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RPG balancing wisdom from an Obsidian veteran
RPG balancing wisdom from an Obsidian veteran
August 22, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

August 22, 2014 | By Christian Nutt
More: Console/PC, Design

"The most important high-level goal with any choice the player makes is that they feel good."
- Obsidian's Josh Sawyer

With Pillars of Eternity soon to release, Obsidian is throwing back the veil on its RPG development process.

In a new post on Kotaku, Obsidian game designer Josh Sawyer explains the company's approach to game design and balance. Pillars of Eternity is the developer's stab at regaining the glories of classic RPGs such as Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate.

"The reason we tweak or adjust anything isn't simply to achieve a mythic 'perfect balance' as a goal in its own right, but to make something balanced enough that the player's experience with that content is satisfying," Sawyer writes.

In the post, he offers a peek at the entire process the studio uses, from initial paper theory through implementation and testing, with an emphasis on how the designers tweak and tune the game's RPG mechanics. It's worth a read, so follow this link if you're interested.

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Maria Jayne
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I've always felt the best choice is one that leaves you wishing you could choose all the options. If you don't suffer some angst or regret over what you don't choose then that choice was never that meaningful to begin with.

For example if you're looking at two or more rewards or two or more responses to a dilemma and you see the merit in all of them, then that is a good choice. If there is a clear path that leaves you in no doubt about the decision then you never really made that choice, the game made it for you before it was presented to you.

An example of that would be the Paragon/Renegade system in Mass Effect. You choose to be a Paragon or a Renegade at the beginning, after that you're just robotically repeating the action to progress. You would rarely ever swap that choice once you're on the path, because it impacts your progress without benefiting you.

John McMahon
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I see your point. But for me, in Mass Effect I routinely chose switched my in-game choices to this I thought the character I had envisioned would do. She wasn't simply Paragon, but a solider and a human being. My Shepard wasn't blindly pro-human, but my other Shepard was.

So I just kept to the core values those characters had and allowed those early decisions I made dictate the choice for me.

Sometimes, but pro-Human Shepard did surprisingly Paragon-actions and true for the other.

But it's true, once the play makes a choice early on on the character they are playing, then for those players it is merely following in those footsteps.

But for other players who usually don't roleplay anyone but themselves, they will look at the perceived reward(s) and judge what would benefit them most.

Adam Bishop
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I thought Mass Effect 1 did a better job of handling that situation because Charm and Intimidate were skills you had to invest in. If you wanted your character to be more Charming, they had to be less good at something else (like one of their biotic skills), so there was always a trade-off involved. Do you want to increase your story options at the expense of some combat ability? Or maybe you think you need more armor, but you'll have to give up some dialogue options to get it. That's a far more interesting approach to me.