From Torment to Eternity: Chris Avellone on RPGs
November 30, 2012 Page 2 of 4
For Project Eternity, you've gone with a more traditional fantasy setting than in Torment. Was that always your intention?
CA: The way we approached it was we got Josh Sawyer, who was the project lead on Fallout: New Vegas, and we got Tim Cain, me, Feargus [Urquhart] and our other project director Adam Brennecke in a room, and we listed out all the points that we enjoyed about Infinity Engine, and notably dungeon delving, and a lot of the discussion came back to a lot of the strengths that the Forgotten Realms setting had. What they would do is they would create a lot of interesting spaces and sort of build cultures around these cool dungeons, and it was resonating with just about everybody, that they wanted a more traditional fantasy setting.
I do think that the ways that we're approaching the fantasy setting... It's not [entirely] "traditional fantasy." You'll see some similar races, but the takes on the races are going to be a bit different than people expect, so I think that'll be enough to set it apart.
When you first announced the Kickstarter, you didn't really give any details. Was that a deliberate strategy, or where you actually making it up as you went along?
CA: To be honest, we had been working on elements of the title only a short time before the Kickstarter started, so there weren't actually that many details to reveal. We did have design time over the course of the Kickstarter to discuss those design ideas, we had design meetings, proposed the classes, discussed the system stuff.
There wasn't a huge extensive design doc before we started. There were just some basic principles for the kind of game we wanted to make, and then it just kind of developed over the course of the Kickstarter.
Some people have criticised it for not having much detail, initially.
CA: That's fair. I think for a lot of Kickstarter projects, it's in their best interests to showcase gameplay and give a lot of details. It's hard to allocate the resources to get something like that up and running, but it's definitely worthwhile.
We didn't have this concern, but I think sometimes if you reveal too many details that can actually potentially hurt your presentation. I've seen some Kickstarters come out of the gate with all the wrong information, and then they don't seem willing to iterate on it. If it's not really selling with the public, then probably the idea either isn't very good or needs to be reexamined. But the cool thing about Kickstarter is that you can see within 30 days whether people are going to like your project or not. Which is much better than finding out at the end whether they like it or not.
What about the criticism that most of the bigger Kickstarters are based on nostalgia, with nothing particularly fresh or new?
CA: I think a lot of the drive does come from recognizing what games those particular [developers] created, that people remember those and respond strongly to them. I don't think, however, that that means that the end result will be solely a nostalgia-focused game. I'm sure there will be new elements about each one. I know Wasteland 2 definitely will, and Eternity, definitely.
I don't know about Double Fine -- I just want another Tim Schafer game, so I don't really care! But yeah, I think sometimes that if you don't have a bigger story around your Kickstarter, or if you don't have a really good hook for your concept, or if you don't have some sort of cult of personality to help sell the title, it can be really difficult to get a brand new idea noticed. And I can't argue with that.
So the nostalgia is more the way to sell it in the first place, and then you can build on that?
CA: With Eternity, it's going to incorporate a good chunk of those Infinity Engine elements, that's really important to us. All the companion stuff, and the narrative depth that we had in Torment. And then the dungeon stuff, that's all really important to us.
But at the same time, because we're developing a brand new world, and -- for example -- the magic system is a lot different in that world, that's going to put a refreshing take on it. The different cultures, and how they treat people with certain souls -- whether they're pure souls or fractured souls -- I think there's a whole lot of fun questions you can raise just by changing that fundamental magic principle of the world. So we're really excited about that.
I found it interesting how your stretch goals were around adding discrete things, like new characters and new locations. Is that really how the money will get allocated?
CA: Yeah. One advantage we had was that we knew, back from Black Isle, how many people it takes to make discrete content. Things like, "How much does a companion cost to make? How long does it take to build a level? How many artists are needed? How many designers are needed?" We know all the logistics for that stuff, so that's why it might have seemed so precise -- it's just because we have all the information to draw from, so that made things much easier.
Any time you make a game, obviously some people are going to like it more than others. How do you balance the concerns of all of your funders?
CA: By having an open dialogue early and throughout the process. I think people can get upset when something doesn't meet their expectations, but if you're constantly providing new information that allows them to see [where the game is at], I think that backers are pretty understanding of all the reasons that went into decisions.
And that's not normally a conversation you can ever have with players, with the traditional publisher model. I mean, for example, there's been certain design elements that other Kickstarters have had, that they've announced in their Kickstarter, where the players have just lashed back and said, "No, we don't want those things". As far as I'm concerned, that ends up being great, because you don't have to waste any resources implementing things that the player never wanted in the first place.
On the flipside, if you're communicating so much with your players, how do you stop them from being overexposed to the game? How do you avoid giving out spoilers that could diminish their experience when they play the final release?
CA: I think there's a lot of logistics that can provide information without giving spoilers. Like when Wasteland 2 is providing screenshots, showing how a game level is developed or giving an example of how the morality system would work. That's not a huge part of the game -- the actual gameplay experience. Actually showcasing how the game is made and the decisions that are going into that provides a lot of information, but it's not really spoiling anything. That's my take on it.
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