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Interview Josh Sawyer and Chris Avellone Interview Roundup

Infinitron

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Tags: Chris Avellone; J.E. Sawyer; Jonas Wæver; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

Yesterday, on the last day of PAX South, Josh Sawyer was interviewed about Pillars of Eternity by a representative of a site called The Know. The interview is around ten minutes long and doesn't really contain any new information, but the interviewer is knowledgeable enough about the game to zero in on some of the more controversial topics surrounding its development, which makes it a useful recap. Here's the video:



More interesting perhaps is this interview at XP4T with Chris Avellone. Not least because the interviewer is none other than Jonas Waever from Logic Artists, of Nameless Mod and Expeditions: Conquistador fame. Hot developer on developer action! It's a very fanboyish interview, but also very informative, with Chris describing his work regimen at a level of detail I haven't seen before. It's a must-read for aspiring games writers, but I'll just quote this bit where he talks about Pillars of Eternity, repeating what he told us last week in further detail:

JONAS: Any particular design ideas or concepts that you’re obsessed with right now? Anything you’re particularly excited about in one of your current projects, or particularly determined to find a way to use in a future project? (I promise I won’t steal it, we probably don’t have the budget for it anyway.)

CHRIS: A few, I suppose. At a high level, this may be shooting myself in the foot, but I’ve become increasingly interested in narratives without words, especially after New Vegas (where prop placement told better stories, imo).

At a specific level, in Eternity, the original premise of the companions I wrote (Durance and the Grieving Mother) was unpeeling the layers and discovering what they were at the core – unpeeling these layers involved slipping stealthily into their unconscious, a dungeon made out of their memories. There, the player could go through an adventure game-like series of interactions, exploring their memories using psychological items important to both your character and to them as emotional keys to thread your way through the memories – but carefully, without revealing your presence. The memory dungeon was to uncover their shared history, how it impacted you, and the core of who they were as people.

And their core was pretty unpleasant. Both of them were very bad, very weak people, committing not only violations on each other, but on the player as well. When faced with the discovery that your allies, even if they fiercely support you and fight for a larger cause, have some pretty horrid faults, what do you do? Do you pass sentence? Do you forgive? Do you assist them to reach an understanding? And what I found more interesting with the spiritual physics in the Eternity world is that a death sentence isn’t a sentence – killing someone actually sets a soul free to move on to the next generation. So if you intend to punish someone in a world like that, either out of revenge or to correct their behavior, how do you do it when execution is not an answer?

The elements above got stripped out of the companions in the end, so I’m happy to share it here (and I may re-examine it in the future). Overall, I thought they raised interesting questions for the player to chew on, and it was interesting to explore those themes, as most game narratives and franchises wouldn’t allow for such examinations – still, Eternity was intended to be a more personal project for Obsidian where we can stretch our narrative legs more, both in structure and themes.​

Their core was pretty unpleasant? I wonder if that means their personalities have been changed too.
 

Xeon

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A few, I suppose. At a high level, this may be shooting myself in the foot, but I’ve become increasingly interested in narratives without words, especially after New Vegas (where prop placement told better stories, imo).

I might be misunderstanding but I think this is like what Ken Levine said:
I would say that the best tool we have to sell our story is the world because the visual space. I don't have the comfort of being able to tell the story through a lot of words as much because I view that in our games as sort of a 14.4 mode of communication... so the environments are the T3 line. And it gives you so much information that's always there, it's all around you, all these polygons, and you can take in so much more visual information all at once than you can take in audio information.

Link

His idea sounds pretty great tho.

Edit:
Page 4 is pretty good.

He is kinda right about KOTOR2 having too many companions. I think they tried to add companions for both light and dark sides so to give more options to players but I think you can manipulate most of them with influence and turn them to whatever you like them to be.

Man, I am pretty happy about them cutting the extra romance from AP, there is already 3 or 4 romances I think and each of them had enough time for each of them to make a decent character.
 
Last edited:

Athelas

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and you can take in so much more visual information all at once than you can take in audio information.
Says the designer who fills his games with audio logs wherein people for some reason decide to record their innermost thoughts on dozens of recording devices which they then leave at random places.
 

Tigranes

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All that sounds very cool. Kind of sucks they cut it out, POE could do with more of that vibe.
 

Deleted member 7219

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The guy interviewing Sawyer looks about 4 years old. Damn I'm getting old.
 

80Maxwell08

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and you can take in so much more visual information all at once than you can take in audio information.
Says the designer who fills his games with audio logs wherein people for some reason decide to record their innermost thoughts on dozens of recording devices which they then leave at random places.
I remember reading a post-mortum on Singularity where the devs outright admitted to taking the audio log idea from Bioshock because it was cheap. That could be a motivating factor in the decision to use them at all in most games.
 

set

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and you can take in so much more visual information all at once than you can take in audio information.
Says the designer who fills his games with audio logs wherein people for some reason decide to record their innermost thoughts on dozens of recording devices which they then leave at random places.
Levine's a hack, but it's natural to want to write. People want to fill up their game's story with stuff. It takes discipline to acknowledge it's whitespace that makes a sentence cognizable to people, you know, to take the bonsai tree approach of narrative design. The meaning of a statement is not in the words, it's in how it's conveyed. Conveying a story mainly through imagery is a great way for a video game to tell its story, but it requires restraint and some faith in your audience to get it. I can sympathize with companies that don't have that faith, but I think it's more to do with a lack of skill to convince others to share your vision or a lack of willingness to challenge conventions, than anything else.
 

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