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Codex Interview RPG Codex Interview: Chris Avellone on Pillars Cut Content, Game Development Hierarchies and More

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Apr 30, 2018.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Tags: Chris Avellone; Pillars of Eternity; Planescape: Torment; System Shock (Nightdive Studios)

    Back in 2016, Codex community member Fairfax began a correspondence with RPG writer extraordinaire Chris Avellone, for the purpose of interviewing him about some questions that many of us had at the time about his departure from Obsidian, his work on Pillars of Eternity, and related topics. For various reasons this correspondence ended up lasting months and years, and in fact it continues to the present day. The lengthy interview I present today is only the first part of a larger piece that we hope to publish in its entirety someday. Even though some of the questions now feel a tad outdated, there are still some juicy new details to be gleaned here. For example:

    Eric Fenstermaker said Durance and the GM had a lot of "creative energy and research" invested in them. You seem to rely on getting approval every step of the way, which makes me wonder how that happened. Was there a miscommunication on the approval of your drafts and/or outline? And would you agree that the content had to be cut, or would you have tried to save it if you were at the helm? (Including Ulysses in FNV, not just PoE).

    Companion Design - not always. Usually, it's paragraph, page, then dialogue. In Durance and Grieving Mother's case - and this I can say - the Creative Lead told me after my departure that the Project Lead had interfered but didn't specify the reasons. I don't even know what the reasons were (although I couldn't tell if I did, to be fair). In short, the Creative Lead said he should have handled the whole matter differently and didn't, regretted it, and apologized for it.

    It doesn't matter - what's done is done - cuts don't bother me (they rarely do, if you're a writer in the industry and aren’t willing to make cuts, you probably won't be a game writer for long), but how it was handled overall was an example of how upper management can get tangled up and despite any problems, perceived or otherwise, you can be the last one to know, which makes the whole situation more fucked up than if you'd gotten a direct critique, fixed everything that was requested, and then it's put to bed. It's not a huge deal unless you make it one.

    Fenstermaker specified the reasons in his Codex interview:

    The cuts came for length. The three limiting factors were time to implement, art resources for the dream sequences, and VO budget. There was a target length we had set upfront for all companions, and we had to stick to it. Otherwise we'd be, for example, voicing maybe one out of every six lines for Durance and the Grieving Mother, and it'd be conspicuously incongruent with the other companions, who had maybe 2/3 of their lines voiced. Unfortunately in this case it meant cutting down characters that had had a lot of research and creative energy invested in them, and there were some good ideas there that it would've been interesting to explore. It was a shitty thing to have to do, but we'd never have been able to implement the original versions in time to ship.

    Since you can't comment on PoE's case in particular: is having similar lengths and amount of voiced lines a priority for you in companion design? In Torment and KOTOR2 some companions didn't have nearly as many lines as others, but neither game suffered for it, if you look at how they were received.

    I can confirm some of the elements - there’s still people I can ask, so if I can’t remember, it’s easy to find someone who can jog my memory (I can’t check the details on my own). I also managed to get some clarification on some of the points, which was welcome, so…

    Of those three reasons, the first was the only one I ever recall communicated to me (I had to get confirmation on it and these other points, since it’s been a long time). The other two reasons weren’t, and I actually got multiple other reasons from multiple people – and some of those people admitted they were just the messenger. This confused things, since they couldn’t articulate what the critiques were since they either didn’t understand them or hadn’t read the material (both our CEO and Parker among them – ironically, after a long speech ending with his admission he hadn’t even read what he was arguing against, Parker did go back and read the companions and found nothing to object to, which cost even more time – to his credit, he did admit his error, but things like that happened a lot).

    There were other people who apparently didn’t like Durance’s swearing (easy fix), and the original tie in the GM and Durance backstories were they had violated each other physically and mentally and that’s what broke both of them, which I then cut – although I don’t know if the GM one got removed completely – the intention was the Watcher could fix it mentally by repairing their souls by walking through their minds in stages. I think some of this is still mentioned in the strat guide.

    In the end, I just wanted to fix whatever the problems were and move on to the next task, because there were a lot of tasks that needed doing. I had done the best work I could, and it was up to the Pillars team to decide what fit best (which is fine, it’s what vision holders do), but no one was articulating what the problems were.

    To speak to the implementation part, it had been promised by multiple people on Eternity (producers and Lead Creative) that they would set aside (their own) time for implementation and make sure it got done.

    When the project ran over – and this happens, I don’t blame anyone for that – it was apparent they ran out of time for their own character implementations – and some companions even required two designers to implement. As such, other developers took on what tasks they could to try and make up for lost time. Things that could definitely have helped (hire an editor, like they eventually did for Tyranny) were refused in light of putting more devs from other projects rather than trying to fix the missing personnel. I was later informed that this time was not paid back, which was the hope but not a surprise, and I don’t think Paradox was ever fully aware the Tyranny team had been gutted (in general, publishers don’t like hearing the resources they’re paying for they aren’t getting).
    Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Chris Avellone on Pillars Cut Content, Game Development Hierarchies and More
     
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  2. LizardWizard Savant

    LizardWizard
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    Arcanum, when?
     
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  3. Roguey Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

    Roguey
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    Letting Sawyer have it with both barrels.

    Despite that and the clickbait-y snippet in the OP, this is largely a nuts-and-bolts type interview. An interview for RPG nerds. :cool:

    Additionally someone (not me of course) should post this on SA to get the goon reaction to "Josh Sawyer pulled rank and messed with Durance and Grieving Milf, but was too much of a coward to criticize Chris directly to his face."
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2018
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  4. Sizzle Arcane

    Sizzle
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  5. 2house2fly Liturgist

    2house2fly
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    Lol they hired an editor for tyranny? It definitely doesn't show
     
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  6. ga♥ Arbiter

    ga♥
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    Imagine if they hadn't.
     
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  7. Ocelot570 Novice

    Ocelot570
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    MCA seems to have good points on the benefits of working from home. Imagine how much better the companions could have been for PoE if he was able to have all that time to focus on writing...
     
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  8. TheSentinel Magister

    TheSentinel
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    those words on Sawyer
    Fairfax was right
     
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  9. ga♥ Arbiter

    ga♥
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    I think its pretty clear by the interview the dev problems POE had. And it wasn't lack of telecommuting.
     
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  10. Fairfax Arcane

    Fairfax
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    Thanks again for everything, Chris Avellone. :salute:

    By the way, this is the stuff from the strategy guide that MCA mentioned:

     
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  11. Blakemoreland Hybrid Boss Magister Patron

    Blakemoreland Hybrid Boss
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy
    So he not only tried to be the lead narrative, but he also tried to be the lead designer and they didn’t let him. So much for “Avellone never wanted any responsibility in PoE” shilling defense. Unbelievable.


    Feargus cementing his reputation of being unprofessional and disorganised, and Parker reinforcing the notion that he is a negative trainwreck. Imagine working with these loons for years.
     
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  12. Roguey Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

    Roguey
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    It does actually http://www.rpgcodex.net/forums/inde...re-release-thread.104738/page-69#post-4641202

    You're misunderstanding. He considers himself a narrative designer, not just a writer. He didn't want to be a lead designer (see my sig).
     
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  13. Blakemoreland Hybrid Boss Magister Patron

    Blakemoreland Hybrid Boss
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy
    Roguey, what pitching the story of PoE as a designer amounted to? Being the lead writer and the lead designer.
     
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  14. TheSentinel Magister

    TheSentinel
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    Alex Freed works at Obsidian now? The Imperial Agent class story is an outstanding one. He did good.

    PS: Nevermind, he's on Anthem. Wasting his efforts on that stillborn project.
     
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  15. Roguey Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

    Roguey
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    It was just contract work.

    Not so, considering Fensty was not the lead designer. Check the credits, he's listead as "lead narrative designer" and "lead writer."
     
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  16. ga♥ Arbiter

    ga♥
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    We want MOAR Fairfax! Is there a 2nd part coming?
     
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  17. Fairfax Arcane

    Fairfax
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    Part 2 would be the user questions. Here's what MCA said:
     
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  18. lukaszek the determinator

    lukaszek
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    extra kudos for VO parts
     
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  19. MRY Prestigious Gentleman Wormwood Studios Developer

    MRY
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    Great interview, lots of practical wisdom. Sometimes feels a little too practical, but I get that at a certain stage in life perhaps you get tired of people holding your first game out as the be-all-end-all of creation, especially if making it took a heavy personal toll. Several lines made me laugh, and several seemed worth putting into practice. Can't ask for more than that!

    Congrats to Fairfax for this magnum opus! 20 years from now, people will be coming up to him and asking whether the two years he spent on this interview were worth it -- "It inspired so many other great interviews, it's a legend!" -- and a nervous tic will start in Fairfax's left eye and he'll say, "To whom? To the Codex? The interview was 18 months overdo, and in the interim the place turned into a mix of 4chan and popamolism. Yeah, it helped RPG Watch start a 'spiritual successor to the Codex' subforum, I guess, but that's not what any of us had in mind."
     
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  20. Grauken Arcane Patron

    Grauken
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    Damn good interview. It's funny (or maybe not) that the part about meetings is universal across completely different industries. Worst if you have a boss who likes to hear his own voice without saying anything of substance.
     
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  21. conan_edw Learned

    conan_edw
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    :shittydog::shittydog:
     
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  22. Neanderthal Arcane

    Neanderthal
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    Ah the downfalls of working from home.
     
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  23. Think big! Smoking Dicks

    Think big!
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    Can Chris tell us what his story pitch for PoE was?
     
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  24. Glaucon Savant

    Glaucon
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    I never get tired of reading about Obsidian's internal working dynamics dysfunction.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2018
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  25. Lady Error Arcane Literally Hitler

    Lady Error
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    That was by far the worst area design in the whole game, and now we know why.
     
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