to make non-consumable equipment items.

CappenVarra used a Wand of Questions:
Are there magic items that give cross-class abilities - the equivalent of IE items that give non-casters access to spells (e.g. Daystar in BG2 can give fighters access to the Sunray spell) etc.?

We are planning for such items, yes. They will probably add spells or abilities that can be used on a per-encounter or per-rest basis, regardless of who is using the item.


Do you... [Agility] Jump across; [Intelligence] Start a business venture with your friend Jim back in New Heomar; [Charisma] Charm bridge.

Roguey took a break from combat to ask this question:
The Severed Hand in Icewind Dale II was a fun change of pace. Are you thinking about including enemy-infested areas in Eternity where most combat is optional and the focus can be on dialogue menus and exploring?

I don't think an area like IWD2's Severed Hand would be out of place for Project Eternity. I liked the blend of non-combat interactions and big fights in those areas and I'd like to see more of them in our game.

Sensuki hired a voice actor for this question:
Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment had very different focuses regarding the use of the voice-over budget for the game. Baldur's Gate focused on flavoring the world. Every NPC had an introduction line upon selection or interjection (whether unique or generic) and there was lots of ambient voice-over present in the areas. Baldur's Gate 2 had a lot of unique battle cries and voice-over work for key NPCs in the game. Icewind Dale had a lot of high-quality unique voice sets for party members and VO for key NPCs. Planescape Torment had fantastic VO work for companions. Obsidian has an excellent reputation when it comes to voice over work (Guiness Record for F:NV and budget-stretching magic of SoZ). What is your plan for voice-over distribution in Project Eternity? Which areas are of a key focus?

We haven't developed an extensive plan for our VO, but we're going to focus on major NPCs, companions, and player voice sets. We will probably have a good amount of walla (background/ambient crowd noise) but will not try to have a lot of voiced one-off lines for minor NPCs.

Gozma will save-scum this question:
Is the game balanced to be played without reloading (aside from play stoppages) on the first game if the player wishes?

A lot of that depends on the difficulty setting and the player's skill, but we aren't designing encounters to require prescience. We're trying to avoid sucker punches in fights, enemy tactics that demand a very specific combination of items, classes, spells, or abilities to overcome. While there will certainly be strategic and tactical choices that will work very poorly in certain fights, we'd rather give the player a number of ways to win a battle. If we wind up creating specific formulae or one valid strategy to win a fight, I think that takes a lot away from the player's potential enjoyment.

Coffeetable's AI need further input:
In the IE games, enemies were very predictable: the vast majority of enemy mages for example would use the exact same sequence of spells, melee enemies would generally beeline for the nearest party member, and they'd all carry very similar kit. Does Obsidian have any tools that allows designers to vary enemy AI on a per-encounter (or per-reload) basis?

Steve is developing the caster AI tools for us right now. While we're not going to create some sort of Deep Blue-esque 4-dimensional chess spellcasting routines, casters will exhibit some randomness and adaptation in how they cast. They're unlikely to change their behavior wholesale after a reload but they should have variation. This should also apply to a wide variety of class abilities, not just traditional spells.


Thanks to all Codexers who submitted questions, and super-thanks to Josh Sawyer for taking the time to please the hivemind.

There are 152 comments on RPG Codex Community Q&A: Project Eternity with Josh Sawyer

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