Chapter 28
Chapter Select

Notes and Citations


Author’s Notes

A huge thank-you to the folks at Obsidian and elsewhere who gave so generously of their time to answer my many (many, many) questions. This book is dedicated to you. I would like to extend a second thank-you to Obsidian for opening their doors to three Shacknews staffers in May, during the hectic twenty-four hours before Pillars of Eternity II launched. They made themselves available for extra interviews, treated us to meals, gave us a tour, and, overall, rolled out the proverbial red carpet to welcome us into their home away from home.

Many thanks are also due to Asif Khan, the CEO and editor-of-chief of Shacknews, and my friend. As always, Asif gave me the time and space to write a comprehensive account for Shacknews. In particular, Asif signed off on my spur-of-the-moment idea to visit Obsidian and shoot a video feature on the launch of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire in early May 2018. That trip is a huge part of what makes Beneath a Starless Sky so special, and I am grateful to him for going along with it.

Special thanks to Greg Burke, Shacknews’ video editor. Greg is perpetually underwater with travel, recording, and editing assignments, but he (and Asif) took time to accompany me to Obsidian Entertainment and shoot interviews, all of which informed this book.

Last but never least, a heartfelt thank-you to the names of developers whose names you probably don’t know as well as those written about over the pages of this book. Lead programmers are not responsible for every line of code in a game, just as lead writers don’t write every word for every character and every quest. Game development is a team effort. I only had time to speak with so many individuals, but the ones with whom I did not get a chance to speak are as responsible for the success of the games you’ve just finished reading about as those whose names are now familiar to you. Where possible, I took pains to allude to or mention the names of these individuals so that their accomplishments and contributions could be recognized.

Notes and Citations

Beneath a Starless Sky includes new content from interviews with the following people: Kazunori “Kaz” Aruga, Philip Athans, Chris Avellone, Dimitri Berman, Leonard Boyarsky, Adam Brennecke, Justin Britch, Tim Cain, Eric DeMilt, Tim Donley, Aarik Dorobiala, Mikey Dowling, Michael Edwards, Scott Everts, Brian Fargo, Eric Fenstermaker, David Gaider, Rob Nesler, Bobby Null, James Ohlen, Chris Parker, Carrie Patel, John Romero, Josh Sawyer, Dan Spitzley, Chris Taylor, and Feargus Urquhart. Interviews were conducted through email, Skype, and in person during 2018.

Introduction: Through a Starless Night

In or around 700 B.C., the Greek poet Hesiod: “How Did Ancient People Use the Stars and Planets?”,,

Chapter 1

With Interplay, I wanted to take: Craddock, David, Stay Awhile and Listen: Book I – How Two Blizzards Unleashed Diablo and Forged a Video-Game Empire, (Canton: Digital Monument Press, LLC, 2013).

Even with Demon's Forge, I had my buddy: Ibid.

the best-selling RPG of the 1980s: “Memos from Digital Antiquarian Corporate Headquarters,” The Digital Antiquarian,

from a port house to premiere developer of computer: “Of Wizards and Bards,” The Digital Antiquarian,

MacPlay, Interplay’s first division, was founded: “A Visit to MacPlay,”

in the top half of another building in 1995: "At the Deadline". GamePro. IDG (82): 132. July 1995.

Monolith had a cool ring to it: “Black Isle Studios: We are not BioWare,” Gamespy,

based on a region in the Scottish Highlands: Ibid.

from the color of its farming soil: “Cromarty and the Black Isle: Hugh Miller's voices,” The Guardian,

the peninsula appears black during winter: “Ancient and Mysterious Black Isle,” Scotland Magazine,

the company owed almost $27 million: “Interplay Greatly Reduces Size of Its Delayed IPO,” Los Angeles Times,

by holding 49.4 percent of shares: Ibid.

he would have fired everybody at Interplay: “’Bethesda Did A Great Job With Fallout" – Interview With Brian Fargo, Creator Of Cult RPGs,’” Game Pressure,

Cranford kept the game’s source code to himself: “RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Michael Cranford on Bard's Tale, Interplay, and Centauri Alliance,” RPG Codex,

According to an interview Tim Cain conducted: Ramsay, Morgan, Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play, (New York: Apress, 2012).

gave Titus a controlling interest: “Investment in Interplay,” Los Angeles Times,

company in question was Pacific Century Cyber Works: “Interplay for Sale (Sold?),” Blue’s News,

By that time, Titus controlled over seventy percent: “The Saga Behind the Sagas: Interplay and the Business of Gaming,” Frictionless Insight,

In January 2002, he resigned: Ibid.

months beginning in September 2001: “FORM 8-K CURRENT REPORT,” United States Securities and Exchange Commission,

they speculated that he had attempted: Ibid.

Fargo responded by saying: “The Saga Behind the Sagas: Interplay and the Business of Gaming,” Frictionless Insight,

Titus loaned hundreds of thousands to Interplay: Ibid.

Black Isle’s team designed the game around: “Black Isle welcomes you to your new continent. Just look out for that Ogre behind you,” IGN,

Despite some positive impressions, other press outlets: “BIS: TORN E3 2001 Report,” IGN,

The team had just gotten the hang of: “PC Gaming Graveyard: Torn,” GameSpot,

sending five people home: “The Last Days of Black Isle Studios,” USgamer,

management sold off properties and licenses: “Magic & Memories: The Complete History of Dungeons & Dragons - Part V,” Gamespy,

Chapter 2

On a Friday in mid-April 2003: “Feargus Urquhart Leaving Black Isle Studios,” Games with Jobs,


and wanted the sequel within twelve: “Fear is the path to the dark side,” Eurogamer,

Development hit several snags, including feature bloat: “In the Home Stretch,” Gamespy,

The game sold 1.5 million copies: “Developer Profile: Obsidian,” IGN,

extolling it as the best-written RPG since Black Isle’s: “Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords,” Gamespy,

eighteen of Obsidian Entertainment’s thirty-six employees: “Q&A: Obsidian Entertainment's Feargus Urquhart,” GameSpot,

Citing loses of over $20 million in 2003 alone: “Interplay shuts down Black Isle Studios,” GameSpot,

A few days later, Midway announced: “J.E. Sawyer off Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows,” GameSpot,

had overhauled much of BioWare’s Aurora engine: “NEVERWINTER NIGHTS 2 PAGE 2 OF 3,” IGN,

as well as the tools artists and designers: Ibid.

dumb artificial intelligence for companions and severe bugs: “Neverwinter Nights 2,”,

whose story was set between Alien, the first movie: “Aliens RPG: Crucible [Cancelled – Xbox 360 / PS3],” Unseen 64,

According to Urquhart, Aliens: Crucible: “Obsidian: Aliens RPG was ‘ready to ship,’” Eurogamer,


they won a bidding war against companies: Cain, Tim. “Interview for Beneath a Starless Sky.” Interview by David L. Craddock. Conducted over Skype in 2018.

While this game […] would ultimately end up being: GVMERS. “Obsidian's Cancelled Aliens RPG - Investigating Aliens: Crucible”. YouTube video, 15:35. Posted [December 2017].

Microsoft dubbed the feature: “Stormlands and the million-man raid: Obsidian's cancelled Xbox One exclusive,” Eurogamer,

while experts in making story-driven RPGs: Ibid.

Urquhart called a private meeting with: Ibid.

Chapter 3

They ended up raising $3.4 million, setting Kickstarter record: “The Double Fine Kickstarter Gets One Final Update,” Kotaku,

success Bethesda had achieved by resurrecting: “ONE OF FALLOUT'S FATHERS RETURNS TO THE WASTELAND,” Polygon,

They hit the number in two days: “Kickstarter: Schafer closes on $3.3m, Wasteland 2 raises over $500k in one day,” VG247,

and sat on $500 million in cash: “THE FALL OF THQ,” Polygon,

ranging from bloated budgets to dismal software: Ibid.

THQ received permission from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court: “THQ sell-off official: Here's how much money changed hands,” Gamasutra,

Publisher Ubisoft scooped up THQ’s Montreal studio: Ibid.

Just over twenty-four hours later: “Project Eternity Funded in Just Over 24 Hours, Obsidian Outlines Stretch Goals,” Gamespy,

Chapter 4

when artist Thomas Cole hiked through New York’s Catskill Mountains: O'Toole, Judith H. (2005). Different Views in Hudson River School Painting. Columbia University Press. p. 11.

Cole’s objective was to capture America’s 19th-century themes: Kornhauser, Elizabeth Mankin; Ellis, Amy; Miesmer, Maureen (2003). Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. p. vii. Retrieved June 26, 2016.

Art critic Clarence Cook or Homer Dodge Martin: Howat, John K (1987). American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. pp. 3, 4.


complained that characters often got lost behind objects: “Is there a way to change the camera view to a different angle?,” Reddit,

admitted they disliked the change in viewing angle: “Community Discussions,”,

Obsidian’s developers published their screenshot: “Update #20: Lore Tidbits, Campaign Almanac, Big Ol' Stretch Goals, and... Environment Screenshot!,”,

solved the problem by applying ambient techniques: “Update #79: Graphics and Rendering,”,

and can be applied to spell effects: Ibid.

converted polygons into flat images by going: Ibid.

Pause Screen: Post Nuclear - The Oral History of Fallout and Fallout 2

Titles like Wizardry and the Ultima series put CRPGs on the map: “The Best and the Rest.” Softline, March-April, 1984.

able to look past outmoded graphics and repetitive design: "Opening the Gold Box, Part 5: All That Glitters is Not Gold,” Digital Antiquarian,

When I was in junior high school: Craddock, David, Stay Awhile and Listen: Book I – How Two Blizzards Unleashed Diablo and Forged a Video-Game Empire, (Canton: Digital Monument Press, LLC, 2013).

One of my high school buddies: Ibid.

There were some Stanford graduates: Ibid.

I had a lot of diverse friends: Ibid.

When Boyarsky and the artists drew up artwork: Ibid.

Executives in the U.K. branch of Interplay dictated that: Ramsay, Morgan, Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play, (New York: Apress, 2012).

Cain claimed that Urquhart did not process: Ibid.

According to Cain, Hatch’s designs: Ibid.

Urquhart informed Cain that he would not: Ibid.

That Thanksgiving, Cain let Urquhart: Ibid.

Many of the game’s developers had no clue: Ibid.

GameSpot dubbed it a “bigger, better” Fallout: “Best & Worst of 1998: Role-playing Game of the Year – Nominees,” GameSpot,

IGN appreciated that Black Isle and Interplay: “FALLOUT 2: It's a lot like its predecessor, but who says that's a bad thing?”,

while PC Gamer named it one of the best RPGs: “The best RPGs on PC,” PC Gamer,

Fallout 2 debuted on market research: “Top Sellers of the Week,” GameSpot,

The next week, it fell off: Ibid.

Pause Screen: Green Team - How a Ragtag Band of Upstarts Created Baldur’s Gate 

Saturday Night Live  dressed actors as heroes: Weldon, Glen, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016).

was printed with three covers: “Superman Vol 2 75,” DC Wikia,

To delay, they killed Superman: “The death and resurrection of Superman, explained,” Polygon,

Their first gig was writing educational software: “IGN PRESENTS THE HISTORY OF BIOWARE,”,

They had pooled $100,000: Ibid.

starting out in Zeschuk’s basement: “The History of BioWare,”,

from awesome tech demo into a massively multiplayer RPG: “BioWare's Baldur's Gate Was Almost Massively Multiplayer,” The Escapist,

Interplay’s UK division didn’t even bother: Barton, Matt. “Matt Chat 255: Feargus Urquhart on Baldur's Gate, Shattered Steel, and Fallout”. YouTube video, 28:47. Posted [August 2014].

Per the terms of their publishing agreement, Random House would pay TSR: “THE STORY OF D&D PART ONE: THE BIRTH, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION OF DUNGEONS & DRAGONS,” Geek & Sundry,

cannibalizing their own produc: Shannon Appelcline (2011). Designers & Dragons: The 70s: A History of the Roleplaying Game Industry. (CITY: Evil Hat Productions, LLC, 2014).

forcing them to sign an exclusive agreement: “THE STORY OF D&D PART ONE: THE BIRTH, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION OF DUNGEONS & DRAGONS,” Geek & Sundry,

Kristjanson adjusted Minsc’s dialogue based in part: “DEVELOPER JOURNAL: BALDUR'S GATE II, PT. 9,”,

over ninety people-hours of work: “Baldur's Gate II: The Anatomy of a Sequel,” Gamasutra,

according to several retailers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom: “BALDUR'S GATE HITS #1 SETS INTERPLAY SALES RECORDS,”,

Baldur’s Gate 2 raked in $4 million in sales: “Interplay's Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn Dominates PC Game Retail Sales,”,,+2000.

Before announcing his retirement from game development: “James Ohlen Retires From BioWare, Working on Dungeons and Dragons Book,” Variety,

Pause Screen: Where Winter Never Ends: The Freewheeling Development of Icewind Dale

many players grew frustrated by the seemingly impossible: “Kresselack's Tomb Door that won't open,” Sorcerer’s Place,

Blizzard’s sequel shot to the top of PC Data’s: “Diablo II Debuts At Number One,” PC Data,

held the top spot for weeks in the: “Diablo II Continues Its Reign,” GameSpot,

After three weeks in the lead position: “Icewind Dale Tops U.K. Retail Charts,”,

went on to sell nearly 150,000 units: Staff (April 2001). "It's All in the Numbers". PC Gamer. Future US. 8 (4): 40, 41.

but critics did call out its story: “Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter: The Icemen Cometh Again.(Software Review)(Evaluation),” Computer Shopper,

Sawyer and the team had four months: “He’s Getting a Fireball: Josh Sawyer Reflects on Nearly 20 Years Spent Making RPG Classics for Obsidian and Black Isle Studios,” USgamer,

Fireball, for instance, started at: “Fireball,” Icewind Dale Wiki,

Urquhart granted his team an extension: “Icewind Dale II Interview Part 1,” RPGDot,

Sawyer opted to strip out mechanics that: “Icewind Dale 2 Trailer and Interview,” IGN,

had been based on 2nd Edition: Ibid.

praised its game balance and the depth of its combat: “ICEWIND DALE II REVIEW,” IGN,

though Game Informer did name Icewind Dale 2: Brogger, Kristian (October 2002). "Icewind Dale II". Game Informer (114): 92.

had described Icewind Dale as a run romp: “Chris Avellone: Dark Knight,” Edge,

Chapter 5

she fired up OEI, short for Obsidian Entertainment Interactive: “Frog Helms Fan Club,” Josh Sawyer’s Tumblr,

studio expenses ranging from employee salaries and healthcare plans: “Sales Breakdown: One month later!,” Yacht Club Games,

it is the only quest players can fail: “The Hermit of Hadret House,” Gamepedia,

Both characters became fan favorites: “Companions - who wrote what?,”,

Chapter 6

Over the spring and summer of 2013, Pillars of Eternity’s developers: “Update #55: Vertical Slice Update,”,

That single area spanned eleven maps: Ibid.

straddling the line between the real-world Renaissance: “Frog Helms Fan Club,” Josh Sawyer’s Tumblr,

Romanesque buildings sit the crumbling remains of medieval structures: Ibid.

design legends such as Super Mario Bros. creator Shigeru Miyamoto: “A free tip from Miyamoto: Make your first level last,” Gamasutra, (Author’s note: Gamaustra reported on Miyamoto’s interview, which was published elsewhere. The link to that publication did not work as of 27 September 2018.)

and Doom co-creator John Romero: DoubleFineProd. “’Devs Play’ S01E05 - Doom (Part 2 - Map 1 Hangar) 60fps [2/10]”. YouTube video, 15:35. Posted [January 2015].

would prefer to sneak or talk their way out of tough spots: “Pillars of Eternity: Josh Sawyer talks mods, PC-first focus, Big Head mode, and more,” PC World,

but all of their attacks offer a chance to interrupt: “Frog Helms Fan Club,” Josh Sawyer’s Tumblr,

comparable to D&D’s execution of the ability: “Update #70: New Year Project Update,”,

estimated that players would need dozens of hours: “So Obsidian, when is Pillars of Eternity coming out?,” PC Gamer,

figured out how to take advantage of glitches: “[WR] Pillars of Eternity in 37:53 by Jiseed,” Pillars of Eternity sub-Reddit,

Chapter 7

such as Hristova’s beautiful illustration of a nature godlike: “Characters & Creatures,” Polina Hristova,

Aruga’s painting of an orlan Cipher investigating a bloody dagger: “Concept Artist Kazunori Aruga aka *K*,”,

Govela’s area of expertise was writing scripts to extend: “Update #43: Pretty and Technical,”,

One of Govela’s most important scripts was DNA: Ibid.

Chapter 8

classic and videogame soundtracks while he trundles along: “Update #76: Music in Pillars of Eternity,” Obsidian,

suggested by lead area designer Bobby Null: “Justin Bell – Pillars of Eternity,” Game Music,

was the first piece of music Bell wrote: “Update #76: Music in Pillars of Eternity,” Obsidian,

He decided to have them record wilderness: “Justin Bell – Pillars of Eternity,” Game Music,


Katrina Schnell was able to contribute her musical talent: Ibid.

Chapter 9

On October 2, Urquhart published a notice: “Pillars of Eternity Early 2015: Beta Feedback and Game Polish,”,

Where Baldur’s Gate II had featured 200 maps, Pillars of Eternity: Schreier, Jason, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, (New York: Harper, 2017).

On March 17, five months and thirteen days: “Pillars of Eternity Has Gone Gold,” Pillars of Eternity Steam Community,

Pillars of Eternity was clearly a game inspired by: “Pillars of Eternity Review - More Than Homage,” The Escapist,

GameSpot declared that music, particularly the battle: “Pillars of Eternity Review,” GameSpot,

Pause Screen: Tim Donley's Toy Story

thanks to his father’s connection with late president: “Master of Play,” The New Yorker,

Pause Screen: Chopped Up - John Romero on the Sorrows of Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows

as it was underhanded management: “Bankrupt Midway Games Screws Employees In Desperate Plan To Sell Mortal Kombat,” Business Insider,

subsequent dismantling by new owner Warner Bros: “Warner Bros. Now Owns Midway, Mortal Kombat,” Kotaku,

I talked to [CEO David Zucker], who was just a contract president: “Matt Booty named Midway president and CEO,”,

It was the first super-smooth maze program [with 360-degree rotation]: “The First Open World, Part One,” Electron Dance,

Chapter 10

the equivalent of up to 130,000 heat units: “11 THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THE HALAL GUYS,” Thrill List,

Xbox Live Indie Games, a service succeeded: “Xbox Live Indie Games – Community Forums,” Xbox Forums,

Chapter 11

double-clicking on an item to equip it to the active character: “[PSA] GAME-BREAKING BUG AFFECTING EVERYONE INCLUDING YOU! Temporary fix for party members only currently,”,

Brennecke responded a few hours later: Ibid.

increased defensive bonuses on a character’s armor: “Stat bonus modifiers can erroneously be applied multiple times allowing stats to grow beyond intended values,”,

increased the amount of time the game needed: “Quick saving and loading times increased greatly after 20~ hours,”,

referred to as: “Patch Notes: 1.03,”,

version 1.03, released in early April, implemented: Ibid.

as the need for fixes diminished from code-red status: “Patch Notes: 1.05,”,

In 2004, Electronic Arts developer Erin Hoffman: “EA: The Human Story,” Livejournal,

At Blizzard North, new hires were given sleeping bags: Craddock, David, Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II – Heaven, Hell, and Secret Cow Levels, (Canton: Digital Monument Press, LLC, 2019).

Williams confessed that crunch was a poor practice: Williams, Walt, Significant Zero: Heroes, Villains, and the Fight for Art and Soul in Video Games, (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2017).

admitted that without their crunch, many of the features: Craddock, David, Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II – Heaven, Hell, and Secret Cow Levels, (Canton: Digital Monument Press, LLC, 2019).

It is a constant fight for me: Williams, Walt, Significant Zero: Heroes, Villains, and the Fight for Art and Soul in Video Games, (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2017).

Almost nine years after her first blog post: “EA Spouse says EA doesn't get enough credit,”,

Chris Avellone, who announced that he would be: Twitter post, June 9, 2015, 7:09 a.m.,

published a colorful, presentation-style: “Looking Back and Moving Forward with Pillars of Eternity,”,

described a swath of islands: “Monsters of the Deadfire Archipelago,” Gamepedia,

hitting its goal in twenty-three hours: “Pillars Of Eternity 2 Funded In Less Than A Day,” GameSpot,

Chapter 12

he worked with Obsidian to license tracks: “Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire mit Frölich Geschray!,” Frölich Geschray,

crowdfunding campaign was double the amount of VO: “Update #10 - $2.4 M Hit! Double V.O., Korean, and... Pillars of Eternity Pen and Paper RPG!,” Fig,

more than a month after Pillars of Eternity II: “Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is delayed,” PC Gamer,

Obsidian announced that all dialogue: Twitter post, April 13, 2018, 11:57 a.m.,

A new feature in engines such as: “Physically Based Shading in Unity 5: A Primer,” Unity Blog,

had even made the controversial decision to drop: “PoE2 Deadfire party size reduced to 5,” Pillars of Eternity Steam Community,

Chapter 13

factions and related quests had been a sticking point: “Just got to Defiance Bay and I'm curious about Quest-order,” GameFAQs, (Author’s note: This is only one example of player complaints about the relative simplicity of faction quest design in the original game, which Sawyer and other designers sought to improve.)

faction design was a team-wide effort: “Update #28 - Factions of the Deadfire, Part I,”,

had complained that combat was either too easy: “Combat is just too frustrating,”,

opined that graze made combat feel too difficult: “Is the regular graze really needed?,”,

Others—including Sawyer—felt that: Twitter post, December 4, 2017, 3:54 p.m.,

complained about enemies that appeared: “NEVERWINTER NIGHTS 2: STORM OF ZEHIR REVIEW,” Games Radar,

Painted and animated by Kaz Aruga and fellow artist: “Deadfire's Maps Are Really Good,” Kotaku,


At 4:49 a.m., a 4.5-magnitude earthquake: “Magnitude 4.5 Earthquake Shakes Wide Swath Of Southern California,” CBS,

A fourth quake, more of a muttering: Ibid.

the time reviews would be published: Minter, Aidan. Email to the author, 27 April 2018.

Pillars of Eternity had pulled in an aggregate score: “Pillars of Eternity Critic Reviews,” Metacritic, accessed on 17 September 2018,

Welcome back to Eora: Arby’s, Twitter post, May 8, 2018, 9:00 a.m.,

Brennecke replied two minutes before ten: Brennecke, Adam, Twitter post, May 8, 2018, 9:58 a.m.,

Metacritic crunched numbers and came back: “Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Critic Reviews,” Metacritic, accessed on 17 September 2018,

One comment Sawyer noticed time and again: “Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire,” Steam,

By early June, support for Deadfire: “Update Notes: 1.06,” Obsidian,

Hello, Meet Lola