Do you want to know almost everything ever about Obsidian’s newly renamed Kickstarter opus, Pillars of Eternity? Then click that link for impressions and more new information than you can shake a stick of truth at. But still, somehow, thousands of words later, there is more. What follows is an interview snippet concerning Eternity’s development progress, what’s been left on the cutting room floor, the game’s size/scope, party members, and of course, the Dungeoniest Dungeon To Ever Done Dungeon A Dungeon.
RPS: How is the development process going? You’ve been on it for about a year now, and Kickstarter backer expectations are riding high. Has there been anything where you put it in the game and said, “Wait, actually, that makes the game less fun. We should change direction even though we promised backers this thing”?
Sawyer: I wouldn’t say it’s all gone according to plan.
Brennecke: There have been a few instances where we basically presented ideas to our backers, and the backers didn’t really like it, so we went back and…
Adler: The crafting stuff. Durability.
Brennecke: The durability was a big one, where we presented that idea to the public and they weren’t thrilled with it. We just discussed it internally and said, “You know what, let’s not do it.”
Sawyer: It’s not like durability was a promised feature. Crafting was a promised feature. We’ll still do crafting. But we altered the system so it was something that we thought people would find more enjoyable.
Brennecke: Overall I think development is going really well. We’ve been working on it for a year. The game is… We have tons of playable areas. Lots of playable content. Tons of quests already. Lots of maps to explore. Combat, we’re still in the process of tuning it, since there are so many abilities and so many different classes. That’s an ongoing process. A lot of that gets more fine-tuning later on in development. But I think it’s going really well. To have a… I think you could probably play the game now for hours and hours and not see the same thing twice.
Sawyer: You absolutely can. Bobby recently sat down and spent an entire day playing through three quests, maybe four quests? He by no means had exhausted even a very small part of what we’d actually made.
Adler: The funny thing is, you would think that with all the constraints with the Kickstarter, it would cause a lot of issues and problems. But it’s almost the opposite, to some extent. Because we have certain constraints, budgetary concerns and whatnot, we’re actually more lean and mean and efficient in what we do. We just make sure that… We end up getting a lot more done, I think, because we’re taking special care every single time we do something. Does this fit in the game? What’s the best way to do this? Let’s make sure we get it right the first time. We’ve been pretty good about that.
Sawyer: We’re very cognizant of what the backers backed. Everything is framed around that. They want two big cities, they’re getting two big cities. They want a 15-level mega-dungeon, they’re getting it. They want crafting, they’re going to have that.
Brennecke: I don’t think people realize how big a 15-level dungeon is.
Sawyer: It’s really big. [laughs] It’s three dragon-sized, basically.
Brennecke: It’s huge. There’s so much content in there. It’s pretty amazing to see it come together. We’re actually doing it right now, designing it and walking it out. It’s pretty frickin’ amazing to see it come together. This is going to be huge.
RPS: How long do you think a run-through of the mega-dungeon will take?
Brennecke: I don’t want to say, but it’s probably going to be hours and hours?
Adler: It’ll be pretty beefy.
Sawyer: My direction for designing it has been that the ramp in difficulty goes up faster than you can level while in it. [laughs] So I kind of want the player to hit… You go through, you go down a couple levels, then you go to the next level and you’re like, “WHOA! Okay!” Either it forces them to get really serious about tactics, or they’re like, “You know what? I’m gonna go out to do some more quests, come back, and go deeper down.”
RPS: So it’s something you work through gradually.
Sawyer: Yeah. And we’ve come up with some ideas for mechanics that encourage continuing to return to the dungeon, so that it becomes kind of like a cyclical thing. You go down for a while, you back off, you deal with some things, and then you find a reason to go back down.
RPS: Is there a story surrounding the dungeon? Something huge and labyrinthine like the dungeon itself?
Sawyer: Yeah, yeah. You’ll start to learn [that there’s a lot more to it than you first suspect]. Initially it just seems like a cursed, abandoned place. The Glanfathans warn people away from it. But they kind of say, “If you wanna go buck wild in here, it’s your funeral. Go down in there if you want.” As you go deeper you start learning more about what it was and what it is now and what’s going on in it. There’s a mystery. It’ll be a fun mystery to solve and get to the bottom of it.
RPS: And I’m guessing the rewards are pretty incredible? Like, some of the best in the game?
Brennecke: Of course.
Sawyer: I mean, we want our dungeons to feel like dungeons, but this should be the dungeoniest dungeon that we have [laughs]. Lots of monsters, lots of loot, lots of cool exploration and stuff.
RPS: Would you say that it’s the dungeoniest dungeon you’ve ever designed, period?
Sawyer: Uh… Yeah. I’d say a close second would be Dragon’s Eye, which is pretty dungeony.
Brennecke: The direction is like, it’s a dungeon crawl. That’s what it is.
Sawyer: There can be quests in it, but they’re not like, “Let’s talk to a lot of people.” [laughter]
Adler: It’s more like, let’s murder them.
Sawyer: Let’s murder a bunch of people, maybe talk to a few people along the way.
RPS: That does, in fact, sound quite dungeony. What about the rest of the game, though? What kind of scope are you aiming for there?
Saywer: It’s going to be big. I’m not going to give any hour range. It’s going to feel like a worth Infinity engine game. It’s going to be in that ballpark.
I’ve never had a good experience estimating hours before a game’s release. When we made Icewind Dale II, we were afraid it would not even be a 30-hour game. That is a fucking 85-plus-hour game. Easily.
Adler: When you look at Neverwinter II, originally… [laughs]. That was supposed to be a 25-hour game. We couldn’t speedrun it in 40 hours.
Sawyer: It’s going to be big. Scope is quality in this game. In this game, we believe that scope is a part of the perceived quality of the game that we are making. The trend has been generally, for many, many games… It’s like, tighter, more focused, more unique. We still want places to feel unique and have cool unique content in them, but we must have a big game. Just by virtue of the fact that we have two big cities and a megadungeon, that’s a lot of levels. We can’t do that without being.
It’s like Brandon said. We know we have to do this stuff. Let’s go. Let’s make these guys and make them look really cool, but make them clean and make them in intelligent ways. It’s going to be big. That’s the best way I can say it. It’s going to be a big game.
RPS: Obviously, classic RPGs are known for their endearing characters, and Obsidian’s previous games have, in many ways, sought to follow that legacy. What sorts of party members will we be meeting in Eternity? And, more to the point, how will you avoid simply remixing old fantasy archetypes?
Sawyer: What we try to avoid is just simple inversions. We don’t say, “Here’s the thing everyone does. Let’s turn it upside down.” It’s different, but it’s not necessarily any more interesting. That can get old really quickly. What we try to do is find ways to make characters that feel slightly non-traditional, instead of being just completely wacky and out of their element. I’m trying to think if there’s any one I want to talk about in specifics…
Adler: You can’t tell Edér’s personality by his snark? [laughs]
Sawyer: Yeah. Edér is… I guess Edér is… We can talk a little bit about Edér? I think we can talk about Edér. If you looked at Edér, what would you guess his class is? The snarky blond guy.
RPS: Probably the rogue?
Sawyer: He is actually the rogue. Most people assume that he’s the fighter. He is kind of a big dude. He is more of the fighter archetype, but in actuality, the way he fights in combat and his experiences, they’re more along the lines of the rogue class. The way you use him is more along the rogue’s lines.
But in personality, he’s a soldier. He’s a guy who fought in the Saints War. His personality reflects that. Instead of him being a rogue who’s like, “Oh, now I’d like to steal the gold!” he actually has none of that at all. He is not a criminal. He doesn’t have any of that in his background. He’s a skirmisher, like a guerrilla fighter, who fought in the Saints War. That’s why he’s a rogue, because he’s kind of like this really wily fighter. A fighter in the sense of a melee combatant – a really vicious, brutal combatant – but he’s not a Gray Mouser type of character. But he is the rogue. He’s just this big 6’2” blond bearded guy in scale armor with a big sword.
RPS: Thank you for your time. I will return on the morrow for more of it.
Check back tomorrow for a chat with Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart about the developer’s enticingly ambitious plans for another Kickstarter. And no, it’s not Pillars of Eternity 2.