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.

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!

Ten Questions: Matt Barton

Matt Barton is one of the smartest and most interesting people you can find online discussing, loving and showing off old & new games. Now, although you should preferably get to know him via his work on Matt Chat, the Amrchair Arcade and some rather impressive books, reading the following interview should be both enlightening and considered as an appetizer.
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1. Matt, care to introduce yourself to the merry retro loving lot that are the Gnomeslair.com & Obsolete Gamer readers?

I’m Matt Barton, host of Matt Chat, a weekly YouTube show dedicated to classic games. I’m also co-founder of Armchair Arcade and author of Dungeons & Desktops and Vintage Games (co-authored with my friend and colleague Bill Loguidice). I’m also an assistant (soon to be associate) professor of English at St. Cloud State University, where I teach classes in writing, rhetoric, and new media.

2. And what would you say some of your favourite games are? Any particular love for a genre or a gaming machine?

My favorite genres are adventure games, role-playing games, and strategy games. Some of my favorites include Baldur’s Gate, Pool of Radiance, World of Warcraft, Civilization, and the Nancy Drew series of adventure games. I have many consoles, but my favorite gaming device is the PC. Going further back, I will always be an Amiga and Commodore fan at heart.

3. So, Armchair Arcade, how would you describe the site and what’s the story behind it?

We were friends on a forum dedicated to Shane R. Monroe’s Retrogaming Radio show. We talked about putting together an online magazine, and eventually set it up. For awhile we focused on “issues” and tried to make it look like a retromag. We were amazed by how much attention it got, frequently mentioned on Slashdot and many other sites (even Slate and the Discovery Channel). Eventually, though, we morphed into a blog format and started selling our features to other sites (especially Gamasutra). Now we use AA as our home base for communicating to fans and fellow retrogamers, talking about our latest projects, and so on.

4. Same question on the incredibly well produced Matt Chat episodes… How did you decide to start a video show on retro games, and what would you say is this little something that makes Matt Chat unique (for, believe me, it is unique)? By the way, love that gaming wall you got in the background.

Matt Chat has come a long, long way in a short time. When I first started, it was just me and a webcam trying to hawk my books. The production quality was terrible! But I wanted to learn more about videos because Bill and I are producing a feature documentary for Lux Digital Pictures (Gameplay: The Story of the Videogame Revolution). I figured I needed more experience with videos to really handle a project like that, so I kept learning and experimenting, trying to refine my techniques. If you notice, I usually try to put in one more technique or one more refinement per episode, so I’m always learning something new.

I don’t think Matt Chat is unique. There are many, many other YouTubers out there doing similar shows. For instance, ianwilson1978 does great work on the Sega Genesis and Marlin Lee covers a variety of games. I guess one thing that makes my show special is that I feature games from all platforms, especially covering PC and computer titles that the others miss. Most other shows are dedicated to consoles, especially Nintendo classics. I figure those games already get enough love, so I try to cover ground that is not covered by the other shows–such as Dungeons of Daggorath for the Tandy CoCo, Tunnels of Doom for the TI-99/4A, or even the PLATO platform. I also feature interviews with classic developers, such as John Romero and Al Lowe. I’ll soon release my interview with Chris Avellone.

5. Really, is it tough producing something of this quality on a weekly basis?

It can be. Sometimes my editing program (Sony Vegas Platinum) crashes so much during rendering that I’m tempted to just give up. I would really love a better setup! The other big problem is capturing footage from games, especially old Windows games. Even with fraps, virtualdub, and the rest, it can be a nightmare sometimes capturing decent footage.

Other than these purely technical problems, though, it’s not hard at all. I can easily come up with things to say, and I like researching the games anyway. I also enjoy inserting inside jokes and humor, and interacting with the fans is a real joy.

6. How about your books? They are two on games and one on Wikis, correct? Do you feel gamers actually bother reading?

I think most gamers are highly intelligent; at least the ones I talk to. I know plenty of professors and graduate students who are serious gamers. But, of course, there are many who never pick up a book. That is sad, of course, since I couldn’t imagine living life without good books to read. It’s really important to read good books, not just newspapers and such. You can always tell when you’re talking to an avid reader, because he or she will be more knowledgeable on a broader range of topics–plus, I think it makes you more articulate and, frankly, intelligent. I had a friend who read War and Peace just for fun, but he told me later he felt more intelligent after reading it. Some people laugh at comics and graphic novels, but they are actually much more sophisticated now than they used to be. You could certainly learn a thing or two from Moore‘s work.

There’s really no excuse for being ignorant. So read!

7. Now, let’s focus a bit on the rather epic Dungeons and Desktops. Why CRPGs? Could you briefly describe the book? Has it sold to your expectations? Did you enjoy writing it?

It’s pretty much what it says; the history of computer role-playing games. I tried to talk about every important or even remotely influential game in the book, describing what makes them fun and how they fit into the grand history of the genre. I tried to show connections across eras and styles, so you could get a sense of the diversity. Someone may have heard of Baldur’s Gate, for instance, but be unaware of Planescape: Torment, Pool of Radiance, or Eye of the Beholder. I meet people who may know all about Zelda and Final Fantasy, but have never heard of Ultima or Lord British. That bothered me, so I thought it was time to write a book on the topic.

The book has sold well. Of course, something like this won’t be a bestseller. But I wrote this book for people like us, not the mainstream. By “us,” of course, I’m talking about people who love games like Wizardry and Fallout and enjoy nothing more than talking and thinking about them.

8. Should we expect more books from you? Maybe even a new project or collaboration?

Almost certainly, though it’s very hard to find publishers interested in game books. I have been dying to write a book on adventure games similar to D&D, but no takers so far. Bill and I have been talking about a book on the Atari 2600, and I’ve got one on virtual worlds that needs development. We will probably also write a book based on our documentary.

9. And now for something that interests me quite a bit on a personal level. How did you really manage to -effortlessly, it seems- combine an academic career with all this quality work on computer and video games?

In a sense gaming is my job. A professor is expected to research as well as teach, and game studies is an important part of new media. I’m presenting on aspects of gaming at two national conferences later this year (Computers and Writing, Rhetoric Society of America). People tend to think of “English” strictly as literature and grammar, but it’s far more than that! There are many of us studying games as well as other technologies like wikis and social networking. All of these things involve communication and rhetoric.

10. Finally, have you thought about actually creating a game yourself?

I have, though I’m not satisfied with the results! But a few years ago I taught myself C++ out of some books and made a simple adventure game, which I entered into the Interactive Fiction contest. I was shocked that it was 28th in the 12th annual interactive fiction competition. At any rate, it was fun learning C++, and I’d love to try something more ambitious one day.

Planescape: Torment

Planescape Torment - Gameplay Screenshot

There are few words that can describe the wonder that is Planescape: Torment.  A few that come to mind: amazingdeepgloriousimmersive.  This game is worth every accolade sent its way and more.

Released by Interplay in 1998, Planescape: Torment was developed by Black Isle Studios, the RPG masters who also worked on Icewind Dale, Fallout, and Baldur’s Gate.  The game is set in the Planescape universe, part of the Dungeons & Dragons setting.  You are in the City of Sigil, the center of the universe – a place where any creature from any place in the multiverse can visit, as long as they do not disrupt the eternal rule of the Lady of Pain.  The game mechanics follow the 2nd Edition rules set, so no Feats or other munchkin bells & whistles.

Planescape Torment - Gameplay Screenshot

The graphics are in 2D isolinear, a standard for RPGs of the late 1990’s.  Though not as detailed when compared to today’s near photorealistic graphics, the characters and backgrounds are still quite detailed, and do not distract from enjoyable gameplay.  The music sounds a bit other-worldly, which is par for the course for a game set in the Outer Planes of the D&D cosmos.  Unlike some games, where the music is either repetitive or annoyingly out-of-place,  the music in Planescape: Torment does what it’s supposed to do: add atmosphere to the gameplay and stay in the background.  By the way, the sound effects and spoken dialogue are spectacular, too.

Planescape Torment - Gameplay Screenshot

You begin the game waking up from a marble slab in the middle of the mortuary.  You don’t know who you are.  You don’t know anyone you meet.  You’re covered with scars that seem too numerous to be received in just one lifetime, which is to be expected, as it seems you have a curious immortality: although you can die, you cannot stay dead.   This isn’t a standard RPG; your goal isn’t to find a treasure or defeat an ultimate villain.  All you need to do is to discover exactly who you are, and why is it that you suffer so.  As you progress through the game, you will gain new insights to who you’ve been, the friends and enemies you’ve made, and the feats you’ve accomplished.

Planescape Torment - Gameplay Screenshot

Since your memory is gone, you choose what class you want to level up in as you gain experience, and you are not limited to that class each time you reach the next experience plateau.  More importantly, experience is rewarded for more than just combat.  How you speak to NPCs can result in a bonanza of experience points, as can completing tasks.  The choices you face in every encounter can adjust your alignment depending on what approach you take.  In short, everything about Planescape: Torment is open-ended, the hallmark of an excellent RPG.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7s2Qkx3lN5s[/youtube]

As you gain experience, you also gain ability points.  Which attributes you put those points towards makes a difference in how the game progresses.  New dialogue options might open up for you.  Certain NPCs may treat you differently.  Quests might have different parameters.  Your choices impact how the game plays!

I cannot remember a game that I have enjoyed more than Planescape: Torment.  In fact, it became my favorite game I ever played back when it was released, and no game since has been able to knock it from that position.  The only weakness I can think of for this game is that eventually it ends.  If Black Isle made another Planescape game I would buy it in a heartbeat.  If you haven’t played Planescape: Torment, you’ve missed out on something BIG.  Get yourself a copy. STAT!!

Fallen Earth Q&A

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Fallen Earth Q&A

Tired of swords and sorcery, of level and faction grinds, of dragons and dungeons, well welcome to the apocalypse. Fallen earth combines the depth of a role-playing game with the action of a first-person shooter all set against a post-apocalyptic earth in the year 2156. This online game brings you all the things you like about MMO’s like player advancement, gear and weapons, crafting and clans and kept out the things people hate like grinding for gear and long boring raids.

Recently Fallen Earth released their state of the game address discussing such issues as PVP, new contact and end game raids. Obsolete Gamer had a chance to talk with Marie Croall, Senior Game Designer on Fallen Earth about the game and the coming changes.

Let’s begin with the basics for those who may not be familiar with Fallen Earth. The game is a hybrid of First Person Shooters and Role Playing Games, can you tell us about this combined dynamic?

 

Marie Croall: All of our weapons use a reticle that you need to have on your target in order to hit them, once you hit them we resolve damage based on stats, skills and resists.

 

 

So in a nutshell, the Shiva virus began to spread across the world and nuclear war broke out leaving a wasteland, sounds like the perfect setting for a story. Can you tell us about the world players will find themselves in?

 

Marie Croall: Fallen Earth takes place 150 years in the future; humanity has just gotten to the point where they are starting to rebuild when clones (players) start showing up. To some, the clones are the solution to all their problems, but to others the clones represent something to be feared or worse – exploited.

 

There are factions the players can join, each one showing how different mindsets handle the fall of civilization: There are the CHOTA—wasteland barbarians dedicated to returning to the “old ways,”  Enforcers—descendants of military and police forces trying to keep up  traditions, Techs—scientists, scholars and engineers, Lightbearers – spiritual healers trying to calm the warring world, Travelers—racketeers and con men out for their own profit and the Vista—guerilla warriors bent on stopping the exploitation of  the healing Earth.

 

Each faction has its own allies and enemies, but there is no guarantee that any member will be friendly. Clones have to watch their backs pretty closely in FE.

 

 

Now some fans liken the world to Fallout. We know post-apocalyptic lands are not owned by any one game, but were there any influences on Fallen Earth from Fallout or other post-apocalyptic games?

 

Marie Croall: We’re all huge fans of the Fallout games, but most of our inspiration came from post-apoc and dystopian books and films.  It’s a genre we’re all very much into and favorites range from “A Boy and His Dog” and “Road Warrior” to “Six String Samurai.”  We’re also pretty addicted to the Post-apoc shows on the History and Discovery channels.  “Life After People” and “The Colony” are two of the more entertaining ones.

 

 

 

Can you give us a breakdown of customization and progression in Fallen Earth?

 

Marie Croall: We are a classless system. As the player gains experience they gain AP which they can put into any of the attributes or skills.  At level 15, players can select a faction, start participating in Conflict towns and begin to develop mutation lines if they choose.

We have a fairly extensive crafting system—about 95% of items are crafted. Scavenging and exploration are large parts of the world and the player experience.

 

Now the world is open and as far as PVP, there are arenas or you can flag yourself PVP and fight other flagged players, is that correct?

 

Marie Croall: There are actually three different ways you can participate in PvP. You can flag yourself for world PVP at all times, you can enter Blood Sports or you can enter an open PvP zone out in the world.  The open world PvP zones are usually found with conflict towns (settlements players can fight to control for their faction), or Faction Control Points. Taking a town generates merchants and questors specific to the controlling faction, gaining control of the Faction Control Points gives a buff to faction members.

 

What would you say is the learning curve to play Fallen Earth; do you have to be a MMO or FPS pro?

 

Marie Croall: There is a bit of a learning curve, but we’ve worked very hard to make sure that the game is challenging rather than frustrating.  Our player base has MMO players, FPS players and those who are new to both genres.

 

Fallen Earth - Gameplay Screenshot

Can you tell us a little about Terminal Woods?

 

Marie Croall: Terminal Woods is a bit of a bridge between Kaibab and Alpha County. It’s got quite a bit of mission content and introduces players to the Scavenger Bosses—group encounters that players will be able to craft a lure for the Boss. Rewards from the bosses can be used to upgrade existing gear.

Can you give us a hint about some of the long-term projects you plan to add in Alpha County?

 

Marie Croall: We’ve got quite a few new features coming. Progress Towns, settlements that players can build and defend, World Events and a crafting augmentation system are some of the new features we will be adding.  We will also be expanding our skills set with two new skill lines for players to add to their builds.

How important has feedback from the community been to the Fallen Earth team?

 

Marie Croall: We work very hard at reaching out to our players, getting their feedback and incorporating it in a way that works for our design and for the benefit of the community as a whole.

 

Can you tell us about Blood Sports and the changes you are working on?

 

Marie Croall: The changes we are implementing for Blood Sports revolve around fixing stability and team creation bugs.

 

About raid content, in your state of the game address you talked about not wanting the have people grind raid instances for gear, what would be a raid style that you feel would fit with Fallen Earth?

Marie Croall: Although we want to maintain the strategic element to battles. we will be focusing on smaller team size  and goals that fit well with the existing Fallen Earth systems.  It’s important to provide compelling motivation.

 

Can you give us a bit more info on the large-scale instance you are working on to be release post Alpha County?

 

Marie Croall: I can show you some concept art, but further info gets a bit spoiler-y.

 

What are some of the classic games the Fallen Earth team likes to play?

 

Marie Croall: While not all of these may be classics in a traditional sense, our list includes: D&DDonkey Kong,  Final Fantasy Tactics,  Super Mario, Madden Football, Russian roulette, Planescape: Torment, Ultima games, Diablo, not to mention board game nights that include Dominion, Carcassone, Infinite City, Dungeon Lords, Cash & Guns, Civilization, and Castle Ravenloft.

There you have it. If you are looking for a new experience in the MMO world then Fallen Earth is right up your alley. You can pick up Fallen Earth using their Online Download for about twenty bucks. The subscription fee for Fallen Earth is $14.99 monthly.

Check out our Gamer Profiles on some of the Fallen Earth team members:

Jessica Harper

Marie Croall

 

 

Karoliina Korppoo: Colossal Order

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Name: Karoliina Korppoo

Company: Colossal Order

Profession: Game designer

Favorite classic game: Planescape: Torment

Quote: The unique world and thrilling story just draws you in and you’ll never forget the characters you adventure with.

Current event: I’m working on my first PC title Cities in Motion!