From Torment to Eternity: Chris Avellone on RPGs
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# From Torment to Eternity: Chris Avellone on RPGs

November 30, 2012 Page 3 of 4

Are you planning to do more with Project Eternity, once this game comes out?

CA: Oh, yeah.

Assuming it's not a flop?

CA: Actually, it doesn't matter if it's a flop, although I don't believe that it will be. But the nice thing about Kickstarter is that people have already paid for the title. So anything else that happens after that is great, but we know what our budget is, and practically speaking, that's all we're really focused on: "We're going to make a game for this amount of money."

We already have the backer support. They've already paid for it. That's our end destination. If it ends up getting released and selling a lot of copies, great. If it sells enough where we can support future installments, we'll absolutely do that. If it doesn't make much of a profit, and we did want to do another installment, we'd probably take it back to Kickstarter.

Do you think that you be more likely to experiment in a sequel with changing things up from the old-school Infinity Engine setup?

CA: We'd probably keep the same isometric view and party controls, because that's what we miss. But we still think there's other stuff that we can add to that. [There are] mechanics -- like crafting systems -- that we could add, and new ways of using the classes and spells. I think there's still room to evolve all of that. But we would keep the Infinity Engine look and feel and things like that. Because that's what made those games what they were.

Why is it that this style of game became non-viable, in a commercial sense? Why wouldn't publishers support this type of project?

CA: I don't know if I have a good answer for that. I do know that there's one technical limitation: when you're developing an RPG for the consoles -- which most publishers want because it generates the most revenue -- it's often very difficult to control a party of characters, with either the PlayStation controller or the Xbox controller. So that immediately causes you to change the dynamic of how you design the RPG. You can have two party members with you [the player], but you've got to recognize that that consumes a lot of memory right then and there. And you also have to set their AI states -- you're not really controlling them.

A lot of those [Infinity Engine] titles were PC-only, and that's not really an appealing pitch to any publisher. They don't really want a PC-only title, because that's not going to maximize their revenue.

It seems like the market was in a mindset where "We can only do blockbusters." Perhaps now it's fragmenting a bit, and there are more niches available?

CA: I think so. I do know that usually when we're discussing budgets for games, they can range anywhere from $20 to$30 million for development, but that doesn't account for all the marketing budget or any of the auxiliary resources like quality assurance or production support or localization, or even paying for sound effects and audio and things like that. The budgets for [triple-A] games are just insane, but they generate a lot of revenue.

Some of them do. There are plenty of flops as well. It does seem that some of the larger publishers are experimenting with smaller-scale games. LucasArts was dabbling in that area, for example, and Warner Bros. published Bastion.

CA: It's good to see that level of support. It seems like with smaller projects, and/or indie projects, that's the best time for people to experiment with new innovative mechanics that might not [be viable] on a larger, more expensive scale. And seeing them proved out in one of those smaller titles I think is healthy for the industry. You need that experimental test bed to showcase why these ideas are cool.

I've heard you talk a lot about the narrative design work that Obsidian does, which is a topic that I find isn't discussed all that widely in the industry.

CA: We've had to make a lot of mistakes in that process over the last few years. A lot of [what I've said] is just stuff that shook out as a result of that.

What kinds of mistakes have you made?

CA: There's been quite a few. Characters have delivered too much exposition, rather than just showing it in the environment. That seems like a really obvious thing, but I still catch myself doing it. Or designing companions that -- while they may be interesting -- don't lend themselves to any other game mechanic and therefore become useless and are never used.

What about in terms of the differences between narrative in film or books, versus narrative in games? It seems like there's some key differences that a lot of games don't really seem to pick up on.

CA: I think that people [in the industry] are appreciating scriptwriting talents more, especially as games become more voice-acted and cinematic. I [think that for] anyone pursuing narrative design, scriptwriting is the best way to hone your craft, because it's a lot of what you're going to be doing. It teaches you all the brevity; using the environment to communicate a situation, as opposed to just the flat-line vomit of text, like Torment had. Which we had to do at the time, but that's more of a novelistic approach to writing, which isn't necessarily the best fit for games.

Also I think comic book writing lends itself to training you to write dialogue for games, just because you have to think so visually about what's happening in the environment. I really enjoy writing comics. For Star Wars [Knights of the Old Republic II], for example, I found myself thinking about the process a lot differently. About how the shot was framed, what was being shown, and how that reinforced what the characters were saying and [their interactions].

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