The RPG Scrollbars: Chris Avellone Writes Everything

This week, Larian announced that Chris “Chris Avellone” Avellone would be joining the Divinity: Original Sin 2 writers to help craft what some are already calling “Words”. Commenting, Avellone demonstrated his willingness and capability of writing them by writing others, which read as follows: “This is the first time I think the community is responsible for bringing two developers together who might not have crossed paths… and especially for such a great project.” There was also a stickman involved.

But of course, this is only one of the many projects that Avellone has signed on for in the next year or so. What more of his magic awaits us in coming months?

The Walking Dead: Series 3

It’s been six years since we last saw Clementine, and things haven’t been easy for the future queen of Zombieland. Avellone’s contribution is dialogue for brand new new party member Terrence, a wise advisor figure whose primary role is to dismantle the classic, and let’s be honest, simplistic humans vs. zombie dichotomy with many piercing questions about the nature of life, morality in an immoral universe, and the delicious nature of human flesh, because Terrence is a zombie.

With only Clem able to understand his gutteral cries, either due to her natural innocence or just the inevitable result of a decade of untreated PTSD, Terrence makes for Avellone’s most challenging mentor character to write and give personality to. “Kreia at least could talk,” he admits. “Even if some players sometimes wanted her to lose her voicebox instead of just her hand.” Nevertheless, he eagerly looks forward to the challenge, and answering the question that has hung over every piece of zombie apocalypse fiction since the dawn of the genre – just who are the real monsters?

“Spoiler, it’s the zombies. Seriously. They’re fucking zombies.”

Rise Of The Tomb Raider

Amongst his many other talents, Avellone excels at going beyond story and gameplay segregation to make common RPG tropes into fascinating platforms for new narrative – in KOTOR 2 and Torment for instance, why people will drop everything in order to follow the main character to Hell and back. For Rise of the Tomb Raider, he finally turns his attention to a new genre. In this upcoming sequel, Lara will discover the answer to a question that’s been bothering her since the first time she pulled on her short-shorts – if she’s entering tombs that no human has dared venture into for centuries, where in the nine hells do all the shotguns and medikits come from? “I finally have the answer for you,” says Avellone, tapping his lips conspiratorially. “One word. Magic Elves.”

Dark Souls 3

“Nobody else could handle the romance subplots in a way that is fitting to my dark, oppressive world,” says creator Hidetaka Miyazaki. “With the possible exceptions of Joss Whedon and the Roman Emperor Caligula. Sadly, neither were available.”

Avellone has already started work on the first of the game’s romances, between the initially unwilling main character, and a giant sentient pus spider whose limbs are made of rusted machetes. “For once, I’m dropping the ‘no hugs’ policy,” declared Avellone. “Whether you like it or not.” Other planned romance options include an Elder Dragon that just wants to spoon, and a sentient swarm of hepatitis bees.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

While the primary storyline has already been written by the in-house writers, Avellone is contributing the script for Adam Jensen’s new mercenary sidekick Mute – the culmination of Black Isle and Obsidian’s interest in silent characters like Sis and Christine. Mute communicates entirely in subtle yet meaningful eye gestures, like “Kill that guy” and “Kill THAT guy” and “What can change the nature of a man? With the exception of several million dollars worth of cyber-enhancements, I mean.”

The latter is a particularly impressive piece of facial motion capture.

“We think she’s a character who will really resonate with players, and, unlike that Metal Gear lady, force them to look her in the eyes occasionally,” adds project lead Jean-François Dugas. “Bloody good timing with this voice actors’ strike too.”

Doom

One of Avellone’s many recurring themes is disliking cliches like rats as a disposable enemy type. For the new Doom, he’s been reconsidering demonic hellspawn and why this proud race of tormenters and tormentees always gets such a raw deal.

“What I thought is, okay, you think Hell, you think fire and brimstone, and that’s where Bethesda was going. What I said is, look, these demons are intelligent, right? They’ve got weapons, they’ve got engineering, they’ve presumably learned language from the damned at some point, if only as a hobby. Are these guys really going to devote all their time to painting the walls with blood and fire? They see fire all the time! It’s like… everywhere! That’s just boring to me. I wanted to reinvent Hell. Make it real. Like Milton Keynes, only not that bad, obviously. Those roundabouts. Terrible level design.”

This radical thinking has seen a total overhaul of Doom’s planned level structure. As before, the player begins exploring the technological world of UAC starbases before finding a portal into the Stygian depths, only this time it’s to the nicer bits. It’ll also be possible to complete the entire game without firing a single shot, making your point through a complex diplomatic system that includes options for passive resistance, online petitions, or simply appealing to the better natures of the crimson horde.

“We’ve got bakeries, we’ve got playgrounds, we’ve got little baby demons painting flowers on the anal drills. It’s like, a little slice of Elysium in the middle of Tartarus – a Hell you can imagine these guys actually wanting to live in. That also opens up this whole new moral concept for the series. Is it, you know, your place to just storm through and blow them all up like some kind of fleshy racist, or could it be that the ultimate weapon is enlightenment forged in the warmth of human mercy?”

Avellone pauses. “Unless you count the new BFG. That kicks ass.”

Pillars Of Eternity: The White March Part 2

While Avellone has left Obsidian proper, he’s back for the second half of the DLC to write yet another unforgettable NPC. “I like party members who don’t quite fit in… who stand apart… maybe who aren’t the most popular…” explains Avellone, introducing Bunty, a new clown sidekick who spends most of his time giggling in an annoying high pitched voice and regularly poking the main character in the back with a fork.

“Bunty’s narrative role is to deconstruct the world in a subtle yet pointed way, made possible by the fact that as the most coveted RPG designer in the industry right now, I was finally able to get Josh to sign a contract that banned any changes to my work or my vision. Not that I took advantage. That would be very wrong and bad.”

Players can look forward to hiring Bunty in the first town, ready with hilarious zingers like “Ooh, a snowy expansion pack? THAT’S original!” and “Dyrwood? I’ll tell you what’s dire – our pathfinding routines!” It will not be possible to kill or dismiss Bunty.

Cities Skylines 2: New Reno

A somewhat surprising turnaround! The New Reno focused sequel challenges players to create the ultimate gambling town using a newly upgraded engine, with Avellone standing by as a creative consultant and thrower of bakery products where required.

As with the beloved original city, success here involves creating an intricate world of fascinating stories and factional interplay, unforgettable moments and cool moments. Despite this added complexity though, it’s set to be a more accessible game than the original Cities Skylines. How? Simple! Even if you spend far too much time only working on the neat stuff at the expense of the boring bits around it, nobody will either remember or care. “Nobody did the first time, anyway! Am I right? I’m so right.”

Snakes And Ladders

At long last, the classic game of luck and skill gets a full overhaul to make it the responsive and open-ended experience that it should have been from the start. Avellone plans to start his overhaul by converting the rules into the GURPS system. After learning the new rules, and approximately half an hour of tactical character creation, players will begin rolling dice to move (d6*(DX/FP)). High Perception is also recommended to spot the snakes in time, as well as Strength to help better endure the rising fatigue. Also, anyone who rolls a six gets another turn. Yay!

Then things really open up. Perks like Animal Control offer an easy way to ascend the snakes in violation of God’s own laws, crafting their own ladders, or discovering the deep environmental narrative that explains where these snakes came from, not to mention where their long-standing rivalry with the ladders came from, and ultimately fulfill the prophecy that one day a chosen Tiddlywink would reach the final square and usher in a new Golden Age for the board and/or entire gaming world.

OR SO THEY THINK. This of course just turns out to be a front for the rise of the serpent god Nheergash, so, y’know, swings and roundabouts. Wise players will have seen it coming, collecting the six amulets on the path to trigger the true ending in which rocks fall and everyone else dies, while they themselves ascend to the Prime Monopoly Plane and realise they were merely an amnesiac snake all along. The upcoming sequel, Snakes And Ladders II: The Hiss Lords, will then be free to focus entirely on exploring the inevitable survivor’s guilt in a surreal ophidian hellscape. “Imagine the Candyman conquering Candyland,” warns Avellone. “Mwah ha ha! Ha ha ha! Ahem.”

And until Kickstarter updates, that’s all for now. So many games. Only one Avellone.

Where will he appear next? Watch this space… possibly literally.

31 Comments

  1. TomxJ says:

    In my opinion his best work, has been and will always be, his contribution to the Poetic Edda and the 4th series of Ambridge Extra.

  2. Wowbagger says:

    This was very silly, well done.

  3. st33dd says:

    If anything were to inspire me to bludgeon someone to death with a step-ladder before feeding them to a python, it would be playing GURPS.

  4. Lakshmi says:

    Very amusing. Especially the ‘Chris Avellone is lovely’ tag.

    • Jekadu says:

      He is lovely! I met him at PAX East. Really great guy. Thought he would be taller, though.

      I might be idolizing him a bit. I should stop doing that.

      • Lakshmi says:

        No, I think he’s lovely too, that’s why I like the tag! I got to chat to him a couple of times and also idolise, so I’m with you.

  5. Zallgrin says:

    “Bloody good timing with this voice actors’ strike too.”

    Best part in the whole article.

  6. Henson says:

    I think you forgot his contributions to the upcoming Deadly Premonition 2.

  7. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    I for one am glad there is one person who truly knows who to write for video games. Before he existed, we were in a benighted land of dialogue free games. The horror.

  8. Le blaireau says:

    Rpgcodex.net strikes! But seriously what was the last good *game* he made? Alpha protocol wasn’t, kotor 2 wasn’t. Maybe if Van Buren had happened. I want to see an Avellone designed game, see if he’s still got the chops, rather than a bit of narrative reworking and small amounts of dialogue. My heart tells me he hasn’t.

    • Jekadu says:

      It’s easy to forget that he does design as well as writing. It’s a bit weird, because in my opinion he’s one of the best in the industry. You can usually tell when a level or segment of the game has been designed by him.

      • Le blaireau says:

        That’s exactly what leads to the frustration. You can tell when he’s designed something. I want to see what he can do from the ground up with the time, the right team and the budget. Rather than being a human stretch goal I would love to see a real auteur game even if it’s not an rpg.

    • Bugamn says:

      KotOR 2 wasn’t a good game? I’ll have to disagree with you. It might have suffered visible cuts, but it was still memorable.

      • Arkayjiya says:

        Yes KotOR 2 was the Empire of the series. It was extremely good extremely nuanced and sadly completely unfinished (even in the patched state it’s not quite completely satisfactory). The gameplay was greatly improved upon too, and all in all it’s a good (to great depending of the update) game that needed a conclusion episode. Well we kind of got one but…

    • Drowed says:

      Well, as I said in other topic about him: Mask of the Betrayer was great (even if it was an expansion). Old World Blues, in New Vegas, was outstanding. The two NPCs written by him in Pillars (Durance and Grieving Mother) were the best things of the game for me.

      • Le blaireau says:

        MotB was written by George Zeits, I believe Avellone was pretty much in the background.

      • Jekadu says:

        He did Dead Money, Old World Blues and Lonesome Road for New Vegas. Huge fan of all three, me.

  9. Syra says:

    I think you missed a sterling opportunity to just talk to the monsters in the Doom one…

    • Geebs says:

      You must have guts, coming out with a hoary old joke like that. Huge guts.

      • AyeBraine says:

        1.5 of average adult gastrointestinal quota is not by any means large. A simple prolapse could do this in minutes.

  10. Valkyr says:

    Thank you for that, Richard.

  11. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    I would play absolutely every one of those games.

  12. Shiloh says:

    It’s a shame, all these writing commitments meant he couldn’t do Strictly this year. “Mayhap next year, cully” is what I’m hearing.

  13. pizzapicante27 says:

    Very funny way to begin my day, thanks

  14. thekelvingreen says:

    Mr Biffo, is that you?

  15. icarussc says:

    Richard, hooray! When are *you* going to be in charge of writing dialogue for Doom, I’d like to know? I’m imagining Rowan Atkinson meets Jason Bourne …

  16. E_FD says:

    It took me until the hepatitis bees to realize these aren’t real.

    I’m kinda disappointed.

    • Josh W says:

      Who knows, there might actually be romance options in dark souls 3, if you follow their storyline exactly right..