Chapter 15
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Pause Screen: Long Table - Pillars of Eternity II and RPG Design at Obsidian

Hours after the launch of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, seven tired but excited developers gathered to talk about the design and history of RPGs.

8

Like journals sprinkled throughout RPGs, Pause Screens go into more detail on the people, companies, and cultures that contributed to the success of the Pillars of Eternity franchise and the Infinity Engine line of roleplaying games.

On the afternoon that Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire went live to the delight of CRPG fans around the world, I hosted a long-table discussion—because in the games industry, with its abundance of conference rooms and rectangular tables, round tables are in short supply—with seven developers and producers from Obsidian Entertainment.

For an hour and a half, we talked the ingredients that define a roleplaying game made by the studio regardless of sub-genre or theme, the status of Infinity Engine-style RPGs such as Pillars of Eternity, settings the developers would love to tackle in future projects, and perhaps most importantly, who made bets to shave heads or eat obscene amounts of fattening foods on the condition that Deadfire holds at or above a certain aggregate score on Metacritic.


David Craddock

Welcome, everybody, to the inaugural... Shacknews Long Table? I guess that's what we're calling it. I am your host, Longreads Editor David L. Craddock, and I am here in bright and sunny Irvine, California, at Obsidian Entertainment, with a bunch of folks. It's May 18, 2018, when we're recording this, and Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire has been live for six hours or so. So, my first question is, who made bets? Who's going to be eating something? Who's going to be cutting hair?

Josh Sawyer, Design Director at Obsidian; Game Director on Pillars of Eternity II

We were just talking about one of our designers had been growing his long, luxurious hair out. I think tomorrow he's going to be coming in with a freshly cut [hairdo].

Adam Brennecke, Executive Producer / Lead Programmer on Pillars of Eternity II

He has a fro right now.

Josh Sawyer

Yeah. He'd been keeping it back, but recently he's been going fully unleashed, so he's looking really [wild]. But, no bets for me. Just the game shipping.

Feargus Urquhart, CEO and Co-Founder of Obsidian

But, Adam, I thought you had some kind of bet?

Adam Brennecke

Yeah, as we've discussed, I'm on board with eating an Arby's Meat Mountain.

David Craddock

Two, right?

Adam Brennecke

Well, hopefully some other people can help me out with eating two. That's a lot of calories in one setting. But if the game reviews well, that's on the agenda to accomplish that.

From left to right: Scott Everts, Dan Spitzley, Feargus Urquhart, Carrie Patel, Josh Sawyer, Adam Brennecke, Chris Parker, David L. Craddock.

David Craddock

Excellent. Scott, I understand that at one time, at Interplay, you were the source for Star Trek laserdiscs, was it?

Josh Sawyer

He probably still is.

Scott Everts

One reason I got the job at Interplay was I had a complete set of all the Star Trek episodes on laserdisc, because they wanted to borrow them for the Star Trek 25th anniversary. I think that was a major reason I got hired.

David Craddock

Since you've just launched an RPG today, I'd like to go back to the beginner of each of your histories with RPGs. Chris, we'll start with you and go down the table. What was the first RPG--be it computer RPG, console game, tabletop, whatever--that made you a fan of roleplaying games?

Chris Parker, Director of Development at, and Co-Founder of Obsidian

My first experience with roleplaying games started in sixth grade, when I got the Basic Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Me and my buddy sat together at night, with the lights down low because we were up way too late, building our characters and figuring out how to make different adventures and stuff like that. And they were all terrible at the time. I remember a few of them, and most of them consisted of walking into a room, and there's a big guy, and no matter what you rolled, you killed him and took an entire treasure horse. Which was ridiculous, but that evolved over a long period of time.

When I was in high school, I got into really awesome computer games like Bard's Tale and stuff like that, that sort of took D&D into the computer realm.

Adam Brennecke

I started when I was a youngin', playing more Japanese RPGs [than other types]. I think my favorites were probably Final Fantasy 6, and Earthbound, those types of games. And then I played a game called Baldur's Gate. I was into D&D, a little bit into pen and paper, but then I played Baldur's Gate, and I'm like, "Wow, this game's amazing." Thinking about that, the guy sitting next to me [Chris Parker] was a producer on that game, so it's weird to be working for him now at Obsidian, working alongside him. It's kind of like a dream come true.

Josh Sawyer

I also started when I was pretty young, at ten. I started with Basic D&D, and then Expert, and then AD&D. The first CRPG I saw was actually, there was an older kid at the local public library, on the Commodore 64, playing the original Bard's Tale. It blew my mind, because I only played games on the Apple IIe, so to see that amazing color graphics on the Commodore 64...

David Craddock

That was a jump.

Josh Sawyer

Yeah, I was just like, "Wow, I didn't realize you could play these fantasy games on a computer." From there I played tons of tabletop games all through high school and college, and tons of computer roleplaying games.

Carrie Patel, Co-Lead Narrative Designer on Pillars of Eternity II

I grew up playing a lot of the Sierra adventure games. I played those with my dad and my sisters, so navigating the story and problem solving was something we worked on together. And then at some point, we came across Quest for Glory. That series was probably my first experience with RPGs. I remember enjoying it, but finding the element of character creation... it was fairly light, as far as RPG elements go, but I still thought, Oh, this is pretty cool. I'm still playing these great stories, but I have a little more agency in terms of defining my character.

Feargus Urquhart

I think I was the opposite: It was computer games first. I think it was in fifth or sixth grade, one of my friend's dads had one of the original IBM PCs, and we played... I think it was Zork I, and we played... there was a detective game from Infocom. Um...

Dan Spitzley, Senior Programmer / Lead Programmer (Sometimes) at Obsidian

Deadline?

Feargus Urquhart

Yeah, it was Deadline. I did that in sixth grade, and then I think it was in seventh grade, when I went to junior high, I got into D&D. Then pretty soon after that, it was also playing RPGs on the computer as well.

Dan Spitzley

I started with computer games. I was never really a big pen-and-paper player like my brother was. We started with the Apple II, mostly with Infocom games, the sort of interactive fiction. As far as RPGs go, I think the first one I really sort of dug into was Ultima 4. After that, I went back and played the ones before that. I was also a really big fan of the Might and Magic games, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on.

Scott Everts

I started with D&D and classic Traveler, for pen-and-paper [games], the ones known as "little black books," which I think was the late '70s. Ugh.

Scott Everts

The first computer I played on was a Commodore PET, and then I got an Apple II, and we used to play Wizardry, and there was a series called Eamon, by... I believe Donald Brown did those. He did them as freeware, and there was hundreds of adventures people made. We used to download those off of an old 300 baud modem and play those. Yeah, I think I'm the oldest one here.

David Craddock

Is there even really a "roleplaying game" now? Is everything a roleplaying game? What qualifies a game as an RPG? Scotty, we'll start with you.

Scott Everts

I think they say that anything that has stats is an RPG now, so that could pretty much be a [definition]. But, really, if you don't have any character progression or story, and there are just stats that are going up, I don't consider that strictly an RPG. I think everyone likes to put RPG elements in their games, but we focus on story, and that's very important. I think that's a big, fine difference, at least for me.

Dan Spitzley

RPGs evolved, just like anything else. In some ways, true RPGs are probably a lot more niche, now. I mean, you get RPG aspects in even Call of Duty. You get your stat increases and all sorts of things you can unlock. But a true roleplaying game, as I grew up with, is really much more of a niche type of thing these days, unless you're talking the huge [blockbusters], the Fallouts or the Witcher 3s or whatever.

Feargus Urquhart

I think the thing that probably still characterizes RPGs--even though there's a lot of RPG elements, as you guys were saying, in all games nowadays--probably the best way to call it is "persistence." It's this idea of two connected things: choice, and persistence, which is this idea that I will make choices in the game, and something really, truly different, will [distinguish] my world in the game versus someone else's world in the game.

I'll use a very simple example that a lot of people know, which is Fallout 3: Megaton. That's not something you generally see in other styles of games. You beat levels, you choose different guns, you do a lot of that kind of stuff, but you don't change something based upon how you play through the game, compared to how everybody else is playing through the game.

Carrie Patel

I think a lot of what Scotty said, about there being a lot of RPG elements in different kinds of games now, which I think is really exciting--I guess I personally find an RPG [to be] a game in which you progress your character, and you have some element of choice in deciding how to progress your character. So, you can see your character's skills improve as their ability to navigate and conquer the world around them improves based on your time playing and the choices you make while you're playing.

Josh Sawyer

For some reason, any time this topic comes up, [I think of] this old sort of legend about the philosopher Diogenes. I think it was Socrates... Someone said, "What is a man?" and Socrates said, "It's a featherless biped," and so Diogenes plucked all the feathers off a chicken and said, "Here is Socrates' man." Whatever definition you give for RPG, you can find some weird exception.

I think I remember seeing a lot of people debate about what an RPG was--this was several years ago--and you have this central character you can upgrade in all these different ways, cosmetically and mechanically. And I was like, "So, it's like your car in Forza Motorsport? Does that make an RPG?" I think that the narrower and narrower we get [in our definition], the sort of games Obsidian makes where it's sort of narrowed down to a combination of, you can define who your character is both in terms of their mechanics as well as their personality, and that personality is something you can express in the world to change the story, as long as there's the persistence that Feargus was saying.

The thing is, I would say that for a long time, it was the mechanical RPG elements were being borrowed, whether that was upgrades or skill trees, things like that. But now there are a lot of games that actually do choice and consequence, but they're doing choice and consequence without any of the mechanical definition for the characters. So, you're playing a static character where you have choice and consequence with the story.

So, I feel like RPGs are kind of--at least our RPGs--are moving into this combination of, defining the character mechanically, in a personality way, and then also changing the story based on that.

Adam Brennecke

I might say something kind of strange, but I think almost all games are RPGs. You're playing a role. You're trying to escape and play a different type of character that's not from your normal [daily life]. Besides the most basic puzzle games or mobile games... I would say even racing games, or games like Mario, you're there to escape, so I would say almost every game is an RPG in some way.

Chris Parker

So, I'm looking down the table at seven great answers and thinking of how I can paraphrase things that they've already said.

Feargus Urquhart

You lost this turn order.

Chris Parker

Yeah, I did. I really do think [RPGs] have a lot to do with choice and consequence. I agree with what Adam says about all games being a means of escape and you assuming a role. I think in this case, when I'm talking about genre definitions for games, I see the ability to make choices about my character, about the story, about whatever, and have those actually have meaningful consequences in the game that are rewarding to me, are the things I find most separating about the genre of RPGs from other genres.

Dan Spitzley

It's interesting. That sort of choice and consequence, if you look back in the early '80s and mid '80s--

Chris Parker

Yeah, it's not there.

Dan Spitzley

The CRPGs that we played, they didn't necessarily have a lot of that.

Chris Parker

They didn't.

Dan Spitzley

You'd still be playing more or less the same way through the games. It wasn't until the early '90s and I think the Gold Box games started having a little bit of that choice and consequence. But, again, it's about the evolution of the genre. Now we're talking about things that were in pen-and-paper games, certainly choice and consequence, and freedom that players had; but now we're doing it programmatically.

Feargus Urquhart

It's odd, when you think about it in a lot of ways: It's almost like pen-and-paper roleplaying games took the same course. I think the original D&D [type of game] was Chainmail, right?

Josh Sawyer

Yeah.

Feargus Urquhart

Which was really a wargame. It went from being a wargame, to you actually playing a role and playing a character, and having choice and consequence--if you had a good DM--and then video and computer games basically followed the same course.

Josh Sawyer

Yeah, all of the early western RPGs were kind of aping D&D, structurally and mechanically. Those games weren't really wargames, it's just that the format of tabletop gaming was built around people collaborating and saying, "I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that." And sometimes the Dungeon Master would say, "Here's the adventure," and the players would just say, "Nah, I don't know."

To their credit, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson left room for lawful characters, neutral characters, chaotic characters. They kind of created this space where people could screw with the story. The Gold Box games started to have some elements of that, but for me, Fallout 1 was the first. I couldn't believe when I finished Fallout 1, I went online, and someone said, "Oh, did you get the good or the evil ending?" And I was like, "Whaat?!"

Josh Sawyer

Then I went back and slaughter everyone in my save-game so I could get the evil ending. But, yeah, it took a long time to get out of the purely tactical combat, strategic-character-building phase, and into the combination of that with the storytelling choice and consequence.

David Craddock

I'll pitch this one out to Josh and Carrie, and then anyone else who'd like to chime in can feel free to do so. As you've worked on RPGs for however long, what would you like to see RPGs--not just your own, but the genre in general--do more of, in terms of mechanics, in terms of character development, and in terms of narrative?

Carrie Patel

I don't know. We've all been talking a lot of choice and consequence, and a world that evolves around the player, and seeing that persistence. It's a lot easier to talk about than it is to do. I think recognizing the limits we have as designers, and the limits of what we can do programmatically while still feeling like you have an authored story that's not pure random events popping up here and there... I think implementing that kind of choice and consequence, while creating a world that feels like it's living and breathing, and that's reactive to your presence but that's not sort of pulling you into detail for detail's sake--I think that's something I'd like to see us continue to evolve, and continue to do well at in our genre.

Josh Sawyer

I want to see other settings: I want to see modern-day, contemporary stuff. I want to see more sort of naturalistic, non-magical [mechanics and settings]. I want to see non-European, non-American settings, and non-Japanese settings. I think that RPGs by and large, including Pillars of Eternity for the most part, stick to more traditional trappings for roleplaying games, but there are a lot of really cool roleplaying games that aren't fantasy, that aren't sci-fi.

There's a lot of stuff in the tabletop space where people just make crazy stuff. Fiasco is a roleplaying game that is very interesting, because you're collaborating to create the plot of a Coen brothers movie that you make up on the fly. It's stuff like that that I think is really radical and interesting.

I also think, system wise, a lot of people think about RPGs in ways about being about to mechanically define your character. But the way in which we define our characters mechanically typically revolve around combat capabilities and things like that. Maybe combat, stealth, and conversation. But I think that with a different focus, you could really do something very different. One game that's in development right now, Disco Elysium--formerly No Truce with the Furies--is really trying some real avant-garde stuff with making an RPG. I would like to see more developers try to push the boundaries of the settings that they use, the stories that they tell, and the way in which you can make characters.

Dan Spitzley

I'd kind of like to see games that have elements of choice and consequence, that are not 100 hours long.

Dan Spitzley

Because as much as I like to delve around in there, you only have limited time. There are a lot of indie games that are sort of going in that direction, where you get a lot of choice, but the game is only five hours long or something.

We've kind of dabbled in that a little bit with Alpha Protocol and Tyranny, which both are not massive games length wise, but are replayable to get something out of it more than one time. I think that's another direction that games could go to respect the player's time, for folks who just can't devote that amount of time to a massive RPG.

Feargus Urquhart

For me, going back to a little of what Adam said, I think games and roleplaying games are about escape. What's a great way to escape? When I'm watching a movie, I have empathy toward the [main character] if they're the hero. If they're a villain, I feel differently about them; maybe that's different for some people.

I think for a game, the more that we can do our job of making the choices that we offer them as varied as possible, so players can truly choose to be who they want to be in our world--and that's hard, because that's just exploding all the potential [work] we have to do--but the more that we can make them feel like they get to be this character they want to be, then we've done our job on letting them escape.

David Craddock

Everyone here has worked on some pretty big games, and this next question springboards off Dan's point. It seems almost like an RPG's length--I remember this was especially true during the 16- and 32-bit days, where on the back of PlayStation discs you'd see, Over 90 hours!--since you've worked with such a wide variety of RPGs, here--post-apocalyptic settings, the town of South Park, Alpha Protocol--how do you go about building a game world that feels full and that there's a lot of stuff to do, but without padding it?

Chris Parker

I think the important thing to consider is, what is the goal of the game that you're making? With South Park [Stick of Truth], for example, I think most people finished playing that game in, I don't know, maybe fourteen hours. Maybe a little bit longer than that; probably several people finished it a lot [faster] than that. But I think it delivered everything that anybody wanted out of a South Park roleplaying game. It gave you all the different ways to take your character and involve him or her in all the different elements of the world, and all the different elements of the IP, in a funny way that was respectful to the show.

I think that was a perfect length for that game. I had many people that it left them wanting just a little bit more. Whereas sometimes, some of our games are very, very long, and a lot of people just never get around to finishing them because there is so much content. So, I think how you pick that is a very fine line, but I think it's important to understand what sort of game you're making.

With Pillars of Eternity, we sort of knew we were trying to hearken back to the Infinity Engine games, games like Baldur's Gate and stuff like that. We looked at those games and said, "Well, all right, Baldur's Gate II is probably too big," but there's probably something reasonable in there that will meet that goal." Then we kind of came up with, you know, "Well, we want the critical path to be this long, and then we want this much side content because side content is very important to players, and it's very important for them to feel like they're choosing their own path through the world." So, you go forth and you do that. You say something like, "We're going to have a twenty-hour critical path, and then twenty hours of side content. And then because we're Obsidian, it winds up being forty hours of critical path and forty hours of side content.

Chris Parker

I don't know, that's just how we've gone about doing it: Trying to set targets that we think are going to meet our expectations and the player's expectations, and then go out and do that.

Adam Brennecke

I think it's an iterative process during development. I was playing through the game, and on the White March [DLC], there were a few areas that we felt were paced too quickly. So we're like, "Hey, let's take a step back. Maybe we need to add a dungeon or an extra environment to explore."

We did the same thing on Pillars 1, we did the same thing on Pillars 2: We felt that there was maybe not quite enough side content, so we went back to the drawing board and discussed ways of fitting that into production, and adding a couple more side dungeons for the later-game content. We just felt there wasn't quite enough to do when you're between levels 15 and 20, so, "Why don't we see if we can figure out how to make a couple more dungeons for the player to explore?"

Josh Sawyer

A lot of it has to do with feeling, and that's something that we, like you said, we iterate on, we feel it out over the course of a game. With Deadfire, there was such a big [emphasis] on exploring the world map. Early on, when we first started doing a team playthrough of the first game, people would leave the first island, Port Maje, and they'd be like, "What's that?" They'd land and they'd just get their head kicked in: "Well, I guess I'm not supposed to go there. Let me try this island." Then they'd go there and they'd get their head kicked in. We're like, "Uh, maybe we should have some more low-level content closer to the first island."

So, it's about that feeling: Making the player feel like this is a really big world where they can get pulled in lots of different directions. Something we saw with one of our first streamers was that every time he got distracted by a single quest, he would immediately go out and do it, until he had, like, twenty quests queued up. Halfway through a quest, he'd get pulled into another one. For the players who really like to explore, it really gives them that feeling of, "Wow, there's just an incredible amount of stuff I can do if I want to."

Carrie Patel

It's also important to make sure that all the content feels justified and fleshed out to the point that it doesn't feel like filler. That every quest that someone sends the player on has something about it that will entice the player, has a reason that this person is asking the player to do this thing that they can't do themselves, and some sort of impact that it will have on this character or on the setting itself. And making sure the gameplay attached to it is interesting and fun, and has some reveals and surprises for the player, and that you're not just adding things in because you think, "Well, we need a few more hours in this area, so let's drop in some easy fetch quests."

Feargus Urquhart

I think when it comes to time and our focus, it's sort of like we're trying to support two different kinds of game players. Both love roleplaying games, but some want to be able to finish a game in fifteen hours, and some want to play for 200. It's an interesting thing that we're trying to always support. I think a lot of what we try to do is side content and things like that. That's what I'd like to see us do more of, if possible: Kind of really try to go, "Okay, how do we support these two types of people, and how do we do it in a way that's not just a bunch of filler stuff?" and not procedurally generated or things like that.

But also, acknowledge that supporting the ten-hour person and 100-hour person is probably not possible. We'd have to do too many things in either direction that would make it hard for the other type of person to enjoy it. But it'll be interesting. It's just really looking at how much content do we really feel needs to be in a roleplaying game?

Chris Parker

I think another good example of that, by the way, is Alpha Protocol. Alpha Protocol was actually sized specifically to what we thought the game needed. It was not a pre-determined number of hours or anything like that. It was very much a tug of war, kind of like what Josh and Adam were referring to, that tug of war to figure out, "What do we need to support an adventure that feels like this thing that we're trying to do?"

That took place over the entire course of development to actually make that happen and make the game feel how we wanted it to feel, with enough side content and enough main content.

Dan Spitzley

As far as Obsidian is concerned, we do tend to make more content than we expected. I think the important thing is to not be too precious with the stuff that you've created. As hard as it is, sometimes things have to be cut. The honest truth is, if you do the cutting intelligently, the player will never know that something is missing. So, it hurts, but if you can do it but make the game better by losing something, there's a lot to be said for that.

Scott Everts

From the art side, one of the things we focus on is, I'll call it visual storytelling. That's when you stumble cross some cool thing: here's a car wreck, or here's a camp that's been abandoned and messed up. It tells a little story as you're moving on that doesn't require a designer to go in and basically write something or designer something, or require scripting or anything like that. It just makes the world feel a little bit more realistic, instead of just these little spots of human colonies and then a vast wasteland with randomly spawned monster.

We also add landmarks to draw players in certain directions, or it gives you a compass heading. So, I think the art team is definitely focusing very heavily on visual storytelling to try to flesh out areas. That gives our designers more time to focus on story elements, and it makes our areas a little more interesting.

David Craddock

Josh, this is a question I'll direct at you given your love of tabletop games. We were having lunch earlier, and you were all reading reviews of Pillars 2, and you said, it's kind of funny, there was this juxtaposition where one guy said, "There sure is a lot of writing... but I like the writing." This, of course, is a style of game that evolved directly from pen-and-paper games where you had a Dungeon Master who was in charge of painting this entire tableau for the whole experience. How do you balance expository text, descriptive text, against audiovisual elements that, being part of a game, can carry their share of the weight, too?

Josh Sawyer

I think the focus for us, especially on [Deadfire], was to try to tighten the dialogue. We wanted the player to really feel like each piece of dialogue that they got was really essential, and rich, and very strong. We gave each other a lot of feedback on the writing team when we'd review each other's work. There were a lot of recommendations like, "Cut this down, cut this down, remove this word, you don't need this, you can bring this [word count] down even more and still make it very strong."

I think that often, because of the size of the games we've made in the past, there's an emphasis on writing too much dialogue. We have an enormous amount of dialogue in this game, but it's split up over more characters, and it's split up more intelligently, I think. And I think one of the really nice things about this project was that we did have time to review each other's work, and edit our work done, which makes a big difference.

Not every single roleplaying game Obsidian makes is like this, but for the Pillars games, we write these games for people who like to read. Obviously the voice acting in the portraits, and the little cutscenes all help with that, but ultimately we feel like people want good writing and they want to be immersed in it. But that still means that we have to be responsible about how much text we give them, and how we pace it.

I think pacing is what it comes down to: Giving people dialogue that is easy to digest, and that aren't so long that they're like, "Oh, come on, let me just get out of this." That's a constant struggle, I think.

Adam Brennecke

I think, also, it's this style of game. Being top-down, you have to leave a lot up to the imagination since you're not right in the thick of things like in a first-person game. I think something like Fallout: New Vegas, I think you can get a lot more visual storytelling through environmental storytelling. Something like BioShock as well, where you're viewing everything [in] first-person.

It's also a stylistic thing: How much text we have in Deadfire versus in some other games. If we were doing a first-person game, I wouldn't have as much dialogue as we have in Deadfire.

Carrie Patel

We were also able to make use of the lore tooltip system that the team developed for Tyranny, so that reduced a huge burden that we had in the first game: To have a lot of characters explain new concepts, gods, terms, et cetera, for the player. Sometimes, if you're a certain type of player, even if you're not necessarily engaged in the question, you feel like, "Maybe I need to go here just in case there's some nugget I need for a quest, or it's gonna trip some variable for a quest that I want to trip later."

Tyranny used a system that just allowed us to select specific lore-related words, hover over them, and easily display the definition for the player, so they can keep moving forward in the dialogue. We don't have to write the same definition into two or three characters, not knowing which one the player will encounter first, and we can very easily allow players to get what they need to know, and keep playing the game without getting bogged down.

David Craddock

I think that's something interesting about writing for games that a lot of players might not realize: When you write for a game, you're not just firing up Word or Notepad and pounding out dialogue. You are using a lot of tools and processes.

Josh Sawyer

Yeah. Obsidian has a proprietary tool that has been in development since, what was it, 2006?

Feargus Urquhart

A long time.

Josh Sawyer

Yeah, twelve years. It went through a lot of growing pains to get to where it is, but it's an incredibly powerful tool. It's where we write all of our dialogues; it's where we construct all of our quests. On Deadfire, it's also where we set up all of our game data for our spells, and abilities, and items, and things like that.

Writing branching dialogue, as I think any of the studios that work on branching dialogue will tell you... Without good tools, it can be very, very painful. I think that, going all the way back to Black Isle, I know on Fallout it was all hand-scripted, right?

Scott Everts

Yes.

Josh Sawyer

So, that's crazy.

Feargus Urquhart

We were able to use Excel a little bit, too. I had to write some stuff near the end of Fallout 1, and I thought the system was bad, so I figured out how to do Excel. We actually figured out how to use a Word doc, and then how to export from a Word doc... Was it a Word doc?

Dan Spitzley

On Alpha Protocol, yeah. The narrative folks really, really, really wanted to use Word--

Feargus Urquhart

Oh, VBS.

Dan Spitzley

--so there was some Visual Basic Scripting in there to just turn that into game-usable content.

Chris Parker

We had that on Icewind Dale II.

Dan Spitzley

Oh, yeah.

Chris Parker

They wrote Word docs, and they would actually write their scripts into the Word docs, too, and it would all get dumped in, and you would kind of compile it and see what exploded.

Feargus Urquhart

It also went into the Infinity Engine, too, the BioWare thing.

Chris Parker

Yeah.

Josh Sawyer

But then, in 2006, we moved to a visual, node-based flowchart, which was very primitive at first, but now it's extremely powerful. I cannot imagine that we would have been able to make this game, or the last game, without that tool.

Feargus Urquhart

Yeah, the original Fallout 1 and 2 [writing], that was probably the hardest, just because it was a script, a program. The program actually called just string numbers, and the string numbers were actually referenced into a text file. So, when you looked at the actual dialogue, you didn't actually see the actual text. It was funny, because how the character functioned in the world was in this same program file along with its dialogue, and then you had to reference the text document and try to follow the dialogue as you were trying to debug it.

David Craddock

Scotty and Dan, you two have been involved in making this style of game since Fallout, and since Planescape: Torment. You've explored a lot of settings. We'll start with you, Scotty, and come on down the line. Like Josh mentioned, a lot of [RPG worlds] are kind of the sword-and-sorcery, epic fantasy-type settings. Are there any settings you would like to return to, or that you feel haven't really been mined for RPGs?

Scott Everts

Well, I'd love to do a Flash Gordon-type game. I think that would be fun. Not too many people are doing that. Also, urban fantasy. I love Dresden Files. I've read all the novels. There's a little more about that... I mean, that's almost like Vampire: The Masquerade in some ways.

Feargus Urquhart

Space 1999?

Scott Everts

Space 1999! Yes, a very under-appreciated TV show from the 1970s. Yeah, we primarily focus on [fantasy], but wild sci-fi would be kind of interesting, too. You can go watch the actor who played in a lot of serials, or Flash Gordon. I'd love to see something like that. One of the things you have to be concerned about is, is this something other people want to buy? I'm probably the only one that's going to buy the game, and that's not so good.

Dan Spitzley

I'd like to see more horror. Any sub-genre of horror, really. There have been plenty of vampires and things like that, but a slasher-themed RPG--how would that work? A Cthulhu-based RPG. There are some out there, I think, but there's a whole slew of types of horror that I think could work in an RPG setting.

And I definitely agree with Josh that something more real world would be interesting, too. That's one of the reasons that I think Alpha Protocol is still a game that people go back to. In addition to the story and the branching [choices and dialogue], it's different. It's espionage, it's modern day. It's just different.

Feargus Urquhart

There are probably three [for me], but two are not exactly the same. There was Deadlands, which is a sort of, I guess, an urban fantasy/western. It's zombies and other stuff, but in the west. I don't know if we'd ever make one, but I think a western would be cool. I like urban fantasy as well, and I don't mean so much the vampire-romance type of thing. There's more of that kind of... let's call it "near future," where maybe there are elves and orcs and things like that [in a modern or far-off setting], almost like Shadowrun to an extent.

Yeah, I really like the idea of a near-future, Bladerunner, maybe there's orcs, maybe there's not. I think that would be really fun to make.

Carrie Patel

I think there's a lot of really fun concepts in sci-fi, too. I think a space opera would be a lot of fun. You can obviously go really big with something like that, and be just as imaginative as you can be with fantasy, but I feel like you're less constrained with genre expectations in sci-fi. There's a lot you can do there.

Mikey Dowling, one of our community managers, has a wonderful idea for a wrestling RPG.

David Craddock

Yeah!

Carrie Patel

I think that'd be really fun, and not something we've really seen before.

Josh Sawyer

Even though it is still fantasy, just because I love the 1992 RPG Dark Lands, I've always been a big fan of late-medieval-early-modern Europe, where it's low magic. Sort of historical fantasy, I guess, actually set in late-medieval Europe. Two other areas that I think would be really interesting to explore would be postbellum, nineteenth century United States: Chicago, or any of the growing metropoles within the United States after the Civil War I think would be really fascinating.

I also think the end of the nineteenth, beginning of the twentieth century Europe, visually and thematically, there are a lot of really interesting things going on in there. Not even necessarily fantasy; you could also have mysteries, detectives, things like that, that could be really fascinating for a roleplaying game.

Adam Brennecke

I'm not sure if there are any more settings.

Feargus Urquhart

No one's said "dating sim" yet.

Adam Brennecke

Oh, dating sims? That'd be a fun game to work on. I think modern-day... not necessarily a spy game, but something like Persona, where it's a little more grounded, just daily-life stuff.

Josh Sawyer

With demons.

Adam Brennecke

With demons, yeah. Maybe not as crazy as that, but something I love--I mentioned Earthbound before--something along those line, where it's rooted in real stuff that everyone can grasp and understand. Possibly going through real problems you might have, and [asking] how do you deal with problems from your daily life? Family stuff, small things like, "Hey, your dog ran away," so you have to find your dog. Small problems like that, that people can relate to. Not that we lose our dogs every day, but stuff like that.

I like personal stories that you can tell, and I'd like to do something like that someday.

Chris Parker

I'm going to go right back to horror. I've wanted to make a horror roleplaying game my entire career, or have somebody else making a horror roleplaying game that I can play.

The other thing I'll bring up--and I don't it's commercially viable--there are certain TV shows, like Lost, that I think would make a really interesting, psychological roleplaying game. I don't know how you work combat into that, or if you'd even want to, but I think some sort of psychological roleplaying game where you have a bunch of characters that are stuck in a really difficult situation, suffering from things like hunger and thirst. Not in a survival [game] fashion, but in a way where their interactions heighten all of their emotions and their emotional states. Your winning or losing has a whole lot to do with how crazy everybody becomes.

That just sounds like something that would be cool. I think it would be a really big challenge, but I've always--

Adam Brennecke

That... sounds like a lot of fun.

Chris Parker

--I've always kind of wanted to do something like that.

Dan Spitzley

Yeah, one of the things I've always thought prevented companies from making RPGs [set] in the modern day, or some other sort of [realistic] setting is, what, if anything, can you replace combat with? In a modern-day setting, if you don't want to have people killing each other, what do you replace that thirty to fifty percent of the game with? Is it then all just dialogue?

Getting some ideas about what we could do there to keep the game active and fun without necessarily requiring combat skills, I think that would be an interesting way to go.

David Craddock

I'll start with Chris and Feargus for this one. I'm sure it wasn't anything so formal as bringing stone tablets down from mountains and saying, "This is Obsidian," but when you started the company, over the process of working with these different licenses and themes, over the years, have you found any through lines to your RPGs? When you start out to make a project, is there anyone that says, "Okay, if we're making an RPG, it must have X, Y, and Z, to be an 'Obsidian RPG?'"

Chris Parker

There's a few things. Number one, we know we want to focus on the story experience and the narrative experience for the player. We know that we want the world to have persistence, to have consequence for the player based on their decisions. We want them to feel rewarded for those decisions, and not penalized for them, so that players always feel like they are progressing along some sort of personal growth vector, whether that's just via stats, or whether it's specific interactions within the world.

I think, going beyond that, everything is really sort of negotiable in terms of what makes the most sense for the sort of game we want to make. As long as we stick to those things, at least in my opinion, I think we're focusing on what makes an Obsidian game, an Obsidian game.

Feargus Urquhart

This doesn't apply to every game that we make, but I think we do try to figure out how to have games with companions. It's a strength of ours. We feel they're a great way to help tell a story, you can have relationships with them, and all those kinds of things. I think that's important.

This adds on to what Chris was saying, but an important part [of our games is] choice and consequence, and the reactivity to that choice and consequence. I think that's something that's really important. In other words, when you do something, we want that positive reaction... It can be a trait that you get, or a new weapon, or something like that, but also, it could just be something that changes in the world.

Josh always says this--it was a weird that, when he started saying this, I was like, "Oh, there's a high-falutin' design word"--which was "agency." Now I use it all the time. But I think that's [important], giving the player agency to do stuff in the world, and then have the world react to it, visually react to it, having things to do, having your companions react to it. I think that's something we try as much as possible to have through all of our games.

David Craddock

Josh, is there anything you'd like to add to that as game director?

Josh Sawyer

I think that covers most of it. I do think that another thing that we look at is, we try to really think--for me, anyway--I like to go back to the tabletop environment. If a DM were sitting across the table for me, telling this story, what are the range of ways that I would like to be able to react? That kind of informs how I think about player options. Whether it's player options in a quest, how to resolve a quest--there's something about the range of expression. If the range of expression is too narrow, you get back into that place where you feel like you don't really have the agency-- [Looks at Feargus]

Feargus Urquhart

Mm-hmm.

Josh Sawyer

--to really decide who your character is, not just in terms of mechanics, but personality. If I want to be a jackass, or if I want to be stoic... One of the things that was really cool in Tyranny was that "glare silently" became such a popular option in dialogue. People were like, "That's my vibe. I want to be this person that just glares at people and acts weird."

Josh Sawyer

So, it's about trying to embody that sense of, obviously there's no DM [in our games] for you, so we as designers have to try to create that space for you to play the character the way you want to play it.

Another thing that we think about a lot more now is not just short-term reactivity, but also long-term reactivity. Players tend to respond very, very strongly when they make a choice and they see something that happens in the world right away, and then later--maybe it's three hours, eight hours, twenty hours later--there's yet another consequence.

Adam Brennecke

Or in the next game.

Josh Sawyer

Or sometimes [the consequence occurs in] the next game. I actually did--hopefully this won't spoil too much--but in terms of reactivity, in Deadfire, there's a choice you make in Pillars 1 that gets responded to early in Deadfire, and you can kind of keep going with it. And then way, way later, almost at the end of the game, it can still come back, that choice from the first game, and bite you in the ass.

So, even though sometimes they can disadvantage the player, players seem to respond very positively [to] that sense of, this is not just about the end of the dialogue, having a little thing that says, "Oh, I ended it this way," but then seeing another consequence maybe an act later, or two acts later.

Carrie Patel

I think part of that, too, is making sure that whatever path we give the player is potentially rewarding. I think a lot of games fall into the trap of, "good, kind, nice responsible option leads you to more gameplay advantages, a better story outcome, and more satisfying results overall," unless you're just trying to cause chaos.

Creating stories and systems where you don't necessarily have to play the goody-goody all the time to get an interesting story and fun results, and to get advantages later in the game, is important to make all of the options we're giving the player feel viable.

David Craddock

Is VR a terrain that Obsidian would like to explore? Kind of a new terrain for immersion in RPGs? We'll start with Chris for this one.

Chris Parker

I think VR's super interesting. I think it's really cool for some games. At some point, I do think it would make sense for an Obsidian roleplaying game, particularly if we're now working on the Obsidian horror game I just suggested.

Chris Parker

--I think it's a great time to invest in VR and figure out how to make it work. But for a lot of our games, I don't think it's necessary to the experience. I think at some point it will be able to add to [the experience]. My take on VR is it's still a little bit clumsy. I have PlayStation VR, and so it's a whole, "get it out, put it on my head, make sure there's four feet around me."

David Craddock

There's a lot of wires with that thing.

Chris Parker

Yeah, there's wires coming off of you. You're a Geiger-esque sort of thing, now. So, I just think there's still some obstacles to overcome, there, and that our games don't need it. But at some point in the future, I think it would be super, super cool.

Josh Sawyer

I don't know. There's a couple of folks on our team who are super into VR stuff. I don't know. I think that if we're making games that are isometric, and people are super immersed in them, it doesn't seem like it's vitally important to, not only do we have to make them first-person, but VR.

I think there are really cool and interesting, beautiful things you can do in VR. I think some of the nontraditional-game applications are some of the more interesting things I've seen done. I think the more that I've seen people try to shove traditional game genres into VR, the less successful I've seen it be, as opposed to people who are like, "What are the cool and unique things about VR, and what can we do with those, without coming in with the preconceptions of what games are supposed to be?"

So, I think it has neat applications, but I don't think it's necessary for RPGs until someone thinks of a fascinating, sort of [unique] style of RPG. If that happens, thought, I don't think it's going to look a lot, or feel a lot, like the RPGs we've been making. I think it's going to be a completely different experience because VR is a completely different experience. That's the whole point.

Feargus Urquhart

Just as a side note: I agree with all of that. I think VR for us is something we'll keep on looking at. I do see in my head, though, a little bit of... Josh is really interested--and so are a lot of people on the team, but Josh in particular--in doing, "Do we want to make a fantasy, turn-based game?" I don't mean it's like an Army man game, but I'll kind of use that as an example. I know one of the things that I played that I really enjoyed was Defense Grid on my Oculus. At first, I'm like, "I've played Defense Grid. How could [VR] be that much cooler?" But it was just kind of fun to play this tower defense [game] where I could actually move my head around and see the stuff. They had a little game where you had to look around and find some stuff.

I used to play miniatures. I used to play Warhammer 40,000--that's the one I used to play the most--and [I'd ask], what happens if you create a game like that? Maybe not so much a roleplaying game, but in VR, you're playing a turn-based, Army man-like game where you can pick up [pieces]. My brain tells me that that would just really put you there in a way that's very different than... I don't want to call it "standard VR" where they're trying to put me in the world. In this case, with the Army man thing, I'm representing a world, this fantastical world of me playing a miniature game in a way I could never do in real life.

David Craddock

A lot of people want to know, despite the success of Pillars 1 and 2, where you've developed these complex rule sets of your own, there's always that demographic that says, "Will you ever make another D&D- or AD&D-based game?" Josh, is that something you would like to do? Do you think that's in Obsidian's future, or are you going to be focusing on creating and sticking with your own, custom-made rule sets?

Josh Sawyer

Well, now that I've actually got a chance to make my own tabletop rule set, I'm going to keep working on that for a while. But there's a lot of people here that love D&D. I think we still have three Fifth Edition campaigns that are going with different people at different times. Actually, a lot of people play in all the campaigns.

So, I certainly think there's still a lot of love for [D&D], but one of the reasons why we made Pillars was so we could have a fantasy IP that was ours to make. I'm certain that Feargus would be interested in working on D&D stuff in the future, and I'm certain there's a lot of other people at the studio [interested as well]. I've made seven of [those games], I think, so I've kind of had my fill. I'll keep playing those games, and I'll have a lot of fun doing it, but for me, personally, I'd like to work on my own tabletop stuff.

David Craddock

Carrie, as a narrative designer, I know that one big thing a lot of players talk about in RPGs is they love building their own character, and they love meeting companions and side characters because they form these attachments to characters. They feel like, "Finally, there's someone out there I can identify with. I don't feel so alone." What sort of social responsibility do you, and/or the narrative team as a whole, do you feel to make RPGs more inclusive regardless of any genre and any overarching storyline you may be working on?

Carrie Patel

I think the main principle for me is these games are for anyone who wants to step into this adventure and play the story. That's the whole point of letting people create their own character and decide who they want to be in this world. So, trying to avoid assumptions about who gets to be a hero in this world, and what sorts of people we think are interesting enough to tell stories about... Everyone has a story to tell. Anyone can be a hero in this world. Anyone can be an interesting and compelling character.

I think making sure that we're including a lot of different types of characters, from a lot of different stations of life, that have a lot of different roles in this world, making sure we're allowing the player to create these characters, but also that we're putting them in the world for the player to interact with, [is important]. We're not just saying, "Yes, this is a city populated entirely by armor-wearing adventurers."

David Craddock

Dan, I wondered: As a programmer who's been working on this style of RPGs for work, one of the goals of the outset of a game like Pillars of Eternity was, "Let's recreate this beloved type of RPG"--what are some of the technical challenges you faced as an engineer that are problems that still need to be solved in games today?

Dan Spitzley

One of the biggest challenges is doing the same thing on a different engine. No engines that exist are really well suited, publicly available engines, are well suited to doing the style of large RPGs that we make. While a lot of features are not necessarily difficult, they're time-consuming to implement in a new engine. I think that's one of the reasons that, with Pillars, now that we are able to iterate on the technology that we've already built on Unity, it makes us capable of making a better game because we're not recreating the wheel every time we start a game.

But as far as major features go, you always have challenges with things like pathfinding. You're almost always using some different, third-party solution that has quirks. We don't have the time or the money to implement all that stuff ourselves every time we make a game, so you always have challenges anytime you use third-party software for really, really important features in the game, be it audio, or precomputed lighting, or anything like that.

That's one of the biggest challenges: Starting from scratch when you have to. Moving forward, I think as a company, we hope to be in a position where we can iterate on tech that we've built as opposed to having to swap to a brand-new engine every game.

David Craddock

Scotty, you joked earlier that what you do is make a lot of dirt. That was a big thing you did in the original Fallout. Kind of along the lines of the question I posed to Dan, how has setting art direction, creating art, and designing levels changed from Fallout to now? Can you just go in there and iterate, or is there more planning involved?

Scott Everts

Well, you always have planning, but the tools are so much better. Feargus remembers the struggles I had getting the Fallout levels together, especially the ground. I learned the tile set, carefully knew what every single piece was, and how each one worked with another piece, so I could create patterns and that sort of things.

Now, it's much more like [using] a paintbrush. You paint the terrain, you can put noise in, you can change textures, you can blend things together. So, our tools are better, which makes our job easier. We're using Substance now for doing props, and that's an amazing program. It saves so much time. I think that's the main thing: The more you have to fight with the tools, the harder it is to get something to look nice, because you're spending a lot of time on the technical side. Now we're spending more time on the creative side. I think that's the biggest change I've noticed. The environments we're making now are amazing, and I think that's because we have really good tools.

That's one thing we focus on here, too: Making sure tools are good. Feargus would get angry at me [at Interplay] because I would be working with some crappy tool. He'd say, "Why didn't you say anything?" And I'd say, "Well, you know, I didn't want to waste the programmers' time?" He'd say, "What would it take, a week to put in? And you've been struggling with this for six months?" I thought, You know, he's right.

Feargus Urquhart

Wait, wait. What was that? What did you say?

Scott Everts

Oh my god. Did I just admit [you were right] on a microphone?

David Craddock

Feargus and Chris, one thing we talked about concerning the development of Infinity Engine games was that BioWare... the intro movie to Baldur's Gate was as much a promotion for the Infinity Engine as it was the intro to their game. But I don't hear as much talk about the Pillars of Eternity engine. In fact, I feel like I'm in dereliction of my journalistic duty, here: Off the top of my head, I don't even know what it's called. Is it a conscious decision not to be promoting this engine, and just to be working in-house on this pipeline? Just leave what's under the hood, under the hood, and focus on the game itself?

Feargus Urquhart

I think a lot of it is that engines now are a lot more complicated than engines used to be. And that's not to say that Baldur's Gate and the Infinity Engine... It had a lot of moving parts and it worked great, did a lot of different things. But in essence, it's taken more man-hours and man-months to develop what we have with Eternity.

We are in the business of licensing engines. InXile did use the Pillars of Eternity Engine for Torment. But even in doing that, it was sort of like, well, if we're licensing an engine to someone, then we're going to have to support it. Who's going to support it? Adam loves supporting engine. That's his favorite thing in life.

Feargus Urquhart

So, we made a conscious decision of, "Do we want to be an engine-licensing company?" That's kind of what Unity and Unreal do, or Epic. That's a major part of their business. They have hundreds of [partners]. We're really here to make games, to make our games, so we just never really tried to market the Pillars of Eternity engine as its own piece of technology for other people to use.

David Craddock

No flashy intro movie?

Feargus Urquhart

No, there's no flashy intro movie.

David Craddock

Josh, I know there are other examples of this style of RPG, but it seems like the two I hear most about are Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin. You and I, and almost all these folks, here, have talked about the decline of this style of RPG and its resurgence. Will this style of RPG ever be mainstream, something that publishers want? And does it really even have to be, when you have options out there such as Kickstarter and Fig?

Josh Sawyer

I don't know. I don't think it needs to be that much bigger than it is, I guess. I feel like we can do a lot to bring new people into this style of game. I think that, especially when you go back to the Infinity Engine games, you're looking at Second Edition AD&D rules, which were not necessarily super intuitive; you're looking at late-'90s UI design, which is also not necessarily super intuitive. You're also playing, really, a little [real-time strategy game], in the case of the real-time-with-pause games. In the case of Divinity, you're playing a turn-based, tactical-combat game with tons of cool roleplaying elements in it.

I think those are things that, they're not going to sell Call of Duty numbers, really, because the audience is not really that big. But I think the nice thing about the wave of crowdfunding and the games that followed it--whether it's ours, or Larian's [Studios], or InXile's, or Harebrained [Schemes], or any of those other companies--is that we showed that there's enough of an audience there to make really good games, that make money, and that we can keep making this style of games.

I'm sure that Feargus would always like to make more money, but I think the nice thing is that, in my mind, I'm not super concerned with reach this crazy-wide audience. I do want to bring new players, and younger players who haven't experienced these older games, into this style of game, because I think it can keep going indefinitely as long as there are people who are interested in it.

In that sense, we always do have to look at, whether it's our UI design, or how we present and stage combat, or any of these other things, to keep bringing new people into the genre. But I don't think it needs to be something where Pillars of Eternity 3, or 4, or 5, needs to sell ten million units. I don't think that's really necessary.

David Craddock

Only ten million?!

Josh Sawyer

Yeah, only ten million.

David Craddock

My final question for you all is a two-pronged attack: What is your favorite Infinity Engine-style game; and what do you see as the future of this genre? Where would you like to see it go?

Chris Parker

My favorite Infinity Engine-style game? That is a... that's a tough question.

Adam Brennecke

Which one of your babies [do you prefer]?

Chris Parker

Yeah, yeah. I guess I'm always going to be partial to Baldur's Gate II. That's a tough call. I really do love Icewind Dale, and I also love Pillars of Eternity, which is the same style. I will say Baldur's Gate II. That will be my answer.

Where would I like to see things go? I love the strategic-combat elements of these games, and I think that there are ways to always make those more accessible and easy to use, while still creating all of the world choices and reactivity that we really like. I'd like to see evolution in that direction. I also think we can do, or continue to do, better jobs making the world feel alive and making things happen in the world, and really seeing and feeling everything that happens in the game is something that you are watching from your little, floating tower above all of this.

I'd like to see the entire sub-genre go in that direction. I think it could and it should, and that that would add to it.

Adam Brennecke

I like them all, but I'd say Baldur's Gate 1 is my favorite IE game and Pillars of Eternity-style game, just because it was the first one. It's silly or weird to think about only the first version, without the expansion, was only [character] levels 1 through 8.

Chris Parker

Kind of depends on the class.

Adam Brennecke

Yeah, yeah. It's very different from most RPGs where it's very low level, and I just liked that feel of that world where you're barely scraping buy. When you get that +1 armor or weapon, it's a really amazing experience, as a player, when you get your first magical item in the game.

Where I'd like to see these games go is, I think there's a lot of room to improve on all aspects of the game. Just like what we did with Pillars 2 from Pillars 1, just iterate. The team's getting more and more experienced; that means we're just going to be making better and better content. The tools are getting better; we can make bigger--not necessarily [in terms of] size of the game--but in ideas in terms of quests, more complex things, just because the tools are better.

I think there's tons of room to improve. I always think we can do better. That's what I'm excited to see: Where we can take it.

Josh Sawyer

For me, it's probably the original Icewind Dale, just because that's the first game I worked on in the industry. I made it at Interplay. When I got to Interplay, I couldn't believe it, because Bard's Tale was the first computer roleplaying game I got into, and it was like, "Wow, I can't believe I'm here making a game." I remember Fearg shared an email that Brian Fargo had sent to him about how much he had enjoyed playing Icewind Dale. I was like, "Oh my god, I can't believe it."

That project was also pretty crazy because there were effectively no leads on it. It was just a bunch of people making stuff. Most of us were juniors. We all just talked to each other about what we were doing, like, "Yeah, sounds good," or, "Eh, I dunno, maybe you could do this," and, "All right. Maybe I'll do that, and maybe I won't."

Josh Sawyer

So, it's kind of crazy that it came out as well as it did. That's my favorite. In terms of this style of game and where it can go, I want to see more experimentation with styles of game. Even if it's still isometric, even if it's still real-time with pause, I don't think it needs to be fantasy. Classless systems are really interesting to me. Change the setting around, do all sorts of crazy stuff.

I really do think that making shorter games with quests that have a lot more ways to solve them, especially if they incorporate a lot of the stuff Parker was talking about in terms of reactivity to the world, the world is changing, time of day, weather, all that sort of crazy stuff... It's crazy, too, because I remember Ultima 4, 5, and 6 had a really big emphasis on scheduling and AI, stuff like that that could be a really integral part of solving quests. I think the more ways you give people to solve quests, it gives a great sense of freedom, which, again, goes back to tabletop roots where you feel like, "Eh, I'm gonna try to screw up the GM's plan," or, "You know what? I don't think this is the way we're supposed to do this, but I'm going to try something." And then it works out as such a satisfying thing.

So, making denser games that are smaller, and there's much more varied ways to mess with the world. I think that's one of the ways in which Divinity: Original Sin 2 really stands out to people. It's more experimental; there's a lot more screwing around with the world, which I think is a really cool way to go.

Carrie Patel

If I can maybe interpret "IE-style game" a little more broadly...

David Craddock

You can.

Carrie Patel

I'd say my favorite is Shadowrun: Hong Kong. I had a lot of fun with it. I loved the style of combat. I loved the world. Fantasy/cyberpunk was a breath of fresh air to me, and a lot of fun to play in. But it was also a really focused game. We've talked a bit about the appeal of shorter games that are still engaging: [Hong Kong is] not super long; the roleplaying opportunities are present, but they are a little more focused; and I still had a great experience with it. I left wanting just a little bit more because I was having a good time, but at no point did I feel bogged down in the experience, like, "Ugh, I've got to finish this game so I can get on with stuff."

As far as what else I'd like to see, I'll echo what Josh, Adam, and some of the others have said: I'd enjoy seeing more of this style of game set in different worlds, different settings, around different kinds of stories.

Feargus Urquhart

It's always kind of hard to pick [a favorite]. I'm probably more critical of games that we've developed versus games we've [published]. That's probably a weird distinction, but part of it is that it's hard to divest your experience of what was going on [at a company or in the industry] at the time from the game itself, but I also would have to say Baldur's Gate II is my favorite.

I can't remember how many hours I put in, around 150 or 200 hours into my game before it launched. It was a really important game, not just for BioWare, but it was important for Black Isle, it was important for Interplay. It was just a big moment in my life, I guess. That's why I often will think back to Baldur's Gate II.

As for what I want to see, I hate to say the word "more" because it's so generic, but what I've really enjoyed about what we've done with Deadfire, versus what we were able to do with Pillars in a lot of ways, is just all the extra in-game cinematics, and animations, and pets, and just making the world feel lush. For me, the more we can make these worlds feel alive, that's what I'd like, and that's what makes them awesome. They're alive in so many different ways. It's about reactivity, and agency, and that kind of stuff, too, but it just is, I walk into these medieval villages, and there are serfs in the mud... I think with "more," it just feels like you're there, even if it's an isometric game. That's what I'd love to see.

Dan Spitzley

I'm going to make a startling admission, here. The people who work with me tend to know this, but I have a very hard time playing through the games that I have worked on. The only games that I worked on that I've actually played through to completion are Fallout 1 and 2. They're not IE games, but certainly they're very high on the list of games that I love [in an] isometric style.

As far as [a favorite among] the ones I've worked on, I'd say Planescape: Torment. Again, it's so different. The art style is fantastic, the characters are great; I had a lot of fun working on it.

As far as what I'd like to see, I have a very different answer than everybody else. I think every roleplaying game should be forced to be a first-person, grid-based, dungeon crawler. There are not anywhere near enough of them now, and I just love them. We have to get on that.

Scott Everts

For me, it would be Icewind Dale II. I was the user interface designer on that, and we completely scrapped the old interface, which had been used since Baldur's Gate 1. We'd just been re-skinning it, so it was a nice challenge to just completely revert the game over to Third Edition, which cost us, what, six months at least, maybe a year to retool it? Was it that long? Well, it was too long ago [to remember]. I enjoyed that one. I thought it looked pretty, and it was interesting and had a different rule set to play.

For me, I think our visuals, [what's important is] trying to focus on those "wow" moments--which are becoming harder and harder to do because people are so jaded now--when you walk into a new environment, you say, "Oh my god, that's amazing looking." Deadfire has that, which is nice. It's hard to make fans go, "Wow."

Hmm. That's a stupid way to end this.

Josh Sawyer

But, Scotty, by saying Icewind Dale II, we've now covered every Infinity Engine game.

David Craddock

I know I've said this to you individually several times, but thank you all again for hosting us over the past couple of days. It's been a lot of fun to talk to you all. I have a great deal of respect for all of your work, and that will do it for this inaugural edition of the Shacknews Long Table. That's what we're calling it, now.

David Craddock

Thanks again.

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