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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. Kyl Von Kull Arcane

    Kyl Von Kull
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    Hmm, are there any other top secret projects you're working on that you could shed a teensy tiny bit of light on via this kind of analogy? Apologies in advance; this question feels inappropriate, like I'm asking a genie for infinite wishes. But, you know, if infinite wishes are on the table...
     
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  2. mustawd. Magister

    mustawd.
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    Chris Avellone, are you familiar with the premise of Project Indiana? And if so, what are your thoughts on it?

    Not trying to get details, just your thoughts on it.
     
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  3. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

    Chris Avellone
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    Yes. Jorge "Oscuro" (FNV, DLCs, PoE) was hired for FNV based on his mod work for Oblivion (he rewrote the Obsidian content layer in his spare time, did patch notes, re-released, etc. - all the things you do for a game release, he did on his own - and because he did it for fun on his own time and did a thorough job, we knew he'd make a great developer).

    I do know there's designers at Obsidian who also reach out to modders, and we used modders' work in the past (paying or giving credit) since they've done exceptional work (the A.I. system for NWN2, for example, was provided by a modder because it was very well done).

    Twines: I try to play through the whole Twine, but usually 15-20 minutes is long enough to get a feel for the person's aesthetic, word choice, response options, plot pacing, dialogue, etc. I do often ask (or make) a text export of the Twine if I can to check for spelling errors, but I don't make that the sole basis for approval/denying a candidate. In design tests, we do try to establish a limit on dialogue and page counts, as it's often very easy to see a person's writing in a few pages vs. 20 or 30 pages, and there's no need for the applicant to kill themselves doing the test. I also allow applicants with experience and game content they've worked on previously to submit that same game content (ex: a video of one of their dialogues for the dialogue section) in lieu of making something from scratch.
     
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  4. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

    Chris Avellone
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    Not really, but I have faith in Tim, Leonard, Charlie, Tyson, and the rest of the team to deliver something cool.
     
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  5. Alienman Arcane Patron

    Alienman
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Make the Codex Great Again! Grab the Codex by the pussy Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2
    This thread is a new fall out bible in the making :cool:
     
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  6. Grauken Blobber Enthusiast Patron

    Grauken
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    I think its more like the Necronomicon
     
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  7. Quillon Cipher

    Quillon
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    20 mins and no one posted anything in here, I can breathe!!!:dance:

    Damn, what have I done...:negative:
     
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  8. Blaine Cis-Het Oppressor Patron

    Blaine
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy
    You've just shitposted.
     
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  9. Blaine Cis-Het Oppressor Patron

    Blaine
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy
    Here's an example of a quality post for future reference:

     
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  10. Riddler Augur Patron

    Riddler
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    Bubbles In Memoria
    Of course the height of the organizational hierarchy needs to be closely managed so that people can operate without constantly seeking approval and operations devolve into inter-manager politics and constant need for more communication rather than being productive.

    One common issue that I often see here is that many people, in particular within SW dev, have had bad experiences with hierarchies and thus tries to have as flat organisations as possible and often to pretty great success. The problem is that the case studies of when this really works well are based on two facts:

    • The need of very competent, driven and self-motivated employees, something that is a pretty limited resource when everyone are screaming for more developers.
    • The cases studies that the theories of flat organisations are based on are relatively small teams and companies (many cases start ups).
    Really flat organisations with a lot of "cross pollination" do not work well when organizations scale up, both due to the problem of finding competent enough employees and the issue of the model not scaling well.

    As a management consultant I see the lack of hierarchies as a much more common failure mode than hierarchies. This is not due to flat organisations being bad but because they are overused and not adapted to the realities of organisations that do need hierarchies.

    Saying one or the other is better or worse is naïve, both are needed to varying degrees in different types of organisations.

    In the end however it is rarely the organizational map that is the issue, it is the managers. Being a manager is very difficult and stressful and the method for selecting people for the role is often very flawed and even random (also promotion to incompetence) which leads to bad outcomes regardless of systems.

    Most of the time when we come in to help an organisation straighten out their practices the organisation we propose is often based on (when we are doing a thoughrough job) eliminating or circumventing destructive managers or practices rather than implementing some "master organizational plan".

    In the end, If the rot is at the very top (which it often is in startups that have been moderately successful) it's often difficult to do anything really productive.

    Edit: organizational theories are kind of like diets. People have trouble taking a measured approach and end up with something too extreme which they can't maintain.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2018
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  11. Otterz Literate

    Otterz
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    You bought the whole team FNV shirts?
    That's actually pretty nice.
     
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  12. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

    Chris Avellone
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    Dwarves was Disney’s part. Kevin or Brian Mitsoda could speak to it more – if they were allowed to speak.

    Hidden was a pitch that never got optioned (it was urban fantasy). Which was good it didn’t get optioned, because the idea was taken from another developer at Capcom that Feargus stole and then slightly modified the idea from (a developer who I’ve since apologized to and explained what happened). Feargus felt strongly if we took the idea and made some tweaks to it, it was all right and Obsidian could make it work. I didn’t feel good about it, but to my shame, I went along with it. Yes, I suck and I should have fought harder, but at the time, I was overlooking things and trying to be supportive of someone who had seemingly been supportive to me.

    Overall, with Hidden, you weren’t missing anything – Fables comics and the Dresden Files books were better than what was put together (and it wasn't even as good as the Capcom pitch), and because of how it got put into being, I’m glad it never went anywhere.

    There were a lot of prototypes and small projects that failed for various reasons, some run by Parker, some run by Feargus - all governing a small team.

    On top of this, Feargus would often request pitches and proposals from Obsidianites, then never do anything with any of them (the other owners were also culpable for this). After the second time he did this, I told him while I would help him set up a structure for accepting proposals, I would no longer be responsible for asking for them. He got mad at this, and pushed me to send out the request to be the "face" of the asking, and I told him I wouldn’t because he never reviewed or accepted any of them – he was just asking for people’s cool ideas and ignoring all of them. It was cruel, and a waste of people’s time at the studio – why do you give false hope to people? I will say, we got a LOT of kick-ass ideas (Tony Evans and Frank Kowalkowski – both gone – had some great pitches, and so did Dennis Presnell, if I recall correctly). The cruel bit was once they submitted them, even though Obsidian would do nothing with them, that meant they were all owned by the company and would gather dust. It was a garbage practice that I no longer subscribed to (and yes, I feel bad for the first two times I advocated it, but at the time, I thought the owners were making genuine requests that would be actually evaluated).

    Something similar happened with a global request to Obsidian artists to make a logo for the studio – which was done, all were rejected, despite the fact Feargus said he would choose a winner and reward them (cash prize, which arguably all the artists would have been happy to have). While you can argue that was upper management’s right to reject them all if they weren't happy with one, they didn’t exactly say they hadn’t chosen one, and because they also had promised a cash prize for the winner, this caused a lot of questions… because it was never delivered on and never paid to anyone. While this is their right, I think they could have altered the rules of the request to account for them being dissatisfied with all the results and making a contingency plan for that that still thanked people for their work, or asked for new options - or something.) I will say that because Feargus, Darren, and Parker didn't choose any of them, they were indirectly insulting the art skills of our artists by doing so, which made a bad situation even worse.

    Backspace failed because Stormlands got them fired because they were in the middle of a prototype and thus, were all considered expendable despite their skills and how much they'd done for the company (again, Feargus's sister was retained, however). I do believe Jason Fader would love to get it back, though, but… nope. Even if Obsidian has no plans to do anything with it, they’re keeping it (I had much the same experience of having a pitch taken from me when it was clear we weren’t going to do Defiance b/c Parker hated it and swore he’d “check out”* if we kept discussing it and pushing ahead with it [Note that if I had said the same thing, you can bet I’d have been suspended or fired, but it was Parker saying he'd check out, Feargus listened to him]. After it was clear it couldn't go anywhere, I asked Feargus if I could at least do something with it outside the company, he refused - which is his right, but I had spent a lot of time on it, and it was disheartening to see it shelved with no intention of ever being used for anything. If you don't support it, why are you keeping it?).

    Lastly, there were project pitches that were mismanaged in new and exciting ways. One got weighed down by being initially being (correctly) confined to a small team (Mikey Dowling, me, and a few others, but Mikey's passion for the material was the important heart of the project), but then, new people and owners were added to the email chains and they would interrupt the communication with the potential publisher. This happened in increasing amounts (almost doubling the email thread) until the publisher had no idea who they should be talking to anymore. It would have been a huge win for the studio had we got it, but again, it was not meant to be, and it was definitely our process that clouded the pitch.

    And while I kept wishing Obsidian would let Rich Taylor make a game, that’s a rug that’s been ripped out twice already for two projects (Rich was the PD who kept Armored Warfare running and supported most of the studio – he’s also an avid gamer, and one of the developers I have a lot of respect for). I don’t know what he’s doing now, but I’m hoping his talents aren’t being wasted because he should be making games, and making good ones.

    EDIT: *I was reminded that the phrase Chris Parker used for Defiance was "tapping out." As in, "if we proceed with this pitch, I'm tapping out."
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2018
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  13. Ainamacar Novice

    Ainamacar
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    After 14 years of lurking on the Codex, finally reaching posts on this thread with timestamps of "xx minutes ago" is my greatest moment here.

    Making sure lore and other writing is harmonious with mechanics seems challenging when the latter may be subject to significant changes during development, quite possibly for reasons not involving the writing team directly. For something like Into the Breach, where writing/mechanic harmony seems to be a clear goal, I could see issues arise as, for example, pilot special abilities were iterated upon. (Although the fairly limited scope of those characters and small dev team might greatly mitigate things.) In a traditional RPG with a more sprawling corpus, I imagine the risk of creating pain for yourself down the road is more extensive, especially as text changes for many other reasons.

    So, when you're writing mindful of the game mechanics, are you also trying to be mindful how that lore or text works should the mechanics change? Do you limit yourself to those mechanics which are almost certainly stable? Some other method? And do you have any stories where mechanics/design changes caused prominent writing headaches later on?

    Thanks for the epic thread, Chris.
     
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  14. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

    Chris Avellone
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    'Love' is making a shot to the knees of a target 120 kilometers away using an Aratech sniper rifle with a tri-light scope... Love is knowing your target, putting them in your targeting reticule, and together, achieving a singular purpose against statistically long odds.
     
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  15. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

    Chris Avellone
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    One of my key points with lack of hierarchies is that I feel lack of hierarchy and not giving people the right titles, wastes the team's time. And as I've said, Obsidian was a constant case of "never enough time, never enough money." I have worked on projects where that is not the case, but I'm not sure I would advise doing anything different.
     
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  16. dragonul09 Arcane Edgy

    dragonul09
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    Is this Feargus the kind of nerd that goes on a power trip whenever he doesnt like something? If he is, then there's nothing worse than a dork on a power trip, insecure little asshats that try to make everyone as miserable as them. At least people are bailing on that trainwreck of a company.
     
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  17. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

    Chris Avellone
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    I completely agree, and with Into the Breach, I left the pilots whose abilities were being iterated on for last as long as possible, because I knew their abilities should affect their text. Prospero was the only one who didn't get changed in time (he was intended as a "recycling robot" then gained flight, but few of his text comments reflected that). I'm still happy with his text, though, I just wish I could have done more.

    Also, welcome to posting if you've been lurking so long! Glad this motivated you to join the discussions.
     
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  18. Blaine Cis-Het Oppressor Patron

    Blaine
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy
    Let me see if I've got this straight: A call went out to all Obsidian artists to submit entries for a new logo, cash prize to the winner, and apparently none made the cut.

    If the company's artists are so bad that none of them, not a single one, are skilled or creative enough to create a logo that passes muster, that is a problem.

    If the owners are such self-involved, selfish twats that they announce a contest just because the idea popped into their heads and then refuse to choose an entry and pay out, wasting people's time and energy, that's a problem.

    We must therefore choose to believe either that all of the artists are terrible, or that Obsidian has a bunch of stupid, selfish cunts for leadership. It's either one or the other, can't be both or neither.
     
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  19. Robert Jarzeback Educated

    Robert Jarzeback
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    Chris Avellone what do you think about making controversial games such as Hatred as a way of standing out in oversaturated marked?
     
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  20. Wunderbar Learned

    Wunderbar
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    Chris Avellone, have you played any of Piranha Bytes games (Gothic series, Risen series, recent Elex)?
    If yes, what do you think about them?
     
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  21. mildTea Learned

    mildTea
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    Could you Chris Avellone share with us your thoughts on what are the odds that Project Indiana gets finished if Deadfire flops or if IRS/prosecutors start investiagting Obsidian? From your posts it seems like fund transfers between projects in Obsidian are a bit too common. Could Take2 take the Indiana team over in case of troubles? Could it all fall apart based on the IP being owned by Dark Rock Industries (or whatever the name is)?
     
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  22. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

    Chris Avellone
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    I wouldn't classify Feargus as a nerd, he's more "business development."

    And yes, when he made the owner rounds after yelling at a publisher or an employee, I did feel like he doing a power trip... that unfortunately, made all the owners look bad. To his (minor) credit, at least he was indirectly letting us know he had savaged someone vs. Parker, who you had to find out much later - and worse, the person getting savaged usually assumed all the owners knew about what had happened, because the idea of owners not communicating as a hive mind (that's an exaggeration, but yet, the perception - all owners knew the same thing) wasn't something that was in the developer's minds.

    I will say when developers told me about the yelling (usually because they felt shitty that they had done something wrong), I did apologize for how it happened. However, my apology is worth far less than Feargus's, who had complete control over raises and titles at the studio, so if he got mad and started yelling, the first reaction from the person being yelled at was that they were fucked (not surprisingly - and Feargus should have realized that).
     
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  23. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

    Chris Avellone
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    I don't know, but my pragmatic guess is that maybe Take2 wouldn't mind Feargus and his cost padding out of the picture (Feargus, at the height of stupidity, forgot to remove it in his budget he sent to them - when asked, I told them I wasn't surprised, and they should expect him to inflate costs like that, but that's why you have to watch him very, very carefully when he submits a budget - he tried to fuck over Paradox, too, because he felt entitled to).

    My vote to Take2? Support Tim and Leonard and the team and maybe not so much the owner parasites around them. Do you really need class acts like Feargus who will make up numbers and drain needed resources with deception? It's disgusting, and casts shade over the entire studio through the actions of one jackass.

    I also don't know if the Project Indiana IP is under Dark Rock Industries or not, but you can ask Feargus (he likely won't answer).
     
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  24. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

    Chris Avellone
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    I played a little of Gothic 3 and liked it. I want to play Elex based on discussions I've seen on this site.
     
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  25. 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
     
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