Obsidian CEO Urquhart Fears Lack of Originality in Offline RPGs

By Nick Breckon, May 30, 2007 3:20pm PDT Obsidian Entertainment CEO Feargus Urquhart is worried that MMORPGs may be cutting into the traditional RPG market, urging that developers need to adapt to the changing dynamic by pushing offline games in new directions. In an interview with CVG, Urquhat emphasized the lack of substantial differences between the core gameplay in offline RPGs as compared to their online competitors. "For instance, it used to be fine to make an RPG that was just wandering around and hacking things up with the player having very little effect on the world around them. Why play that game now if you could just play an MMO?" Urquhart said.

As the former leader of Black Isle Studios, Urquhart is responsible for some of the most popular RPGs in history, credited with work on Planescape: Torment, the Baldur's Gate franchise, and the original titles in the recently revived Fallout series. Following the financial troubles at Interplay that lead to a brief shutdown of the publisher, Urquhart departed Black Isle in 2003 to form Obsidian Entertainment, which has seen the release of the RPG sequels Neverwinter Nights 2 and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords.

Using the new campaign for Neverwinter Nights 2 as an example, Urquhart described his vision of how the single player experience can differentiate itself from that of an online, persistent world. "In Mask of the Betrayer, we can make the world react more to your personal decisions than any MMO could hope to. We can let you impact your companions and the game's NPCs--and the entire story outcome--in ways that MMOs cannot," he said. "Many RPGs, including some that I've made, allow the player to just stomp around and not really have to worry about the world that they are playing in. I think that really limits the feeling of you being in that world, which is what I certainly want when I'm playing a great RPG."

During this year's GDC, then-Firaxis designer Soren Johnson commented on the state of offline PC development, putting it into the context of piracy. "Game design on the PC is going to bend toward persistence," Johnson said, boiling it down to an issue of economics. "You can't pirate WoW. You cannot pirate an MMO. Period."

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  • NWN2 was a damn fine game, although the ending kinda blew ass. Too bad they had to fuck it all up by making people download a walkmesh for multiplayer, half the fun of the first game was server hopping looking at all the cool shit people made. I'm not going to exit the game, download some additional files, and then load the game back up just to check out one server.

    Here's a thought, why don't you make an expansion for NWN2, and put in some major PW support, with an autodownloader for all the stupid little files you need to play on the server? And while you're at it, make everything else in the game modular so you don't need a CS degree to add new classes and spells and whatnot.

    Give the community the tools and you'll see some wicked shit.

  • I hated Neverwinter Nights 2. I wanted to set every single major female character on fire, as well as a few of the minor characters, male and female. They were that irritating. I've never wanted NPCs in a game to drink a nice barrel of shut-the-fuck-up more. That, coupled with the retarded bugs (it took me over an hour just to figure out how to get around the retarded patcher!), and I was very, very unpleased.

    Oh, yeah, and NWN2 didn't appear to even be particularly original or innovative. It's another game in the vein of Baldur's Gate. At least, that's all it was as far as I got before I returned it.

    Want to create some real innovation? Let the player do horrible things to make the NPC shut up (or talk, if necessary). Give the player some evil options more interesting than killing people and taking their stuff, or petty lying, cheating, and stealing.