How do you strike a balance between being old-school enough to please the old guard and modern enough to not drive people away?
By Tim Colwill on March 28, 2014 at 5:21 pm
Obisidian’s Pillars of Eternity, the artist formerly known as Project Eternity, is being eagerly anticipated by hundreds of thousands of RPG lovers around the world. But how many of those backers only latched onto the project because it seemed like an old-school RPG lovers dream come true?
We caught up with Josh Sawyer, project lead on Pillars of Eternity, in a brief moment of calm at this year’s GDC. He explained that Obsidian were undertaking a careful balancing act when it came to just how much weight to give the opinions of old-school RPG grognards.
“There are certain aspects of that that we think are okay,” said Sawyer. “For example we don’t have quest markers in Pillars of Eternity. At all. In our journals we try to be very descriptive and clear in our updates so that you can read them and figure out where you need to go but we don’t use quest markers. And we’re okay with that, because it’s a different style of exploring and feeling and figuring things out on your own.”
Sawyer warned however that other elements, what he described as “GM-sucker-punch kind of stuff”, were being carefully filtered by the team because “the vast majority” of Pillars of Eternity’s backers simply won’t enjoy them.
“Combat encounters that can only be completed a certain way or (situations where) you have to have one of these characters, or you have to have these two characters,” said Sawyer, “those ‘gotcha!’ moments that some gamers love, well… God bless you I guess, but we’re not gonna do that.”
Sawyer laughs as he explains that even the most hardcore grognards will be the first to acknowledge that some of the things they’re asking for are just completely unacceptable.
“I don’t even think those memories (they have) are necessarily rose-tinted,” he says. “They’ll straight up admit that they like stuff that’s really grognard-ey, and they don’t care. That’s fair enough.”
Pillars of Eternity’s dialogue system is an enormous part of the game, and Sawyer explains to me in no uncertain terms that this is a game for people “who want to read a lot”. Dialogue, he says, is one of the biggest problems with modern RPG design.
“The biggest thing that modern RPGs do that I don’t like is to write dialogue for people who don’t like dialogue. Which I think is dumb and a load of shit,” he says, laughing. “My assumption is that if you want to have dialogue in and you want to make it a big part of the game, you assume that the player wants to read it and it’s your job to make it good.”
“If you’re running on and people are skipping it, maybe it’s because it’s… not really that great? So when we write our dialogue, we write sensible dialogue, expressive dialogue, very descriptive dialogue, and we write it for people assuming that they want to read it. If they don’t want to read it, don’t play this game.”
Even though Sawyer has legions of people ready to throw him money for recreating that old-school RPG feeling, he’s not ready to throw modern RPGs in the rubbish entirely. When questioned about what old-school RPGs could have done better in hindsight, Sawyer says that a lack of clarity and consistency has always been a problem.
Sawyer explains that the one thing he thinks modern games have done well is to “make their RPG system rulesets clear and consistent”. “The old D&D systems were not very consistent,” he says. “They were full of trap builds and ‘gotcha’ moments and stuff like that. I don’t think that’s good, I think it restricts player enjoyment a lot, for not a lot of gain.”
“Maybe the grognards like it, but for everyone else it’s kind of frustrating and so we try to get away from that as much as possible.”
“There are people that’ll say to me ‘oh man, it’s fun to do that’, but no. No, it’s not.”
Pillars of Eternity is out sometime around the end of the year.