We Interview Chris Avellone From Obsidian Entertainment: Part 2

Chris Avellone metal

 Chris Avellone From Obsidian Entertainment

Be sure to read Part 1 here!

General Questions About Gaming And Game Design:

What do you think about games that are based around an alignment based system? Are they too limited? How would you enforce the alignment role-playing aspect?

I don’t always believe in a game imposing morality unless it’s part of a franchise (Star Wars). In Alpha Protocol we did away with a player morality bar because in the espionage world, it’s difficult to say whether you’re “good” or “bad,” you’re just out to accomplish your mission and your reasons are your own. I do feel it’s fair if you set up reputation bars for other people, companions, and factions because it’s easier to imagine how NPCs and communities would judge your actions that us trying to judge the player and slap a +/- on it.

I did dislike the alignment system in D&D because it always assumed the player should choose an alignment before adventuring in the world. So in Torment, we let the player be a blank slate and let the alignment evolve (and reverse) over time depending on your actions. We felt that this was a better interpretation of the alignment system and it made more sense in the context of the narrative.

What do you think about the trend that we see in modern gaming where people consider MMORPGs to be RPGs? Is this correct or have they simply not had then chance to play a real traditional RPG?

Advancement schemes are similar, and some of the cause and effect you experience in RPGs is there, and I’d argue the ability to form your own party from other players provides the equivalent of an RPG experience in many respects. You may not always be able to make your decisions and actions felt in the environment because you can’t disturb the MMORPG equilibrium to the same extent as you can in a single-player RPG, but some of the core elements are there, yes.

If you had to remake a classic RPG made by another studio, which one would you remake and why?

SSI Wizard’s Crown or Eternal Dagger because I loved the way they showcased the dungeons and allowed you to develop your character. Pool of Radiance would also be fun (the 1st Goldbox one) as would Dark Sun’s Shattered Lands (which I loved).

What is the most influential yet obscure game you have ever played and why do you find it so important in your gaming history?

Well, in terms of influential yet obscure, that cuts a lot of games out – I feel a lot of the more common games have had a big influence on my designs (Portal, Chronotrigger, Ultima Underworld). If I were to name some “obscure” ones, I’d probably say System Shock 2 is the top of the list (it’s basically a design doc for how to make a great game), Amnesia: The Dark Descent for introducing a challenge mechanism that could simultaneously terrify you, Bastion’s narration mechanics, and Wasteland for proving to me how you could use game mechanics in the context of a “conventional” RPG to make some truly brilliant levels if you took a step back and thought outside the box.

What was your favorite character from RPGs you have worked on and why?

That’s tough, and it varies. I liked most of the Torment cast for different reasons, even Ignus and Vhailor. If I had to choose one, it would probably be Fall-From-Grace, I always enjoyed the premise of a puritan succubus who’s simultaneously the nicest, wisest, and gentlest people you can meet on the Planes. Jennifer Hale did a great job with her voice.

Who is your favorite co-worker and why?

Brian Menze, our concept artist and the lead artist on South Park now. I’ve known Brian ever since the Black Isle days, and he’s been my friend for a very, very long time. We still try and do comic book Wednesdays every week, and the studio would be a sadder place without his presence. He’s brought a lot of characters in the studio to life, and he’s incredibly modest and humble about his pieces, which makes me like him all the more.

Who in computing or video game history has been your idol and why?

Tim Cain, Tom Hall, Richard Dansky, to name a few. Tim reimagined how RPG mechanics could work for me, Tom Hall reimagined how design aesthetics could be applied in unconventional ways (Anachronox), and Richard Dansky never stops being a great guy and helping people.

I couldn’t possibly name everyone, but those are the people that jump to mind. I have the good fortune to work with Tim Cain on this project, and that’s one of my life goals on my bucket list.

First Project Eternity Screenshot

What do you watch/play/listen-to/read while trying to get creative ideas for projects?

Mostly trance music. I can’t listen to anything with lyrics while writing a character, I find the words and inner speech of the character I’m writing gets all jumbled up.

Going to see a live show or play I’ve found is one of the best means to stir the creative pot up when I have writer’s block (or even if I don’t). I have a lot of friends in the theater or who play in bands, and watching them live is enthusiastically contagious.

Other times, I immerse myself in research. Often when tackling an area, concept, or type of game, I try to read as much literature and watch as much media relevant to it (example, for Fallout New Vegas: Lonesome Road, I re-read Damnation Alley again, watched The Road, etc, etc.). When I got back into Wasteland, I started listening to a lot more 80s music, watching 80s movies and even researching 80s commercials to get a feel for the era… I’m embarrassed to say my memories of the 80s have slipped away, so it’s a shock to remember some of the big moments and media of the decade.

Project Eternity Specific Questions:

I always loved the interaction between my party members in some of your previous games, especially in Planescape: Torment. I did not like how rare these interactions did happen though. Do you plan on implementing a more ongoing interaction between the party companions? Have you considered adding interactions that will only happen when you have certain companions in the party?

Yes and yes, we feel companion commentary with each other is a strong means of showing how alive and reactive your companions are – not just to the world and your actions, but to each other’s presence. Plus, they’re fun to write, I certainly enjoyed writing the ones in Torment and would have loved to have written more.

Are we going to be limited in party size? Yes, it would probably make the game a lot easier to be walking around with an army so what we are asking is, what would be the magic number and how can you logically limit the size? Have you considered implementing the hiring of mercenary NPCs?

Party size will be a single player character and up to five companions – or as you mentioned above with mercenaries, you can also round out your party with recruited allies (which you can customize and build in the Adventurer’s Hall).

How do you plan to sell the game once it is finished and live? Retail? Steam? Impulse? GOG?

GOG (DRM-free) and Steam are our digital distribution outlets. We are also going to see if we can work on distributing the boxed version at retail as well, but we have not specific plans on that yet.

Have you considered making certain parts of the game have a randomized value that would add to the replayability of the game? Have you considered randomizing major plot points or the true intentions of certain characters?

Right now, our efforts have been focused on the hand-crafted elements that will make up the spine of the game.

project eternity wallpaper

Will gear be generally usable by most characters or will it require a certain adjustment for use? By this I mean, can a mage wear at least some level of real armor. Also, a dwarf wouldn’t be able to wear a troll’s armor unless he had an armorer make a suit of armor from that troll’s armor. Do you plan to implement that kind of level of equipment realism in the game? Will gear have wear and tear? Will the game offer some level of crafting element?

We won’t restrict gear according to player race. If you find armor, any race can wear it.

Would somebody be able to simply play not caring what the game’s plot is trying to get us to do? What I mean is similar to what’s found in the game Mount & Blade, for which you can pick what you really want to do such as hire one-self out to work for the highest paying empire or faction.

Like an Infinity Engine title, there is a plot, and while we will have dungeons that respawn and events in the world that you can cause to happen through your actions (such as turning a town or city hostile), the game requires some interaction with the plot from the player to progress. That said, we do want the player to feel free in how they approach the plot and feel that they can make the choices they want to make.

Will you give players the option to dramatically change the world in the RPG such as by ending it or potentially creating utopia?

The story hasn’t been nailed down yet, we’re still crafting it. We do want the world to persist in some fashion after the first installment, and even if great changes occur in the first game, there’s still plenty of world to explore in future games.

Would we be able to have our character fall in love with other characters in the game? Do we get to choose this or what if the game chose for us? Would it be possible to start a family, such as in the Fable games or Europa 1400 The Guild?

There’ll be a variety of mature relationships in the game, and you can choose to interact with them as little or as much as you want.

How is time handled in the game? Will the game take the course of a year? Will it take many years with some of the effects from the earlier part of the game affecting the mid and end game?

We’re handling time in a similar fashion to the BG and IWD games. Events happen in more-or-less real-time (real game time, that is, not literally minute per real world minute) except for rest sequences. We probably won’t be advancing time artificially off screen (“Act 1 is over, so X years pass,” for example).

Will the game offer any kind of multiplayer, such as letting our friends take over our party members in combat?

We want to focus on the single-player experience and make sure that’s solid. We don’t have any multiplayer plans at this time.

Would you let players submit translated versions of the game in other languages that haven’t yet been scheduled for translation?

They would most likely be part of the translation efforts if they wanted to volunteer. We’d welcome the help, and we’ve already received a huge amount of support from international fans that would love to do the translations for us (and if you are one of them and you’re reading this –thanks again).

Do you plan on updating the game with expansions once the game is released? How often would this happen? Would players be able to make their own mods or expansions once the game is live and would an editor be made available eventually?

We would like to do this, although we’re still examining how the pipelines for expansions would work. We don’t want to promise something that we couldn’t do until we’d done more research. We recently released an update with our modding views – we like modding, we want to encourage it, but we don’t want to promise it unless we know we can do it, or else we’d do our players and backers a disservice.

Although I have asked about technology already, since this is such a game changer, I made it a separate question: Will this universe have guns or gunpowder?

It has both. Gunpowder weapons exist, though they are single-shot wheellock variety, and are primarily used to give mages an unprecedented run for their money.

Will all the major races be humanoids or will you implement at least one really weird non-humanoid races a major player in this world?

We’ve got a selection of races, both seemingly-traditional and ones that are more off the beaten path. Some of the concept pieces we’ve released (notably the female dwarf) should give some clues as to what to expect from the choices for race in the game.

What’s the major mode of transportation in this universe?

Foot travel is the primary mode of transportation, although occasionally players may find themselves magically transported somewhere. To speed up overland travel, we will implement a map UI so the player can quickly move their party to locations they’ve already discovered. Note that our map UI is similar to what’s been found in the Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate games, not Elder Scrolls or Fallout 3/New Vegas-style fast travel.

What kinds of religions will we see in the game?

This will fall on Josh Sawyer (our resident theologian). More to come on this as the world is fleshed out in future updates.

Alpha Protocol

Alpha Protocol cover
Alpha Protocol cover

Alpha Protocol Review & Strategy Guide by Honorabili

One Sentence Review:
“A great RPG despite its shortcomings.”

Overall Score:
7 out of 10

Overview & Replayability:

In Alpha Protocol, you take the role of Michael Thornton a secret agent for a “does not exist” US Government intelligence agency by the name of “Alpha Protocol”. The plot of the game quickly consists of you getting screwed over by the agency and its master Halbech (a Halliburton-like company, although Halbech is a military weapons manufacturer and Halliburton is focused on energy/oil) and you set out to get revenge/expose them/cause chaos/sell out to “the man”.

The storyline was very engaging and I might actually replay this game in the future. The characters feel like actual people who have personalities and do respond based on your actions and your attitude. The game pops up a reaction rather than a sentence of text like every other RPG and you have a short amount of time to react (like real life conversations).

Alpha Protocol Main Character RPG dialogue options

If for instance a character likes joking around and you’re acting “professional” and by-the-book they’ll think your character is an asshole and they won’t get along with you. I, for example, got along with most people because I just told them what they wanted to hear and I became the best friend of some character that’s a loose cannon CIA agent that is usually like a serial killer that cleans up their dirty laundry (he literally owns a laundromat in Taiwan).

The game feels a lot like the first Deus Ex game in the sense that it has very good characters that are innovative. Just because they send you on a mission to kill someone doesn’t mean that they are a badguy or that they deserve to die. In fact, my guy was so charismatic (with me at the helm, ahem, of course) that I befriended everybody pretty much in the game, even the villains.

I have a feeling that there are many paths of outcomes regarding letting people live or die in the game and each time you make a choice it changes the total outcome of the game. THIS IS A GREAT THING TO HAVE IN A GAME. This kind of thing makes me want to replay a game even if simply to see all the endings and outcomes. I did it before with Fallout 2 (it had like 50 possible variables for the ending) and Blade Runner (this game had 300 different endings, check it out) and I’ll do it again with Alpha Protocol. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the game has this since the lead designer was Chris Avellone which is legendary for that kind of logic branching in such games as Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale 1 & 2, KOTOR 2, and Neverwinter Nights 2.

The game is very enjoyable and overall most of the way it was made are great but why did I give it a score of 7? The game has a big problem and that’s where most people will just say “fuck this shit”. That problem lies where the controls of the game are…

Controls & Gameplay & Fun Factor:

Overall, the controls respond too slow, especially looking around with the camera which is a deadly problem in an action/fps kind of game. Sometimes I found myself dying saying “where the fuck did that guy come from” because I was too busy trying to aim my gun and some guy just ninja teleports by me (it felt like it) and filled me up with 4 bullets from a heavy pistol or unloaded an uzi into me. I did play it at the max difficulty though but a lot of the time because of how slow the camera panning is on top of making the right mouse aim mode shit when at close range, I was forced to melee the guys and usually the computer can outmicro your attacks and you will die like a bitch.

But… that’s not really my biggest problem with the game. The biggest problem I had is that I had to continually make my guy buy emp bomb/grenade supplies because the hacking system in the game is so terrible. I played this game on a PC and I have both a mouse and keyboard, which are usually vastly superior to me over a gaming controller for a console or joystick (for these kind of games, not arcade games). The way the hacking works is that there is a series of words and letters at the top left and top right of the screen which you have to match up in an ocean of changing letters and numbers. In that ocean, the two sequences of numbers and letters will be there (most of the time) and you have to put the sequence code on top of the corresponding one and press spacebar for the top left one which you control with the keyboard and the left mouse button that you control with the mouse. While doing all this you have a time limit and if you put it in the wrong place or the code changed place you lose ten seconds of time each time. I’m really really good at identifying sequences BUT the controls were really bad and no matter how many times I pressed the corresponding key on the keyboard to move the sequence around the speed at which it can move around is FIXED meaning that even if you press down 6 times in one second, it will only move down one row every second, just about. The other part which you control with the mouse is even worse. If you want to know how bad it is, it’s as hard as trying to drive a car in a racing game with a mouse. I’m not kidding.

Alpha Protocol Sis and papa

As as result of the shittiness of the controls for the hacking I just loaded up with EMP supplies to just skip all the hacking in the game. There is also the security alarm hacking which just makes you pick paths to a reverse puzzle but that is at least beatable although I hate it when they gave you 10 paths to follow in just 18-20 seconds worth of time. You might as well be defusing a real bomb in real life, it felt like it. The only puzzle part that is easy is the lockpicking and I can’t complain about that. I give the controls for the action part a score of 5 out of 10. They should have tested this game more.

Below is a screenshot of how you can’t sometimes shoot through a door that you could in real life:

The game plays like a Splinter Cell kind of 3rd person stealther shooter but to me I just made it be a shooter, especially since the stealth missions are fucking impossible. If you like playing games like that, you will enjoy the gameplay. I give Gameplay a score of 6 out of 10. It’s not the best but the RPG element makes up for it, and by that I don’t mean the leveling up, which this game has but the element of dealing with characters that are real people with real agendas.

I genuinely had fun playing this game and it didn’t feel like “let me just play this crap to review it.” I wondered what characters I would meet next and liked seeing characters with different philosophies interact and fight with each other. Fun Factor gets a score of 8 out of 10. Some of the bugs were FRUSTRATING but the rest was FUN.

Difficulty & Difficulty Versatility:

I only played this game on hard and it was at times a GREAT challenge. I don’t know what the lower difficulties are like and I don’t care to. The problem that it has is that this game does NOT let you change the difficulty in-game once the game started. If it’s too hard for you you’ll either quit and go play something else or you will start all over again… from the beginning, which I doubt. Just make sure you’re up to the challenge and suck it up! Difficulty gets a score of 8 out of 10, especially for parts like being stuck in a mansion where they took all your gear and everybody you meet is a martial arts expert with a shotgun, pistol, or uzi! Difficulty Versatility fails because it doesn’t let you change the difficulty and that will piss off a lot of players. It gets Difficulty Versatility of 2 out of 10.

Value:

I would say that I recommend renting this game or borrowing it from somebody rather than buying it. I would say it’s safe to buy it for 10 bucks because it’s not that much and hopefully by the time that this game costs that little they fixed all the bugs (which I doubt). If you want to check it out anyways, GoGamer has it for around 40 bucks right now. Gamestop also sells it for 40-50 bucks right now. Steam has it as well. At that price Value is terrible for me and I would not get it! Value gets a score of 2 out of 10 at that price. The game took me about 12 hours to beat. Anything that has under 30, 50, or 100+ hours I usually recommend renting or borrowing.

Sound:

The guns sounded pretty authentic as well as glass breaking and other similar sound effects like the alarms and doors opening or shattering. The voice acting was really well done as well and it helped a lot with the role-playing dialogue process. Sound gets a score of 9 out of 10.

Music:

The music for this game was actually really great. It gives a great feeling of a spy environment as well as it’s exciting enough to keep a feeling of suspense running most of the time during the game.

The authors of the music are BT (Brian Wayne Transeau) and Jason Graves. I give the Music a score of 10 out of 10 because I pretty much enjoyed the songs for every part of the game, even the few slow parts (for which there weren’t many).

Stability/Reliability:

I had the game crash and make my Windows XP run out of memory when I had it alt-tabbed and watched 2 hours worth of video at the same time. Other than that there was a buggy part that forced me to crash the game after completing the 3rd or 4th mission. Those were the only times the game ever crashed on me and I did alt-tab more after that crash. Stability/Reliability gets a score of 8 out of 10.

Sis and her “dad”

Graphics & Performance:

The game uses the UT3 engine but I found the performance laggy at times. Most of the time the performance is fine but when it lag-spikes, it’s really god-awful and that sometimes ends up getting you killed. I found this happens a lot when there is some crazy action about to happen and then some character talks to you especially one over the headset (such as the mission handler). The graphics look nice and they get a score of 7 out of 10. Not the best but not too bad either. There were parts that you could see a character that was trying to walk through a door, like in Thief: The Dark Project. Performance though gets punished because it lagged when I needed it specifically NOT TO. Performance gets a score of 4 out of 10 because of the timing of the lag-spikes.

Sis is a hot mute!

Conclusion of Review:

Although this game has its annoying parts it’s worth at least checking out. Give it a chance. If you do, it’ll grow on you.

Hot Russian Mercenary Babe rawr

Strategy Guide for Alpha Protocol:

As far as armor goes get anything that gives you damage resistance first, then anything that boosts endurance. This will be very important especially on the missions where there are TONS of guys assaulting you. Anything that boosts your health or life is great too.

As far as the weapons of choice, max out assault rifles as that to me is the main weapon to use in the game. You will see this when you fight bosses, especially annoying ones that snipe or ones that will just rape you like the Russian guy that’s obsessed with 80s shit and that loves using dual uzis and knife stabs up close!

Fuck stealth, go full combat build. Fuck hacking, get EMP supplies. Put the rest on one or two slots worth of healing supplies. You can just rape the game with the assault rifle, especially if you headshot everybody. For fun, I made my guy have the shotgun as the secondary weapon. The submachine gun was probably the worst weapon since it had no accuracy.

As far as purchasing info on the blackmarket get anything which increases your intelligence profiles and don’t bother to buy dumb shit like a sniper rifle which you can’t carry in the rest of the map anyways.

There will be one mission where you are in the mansion and they took all your weapons away. This would have been a good time to have put stuff into martial arts training but if you’re like me, you probably didn’t. When you run out to the balcony RUN fast as you can and hit the guy that has the heavy pistol, I found that if I make my guy turn a little and I spam the melee attack it increases the chance dramatically of hitting the computer because he won’t block as well. That’s the only tip I have as far as what I found to be hardest part of the game. I died like a little bitch in that part, probably 40 times in a row until I figured it out. Here’s a screenshot of me getting raped:

GAMES COMING OUT JUNE 2010 FOR CONSOLES

I could have been lazy and copied Honorabili’s post since the list is pretty much the same but my high work ethic wouldn’t allow me to do that. However, I am willing to take this month’s breakdown of new releases in a different direction so bare with me.

Alpha Protocol – June 1st

Alpha Protocol Xbox box cover
Alpha Protocol Xbox box cover

You know this game is going to be good because of the silhouette of the man holding the gun. Not only is showing an image like this the true sign of a winner, but it’s sexy too. Check out the subliminal message of the lady holding the gun near his crotch. The question is who will fire first.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands – June 8th

Prince of Persia box
Prince of Persia box

Jake Gyllenhall is movie gold, no really he is. Alright fine, this is about the game which has 25% more sand and more time travel than a Lost episode. If you’ve played any of the modern POP games you know there will be incredible jumps, cool combat and interesting puzzles and ladies I hear you can unlock shirtless pictures of Jake.

Sniper: Ghost Warrior – June 8th

Sniper box
Sniper box

Everyone hates a sniper, so much so that many end up on Oprah wanting nothing more than a hug. Step into the shoes of this misunderstood soul as you pick people off in South America. See people believe its all “Boom head shot!”, but it’s more than that. You have to spend time (too much time) searching for that perfect spot to make your kill, but once you do it’s on. Again look at that box, this guy is deep.

Naval Assault: The Killing Tide – June 15th

Naval Assault Xbox box cover
Naval Assault Xbox box cover

The killing tide is the type of title that lets you know there will be tides. Hop inside your WWII submarine with a load of seamen and blast away. This game looks like it could be fun if you like old navel sea battles through honestly some of the water effects look kind of strange. With Naval Assault you’ll find yourself in many battles across the North Atlantic so run low and silent commander.

Transformers: War for Cybertron – June 22nd

Transformers box cover
Transformers box cover

Go back to a time when Optimus Prime was just another robot fighting for his homeland, a time before ebonic robots and Shia LaBeouf. Unfortunately it is also a time before Megan Fox, but you have the internet for that. War for Cybertron takes a step away from the movies back to when the war was brewing up and the battle lines were drawn. In the single player campaign you play both an Autobot and Decepticon story where you see each side recruit their forces and engage in skirmishes. You know what happens in the end, but like the movie Valkyrie you’ll still be interested in experiencing it right?

Singularity – June 29th

Singularity box cover
Singularity box cover

So you have a time reversing device that can do things like restore an old box of ammo to the time when it was new and full of bullets and yet when you use it on an enemy it turns to dust? Okay, I get it, if they turned to babies or even before that there would a lawsuits and Tea Party members raising kain. Overall the idea is pretty cool, traveling back to the 50’s and using time as a weapon looks like a winner. I wonder if you can target specific body parts and restore it?

Arma 2 box cover
Arma 2 box cover

It’s not Modern Warfare or Bad Company.