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Development Info Josh Sawyer's GDC 2016 talk about attribute tuning in Pillars of Eternity

Discussion in 'News & Content Feedback' started by Infinitron, Apr 7, 2016.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Tags: J.E. Sawyer; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

    One of the notable subplots in the tumultuous saga that was the development of Pillars of Eternity was the creation of the game's attribute system. Although they ended up being of fairly little importance to the game's overall reception, public discussion of the attributes nevertheless spawned tens if not hundreds of pages of debate across multiple forums, pitted simulationists against gamists, and eventually led to the publication of at least one pseudo-academic paper. So it was a bit of a nostalgia trip when Josh Sawyer gave a talk about them at GDC last month, entitled "Gods and Dumps: Attribute Tuning in 'Pillars of Eternity'". Over the course of 48 minutes, Josh gave a short history of D&D's attribute systems, explained his design goals for the Pillars attribute system, described its development process and spoke frankly about how it was received by players. Josh released the slides of his talk after GDC concluded, and the video was made available yesterday. Since I can't embed it, here's a summary from PCGamesN:

    Known for games with branching, reactive stories that allow players to truly role-play, Obsidian Entertainment’s Product Director Josh Sawyer took a rapt audience at GDC 2016 through a session in which he described how Pillars of Eternity’s character creator and levelling system was designed to reward players no matter how they chose to play the game.

    In starting Pillars of Eternity, Sawyer explained that the team at Obsidian had several goals. Some were merely tradition, such as using six attributes as in Dungeons & Dragons - Sawyer explained that “fan feedback hovered between five and seven attributes… so… six?” - but others were to avoid flaws that had become traditional in such systems. Attributes you can decide you don’t care about so you don’t level them up, or “explicit ties” between attributes and abilities that “affect viability,” such as how a Wizard in Dungeons & Dragons requires a high intelligence otherwise they can never cast certain spells.

    “We wanted to have no bad builds,” he said. “In practice if you have an idea for a wacky character like a genius barbarian, that should be a viable character. It doesn’t mean it has to be optimal, but it should be viable. We wanted players to come up with the charismatic fighter, or the clumsy rogue.”

    Sawyer noted, however, that unusual characters could be very viable in Pillars of Eternity, such as the “perceptive barbarian” who would have a high area of effect.

    To facilitate this, the team at Obsidian built a system in which every attribute affects multiple statistics, so all classes rely on a broad range, while also giving room for players to specialise.

    “Choice and consequence is important to Obsidian Games,” he said, while still trying to avoid the chance that players would hit mid or late-game roadblocks due to their decisions versus a player strictly “min-maxing” their character’s stats and abilities.

    He did admit however that this decision was controversial with some players, with complaints including that leveling up didn’t offer enough of an impact, and that with a much more linear-scaling when leveling, the regular progression gave a “perceived lack of value” for players.

    This was seen most particularly in the companions in Pillars of Eternity, who are widely considered to have bad statistics.

    “People complain about the stats of our companions a bunch,” he said, “but the companion attributes reflect who they are as characters. they are designed to be more middle of the road. Let’s say you have a Paladin and they’re super min-maxed for damage. Our companion Paladin, Pallegina, is more evenly balanced so you can use them in different ways.”

    He stated, however, that while the team “didn’t care” about people adjusting the companion stats, it was still “a bit weird” due to the way that Obsidian views the character stats to emphasise the narrative. Taking Pallegina as an example, he explained that she was “willful and tough,” but had “described failing her physical examination more than once, and was an avian godlike so her eyes are described often in reaction text.”

    He then showed a “better characters” mod which massively increased her might and lowered her perception to just three. “This player wanted her to be able to cast lay on hands and tank. And to only be able to do that.”
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  2. Hegel Arcane

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    You're one of the best trolls on this site.
     
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  3. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Haha, that's not a joke! https://forums.obsidian.net/topic/68526-how-to-fix-the-attribute-design-in-pillars-of-eternity/

    Unfortunately it was taken down from Dropbox.
     
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  4. Trashos Arcane

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    Not sure how this is news, I think I saw this weeks ago on Obsidian's forum? You got too bored by the Dragonspear thread? (EDIT: Oh, right, the video...)

    Anyway...


    Actually, there is no other build for the Barbarian other than the *intelligent* one.

    Also, I have the bad feeling that the all-builds-are-good-enough design facilitates the reduction of the number of party members in PoE2. But we shall see.

    Really, people complained about that? I believe that leveling up is too freaking strong and should be toned down. If someone makes a mod with all abilities (of party members) deleted from game, I think the base game must still be winnable on PotD (with a possible exception for the priest's abilities).

     
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  5. felipepepe Prestigious Gentleman Codex's Heretic Patron

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    [​IMG]

    Ok presentation, but for it's length and considering he's theoretically speaking only with professional devs, it's kinda introductory and superficial. He really glossed over the player's reaction - "the core people were ok, but some wanted more impact - and that's ok". Yeah, but did people really understood the system and make diverse builds? For a system that was revised so many times since beta/release, I was expecting more juicy details... not "I did this, and it was good".

    The summary is wrong, his "lack of impact" point was on attribute progression, like how players some thought going from 15 Might to 16 Might doesn't feel meaningful. He doesn't even goes into leveling up in the video.
     
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  6. Trashos Arcane

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    That makes sense, cheers.
     
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  7. Sensuki Arcane Cuck

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  8. Ninjerk Arcane

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    Has he ever gotten to the core of what bothers him about dump stats? I've never heard a satisfactory explanation, and that didn't change with this video.
     
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  9. CyberWhale Arcane

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    Sawyer making extensive presentations on things he did poorly. :lol::salute:
     
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  10. mutonizer Arcane Patron

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    Very interesting how it really seems to be a deep ideological belief in Sawyer, this apparent fear of failure or inability to cope with it, at least in design/game/rpg, this notion that everyone's of equal, or balanced, value and potential, everyone's "good at something, it's ok, here's your 3rd from last medal".

    Think that's why unlike many cRPGs, I really don't have any desire whatsoever to replay PoE now that I know the story. The mechanics on their own are just boring and he summed up why pretty decently in this talk, so kudos on that at least...
     
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  11. abnaxus Arcane Patron

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    Saved in case of insomnia.
     
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  12. thesheeep Arcane Patron

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    The core of what's wrong in that character system.

    The problem isn't even that attributes influence many things (and some aspects are thus influenced by multiple attributes at once). That one I actually like, it is used to great effect in DSA/RoA, for example.

    The bigger problem is the overall design of feats (are they called that? I forgot...) and abilities, which simply don't do that much.
    Oh, and of course that everything is always relative, instead of having at least a few absolutes in the system (such as hard counters).
     
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  13. l3loodAngel Proud INTJ Patron Edgy

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    The only thing I can say is that Sawyer, Feargus and Obsi are the "Don't Bees" of game design.

    The whole idea that int./cha can be very useful to pure combat characters is beyond retarded.
     
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  14. Infinitron I post news Patron

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    I think he spent too much time talking about the "people didn't like the companion stats" thing, which to my mind is a niche complaint made by obsessive weirdos. Less time on that would have left more time for that stuff, maybe.
     
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  15. Tacgnol Shitlord Patron

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    Same. I also thought he spent way too long talking about companion stats (which are purely relevant to POE). I wanted more details about systems.
     
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  16. l3loodAngel Proud INTJ Patron Edgy

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    Oh, the vocal minority. Not much to talk about when more than 50% of game is busted?

    I hope they employ you at Obsi and take you shill-tool away from codex. You're the worst thing happen to rpgcodex since Oblivion.
     
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  17. karfhud Savant

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    I reckoned that he just wanted to illustrate their philosophy of "no bad builds" by showing that they adhered stats based on story profile, rather than pure gameplay appeal...
     
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  18. felipepepe Prestigious Gentleman Codex's Heretic Patron

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    I think he talks about companions because it's where players could make changes that went against his philosophy. He can't do that with the lack of impact and other common complains - it's just "some people hate it and we're ok with that".

    What I wanted was data on how diverse the characters players created were, how they progressed through the game, etc... not anecdotal evidence. "We didn't want players to abandon the game because their characters sucked", well did that help? Because you still have only a tiny fraction of players finishing the game. Similarly, one could just go "but D&D is the most popular RPG system ever, and Baldur's Gate 2 sold much more than PoE". There, anecdotal evidence that bad builds & balance don't matter.

    Another interesting question would be the difficulty settings... if you're gonna add so many difficulty settings, do you really need to limit so much the gap between poor and optimal builds? IIRC you could dump all stats on all characters and still beat the game on easy... while Sawyer himself admits that people don't really need to min/max much to beat Path of the Damned. Seems like they could have make room for more meaningful stats.
     
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  19. Infinitron I post news Patron

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    insert cheeky Siege of Dragonspear reference here

    My recollection is that he says that PotD is the difficulty level where you do generally have to go for optimized characters, but that there are a minority of players who manage to play it without that.

    That said, I agree with your general complaint, but this crowd of "professional devs" may not be as knowledgable as we'd like.
     
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  20. mutonizer Arcane Patron

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    And yet still fails to realize a year after release that it cannot be done with the system he himself designed. A strong spirited shaman persona and a strong physical orc barbarian are both profiled through Might (which means nothing), the most Athletic guy in your party is that 3 might/dex/con dude who's maxed out in Athletic skill and the most knowledeable dude is some random 3 int barbarian with maxed out Lore.

    If your entire system is nothing but random numbers put onto random labels that don't mean shit anyway, and you're trying to describe your companions through that system, no wonder some people say "fuck that", this is stupid.
    Me? I just went mostly custom character becuase companions were just fucking annoying and totally out of context when taking into account the urgency of my character's problems.

    probably changed now but for me PotD after it came out was: cake, cake, cake, cake...
    ...then boom last boss and you're somehow ULTRA underleveled (while everything else was fine) and it's just impossible (I mean it literally, numbers couldn't add up high enough to do anything).
     
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  21. felipepepe Prestigious Gentleman Codex's Heretic Patron

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    Well, I asked him on his tumblr about difficulty settings, let's see if he replies...
     
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  22. Kem0sabe Arcane

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    Tumblr...
     
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  23. Bubbles I'm forever blowing

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    That's a surprising admission, no?
     
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  25. thesheeep Arcane Patron

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    Well, I don't think anyone believes that the developers were actually incapable of creating characters with "good" stats.
    They are indeed more realistic within the setting. However, they are simply not characters any player would create outside of actual PnP (and even there I am yet to see that often), and thus they will give almost everyone the feeling of "I would've done that better".

    Honestly not a problem that is too easy to solve.
    Maybe offer a choice, like a built-in (but optional) "optimal companions" mode?
     
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