Go It Alone: Chris Avellone Has Left Obsidian

RPG maestro and human stretch goal Chris Avellone probably isn’t planning to go solo but earlier today he confirmed that he’ll be leaving Obsidian. The studio’s most recent title was the superb Pillars of Eternity, on which Avellone worked as a narrative designer, but both he and Obsidian, the company that he co-founded, have a proud back catalogue. Obsidian is still home to some of the finest minds in the RPG business, not least Eternity lead Josh Sawyer, so my main interest here is not what happens to the studio he’s leaving but what Avellone does next.

Two of Avellone’s earlier projects, while at Black Isle, caught my attention when I saw this news – Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment. Both games have successors in the works and while Avellone is already contributing to inXile’s Torment project, the possibility of him moving to inXile full-time doesn’t seem entirely out of the question. I also find the idea of Bethesda bringing Avellone on board for Fallout 4 appealing, partly because I want some new (old) blood injected into the Bethesda RPG formula.

But recent talk of the Van Buren trademark – linked to an abandoned Fallout spiritual successor – makes inXile seem like the strongest candidate if Avellone is set to join an ongoing project. Eurogamer spoke to Brian Fargo recently:

…he had more to say – implying he intends to make something Van Buren with Chris Avellone, if and when inXile has time. (Avellone retains close ties to inXile, having been involved in Wasteland 2 and, now, Torment: Tides of Numenera.)

I asked if Fargo was doing anything with the Van Buren trademark. “Not yet,” he replied. “But there were some things, some ideas, that Chris Avellone had for doing something that made the post-apoc – a twist on the whole what-was-being-done that we really loved. So we talked about it and we thought why not grab the rights so we can entertain this one of these days.

“But nothing now,” he stressed. “We have enough on our plate to be doing that right this second.”

Perhaps we should expect something new though. Avellone has confirmed his departure from Obsidian to Eurogamer, adding:

“…many well wishes to the folks at Obsidian. On the future, I’m off to pursue new projects, but I can’t say anything more at this time beyond life is short, and the ideas keep growing.”

92 Comments

  1. HidingCat says:

    So now he’ll be the Wandering Game Designer, helping out studios wherever he goes!

    • Henson says:

      “Well howdy, my friends. Sit a spell by the fire and let me tell you a story of the Wandering Avellone. Legend goes that he didn’t always wander the land, but no one rightly knows where he came from, only that he brings a story and smile wherever you might find him, yessir. Not many people are like the Wandering Avellone nowadays – most folks jes’ give you a sideways glance ‘fore going back to what they was doing, but somethin’ about that man gave you a feeling inside like no other, made you want to listen to his wild tales of faraway places until your grin stretches ear to ear. He’ll spin you a yarn to last you a year, but never seems to tell the same one twice. And then, ‘fore you know it, he’s off wandering agin, working on some new tale to a whole new group o’ folks. Yup, a real upright soul is the Wandering Avellone.”

    • tikey says:

      Something like the Kwai Chang Caine of videogames I presume.
      I’d watch a tv series about it.

    • grimdanfango says:

      That really wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. He could probably single-handedly raise the ambient quality of writing throughout the industry by quite a significant level.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      He’s the Johnny Marr of the game’s industry.

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    Mungrul says:

    The best of luck to him, wherever he ends up!

  3. Lars Westergren says:

    If this had happened 5-10 years ago, I might have gotten depressed from this news. As it is now – if he leaves the industry to write fantasy novels, brew beer and party, or take up gardening, good on him. I like what I know of Sawyer, Cain et al and have enjoyed all of Obsidian’s titles to various degrees, even Dungeon Siege 3. I think they will survive without him, plus there are many other good RPGs made now from studios probably looking for experienced devs if they don’t.
    If he joins Beth or Bio – great! The writing is the main weak spot of theirs IMO, I would love to see what you get if you pair a stronger plot with a AAA budget.
    If he joins one of the smaller studios like inXile or creates his own studio to create something completely new, Kickstarted or whatever, I will be exstatic!

    Fallout 4 this late in the design process has to be doubtful, though?

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      Adam Smith says:

      The human stretch goal can be applied at any time in the development process! But, yeah, doubtful.

      Maybe another in-between-numbers Fallout like New Vegas would be more likely.

      • MacTheGeek says:

        That was my first thought. New Vegas used some of the ideas that came out of Van Buren’s development; why not hire a guy like Avellone to mine the vein some more and come up with another story that fits the Fallout world?

    • Zorlan says:

      I think they’re finished with the “story” and gameplay bits for Fallout 4 and have entered the PR phase of development. If Bethesda somehow manage to get him on board, the most recent work he’ll be doing is probably going to be DLC or for an upcoming Elder Scrolls title, I think.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Beth desperately needs someone who can write but I’m not sure they realise it. Bio I think is in its death throws as its drawn into EA’s foul maw and slowly digested alive. And ineXile, so far they’ve been just a little bit disappointing, they’re got some talent there and if Avellone joined them maybe it’d help – but it’d be sad to see him wasted in a string of averageish games.

    • Nibblet says:

      Perhaps he just wants to be able to give The Witcher 3 the attention it deserves.

  4. BreadBitten says:

    Bethesda is where he is needed.

    • XhomeB says:

      Not even ten Avellones are capable of fixing the mess Bethesda have a nasty habit of making. The problems with their games run deeper than the (utterly mediocre and childish) writing.

      • Solidstate89 says:

        There are days where I think to myself, maybe I’m just too cynical. I’m too jaded these days and let too many things suck the joy out of my life.

        Then I come to RPS to read comments like this and realize; nah, I’m just fine.

        • jellydonut says:

          So thinking Bethesda’s Fallout games are awful and an insult to the name means you’re jaded and unable to have fun? What if the games just suck?

          • ffordesoon says:

            “So thinking Bethesda’s Fallout games are awful and an insult to the name means you’re jaded and unable to have fun?”

            No, thinking that means you have an opinion. Saying it under every single article in the most vehement possible terms for seven years about the one Bethesda-developed Fallout game (which had to be a soft reboot as well if it was ever going to be viable in a console-driven market fundamentally hostile to cRPGs) released to the public? Even after a ton of games which further the legacy of Fallout and the Golden Age of cRPGs it represents have released and proven the continued financial and critical viability of the traditional cRPG? I don’t know if that means you’re unable to have fun, but I’d say that if you’re still taking the release of a sucessful videogame you didn’t like personally after seven years during which the winds of the market shifted your way, it doesn’t exactly suggest you’re a barrel of laughs to be around. Maybe you are, but being unable to let shit like that go is still pretty unbecoming.

            Using the impersonal “you” here, FYI.

          • Likethiss says:

            What am i then when New Vegas has been one of my most played and liked games since it’s release? Childish and naive?

      • suibhne says:

        While I wholly agree with the sentiment, we probably have to recognize that recent Bethesda games seem to work well (enough) for plenty of people. Whether or not Bethesda’s game design is salvageable, it doesn’t seem like the studio’s general design priorities align even remotely with Avellone’s. The only way Avellone -> Bethesda would be exciting, rather than dreadful, is if they gave him almost total creative control over a project.

        • Manco says:

          Considering the weirdness in Morrowind, and the careful reintroduction of many outlandish ideas in Skyrim (after the generic blandness that was Oblivion), that design might not be that extremely different.
          If Beth put in an effort to actually portray a lot of the lore their -former- designers (mainly Kirkbride and Kuhlmann, and I think the latter’s actually one of the high ups now), their games ‘d be a lot better.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Hm, CRPG writing isn’t ever that great, it says a lot that Chris is really the only writer whose work I follow. The writing in Skyrim if you consider it with all of its expansions, isn’t that bad really but I don’t think people play those games for the writing in the same way that they play Torment or PoE for the writing. TES has always been more about feeling part of a world than about feeling part of a narrative. The goal for them has to be not telling the perfect story but allowing the player to tell their own perfect story – the reason the plot of the central quest in TES games tends to fall flat is that it’s always in conflict with the open world style of play. Side quests and exploration in TES games are almost universally more interesting than the main quest.

      • montorsi says:

        bwuahahahaha, said in a non-satirical tone, no less. You know, some of us HAVE played a few of Obsidian’s games. They make Fallout look like a technical masterpiece in comparison.

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      gritz says:

      Can you imagine if Bethesda got Kirkbride back (and sane), and put him in collaboration with Avellone? Holy shit.

      Crossing my fingers that TW3 was the shot across Bethesda’s bow that will get them to finally get their shit together.

      • suibhne says:

        Re. TW3, that’s an unlikely influence on Bethesda’s near-term work, given that FO4 must already be nearly complete if it’s to release this fall.

      • Manco says:

        That would make for a lot of gibberish.

        Wonderfully written (if you like allegoric ramblings) and completely insane gibberish, which we’d then spend 10 years trying to decipher. And then we’ll pretend every in-game bug or design shortcut has a deeper meaning, for which we’ll twist and turn every word so we can claim it was alluded to from the very beginning.

    • Drivic says:

      To hell with you, you shouldn’t wish that even on your worst enemies.
      Clearly he’s either joining inXile or dedicating the rest of his days to lifting.

      (also, the most sincere “screw you” to the abundance of idiots wishing such a creative artist as Avellone in either Bethesda or Bioware, seriously)

  5. Luminolza says:

    Always good to go out on a high.

  6. Mindestens says:

    Just when the things were starting to get alright for cRPG fans with decent PoE, quite good Dragonfall and awful W2, this happens.

    STOP HURTING ME, WORLD!

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      gritz says:

      If by “starting to get good” you actually mean “the single best era of cRPG’s in the history of the medium”.

      • inf says:

        How old are you sir? Because a few decent, not even great, CRPGs over the course of 3 years does not an era make.

        • Continuity says:

          Considering its the best we’ve had for a decade I’m afraid it does.

          • TillEulenspiegel says:

            We’re good for story-focused CRPGs now, which is nice if that’s what you were looking for. But if you want more open stuff, well I guess there’s still Mount&Blade.

            And no, don’t say Skyrim. It’s a dull WoW-style theme park compared to Daggerfall’s crazy sprawling world. The longer we go without new games like Darklands, the more I worry that people will completely forget the amazing kinds of things you can actually do with RPGs.

          • vlonk says:

            That nobody iterated with a bigger budget on the marvel of Mount & Blade really is curious. Is it the best procedural world generator out there to RP with? It ain’t EU4 or Dwarf Fortress, but those do not have horse archery and jousting so they kinda do not count… damn.. got sad again that Elite Dangerous is not M&B in Space.

          • BarghestWhelp says:

            Just a reply to TillEulenspiegel: if you lament the lack of Darklands, I have good news for you. Serpent in the Staglands was just released, and it feels so Darklands I forget what I’m playing. I even dusted off the old Darklands CD and re-installed to test my memory. It’s a worthy successor, though the graphics might make your eyes bleed.

          • dethtoll says:

            “Considering its the best we’ve had for a decade I’m afraid it does.”

            It’s longer than that, good sir. The so-called “golden age of cRPGs” wasn’t very golden at all.

          • manny says:

            I like the aesthetics art style of Serpent of the Staglands, but it’s pretty obvious they aren’t actually artists who make a living by being artists as the graphics definitely look crap.

        • ResonanceCascade says:

          Pillars of Eternity, Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2, Dragonfall, Neo Scavenger, Lords of Xulima, Age of Decadence, M&M Legacy, UnderRail, Grimrock 2 — I mean, fuck. I could go on for a good while longer.

          Anyone who is complaining about the current state of RPGs either isn’t paying attention or simply cannot be pleased. I accept no other alternatives.

          • vlonk says:

            Please remove M&M X Legacy from your list of excellence. To many bugs. Sadly disqualified. Just fill in Grimrock 1. It is not that old.

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          gritz says:

          Old enough to know the difference between an abundance of quality and delusional nostalgia.

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            gritz says:

            And old enough to remember the same tired grognard nonsense during the IE/DaggerFallout era about how those games couldn’t possibly compare to the glory days of Gold Boxes, Avatars and Werdnas.

          • jrodman says:

            Well, they don’t.

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            gritz says:

            I don’t see why anyone would read a blog about a hobby they feel had peaked a quarter century ago.

          • jrodman says:

            Perhaps a surprise: that was not implied.

  7. Bull0 says:

    Surely a bit late for him to get involved with Fallout 4, no? Joining inXile seems more likely to me.

  8. RARARA says:

    It’s because RPS put Invisible Inc up as GOTM over PoE, isn’t it?

  9. Ejia says:

    He’s doing it to join Bethesda to help on Fallout…

    …Brotherhood of Steel 2.

  10. Zeno says:

    It’s because he was upset about playing Arcanum.

  11. Phantom_Renegade says:

    Two things he could do to make me happy (Apart from making more RPG’s, duh)
    1. EA fires Casey Hudson and puts Avellone in charge of Bioware and he salvages what’s left of a once great company.
    2. Avellone goes to work at CDProjekt and turns Cyberpunk into the best game ever.

    A third option would be he starts a new gaming company and now there are three companies making quality RPG’s.

    • jellydonut says:

      Avellone helming Mass Effect would be amazing.

    • Henson says:

      Casey Hudson left Bioware almost a year ago.

      • Stellar Duck says:

        That’s not gone enough. I need them to fire him. Out of a cannon. Into the sun.

    • suibhne says:

      Avellone on Cyberpunk would be intriguing…but then again, TW3 proves that CDPR already has some of the best writing and RPG mission design the industry has seen in many years, regardless of a lack of superstars like Avellone.

  12. RProxyOnly says:

    Excellent. Now if we can get rid of Josh Sawyer, Obsidian may once again become a development house instead of the Chris and Josh egotrip show.

    Hey Josh.. your brainchild, that you grabbed by the teeth and wouldn’t let go even though everyone was telling you to… No XP for combat suck as bad as your design decisions.

    • ffordesoon says:

      Don’t mind me. You keep right on grinding that tangentially related axe, buddy.

    • Supahewok says:

      Seeing as how Avellone was a co-founder of Obsidian (and incredibly influential in the making of their first game, KOTOR 2) and Sawyer has been there since Neverwinter Nights 2 (their second released game), when exactly was Obsidian a “development house” by your standards? The few seconds after Urquhart signed on the company charter, but before Avellone signed? A pity, as with their current levels of prosperity I don’t think they’ll be sinking to your standards any time soon.

    • Rocketpilot says:

      You seem fun.

  13. instantcomment says:

    IIRC his [parent’s] money was a critical part of Obsidian’s start-up capital and he owned a controlling partnership. POE must have finally put enough cash on hand for the other stakeholders to buy him out.

  14. skyturnedred says:

    Fuck Fallout, get him on that Van Buren asap!

    • Monggerel says:

      Uh, Van Buren was the original Fallout 3 project before Black Isle closed down. Or was that the joke? I’m slow.

  15. RogerioFM says:

    Well, he’s a God, and God’s cant be contained, so that’s expected. I would wish best luck for him, but if there is anyone in this world that does not need luck, it’s Chris Avellone.

  16. colw00t says:

    InXile have been working on their Project Van Buren, which is TOTALLY NOT THE ORIGINAL IDEA FOR FALLOUT 3 WHY ARE YOU ASKING BETHESDA

    No, no relationship to the canceled Fallout 3 at all.

  17. Continuity says:

    :o

  18. ffordesoon says:

    Best of luck to one of my personal heroes.

    Also, New Vegas is best Fallout, for all its flaws, and Fallout 2 is more interesting than F1, if not better. If he’s headed to inXile, I’ll be super-curious to see if and when Van Buren becomes a thing. Now that inXile’s such a proven crowdfunding success that they can secure a million dollars for a fucking Bard’s Tale sequel in a day or two, I’d be interested to see how much money a genuine spiritual successor to Fallout could rake in.

    Of course, I’d almost be more curious to see what he could do on Meantime…

    • Sivart13 says:

      I share many of your opinions.

      I’m not sure what the point of a Van Buren game is, I thought tons of those ideas went into F:NV.

    • eggy toast says:

      I already Kickstarted inEx the money for a Fallout successor with Avelone involved, if they try to go back to the well for Van Buren I will be righteously furious, and almost certainly pirate their games out of spite.

      • Werthead says:

        How about if VB was simply retooled as WASTELAND 3? There is absolutely no need for a third post-apocalyptic RPG franchise from the same group of people (unless they legitimately have a really good idea for it), so that would appear to be a more logical idea.

      • ffordesoon says:

        No, you paid for a Wasteland successor. If you did so thinking it was a Fallout successor, as many did, you have my sympathies, but in spite of the many additions to the Wasteland formula Wasteland 2 borrowed from Fallout, it is first and foremost a Wasteland game, and was pitched as such. It is party-based with no singular hero, heavier on combat as a solution to problems, the humor is wackier and often based in 80’s culture, the world is full of vegetation, the party can be used as a Swiss Army knife, and so on. These are traits of Wasteland as a franchise, not Fallout.

        A true spiritual successor to Fallout would be very different indeed, both in tone and mechanics. And as it would be a spiritual successor, they would need to figure out a take on post-apocalptic roleplaying which would successfully differentiate the game from both Fallout and Wasteland. Given that Fallout is basically the Mad Max of videogames in terms of its influence, I’d be interested to see a different take.

        That said, I wonder how many people would feel as you do. My experience as a mod on the Wasteland 2 forums leads me to believe a not-insignificant number of people would feel as you do. That might change once Torment and Bard’s Tale are out the door, though probably not for you.

    • dethtoll says:

      I’d agree on more interesting but not better. Fallout 2 had a lot of flaws, not least the fact that it just tried to do too much.

    • melancholicthug says:

      I was agreeing so much i hurt my neck.

  19. Anthile says:

    This is the darkest timeline.

  20. InternetBatman says:

    I’m sad for Obsidian, because no one can make a character like he can. But, I think they have the narrative chops to make an enjoyable game.

    However, he might be leaving because he and JE Sawyer might have been butting heads a bit too often. JE Sawyer seems hard to get along with, and they had what sounded like a spat that became public with Durance and Grieving Mother. I’m kinda with JE Sawyer on that one. The original concept sounded incredible, but it also sounded incredibly out of scope.

    • ffordesoon says:

      Where and when did it become public? I’ve heard them mention it in interviews, but I never got the impresion that there was any animosity between them over it.

      Also, Sawyer seems more like a good project lead than “hard to get along with,” from my perspective. That is, he has a knack for figuring out interesting and scalable designs quickly, knows how and why and when to tell people no, believes strongly in core design principles he applies to every project, and is good at interpreting feedback. I’d buy that he’s exhausting to work for, which might be what you meant, but he seems like a nice enough guy on an interpersonal level to me.

      Which is not to say that there can’t be a conflict between Avellone and Sawyer that drove Avellone off the team. Some people just don’t get along with each other. Maybe they are like that; I don’t work at Obsidian, so I have no idea. But all this melodramatic speculation is probably more interesting than the reality. I’d bet money there wasn’t any one reason for his departure. Sometimes you just feel like a change, you know?

      • Werthead says:

        12 years is a long time to work anywhere, so it seems more likely that he’d want a change. It may also be related to their respective upcoming projects. Obsidian have the tank game and then what appears to be a lot of PoE-related stuff (expansions and sequel) which Sawyer will presumably lead on again. Obsidian have been hinting at a new Kickstarter for a new IP further down the line, but it might be something Avellone was again not in charge of or wasn’t interested in.

        OTOH, he seemed super-enthused working on WL2 and Torment (even if he’s not done a massive amount of work on either) and it sounds like Fargo wanted Avellone as a potential lead on whatever they do with Van Buren (whether that’s a whole new game or will effectively be Wasteland 3). It may simply be that Avellone wants a more leading role on a game project rather than being simply a writer or only in charge of the inevitable expansion that everyone things is better than the base game (cough Mask of the Betrayer and arguably Old World Blues).

        Also, I wouldn’t be surprised that wherever he ended up, he didn’t pop back to drop a character or questline into whatever Obsidian does next. Once a stretch goal, always a stretch goal.

        • Ryuuga says:

          Old world blues is hands down the best fallout content since fallout 2. Pitch-perfect. Hadn’t the faintest that Avellone was involved, big props to him.

        • malkav11 says:

          Don’t forget that Obsidian secured the Pathfinder license. Right now the only announced project related to that is a computer version of the cooperative card game, but it’s a safe bet that they will be making CRPGs with it as well.

  21. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    I also find the idea of Bethesda bringing Avellone on board for Fallout 4 appealing, partly because I want some new (old) blood injected into the Bethesda RPG formula.

    That would be FANTASTIC, but if FO4 is an autumn release, it would be a bit late at this point to put a new writer on the team, genius or no.

  22. Rocketpilot says:

    Avellone’s a founder of Obsidian, if not CEO then one of the 3 most senior guys in the company. I can’t see how if he wanted to lead a project that he wouldn’t be able to. Maybe the problem was that he’s too senior to be as hands-on as he’d have liked to be.

  23. Philopoemen says:

    Heading to Disney to head the new Star Wars gaming division, starting with KOTOR3.

    I can dream.

  24. JamesTheNumberless says:

    “So Chris, about the next game we’re working on. You see, there’s this Elf and..”

    “That’s it, I quit!”

  25. Geebs says:

    He didn’t actually mean to leave, there was a bug in his pathfinding AI. Sources within Obsidian said that he clipped through a wall before flying off into the sunset, and that Avellone was “our most polished release yet”.