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Codex Interview RPG Codex Interview: Eric Fenstermaker on Pillars of Eternity​

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Mar 6, 2016.

  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: Eric Fenstermaker; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; Pillars of Eternity: The White March

    Obsidian Entertainment's Pillars of Eternity has been a controversial game on the Codex, and there's probably no aspect of it that hasn't been discussed to death. To a large extent, discussion of the game has been driven by the online commentary of its director and lead designer, Josh Sawyer, whose opinion on all things is easily solicited on his Tumblr Q&A page. But dominant as he is, Josh couldn't have been responsible for everything that mattered in Pillars of Eternity. His response to a particular question that I asked back in November finally convinced me that we needed to look further to get in-depth answers on the topic of the game's narrative.

    That's why after the end of the winter holidays, I asked Crooked Bee to establish contact with Obsidian and set up an interview with Eric Fenstermaker, Pillars of Eternity's Lead Narrative Designer and Lead Writer. Eric is a Harvard-educated computer science graduate who has been employed at Obsidian since 2005, playing key roles on games such as Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer and Fallout: New Vegas. Some people in the industry have described him as a genius, although he's never managed to occupy the spotlight the way George Ziets has, to say nothing of Chris Avellone.

    To my knowledge, this is the first real interview with Eric about Pillars of Eternity that's ever been done, and we made sure to make the most of it. It took him over a month, but he managed to answer all of our questions too. All 27 of them! Here's one of them:

    Josh Sawyer and Adam Brennecke have tended to downplay the significance of any content that may have been cut from the final version of Pillars of Eternity. Do you feel the same way? Is there any cut content you'd like to tell us about?

    I'm not sure what the question is referring to regarding Adam and Josh. We made cuts. Some of the cuts made me sad. But they had to be made or the game wouldn't have gotten done.

    Two big ones had a substantial impact on the story, although both happened early-ish in production, so the content was never built. One was that we cut the next-to-last level of the game - or rather compressed it down to a single map, which contained little content. (This is Breith Eaman, the prison.) That cut hurt pacing quite a bit. The end came up very abruptly. I'd have loved to spend more time at least doing some more repairs to that part of the story, but that wasn't possible. The time just wasn’t there, and I think I also underestimated the impact. Ultimately, when you are told you have to cut something in the story, you have to be prepared for that and have some answers. In this case, I was able to stitch everything back together so that at least it all made sense, but I'd have liked to have gone back and seen if there was a better way to solve the problem.

    The other one was that we wanted to branch the middle of the plot. Some people have expressed frustration at the player's inability to influence the outcome at the ducal palace. Well, originally, we'd wanted the player to be able to do that. But it meant building two versions of the third act, and that's extremely expensive. That cut made me sad, but there was no practical argument to be made for keeping it. It was a clean cut that saved a ton of time and made our schedule semi-workable. Had to be done. Conceivably we might've allowed the player to save the duc without doing a major branching of the story, but even that would've required more time than we had. The game was delayed as it was, so there really wasn't room to add anything. As a developer at the end of a project, I think it's almost inevitable to find yourself thinking "man, the things I might've done with a couple more weeks." You're Liam Neeson at the end of Schindler's List, wishing you could have done more.​

    Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Eric Fenstermaker on Pillars of Eternity​
     
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  2. Anthony Davis Blizzard Entertainment Developer

    Anthony Davis
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    I'm the one who reviewed that mod and recommended hiring Fenster. I remember it like it was yesterday.


    Frank, my boss at the time, dropped it on my desk and said, "Review this - let me know what you think."

    I loaded it up and played it and was blown away by the work and creativity he had poured into it. I went to Frank and said, "Hire him, immediately."

    He was hired as a Junior Programmer - like he said, working as a scripter, because he has a CS degree and he had applied for a programming position.











    He later betrayed us all by switching over to be a designer.







    I guess it worked out ok.
     
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  3. Sizzle Arcane

    Sizzle
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    This man should be regarded a lot more highly!
     
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  4. Roguey Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

    Roguey
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    This seems to be a recurring thing with Kickstarter-funded RPGs.

    I too would prefer shorter RPGs. Or at least give the Dragon Age Inquisition method a try, where their "third act" was just two big optional areas, and the main quest itself felt polished from start to finish.

    Fenstermaker's Folly

    In hindsight, Sawyer's No Spoilers Before Release policy to appease Frank Costanza-esque finicky goons does seem ridiculous given the story we ended up getting. Meanwhile, Fargo just puts out the first third+ of New Torment like it's nothing.

    :lol:

    I'd like to repeat a suggestion I made way-back-when regarding hired adventurers: have the option to choose a prebuilt that has as much dialogue as the average BG or Jagged Alliance character. Some personality is better than none.
     
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  5. Anthony Davis Blizzard Entertainment Developer

    Anthony Davis
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    Finished reading it. That's a great read.


    Also, I played PoE - sunk about 120 hours into it around the initial release, 1.0.


    Now that TWM:part 2 has been released, and the game is at version 3.0+, I started over with a new party - and the game is SOOOO much better now. The stronghold is so much better now. There are a lot of reactivity cracks that have been filled in. It's still not perfect, and there are still lessons to be learned and improvements to be made for future Pillars games, but if you are waiting to play it or replay it - now is the time.

    I'm currently up to about 156 hours.
     
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  6. Excidium II Self-Ejected

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    Can't blame him for wanting to have people acknowledge his work. :M

    "The engineering team did a great job!" "Let's interview the lead programmer!" <- said noone ever
     
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  7. Anthony Davis Blizzard Entertainment Developer

    Anthony Davis
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    It's true, and all too frequently we get blamed for things outside of our control. Eric is also insanely talented - as many here already know from his work on FO:NV and SP:TSoT - and I do think it was a good choice for both him and Obsidian.
     
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  8. Anthony Davis Blizzard Entertainment Developer

    Anthony Davis
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    I also want to point out how absolutely astute and true this answer here is.
     
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  9. Thal Learned

    Thal
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    I think we all know who is he talking about:smug:
     
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  10. Rivmusique Arcane Patron

    Rivmusique
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    Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    :lol: Jesus Christ.
     
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  11. Excidium II Self-Ejected

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    Yeah. Beyond the Beef has some of the best content in FNV, didn't know he was responsible for it.

    Also it's not a total betrayal, it must be better to work in a project with a Lead Writer/Narrative Designer that understands the technical side of things.
     
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  12. Zed Codex Staff Patron

    Zed
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    Codex USB, 2014
    Hired adventurers should be a start-of-game option, like iron man mode. They should not be an optional in-game feature.
     
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  13. Excidium II Self-Ejected

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    They're doing that in SoD so it's guaranteed for PoE 2. :M
     
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  14. Bleed the Man Arcane Patron

    Bleed the Man
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    Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    Great interview, a lot of good stuff. It's always amusing to me seeing how interviews made by a bunch of nerds are so much better than the ones made by people who're paid for doing them, and the one interviewed also seem to take them more seriously (it helps to not have to answer to the same generic -broad as hell- questions).
     
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  15. Excidium II Self-Ejected

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    The main factor being that the nerds actually give a fuck about what the interviewed has to say.
     
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  16. leferd Augur

    leferd
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    Do they still let you review potential hires after getting bamboozled like that?
     
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  17. Raapys Arcane

    Raapys
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    Fine interview and nicely answered.

    Still a skeptic about neoObsidian though.
     
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  18. Roguey Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

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    I don't see how this improves things.
     
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  19. Mozg Arcane

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    Wow. Who fucking cares? That is some hobgoblin of little minds shit. Letting VO economics sabotage anything in a kickstarter IE throwback is ridiculous.
     
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  20. Kz3r0 Arcane

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    :whatisfun:
     
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  21. Zed Codex Staff Patron

    Zed
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    I think it subtracts from having written companions. It's hard to write down exactly why, but it feels like a discomfort to even have the (in-game) option to replace a written character with a creation of my own.

    BG2, being the far superior game (in every way) that it is, put all that custom character bull-hockey in MP where only degenerate psychopaths would play with them anyway.
     
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  22. Neanderthal Arcane

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    You fuckers really knock it outta park wi your editorials, shit all over supposed professionals. Thing that struck me were when he answered about low int dialogue an journal, just how fucking talented were Arcanum lads at Troika to be able to implement that when Obs can't, I mean Troika had publisher an more time but still they weren't exacly flush from what i've heard.

    On question o gods reveal being too early, I still thik that as a rug pull it were executed too early as i've said afore, but I think that builds into something larger I see done in a lot o RPG gameworlds: Lurchin from one crisis to next, wi no build up o the world an enjoyment of it as is, an yet theres satsifaction in seeing a world evolvin an continuing rather than being rocked by otherworldly shenanigans. Specially if what you've done an experienced is reflected there. An sometimes world changing events can come from little stuff, ordinary stuff that afflicts a world an leads to interesting times. Dragonlance were worst for this, absolute ruined setting by havin a cataclysm every second Sunday, just made me stop being arsed.
     
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  23. M0RBUS Augur

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    Mr. Fenstermaker, huge respect for Iovara. That was quite a character :)
     
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  24. Bester Arcane Patron Vatnik

    Bester
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    He studied CS? No wonder the writing was bad. It's bad enough they hire no-name novella writers to write for video games, but then they hire programmers to write? Jesus Christ. I'll read the interview later. Please tell me he's got SOME academic background somehow related to literature?
     
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  25. Excidium II Self-Ejected

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    Much rather have somebody with CS background leading writing in videogames than someone with formal literature educashun.
     
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