October 15, 2012 Chris Avellone is one of the biggest names in the RPG business, known for his work on Planescape: Torment, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, and Fallout: New Vegas. Now, Obsidian is at the tail end of their Kickstarter for Project Eternity, a classic, party-style RPG. Chris and proclaimed "Obsidian Audio Overlord" Justin Bell were kind enough to take some of our questions on the title, which is currently slated for a 2014 release.
RPGFan: With Wasteland 2, Project Eternity, Shadowrun Returns, and all of the other successful "classic RPG" Kickstarters, do you think that big-name publishers might start paying attention to the genre again?
Chris Avellone: I suspect the amount of money involved with the initial Kickstarter isn't something that would be appealing to a traditional publisher, but if the game sells a million units once it's released, that would definitely cause them to take notice.
RPGFan: Arcanum remains one of my favorite games simply because of the wide variety of player choice. Are you intending to provide outside-the-box player selection like playing as someone "special"?
Chris Avellone: We don't want to confine your choices during character creation, we want you to be able to create the type of character you want (the difference between Icewind Dale's heroes and the specificity of the Torment protagonist - we prefer opening up the player's choices more in the freeform direction). The player can still choose cultural and background traits, but that's their choice, and it's not imposed on the player.
RPGFan: We know how you're looking to return to RPG roots with Project Eternity. What new features do you envision will cause Project Eternity to be looked at as a touchstone?
Without spoiling too much about the game, the central core spell mechanic of soul transference and how it makes itself felt in the world (both personally, socially, and theologically) is going to leave a lasting impression on players.
At the same time, however, one of our primary goals is to recreate a fun Baldur's Gate/Icewind Dale/Torment experience, using the strongest elements of each title. We want to create both a compelling RPG and also something that players who remember those titles have a chance to play again. The chance of seeing anything like this in today's market has been low to non-existent, and we want to prove that those RPGs can still do well and thrive, even if they don't have a huge budget attached to them.
RPGFan: Are there any features or traits of classic RPGs that you think haven't aged well? How do you plan on addressing these issues with Project Eternity?
Chris Avellone: It's been difficult to find a true party-based role-playing game, notably because they're hard to implement on console systems due to the interface limitations with the controllers (and almost RPGs being released often have to have console versions in order to maximize the return on investment). With the focus on the PC platforms (traditional PC, plus Mac and Linux) and targeting a market that wants this specific platform, that goes a long way to allowing for the kind of interface support needed for a more traditional Infinity Engine game-style party experience. If people want to control an entire party of characters to explore environments, solve puzzles and challenges, and tactically approach encounters with specific formations and moment-to-moment control and support, Eternity allows for it.
RPGFan: With Obsidian being tapped to help with Wasteland 2, is there going to be any cross-development with Project Eternity? Will the two titles share a similar engine or any other elements?
Chris Avellone: Brian Fargo and inXile have already offered a great deal of support in terms of logistic advice, post-mortems, and even Wasteland 2 promotional tie-ins in support of Project: Eternity. Brian was responsible for hiring almost all of us way back at Interplay, so the fact we're still in correspondence and helping us to this day is really encouraging and shows our equal love of making RPGs.
RPGFan: What are your goals with the game, musically? Who will be composing the music? Will you be offering the soundtrack as a download for those who ultimately purchase the final game, or is it just for Kickstarter backers?
Justin Bell, Obsidian Audio Overlord: Above all, we want the music to enhance and support the rich narrative and setting of Project Eternity. To accomplish that we'll use strong themes that are performed by distinctive and interesting instrumental ensembles. Ultimately we want the score to be every bit as memorable as the Infinity Engine game soundtracks are. As for composer, we don't have anything to announce just yet, but you should definitely expect more on that in the future. Lastly, we do want to release the soundtrack after the Kickstarter ends and we're exploring the various options to do that as well.
RPGFan: Obsidian, perhaps unfairly, has a bit of a reputation for projects that are huge in scope but often feel somewhat unfinished. What is the cause of this and what about the Kickstarter model will change this?
Eternity focuses on what we like about role-playing games, specifically the Infinity Engine style games. These are games we've done several iterations of, and not only that, they focus on mechanics that we feel are core to the experience yet still don't require a lot of bells and whistles in terms of the latest graphics card, physics engine, or extensive voice work... we want to focus on the RPG first, and it's our feeling that you don't need a lot of extraneous resources to deliver that experience.
RPGFan: What will the item generation system look like? Are you going to look at a Diablo-style "adjective-based" randomization system, or are you crafting weapons uniquely from the ground up?
Chris Avellone: Our design efforts to date have been focused on hand-crafted content, not randomized content. As an example, we always enjoyed designing specific items in the Infinity Engine games (and I certainly loved telling specific short stories for each magic item in Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment, writing the item lore and giving them unusual powers coupled with their basic function was part of the fun). Additional item breakdowns are something we may detail in future updates.
RPGFan: Will the game engine be built on classic 2D sprites or 3D models? Why was the decision made? If 2D, how much more difficult is it to create a sprite pack for people potentially using very high definition monitors compared to the 640x480 resolution of classic RPGs?
Chris Avellone: This is evident in our released screenshot, we want to give freedom that painted and hand-constructed 3D backgrounds gives us, and we feel that that look and feel allows for some of the more fantastic vistas from games like Icewind Dale to be realized in an RPG. Many of the dungeons from that game required both a modeling and a painterly touch to create the beauty, and we want to recapture that sense of wonder that you may not be able to always capture when you're worrying about the number of polygons per model in a scene.
RPGFan: Often times, announcing DLC before a game is released gains ire with some gamers; you don't seem to have that with the announced expansion of Project Eternity. Why do you think that is?
Chris Avellone: I'm not sure. I do know that for us, working on DLC is a great deal of fun, as it allows to create even more rapid, fun adventure content, so perhaps that passion has come across to the community. It's more about creating interesting new content rather than making a profit, which may be the common perception in today's market when DLC is mentioned.
I loved doing the New Vegas DLCs, and the idea of being able to do the same for Eternity is great (plus expansions, which we've really missed doing, and there's rarely a publisher that wants to sign on to do an expansion, unfortunately, no matter how much players love them).