Rezzed: Chris Avellone On Project Eternity & Black Isle

By Alec Meer on June 26th, 2013 at 4:01 pm.

Have a load of that

I’m most distressed that I didn’t get a chance to say hello to Chris ‘Planescape Torment’ Avellone during my limited time at Rezzed. Especially because the only other time I’ve met him when was when I was blind drunk on French wine and couldn’t manage anything more than a witless reference to talking skulls. Still, they do say you should never meet you heroes, so at least I haven’t had to risk discovering he has bad breath or doesn’t like eye contact or fiddles with his nipples during conversation. Instead, I can live vicariously and safely through this video of his hour-long natter about Obisidian’s strange history, his work at Black Isle and plans for the upcoming mega-Kickstartered Project Eternity.

Sadly there’s no new footage of Eternity, as far as I can tell, but there is plenty of info and some lovely old art from the many other games on his impressive CV. Also chat about Dr Who and Dark Souls: ain’t he quite the modern fellow?

Avellone even held an informal Q&A in the (horrible) pub on site afterwards, though sadly that wasn’t filmed. Unless one of you heroes cheekily captured it with your electronic telephonic portable informational device? Please do share it if you did.

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39 Comments »

  1. Jimmy Butler says:

    Could be worse, he could fiddle with your nipples during conversation

  2. Dowr says:

    Is it pronounced Ave’loan or Ave’lawn?

  3. povu says:

    ‘I worked on a shitload of RPGs god damn it’ Best rushed intro ever.

    • Bhazor says:

      Nah, Sex Bo-bomb is still the best intro

      “We are Sex Bob-Omb and we’re here to make you think about death and get sad and stuff”

      I plan to use a similar opening next time I give a eulogy.

      • Syra says:

        We are sex bo-bomb and we are here to make money and sell out and stuff.

        Also, movies don’t count because they didn’t rush the intro, they scripted it and did multiple takes.

  4. Sakkura says:

    I’m sure it’s entirely by coincidence that this video gets posted on RPS mere hours after Project Eternity backers got a link to it in an update mail…

    • Stochastic says:

      RPS co-hosted Rezzed along with Eurogamer. That may have something to do with it being posted as well.

      • Sakkura says:

        Was referring to the timing.

        • Lycan says:

          RPS may have held off posting it as a courtesy (until Obisidian sent the link out to its backers in their regular weekly update). I’m a backer of Project Eternity, but I saw the Rezzed presentation video days ago, having stumbled across it after watching the excellent panels on storytelling and business models in gaming… surprisingly, I enjoyed the panel on business models more than the one on storytelling. Hmmm… :P

  5. squareking says:

    11 am in the MORNING?! Tsk tsk.

    jk Chris I’d have your children. As a straight male.

  6. mR.Waffles says:

    Has anyone found footage of his informal Q&A from the bar?

  7. InternetBatman says:

    Project Eternity really looks like its shaping up. I’m by far the most confident in its success out of all of the Kickstarters I’ve backed.

  8. yoggesothothe says:

    hey, at least you didn’t meet him during a job interview. that you failed. miserably.

    so that’s something. :)

    • Deadly Sinner says:

      I need to hear that story.

      • guygodbois00 says:

        Motion seconded.

        • yoggesothothe says:

          Ah, not so much a story there as a “people, don’t go in to interview for your dream job as the first job interview you’ve ever done in your life,” and a “the part where they ask if you have any questions, seriously ask some questions.”

          I think the session I had with Mr. Avellone might not have been so bad. There were 4 separate sessions though, with 4 different groups. They all happened on the same day.

          On the plus side, I got to see Aliens RPG in action. On the downside, that game got canned! :(

  9. BrianOConnell says:

    “hour-long natter”?????

    I’m glad Rezzed had Chris there but to give him 20 minutes and a Q & A in the pub seems to be selling short a great opportunity.

  10. Cooper says:

    I’ve gotta say, this hasn’t excited me much.

    Seems like they’re banking too much on the “I played and now I want this!” so far.

    They’ve got a real job ahead of them selling the game to people like me who enjoy RPGs and are old enough to remember those games at the time but never actually got around to playing them.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      What would excite you, then? What would you’ve liked to have seen/heard? What rpg’s have you played and like a lot?

  11. RogerioFM says:

    That man is a GOD.

  12. RProxyOnly says:

    @RogerioFM… Why?

    It’s about time we stopped giving Avellone a free pass.. YES, PS:T is my favourite game ever.. but it was some kind of divine convergence, because he’s done fuck all of any quality since then.

    EVERYTHING he and his team touch turns to buggy broken shit…. SUPERB ideas.. fucking abysmal execution.

    KOTOR2….. broken mess.. someone elses IP .. took years and an entire community to get to a playable state… it’s a good game NOW.. but that’s nothing to do with the state he left it in.
    NWN2…. FUCKING broken mess… someone elses IP… how can someone so BADLY miss the point of this franchise?
    ALPHA PROTOCOL… nice ideas, broken mess, dead IP
    DUNGEON SIEGE 3.. did anyone actually play this broken mess?.. someone elses IP

    ..AND DON’T give me any shit about being the ‘publishers’ fault.. MY ARSE.. his rep, his job, his problem, buck stops there.

    He’s only got 2 chances left EVER.. South Park (which SHOULD be impossible to fail at given the creators collaboration) and Project Eternity, looks promising, but so did EVERYTHING ELSE during development.

    He’s more relevant as a meme these days, than an actual dev of anything worth playing out of the box. But it’s name recognition with the morons so the industry continues to give him a rimming.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate him as a person, I don’t know him well enough for that and TBH I don’t care to, but I absolutely DO fucking hate the bullshit and cult of personality that has grown up around him because looking at him without rose coloured glasses, he doesn’t deserve it.

    • RogerioFM says:

      Brother, I agree with you on all your points, I really do. All of his games are broken, ALL OF THEM, but on the other hand, the stories on those game are soo good, he made some of the best game storywise in history, PST(Best RPG of all times), the expansions of NW 2, AP, KOTOR 2 was incredible, too bad they never finished it. I know we should keep complaining about the lots of bugs we find, if we pay for something we should expect it to work. But I was able to overcome that in all of his games, well, not DS 3, that game was just crap.

      I understand you, I don’t know who is to blame, him, his team, publishers, and it matters, but I will keep buying his games, because they offer some of the best experiences on the market, I dont care about graphics and if I can finish the game I dont much mind the bugs, I loved Game of Thrones despite all the bad press, because the story was just excellet. So, I am not saying you are wrong lad, its just that, for me, the most important thing he is doing, creating universes we enjoy.

      • harbinger says:

        Actually Dungeon Siege 3 was nearly bug free as far as I can remember, it was just a shit game. And Alpha Protocol wasn’t particularly buggy either, just unfinished and all over the place with the game systems not working right.
        KOTOR 2 was in the state it was in because LucasArts rushed it out months ahead of schedule: http://kotaku.com/5968952/the-knights-of-new-vegas-how-obsidian-survived-countless-catastrophes-and-made-some-of-the-coolest-role+playing-games-ever
        NWN 2 was in the state it was in because ATARI didn’t pay them to Patch it and because it was truly buggy.
        Fallout: New Vegas gets too much of a bad rap for using the same Engine and having the same bugs that any Bethesda Open World game usually has.

        • RProxyOnly says:

          No, I’m sorry. The Alpha Protocol mechanics were fundamentally broken.. I had a bitch of a time with aiming, weaponry and the upgrade path after a certain level, it became useless at later levels because the most useful stuff had already been max, it came down t spending points just because you had them.

      • RProxyOnly says:

        Lol.. and I too, will continue to buy them on the promise that I’ll eventually get something worth it, because although I do bitch about him and his ‘status’.. I still buy the games. ;)

    • nzmccorm says:

      Funny story, he wasn’t lead on any of those except for KOTOR 2. And he isn’t lead on Eternity. It’s almost as if you have no understanding of what he does or the industry and you’re just kind of buttmad that RPGs are buggy and that NWN 2 tried to be a good game instead of a mediocre multiplayer experience.

      • RProxyOnly says:

        OK.. say you are right say I am mad because the rpgs are broken.. why does that diminish my pov? If I’m buying an RPG and they are broken and buggy, I don’t have a right to be pissed?.. especially when ‘broken and buggy’ accounts for the vast majority of his C.V.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Avellone didn’t have anything to do with Dungeon Siege (which was not good).
      Alpha Protocol was a mess, but he was only lead for a third of the time.
      NWN was originally an AOL MMO, so I’m not sure what the point of the franchise is? Also, did everyone who played NWN 1 just forget about the first campaign?

      Maybe you don’t like Obsidian, but Obsidian is not Avellone and Avellone is not Obsidian.

    • Cerius says:

      Dungeon Siege III wasn’t bad. At all. Featured polished gameplay, a well made storyline and is fun in general (Especially Couch Co-Op, though Internet Multiplayer sucks because of the camera) The only thing really bad about it, is lacking content and a few other things (camera as mentioned before). Which is more the fault of it being a AAA-production value game with a budget less than the highest grossing Kickstarters (8 Million, which doesn’t get you far in US, California)

      Not even going into the OP. Not worth correcting, especially because PS:T wasn’t exactly bug free, then going on assining the *broken* status for games you never played.

    • Werthead says:

      Your criticism is cherry-picking of the highest order.

      PLANESCAPE TORMENT is awesome, as you say. But Avellone also worked on FALLOUT 2, which is also very highly regarded. In a lesser capacity he worked on ICEWIND DALE and its sequel, which were both fun action RPGs. Not as good as PS:T or BG, of course, but still very solid games.

      “KOTOR2….. broken mess.. someone elses IP .. took years and an entire community to get to a playable state… it’s a good game NOW.. but that’s nothing to do with the state he left it in.”

      LucasArts screwed over Obsidian on KotOR2, as everyone knows. It’s a good game NOW because of the hard work that Obsidian put into it on the fronts of writing, character creation and quest design. The game was left functionally unfinished (though you could at least complete the main quest), sure, and it’s taken modders to polish it off. But we should also remember that modders were only able to do that because Obsidian themselves put a lot of the assets for the unfinished stuff on the CD specifically so they could be used later on. If they hadn’t, the modders wouldn’t have had much to work with.

      “NWN2…. FUCKING broken mess… someone elses IP… how can someone so BADLY miss the point of this franchise?”

      I haven’t played NWN2, and certainly the core game has a mixed reception (although Avellone did not play a major role on NWN2 itself, as I understand it). However, MASK OF THE BETRAYER has a critical reception second only to PS:T. Whether it’s earned or not, I don’t know yet, but it has a very positive rep, and Avellone played a bigger role on that expansion (though he still wasn’t project lead).

      “ALPHA PROTOCOL… nice ideas, broken mess, dead IP”

      Apparently Sega are taking another look at AP because it’s continued to sell quite well way past its expected lifespan. I doubt anything will come of it (after Obsidian had been burned twice by Sega, over this and the ALIENS RPG, I doubt they’ll go back) but certainly it’s not completely dead and in the ground.

      Technically, I can’t argue, as I can install the game but it simply will not load no matter what I do to the thing. But this would be part of the whole thing where the game that was released was apparently an, at best, early beta build, as Sega refused to fund any more work on the game or on any post-release patches that would have fixed the major problems in the game.

      “DUNGEON SIEGE 3.. did anyone actually play this broken mess?.. someone elses IP”

      DUNGEON SIEGE 3 isn’t broken though. On every review everyone and their mother said, “OMG! An Obsidian game that works fine out of the box!”, so that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Also, Avellone didn’t work on it.

      “..AND DON’T give me any shit about being the ‘publishers’ fault.. MY ARSE.. his rep, his job, his problem, buck stops there.”

      Most publishers handle QA themselves, as it’s something they usually get done cheaper in-house than getting the developers to do it. With ALPHA PROTOCOL, Sega didn’t get Obsidian to do it and it appears didn’t do any themselves, so that’s on them. With NEW VEGAS, Bethesda were definitely 100% in charge of QA, and didn’t do very much (given the state of their own games, that’s very clear).

      The only game where the technical problems seem to be 100% Obsidian’s own fault is NWN2.

      “He’s only got 2 chances left EVER.. South Park (which SHOULD be impossible to fail at given the creators collaboration) and Project Eternity, looks promising, but so did EVERYTHING ELSE during development.”

      Avellone appears to only be tangentially involved in SOUTH PARK. He’s certainly not the lead or listed as one of the key designers or writers on the game.

      “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate him as a person, I don’t know him well enough for that and TBH I don’t care to, but I absolutely DO fucking hate the bullshit and cult of personality that has grown up around him because looking at him without rose coloured glasses, he doesn’t deserve it.”

      So you kind of forgot to mention FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS there? Better than FALLOUT 3 (once you get past the crappy first couple of hours), not particularly buggy (certainly not as much as FO3) and what bugs it did have were fixed, and for my money the best CRPG since at least BLOODLINES, if not BG2. Avellon was a key writer on NEW VEGAS itself and the project lead (I believe) on OLD WORLD BLUES, easily its finest expansion.

      Sure, without NEW VEGAS you could make the argument that he’s somewhat overrated, or that his good work is sometimes undermined by Obsidian’s technical difficulties (whether their own or problems from the publisher). But looking at Western RPG writers and developers there’s not many who are batting on his level, and of the ones who immediately come to mind, they either aren’t really making RPGs any more (Spector) or are actually already working at Obsidian (Cain, Sawyer).

      • RProxyOnly says:

        You’re right. I did forget F:NV.. accidentally I assure you, and I can tentatively give him a pass for that, but a very similar problem crops up there too. It was all based on someone else’s work YET AGAIN.. it’s just a new campaign (with a tweak here and there) built upon existing framework.. The engine, the ruleset, the world.. there really wasn’t much room for a major screw up, so yeah, it was OK, but when you get down to it the Kudos that game earns should mostly, but admittedly not all, go to Bethesda.

        EDIT.. but he DOESN’T get a pass for IWD.. a fully fledged rpg engine turned into a purely hack and slash game. I’ve seen mods with the same quality, I expect higher quality from a pro.

        And having said everything I have done.. I STILL look forwards to PE (and SP obviously).. but I also expect fully to be disappointed.

        • Darkmatter says:

          I think that the strongest things Obsidian games, especially those with involvement from Chris Avellone, provide are story, atmosphere and player engagement. Certainly the reason I get upset about the bugs is because of this; the experience they build is so compelling that I get pulled right in, then burned when the fourth wall is broken by bugs. Chris Avellone may be responsible for poorly executed rushed products, but I can’t say that with any confidence, and anyway, for me it isn’t the point. I buy these games because they are so different from almost everything else out there. They grab me and shake me, and critically, do not treat me like a halfwit. They make me turn off autopilot and listen.

          I have seen you and others say things which make me suspect you feel something similar. You hate the bugs, feel upset, but buy the games anyway. The man deserves respect for this alone.

          As for your IWD comment? I think that this game is a perfect example of atmosphere, story and engagement. Why do games made in the baldur’s gate engine (infinity?) need to be that style of RPGs? For my money, I thought it was a great big tribute to D&D games of old. I loved it.

          tl;dr: bugs suck, but story makes us come back every. time. Try to deny it.

        • Werthead says:

          “It was all based on someone else’s work YET AGAIN.. it’s just a new campaign (with a tweak here and there) built upon existing framework.. The engine, the ruleset, the world.. there really wasn’t much room for a major screw up, so yeah, it was OK, but when you get down to it the Kudos that game earns should mostly, but admittedly not all, go to Bethesda.”

          Well, the world was created by Tim Cain at Black Isle, who now works for, erm, Obsidian. And Chris Avellone’s first major project was FALLOUT 2, made at Black Isle. Quite a few people who made NEW VEGAS also worked on FALLOUT 1 and 2 (though not Cain, as he joined Obsidian just as NEW VEGAS was wrapping up, IIRC). And Bethesda used a lot of parts of the first two games (particulalry perks, the art style and so on, and even VATS is essentially trying to be a real-time take on the same combat system) in making FO3. So it’s not as simple as NEW VEGAS being a reskin of FO3 with Bethesda doing the donky work.

          “EDIT.. but he DOESN’T get a pass for IWD.. a fully fledged rpg engine turned into a purely hack and slash game. I’ve seen mods with the same quality, I expect higher quality from a pro.”

          As I understand it, the idea with the Infinity Engine was to use it to power three distinct types of game, all reflecting three different D&D playstyles. BALDUR’S GATE was the big across-the-board epic fantasy adventure mixing combat, spell casting, puzzles and roleplaying. PLANESCAPE: TORMENT was the story-heavy, roleplaying-heavy, combat-light ‘role-playing’ experience. ICEWIND DALE was the logical continuation of that: the combat-heavy, rules-heavy, ‘roll-playing’ game that was about combat, levelling up and having fun.

          It was certainly really enjoyable on that front. I replayed it a couple of years back and it still stands up fine as a lightweight action RPG with really great artwork and especially music. It’s not in BG or PS:T’s league, sure, but it’s still a fine game.

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