We Interview Chris Avellone From Obsidian Entertainment: Part 1

 

Chris Avellone suit picture

Chris Avellone

General Questions:

What non-gaming things have inspired you to become a better game writer and also gamer?

Going to see live plays that were made on a tight budget – the amount of emotion and lighting they can bring to a scene with a minimal amount of props and effort really makes me think about how you can do the same with modern RPGs. Comic books are another (both reading and writing them). They don’t always get the respect they deserve, and the way they unify visual storytelling and writing… well, there’s a lot to learn there, especially for describing and storyboarding cut scenes and making each line impactful with the right stance, action, and backdrop.

Neal Stephenson (with Snow Crash) is not only a huge host of design ideas on just about every page of his books, but he taught me when it was important to describe something and when it was not – there’s a end chapter line in Snow Crash that simply says “and a car chase ensued.” He had no need to describe anything further, that was enough, and it was simple, elegant, and I appreciated he didn’t try to force details and action when none was needed. Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics to this day makes me understand why it’s better to have less voice and less focus on ultra-realistic visuals if you truly want a player to empathize with a subject. Sometimes it’s easier to empathize with a stick figure than a highly-rendered 3D model, and it’s because the viewer is able to project more of themselves onto an abstract than something someone else has excessively detailed.

There’s more, but most of the rest is gaming related.

What is something you have wanted to implement in a game in the past that you worked on but were never able to before? It could be a scenario, feature, just about anything.

I wanted to have a spell system based on harnessing sound effects you find and create by interacting and exploring your environment (the death howl of a wolf, the crashing of the tide on shore, walking into a forest and hearing the wind whistle through the trees). The mage could then assemble these SFX pieces into new spell combinations to defeat opponents. We tried to do something vaguely like this in Old World Blues with the sonic gun that could be equipped with various SFXs, but that’s not exactly the same thing.

Games we've worked on

What is your favorite classic game, and why? What did that game teach you?

Wasteland. It taught me that with the right kind of game mechanics and “thinking outside the box” when it comes to level design, you can move mountains… such as using your mental attributes to fight mental battles in an android’s brain, for example. The exploration of Finster’s brain in Wasteland 1 where you fought nightmares, your doubts, and even restarted your own brain waves to fight back was incredible, and it’s still one of the best levels I’ve ever explored in a video game from a sheer creative standpoint. I thought it was brilliant.

What is your favorite modern game to play and why? It can be any kind of game, even a cell phone game. It could even be a modern board or card game!

League of Legends and Battlestar Galactica (board game). I’ve always got a soft spot in my heart for Chez Geek and Lunch Money.

What is your favorite stat in an RPG and why?

Intelligence, because often it determines dialogue options and/or can be used in cool ways in some of my favorite titles (Wasteland and Wasteland 2). Generally any stat or skill in an RPG that increases the verbal weapons and tools at my disposal (and experience more options in the story) are great.

Project_Eternity_logo

 

Project Eternity Specific Questions:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DC4w9GdFPrg[/youtube]

Will Project Eternity use a level system (most RPGs) or an open ended skill upgrade system (Shadowrun, Vampire The Masquerade)?

There will be traditional leveling and advancement options (and classes). However, we want to make sure that a character’s growth is also tied to the world, the lore, and the narrative. So as much as the player levels up, there is also a selection of soul-based advancement elements tied to the world itself – these elements exist outside of your class, and they can be shaped and grow according to a player’s individual choices and backstory.

Will we see realistic moral choices that are beyond the usual “good, bad, and neutral” choices?

Yes. While we don’t have a morality bar, we do want the player to feel like they’re making meaningful decisions, and rather than good/neutral/bad range, we’ll allow for simply a range of “options” that reflect decisions you want to make that aren’t colored by morality.

Do you plan on making voice-overs for most of the dialogue in the game?

We plan on doing what most of the BG and IWD series did and only have limited VO for NPCs and companions. We don’t want to do a fully voiced game, as that comes with a number of technical hurdles that limit iteration, and that’s one of the things we wanted to do differently with this project… the ability to make a larger range of reactive text (like we did with New Reno in Fallout 2, for example – the only limit to this kind of reactivity is the cost for VO and localization). Limiting the VO also allows for any necessary changes during the final months of a project without the huge costs involved with altering VO and doing pick-ups.

Our world

Do you plan on implementing cut-scenes, especially for major plot points in the game? I have found that when going back in playing old games cut-scenes are the parts of the games that have aged the worst. Have you considered implementing rather than a video, as you are playing the game and talking to NPCs you see your character’s and the NPCs face react based on the emotions being brought out by the conversation? An example of this is the classic adventure game Sanitarium.

Not at this time. Cut scenes you can’t interact with or paralyze the player’s movement always leave me a bit sour, especially if they hamper actions I would otherwise take – for example, being forced to stand and watch when an adversary appears you’d normally shoot on sight, or if a companion or family member is killed in front of your character and you can do nothing about it. I don’t feel cut scenes are the best means of storytelling – and there’s much better ways to communicate plot points without cut scenes.

Will the game take place on one super continent or do you plan to just say it takes place in one part of the world, with the potential for an expansion in the future?

It takes place in one part of the world with potential for expansion in the future – there’s definitely more going on beyond the borders of the game, and our hope is you’ll be able to visit those locations and nations in future titles.

Do you plan to implement other worlds, like how it was done in Planescape: Torment?

Our goal with location design is to make amazing locales for the player to explore, much like in Icewind Dale 1 and Icewind Dale 2 (Dorn’s Deep with the frozen museum, Dragon’s Eye, the still-enchanted elven fortress of the Severed Hand that was literally a giant citadel shaped like a hand rising from the earth, etc.). Having dungeons like these allow for plenty of diversity among locations even though they all take place in one section of the Eternity world… the Endless Paths of Od Nua (which we’ve described earlier as our mega dungeon) is one such locale, and we plan to do many more locations equally unique and interesting for players to explore.

Obsidian Entertainment

We know Project Eternity will feature magic but what level of technology will the world have? Looking back I myself thought Final Fantasy 7 had too high a level of technology but games such as Final Fantasy 6 (3 in the US) and Arcanum did it just right.

Eternity has a 16th century technology level much like our high or late Middle Ages with the exception of the printing press. The level of technology depends on the region of the world – while most large civilizations have 16th century tech, other regions of the world are more primitive, more along the lines of Stone or Bronze Age of development.

How adult will the game be? By this I mean, would an 8 year old child be able to play the game or would it be too serious of a game for them?

Depending on how insightful the 8 year old was, they may or may not understand the repercussions and dilemmas in the game. We didn’t want to shy away from a range of relationships (I don’t mean romances), situations, or edit ourselves from an idea that we thought was interesting to explore because of fears of how players might react. In previous titles at the studio, we’ve explored sexuality, religion, contrasting political ideologies without a clear cut right or wrong, and we’d like to take the themes even further in Eternity.

Crazy RPG kind of Questions:

If you had one wish, what would it be? Note: this wish may or may not have consequences; would you risk making the wish?

It would depend on the theme music that was playing at the time when the wish was offered. I often find the background music to be the best indicator as to whether I’m in a sinister poetic justice “make a wish and you screw yourself’ or a Disney made-for-kids romp. That said, I’d probably go with a bug-killing forcefield around myself or the ability to shrink my car and carry it in my pocket when I drive to a destination because finding parking sometimes is a pain in the ass. Yeah, I’m sure there are better wishes out there, but they all seem scary to me and would probably result in me being recruited or killed by various shadow governments once they discover I have super strength or photographic reflexes.

Project Eternity - Kickstarter Goal

Stand by for more articles and interviews with Chris Avellone and Obsidian Entertainment in the near future! Time to think of more crazy questions! -Ignacio/honorabili-

!!! Click here for Part 2 of our interview with Chris Avellone!

Games Coming Out February 2011 For PC

Games Coming Out February 2011 For PC by Honorabili

My list for games I’ll play on PC for February 2011, which mainly boils down to a few real picks.

Dungeons, February 8 2011

This game sounds and looks a lot like Dungeon Keeper which I guess is a good thing because many people no longer remember that game these days.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 Box
Test Drive Unlimited 2 Box

Test Drive Unlimited 2, February 8 2011

Test Drive Unlimited 1 was a pretty fun game, with a ton of cars, authentic car sounds but it was played with a laggy multiplayer that was basically unplayable. As a single player experience it was similar to the original Test Drive in the sense that it felt like you were driving the real versions of each car but it lacked the police factor from the original, with some Need For Speed games now beating it in that sense. Still, it was a really pleasant driving/racing game to have, and this game promises more of what the original, with a world 2-3 times as big, more cars, more options, etc. I will play this.

Two Worlds 2, February 8 2011

Two Worlds 1 was fun to me although everybody bashed it. This one includes a co-op function which would make exploring the vast map a much more enjoyable experience. Not many RPGs do this these days and it brings me back to the days of playing Final Fantasy 6 on the SNES!

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, February 22 2011

Ubisoft will probably implement their draconian DRM on this game AND chances are that if you are enough of a Assassin’s Creed fan you already have this or have played this on console anyways. Well, at least the pirates will certainly not be able to play this version unless they come up with some crazy workaround like they did For Assassin’s Creed 2, although that was only a single player experience…

Bulletstorm, February 22 2011

The unique theme of this game makes this look like a mix between Borderlands, Fallout 3, and Serious Sam. Since those games all sold well, this might as well, so long as it’s not a nest of bugs. Could be fun…

UPDATE! Actually, I will have to get this game. Just watch this trailer!

Everquest 2: Destiny of Velious, February 22 2011

I don’t understand how they expect to sell a $40 expansion for a play-for-free MMO.

***

Conclusion:

A lot of sequels to games you either love or hate OR that are based on stuff you played already are coming out this month. Could be a good month to go back and play old games you love instead.

Villian Spotlight: Kefka Palazzo

Insanity Kefka Palazzo demotivational poster
Insanity Kefka Palazzo demotivational poster

Kefka Palazzo

Since the dawn of video game culture, there have been a lot of subjects you don’t bring up unless you want some greasy, unhygienic, nerd frothing from the mouth with a rabid induced rage. One of these subjects that is commonly brought up by RPG geeks which ends up in a heated debate is who is the greatest Final Fantasy villain? Normally, the debate is stomped by a wave of Sephiroth loving assholes. For some reason, long white hair, trench coats, and absurdly gigantic katanas are cool. Not just that, this guy’s freaking theme song is an orchestra chiming in death and destruction. The problem a lot of people seem to not realize is that the question asked who is the GREATEST villain in Final Fantasy. People seem to confuse cool with greatness.

I’m unsure if the sway towards Sephiroth is because a lot of people played FF VII as their first real RPG and considered anything before that garbage or mediocre. I do agree that Final Fantasy VII was a fantastic game and that Sephiroth was indeed a cool villain. The thing is, he didn’t accomplish much and his role as a villain was rather one dimensional. His creativity for slaughter was usually left with a sword swing and some fire. His actual development as a character was rather bland and nonexistent.

I know. I know.

Take a deep breath.

It hurts to hear this kind of criticism about the One Winged Angel but I’m about to open your eyes to a true villain. Someone who’s appearance was comical but their lust for destruction was their only drive in life. There wasn’t a waking moment where this monster didn’t think about the end of the world. Many villains feel this way but he isn’t a Cobra Commander or Doctor Claw replica. Where many villains fail and constantly try again, Kefka succeeds. Here’s a look into the devilish antics performed by the supernatural sociopath known as Kefka Palazzo.

As the game begins, Kefka Palazzo is only known as the Emperor’s Court Wizard and doesn’t seem to be more than just some queer looking clown. The Emperor decides to begin a process of infusing Magitek into humans. Kefka decides to volunteer for this process and is able to wield magic. Come to think of it… how was this guy the Court Wizard if he couldn’t control magic to begin with? Anyway, an obvious homage to Captain America occurs and Kefka becomes Captain Magitek and stops the World War that is plaguing the planet and is pronounced the savior of the world.

The End.

Things didn’t work out that way, sadly, for Kefka and he turned into a psychopath who deemed that everything ever in the entire world had to die. He became the Joker with magic. He forces Terra, the main character in the story, to wear a slave crown and attack a town that claims to have an Esper in their mines. Terra manages to escape the enslavement and runs off. Kefka, obviously angered by this decides to burn down an ENTIRE fucking castle just to kill a bitch. Pretty hardcore right? Sephiroth lit up a small secluded town but Kefka razed a whole castle.

Final Fantasy 6 Kefka Palazzo – poison
Final Fantasy 6 Kefka Palazzo – poison

After burning down a castle what else should you do? Grow impatient obviously! The Empire decides to attack the Kingdom of Doma and begins a long and drawn out siege. What does Kefka do to make things move a long faster? Does he impale a girl in the back with a sword? Hell no. Kefka poisons the kingdom’s water supply killing everyone inside, including Cyan’s, one of your party members, wife and his children. I don’t remember any Final Fantasy villains poisoning the innocent because they were consuming too much of their schedule.

When you’ve poisoned an entire kingdom what else can you do at the end of the day? Drink a cold beer and watch some TV? Take a hot shower and go to bed? Or freeze all your enemies in place and order one of them to prove their loyalty and kill their friends? The latter sounds like the best idea for this bad ass motherfucker. Unfortunately, the character he ordered to prove their loyalty stabbed him instead. But guess what? Big whoop. Instead of getting medical treatment he kills his king and draws in the powers of a couple of magical statues to become a God.

Looks like your team fucked up, huh? This guy is God and you know what his first order of business is? He isn’t going to hang a meteor over your most populated city. He reshaped the entire planet pushing it into a post apocalyptic world and then demanded people to worship him. You know what happened to the millions of people who said “Fuck that!” collectively? Independence Day. He burned them down with enough force to carve scars into the planet’s surface.

He became a God and forced people into his worship and still that isn’t good enough. This cum dumpster decides it’s a damn good idea to just end life since that shit is meaningless to him. Sure he’s defeated by the heroes of the story but that’s the point! He didn’t care if he died. In reality, he probably let them win because he was too much of a bad ass to die. He figured he was way to cool for the world of the living anyway. His death was his final “F U” to the world since he already fucked it up and now he’s dead and doesn’t have to bother to clean that shit up.

By now, I’m hoping your frothing has ended and you realize the error of your ways. I know it’s going to be hard to put away your Sephiroth figurines and wall posters but you have finally been educated or rather re-educated in the makings of a true monster and villain. You may subconsciously still blurt out Sephiroth’s name like a slutty wife screaming out her secret lover’s name when the question arises as to who is the greatest Final Fantasy antagonist but you will feel that itching in the back of your mind. You know you’re wrong and some day you can even accept that.

Japan, I Left Your RPGs On The Sidewalk And Changed The Locks. We’re Through!

Chrono Trigger cry
Chrono Trigger cry

Japan, I Left Your RPGs On The Sidewalk And Changed The Locks. We’re Through!

Dear Japan,
My dear and sweet Japan, it breaks my heart to write this message. I hope this tear stained letter lets you know that the way I felt about you… about us was something I will always cherish. While the flickering flame on the candle that represented my love for you has been snuffed, the moments we shared will always be emblazoned into my mind and heart.

Do you remember when we first met, my childhood friend? I was seven years old walking through the SNES rental section of Blockbuster looking for a new game to rent. My little childish sticky hands were all over the Aladdin rental box, a smile stretching from ear to ear as I imagined taking the fight to Jaffar. I skipped down the aisle looking for my mommy so that I could go home with Aladdin and enjoy the adventures of an Arabian night. The other games looked on as I gleefully took flight down towards the register. I was blind to their laminated glare.

Like a rifle’s laser scope, I could feel the pressure of a presence weighing down upon me. This entity’s gaze was fixated on me, reaching out for a friend. Slowly turning to my left, my heart went a flutter. Behind the plastic wrappings of the case was an unknown creature holding a wicked sword. Its white fur and pink nose were innocent yet it held a darkened tormenting blade that screamed out to me like a van with free candy. My grip on Aladdin loosened as he fell to the ground face down and like a handicapped older woman was unable to get up without my help. That is where Aladdin would remain though, living away his last breaths as I stepped closer to examine the enigma in front of me. My fingers raced against the title as I dared to utter the name, your name…
Final Fantasy III.

At the time I was ignorant to your true identity. How could I have known? I was only a child and you offered me the ambrosia of adventure. I brought you into my home and for the first time in my life, I learned from a game. I read, I established connections with a game’s characters, I felt remorse for a fictional struggle, and I…

Well, you know…

I fell in love.

Yes, I said it. I fell in love with you, Japan and your RPGs. I still wanted to take that magic carpet ride but not with Aladdin. You engrossed me into your adventures and made me actually care about story and my characters. I chose characters who statistically sucked but because I felt for their background, I strived to turn them into weapons of perfection so we could see their adventure through to the end. I never thought I would experience anything like this ever again. I thought our love was a once in a life time voyage, a one night stand that left me laying in my motel room bed dripping like a used whore.

I was wrong. You kindled my heart through and through for the years. You invaded my life like a powerful militant country raping and pillaging my childhood for resources. You attempted to take them by force but you didn’t expect one thing, Japan. I welcomed you with open arms.

Like Teth-Adam meeting his Isis, your power and my love for you flourished for years to come. Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, Suikoden, and the others. Month after month, year after year, it seemed like an eternity that our love would last.

Then things changed…

You became predictable. Another story about a hero who has amnesia? Another villain who dresses like David Bowie? What was that? Someone wants to destroy the world for no fucking reason? Wait, what? The hero can’t speak and can only express themselves by exclamation points and question marks? This is what you bring me?

Like a disgruntled woman on her anniversary, discontent with the predictable present of flowers and a dinner at Bennigan’s, my loins yearned for more than what you had to offer. I had seen too many movies on Lifetime. You were the villain in all of this. You were the man who didn’t lust for me and you know what, Japan? I stopped lusting for you. I went back home. I went West. I went to America.
The West showed me something that you couldn’t show me. They showed me how my actions can change the story. They showed me how my hero was capable of the greater good or the most unspeakable horror. America wasn’t one dimensional. They let me choose.

You forced me into this linear adventure with the same old characters. You took away the tragedy that I loved in you. There wasn’t any drama. You filled your games with twelve year old heroes who from the very beginning accepted their role as a savior. You are nothing like America and I’m sorry for that.

I love my complicated and deep storylines. I love my free reign in the events to unfold. I love not playing as a clean shaven emotionally complicated hero. I love The West’s Clint Eastwood attitude. It makes me feel like I’m in control. Not you! Me!

Knights of the Old Republic, Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age have yanked me from your grasp. I didn’t secretly leave you. The evidence was there the whole time. They took what your wrought and pushed it to another level… a level that I’m afraid you won’t reach.

Japan, you are the clean shaven boy with flowers who took me to the prom, the one who promised to bring me home before 11pm. America is the boy I want to leave with after 11pm. He has tattoos, he smokes, and his motorcycle is fueled by the blood of kittens. At the end of that night, you hope I give you a kiss but America hopes they can pop all my cherries in one session.

I’m sorry Japan, but for now this is good bye. Your lack of creativity, your undying urge to force me into a position I don’t think I want to be in, your inability to manifest a story that hasn’t already been done, and making me play as a he-she has forced this.

Is this the life that you want to lead? Will you take the road that has been laid out before you or will we meet again somewhere else in our lives?

Good bye Japan…
Your Umi-kins.