Project Eternity: An Extended Interview With Chris Avellone @ Rezzed
Geraldo Nascimento spoke at length with Chris Avellone of Obsidian Entertainment.
It's 1999. I've played Planescape: Torment, an eye opening D&D dungeon crawling experience. I can't possibly imagine a better game. But then a scarred blue man set against an orange background calls for my attention. As I move closer to this cardboard box, I notice the familiar Black Isle logo. My excitement grows.
It's some hours after this. Having convinced my older and only brother to buy this game for me, I'm installing it. The manual describes that my experience will be a bit different from other video games. See, the main character in this game is immortal.
I've woken up at a morgue, the Mortuary. A flying, talking skull introduces me to this place. I can't remember who I am. As I explore this place, I notice a Dustman, a cloak wearing human with a passion for rigor mortis. And then I am given an option I never had in any other game I had played before. I can attempt to snap this Dustman's neck instead of attacking him head on.
I attempt it. I succeed. He's dead, and no battle rolls were cast.
I immediately wheel in my chair and describe this encounter to my brother, beaming at the possibility of affecting the game world strictly via the dialogue box, somehow amazed that such reactivity was possible in a video game.
Fast forward to 2013. I am sitting next to Chris Avellone, Lead Designer for Planescape: Torment and responsible for my experience 14 years ago.
[Geraldo] Some 14 years ago I'm reading this text, I'm playing this strange grey character, and he's woken up in the mortuary and he has a chatty chatterbox and all that, and I'm just exploring, and I get the option to snap this guy's neck, attempt to, and it works! And I never played a game that allowed me such a thing. Then skip forward 14 years, and I'm interviewing one of the person's responsible for that, maybe, I don't know who wrote that line, possibly you, that's pretty great.
[Chris] I did in fact write that line. I believe it does a Dexterity check. To see if you do it fast enough.
[Geraldo] Yeah, so it's an honour to meet you and to have this chance to do this.
10 years of Obsidian Entertainment, I noticed the anniversary. So what were your expectations when you founded it, what were you guys looking for?
[Chris] Our expectations were to carry on the type of roleplaying games that were done at Black Isle and sort of break away from the larger studio that was having difficulties at that time. I think Obsidian did a good job with that in terms of being able to do a wide range of RPGs including doing Dungeons & Dragons' games which we'd been doing at Black Isle at any event.
I think, however, with Eternity and Kickstarter, that's allowed us to return to our absolutely purest roots so I feel that things have come full circle in an absolutely wonderful way.
[Geraldo] For the future, it's Eternity, what do you see beyond Eternity?
[Chris] We'd like to do more games in the Eternity universe. We have the expansion plan, we'd also like to be able to do sequels to the franchise if the initial one sells well enough.
Also we'd like to branch the Eternity world to books and comics and other forms of media as well. That's worked really well for BioWare and a lot of other companies including inXile.
We'd like to, we still talk to publishers, we still do games for publishers, we wouldn't want to necessarily be exclusive to Kickstarter but if we can make our own funding and finance ourselves that's kinda the route we'd like to go down.
[Geraldo] You already touched on this on some of the sessions but how have been the experiences contributing to three different games, more or less at the same time, so Wasteland 2, Torment: Tides of Numenera and Project Eternity?
[Chris] The way it was structured was Wasteland 2 came first and I actually finished the design work for that late last year, so I was able to roll on to Eternity full time for that. And then with Torment the workload is much lighter than it is on either Eternity or Wasteland 2, and I've been able to do that at night and during weekends on my off time.
[Geraldo] You got a lot of reading to do, right?
[Chris] It is a lot of reading at the outset but that's important for things like understanding the themes, understanding the world, making sure you understand all the combat and conflict mechanics that are in the game then make sure the characters and the companion I've been writing actually kind of respond to all of that stuff. I had a lot of ideas for companions in that universe but until I understand everything about the areas, the overall quest lines, the subquest lines… I want the companion to be able to feed into that and make all of those things stronger.
[Geraldo] Do you think Torment fans will be very happy?
[Chris] I think they'll be very happy and I think that they also have the Numenera team, aside from Monte Cook, who, you know, worked a lot on Planescape, Colin who worked a lot on PlaneScape and the computer game, and then Kevin Saunders whose Project Lead. Kevin headed up Mask of the Betrayer, first expansion to NeverWinter Nights 2, and that game felt, many people commented 'this feels like a more modern adaptation of Torment', really strong characterization, really strong dialogues in an unusual setting of the Forgotten Realms so a place where they've never been in that sector of the world and thank God for that. I think it's in good hands and they're gonna be happy.
[Geraldo] So, those companions, like in Mask of the Betrayer, Gann-of-Dreams, will we be seeing something like that?
[Chris] You'll be seeing the same level of depth and interactivity. I felt that those characters had the same range of interactions as the ones in Torment. And I think that's a good bar to shoot for and I think that Colin and Kevin and I understand that.
[Geraldo] That's great! What's it like to work with such a large pool of writing talent cause you got all the material you read for Torment and the rest of the writers of Wasteland 2?
[Chris] It's been really interesting, I read through all the dialogues in Wasteland 2 and I think there's gonna be a lot of really cool quests and really cool moral choices in that game. And also on WL2 I had the opportunity to work with a bunch of new writers that I hadn't worked with before, there's usually a whole bunch of narrative designers of a pool that I'm used to from Obsidian, but being able to see the additional talent that inXile brought to this stage, working with those guys was really interesting because they brought fresh perspectives to this stuff, I think overall to improve the quality of the narrative design and also the quality of the writing and some of those guys are moving to Torment as well so that's a good thing.
Also with Torment, the writing bar, the writing circle is even larger than it's ever been in any game I've worked on and then having Pat Rothfuss from a novel background on it, that's fantastic, and he seems like a really brilliant, clever guy. And then there's Brian Mitsoda from Dead State, and who made the Vampire (Bloodlines) game that had amazing NPCs and then Mur Lafferty, Tony Evans, George Ziets who I've worked with a number of times, he's great, he edited up all the writing and was the creative lead for Mask of the Betrayer, he did a great job. I'm just really looking forward to it, I think it's going to go really, really well. *chuckle*