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Interview Interview with Chris Avellone at PCGamesN

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Tags: Chris Avellone; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

There's a new interview with Chris Avellone over at PCGamesN. Described as "The Big Interview", it's actually only two pages long, but it manages to offer some newish information about MCA's current doings alongside his usual mix of RPG design wisdom and slice-of-life anecdotes. Here's a fun bit with his thoughts on dialogue:

Avellone’s occasional irritation with RPG convention has bubbled to the surface more than once in his career. In Icewind Dale II, he designed a boss battle that required in-game research if players were going to stand a chance of success (“For once, make the lore useful!”).

For Planescape: Torment - his most celebrated game and the root of that unwanted auteur status - Avellone was given a setting in which any reality went. He poured all of his frustrations about fantasy RPGs into his design, beginning with the abolishment of player death.

Since then, he’s spent another decade working on more traditional genre fare. We wonder: if he were to channel his grievances into another game now, which conventions would he be sticking with the pointy end?

“I’m really exhausted of talking head conversations,” mused Avellone, after a pause. “I think ultimately that’s a dead end as far as dialogue is concerned. There’ll always be a market for it, but there might be a better way.”

In their doomed Aliens RPG, Crucible, Obsidian had figured out a way to balance conversation with a permanently hostile environment. It’s an idea that’s stuck with Avellone, who doesn’t think a line of text should make the player feel safe.

“It should be able to be interrupted at any time,” he said. “So maybe you shouldn’t fuck around examining someone’s backstory when you should be watching out for aliens.”

Most of what Avellone plays are builds of Obsidian games - but he tries a “spectrum of stuff” in his spare time. He admired the “narratively brave” Walking Dead: Season One for the way it overturned the expectations of Lawful Good RPG veterans - and played BioShock Infinite in a bid for self-education.

“I think there are ways that shooters communicate a story that’s actually superior to how most RPGs do it,” he said. “it’s not as intrusive and I think there’s important lessons going on in there.”

In fact, Avellone’s “a little tired” of menu-driven dialogue systems in general. Perhaps, he suggests, not all games necessarily need two people speaking at all. If you’re wondering what might take their place, think Ghost in the Shell RPG.

“I noticed in a lot of parts [of the seminal Japanese sci-fi film] that, because of the way the team does radio communications, you actually never see their lips move - they’re just thinking at each other,” said Avellone. “And the idea that you could have an RPG based around that would be kind of entertaining in terms of what thoughts are being broadcast as well.”

Even in a reverie of “hate-generated” ideas, however, Avellone couldn’t help but note that thought-dialogue would “also be less resources”. You can take the creative director out of the production cycle...
The interview also reveals that Chris has recently been designing "lore and background material for a new fantasy world". I assume that's for the project he's currently the creative lead on, which is mentioned in the same paragraph...although the interviewer carefully avoids explicitly connecting between the two. Hrmmm.
 

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Sitting down to write two characters for Eternity, Avellone felt as if the chains were off.

“I’m not writing for a publisher right now,” he thought. “So I can write about subjects we’re normally not allowed to. What’s interesting about the world of Eternity that I think these two companions could have something to say about?”

In the end, Avellone went too far even for his colleagues at Obsidian - those characters won’t appear in the game as he originally intended.
:lol::nofunallowed:

Anyway, thanks, always cool to read MCA interviews.
 
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In their doomed Aliens RPG, Crucible, Obsidian had figured out a way to balance conversation with a permanently hostile environment. It’s an idea that’s stuck with Avellone, who doesn’t think a line of text should make the player feel safe.

“It should be able to be interrupted at any time,” he said. “So maybe you shouldn’t fuck around examining someone’s backstory when you should be watching out for aliens.”​

Outcast already did that over a decade ago. Your conversation with the locals could be interrupted by patrolling soldiers walking by. In the city you'd often follow NPCs until they were in a secluded spot away from patrols before starting conversation.
 

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I think there are ways that shooters communicate a story that’s actually superior to how most RPGs do it
I wonder if he meant third person shooters with a cover system
 

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Sitting down to write two characters for Eternity, Avellone felt as if the chains were off.

“I’m not writing for a publisher right now,” he thought. “So I can write about subjects we’re normally not allowed to. What’s interesting about the world of Eternity that I think these two companions could have something to say about?”

In the end, Avellone went too far even for his colleagues at Obsidian - those characters won’t appear in the game as he originally intended.


:lol::nofunallowed:

Anyway, thanks, always cool to read MCA interviews.

:lol::roll: Now I want to know what the fuck did he wanted to do with the characters.
 

Duraframe300

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Serious post

The reality of that situation is probably Avellone writing a charachter, someone else who reviews it (like Eric Fenstermaker) going "Wouldn't it work better like this" and Avellone changing it.
In the context of the interview Avellone may have used that situation to express that he had soo much freedom that he went too far. And then the interviewer phrased it for drama.
 

crawlkill

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I don't get what he's going for in the excerpt. is his objection to the graphical representation of dialogue, the way it used to be an abstract "you're looking down on two people and seeing what happens described" thing and is now a "two people staring at each other awkwardly while doing idle animations with weak lip syncing" thing? or is he actually saying he's tired of branching dialogue? I'd love to see the face to face stare go away--or at least be directed by a stage director who has some goddamn sense of blocking and scene business, which admittedly DAI did better with in the Skyhold scenes (and nowhere else)--but if it's the notion of treed conversations he's objecting to, I'm not sure what he's really saying.
 

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I think he means that he's tired of two animated heads talking to each other while the rest of the world is frozen. The examples he provide - conversation through telepathy or radio, enemies/hostiles attacking mid-conversation - strengthen that view.
 

crawlkill

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State of Decay sort of did that, although it doesn't have branching dialogue, as far as I got. Your character communicates with an operator via radio (which is functionally telepathy, no hands), but if combat kicks up, whoever's talking interrupts him or herself with one of his "but now's not the time!" lines then starts the last line over from the beginning. that was quite effective, actually. but dynamic conversations are so much more about 'the moment,' I think. for relaying information, noninvasive dialogue is great. for having you actually make decisions, seems to make more sense for the game to focus on that moment.
 

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