Obsidian’s Urquhart On The Future Of RPGs

Obsidian’s a company that’s always stricken me as bizarrely restless. Despite its near-legendary Black Isle legacy, the Project Eternity and South Park developer’s rarely had an easy time finding a comfortable place in the industry. But then, when you think about it, that’s not entirely surprising. Both RPGs and storytelling in games – Obsidian’s wheelhouses – have spent countless years in constant flux. And though recent times and a massively successful Kickstarter have given the developer some solid ground to stand on, the eager hands of change are once again threatening to yank the rug out from under it. Uncertainty’s permeated the entire industry as of late, but Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart has no intention of blindly following the future. His plan? To redefine the whole RPG genre. During the recent DICE Summit in Las Vegas, he and I chatted about that.

RPS: The recent industry “transition” has taken a ridiculous toll. It feels like it’s been layoffs every other week – which is weird, since it’s basically been every week. It’s been hard to watch, to say the least. Obviously, you guys temporarily lost a publisher, but are you chaffing elsewhere? After all, your biggest project [South Park] is slated to come out sometime this year. What happens after that? Are you worried about securing more work?

Feargus Urquhart: If you asked me that question eight weeks ago, I would have said yes. Luckily we signed another contract in December. I can’t go into any details about it, but it’s a game that will employ at least the same number of people that are working on South Park right now. And of course, our hope is that there will be more South Park work. It would be awesome to keep on working with Matt and Trey and the group.

For us, we’re doing pretty good right now. I can’t rest on my laurels, as they say. And this is where I say “I” and not “we” because this is the “me” part of Obsidian. Now I have a year, probably about a year, to get a publisher interested in a game so that then we can go through the six-or-nine-month period of getting that thing signed up. It’s nice. I have about 18 months right now to get that next big thing signed up. It’s giving us a good amount of time to get all our ideas together. Having Chris Avellone as one of my partners is awesome, because he’s a fountain of ideas. Along with Josh [Sawyer], and now having Tim Caine at the company. This is going to give us the time to sit down and say, “What is this game we want to make?”

So, I think the big thing for us right now is, what is going on with RPGs right now? Obviously Skyrim was successful, and Fallout was successful. Mass Effect is still successful, even with all the hoopla. Dragon Age is a little rocky.

RPS: BioWare is still pushing Dragon Age III really hard, though.

Feargus Urquhart: Yep. Pushing Mark Darrah. He was lead programmer on Baldur’s Gate II. Mark’s awesome. Then you have Diablo, which… It’s a great game, but still a little rocky.

RPS: Agreed. That didn’t stop it from selling several trillion more units than there are people on the planet, though. I guess the burgeoning anthill demographic really ate it up or something.

Feargus Urquhart: It sold ridiculously well.

RPS: There’s The Witcher, also.

Feargus Urquhart: Yep, The Witcher too. But you’ve got all this stuff. What’s going on, though? You take something like Arkham City. It’s sort of like a fighting game, a third-person fighting game. Five years ago they wouldn’t have made that like Arkham City. You look at what Skyrim does well, what’s really fun about Skyrim. So that’s the kind of thing where… I think there’s this desire to say, “First-person sword fighting isn’t always the best entertainment.” But hey, the fighting in Arkham City is awesome.

So where do RPGs need to go from that? Do they need to get more like Devil May Cry? Do they need to get more like this or like that? And we’re looking at who plays role-playing games. I’m distinctly a role-playing game player. I play a ton of games, because I’m in the industry. I play Ninja Gaiden. I can respect Ninja Gaiden. But I would not play a ton of Ninja Gaiden. It’s just not my thing. All of their focus is on that system. When you’re making a role-playing game, your system is broader, much broader. That’s what we’re trying to say. What is combat? A lot of the other systems in role-playing games, they all work awesome and people love them. They still need to evolve and move forward a little bit, but what should combat be in that next big role-playing game? That’s one of the things we’re trying to zero in on.

RPS: Your reference points on that front sound pretty console-driven. Speaking of, where is PC relative to consoles at this point, in Obsidian’s eyes? I mean, PC has obviously come into its own in recent years. A lot of that on its own strengths as a platform, but some thanks to consoles being on a downslope because this generation is so old. Do you think PC will continue to thrive because it’s a more unique platform now, or does it take a bit of a backseat soon for larger developers like yourself?

Feargus Urquhart: PC development has gotten easier. Console development has gotten easier, but not by a large margin. You still need these console development kits and you still need to go through all these processes. Any developer can go release a mobile, tablet, PC game, but they can’t do a console game. Yes, there’s XBLA and PSN and stuff like that, but those are hard markets. I think those are really hard markets. Steam just doesn’t seem to be as hard of a market for independent games.

There are publishers that… I have no idea what the numbers are, but I’ll bet you that Bethesda is perfectly happy with the PC sales of Skyrim. EA, I know, though they won’t announce it to the world, they sell a lot of PC product. Additionally, they’ve always traditionally sold a lot of PC product. This was a number of years ago. Maybe it was four or five years ago. I’m pretty sure it was still like 40 percent of their sales were coming from PC product. They were just quietly going along, not announcing it.

But I think PC absolutely has a place, because it’s easier than console. Again, more people making those games have more control over their destiny. In a lot of ways there are better tools. It’s easier now than ever for a small team to get a pretty cool game out. Ten years ago it was a lot harder.

RPS: For Obsidian, what are the core tenets of role-playing games? You could say something like The Walking Dead is a role-playing game, if you choose to zero in on choice and story as key elements of role-playing games. For you personally, is it that fusion, that sort of midpoint between choice and story and combat and character growth?

Feargus Urquhart: It is combat, toys, and story. Sorry, it’s combat, characters, toys, and story. Why I’m separating characters and story is because when you’re playing a great role-playing game, you have relationships with NPCs. They aren’t really the story. To me, and Obsidian, a story is something that I can… I know where to go in the story, but I’m choosing I want to have the story play out. Which you see in a lot of our games.

Sometimes it’s what gets us in trouble. We want and feel that what an RPG is about is the ramifications of my actions in the world. Not just system-wise – I rip this guy off and so this stuff happens. I don’t mean that. It’s, “I chose to do this.” Usually consciously, occasionally unconsciously. Then this is the ramification of that. Bundled, of course, with fun combat and character development. I’m a min-maxer so there’s my love of figuring out the exact character build. But that’s it.

I guess if you need to boil it all down… I’m not to say “more than other game developers,” but I don’t think that’s the case. Maybe we talk about it a little bit more. But it’s the choice aspect of RPGs. RPGs are so much about choice and the ramifications of those choices. This is something that Chris Avellone hit upon that really is a tenet of what we do now. In Alpha Protocol, he really pushed this idea forward that there is no [good or evil]. Morally there may be a good or a bad choice, but there is no bad choice for the player. Even if it’s “evil,” you’re rewarded.

And not just with cash. A lot of RPGs in the past, the way they handle good and evil, if you did good you got a pat on the back and everyone was nice to you, and if you were bad you got money. In Alpha Protocol it was about making the choices a bit more gray. The problem with gray choices, of course, is that it’s hard for the player to… They don’t just see it as being evil or being good. You then have to explain it more. The gray choices then come with, “No, this is what’s gonna happen.” There’s a near-term, medium-term, and long-term reaction, if we can do it that way, to all of these choices that you make. That web is what makes the game feel like it’s my game.

RPS: That sort of takes us back into Walking Dead’s territory, given that it stripped away pretty much everything else and narrowed the focus to pure choice.

Feargus Urquhart: And they had our Alpha Protocol timer [laughs].

RPS: Yes! You really should’ve trademarked that. The concept of time, I mean. But anyway, do you look at something like Walking Dead and think, “Well, if we really want to focus on the choices, let’s strip out the combat and just make a story”?

Feargus Urquhart: That’s hard. I don’t want to say I’m a traditionalist, but my upbringing is Dungeons and Dragons. There was the lecture by Heavy Rain creator David Cage about violent video games and all that stuff and why we have such a focus on combat and stuff like that. I was thinking a lot about it as he was talking about that. Interestingly enough, a lot of how we look at combat is that it’s more of a… How would I put it? It was like playing paintball. When people are playing paintball, somehow paintball never gets brought up as something evil in our society.

RPS: It’s too colorful. It can’t be evil.

Feargus Urquhart: [laughs] Right. So that’s not evil. So why is that not evil, but video games are evil? Well, you have the blood and all that other stuff. Because again, as gamers, we just don’t view combat in video games the way non-gamers view it. It’s just a contest. That’s all it is. We could be throwing paintballs. It’s just not as fun as watching the bodies explode. It’s like the reason people watch horror movies and slasher movies and stuff like that.

As it relates to something like taking the combat out, this is where there’s probably better game designers and smarter people than me who could come up with an incredible system for that. But you know what? I personally enjoy that aspect. I like running around Skyrim and going into dungeons and killing skeletons. It makes me feel like this fantasy character. I don’t know that it would feel the same way. Maybe the answer there is that there are genres where it makes sense that combat is being put in, but combat exists particularly in fantasy role-playing games because that’s kind of where it came from. It was a tactical game. It’s more of an ingrained part of why that experience ever was there. But I think for other things it can absolutely get taken out, simplified. But it has to be replaced with something.

RPS: While we’re on the subject, what about episodic gaming? I think a lot of people look at RPGs, at least the more traditional ones, and they see stories that are 60 hours long. They’re like, “I don’t have time for that anymore. I’d love to play it, but it’s huge.” Is that something you’d ever be interested in doing? Saying, “Here’s this experience that we’d normally make gigantic, but now you can digest it in chunks”?

Feargus Urquhart: Walking Dead has been super-successful, and critically as well. It’s a different approach. It’s an approach that’s different from how we do it. We put something into the world and have them get on the story, get off the story, this kind of stuff. It’s less chapter-based. There are chapters, but it’s more fluid.

It’s something we’ve talked about, but it’s not something that we’ve done. I think the story and the characters and all that stuff is totally our forte. But the part that’s hard is the… I guess in the end it feels like… You sell that first chapter and if it doesn’t go well, you’ve had to build all this stuff to just be able to do that chapter. Now you’ve gotten $5 for chapter one.

It sounds like planning for failure, but I guess that’s a thing that’s been kind of scary for us, looking at that model. It sounds stupid to say that I’d rather make a $30 dollar game that they don’t like, but that’s not it. It’s just trepidation. So I don’t know. It’s something we talk about, but I don’t know if it’s something we’d pursue.

RPS: Conversely, going back to your redefinition of RPGs, I think a lot of people are defining them as “big.” They’re almost pushing that as a selling point. That’s what The Witcher is doing now, and Dragon Age III. Obviously Skyrim. Skyrim is what I think made both of those want to do that. For Obsidian, will that be one of your future tenets? Going huge and making this really big world that people walk around in and live in?

Feargus Urquhart: I would say that’s maybe one of the types of RPGs that we would make. I think there’s still a place for the KOTOR, Mass Effect style – I really do – in which there’s this universe for players to play around in and they’re going from planet to planet to planet. But it’s a different experience from this big open world. It’s a little bit more story-driven. It’s a little bit more linear and things like that. But it’s not like that’s a bad thing. All RPGs don’t need to become more focused on scope as their feature. It doesn’t just need to be that way.

Check back tomorrow for Urquhart’s perspective on Kickstarter, Project Eternity’s progress, and whether or not crowdfunding is The Next Big Thing for Obsidian. Also, in case your excitement glands already somehow returned to normal size, here’s a friendly reminder that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic III and Fallout: New Vegas 2 have a pretty good chance at becoming actual things that exist.


  1. Alexander says:

    Awesome, thanks for this. can’t wait to have time to read it.

    • Doreen_Young says:

      before I saw the bank draft four $7220, I did not believe that…my… brothers friend was like actualy bringing home money in their spare time at there labtop.. there uncles cousin started doing this less than 11 months and resently repayed the mortgage on their home and bought a new Aston Martin DB5. this is where I went, http://www.snag4.com

  2. guygodbois00 says:

    Excellent read. Mentioning the Dragon Age III made me spill my afternoon tea; still laughing…oh, you..
    Dragon Age III, hahahahaha…ooooooh.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      Dragon Age 2 was one of my biggest gaming disappointments in years, but I haven’t written off DA3 yet. I think they have listened to feedback, and they have longer development time and an engine they seem very happy with.

      More importantly, I think the people at Bioware are passionate and smart. Shame they seem to be ticking off a long list of “mainstram popular appeal” features these days
      Don’t know if it is their own decision or something handed to them by EA. I don’t envy them with the DA3 release though, they seem to have some of the most obsessive fans and obsessive haters in the industry. Like Obsidian actually…

      Speaking of which, I am so happy to hear that they seem to have signed at least one more big project. Feargus mentioned in another interview that they were in negotiations with several big partners.

      • D3xter says:

        I’m suspecting Dragon Age III isn’t going to end very well for them. Their “fan base” is still pissed off about the “Prequel” and the subsequent PR fallout, they have an entirely new team making the game on an entirely new engine (Frostbite 2) for “Next Generation consoles” and BioWare were never known as the overly techy types like CryTek or DICE and EA is probably breathing down their neck to get it ready for end of the year or really early next year since they don’t want the release to collide with The Witcher 3 if rumors are true.
        link to thenexusnews.com

      • Continuity says:

        Dragon Age was a big disappointment for me, given that, I wasn’t stupid enough to buy Dragon Age 2 after it got all the bad reviews. Dragon Age 3 will have to seriously pull something out of the hat to tempt me, preferably something more Black isle flavoured than Bioware flavoured.

      • Grim_22 says:

        For me, Dragon Age 3 will either be the proof that Bioware are ready to get back in the game again after all the turmoil, or that they’re more or less dead.
        Don’t get me wrong, I personally loved Mass Effect 3 despite the ending; I hold it as one of my favorite games in recent memory, but still… so many key people have left the company and I’m guessing that so much is changing that DA3 is really about proving a point regarding principles and priorities — more so than anything else, in my opinion.

  3. povu says:

    The Walking Dead may have a timer inspired by Alpha Protocol, but I felt the dialogue options were a lot clearer in TWD. In AP you just had one word per option and a very short time to choose, and often it was difficult to imagine what each choice was so I ended up saying the wrong things sometimes. I didn’t have that problem much in The Walking Dead.

    • Drake Sigar says:

      The timer appeared in Fahrenheit before both those games. Fahrenheit also had those one word dialogue options which were painfully vague, but I think AP mostly got away with it by letting you choose the attitude instead of specific dialogue, though there was still the odd occasion where Mike would say something you didn’t want him to.

  4. smeaa mario says:

    I am not sure what direction rpgs should be headed to but I know quite well that it definitely isn’t the Dragon Age direction, although the sales figures might contradict with my opinion.

    • Skull says:

      I’m quite a fan of the Dragon Age way of doing it. It felt like a updated, modernised version of Baldurs Gate, which was the RPG of my youth.I’m not saying all RPG’s should be like Dragon Age and there is room for all different sorts, but I’m happy Dragon Age exists and I would like more RPG developers to take the things that worked from those games and improve on the things that didn’t.

      Also get rid of the sex scenes and romance options all together.

      • smeaa mario says:

        To each his own, I cannot really step up and tell you or all those other fans that they don’t have taste or anything. That would be truly foolish of me.

        Regardless, I find it impossible to like the game. Simple as that. I played only the first one and never tried the sequel. So, note that my comments are valid for that only.

        Dragon Age felt a lot like a cheap interactive movie to me, the interaction part being there only for the sake of it, unfeasible and probably unnecessary. Everything is entirely scripted: How many loot items you can find, what they will possibly be, where you can go during a certain chapter of the game, how many and what type of monsters you can fight, how much damn experience you are able to get. The only freedom you have is about choosing skills and that is nowhere around sufficient freedom.

        It is about limitation. Dragon Age limits you so much that it does not feel like you are in control. The game literally plays itself and you just interfere every now and then in the exact way the game wants you to interfere.

        I don’t know how else I can describe it but to me, it currently represents the ugliest rpg experience I have ever had. I mean this shouldn’t be what an rpg is.

        • Brun says:

          Everything is entirely scripted: How many loot items you can find, what they will possibly be, where you can go during a certain chapter of the game, how many and what type of monsters you can fight, how much damn experience you are able to get.

          Sounds a lot like the combat and loot systems from Baldur’s Gate.

          • Continuity says:

            Except baldurs gate had far more loot, far more spells, far more characters, and a far larger world.

          • Brun says:

            Read my post below – obviously the shift from an isometric, sprite-based game with prerendered set pieces to a fully-3D, fully-voiced title was going to be accompanied by a reduction in both scale and scope.

        • Skull says:

          I just feel Dragon Age gets a bad rap than what it deserves. I completely agree with you that Bioware do go a little overboard with the cut scenes and such but the game barely plays itself. You will always be prompted for input when your character has to speak and the game is not exactly easy or for the brain dead (at least on normal difficulty).

          I don’t really understand many of your arguments; what is wrong with loot being in set places? Or enemies giving out a fixed amount of XP? Would you prefer it if Dragon Age followed a Elder Scroll template of a massive open world to explore? The game is scripted but that of itself isn’t a bad thing, only when you go to the levels of CoD does it get jarring.

          I wonder if you have played and enjoyed the Baldur’s Gate games?

          • Brun says:

            It sounds like he’s complaining that the combat and loot aren’t like Díablo where everything is randomized. But you’ve got to keep in mind that Dragon Age: Origins was trying to be a successor to Baldur’s Gate. And the combat, looting, experience, etc. was all predefined in that game – very little, if anything, was random. I can be playing Baldur’s Gate 2 and stop just before a door, tab out, pull up a guide, and know exactly what’s on the other side of that door – how many enemies, what kind of enemies they are, how much XP they will grant, what items they will drop, etc. That’s how those games are and it’s largely how DA:O was – but that’s the point, the story was supposed to be more important.

            EDIT: Really, I still can’t say Díablo? Very annoying…

        • caddyB says:

          I liked the romances in Baldur’s Gate. Mass Effect ones are also okay but I skipped the sex scenes. So yeah, keep the romance if it’s well written and get rid of the sex scenes.

          • MattM says:

            The sex scenes in Mass Effect 2 tended to fade out before any actual sex happened. You could infer that sex happened, but you didn’t really know for sure. That was ok, but it did seem like they were so afraid of being labeled pornography that they removed any eroticism.

        • Lyndon says:

          Dragon Age Origins is the only modern AAA RPG to feature “proper” RPG combat, instead of lame poorly executed action RPG combat.

          As far as narrative, choice and consequences go it was alright, nothing amazing, but alright. But it’s dungeon crawling combat is peerless simply cause no one else has made a game like it in 5 years.

          • jrodman says:

            Having not played any of the modern “RPG” games past the intros really, and having generally enjoyed Pool of Radiance, Wizardry, Bard’s Tale and so on. What is proper RPG combat? Can you contrast the two things you’re distinguishing?

            I bought a copy of dragon age 1 on sale but haven’t managed to get psyched up enough to actually play it.

          • Lyndon says:

            “Proper” RPG combat (and this is clearly my opinion YMMV) is based around character stats and abilities, not player’s twitch skills. In “proper” RPGs combat is a matter of character builds and tactical use of character skills and resources rather than twitch gaming abilities. In an action RPG character builds or clever use of skills are kinda irrelevant if you the player can constantly hit head shots at long range, or button mash combos out correctly.

            Dragon Age is an isometric, tactical, party based dungeon crawler. It has some modern twists on the old formula, some good (I like being able to script followers AI routines) some not so good (MMO inspired aggro mechanics feel silly to me). It’s definitely closer to Baldur’s Gate than Wizardry, although that said I actually think it’s more tactical than Baldur’s Gate because every character gets more active skills to use in combat.

            I quite like the combat, it’s not perfect, I have some gripes but in general it’s pretty good. Of course all this comes wrapped up in big slabs of Bioware “EPIC STORYTELLING” which is frankly a bit of a slog. I don’t know if that sort of thing would turn you off. I didn’t mind it the first time through, but trying to replay it on higher difficulties, I did find it a bit much.

          • jrodman says:

            Yeah I don’t play RPGs for skill checks at all, and am kind of sad that so many games labelled so are really just one endless skillcheck.

          • jrodman says:

            Player skillcheck, i mean.

  5. MuscleHorse says:

    Not to go back onto the subject of a previous post, but I wish that Bethesda would let Obsidian take over all future Fallout duties. New Vegas was better than FO:3 by such a magnitude that I don’t think I could get genuinely excited about a non-Obsidian FO.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      I like Fallout 3 but I’m not really sure where there needs to be another east coast game. If there’s another one that ties into the main Fallout canon I’d certainly prefer Obsidian do it.

    • Alexander says:

      Amen to that, although F4 is already in the works – most probably. But what’s awesome is that there’s huge chances that Obsidian will get the spin-offs of the Fallout universe. I can settle for that. Especially with the coming Wasteland, Torment and Eternity franchises.

    • PostieDoc says:

      Just so long as they don’t get stiffed out of their bonuses again based on 1 point of their Metacritic score.

      • Alexander says:

        You can get no guarantees like that with bethesda and zenimax. they need their metacritic porn.

      • drewski says:

        Maybe next time they won’t be silly enough to write the contract so their bonuses are based on a specific Metacritic score.

    • Blackcompany says:

      At this point getting excited about a game developed by Bethesda is impossible for me. Skyrim, impressive as it is in terms of size, us a huge step backward role playing wise from FONV. With their ancient engine, shallow writing & bugs I have decided to part ways with Bethesda. Skyrim is my last Beth rpg.

      • Acorino says:

        Skyrim needed an editor that would cut all the filler 08/15 dungeons and boring, pointless fetch quests. Sure, then the game would only be a fifth of its size (or less), but it wouldn’t be so hard to experience its best moments then. On the other hand, its best moments are where no scripted story events take place, anyway, just exploring the world and enjoying the vistas.

        The Elder Scrolls series certainly has potential to grow. Skyrim is the first in the series I played for longer times and that didn’t put me immediately off, so I am yet hopeful, somewhat naively. I’m hoping for big, bold steps forward, not small, tiny, incremental ones. Probably a pipe dream. Oh well…

        • iridescence says:

          But those were exactly the parts of Skyrim I found enjoyable. I could care less about the “main story” of that game which was incredibly juvenile and badly done (with the exception of the civil war conflict which I quite liked)

          But the best part of Skyrim for me was just wandering around in the forests and dungeons and finding random cool shit. Those fetch quests were just a slight nudge to go explore certain ares which was exactly what I wanted.

        • drewski says:

          Yeah, I couldn’t disagree more either. The appeal of Skyrim to me is “look at all these places you can go explore if you want but you don’t have it it’s ok it’s totally up to you I’ll just be over here with some dragons to fight when you’re ready”.

          Bethesda can continue to sharpen up what they put over the next ridge, perhaps, but it would fundamentally change the Elder Scrolls approach if they cut content. And, I mean, it’s not a bad thing to want a more focused game – but I don’t think Bethesda should make the Elder Scrolls series that type of game. It works because of it’s breadth.

    • Drake Sigar says:

      New Vegas has a serious problem delivering motivation to the player’s character as well as the player. An example of this is in the first town you wake up in – you can ask the bandit to join forces and attack. He asks ‘why?’ and you don’t have an answer for him. You have to undertake numerous quests with no opportunity to ask about the reward, you’re just expected to do it because it’s a quest.

      I think on the whole New Vegas has way more personality than Fallout 3 (god damn subways) and is the better game, but Fallout 3 had the tougher job of reimagining the Fallout franchise.

      • Lyndon says:

        You do have an answer to him. You say something along the lines of “So we can run this town”. If that doesn’t seem like a good enough reason then don’t do it, but it’s still a reason.

    • i saw dasein says:

      I greatly preferred FO:3 to F:NV, but I think it’s almost entirely a matter of taste. I am more of a sandbox-type gamer: I like to explore, roleplay, and don’t really care about the “story” of the game. For me, FO:3 was much more open and systems-driven, whereas F:NV felt far more scripted and channeled. There is a more-or-less clear progression through F:NV, while in FO:3 I just wandered the wasteland having adventures and exploring. That’s also how I played the earlier Fallouts, back in the day: I don’t think I even came close to “finishing” either, despite spending dozens of hours exploring the wasteland.

      So for me, of the new Fallouts, FO:3 was the clear winner. The only thing I really liked in F:NV were some of the new systems (crafting, “hardcore” mode, etc).

      e: I even liked the subways in FO:3! Good old-fashioned dungeon crawling, but with guns. A+, will play again.

      • Brun says:

        Ditto here, I’ve always preferred the sandboxy nature of Bethesda’s titles.

        • Cronstintein says:

          I also preferred FO3. It rewarded exploration much better with more interesting random POIs. Also no invisible walls (re: mountains).

          That said, I’d love to see an alpha protocol 2 from Obsidian. I think it’s such a shame that game didn’t get an extra year in dev to really iron out the 3rd person shooting aspects.

          • tetracycloide says:

            FO3 had tons of invisible walls in the downtown area. Big piles of rubble were it’s ‘mountains.’ I mean don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the game, but FO3’s invisible walls and the fact that they’re only there because the downtown areas aren’t to scale with each other, the map, or real life were its biggest flaws IMO.

      • Xardas Kane says:

        You just hit the nail on the head. This is exactly the big difference between BethSoft games on one hand and BioWare and Obsidian games on the other. Sandbox vs story, exploration vs story choices. Some people will always insist Skyrim was a shallow game, others will see it as a huge playground where you tell your own story.

        I’m one of the lucky few who like both. As much as I adore Fallout 1 and 2, once I let go of the thought that FO3 was a direct sequel I actually enjoyed it tremendously.

        • drewski says:

          Aye, me too. Tthere’s more than enough game in the world for there to be both types.

          Let Bethesda make their open world Fallouts on the East Coast, let Obsidian make their choice and consequence, story and character Fallouts on the West Coast. Everybody gets post apocalyptic wastelands to play in and everybody gets a game that meets there needs.

          And I get to play two awesome Fallout games.

      • Tel Prydain says:

        I’ll give you that FO:3 was much more open, but saying it was more systems-driven is just crazy talk.

        FO3 was great, but each area existed in an odd isolation. Two areas could exist right next to each other and yet have nothing at all linking them. The only universal systems I can think of are the traders and the ham-fisted karma system. You’re just so limited when dealing with the quests that arise, and if there isn’t a dialogue option it’s unlikely that an alternative option exists.
        Meanwhile, FO:NV has far more options when dealing with situations –both in conversation, or by taking action within the world to find alternate solutions. IN FO3 someone telling you something can’t be done it the end of the conversation – in FO:NV, it’s just a prompt to think about how to wrangle things so you can get your way.
        Plus the factions system is wonderful – play nice with everyone, pick a side or piss everyone off and then watch them tear each other to bits.

        My ideal Fallout would to mix the story freedom and systems of FONV with the open world of FO3.
        The danger there is that some players who are used to level-scaling in Bethesda titles will complain when they wonder into an unscaled mutant lair – by those players will eventually learn that sometimes you just have to run away.

  6. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Is that desert picture, 5th down, a scene from The Hangover 3?

    • guygodbois00 says:

      I think the caption originally read ” If you do not grow a full beard, I will shoot you in the spleen”, but they removed it later.

  7. acheron says:

    “It is combat, toys, and story. Sorry, it’s combat, characters, toys, and story.”

    Amongst the RPG’s features are such diverse elements as combat, characters, toys, story, and nice red uniforms.

  8. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I’m glad he made the distinction about “characters” versus “story.” I’ve played plenty of games with uninteresting and/or nonsensical plots that were saved by great, or even just good, characters, including Final Fantasy IX, Grim Fandango, and Obsidian’s own Neverwinter Nights 2 (base campaign, not Mask of the Betrayer). You don’t mind that the Department of Death doesn’t really seem to make any sense when there’s such strong, entertaining dialogue to keep you from thinking about it too much.

    Also, re: Episodic Gaming, why doesn’t anyone ever discuss those rare games that aren’t episodic but are structured in episodic ways? I’m thinking of games like L.A. Noire, Legend of Mana, and the Sly Cooper Series. They aren’t very common, but they provide virtually all of the benefits of episodic games (playable in chunks, plots don’t get dragged out, strong sense of progression) without the major problems (having to wait for a release, the sense that you’re only getting a small amount of content just because you can’t access all of it from the beginning).

    • Drayk says:

      Games with an episodic structure are great. I think of several recent japanese (A)RPGs that do that to an extend:

      Gravity Rush
      Radiant historia

      You see a trend here ? All those games are for handheld consoles, for gamers who have shorter gaming sessions. Maybe there

      The structure of Game of thrones RPG was also perfect for short play periods. Each chapter was 1-2 hours long.

      Also. I want that Dice

    • Bhazor says:

      Tell Tales have basically become that now. Since Monkey Island they seemed to have stopped selling episodes individually and you have to buy them as a full season.

      Which kinda misses the point really.

      • drewski says:

        I don’t think Telltale are going for the same “point” as previous episodic games. It’s more of a buy the whole thing, play it as we finish it deal.

  9. Mr. Mister says:

    This made me think, I’m curious which kinda platonic +4-dimensional bodies are there, to see how many kinds of 4-dimensional dice there are.

    • FCA says:

      4 dimensional Platonic solids are described on the wiki. Platonic solids aren’t the only possibilities for dice though, any face transitivepolytope will do. As a certified nerd, I have a set of non-standard dice (24, 30, 48, 60 and 120 faces). Absolutely useless, but sure to wow any RPG nerd.

  10. TheApologist says:

    That 20-sided die is giving me feelings.

    • kael13 says:

      Anyone know where I can get one like that?

      • Panda Powered says:

        I did some quick googling and I think it may be a custom dice. There are some websites to order custom ones. Just give them a design and they make it for you. q-workshop has some nice sets but I’ve never used that site.

    • jon_hill987 says:

      I want that D20.

      • guygodbois00 says:

        Take a number.

      • Vorphalack says:

        Want check: Roll a D20 (2+) = 1 – critical failure

        > You shall not has.

        Use passive skill: Really Really Do Want.

        Really Really Do Want check: Roll a D20 (2+) = 1 – critical failure

        > You! Shall not! Has!

  11. Merlkir says:

    It’s puzzling how the Witcher series doesn’t seem to get much, if any, recognition by the industry. Like “Oh, now that you remind me, those games also exist.”

    • Shooop says:

      Jealously perhaps?

    • Brun says:

      Because despite their critical acclaim they’re still a relatively minor player sales-wise and in terms of gaming cultural footprint. They just don’t move numbers like the Elder Scrolls, Fallouts, Dragon Ages, and Mass Effects of the world.

      I also think both Witcher games are somewhat overrated (but not dramatically so). Despite their good story, characters, and (in TW2) combat, there are still a lot of frustrating things about the games that really drag on you over the course of a 40+ hour game.

  12. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    His emphasis on combat is worrying. He makes no mention of a key ingredient for RPG’s: meaningful interaction with the world- other than through characters and combat.

    At this point, it seems like designers are putting combat systems in games that don’t need them out of habit and/or lack of creativity. I expect neither out of a dream-team of designers like Obsidian.

    • Cerius says:

      Yes, he does?

      • Premium User Badge

        gritz says:

        I must have missed it! Could you be so kind as to give me a quote where he mentions the importance of interacting with the world without using combat or characters?

        • Cerius says:

          *toys* *systems* and *choice and consequence*

          He didn’t just mean NPC dialog on the choice and consequence side. Though, I can see how you interpreted as such.

          • Premium User Badge

            gritz says:

            I took “toys” to mean “loot” and “systems” to mean “combat mechanics”, which may have been misinterpretations, but he never really elaborated on it.

            I’m not really seeing his idea of choice as being anything outside of combat or character interaction. He acknowledges that others (specifically Cage) have tried to move outside of that, but doesn’t show any inkling that Obsidian would attempt to do the same.

          • Cerius says:

            You misunderstood complety.

            There’s not really enough space to explain everything I would need to here (with Links as well). So to make this short, no he doesn’t mean loot. Yes, he does mean other interactions. No he’s comment on Heavy Rain has nothing to do with how you interpret it. Yes, Obsidian actually has done that already in their games, such elements can be found in Fallout: New Vegas and Alpha Protocol actually as well if sparse.

          • Xardas Kane says:

            What Cerius said. Also, the big thing in RPG games that’s going to change in the upcoming years is in fact COMBAT. In terms of story, whether it’s plot, characters or structure, technically developers were never really that constricted when shaping those features. The idea of choice, of changing the world based on your actions is nothing new, this guy has been making such games for more than a decade and a half.

            What I mean by that is, gaming advances technologically. And the most exciting prospects when looking into the near future is “what can we do with this technology”. Most of the time that’s AI, combat, graphics. Nobody looks at the Unreal 4 demo and thinks “oh, man, I could tell a great story with those particle effects and physics.” That part comes later on its own.

            And honestly by now if you don’t AT THE VERY LEAST give freaking Urquhart the benefit of the doubt, we are, like, done professionally.

          • Premium User Badge

            gritz says:

            Cerius: if you’re not going to bother adding to the discussion by explaining yourself, why bother posting a response?

            New Vegas does a great job of giving the player non-combat and non-character driven interactivity, but it’s still built around a combat-first design. And yet it’s the non-combat elements that made New Vegas so memorable. I can’t imagine anyone replays it out of nostalgia for headshotting Nameless Legionnaire #589.

            Likewise, no one replays Alpha Protocol because of the shooting mechanics (combat). You replay Alpha Protocol to see different story outcomes (character/plot) and to find things you missed before (exploration).

            So why build your RPG’s with combat prioritized above all else when it’s almost always the least enjoyable part of the game?

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Could you give an example of world interaction OP? Am asking out of genuine interest

      • Premium User Badge

        gritz says:

        Anything from puzzles, exploratory level designs, obstacle avoidance/pattern recognition, etc. But also things like physics engines and interactive objects/world rules that give the players tools for emergent gameplay.

        edit: for example- level designs from the “immersive sim” pseudo-genre that emphasize freedom of exploration as an alternative to straight combat, pillow-fort building in Morrowind. Or using the same basic systems for turning unharvested grain into loaves of baked bread to forge your own blackrock sword in Ultima 7.

        Basically anything built into the world that goes beyond “guns and conversation” (and plot and loot).

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      He does mention it, but more importantly, why can’t we have both? Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines: Subtitle (I kid because I love!) is rightly beloved for its writing, but there’s no reason whatsoever that the writing had to come at the cost of enjoyable combat. You play a supernatural monster, and the abilities run the gamut from shape-shifting to mind-control to making people’s blood explode. That should be fun!

      And I know someone’s going to come along and say “But why can’t we have stories that don’t require violence?” Well, we can. But the heart of any story–tragedy, drama, comedy, whatever–is conflict. And the simplest way to include conflict in an interactive medium is through violence and, therefore, combat. Even the most masterful developer would have an extremely difficult time avoiding violence in games, so thinking about combat–even if you don’t want to have it in every game you make–is important.

      • Premium User Badge

        gritz says:

        You said it yourself: the simplest way. The fact that the company known for having the best writers in the industry is putting the simplest form of conflict first and foremost in its designs and actively rejecting the notion that they have the creativity to do anything else tells you how far the medium has to go.

        Edit: and more to the point, the weakest aspect of VtM: Bloodlines is widely considered its combat. The two most tedious hours of the game are the long levels of endless uninteresting combat. On the other hand, the two most memorable moments in the game are the haunted house and the werewolf- where combat (in terms of the game’s combat system, not in terms of the threat of violence) is completely absent from the tension.

        • Cronstintein says:

          Oh man, the first time going through that haunted house is sooo good! I also like the conclusion in chapter 1 with the twin sisters.

          Imagine a bloodlines with batman combat….

        • MattM says:

          If you take out all violence from bloodlines you lose more that just the combat. You can still commit violence outside of combat in that game. Stabbing someone in the neck and draining their blood, threatening someone with violence to intimidate them, stealth take-downs, and so on.
          Its funny how few of my games are completely violence free if I take a broad definition of violence. Beyond the obvious FPSs, most games seem to included a little bit of violence somewhere.

          SpaceChem – I created the chemicals to fuel a gun to shoot a monster.
          Guitar Hero II – I engaged in musical battle to defeat the devil and force him back to hell with a spell of somesort.
          Ben There Dan That – I hit and kill a crazy priest.
          Braid – I stomp and kill some goomba guys.
          1000 Amps – I destroy a guy with my light spikes.
          Katamari Damacy – I roll up people against their will.

          Looking through my collection of 200+ steam games and 100+ console titles I can only find a few that are completely non violent
          Grand Turismo 4 – Wrecks are completely without damage so hitting other cars can be considered non violent.
          Night Sky , Peggle, Blueberry Garden.

  13. SuperNashwanPower says:

    What a nice man

  14. CletusVanDamme says:

    Not all RPGs need to head in the same direction, that mindset isn’t one that I think is necessarily healthy. There’s room for the Dragon Ages, the Skyrims, the Walking Deads, and so on. Variety is the spice of life for me.

    • Xardas Kane says:

      Urquhart seems to thing as much as well, considering what he said in the interview.

  15. wodin says:

    Nathan tut tut…Why didn’t you tell him your anti combat stance in games when he said thats what he enjoyed the most and what really is a main part of RPG’s, tactical combat (though not sure what happened to tactics these days in RPG’s)?

    When I read he said that I quickly scanned up to see who was talking to him..Nathan..then read the response..not what I expected. I don’t agree with your stance but I do feel you wimped out there when normally your not shy about preaching no combat in games.

  16. wodin says:

    The old way of doing Combat in RPG’s like Fallout 1 and 2 worked. You choose your move and it was down to the characters skill whether it worked well or not..these days really it’s about your skill in a FPS kind of situation…or if he is going Batman route then how good you are at beat em ups…neither are really roleplaying as a character.

    • Brun says:

      The word you’re looking for is “abstraction,” sometimes referred to as “skill abstraction” or “tactical abstraction.” More abstraction means that your characters’ success is based more on things like stats, level, selected abilities, and rules than on what the player does. In games with higher abstraction the player is typically making strategic decisions while the tactical side of combat is handled by dice rolls. An example is something like Baldur’s Gate (or any game using the D&D ruleset) – the player is managing the positioning of the characters in the party and the abilities they use, but whether your Kensai’s katana swing actually lands is determined solely by statistics (primarily THAC0 and the enemy target’s AC in this case) and the subsequent dice rolls.

      I can’t speak for the Fallouts but many older RPGs had much higher levels of skill abstraction than their modern counterparts. Much of this has to do with the fact that they were using a turn-based ruleset such as D&D in which real-time simulation of sword swings and such was impossible. Modern RPGs tend to opt for less abstraction – Skyrim, for example, has statistics and levels but if you want to play an archer effectively you have to be able to aim. No amount of +Agility will automatically put arrows on target for you.

      I find the notion of abstraction is a good “knob”, if you will, which when turned moves your game’s position on a spectrum. At the highly abstracted end of this spectrum, you have RTS or TBS games. At the other end (zero abstraction) you have things like FPS. RPGs tend to fall somewhere near the middle.

      • iridescence says:

        Yes and this is the heart of the problem I have with modern RPGs if everything is limited by such things as player twitch-skill you’re not really playing an RPG, it’s more of an “imagine yourself in a fantasy world” game which I suppose is fine for some games but also quite limiting. It’s cool to be able to roleplay a ninja without having extreme agility in real life or play a moronic character without actually being stupid and a good RPG should give you ways to actually experience that escapism.

        It’s concerning to me that a lot of people seem to want all RPGs and MMOs to have FPS-style combat If you want a game that rewards your reflexes why not just play an FPS? it’s not like there are a shortage of them out there.

        It’s cool to see all the turned-based and semi-turned based indie and Kickstarter games coming out though. Hopefully a new generation will learn that abstracted dice-based tactical systems can actually be quite fun.

        • Brun says:

          There’s room for both to exist. I think the main reason that games like Skyrim have first-person “twitch combat” is to facilitate immersion which has always been an important aspect of The Elder Scrolls series.

        • Xardas Kane says:

          It comes down to what you consider a genuine RPG. For you it might be just that, the deep character customization system, the lists of skills and stats. That’s YOUR version of what an RPG is, but not everyone’s.

          Me, I like it either way. I am on the ride for the story, the world interaction, making my own path through a non-linear narrative or getting immersed in a sandbox universe. I am there for the characters, the deep lore, the sidequests. While I certainly enjoy tinkering with statistics, that’s just a side-perk, because I’m not in it for that. Which is why I’ve tremendously enjoyed both games like Baldur’s Gate and modern more skilled-based RPGs like Dark Souls, Skyrim or The Witcher, and why Gothic just might be my most beloved game every despite its rather simplistic character progression system.

          But again, that’s just my version of what an RPG is.

        • Premium User Badge

          gritz says:

          The problem is that by separating the character from the player, you’re potentially limiting immersion.

          • Brun says:

            Being immersive means bringing the player as close to the character as possible. The best way to do this is to make the character as much of a blank slate as possible, and that includes things like backstory and motivation. If you want to really immerse someone they have to develop those things themselves, or they have to emerge from the game’s systems.

          • JackShandy says:

            I think this is a false idea of Immersion. Look at two grandmasters playing a game of chess. In that moment, nothing else exists for them. Do you think they would be more immersed if they saw the game from a first-person view?

        • jrodman says:

          1 – for me twitch demands defeat immersion because I’m just annoyed with the game for foisting the crap on me.

          2 – for me, I’m just waiting for someone to make a proper RPG where I don’t have to twitch all the time. To be fair, several of these have been kickstarted recently, but not shipped.

  17. plugmonkey says:

    Personally, I’ve gone far enough with the diversification of ‘kitchen sink’ RPGs like Skyrim. Sheer scale is no longer much of a selling point to me.

    I’d like to see more of the focus of stuff like Dark Souls, Walking Dead and Minecraft. Pick a few things and do them really, really well. If you try and do everything, then you end up only being as good as your weakest link.

    For example, in Skyrim I tried the crafting for the first time, and not only was it rubbish, it completely unbalanced the rest of the game. The exploring and questing becomes a bit redundant when you know full well that you already own the most powerful weapons in the universe, and all you had to do was make the same hat over and over a few dozen times.

  18. Cinnamon says:

    Interesting the Feargus doesn’t see the game world as being core element. Origin always gave it the number one slot and even made their company motto, “we create worlds.” And I thought that Bioware were always more influenced by Origin than anything as well so surely it is highly important for them. The long cooking time for Dragon Age: Origins was supposed to be mostly due to conceptually creating the game world. Although Bioware don’t seem to always pull of the feeling of a living game world as much as a series of static scenes that revolve around the player. Compared to things like Fallout and Bloodlines anyway.

    • plugmonkey says:

      Dragon Age is admittedly not great in that regard, but Mass Effect I think has a genuinely excellent world. The fact that I can remember that Garrus is a Turian, Wrex is a Krogan and Tali is a Quarian is testament to that. In most games, they would have been “Lizard Guy”, “Rhino Turtle” and “Space Muslim”.

      • colw00t says:

        Turinans were always “dinosaur proto-bird dudes” and the Quarians were “The people from Battlestar Galactica after they got lost for a couple of centuries” to me.

        • plugmonkey says:

          Well, it really clicked with me. Far more than any other game world I can think of. Skyrim, for example, was the epic story of a civil war between some arseholes, and some other arseholes, and some dragons. Oh, and there are cats. They’re called Khajeet and nobody likes them.

          I can also probably give you more in depth info about the Mass Effect world and the races that inhabit it than I can about Star Wars, for another example. As game worlds go, I thought it was a goody.

          • wodin says:

            Epic? Civil War? More like a disagreement with two gangs consisting of about 40 people each side..the limitations of Open World..means sparsely populated..

          • plugmonkey says:

            Lol, yeah. That would be a more accurate description. It was supposed to be epic was what I meant.

            It just sucked. I couldn’t have cared less about the whole nonsense of it.

          • Premium User Badge

            gritz says:

            But how much of that came from memorable characterization, and how much through actually interacting with the game world?

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      Agreed on all points.

    • Infinitron says:

      “And I thought that Bioware were always more influenced by Origin than anything”


      Bioware started out being influenced by the Gold Box games. If anybody in the industry has been influenced by Origin, it’s Bethesda’s Todd Howard, whose favorite game is Ultima 7.

      • Cinnamon says:

        Are you sure that the Bioware doctors were not also fans of the Ultima games?

  19. Incredibly_Shallow says:

    He seems like a developer that just wants to hang story, characters and exploration onto a combat system. Like a D&D dungeon master who just wants to make cool and engaging tactical combat, and pastes everything else on as window dressing.

    Booo. Dislike.

    The Walking Dead style of RPG is what I want. If I want combat, I’ll play Arkham City or X-Com.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      I’m hoping that it only seems that way.

      Personally, I like both story and exploration but for me rpgs are mostly about choice and consequence. Having a game like Skyrim with more depth, a better story and better choices would be rather ideal. Basically getting the best of both worlds. Like not being able to see ‘tags’ on creatures until you learn about them (bandits? Maybe they’re just honest miners!). Or like being able to befriend the usually neutral-but-irritable to hostile folk.

  20. D3xter says:

    I think there’s been enough “redifinition” of “the whole RPG genre” in the past, to the point that Nathan apparently believes that The Walking Dead is an RPG or something and wants Obsidian to make episodic “Interactive Adventures” instead because apparently that’s what David Cage (and to a lesser extent Warren Spector) said is “great”…

    It’s good that they spend their time making an actual RPG yet again with Project: Eternity instead (along other games like Wasteland 2, Shadowrun Returns, Dead State…).

    The DICE talks I’ve seen were stupid almost across the board, there even was one with Urquhart and Ray Muzyka (who doesn’t work in the games industry anymore…) and I don’t know what exactly Muzyka was talking about, but apparently the “future of RPGs” for him has a lot to do with buzzwords, namely: “Free2Play”, mobile, casual, social, engagement, DLC, monetization, virality, achievements, business models, value, analytics, telemetry, “software as a service” etc. It was all rather sad.

    • plugmonkey says:

      So, basically, because you have an intensely narrow definition of what an RPG is, so does everyone else?

      • D3xter says:

        No, it has more something to do with genre definitions and precise language, a game that is clearly a descendant of the interactive movie/FMV genre popularized by the early Dragon’s Lair: link to steamcommunity.com (and arguably a subset of the Adventure genre) has no place being mentioned as an “RPG”, because it isn’t one. Leave that to the people that really wanted to be in Hollywood and are happy making Interactive movies like David Cage.
        It’s even listed here as an iteration of the genre for 2012 link to en.wikipedia.org

        To my knowledge Telltale has also called it an “Adventure Horror game” and other people have gone out of their way to call it something it is not and is not trying to be.
        Just like Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty aren’t “RPGs” because they may contain some Stats, XP and perks.

        • plugmonkey says:

          has no place being mentioned as an “RPG”, because it isn’t one.

          Sez you.

          You’ll notice that the poster preceding you said exactly the opposite.

          So, I say again: just because you have an intensely narrow definition of what an RPG is, so everyone else has to?

          I missed that vote.

          • D3xter says:

            No offense meant, but the preceding poster (much like Nathan) doesn’t seem to have an understanding of what an RPG is and seems to enjoy Interactive movies, in which case there are a bunch of those for him to try on that list, that he might enjoy like 7th Guest or Phantasmagoria or for more recent examples Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit.

            If you wanted to get somewhere with the argument of less combat-focused RPGs (which includes the interview with Urquhart, since he seems to have kinda ignored the questions or didn’t quite know what Nathan meant), Planescape: Torment (a game which a lot of the “Obsidianites” had a hand in) would have been a much better example, since Obsidian aren’t known for making Interactive movies or Adventure games but RPGs.

          • plugmonkey says:

            So essentially, yes. You have a narrow definition of what is an RPG, and therefore everyone else has to.

            You’re throwing out names and definitions and somehow thinking them to be definitive. Do you know how many people I know who ever refer to ANY games as “Interactive Movies”?


            And that’s you.

            TBH, I would personally describe The Walking Dead as more of an Adventure than an RPG, but that’s just me, personally. It’s all one big spectrum, and RPGs even as you wish define them are one big smorgasboard, and different people put different emphasis on the different components.

            To people for whom an RPG is all about the story and decisions and consequences, then The Walking Dead fits into that spectrum.

            For people for whom an RPG is all about combat and loot, Dark Souls fits in.

            Both of those people will disagree with each other, and with you. You’re not any more right than any of them, I’m afraid. That’s just YOUR definition of where the line is drawn.

          • hypercrisis says:

            Don’t be a fool. Language isn’t something you can pick and choose to define however you “feel”. you’re calling an apple an orange, and plugging your ears. By all means go ahead but it doesn’t make it true

          • ffordesoon says:


            Actually, that’s a pretty decent summary of the evolution of language. Today’s common usage is often tomorrow’s definition.

          • Runs With Foxes says:

            Calling The Walking Dead an RPG is not common usage, fortunately. It’s on the same level as saying Tomb Raider is an RPG because you are ~playing the role~ of Lara Croft.

          • jrodman says:

            Thankfully there are two major camps on the meaning of “RPG”.

            1 – people who think it has something to do with character indirection, character development, and player agency through navigating through a world or choices; there’s a bit of variation but these are the main themes

            2 – people who have no idea what it means and apply it to random games without any clear rationale.

            Since camp 2 is useless, we can accept that camp 1 is correct.

        • Incredibly_Shallow says:

          I guess I find a combat and mechanic heavy RPG with a thin story that somehow people call EPIC is a failure for me. That includes many sacred untouchable cornerstones of RPG history. That genre of video game is a funhouse mockery (or a perfect depiction of a shitty version executed by an inept DM) of its tabletop roots.

          It always felt to me that some basement-dwelling number-crunching min-maxing grognards made some “RPGs” for computers in the 80s that were all about numbers and winning and a box of text to tell you what was happening. Then everyone ran with that as though it were a good thing, but I’ve always disliked the tabletop version of that kind of gameplay and am happy to see a beacon of hope in a game like The Walking Dead.

          The Walking Dead is a decent (if somewhat linear) translation of my favorite tabletop roleplaying experiences. Simple, quickly resolved combat to resolve conflict and lots of conversation and storytelling. The best D&D or Call of Cthulhu sessions I’ve experienced in a tabletop setting were like that. Always better than people hunched over a tactical map with rulebooks piled high.

          So for me, The Walking Dead is an RPG or what I want them to be going forward. Fuck, make me a version of BG2 that functions mechanically like The Walking Dead and I would replay it over and over. Can you imagine the immersion and the branching possibilities for how the story would resolve?

          • Nick says:

            Thankfully what complete pricks think is an RPG is not important.

          • Premium User Badge

            gritz says:

            On the other hand, I think it’s perfectly possible to have an RPG with no pre-written plot or characters at all (like the “grognards” did in the 1980’s). Just because there isn’t a talking head on screen telling you what your character is thinking doesn’t mean you have to play a character without thoughts.

            Yeah, it sounds like cheesy “theater of the mind/make believe/power of your imagination” hokum, but a game with a strong world and a light plot/characterization has great potential to let the player create his or her own stories.

            I didn’t need Iolo and Gwenno to interject every 30-40 minutes with a couple paragraphs of banter to know that they were having conversations with each other as we trekked across Britannia. I didn’t need Morrowind to tell me why I was locked up on that boat and had a grudge against the empire.

        • ffordesoon says:


          Clearly, Wikipedia is an unimpeachable source. ;)

          I actually agree that TWD is an interactive movie. That is, after all, a subgenre of the adventure genre. Which is why I would also call it an adventure game.

    • guygodbois00 says:

      A comment on that Youtube link of yours from someone named VideoGameSophistry (not me anyway):
      “Unfortunately, these heroes of gaming seems to innovate for revenue- not for that artistic “engagement” It seems as if that word has been shifted to “Revenue streams”.”
      it reflects my thoughts exactly about big names in industry, Urquharts, Gabes etc.

    • ffordesoon says:


      Quick reading comprehension lesson for you: when someone says that “you could say” a game like The Walking Dead is a role-playing game “if you choose to zero in on choice and story as key elements of role-playing games,” they are not saying that they think The Walking Dead is a role-playing game. They are saying that if an RPG is defined as a game based around “choice and story,” then The Walking Dead could be said to qualify under that definition. It is a rhetorical device, you see. The clue is in the use of all the qualifying language, as opposed to his just coming out and saying The Walking Dead is an RPG.

      Nathan is using TWD as an example precisely because it could be considered an edge case under certain conditions. If we strip the question of its conversational tone, he’s basically asking how stringently old-school Feargus’ definition of the term “role-playing game” is.

      His second question is a conversational way of saying, “Have you guys ever thought of branching out from RPGs, or are you firmly committed to that genre?”

      Could both of those questions be interpreted as anti-RPG? Maybe, if you really want to get paranoid and Codexian about it. You could say his nefarious intent is to plant a Biowarean seed in Feargus’ mind that will take root. You could also say it’s a pro-RPG question – “Have you ever considered pissing away your storied history to chase the console kiddies?” Or, most likely, it was an intriguing question that came to mind during their conversation, and Nathan asked it out of interest. He is, after all, the biggest Obsidian fan on the RPS staff.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      D3xter, you need to understand what you’re dealing with here. To these people, trying to define something so you can accurately label and discuss it makes you a bigot. They think “because someone said so” is a good enough reason to call an interactive movie a role-playing game, and then they have the idiocy to believe that language theory is on their side. They’re delusional.

  21. pilouuuu says:

    I’m really hopeful and excited about RPGs’ future.

    I agree that combat is underwhelming in RPGs, although there are some things that are done right. I consider Witcher 2 combat good, but nowhere near as good as Batman games. And we also need at least the option to pause and take tactical decisions like in Fallout 3 or Dragon Age. An hybrid system is the way to go, one which lets you choose if you want real time combat or more strategic combat, but both should be fun to play.

    There’s also a difficult balance between story and freedom. We should be able to shape the story, but we also need dialogues and a story that makes sense and reacts to our decisions, all at the same time. Also choices, consequence and player freedom are things that are hard to get right, but I don’t want more situations where you take a lot of decisions during the game and then you get to the ending and we all get the same ending with just some small differences like in Mass Effect 3 and The Walking Dead.

    Role Playing Games should as a rule have many endings. Fallout 3 and Dragon Age got that right, although in the future I would like even more variety and more scenes made with the game engine and not just some illustrations and a narrator telling the ending.

    And as for the violent, non-violent game I think there should be no discussion. RPGs should let you choose both. I’d like more games where you can talk to your enemy and through dialogue convince him or her to give up, to join you or to run away. But I also want the option just to fight the enemy and that you have consequences in the future for having fought or for having taken a diplomatic decision.

    I also want games to let you be really evil or a mix between good and evil, but doesn’t punish you just because you took an evil or good decision. I want my character to be awarded or punished depending if the decisions were right or wrong on the context on that particular quest. And I want those decisions to have long-term consequences and even better to be reminded of them in the game’s ending.

    Overall I think that the future seems very interesting for RPGs, but developers need to take greater risks, to innovate and to think out-of-the-box about what an RPG is and what the possibilities are.

    • Cerius says:

      Fallout 3 got that right?

      Are you sure about that, because Fallout 1,2 and F:NV kinda outshine it in that regard.

      • RedViv says:

        Yeah, kind of scratching my head here. Fallout 3 had three endings: Patting your head, shrugging, or going no-no on you. Plus a comment on what weird thing you did at the end. Hundreds of endings, my arse.

        • Cronstintein says:

          I think multiple-endings and/or “being reminded of your choices at the end” are both cop-outs. A good rpg should have a flexible MIDDLE. Make my choices create ramifications while I’m still playing!

          Witcher 2 seems like one of the better examples for this.

          • RedViv says:

            That is very much preferable. New Vegas had elements of it too, the King’s favour probably being the thing most players actually did recognise.

          • pilouuuu says:

            Well, I’m not saying that the rest of the game should be forgotten. In the future I want more flexible stories in games, which accomodate to our decisions. Sandbox open world could help us a bit with that, but I also want to meet different characters, different dialogues or visiting completely different places in each playthrough.

            All that AND different multiple endings.

        • pilouuuu says:

          Well, I played with the Brotherhood DLC, so maybe that changes a few things. And it shows a little bit about the influence you had on the whole town, something which Mass Effect ending DLC tried to imitate. It is better than those endings that leave us wondering what happened to every other character.

          Well, probably I shouldn’t have mentioned FO3, but I have to say that Dragon Age is indeed a good example of a decent ending.

          I’d like more endings like the one from Grim Fandango, which is just perfect. But in an RPG we should have multiple endings that depend on the decisions we took during the game, but all of the should be quality emotional endings, even if some are sad or bittersweet. We also should be able to get an heroic blockbuster cliche style ending. Wouldn’t everyone prefer ME3 if Shepard got to kick ass and then share a drink with his buddies at Omega to celebrate afterwards?

          • ffordesoon says:

            Almost certainly not, no.

            The issue with ME3’s vanilla ending is that it’s dumb, obtuse, and completely inappropriate relative to the rest of the fiction, not that it’s sad. At least the Extended Cut ameliorated most of the issues surrounding Magical Ghost Kid. It’s still dumb, but tolerably so.

  22. Eddard_Stark says:

    I am sorry, but the idea of the genre borrowing from The Walking Dead in the choice deparment strikes me as borderline inane. I mean what choice are we talking about? It’s nothing more than a poor illusion. What we saw in Alpha Protocol was light-years ahead of Telltale’s superficial hoax. And it’s actually becoming a typical pattern with Mass Effect series as the frontliner. For all the talk of choices and consequences, games and namely RPGs are getting only worse in that regard. C&C is basicly degenerated to the A,B,C all leading to D with an extra few lines (if lucky) of dialogues. You can see devs cutting edges everywhere, no one wants to develop extra content that most likely won’t be seen by a large part of the audience. This makes you appreciate what CD Project RED did in Witcher 2 with the 2nd Chapter e.g., and what we had in some older RPGs.

    • i saw dasein says:

      Sorry to break it to you, but all choice is an illusion. Art imitates life~

    • RedViv says:

      Well of course they do not want to throw away entire areas of the game. Budget and man-hour explosions are rarely a nice thing. Just look at the poor Obsidian folks getting drunk at their talk about Alpha Protocol.
      Flavour choices and intrinsic narrative consequences are to be weighed a bit differently when making a modern, fully voiced 3D game. Comes with being AAA, sadly.

    • Incredibly_Shallow says:

      I’m fine with the illusion of choice if it’s obscured a bit and the end result makes me feel engaged.

    • Vander says:

      I thought the same thing. The walking dead’s choices are really disappointing. I mean, whatever you chose, the effect on the course of the story is minimal, the effect on the story itself is nil.

      When you compare with the witcher 2 where you go to an entirely different aera with different npc, it is really poor. Especially with a game like TWD, where the gameplay is so minimalist.

      • Premium User Badge

        gritz says:

        Choice in TWD wasn’t about branching storylines or altering the plot- it’s about sculpting a characterization of Lee and his motivations that is more authentic and personal than anything that’s been done in a videogame before.

        Mass Effect built characterization of Shephard along a two dimensional spectrum with very little regard for the actual decisions being made. TWD had no paragon/renegade spectrum, each choice was weighed entirely on the situation and the player’s response to choices made previously.

        A paragon Shephard who cold cocks an annoying reporter is a nonsensical character. But a Lee who’s been outright hostile to the same guy for three episodes but decides not to let him die a long and agonizing death can feel like a completely natural progression.

        • Vander says:

          Well, you are not wrong about the characterization of Lee, but still i found these choices to be underwhelming. Beside, (SPOILER), when the guy or girl you save is killed, its so obvious that was done to economize resources and development time that it feel cheap to me. (END SPOILER) It also kill replayability, because when the illusion of your choice having an impact crumble, it crumble hard: i could not launch the game again, all my interest was gone.

          And even so, for a RPG, i found it to be a very bad way to go. I want my choices to have an impact in the game’s world.

          For Mass Effect, the example you give is not really good: sometime even the best guy have nasty/violent reactions. And i dislike very mucjh the bad/good gauge in any rpg. A lot of things that the developers considers bad, well for me its the good, moral thing to do. For example, in ME3 ,(SPOILER) you are attacked from being by the lousy techno ninja (kei ling i think). You have to press a renegade interupt for avoid his blow and kill him. How the hell defending yourself is renegade? (/SPOILER). This system is flawed. I prefer when npc judge the character i play from his own point of view, like the old fallouts do in a rudimentary fashion, wich is a system who has the advantage to have an impact in the game world.

          To resume, even if i was very disappointed by TWD, to the point of feeling that i totally wasted my money and time, i can very well understand that people like it, but its not the type of choices that iwant in a rpg. When Nathan say that you could say that the walking dead is a RPG because of his choices, i could not disagree more. Not because its has not combat, skill or xp (even tough i am a sucker for that), but because i want my choices to have more impact, not just (and this is an exaggeration) three lines of dialogues who change.

        • Runs With Foxes says:

          You’re basically saying The Walking Dead is an engine for LARPing.

  23. Stevostin says:

    “First-person sword fighting isn’t always the best entertainment.” But hey, the fighting in Arkham City is awesome.”

    > Arkham City is a wonderful game and fight are awesome, way more interesting than basic FPV swordfighting. Now if I can pick, I pick the FPV sword fighting in an RPG ten times over Arkham city. Because immersion >>>> gameplay. I don’t care a lot about gameplay. Obsidian’s gameplay’s never that great. But when they’re immersive, that’s the best games there are. Don’t waste time on gameplay, seriously, think about immersion immersion immersion good characters dialog story sight and really gameplay after all those things, thx sir, good gameply we have zillions, good immersive world are still spare, get your priorities right please =)

    Also, Arkham city fighting gameplay is technically incredible and there’s no way on earth Obsidian does something half as good. No one does.

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:


    • Runs With Foxes says:

      What makes you think ‘gameplay’ is not important for ‘immersion’? I think you have the wrong definition of immersion if you’re listing story, characters and dialogue as the important parts.

  24. Lars Westergren says:

    Speculation engine revving up…. C2B at the Penny Arcade forums mentions that an Obsidian artist on Twitter had been asking questions about documention on the Unreal 3 engine. They have positions open for a 3d artist and environment, with “*highly realistic* ingame-results”.

    In the long Kotaku interview Feargus mentions that they had been having talks with amongst others Warner Brothers. It is unlikely that the next game is F:NV 2 or Kotor 3 since he is talking so openly about wanting to do it, if they had already signed he would probably not be allowed to talk about it. So…. the next Arkham game maybe? Someone on RPGCodex came up with the idea.

    The next Arkham game is rumored to NOT be made by Rockstar. All this is wild conjecture of course, but still. Arkham Asylum/City are two of my most favorite games the last couple of years despite mainly being a RPG fan. An “Arkham Stories” game featuring one of the lesser known heroes or villains, made by Obsidian? The same fighting system and fantastic environments but now with more emphasis on story and choices? Be still my beating heart.

    link to rpgcodex.net

    A strong counter argument would be that the next Arkham game is supposed to come this year, but most of Obsidian is still working on South Park, with a smaller team on Eternity, so if it is them they couldn’t even have started yet.

    • Cerius says:

      Not unreal, cryengine 3

    • Vander says:

      Not Rockstar, Rocksteady.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      Ok, ok, ok. But apart from wine, roads and education, WHAT DID THE ROMANS EVER DO FOR US!?

      • Vander says:

        Aqueduc , sanitation, medecine irrigation…and its safe at night on the streets.

        Damn, you give me a irresistible need to watch it again….:)

  25. Numerical says:

    With a name like Feargus Urquhart, it’s no wonder he knows alot about making RPGs. :O

    Great article. I’m actually into many of the first-person style “role playing shooters” or “role playing hack-n-slashers” where I am the character I create, and therefore it is me in this world doing what i want to do as it would be if it were a reality (with some brutally violent/thiefy liberties taken of course).

    That said, there is a MAJOR need for some pioneering improvements if we’re going for realism in RPG gaming. I can cite Skyrim as a source for the lack of personality, blase samey dungeons, lack of variety in general being my major complaint with most of Bethesda’s offerings. Even New Vegas has much more in the way of variety and had more depth to it than any of Bethesda’s own games.

    I would wish for more emphasis on making things memorable not in the shooty stabby giant hulking creature sense but in the “I want to go back to that place and talk to that being/person” kind of way. Seems like society is too focused on killing shit or grabbing loot than experiencing something memorable that you want to keep going back to.

    • Grayvern says:

      I would say that the only time having combat and killing in a games becomes a problem, for non moral concerns, is because of ludonarrative dissonance.

      The most common example is of course Nathan Drake: happy mass murderer; RPG’s however rarely if ever fall prey to this because the amount of combat is prefaced and made acceptable by the premise.

      Besides that I would say on balance that RPGs of all game genres conform least to your closing statement. People tend to forget for instance that Bioware has always made RPGs with a lot of combat when people talk about Baldurs gate they talk about Imoen, Sarevok and when mentioning Dragon age they talk about Morrigan or Leliana.

      I think it’s a big mistake including, however tacitly, ARPG’s in this discussion in the same way it would be a mistake to discuss Deus ex or even Stalker in the same vein as call of duty. Furthermore while open world RPG’s like Skyrim include a lot of combat and loot that isn’t the focus, it’s the games world that entices us games that have better combat and worse world’s have proven to be less successful in capturing our imaginations and money you need only look at Dragons Dogma and Kingdoms of Amalur to see that. It’s not the endless parade of super mutant headshots you remember in the Fallout games it’s the dark humor of the worlds residents and sometimes the sad stories scattered in a world of ruin, I remember the end message of Dead Money far more than I remember the combat contained therein.

      I actually think the opposite that many RPGs that involve first or third person direct character control in combat could stand to do it better, a dream scenario would be to see Capcom farm the world building and story of the next full Dragons Dogma to a company similar to or in fact Obsidian while keeping the combat implementation either in house or under strict control.

      In closing surely one needs only to visit the Gelato shop as Thorton or step outside of Seyda Neen for the first time, to see that RPGs of the type the article is refering, have come far further in creating memorable character interaction and worlds than they have in presenting satisfying combat.

  26. bigjig says:

    I’d rather they looked more to Dark Souls than something with limited gameplay like Walking Dead for inspiration honestly.

    I’d give my left nut for an Obsidian dark fantasy game that had the same focus on character and story but with the same level of combat depth seen in Dark Souls.

    Rather than just all of a sudden being ‘over-encumbered’ when you pass a weight carry limit have different speeds of movement/stamina regeneration depending on how much your armor etc. weighs. Have a different moveset for each weapon and an equipment upgrade system like Dark Souls that really makes you weigh your choices. Have secondary attributes to armor like ‘poise’ to prevent stunlocking. Have a different attacks depending on the situation: a jump attack, parry and riposte, backstab, kick to break the opponents guard etc.

    But who am I kidding, Obsidian doesn’t have the skills to pay them bills. My big hope is CD Projekt achieving this with the Witcher 3.

  27. Runs With Foxes says:

    You could say something like The Walking Dead is a role-playing game, if you choose to zero in on choice and story as key elements of role-playing games.

    you gotta be kidding me

  28. dgz says:

    This RPG flood needs to stop, really. Shmucks always complain when an FPS is announced, citing lack of bullshit stories and uninspired [placeholder], etc. It’s kind of hilarious, given that the market is saturated with interactive movies and semi-rpg bullshit hybrids.

    Oh, my character just had sex! I was asked to perform this ridiculous two-button sequence and he did it! How immersive! I don’t suck at games anymore. Me like.

  29. garisson says:

    “And there’s the Witcher.”

    “Yeah anyway, about Arkham City, blah, blah, blah”

    And people respect Obsidian…why?

  30. rohsiph says:

    Still waiting for a Western dev team to marry the brilliance of tri-Ace with the best bits of Western style RPGs.

    Or for tri-Ace to start doing solid PC ports.

    • RedViv says:

      End of Eternity was my favourite home console JRPG of this generation, until Ni no kuni came along.

  31. RProxyOnly says:

    Dick move, Urquhart… “yeah let’s further redefine RPG’s so that they are even farther from what they were. Let’s aim even more genres at the bottomfeeding brainless demographic.”

    You know what..Elder Scrolls games haven’t been fun since Daggerfall, they are huge and pretty with a worlds as dead Gaspowered Games., it’s just that they are so simple to understand and hack at enemies with that the majority of gamers, who let’s face it aren’t exactly the cream of society, can wrap their poor little inadequate minds around them.

    And for yet another company, who is capable of thoughtful gaming, if not actual WORKING and polished games, to be considering that route just pisses me off.

    I’m playing Inquisitor at the moment, terrible mechanics, obtuse information on how to complete tasks.. but you know what, it’s actually quite fun, because I have to think about what I’m doing and how to solve tasks and not just run about mindlessly hacking at things with a big pointer saying “DO THIS”.

    Today’s ‘new’ rpgs are the pond scum of gaming.

  32. teamcharlie says:

    Well that was an…odd interview.

    No, I do not want Obsidian to make Telltale games. Telltale already does that. I want Obsidian to continue to do what nobody else in the industry currently does: make epic RPGs with compelling characters, fully realized worlds, novel story arcs and the capacity for players to make choices in multiple instances that each change the game world in broad and distinct ways without being entirely railroaded by ‘story’.

  33. Iskariot says:

    “but Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart has no intention of blindly following the future. His plan? To redefine the whole RPG genre. ”

    Yeah right. Considering the general sloppiness of Obsidian’s products this might be several bridges to far.

  34. Strangerator says:

    What makes it an RPG? And why do the old stodgy types get annoyed about streamlining and “gamification”?

    So to get right to the point, the only reason we’re playing so called “RPGs” today is because of D&D. That’s where this all evolved from, though much like Cartman’s trapper-keeper various and sundry other things have been absorbed. Tabletop games were all about “systems and mechanics”. How much can I carry? Consult the table. What should I roll to hit? Consult the table on page 10, if it is Saturday use page 11, etc.

    These systems today are viewed as “needlessly complex,” even by D&D itself (see 4th ed). But I’d argue they were “needfully complex.” The point of these systems was to provide players with fine-grained detail about the rules of the world in which they were playing a role. Early pen and paper (and many current p&p) are more about creating simulated worlds, and not game worlds.

    Simulation vs. Game
    We are currently focused on building game worlds. These tend to be player-centric, balanced around the player, and revolve around the player. Now this is a sliding scale of course, and some elements of simulation remain, but they are dwindling. Often times systems become so streamlined and “gamified” that they lose all intuitiveness. Consider the process of making a bow in Skyrim.

    Step 1: Get some firewood (wrong wood)
    Step 2: Go to a forge (wtf?)
    Step 3: Hammer one out! Clang! What did you use for bowstring btw?
    Step 4: Go to the grindstone to sharpen your bow and increase damage (again wtf?)

    So basically, it makes no sense whatsoever. Intuitively you’d never know how to make a bow unless you clicked around in the crafting menus and reverse engineered this bizarre process. A simulationist solution would include separate tools and a separate mini-crafting system, which you could learn about from a fletcher in the game. You might have to seek out special trees to make the best bows (instead of making them out of heavy, inflexible metal later in the game). The fletcher might give you hints (legends) of trees hidden away in X corner of the world. And the best part about this is, it is all intuitive. If you knew you were playing in a simulated world and not a “game” world, you’d know that if you went to the bow maker’s shop you could ask him about how it all worked, if you cared to learn. It’s almost like having the game world itself tell the player “how to play” the game without breaking character and the 4th wall.

    CRPGs have a very strong advantage over pen and paper games as well. You can hide all the charts and numbers from the player, so that there is no math required, but you still get these finely grained levels of detail. PnP can’t abstract away calculations and dice rolls into the background. I think an MMO with this simulationist approach of making “realistic but fun” systems that hide gamey numbers and statistics from the players could draw in quite a few people. It has a niche market, probably similar to Eve.

    All that said, I wish single player RPGs would give me more of that good old fashioned simulated world stuff.

    • Cunning Linguist says:

      Reality isn’t really that much fun. There are various mods for Skyrim to give more realism , like hunger and thirst mods and so on, but yeah, it becomes less of a game and more of a simulation. That isn’ t what a lot of us are looking for in RPGs.

      • jrodman says:

        Did you even read the post you’re replying to? It’s not about realism. Realism doesn’t involve mythical trees to make stronger bows, or quests to find them.

        It’s about making the game world MAKE SENSE which is pretty important for nearly any kind of game.