Obsidian’s Avellone On Torment, KOTOR 2, Alpha Protocol

By Nathan Grayson on April 4th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Well, it’s official: Chris Avellone has joined the Torment: Tides of Numenera team. Kickstarter’s overwhelming monetary might has pushed another old band back together again, and now this one’s ready to give belabored brain birth to another tale for the ages. And dimensions. And whatever other creative gravy giblets they can fit into their twisted turducken of a setting. But Torment’s hardly the only thing on Avellone’s increasingly busy mind, as he’s also got both Project Eternity and Wasteland 2 to worry about. Oh, and let’s not forget that exceedingly tantalizing Star Wars pitch Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart was so thrilled to discuss. It’s tough, then, to imagine that Avellone has even a spare second these days, but he somehow managed to shove aside a few for a chat, so we used it as wisely as humanly possible. To discuss kindly stick figure knights and giggle at bad naming jokes, of course. Also, all of the above, Avellone’s role on Torment, and what an Alpha Protocol sequel would look like in a post-Walking-Dead world. 

RPS: You’re on Torment. Hurrah! Why, though, did you initially bow out? What kept you on the sidelines?

Avellone: It was mostly logistics. Brian asked if I could work on Torment not long after he got the name rights for it. But between the plans to do Eternity and other Obsidian stuff, it wasn’t possible. He kept following up, and then Kevin Saunders actually proposed a plan for how much workflow would seem reasonable over a certain time period. I said, “You know what, for a companion and for doing design documentation, that’s actually manageable in the time provided.” Rather than doing the same scope of work I did for Wasteland 2. Doing that at the same time as Eternity is kind of a juggling act. I don’t want to repeat it.

Doing Wasteland and Eternity is kind of a juggling act. I don’t want to repeat it.

RPS: How much work have you done for Wasteland 2?

Avellone: A lot of area design. I did about four area designs. I reviewed some system documentation. The area design stuff was a little bit more complicated, because each of the areas I designed had two completely different states depending on certain events that happened in the game. So it felt more like I was designing six areas. But yeah, that was the extent of the work for Wasteland. I did some description text, but I didn’t actually do as much writing as I was expecting. I actually really enjoy area design. Having a chance to draw maps again reminded me of that whole architecture phase. It was fun to sit down in the isometric view, plot out all the encounter points, how to use the skills in each area, the monster types, the traps. It was pretty awesome.

RPS: And then on Eternity, I’m guessing you’ve mainly been doing writing and world-building? If so, I imagine those roles sync up pretty nicely.

Avellone: Mostly I’ve been focused on narrative. I’ve been working on the story, the lore, the cultures. We’ve been trying to figure out the approach we want to use with the story in the game. We’re doing something a little bit different this time around, where everyone is doing their own take on the story, and then we all pick it apart. We find what strengths we like about each one, or things we think can work with some iteration, and we can share points that we bring together. I think we’ve got about five or six different storylines that we’re constructing. We should have that resolved within about two weeks or so.

It’s actually turned out a lot better than I thought. I was worried it might be a bit chaotic. But it was really interesting to see all the different perspectives on which way the story could go once we had a few elements set in stone. We said, “Here’s our core starting point that we have to cover. We know we have a stronghold, a city, how many dungeons. Now, on top of that, knowing what we know about the spell system, the cultures, and the world, what sort of story do we think works best in a setting like that?” Then we have like five or six different submissions for that, and then we just tore those apart.

RPS: So, given that you’re already juggling those projects, what are you hoping to bring to Torment? Are you worried about overlap?

Avellone: There’s two things I’m set up to do. One thing, I’m going to be reviewing all of the design documentation for the game that Kevin and Colin have laid out. I’ll offer feedback on that for things like, “Hey, I think this development works really well.” “Have you considered iterating on this particular element to make it feel more like Torment?” I think Colin and Kevin already have a good sense of what makes a Torment game, but I think they’d want my input on the design documentation. I know Kevin and Colin would appreciate that. Also, Kevin… When I worked with him on Mask of the Betrayer, he and George really liked the companions that I wrote. I think what they’d very much like is if I took the idea of a companion in the game and just did what I did with Kaelyn the Dove and Gann, do a companion along that same structure for Numenera. I think that’ll work out pretty well.

RPS: Numenera’s quite a change of pace from Planescape. Less grotesque and sickly, more futuristic and empowering. Or at least, that’s how it sounds based on what I’ve seen and heard. That in mind, what still makes this a Torment game for you? What are the defining characteristics?

Avellone: The sci-fi angle was something to keep in mind, but all the location designs that I’ve seen, as well as how magic is interpreted in the game, still feel very much like [classic Torment]. You have the freedom to make any location you can think of and put the player in almost any situation you can think of. When I was reading the area designs for the Bloom and George is going over how the location works… It’s just a big living creature that actually moves around throughout the world. It’s got foreign monsters living in it, and there’s a community living in it. But then depending on what you feed the dungeon, new portals open up to other dimensions. Anyone who attempts to measure it or quantify it ends up getting destroyed or eaten. I’m like, “That sounds pretty Planescape to me. Right on. I want to contribute to that location. That’s fucking awesome.”

RPS: Which sounds really cool, but I have to wonder: You are obviously someone who’s in very high demand right now. Everyone wants you to work on some RPG or another. Is it kind of exhausting? Does it hurt your ability to focus and create to the fullest extent of your abilities?

Avellone: Not really. The only problem is, it depends what the workload is like. I think that if Wasteland 2 were still going on and I was thinking about Eternity, the idea of taking on another Kickstarter project would just be a no. There would be no way I could handle that. However, the fact that it’s just Eternity, and then I have some work on Torment, that feels pretty manageable to me, the way that Kevin and Brian and Feargus have laid out the schedule. That made sense to me.

RPS: But you have been working on a lot of old-school RPGs lately. Are you still trying to push the genre forward, even in spite of that rather narrow genre definition?

Avellone: Sure. But I haven’t really been the vision lead for either Eternity, Wasteland 2, or Torment. Each of those have their project directors. Brian’s the one in charge of Wasteland 2, with Matt Findley and Chris Keenan. Josh Sawyer is our project lead for Eternity. Kevin Saunders is going to be the one for Torment. Each of them have goals that they want to do for the project. There are things that they’re doing in those games in terms of dialogue systems, in terms of tactics, certain gameplay choices, that I think each one of them has always wanted to do.

For me, it’s mostly in the character concepts that I find the things I want to do. Once I heard they were doing Torment, the next day I was starting to scribble out companion ideas in my sketchbook, so I could get it all out in there. So my focus is on the narrative end. In terms of game systems, I think the project directors could probably speak to that better than I could.

RPS: On that front, big epic RPGs in this style tend to have a series of archetypes that show up a lot. As someone who writes so many characters for these, do you ever feel like you’re in danger of getting stuck in a rut, or saying, “Okay, I’m just going to take this character I already made and tweak them slightly to bring them back”?

Avellone: There’s two approaches you can use. One thing I think helps is the fact that when the game systems for each title change, personalities change as a result. When I’m writing a character that’s a cipher class, for example, in Eternity, the very nature of that class and how that class works will cause notable changes in their personality, even if I was resorting to a trope or a character archetype that I tend to use a lot.

Also, just the nature of a franchise… When I was doing Trias for Torment, for example, I didn’t feel like I’d said everything I wanted to say about that character. I still like that archetype. So when Knights of the Old Republic II came around, I said, “Why not reinterpret Ravel in some respects for Kreia?” But then, because of the nature of the Star Wars universe, that version of Ravel becomes a lot different. It’s always a danger, but I think that when you have the right game systems and the right lore behind it, I think that allows you to ask different questions with a character and get different answers.

Triple-A versus Kickstarter, none of that really matters to me, as long as the title is interesting.

RPS: You said, when you first heard that you might be working on Torment, you sketched out some characters. Do you mean visually, or just writing?

Avellone: No, just in words. I just wrote them down.

RPS: I know that you draw things sometimes, so I was wondering how much of that filters into the writing process.

Avellone: Unless a companion is a stick figure, I probably couldn’t draw them [laughs]. Although that could be interesting, too.

RPS: Yeah. Have a 2D stick figure be one of the companions. They could be from another dimension, since Numenera likes those so much. The second dimension.

Avellone: Only a slice of them is what you can see at any one time. Actually, that could work pretty well. I’m going to have to credit you on that [laughs].

RPS: You’re doing tons of work on old-school-style RPGs. Do you miss triple-A at all? Do you think you will after Eternity, Wasteland, and Torment are done?

Avellone: No, I don’t think I have a compulsion to do anything other than the next interesting project, whatever form that takes. Between triple-A versus Kickstarter titles or old-school titles, none of that really matters to me, as long as the title is interesting.

RPS: I’d be remiss if I did not ask about the Star Wars pitch that Feargus spoke about.

Avellone: [laughs] I wish I could talk about it. I wouldn’t be able to say any more than Feargus already said.

RPS: Ah. Well, can you at least say if you’ve gone through with pitching it to Disney yet?

Avellone: I think Feargus is probably the best one to answer that question. I’m actually not sure how much more he could say beyond what he already said in the interview. I do know that we’re still pitching projects. We’re still talking to publishers. That’s still going on. But in terms of stuff like that, I just can’t talk about it.

RPS: OK. Well, what was it like for you to write in that universe again?

Avellone: It was amazing. Because I like that part of my brain, where I was like… I really enjoyed working on Knights of the Old Republic II. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Star Wars, but once I started working on it, once I got into it, I got really excited about it. So a chance to revisit the universe would be pretty exciting. I’d really look forward to it.

RPS: I imagine that goes double since you never got to complete KOTOR 2′s real ending. I mean, what was it, anyway? What were you planning to do with it, as opposed to what ended up happening?

Avellone: The ideal ending was, when you go to Malachor V, the goal there was that I wanted all the influence changes that had occurred with your party members to cause them to split right down the middle, so they end up fighting each other and having a big showdown there. They confront each other over the things they’ve done across the game, how they relate to your character… Even the droids would square off against each other. Because they hated each other.

RPS: I know there was a little bit of that in the actual ending, where the droids end up having a standoff.

Avellone: Just a little, yeah. That was not nearly enough of what was planned. And that would end up being the final showdown there, right before Kreia. Also, there was supposed to be a series of sequences where, over the course of the game, Kreia, behind your back, would start recruiting certain people to side with her, like Hanharr. She actually would have a cutscene where she would seduce them to the dark side, or show them why they should turn on the player or be more loyal to her. That was supposed to factor into the ending as well. She’d use them as cannon fodder before you actually fought her.

RPS: And the player was going to see those scenes over the course of the game?

Avellone: The player would see them, but not the character, if that makes any sense.

RPS: I actually sort of like that those weren’t there, then, because I think that would have made Kreia’s real goals a bit too overt. Whereas I think when the big reveal came, it was still like… It was obviously coming, but it wasn’t, “Woooooo, I’m basically Palpatine.”

Avellone: It’s a little hard to explain, but the context of those conversion scenes [it works]. Like when she’s persuading Hanharr, the reason why she’s doing it is unclear in the scene. Except that you realize it’s going to have some payoff down the line. You’re just not sure what it is. I would like to think that we were handing it somewhat subtly, but who knows? It never happened.

RPS: Did you go to Warren Spector’s GDC talk about, um, Warren Spector?

Avellone: No, I didn’t.

RPS: Well, at some point, the idea of D&D dungeon masters came up – the fact that our stories, in spite of stealing liberally from D&D for years, have failed to deliver that experience.

Avellone: I think it’s a delicate balance. It’s a matter of finding more system-based quest mechanics and system-based narrative interactions. The best examples that I’ve seen today are ones that sort of blend the two, where clearly it’s because you have this reputation that this event gets triggered. Or this quest occurs because you picked up these objects.

Which I think ends up being a really great hook for players, because they instantly know that because they were moving through the environment and doing these specific actions, this is what triggered it. But if they hadn’t done those things, no other player would have seen them. So I think scripted events like that are still possible. Those do make the world feel like there’s a game master there. But at the same time, there’s no spontaneous solution. You’re still scripting that out. It’s still something you’ve written that occurs.

But there’s so much the game master can bring to the equation, just by improvising or rolling with what the players are feeling and how they’re reacting. I totally agree on that.

RPS: Do you think games could ever reach a point where they’ll emulate that almost in full?

Avellone: Without an actual game master interfacing with the game, I’m not sure. But I do think it would be a possibility that someone could be actually running a game session of a game. Something that’s the equivalent of the games we play now, but there’s actually a game master interfacing with the game, setting up encounters and reacting to the players’ movements, their actions, their dialogue and whatnot. I don’t know how the dialogue would work exactly, but using an actual player as the game master and finding a way to pull that off, I think that would be interesting.

RPS: Have you heard of Jason Rohrer’s Sleep is Death?

Avellone: No, but he just did a great presentation at the Experimental Gameplay Workshop. It’s not the same game, though. I’m not too familiar with Sleep is Death.

RPS: Basically, it’s multiplayer, and one player is, er, the player while the other is essentially the world and NPCs. They take turns and, in the process, craft an elaborate, entirely reactive story.

Avellone: Oh, very cool.

RPS: Yeah. It’s this brilliant thing. It’s kind of depressing, because it really didn’t get the kind of notice it deserved. I think there’s a lot to be learned from it. And while we’re on the subject of interesting means of telling stories in games, we can’t not bring up The Walking Dead. Because apparently I just do that in every interview now.

Avellone: Oh, yeah. I’ve only played the first episode right now, but I loved that so much. I think it was because the other episodes hadn’t come out yet. What I played, I loved. I thought it was awesome. I wasn’t sure if a story-focused game was something that would appeal to people, but I’m glad that it proved there’s an audience for that kind of thing. They did an excellent job with it.

What would Alpha Protocol have been like if you just fought with the dialogue system?

RPS: As someone who is, by trade, a storyteller, does your soul yearn to do something similar?

Avellone: Yes, absolutely. I just… Selling that has always been an issue, but I don’t think it would be as hard to do now that Walking Dead was so successful.

RPS: Obviously, you’ve already been able to tell some incredibly cool stories with games. But I think, by nature, when you’re working in an action-based context, it sort of limits your subject matter.

Avellone: Yeah. I sort of wonder what Alpha Protocol would have been like without all of the more action espionage stuff. After I played Walking Dead, I was like, “What would Alpha Protocol have been like if you just fought with the dialogue system?” I wonder what kind of experience that might have been. That could have been interesting to explore.

RPS: Oh, and of course, the usual disclaimer: you should make another Alpha Protocol why aren’t you making another Alpha Protocol hi how are you i’m good no that’s a lie because there’s no more Alpha Protocol.

Avellone: [laughs] Sounds good. We have a lot of ideas for a second one, but again, Sega just wasn’t down with it. Oh, well. We’ll move on to other projects and have fun.

RPS: What about another modern setting? You guys definitely did some interesting things there, and it’s rare for RPGs to venture into that territory.

Avellone: Yeah, they lend themselves to some cool RPG elements, just because the player can see these real-world areas, but then they can go in and modify them and basically be an action hero, or have a power fantasy in that environment. Which normally you just can’t do in the real world. But having that real world as a backdrop just makes it more powerful. I think it’s one of the reasons people like the Fallout series. Because they can see those real-world landmarks, but the world around them has changed. It’s your sort of ego power fantasy adventure, where you can explore this environment, through all these ruins… It’s something you’d never have a chance of doing in the real world. I think it’s part of the appeal.

RPS: You should make a new series that’s just like Alpha Protocol, but give it an only slightly different name.

Avellone: Beta Protocol.

RPS: What’s a synonym for “protocol”? Hmmmmmm. Initiative! There you go: Beta Initiative!

Avellone: We should start hiring you. Between the 2D character and this, I think you’ve got a spot carved out for you.

RPS: It’s true. My dream job has always been The Guy Who Names Things At A Videogame Company. Thank you for your time.

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87 Comments »

  1. subedii says:

    I really enjoyed Alpha Protocol. Yes the combat wasn’t the best, but I loved the characters and the dialogue.

    • B1A4 says:

      It was still better than Mass Effect 1 or DE:HR combat.

      • InternetBatman says:

        No game has abused me more with bossfights than Alpha Protocol. Deus Ex had nothing near the Brayko fight or the absolutely grueling boss trudge at the end.

        I’m pretty sure even the developers have admitted that the CQC build was a bit of a mess.

        • B1A4 says:

          As a bond-like pistolero with chainshot skill i didn’t have problem with bosses, but Brayko was over the top, that is true.

          And yes, CQC was wonky (so i never master it) but it was still 100% better than DE:HR CQC :)

          • bleeters says:

            I get the distinct feeling I would’ve enjoyed DE:HR’s melee considerably more if punching a dude out didn’t exhaust the power in my robo arms for an annoyingly long amount of time unless I had a candy bar to snack on.

            Frustrating at the best of times. God damn insulting on the last level if you didn’t want to just gun down everyone.

        • Mana_Garmr says:

          Annoying as Brayko was, my most hated memory of the game was having my shotgun wielding, gadget throwing spy with no other combat skills walk into the mansion in Rome and hand over all my equipment before getting himself into a fight.

          I’m pretty sure I’d never have gotten past it if the loading bug hadn’t kicked in and skipped the fight altogether.

        • tobecooper says:

          reply-fail (Though, I think Alpha Protocol’s fight system is a larger mess than that of DE:HR)

        • kud13 says:

          Using the top CQC skill would interrupt Brayko’s Knife-slash-of-doom-combo.

          And if you made sure to get him bad cocaine before the mission, he’d take constant damage. I’ve beat Brayko with a CQC build on hard difficulty, and he was the 2nd boss I fought. It wasn’t that bad, certainly nowhere near as bad as Barrett in HR with a stealth build.

          I want another Alpha protocol. It’s the only RPG I’ve replayed 5 consecutive times in a row

    • Jake Albano says:

      For an Alpha Protocol sequel, what about “Omega Initiative”? Based on the Omega symbol on the boat that Mike sails away on at the end.

    • Adeste Fideles says:

      I just played through AP for the first time a few weeks ago (got it when GMG had it for £2.50 or something), and thought it was fantastic.

      Sure it had its’ flaws, but over-all it was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in the last few years.

      • Ross Angus says:

        Bought it; failed to get it to run. Perhaps I’ll try again, once I change my hardware. Or the community patches it.

      • liquidsoap89 says:

        I completely agree. I played it last year and I was in love the whole time. A few people I know don’t like Obsidian games because of their brokenness, but since this is the only Obsidian game I’ve played (and yes it was incredibly broken), and since I absolutely LOVED it, I get to side with the “I heart Obsidian” fanbase.

        • Zekiel says:

          If only Alpha Protocol had ditched all the action and just focused on the conversations I’d have loved it. Nothing but brilliant writing, all the time….

    • Lifebleeder says:

      Alpha Protocol was supposed to be my dream game, and even though I did enjoy the story. MY GOD THE BUGS, THE BUGS! I’m pretty sure it was never supported post release either, not a single patch if I remember correctly. That kind of killed my faith in Obsidian and Sega both.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I had a great time with Alpha Protocol. I really enjoyed it, and I think I only had one bug (a bunch of dead guys came back to life after I restored my game).

      I pre-ordered it too, and didn’t regret it one bit, I consider it a flawed gem.

      • tobecooper says:

        You’ve had the exact opposite of my usual problem. The main bug of the game was that the living guys that I’ve left behind the checkpoint usually just disappeared out of existence.

    • KristaMitchell says:

      If you think Benjamin`s story is exceptional…, four weeks ago my sisters mother in-law also recieved a check for $5726 just sitting there a 20 hour week in their apartment and there co-worker’s aunt`s neighbour done this for 9-months and actually earned more than $5726 part-time from their pc. the guidelines here… http://www.Buzz54.com/money

    • impish says:

      Yes, AP was some good ideas wrapped in a bad game.

      The ‘attitudes’ dialogue system was really cool and I loved the ways that different characters would react to different attitudes. And putting your responses on a timer was brilliant.

      I remember being stuck in some building thing for a long time because the muddy wall textures (I was playing on the 360, shameful I know) hid the door to the next area. I had to find a video of where to go.

  2. Berzee says:

    As interesting as the overall story was in KotOR 2, I think the real excellence was in the fact that every 10-30 minutes, a character (usually Kreia, but not always) would just decide “Alright, it’s time to say something eminently quotable that you will remember at the weirdest times for the rest of your life”.

    That’s what happened to me, at least. :P

    • bleeters says:

      Who’s this? Another Jedi? What, did you start breeding when I wasn’t looking?

    • Drake Sigar says:

      “I would have killed the galaxy to preserve you. I would have let the galaxy die. You are more rare than you know, and what you have taught yourself must not be allowed to die. You are not a Jedi. Not truly. And it is for that, that I love you.”

      *Wipes away a single tear* Crazy old bat.

      • bleeters says:

        “You will not. For if you do, my silence will be broken. And then, Atton, you will be broken. You fear the Jedi and rightly so. If Atris learns of your choices, you will never leave this place. But whatever fear you hold of the Jedi, know that if you disobey me that my punishment will make you beg for the death that has long hounded you.

        Wipe the fear from your mind. You will not find blind obedience a difficult master. You chose it once, you will learn to embrace it again.”

        Kreia was probably the best thing to happen to Star Wars. That, shall we say, subsequent Old Republic titles have entirely squandered and ignored her is personally a source of both ongoing frustration and relief.

      • Zekiel says:

        “Direct action is not always the best way. It is a far greater victory to make another see through your eyes than to close theirs forever.”

        I feel like Kreia had a more fascinating and cohesive worldview than pretty much any other videogame character I’ve ever encountered. Wonderful.

    • benjamin says:

      I played KOTOR II again recently with the mod pack installed. It was beautiful!

      Considering I last played it when I was thirteen, eight years later I was able to pick on so much more nuance and subtlety. For one thing, Kiera’s motivations and grand plan actually made something approaching sense. She really does put all other Sith to shame.

      I love the bit where you persuade two NCPs to throw themselves over the edge of a pit and she rebukes you for mindless violence.

    • Bhazor says:

      I have to say his proposed ending really goes against what Kriea seemed to be about. I liked the idea that everyone in the party was trapped with you in one way or another with Kriea trying to keep them all bound to you.

      This is a woman who would have killed millions to protect you. The idea she would try to turn your few allies away from you just doesn’t gel.

      • kyrieee says:

        I never quite got what she planned to do at Malachor V or why you had to fight her.

        • Bhazor says:

          I liked the fact her ultimate plan was nebulous that you were part of a chess master’s plan that you can’t even comprehend. Even when you beat her it felt like you were just following her plan, that even as you were the hero of the galaxy you were still just a sidekick to the galaxy’s greatest threat.

  3. Incredibly_Shallow says:

    Mmmmmm game design porn…exquisite.

  4. Metalfish says:

    Avellone, with his buckets of talent, is an enormous influence for me and probably the closest thing I have to an idol in gaming. And he’s such a decent chap too -that’s hardly fair is it?

    • Bhazor says:

      Sadly my opinion of him dropped during the Eternity live stream. No one should see their idol drunk on lukewarm Bud light.

      • darkChozo says:

        You can only get drunk by drinking alcohol, silly.

        • Bhazor says:

          But lukewarm Bud? Jesus, even in my darkest days I have better taste than that. Feargus earned some respect in that regard for laying claim to a decent brand of malt whiskey. Now that is a respectable drink for a writer.

          • darkChozo says:

            I think you interpreted my post in the opposite manner to which it was intended. Death of the author, I suppose (and of the author’s clarity of writing).

            But I think we can agree on the conclusion that a good malt whiskey is a more suitable drink for a writer than Bud Light. Though I would say “functional human being” instead of “writer”, I think.

          • Vorphalack says:

            You could have said sewer water instead of malt whiskey and still been correct.

  5. Machinations says:

    “But I do think it would be a possibility that someone could be actually running a game session of a game. Something that’s the equivalent of the games we play now, but there’s actually a game master interfacing with the game, setting up encounters and reacting to the players’ movements, their actions, their dialogue and whatnot.”

    So basically, neverwinter nights 3?

    I only picked up nwn2 recently from gog.com and have been quite pleasantly surprised. There is a fairly large body of user generated content. What is needed is a next-gen ‘story teller’ engine, with RPG mechanics, and a super user similar to nwn2′s dm client. Thinks like climbing, flying, and such were’nt represented in nwn2 and so it is somwhat limited, though what can be done with scripting is amazing.

    • aliksy says:

      You could just play a pen and paper game… But I guess that doesn’t work well with strangers, and some people need visuals.

      • InternetBatman says:

        You can play with online tabletops, which provide fantastic visuals. Good examples are roll20 and maptools. We’re getting into roll 20 right now, and it’s not the alpha and omega that people make it out to be (my kingdom for a push to talk button!), but it’s pretty slick. I’m personally fond of maptools.

  6. Tim James says:

    If he is passionate about KOTORII, why not write the missing scenes and let mod teams put them in there?

    • Bhazor says:

      Reason 1) If you’re good at something never do it for free
      Reason 2) Star Wars isn’t always the kindest with fan projects and if someone with money backed one they would probably be looking at the mouth end of a lawyer pretty soonish. Most fan projects are done under pseudonyms by poor rock farmers where the costs would probably beat any potential gains.

  7. Kusz says:

    The most concerning thing about Chris working on yet another project is, of course, how will that affect his Arcanum playthrough. I’m appalled that there were no questions addressing this major issue.

  8. SirKicksalot says:

    Make a Beta Initiative kickstarter and I’ll give you all my money.

    On the other hand part of Alpha Protocol’s appeal was the cinematic flair and I doubt a kickstarter can pay for that, even if it’s still buggy and unpolished.

  9. Bhazor says:

    Languid staring eyes tag.

  10. InternetBatman says:

    “In Eternity, the very nature of that class and how that class works will cause notable changes in their personality, even if I was resorting to a trope or a character archetype that I tend to use a lot.”

    I really think that this perspective is what separates Obsidian’s writing from so many other games. They view the character in context to the world it’s set in, with a keen eye towards mechanics. This helps avoid characters that get cutscene stupid and hollow archetypes.

    Also, I was hoping an RPS interview would pop up before the Kickstarter was over. They manage to send a ton of people over to Kickstarter.

    Finally, what’s with the skeezy banner on the bottom of the article? It looks like G4.

  11. gritz says:

    I can’t help but laugh at the people who quit RPS for its advocacy/issue posts and are missing out on gems like this interview.

    Great work all around, RPS. Keep it up.

  12. Spoit says:

    I’d buy an Obsidian game that excised all the gameplay in favor of more dialogue any day.

    Hell, Spycraft: the great game, is halfway to what he was talking about anyway, and it’s still one of my favorite old games

    • InternetBatman says:

      I think the point though, is that they’re integrally related. Fallout has a different style than NWN because it plays differently.

    • Bhazor says:

      I’m more disapointed in the fact that like Feargus he thinks that gameplay and story are seperate. The best parts in both AP and Deus Ex are when character’s react to the way you play not just which options you pick. Your brother cussing you out for using lethal tactics, Mongoose praising you for avoiding his own guards, Sie liking your professionalism if you try to shoot her before she finishes talking etc. *That* is what I want Avellone and his Ilk to explore in terms of non linear narratives.

  13. tobecooper says:

    I love Alpha Protocol in ways one player shouldn’t love an inanimate grouping of digital information packed into files bred through immaculate keyboard conception. All the hate on the Internet wouldn’t be able to change that.

    It’s one of the very few games that I replayed right after finishing to see the various different dialogs and effects of decisions. And it was possibly the only one that was worth it.

    So an Omega Initiative not-a-sequel that really-is-a-sequel would get all my moneys. I’d murder my piggybank for a kickstarter.

  14. Not Marvelous says:

    I wonder if all that weirdness in Torment will end up being in any way consistent.

    I mean, one can argue about the consistency of Planescape, of course, but I feel like at least Sigil hit some genre chord that the New Weird authors appear to hit today*.

    Anyway, for now, it just sounds weird with a capital W, but nothing more than that. We’ll see.

    *To be honest, The City & the City is the only New Weird novel I’ve read and its main strength is in metaphor. From what I’ve heard, not all the locales in the genre strive for metaphor.

    • Bhazor says:

      That’s my main concern too. A lot of talented writers are attached but it sounds like they’re all writing one character each. Honestly it sounds more like they were included for publicity than anything else.

      Planescape was almost entirely Avellone’s own work. Even the lead on the new Torment said around 60% of the finished game was written by him and the other 40% was based on his drafts that the other writers fleshed out slightly.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      Have there been any games with big-name writers attached that were actually good games and not just decent stories on ho-hum games?

      I would rather see them spend their money on gameplay mechanics.

      • Bhazor says:

        Shadow Complex and Advent Rising were both co-written by Orson Scott Card and I thought were well above average.

      • Not Marvelous says:

        Meh, the gameplay of RPGs, especially these kickstarted ones that are funded by nostalgia, is pretty much set. It is probably going to play like Baldur’s Gate with the calculations changed and some added simple gameplay systems that were impossible in AD&D. I am fine with that, although I would love to see something more novel, as I ultimately liked all those old RPGs.

        Anyway, what I’m trying to say, I’m more concerned about the story as that is what is going to determine whether I enjoy it or not. I don’t think they’ll fumble the gameplay, because the formula is set and proven to work, while being flexible enough.

  15. Lemming says:

    Speaking of Torment, I’d love love love to see an isometric RPG done in the same vein with the short-lived Wraith: The Oblivion license.

    I dare anyone to read the setting and not be totally intrigued.

  16. Drake Sigar says:

    I love how this has almost immediately become a discussion on Obsidian’s greatest hits list.

    No really, I could happily talk about the genius of Alpha Protocol and Knights of the Old Republic 2 till doomsday. At the mere mention of these games, someone has already began the installation process.

  17. Yosharian says:

    This was a really fun article to read. This guy rocks my world. These guys, Chris, Josh, all the guys working on Wasteland and Torment, they’re really keeping RPG gaming alive, for me.

  18. notes says:

    Good to see.

    And the projects they’re working on may not be true heirs to glories past… but it’s nice to actually see the industry trying to make something along those lines, rather than scrambling, lemming-like, over an MMO or brown-shooter cliff.

  19. malkav11 says:

    I really don’t get the appeal of a piece of software that connects players to a DM in a systematized toolkit with prepopulated (even expandable), hardcoded rules and content. Systems like Neverwinter Nights at least have the somewhat questionable advantage of handling the bookkeeping for you (I say questionable because it locks you into a particular system and whatever rules they’ve chosen to code, whether or not those rules are well designed or make sense), but Sleep is Death has no system, so is really not a meaningful improvement over just roleplaying without software interference.

    As far as I’m concerned, computers have only three useful roles in the context of roleplaying:
    1) Connecting players despite intervening distances (play by forum/email; IRC/chat/MUCKs/whatnot; VOIP/video connectivity; etc)
    2) Providing support for a session (mapping software, character creators, PDF sourcebooks, etc)
    3) Providing an artificial substitute for a DM and possibly other players. I.e., the CRPG.

    There are certainly great strides that could be made in support of use #3, but putting a human in that role defeats the entire purpose.

    • The Random One says:

      I would like to have a system that allowed me to create a brand new story if my party decided not to explore the bloody dungeon I’d been signposting for a month but that also absolved me the responsability of mapping the tunnels of eight separate rock eaters.

  20. JonathanStrange says:

    Mask of the Betrayer always tends to get overlooked in these sorts of conversations, but as far as narrative goes I still consider it Obsidian’s best work. It did exactly what I’d have hoped for them to do with the Forgotten Realms setting by taking a closer look at some of its more ridiculous elements and then exploiting them in the name of an interesting and unique story in an otherwise well explored setting.

    It’s more of that which I want from Obsidian. That and brilliantly done characters like Kaelyn. It’s a pleasant surprise to find out Avellone wrote her considering she was my favourite character from the game.

    • Lycan says:

      This. NWN2 was gifted to me by friends and I found it a fun romp (though didn’t manage to finish the last fight with the Big Bad – was too tough for me as NWN2 was only my 2nd DnD game ever at the time). My first char was a gimped half-cleric, half-war-priest-but-not-quite mess. But MotB I bought at full price by telling the local store to hold a copy for me as soon as it was in (in the days before pre-ordering was widespread). Then it was delayed (I think) a couple of months and so I started a second character to play through the original campaign, because the news was MotB was going to be for “high level” characters. This time I specced the character much better and motored through the main campaign and MotB like a boss. And my favourite characters were Gann-of-Dreams and Kaelyn the Dove. Kaelyn was probably the superior character by herself, but Gann’s backstory (and the way you uncover it) was a masterpiece.

      All this in 2006/2007. And then last month I find out it was Chris Avellone who wrote both characters. Mind blown. And then I sat and watched Youtube video after Youtube video of various endings of MotB to remind myself how awesome that game was and what endings other players (who had made different choices) experienced.

      Just awesome. *Sigh* *Drifts off into pleasant reverie…*

  21. RakeShark says:

    He is also a joy to drunkenly hug.

  22. Supahewok says:

    Nathan, you ask about all sorts of projects that Avellone’s involved in but you skipped the Wheel of Time RPG!?!?

    …Well, I’m sure I’m the only who would care anyway…

    (And now that I think about it, I don’t think it was ever said that Avellone would have anything to do with WoT. He’d probably knows something though…)

  23. chargen says:

    “But you have been working on a lot of old-school RPGs lately. Are you still trying to push the genre forward”

    What the hell, Nathan? To more RPG-FPS’s and action RPGs? They’re the future! (of 1995)
    What he’s been working on seems much more progressive and worthwhile than anything that’s been going on in RPGs in the last 10 years.

    • Not Marvelous says:

      I *loved* that question (and it is one of the reasons I like RPS).

      We can have our preferences all we want, but RPGs like the ones that are currently being kickstarted are nostalgic first and foremost.

      Baldur’s Gate (especially II) was a great game. Its formula was used for a couple of other great games. Bioware’s Dragon Age games (for example) don’t work nearly as well, but not because their approach is wrong, but because the games lack things that would make them great. I would love a great cinematic RPG from Bioware in the future. I would love a new Darklands-like game. I would love completely new concepts for RPGs.

      As was seen, kickstarter is not the best place for that. It’s usually making more games that are very much like games that people loved playing.

      • chargen says:

        I don’t think I’ve played or heard of a game that looks like the Banner Saga or the Unwritten, unless you consider a mashup of some very esoteric games that hasn’t been done before.

        I don’t believe I’ve ever played a co-op turn based RPG with a world as interactive as Ultima 7, like Divinity Original Sin. You see, there I am calling out a _very_ old game, not because I’m nostalgic and want things to go back to the good ol days, but because U7 achieved a level of interaction that has not since been reached. In fact RPGs have been getting less and less interactive so trying to achieve that again would actually be moving the genre forward. Ultima’s 8 and 9 did not progess the genre just because they added crossover gameplay elements (action games/3D worlds).

        Do tell how anything anything Bioware has done in the last 10 years, or Bethesda remaking the same game 7 times, are “progress”.

    • InternetBatman says:

      It was a good question, and I was glad to see Nathan step up to the plate after the feather-soft David Gaider interview. Kickstarted projects should be working to move the genre forward. That means introducing new ideas, viewpoints, technology, and mechanics.

      And from what I’ve seen, they are moving the genre forward. Obsidian’s reputation system is slowly growing more developed, and it’s a really good way to write games. Torment’s pre-rendered graphics with moving parts are also a neat piece of technology. The grimoire idea, and the dailies turning into at-wills, mercenary lodges, and Wasteland’s ambushes are all good ideas that are pushing the genre forward.

    • MSJ says:

      Chargen, when you hear politicians discuss “the future of government”, do you panic because you think the only future government that can logically exist is fascist?

    • Kamos says:

      I can’t even understand what Nathan means with old-school, or why it would narrow down possibilities, or keep things from moving forward.

  24. TheApologist says:

    Well, that was a nice start to my morning – I wish I had money to pledge to all the various isometric / old school / whatever-they-look-like-the-RPGs-I’ve-always-liked games going around Kickstarter.

    Chris is always interesting to hear from and I’m glad that Obsidian and the Planescape guys have found this way to connect to their audience (me!)

    Really entertaining interview, too :)

  25. Zwebbie says:

    I think I may be the only person who didn’t like Planescape Torment all that much — for me, it exposed the shallowness that is inherent in interactivity. A book says “Here is text, form an opinion on it!”. Torment says “Here is text, pick which one of my opinions you want! P.S. The correct opinion is ‘belief’.”

  26. Radaway says:

    Chris Avellone on why Day One DLC is wrong and more importantly- how they make these AMAZING characters! http://www.puresophistry.com/2013/04/27/chris-avellone-interview-its-more-special-when-every-player-has-a-different-experience/

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