Putting the 'role' back in role-playing games since 2002.
Donate to Codex
Good Old Games
  • Welcome to rpgcodex.net, a site dedicated to discussing computer based role-playing games in a free and open fashion. We're less strict than other forums, but please refer to the rules.

    "This message is awaiting moderator approval": All new users must pass through our moderation queue before they will be able to post normally. Until your account has "passed" your posts will only be visible to yourself (and moderators) until they are approved. Give us a week to get around to approving / deleting / ignoring your mundane opinion on crap before hassling us about it. Once you have passed the moderation period (think of it as a test), you will be able to post normally, just like all the other retards.

RPG Codex Interview: Chris Avellone on Pillars Cut Content, Game Development Hierarchies and More

Fairfax

Arcane
Joined
Jun 17, 2015
Messages
3,518
To the suggestion that Josh “interfered” in the process involving cutting down Durance and the Grieving Mother, everything he did was professional and warranted by the circumstances. The budget on those companions was blown, not just a little but a lot. Very late in development. They were unimplementable in the time we had, and the company had promised them to the Kickstarter backers. So while I’d have preferred to have just worked it out between myself and Chris, at that point in production it was unfortunately not what the situation called for. A high-level decision needed to be made, so more people had to be looped in.
I don't know why he feels like "interfered" had a negative connotation. Chris explicitly said he didn't mind the decision and the cuts, his criticism was regarding how they the situation was handled.

The PoE story was approved by management not because of poor judgment but because it was time to say “good enough” and hope for the best. We had something that was a completed draft that incorporated many of the best elements from previous pitches. As a place to start, it was workable. An independent developer can only pay its employees to spin their wheels with nothing to work on for so long. I suspect that the story wasn’t far off from something that was more deeply satisfying, so I don’t think it was a bad bet to make, even if the end result was flawed. Sometimes in development, we get the story figured out well in advance, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Here, it didn’t.
Sounds like poor judgement. :M

There’s kind of a strange insinuation in the interview that maybe I got a bad employee review because of the PoE story (?), and the phrasing almost seems to imply that this might have been related to my departure. I didn’t and it wasn’t. I always found Obsidian to be forgiving of mistakes as long as you were earnest in your efforts to learn from them, and I tried to be that. I appreciate the owners and my managers bearing with me.
I assume this is the part he's referring to:
New: In talks, I’ve never got the impression anyone in the approval process was happy with the story (I wasn’t part of that process). I was told that Josh, in his review, wanted more control and oversight over the sequel storyline, and I don’t know how Eric’s review went. I was a little surprised he left Obsidian but I think that was a good move for various reasons.
Fenstermaker is reaching with the "strange insinuation" here. It seems clear to me that Chris was talking about internal reviews by PoE's developers, not employee reviews. And Fenstermaker's departure happened long after the original answer was sent, so Chris just added a brief comment on it when he updated the answers.

Come on, Chris, tell all you have to say and get it over with.

Its strongly implied that he can't due to an NDA that he had to sign to get 'his share' back. I suppose that is one of the reasons why you get little tidbits here and there.
Yes, he's limited by NDAs. From what I understood, he was able to talk about the cut content and the process because Fenstermaker made it public in his Codex interview.

I'm interested in why Durance and Grieving Mother grew to the size that they had to be cut in the first place, and to what degree they could have been salvaged. Chris, I'm sorry, is mostly tip-toeing around that by focusing on all the process issues surrounding how he was informed that they had to be cut. It's an inside baseball spat that doesn't tell us who was ultimately responsible for screwing them up by turning them into text wall dispensers.
There's no mystery, really. He's a very prolific writer who had a lot of time to focus on two companions, of course they'd have a lot of content. He focuses on the process because that's what bothered him.
 
Last edited:

Fry

Arcane
Joined
Aug 29, 2013
Messages
1,922
The reason for that was simple scope control. Pillars was already over-scoped from the chaotic Kickstarter with all those improvised stretch goals, so restricting the scope of everything was clearly a must if they wanted to finish it at all.

Don't bother talking sense.

If there's one thing the Codex understands, it's how the actual business of video games works.
 

Bohr

Arcane
Joined
Nov 20, 2012
Messages
1,878
Apparently Black Isle/Obsidian is Codex's version of Dynasty. Can't stop watching that shit.

Since you mentioned it, a lot of 70s/80s references are now coming to mind, from MASH to...

XGEgdKb7_o.png
 

Azarkon

Arcane
Joined
Oct 7, 2005
Messages
2,987
Cool, now do a Sawyer codex interview. That's what people here really want to read.

Useless, Sawyer will never reveal anything, he's too much of a company man. Fenstermaker, on the other hand... But then again, this might just be the one time he's off guard, I doubt he'll reveal more. What he did reveal, though, is significant. Here I thought the interview was a bit of a disappointment due to focusing too much on management theory. But now I am reminded that with writers, it's always what's said between the lines.
 
Developer
Joined
Jan 30, 2005
Messages
460
Location
Moblin Villige
Eric did apologize for how he handled the situation, it is true (and more than once), and there’s mistakes everyone makes when being a Lead. I made worse mistakes than Eric for sure – and saying Eric made mistakes is not an insult. There is no “but” or “however” in this statement.

I only had an issue with the process, and Eric admitted he did as well – and he told me himself after my departure that the Project Director was the reason the process didn’t work as Eric intended (and would have been correct for a Creative Lead in my eyes). If that was incorrect, that’s fine, but that’s what he told me at the time.

I will say that I did the fixes as quickly and cleanly as possible, and I could have done them much faster had a gotten a critique direct from the source. Instead, there was meeting after meeting where I said the same thing and we had to discuss things that really, none of us needed to discuss (I was happy to make the cuts). My only issue was the process, and it's not personal.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the process issue was larger than it appears – what work I put into PoE wasn’t gained back when I went back to Tyranny, so any decision made on PoE (for example, assistance that was promised in implementing the characters) that was then retracted, it cost more and more time overall. I’m not bitter about this because that simply was the norm. I did not have time to work on both projects, but that is a failure of upper management and scheduling/double-timing two projects. That said, the employees from Tyranny did work hard to make the work they did for Pillars shine. Don’t take this as I’m angry that Pillars took time from Tyranny, or that Tyranny was my personal project (it wasn’t, Brian Heins was the PD), it just was something that I knew the team would pay for and it wouldn’t be given back, which turned out to be the case because again, that was the norm.

I don’t know why Eric left Obsidian, nor do I mean to draw a connection between Josh’s review of the Eric’s performance and the storyline process, the amount of control he wanted in the process, and Eric’s departure. I still think it is good Eric left/went contracting. If the two weren’t related, that’s ideal.

I can't recall who said this in this thread, but for the record, I would resist anyone's attempts to downplay the work Eric did on South Park – he did quite a bit, and shouldn’t be dismissed, and it was Creative Lead work (it’s also one of the reasons I don’t equate Creative Lead = the person who wrote the story). Both Eric’s boss and I did fight to get him Lead credit on South Park, which he deserved, since he was doing the job. His duties on South Park were also part of the reason we recommended he not be Creative Lead on Eternity.

Its strongly implied that he can't due to an NDA that he had to sign to get 'his share' back. I suppose that is one of the reasons why you get little tidbits here and there.

I didn’t get anything when I left Obsidian. There were no share payouts, no equity, and this was in addition to the other logistical problems around the departure – the sudden cancellation of my health insurance, problems with my 401K, errors in Obsidian’s accounting, and several existing independent contracts they refused to uphold.

Realizing my family issues and the debts therein, however, they did make an attempt to leverage that into a far more confining separation agreement that would remove my right to work on RPGs, and my silence on all issues that could pertain to Obsidian or any other company they were involved with or the CEO had a % in (Fig, Zero Radius, Dark Rock Industries, etc.). This included an inability to critique games I’d worked on – much of my critiques on my own games tend to be blunt, and not being able to speak to them felt unnatural to me.

The company involvement silence worried me more, however, as it meant that if anything illegal happened with any of those companies (these could include serious charges like accounting issues, silence on harassment issues with regards to employees, perjury related to company documents and payments), I couldn’t speak about the issue, even if I felt strongly against what was being revealed.

While all this is good for Obsidian's upper management and is what is sometimes considered "good business," I did feel it showed a lack of ethics.

Still, that attempt at leverage did cause me to re-evaluate aspects of my life. Realizing debt was affecting my decision, I instead focused on working as hard as possible to make up for the amount Obsidian tried to use as leverage to force a signature – and succeeded.

When that happened, I realized I was free of the situation – completely free, for the first time. Feargus and the owners had no hold on my voice, my time, and my creativity any longer. And it was great.

When they made me an offer to contract me to write for Tyranny (which might seem to be an olive branch, but it turned out to be something they needed for contractual reasons with Paradox, but no one had ever communicated it to me), these were the reasons I refused – I didn’t wish to be part of Obsidian’s upper level development process and their pipelines any longer, as these processes were coming from a bad place, and it showed.

Also, realizing there was no restitution for the issues mentioned, I made a promise to myself that nothing I would do would ever cause Feargus and the owners any further financial gain. If my silence was that important to them, then there's no need to be silent because that right hadn't been signed away. Simply put, I like the developers at Obsidian very much, I work and correspond with many of those who are there or have left, and I would work with the developers again. I do feel upper management at Obsidian has serious flaws that need to be addressed, and I stand by that statement.
 

Grauken

Blobbers forever
Patron
Joined
Mar 22, 2013
Messages
10,054
Wow, didn't expect Obsidian upper management to act that shitty

Have to say, the best revenge is when they have to crawl back to you and you can say no
 

Azarkon

Arcane
Joined
Oct 7, 2005
Messages
2,987
The PoE story was approved by management not because of poor judgment but because it was time to say “good enough” and hope for the best. We had something that was a completed draft that incorporated many of the best elements from previous pitches. As a place to start, it was workable. An independent developer can only pay its employees to spin their wheels with nothing to work on for so long. I suspect that the story wasn’t far off from something that was more deeply satisfying, so I don’t think it was a bad bet to make, even if the end result was flawed. Sometimes in development, we get the story figured out well in advance, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Here, it didn’t.
Sounds like poor judgement. :M

It's completely fair for Eric to defend his own pitch, and yet years after the release of the game and countless analyses, I am still amused that the failures of the story are blamed on the story itself, as opposed to how it was presented in the game.

There’s kind of a strange insinuation in the interview that maybe I got a bad employee review because of the PoE story (?), and the phrasing almost seems to imply that this might have been related to my departure. I didn’t and it wasn’t. I always found Obsidian to be forgiving of mistakes as long as you were earnest in your efforts to learn from them, and I tried to be that. I appreciate the owners and my managers bearing with me.
I assume this is the part he's referring to:
New: In talks, I’ve never got the impression anyone in the approval process was happy with the story (I wasn’t part of that process). I was told that Josh, in his review, wanted more control and oversight over the sequel storyline, and I don’t know how Eric’s review went. I was a little surprised he left Obsidian but I think that was a good move for various reasons.
Fenstermaker is reaching with the "strange insinuation" here. It seems clear to me that Chris was talking about internal reviews by PoE's developers, not employee reviews. And Fenstermaker's departure happened long after the original answer was sent, so Chris just added a brief comment on it when he updated the answers.

I think there's a couple of take away thoughts here:

  • Chris wasn't part of the approval process for the story. This is significant and shows that he was already isolated within the company, well before production began. Why else would you exclude one of your most experienced narrative designers from the narrative review process?
  • The reference to reviews was ambiguous. It started off talking about the approval process, but ended with a comment about Eric's departure from Obsidian. It could be read either way, especially when you consider the statement about Sawyer wanting more over sight the sequel story. Is that the sort of comment you'd make in the approval process of the original story, before the game's even determined to have a sequel? I can see why Eric interpreted it the way he did, though the fact that he immediately jumped to this conclusion, indicates sensitivity on his end towards his legacy in Obsidian, which is also validated in his defense of his own story above. I get the feeling Eric's departure wasn't just voluntary.
  • Chris's comment about Eric leaving Obsidian, in the context of the employee reviews interpretation, would have been read as: it's smart for you to leave, because according to what I heard from people, the management thought you fucked up. But even in the context of the story reviews interpretation, it still doesn't reflect positively. I can't see why Chris would put that comment there, unless he thought Eric leaving was related to his story not being liked. I guess he could be taking a shot at the Obsidian management - ie the people who were in the approval process, including Sawyer obviously - instead.

There's no mystery, really. He's a very prolific writer who had a lot of time to focus on two companions, of course they'd have a lot of content. He focuses on the process because that's what bothered him.

The fact that he wasn't part of the process is more telling than the process itself, I'd think.
 
Last edited:

thekdawg21

Augur
Joined
Mar 10, 2009
Messages
231
Location
Atlantic City, NJ
Project: Eternity
Seems like game development is as shitty/shittier business practice wise as the majority of companies I'd worked for. (Huge intra or international companies) Constantly screwing their people and then lawyering up when someone speaks out. Thanks for your candid story Chris.
 

Prime Junta

Guest
Good, it's coming out in the open now. It's about time.

Seriously Chris Avellone , do whatever it takes to get this over with. The world needs you as more than a stretch goal or source of juicy gossip. If you have to murder someone, you can always write from prison.
 

mondblut

Arcane
Joined
Aug 10, 2005
Messages
21,150
Location
Ingrija
Joined
Aug 21, 2014
Messages
294
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
That was some real deep hurt and pain there...as much as I find Chris’ repeated public shiving of Obsidian to be petty and unbecoming, this sheds a lot of light into the hurt that appears to drive it.
 

Infinitron

I post news
Patron
Staff Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2011
Messages
92,371
RPG Wokedex 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 Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag. Pathfinder: Wrath
That NDA is some Stormy Daniels-level shit. Chris, have you ever met this man

unnamed.jpg
 

Cross

Arcane
Joined
Oct 14, 2017
Messages
2,552
The most interesting takeaway from that story isn't the fact that Obsidian would try to impose such a draconian NDA on him; it's what the NDA implies, that what went on at Obsidian was so incriminating that Feargus & co were absolutely terrified of Avellone spilling the beans about it.

Which means we might see even more shocking truth bombs about Obsidian being dropped in the future.
 
Last edited:

Quillon

Arcane
Joined
Dec 15, 2016
Messages
5,021
I'm disappointed in Obs' Feargus leader and less so with the rest of the "upper management" since we don't see/hear from them often and their wives who's working in HR :P Tho I wonder if MCA considers Josh one of the upper management?

I only had an issue with the process, and Eric admitted he did as well – and he told me himself after my departure that the Project Director was the reason the process didn’t work as Eric intended (and would have been correct for a Creative Lead in my eyes).
I don’t know why Eric left Obsidian, nor do I mean to draw a connection between Josh’s review of the Eric’s performance and the storyline process, the amount of control he wanted in the process, and Eric’s departure.

Sounds like you've been holding a grudge on Josh without ever confronting him first hand with the issues.
 

Azarkon

Arcane
Joined
Oct 7, 2005
Messages
2,987
Realizing my family issues and the debts therein, however, they did make an attempt to leverage that into a far more confining separation agreement that would remove my right to work on RPGs, and my silence on all issues that could pertain to Obsidian or any other company they were involved with or the CEO had a % in (Fig, Zero Radius, Dark Rock Industries, etc.). This included an inability to critique games I’d worked on – much of my critiques on my own games tend to be blunt, and not being able to speak to them felt unnatural to me.

The company involvement silence worried me more, however, as it meant that if anything illegal happened with any of those companies (these could include serious charges like accounting issues, silence on harassment issues with regards to employees, perjury related to company documents and payments), I couldn’t speak about the issue, even if I felt strongly against what was being revealed.

While all this is good for Obsidian's upper management and is what is sometimes considered "good business," I did feel it showed a lack of ethics.

Still, that attempt at leverage did cause me to re-evaluate aspects of my life. Realizing debt was affecting my decision, I instead focused on working as hard as possible to make up for the amount Obsidian tried to use as leverage to force a signature – and succeeded.

When that happened, I realized I was free of the situation – completely free, for the first time. Feargus and the owners had no hold on my voice, my time, and my creativity any longer. And it was great.

When they made me an offer to contract me to write for Tyranny (which might seem to be an olive branch, but it turned out to be something they needed for contractual reasons with Paradox, but no one had ever communicated it to me), these were the reasons I refused – I didn’t wish to be part of Obsidian’s upper level development process and their pipelines any longer, as these processes were coming from a bad place, and it showed.

Also, realizing there was no restitution for the issues mentioned, I made a promise to myself that nothing I would do would ever cause Feargus and the owners any further financial gain. If my silence was that important to them, then there's no need to be silent because that right hadn't been signed away. Simply put, I like the developers at Obsidian very much, I work and correspond with many of those who are there or have left, and I would work with the developers again. I do feel upper management at Obsidian has serious flaws that need to be addressed, and I stand by that statement.

Holy fuck.

That's all I want to say for now.

This is the sort of statement that could sink companies.
 

As an Amazon Associate, rpgcodex.net earns from qualifying purchases.
Top Bottom