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Development Info Obsidian Panel on Narrative and Choice & Consequence at PAX West 2016


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Jan 28, 2011
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Tags: Brian Heins; J.E. Sawyer; Matt MacLean; Megan Starks; Obsidian Entertainment; Paradox Interactive; Pillars of Eternity; Tyranny

Obsidian Design Director Josh Sawyer and several members of the Tyranny development team - game director Brian Heins, writers Matt MacLean and Megan Starks, and level designer Denise McMurry - were the participants in a panel at PAX West yesterday entitled "Heroes, Villains, and You: Player Choice in Game Design". The panel was hosted by Paradox, who called it a "Tyranny panel", but it's really more of a general discussion about various aspects of designing choice & consequence and narrative. They streamed it live on their Twitch channel, and now it's available on YouTube:

It's pretty commonsensical stuff, I think. There are a few vague hints about some interesting situations we might encounter in Tyranny, but no real revelations. For a shorter take on the same topic, you might want to check out PC Gamer's interview with Josh and Brian, also from yesterday. Kudos to Josh for namedropping the Ultima series in both places!


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Nov 23, 2014
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Regarding voiced characters and whether it's good or bad to have everything or nothing voiced. I think in a game where you can see the NPC's face animation while you listen to its voice, having that NPC fully voiced is ok - like the voiced NPCs in Fallout 1 or in Witcher.

Where full voiced dialogue bothers me is in isometric games where they put you in a position where you either have to sit in front of a paused game screen and listen to a voice actor reading a line you've already read, or you have to skip to the next voiced line of dialogue. The bad example here is D:OS EE.

I think the Infinity engine games, mostly BG2, did it just right - certain NPCs had some lines voiced, usually the more important, plot- or sidequest-relevant things. This served to give the player a feel of how this NPC sounds like but left the rest to his imagination. The fact that the casual NPCs had some voiced line which was not the same as what the text said in the dialogue is circumstantial evidence that the intention with having voiced lines was just to set the tone and draw a rough portrait of the NPC through that voice.

I sort of disliked that companion NPCs and certain characters in PoE had all text voiced, and also that random NPCs on the street had no voice samples. I think the game suffered from that. Of course, Josh Sawyer has said that some players found it weird the game was not fully voiced, but those players are wrong.
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Feb 13, 2016
:hmmm: @ the woman next to Sawyer
Yeah, we were commenting on her refined tastes in games in the last two pages of the Tyranny thread. It's great that she's on the team to push for the exceptional reactivity and branching narrative of The Wolf Among Us. :M


Feb 5, 2007
I really enjoyed the panel, Matt in particular, I really liked what he said.
There were a couple of very good points raised regarding informing the players of their choices and that's really great to hear from them.
I felt PoE was too handicapped in terms of player choice due to it trying to be a Baldur's Gate spiritual successor, and if they step away from that in Tyranny or PoE 2, much hype... much hype...
Also Tim Cain and Leo Boyarsky.

If only they tone down the amount of combat in their games, they're gonna be making the best games ever.


Aug 23, 2005
man, Obsidian lost any right to give panels about narrative and C&C after PoE in my opinion. PoE is one of the worst possible executions of both of those things i can think of.

on the flip side i would not object to Obsidian giving panels on combat or itemization or on character development (not literal character development but gameplay-wise) instead, as those three things are the strongest in PoE.

EDIT: i forgot about F: NV. man, Obsidian is really hit or miss! F: NV is one of the best executions of narrative and C&C of the last 16 years and also features decent itemization.

unfortunately Tyranny seems to be following in PoE's footsteps in terms of narrative and C&C i.e. checklist design born from what they think their fanbase wants instead of actually passionate design like the unbelievable passion evident in F:NV that makes it greater than the sum of its parts.

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