An Interview With Chris Avellone on Project Eternity: A Word on Romance

Interview with Project Eternity's Chris Avellone

It's been two weeks since the success of Obsidian Entertainment's success with funding Project Eternity on Kickstarter. Garnering over $4 million in funding, the party-based, isometric RPG is set for release sometime in early 2014 for the PC, Mac, and Linux platforms. 

Since the success of the Kickstarter, I finally had a chance to sit down with Chris Avellone to talk about Project Eternity. Chris Avellone is one of the game's lead designers and the narrative lead of titles such as Fallout: New Vegas and Alpha Protocol.


I've finally compiled the questions I wanted to ask you. Apologies for the lateness!  

Do not ever apologize to me, Ian. Instead, you must offer tribute of blood and intestines to the time gods. 

When you guys were putting together the Kickstarter pitch, did you ever think it would be as successful as it is?  

No way. At least not for me… I am a born-again pessimist since age 13. Rob Nesler, our art director and wearer of fine hats and drinker of fine booze (which you can observe in our livestream video here, however, was convinced we’d leave flames in the dirt from our screaming tire tracks. Still, because he’s apparently our very masculine (?) version of Cassandra, we didn’t heed his prophecies until the day of judgment. The players and backers knew better than us as well, so maybe we have 70,000 Cassandras.

But streuth (Australian-archaic for “truth,” which I promised I’d never use in conversation but said nothing about writing), it’s been a challenge. Bloody oath,* has it. Let me elaborate in this next question.

* I was also asked never to say this in conversation. I believe it’s effectively “hell yes?” An Australian can correct me if they’re reading this.

How are you guys coping with the $4M+ budget and the heightened media attention?  

The budget means more hiring than we expected at first – no surprise considering it’s roughly 4x the funding goal and the stretch goal content additions. The good news is we already have a capable crew to draw from, not to mention volunteers who popped out of the woodwork. It doesn’t affect time frame of the project, and considering we have the logistic info from the Black Isle Infinity Engine games (resources, time frame per asset, etc. – this is important because of one of the questions & answers below), and the fact that a lot of us have done this type of game before, that helps nail down a lot of the X factors involved with the project.

The press aspects are minimal compared to the fan and player-based feedback, and while corresponding with the backers takes time, it’s time well spent for a lot of reasons – dealing with the fans and processing their feedback ends up being more energizing and it saves a lot of time discussing and setting/clarifying expectations and features people genuinely care about vs. crap they don’t, so we don’t need to waste any resources doing it. I prefer the fan interaction, personally, as it beats working in silence for months and rolling the dice at the end to see if the game resonates with the public.

You've stated in the past that you don't like romances in games—at least to the extent that they've been done in games thus far. Were you to implement a romance subplot in Project Eternity, what would it involve?

Not a big fan of romances. I did four in Alpha Protocol because Chris Parker, our project director, demanded it because he thinks romance apparently is easy, or MAYBE it’s because he wanted to be an asshole and give me tons of them to do because I LOVE them so much (although to be honest, I think he felt it was more in keeping with the spy genre to have so many romances, even if I did ask to downscope them). At least I got to do the “hatemance” version of most of them, which makes it a little more palatable.

Also, the only reason the romance bits in Mask of the Betrayer worked was because George Ziets helped me with them since he was able to describe what love is to me and explain how it works (I almost asked for a PowerPoint presentation). It seems like a messy, complicated process, not unlike a waterbirth. Don’t even get me started on the kissing aspects, which is revolting because people EAT with their mouths. Bleh.

So if I were to implement a romance subplot in Eternity – I wouldn’t. I’d examine interpersonal relationships from another angle and I wouldn’t confine it to love and romance. Maybe I’d explore it after a “loving” relationship crashed and burned, and one or both was killed in the aftermath enough for them to see if it had really been worth it spending the last few years of their physical existence chained to each other in a dance of human misery and/or a plateau of soul-killing compromise. Or maybe I’d explore a veteran’s love affair with his craft of murder and allowing souls to be freed to travel beyond their bleeding shell, or a Cipher’s obsession with plucking the emotions of deep-rooted souls to try and see what makes people attracted to each other beyond their baser instincts and discovers love… specifically, his love of manipulating others. You could build an entire dungeon and quest where he devotes himself to replicating facsimiles of love, reducer a Higher Love to a baser thing and using NPCs he encounters as puppets for his experimentations, turning something supposedly beautiful into something filthy, mechanical, but surrounded by blank-eyed soul-twisted drones echoing all the hollow Disney-like platitudes and fairy tale existence where everyone lives happily ever after.

Game writing and dialogue has typically been peripheral to the combat in games. In Planescape Torment, you had to wade through countless enemies regardless of your stats or the decisions you made. Are there any plans to incorporate dialogue options into the gameplay so the two aren't necessarily separate from each other? 

 I’d argue dialogue and dialogue exploration was the principal mechanic in Torment (not something I’m proud of, wish I’d pushed for more dungeons and other mechanics). Now, the dialogue is more along the lines of Fallout 2/BG2 density, and it’ll have the same feel, which is appropriate for an Infinity Engine game. We do plan to have dialogues that effect the density and agendas of battles (and allowing you to avoid a chunk of them at an undetermined % of frequency).