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RPG Codex Report: Divinity: Original Sin 2, or, A Visit to Larian Studios
Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 26 August 2015, 15:03:15Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios; Swen Vincke
You may have been wondering why Part 2 of our Gamescom report has been delayed for so long. That is because, in the meantime, we sent sold esteemed community member and our Gamescom reporter Bubbles off to Larian Studios for a closed, all expenses paid hands-on presentation and interview for Divinity: Original Sin 2, where he mingled with Real Game Journalists from European websites like Eurogamer. (All thanks to Bubbles' charming personality having won Swen over at Gamescom, of course.) Now that the D:OS 2 Kickstarter campaign has gone live and the preview embargo has been lifted, you can read all the juicy details Bubbles managed to collect.
These include, but are not limited to, what it's like being bribed by a games developer, what Swen thinks of the Codex, as well as a shocking Roguey-related scoop. Also, an interview with the writing team, including the person who wrote the Codex-Watch questline in D:OS.
Hey Bubbles, what's it like being bribed by a game developer?
Feels pretty good, I'd say. Of course, free transport and accommodation are perfectly normal when you've been invited to a press event, so it was quite sensible that Larian should cover these costs. In my case, they amounted to €228 for first class train tickets and €248 for two nights in a lower-middle-class hotel, plus the cost of a couple of taxi rides. Then, there was the cost of the free food and drink I received on Thursday. However, Larian had to accommodate a dozen journalists as well as a respectable amount of their own staff at these outings, so they couldn't afford to offer quite as top-tier a menu as one might have expected for such an occasion. Between a two-hour lunch, a four-hour dinner, and a four-and-a-half-hour pub crawl, I estimate that I did not consume more than 160 Euros in solid and liquid merchandise, which is really an utterly small amount for the circles that I was moving in. Still, I eventually became aware of the fact that my enthusiastic approach to fine dining was, to a certain degree, open to misinterpretation. My precise moment of epiphany came around 11 PM, when Swen, fresh off his fifth refill of a 2010 Château de Lussac (a pleasant, but rather ordinary vintage), whipped out his cellphone, snarked “Looks like the Codex got corrupted!” and photographed me while I was munching on a delicious cherry-ginger chocolate ice cream cake confection. I mention this incident here both to head off the inevitable tweeted exposé of my indulgence, and to forcefully assure the good Codex community – my friends, my comrades, one and all – that I maintained a clear and critical eye throughout my entire visit at the studio. In fact, I bring you many exclusive scoops, one of them Roguey-related, directly from Swen's mouth. You don't believe me? Then read on, brave readers, and soothe your troubled minds with some twelve thousand words of undiluted, fully objective information.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: Divinity: Original Sin II, or, A Visit to Larian Studios
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is currently live on Kickstarter.
[Report by Bubbles]
A few weeks ago, Larian's PR department sent out a call to European gaming journalists: “come to Ghent on the 20th of August and see Original Sin 2 in action for the first time!” Or at least that's how I imagine it went for the other invitees. For me, contacting Larian involved cornering Swen Vincke in a darkened Gamescom doorway while he was under massive time pressure, and pestering him with convoluted questions until he asked me for a Codex staff contact to organize “an event in two weeks.” Swen first suggested contacting “the man in Australia”, but I already anticipated that Dark Underlord would be too busy with his numerous law suits (and possible jail time) to take care of such petty things. Instead, I suggested that Swen talk to Crooked Bee, who then promptly handed the entire matter off to me. Thus, I was off to the magical metropolis of Ghent on an all-expenses-paid three day trip, from the 19th to the 21th of August. Indeed, I will forever remember Ghent for its abundance of highly aromatic public pissoirs, a startling lack of traffic lights, and the tens of thousands of dead eyed tourists staggering through its crumbling streets. To be fair, the city also had lots of very nice restaurants, where I thankfully got to fill my tummy free of charge. Speaking of which…
Feels pretty good, I'd say. Of course, free transport and accommodation are perfectly normal when you've been invited to a press event, so it was quite sensible that Larian should cover these costs. In my case, they amounted to €228 for first class train tickets and €248 for two nights in a lower-middle-class hotel, plus the cost of a couple of taxi rides. Then, there was the cost of the free food and drink I received on Thursday. However, Larian had to accommodate a dozen journalists as well as a respectable amount of their own staff at these outings, so they couldn't afford to offer quite as top-tier a menu as one might have expected for such an occasion. Between a two-hour lunch, a four-hour dinner, and a four-and-a-half-hour pub crawl, I estimate that I did not consume more than 160 Euros in solid and liquid merchandise, which is really an utterly small amount for the circles that I was moving in. Still, I eventually became aware of the fact that my enthusiastic approach to fine dining was, to a certain degree, open to misinterpretation. My precise moment of epiphany came around 11 PM, when Swen, fresh off his fifth refill of a 2010 Château de Lussac (a pleasant, but rather ordinary vintage), whipped out his cellphone, snarked “Looks like the Codex got corrupted!” and photographed me while I was munching on a delicious cherry-ginger chocolate ice cream cake confection. I mention this incident here both to head off the inevitable tweeted exposé of my indulgence, and to forcefully assure the good Codex community – my friends, my comrades, one and all – that I maintained a clear and critical eye throughout my entire visit at the studio. In fact, I bring you many exclusive scoops, one of them Roguey-related, directly from Swen's mouth. You don't believe me? Then read on, brave readers, and soothe your troubled minds with some thirteen thousand words of undiluted, fully objective information.
On Thursday morning at 9 AM, my designated handler Pawel (pictured above in his usual posture of well-measured eagerness) picked me up from my hotel and ferried me over to the Larian offices, which were housed in a crumbling red bricked office building. Pawel took the opportunity to assure me that the studio would soon move to another location. I was led into a huge kitchen/dining hall, where I met the group of people who would accompany me throughout the rest of the morning: a chatty fellow from the Belgian Gameplay Magazine, his silent colleague from 9lives.be, and an elderly couple whom I assumed to be representatives of the local newspaper. Everybody but me spoke Dutch. Soon, Swen appeared, rushing through the room like a hurricane on a deadline. He yelled out “I know you! You're from the Codex!” and stopped for a second to greet me. He assured me that he was very happy to have us come by, although he would have to be extra careful around me. He pointed at my high-quality professional equipment: “Every time the Codex pulls out a notebook, I feel like something terrible is about to happen.” I assured him that our community was full of only the kindest and most professional people, and released him to return to his work.
A few dull minutes later, Swen blazed through again, and invited us to accompany him upstairs to the presentation room. The CEO of Larian confidently strode up the tall steps, navigated his way through a small hall, and led his entourage to a grand door fitted with all kinds of neat looking buttons. He tried to open the door. It didn't open. Somebody else had a try. The door stayed closed. Was it the right door? We investigated the hall. It seemed to be the right door. Everybody was baffled. Somebody left to fetch help. Minutes passed. The expert arrived. He pressed one of the buttons, the door opened, and we went inside. Swen asked us to be seated at a grand conference table. I took a seat opposite the two nice elderly people, who were now introduced to me as “the guys from RPGWatch.” Meanwhile, Swen took care of some last minute details. He walked over to a range of monitors, stooped down, and started plugging in cables. He mentioned that the organization had been a little hectic, and that they were now under a great deal of time pressure. Finally, the screens flickered to life. Swen clawed his way back up from the floor, gave out a sigh, and, with a small flourish, pulled up a chair. The cables got caught in the chair and were pulled out again. Mr. Vincke went back behind the screens.
Eventually, it was time for the presentation to begin. Swen revealed that we were uniquely privileged: “You're going to be the first ones who will see Original Sin 2 outside people in the office. Literally the first ones, the first group of the day.” Work on DOS 2 had begun right after the first game had been completed; the engine was now based on an improved version of the Enhanced Edition. Everything about DOS 2 would be expanded and improved from the original, like the transition "from Baldur's Gate 1 to Baldur's Gate 2." Original Sin 2 would include roughly 180 skills from the Enhanced Edition and “a shitload of new ones.” The term "shitload" was judged imprecise, so Swen clarified: “We're adding hundreds of spells and skills on top of everything that's already there.” These new abilities would also include “a truckload of new surfaces and clouds.” Swen cited the new Grease surface as an example; Grease could be set on fire like oil, but also had a chance of getting people stuck, which might force them to spend more time standing in the flames. Grease also had a third property: cast rain on burning grease and you get “a massive conflagration.” With swelling chest, he declared: “The creativity that's possible with all these combinations starts becoming the equivalent of what you can do with an AD&D rulebook!” The new game will also offer what Swen calls “skill crafting”: combining skill books to make new ones. Combining Summon Spider and Mute would grant you a book of Summon Stealth Spider. Grease and Rain would become Grease Rain, drenching the whole screen in grease. Lacerate and Rain would become Blood Rain, designed specifically for characters with the Leech talent: “all the rain keeps on healing you”. At that point I wrote “Balance???” in my notebook and underlined it five times.
There have also been changes to the combat gameplay, some already implemented, others planned for the future. The biggest change has been to drastically reduce the total amount of AP that a player gets per turn and to remove the AP bonus from the Speed attribute, while also reducing the AP cost of skills and spells. Currently, characters start with only 4 action points, but this is not a final decision. The reasoning for this change is that the previous system was too complicated. Larian had intended for players to use their APs strategically, saving some in one round to be able to spend more in the next. However, according to Swen this system “didn't work that well when [there were] 10 or 15 action points – people weren't calculating. Since [Larian] made that change [to 4 action points], people are really starting to think about what chains and combinations they are going to be making.” Those kinds of big numbers can be very annoying when you're trying to have fun, so this change is very welcome. Swen also mentioned a cover system – walk your character up to an obstacle, press "C", and they will duck behind it, becoming harder to hit. I never actually got to see the system in action, but it's nice to see the OS series catch up to Blackguards 2 in terms of tactical gameplay options.
Finally, the UI will also be refined later in development (currently it's merely the DOS:EE UI) but changes are more likely to go towards maintaining simplicity rather than adding complexity. Swen told me that games with complex UI “turned him off”; he wants to maintain the general accessibility of DOS 1.
Before starting the gameplay demo proper, Swen explained a bit about the current state of the setting, which will be very important information for all you Divinity lore buffs out there. DOS 2 takes place after Divine Divinity and a few years before Beyond Divinity, which by my humble math places it over a thousand years after DOS 1. The Divine has just won his war against Damian and banished him to Nemesis (the game module used for the presentation was also called “Module Nemesis”). One of the main factions in Rivellon at the time is the Divine Order, led by White Bishop Alexander the Innocent, who is conducting a “sort of Spanish Inquisition” against Sourcerers. Divine Magisters roam the lands accompanied by their faithful Source Hounds, who sniff out Source users. Once caught, Sourcerers are jailed and “purged”, which entails stripping them of their Source energy and leaving them in a submissive state, “completely dominated” by the Order. Other major political factions are the Ancient Empire of the lizards, which is currently being attacked by the Order, and the Black Ring, a formerly evil organization that now shines a beacon of freedom, offering shelter to all weary Sourcerers. The player's party will also be exclusively comprised of Sourcerers; the initial plot hook is that you've just escaped from prison and are trying to reach Black Ring territory. At the beginning of the game, the party has shipwrecked on Reaper Island (aka Tutorial Island) and needs to escape before the Order catches up with them.
Consequently, there will now be a new skill line for “Source skills”; since everybody in the party is a Sourcerer now, it makes sense that you should actually be able to do some cool stuff by using the Source. This system is still in its early stages, so the presentation focussed more on the resource management aspect of the skills than on their practical applications (which will lie both in spellcasting and in crafting powerful items). The resource is called “Source points”; you can gain Source points both in “good” and in “evil” ways, with the evil ways generally being much easier. For instance, you can use the Source Vampirism skill to suck up an enemy's body in the middle of battle, “dragging him away from the wheel of reincarnation”, but also gaining a Source point that can immediately be used to turn the tide of battle. Or you can munch on the life force of a willing party member, provided that they are Source Channelling. Drawing from your party in this way will not only cause direct damage, but also trigger a large explosion around the channeller, which might be used tactically in battle. You can also suck the Source out of spirits; this destroys the spirit and is “even more evil” than sucking up bodies, but it also allows you to channel the spirit's energy into a blood stone. Blood Stones can be used “like healing potions for Source points,” which makes them extremely useful. Sucking too much Source in “evil” ways will decrease your Karma, which is supposed to have a noticeable impact on the game.
So far, so simple. If Original Sin 2 merely delivered on the features listed above, it might be considered a solid and quite ambitious sequel. But this is not Larian's plan. Instead, they want to deliver something far greater, something supreme, something that justifies investing an enormous amount of effort and expense. That “something” can be summed up in a key term: “character origins”. According to Swen, character origins are “the theme of the game. Who you are, what you are, where you were brought up, how does it affect the choices that you're going in have in life, and can you escape that? You'll see that at a much deeper level than we've seen before in RPGs.”
To illustrate what that meant in concrete gameplay terms, Swen started up the prototype and introduced us to the characters in the player party. He focussed particularly on a human woman, Gwynne Welford (the spelling may not be exact). Gwynne had the background of a noblewoman, which meant that she was a native of Reaper Island and a daughter of the noble Welford family, who possessed a considerable fortune in their vaults. The three other characters were Vell, a wood elf in a skimpy dress, a very dwarfy looking dwarf, and a human thief named Hudson. Swen explained that the thief had taken an origin that made him a double agent for the Order; while the other characters were genuinely trying to escape from the Order, Hudson was working with the enemy on a covert assassination mission. The elf and the dwarf might have similarly personal objectives on Reaper's Island, though they weren't discussed in detail during the presentation. According to current plans, you will only be able to create a single character, while the other three will be recruited from a small pool of companions during the game's opening. However, Swen took great pains to stress that these companions were as fully fleshed out and viable as any PC: “When you're in character creation, you'll be able to select many characters, and actually all of these characters could be your main player character. They all have their own origin story.” Even so, you will be able to freely chose your PC's origin, making him the double crossing thief, the heir, or somebody else entirely, based on all the origins coded into the game. You can even play somebody with no origin at all. You just won't be able to recruit a companion with the same origin as your main PC.
Swen showed off how reactive the different origins were by taking the party on a trip deeper into the island. The island's local settlement of Prospect Town was highly suspicious of non-humans, so the elf and the dwarf would have trouble in town and be unable to pass the town gate on their own. However, they would also be able to find opportunities with the downtrodden non-human members of the community. Meanwhile, Gwynne and Hudson would have an easy time getting into town, but might have trouble talking to other people who distrusted them based on their race or background. For example, dwarves have an ugly racial slur for humans, calling them “horse faces”. When you address one of the dwarven NPCs in the prototype with a human character, he will say: “Boo! Ho ho! I was only… horsing around.” Swen promised that this kind of heavy racial tension would play a major role in DOS 2. Gwynne in particular had a massive amount in dialogue options in Prospect Town because it was her home town; everybody seemed to know her and have pre-defined opinions of her. When Swen switched control to his thief, these opinions would change, allowing him, for instance, to pick up quests that Gwynne was never offered.
The promise is that these dynamics would persist throughout the entire game, with characters from every background and from every race constantly receiving unique opportunities in quests and conversations alike, while also pursuing their own personal goals along the way, as determined by their background. This is a tremendous undertaking for the writers, which is why Larian has already tripled its writing staff for this game – from two people on DOS 1 to six people on DOS 2. In the current build (this is not final), all the dialogue options are also given in the form of indirect dialogue, which may make it easier to write options for different types of characters. For example, one dialogue option I copied from the screen is: “Lower your gaze and murmur you'd rather not talk about it.” Another one, unlocked by Gwynne's chosen background, is: “Remind the officer that you are from a powerful family and that he best not get on your bad side. (Heiress)” Or: “Say that you're a consulting detective. (Detective/Spy)” I'm dubious as to whether this style of writing actually offers any benefit over the classic direct dialogue; it feels very unusual to me. Even if the indirect dialogue does turn out to be a useful tool for the writers, they will still be faced with a tremendous amount of work. Currently, only the four backgrounds from the prototype are implemented in the game, but there will definitely be more – it's just not clear how many more. This uncertainty is further compounded by the Kickstarter stretch goals, which are planned to include options for additional races (currently only human, wood elf, dwarf, and lizard are planned) and backgrounds. Furthermore, there will be “tags”, which can be unlocked by acting a certain way during dialogue (I saw “witty” and “lying” in the prototype), and which will then unlock additional dialogue options later on; tagged options are often more effective than untagged options, so you'll want to work on grinding up your wittiness as well. I asked Swen if you could hide the tag names during dialogue to accommodate the hardcore immersionistas; he agreed that it was a “good idea”.
It's clear that DOS 2 is aiming to offer far more dialogue options than any of Larian's previous games; I'm very eager to see if they can actually deliver on this goal without compromising on quality. Swen also indicated a desire to have a city "bigger than Cyseal" in the game, which is not likely to happen quickly. At least he still seems flexible with the release date: “If it's gonna ship next year, that'll be a miracle, but I don't think so.”
You may have been wondering why the designers bothered to code quests that are unavailable to a specific party member, or why our friendly CEO was so keen to stress that all the recruitable companions were comparable to player characters. The answer to this particular set of riddles is that DOS 2 has a heavy focus on co-op. The game was presented in co-op mode, it features a truly impressive set of new co-op features, and the hands-on forced us into co-op groups as well. I can understand the reason for this – multiplayer games can be a lot more fun than single player and more fun usually means more copies sold – but I don't expect the average Codex member to be particularly interested in this set of features. I'll try to keep this brief, then: DOS 2 now accommodates four player co-op, and it aims to make these matches more fun by integrating a mechanic called “competitive questing”. Competitive questing means that players may wish to pursue radically different solutions to a certain quest based on their own role playing preferences, and that they may also wish to hinder their opposition to accomplish their own goals. One example in the demo was a quest involving the poisoning of Prospect Town's mayor, who was lying sick in bed while two suspects (a dwarf and the mother of the noble party member) stood accused of attempted murder. A dwarven player character might work to clear the dwarf's name, while the PC with the noble background might work to support their mother (or not – the game wouldn't force them to do anything). A more ruthless, but truth-loving PC could simply kill the mayor and interrogate their spirit using a new ghost whisperer talent. In other words, all the PCs can now fully pursue “asymmetric goals.” Some of these goals may be accomplished at the same time (if the mayor's ghost blames the mother, the dwarf may get off free), others would conflict with one another. Most importantly, every quest is now designed to allow – or even encourage – a bit of competition between co-op players to add more individuality and inter-player tension into the gameplay experience.
To give another, more radical example: the player controlling the noble may be eager to claim their family fortune legitimately, while the player controlling the thief may wish to break into the vault and claim the treasure for themselves (if only in the interest of sound role playing). Both players need to find a way to access the vault to accomplish that – that's why it's still co-op and not pure PvP – but once there, they can choose to reach their goals in different ways that also allow for direct competition. Players can simply “declare war” on one another, killing the other player and forcing them back to the spawn point to buy some valuable vault cracking time. They can lure other players into battle and use that opportunity to walk past them (you can now walk around in another player's battlefield without having to enter the fight). They can also pickpocket one another, craft trap items (poison + dye = “healing potion”), or plant contraband on them and rat them out to the town guard to send them to jail for a while. At some point, they may want to play nice and arrive at a compromise solution to complete a particular quest, but this is rarely required. Swen demoed most of these conflict options during the presentation; they looked fun, but, from the perspective of a single player fan, they also looked a bit... unnecessary. Well, I'm sure there's a large target audience out there who will be deliriously excited about these features.
Mind you, Swen Vincke is not a man who aims low, so he has plans to take competitive questing into the single player environment. Larian thinks that these co-op mechanics could be “used to [their] advantage to guide the party member companions,” which really sounds rather nebulous; Swen asserted that it was way too early to go into details, but promised that the mechanic would be shown at a later date. Then, just as the presentation was about to wrap up, he seemed to be seized by a malicious hype demon and uttered this terrifying set of quotes: “You can think of it as this: there's a human player controlling your NPCs, so there's an AI doing the same shit that I've been doing to [my co-op partner].” “It's so far fetched that we'll have to show it at a later time, because if people can't see it, they just won't believe it.” Well, he got that last part right. Let's just wait and see, alright?
The hands-on that followed the presentation was a fairly snoozy and forgettable affair, since I was mostly blundering into combat and never got as deep into the quests as Swen had done in his demo. We were also forced to use controllers, godawful to handle as usual, because the PC interface had been hit by a sudden fatal bug. All in all, it was a particularly slow and clunky experience, but the combat still felt fun and the usual amount of weird Divinity stuff happened. Towards the end of our allotted time, our staff monitors encouraged me and my partner to compete with each other, which took the form of him pickpocketing my skill books and me killing him once I noticed. I didn't get the skill books back, and I killed him before he even got a turn, so I can't say that it was a thrilling experience of pulse pounding PvP fun. Maybe if I'd actually known the other guy in any way, I could have scowled nasty personalized threats at him and had a good time with it. Maybe.
After about an hour of wasting time with the hands-on, our team was herded back into the dining area. Here, we were presented with an opportunity to interview two members of the writing staff: Sarah Baylus, who had also worked on Original Sin 1, and Kieron Kelly, a recent addition to the team. The interview was reasonably productive, clocking in at a pleasant 95 minutes.
Kieron answered: We have it where it's like a road with multiple strands. The strands are the different characters. They can separate when they wish, but we're writing in such a way that those characters will be then naturally, plot-wise, driven together in a way that feels natural – not like a pop-up saying "You have to progress together." There are story reasons for your guys to be drawn together consistently. You'll never complete the game on your own, and it's not designed that way.
Gameplay Magazine: What about RPG fans who don't like to read? How do you convey the need for co-op or conflict?
Kieron: Single player will work like in OS, but the companions will have a lot more motivation to do their own thing as well. Each of the individual characters – if you play this now, single player, the dwarf will do his own thing.
Gameplay: So he will just take off, for example?
Kieron: Not necessarily. He'll have his own motivations, he'll help you when he feels like it, and if he feels like this is against his will, he won't do it. The companions will react to you more than they did in OS, so even the single player experience will feel different. I hope you see this with the different species, with the elf and the dwarf. The whole point of this is that you feel racial tensions and those racial tensions will be present in the party as well as the game.
RPGWatch: I'm afraid the game will be too competitive in co-op. What if my friend gets a quest where I can't make a compromise? I don't like to fight – is that possible?
Kieron: You're like me, I'm not about serious conflict. By rights, if you play normally, you will have it where your character motivations will differ from mine, but we can still work together. You can still work in a party. In OS, the two characters are almost the same character, they're almost symbolically linked, so if you do one thing, it's like the other one did it. What we've done is to separate these two entities. They have their own drives, but if we as players want to work together, nothing will stop us from doing that. In the demo, we were pushing you towards that competitive edge, but it won't be as forced upon you as much as it was in the demo.
Gameplay: Is the Rock Paper Scissors thing still in there?
Kieron: It's... not sure. We have some ideas of what to do to change it – as you can imagine, with 4, it's a bit more complex system. We have nothing concrete to share right now.
Bubbles: Swen mentioned that there were grand ambitions about bringing AI into a single player game, in the sense that companions would actually – well, he wasn't very specific on this point [Kieron laughs] – but that companions would actually come "into conflict" with other companions while you were controlling them. Can you explain roughly what that ambition is?
Kieron: I guess like, like you said, the ambition is that- we're hoping, first of all that you won't be just picking 4 characters, there'll actually be a selection. So if you play the single player game, and there's 6 or 8 or 10 [recruitable companions at the start] – whatever it is – and I pick 4 characters to play with, our hope is that these 4 characters will feel alive as a group much more than just your standard companion that just reacts to what you do and says "oh, I didn't like that" or "I did like that." We want the characters to be more of a driving force than a reactionary force. I believe that's what he [Swen] means. But again, this is early concept. When you pick your four characters, if you play multiplayer, you gonna have that experience [of characters having their own personalities and goals]. But if you play single player, your experience will change based on what characters you pick, because each character will interact with each other differently.
Bubbles: Right, so if one of the characters has a mission to kill a specific person [as shown in the prototype] and I just walk my party past them and say "Goodbye, I'm leaving forever now", then that character will... will he complain with me, or will he go out and kill that person, or what's the idea?
Kieron: [silence] Er... still don't know about that yet. You're asking specific questions, and I'd love to give you specific answers. We have our goals, we have our desires, to make it possible that these guys feel properly real, but I can't speculate.
Bubbles: Nono, I just want to regulate the hype a bit.
Kieron: Yeah, I can understand, yeah. Swen's overall goal of increasing the AI in companions – that's what you should hear. It's making the companions act like real characters in your party.
Bubbles: Are companion quests designed to accompany the main quest all the way through? What's happening with the backgrounds, basically? Is that something that becomes particularly relevant at some point, and then they're mostly just regular party members until the end?
Sarah: The way it works now is that all of the player characters have something very important in common that can't be resolved until the end.
Kieron: So they'll all have a reason to get to the end, right? And then they'll all have a personal story or goal that will have a few different stages throughout the game that will cause them to interact with the world on an individual level rather than a group level. That should reflect as a companion as well as a controlled character. But it's not like, once they get to Act 2, they'll do their own personal thing and then they're done forever.
Gameplay: What kind of effect will the books have on the gameplay, apart from getting tips for crafting? I'm talking about the Elder Scrolls system for example, where they actually give you abilities.
Sarah: One thing that I really dislike is just plain filler lore books, like we have them in DOS. I feel annoyed when I pick up a book and it's really just someone's ramblings in there. I wanna read it and I want it to be relevant to me, either to the story that I'm playing, or give me a hint or something, or have some kind of gameplay value like this. If you invest your time reading, you want…
Gameplay: ... something relevant and linked to what you're busy with, at that time.
Sarah: Yeah, exactly.
Kieron: And there may be other ways of using the books as well, with the ways we're hoping to have our multiple characters with their different plot arcs, with those different backgrounds. We're gonna need every single potential way to deliver information to give these plot arcs some depth. Again, it's too early to actually say something specific.
Gameplay: Are you planning to have a newspaper about the things you did?
Sarah: Like in Dragon Commander? That would be cool. People have talked about it, but I don't know about plans to implement it.
Gameplay: So if you talk about acting like real characters, that means real emotions and interactions with each other. I've already asked about romance options, for example. You have plans to have it in there?
Kieron: Yeah... yeah!
Gameplay: Can you give some other examples about how they can interact with each other on an emotional level? Quarrels, fights... what else can we expect?
Kieron: I'm not sure what it will look like, but there will be a relationship system in there. It will have to be in there for the romance anyway. But about non-romantic options, I have no idea.
Watch: Why are there romantic options in the game?
Bubbles: Yes, wonderful question. [Even the Watch can have one from time to time.]
Watch: Yes. I don't know why. So why are you trying to put romantic elements in this game?
Sarah: Roleplay. A lot of... uhm... RPG players want to feel like they can, uhm... kind of... have a full experience. When you choose to play the role of somebody, what would that character do? Would that character have a certain feeling about a character in their party? Uhm... ...you kinda want... as many options as possible to be able to live out the story that you wanna build. Uhm... i think romance is, like, not necessarily a required part of it, but it depends on what kind of story you wanna build, what kind of character you wanna play, I think. And, uhm, I was surprised actually, but the desire for this is a lot stronger than I thought it was, the romantic options.
Watch: Of course, often it's very childish or often very limited: you have gay relationships and you can change sex in real life. So where's the limit? What do you define as being romantic or not?
Kieron: Well, I guess if there's one thing we want to do as writers...
Watch: Or pure sex, that's also possible, we've seen that in the past.
Kieron: We certainly don't want a childish, quest-based relationship progress, if that makes sense. One thing [I don't like], playing games, is if I'm playing a game and have an option to romance a certain character and it's just a matter of talking to them now and probably doing something for them, and then, a few more missions later, I talk to them again and do something else for them. It's this kind of robotic progression – as writers we want to make sure that the characters feel so fleshed out when they're interacting, if something was potentially to blossom in their characters, plot-wise, we want the player to be able to explore that in a role playing context. But we don't want to give them a sort of childish kind of "tick a box" – "oh, I have a romantic option!" or "Now she's my wife," or "Now he's my husband." That's not the goal, the goal is to actually allow you to express the character. If I feel like I'm really playing this character, this human rogue, and I'm getting really into him, and it makes sense that the flirtations between [him and] somebody else starts to go somewhere then it should make sense that it should start to go somewhere.
Sarah: That's something I felt while working on Original Sin, the first one, the companions that we were writing, they felt really real to me, and I saw moments where, the way they were interacting with the other characters, it would have made sense if there was a bit of a seed between them, or if the player would have felt a little bit of something. I see it as a natural story progression.
Bubbles: I didn't get the original information about romances [I really hadn't -- clear PR failure there]. What exactly have you planned: romances within your party, romances with NPCs, pregnancies, real marriages...?
Sarah: Everything is kind of on the table at the moment...
Kieron: It's too early to commit to doing or not doing one particular thing. It's just something we wanted to add in, not necessarily something that we have a direct plan for how that looks in the game.
Sarah: Oh, well, kind of... well, it's true there's nothing set in stone like quest design wise, but Jan [Van Dosselaer, senior writer] is working on a system, we're still trying to flesh out how many starting backgrounds you can have, and whether, from the beginning, you can play as a married couple [married characters] or as two people who have history together, to see if their relationship can grow together or decline, depending on the choices that you make. That's something we're talking about now, a system to implement that from the beginning, so that it's very organic from their backstory, that you have a sense of interacting with your partner – especially since it's in co-op.
Kieron: A few have got a passion for that, to actually see two characters already having a history, and that you see the continuation of that history as opposed to just something new. These two characters can still do something separate if they wish; it's not like they're automatically joined.
Watch: And you will do same sex as well?
Sarah: It's.... on the table, definitely. It will depend on how thoroughly we can do, uhm, every character having the potential to romance any other character, I don't know if it's gonna be that way, or if only these characters can have romances with these characters, and it's planned from the beginning, but right now, the player characters, the list of options we're considering, it's, like, extremely diverse.
Kieron: Extremely diverse. And again, it won't be to tick a box, it will be because it feels good and it feels right for the characters.
Bubbles: You already said that romances would be an integral part of role playing. This is a tricky proposition – you may act in a way that would make a romance likely, but you may not want a romance. Do you envision presenting the player with clear options saying: “Doing this will start a romance”, do you plan on putting up regular reminders that you might be able to pursue something?
Sarah: The way that I've seen it working so far is that you have an event or something that will trigger a dialogue, and you should be aware that this is a romance dialogue. Something will happen, you have a choice of four responses, one is very flirtatious, one is guarded or neutral, one is completely neutral, and one is dismissive or something like that. So you should be fairly aware of the relationship you're creating when you choose these. I'm not sure this is exactly how it's gonna go into the game, but when we've talked about how it's gonna work, this is kind of how we envision it. A bit like the affinity affection [sic] dialogues in D:OS – they were a bit gamey, not the best element of the game, but we're envisioning something like this where you have four options.
Bubbles: In the first game, you had deeply intertwined systems between a character's personality and gameplay elements like combat. You could act a certain way and become immune to Charm. You could also choose between taking talents that were very relevant in combat, or you could take something like Pet Pal. Are you going to keep going with that mechanic, and have something like rivalries between characters or romances affecting concrete gameplay statistics?
Sarah: That would be fantastic! That would be amazing! Like, if we can keep that kind of basis that we built, and then build on that, so that the character development is even more tied to your progression? That would be very, very cool.
Bubbles: You're adding a lot of new skills, I've heard. Are you very comfortable trying to balance all of that? Because I hear you have 180 skills already, from the EE, and now you're – Swen said you're adding "hundreds more".
Sarah: Hundreds more? ...if anyone can do that, it's Swen.
Kieron: In terms of combat, there's definitely a plan to add a skill tree; you've seen some of the Source mechanics. We're confident that we've learned enough lessons from Original Sin that we'll be able to balance whatever we add in; it's not like we're starting from absolute scratch. There's an awful lot of excitement from Swen obviously, and we're confident that we'll be able to balance it.
Bubbles: By "skill trees" you still mean the same skill system as before, right?
Sarah: Yeah. It's the system of Original Sin; we're basically gonna codify it in the game and then build on top of that.
Gameplay: The Source spells will have their own skill tree?
Sarah: Yeah, should be, I think.
Kieron: There's some cool interactions with the Source skills and how they actually look in the game... it's still not final as well.
Gameplay: Can you talk a bit about the "light" and "dark" Source skills you have and what kind of influence influence they have on your character and plot points?
Sarah: In Original Sin, Source was this kind of complicated power. It was originally something good and then was corrupted, and etc. Where we are now in the story, the events of Original Sin are still kind of being felt in the world, and it's not completely recovered yet from the influence of the Void Dragon and the corruption of Source, and etc. I think Source will be something we play with, an ability that has tremendous power and is also innate to people all over Rivellon, and the way it can manifest itself is gonna be up to the player. It can be dark like the Source Vampirism, which is stealing souls... but we're hoping indeed that this kind of mechanic is gonna be something that will help players decide whether they wanna go the high or the low road, basically. Both roads are gonna lead to tremendous power, but which path are you gonna take? We're hoping that this skill tree is going to have a bit of a role playing aspect to it, too.
Gameplay: Is it all black and white or can you also go in the middle? Are there neutral Source skills, for example?
Sarah: It's still to be decided, I think.
Bubbles: How are you experiencing this system of indirect dialogue writing? So--
Sarah: I love it!
Bubbles: --it feels strange.
Sarah: Well, I don't know. For me, it's an opportunity to do something a little bit different that I haven't seen a ton of. It's a way to write more dialogue, because the descriptive speech allows us to write from the perspective of any of the player characters. We don't have to account for how they talk or how they would save a certain situation; we just write a wink or "[you] sneer and respond that you don't wanna have anything to do with them" or whatever. So this is a way for us to increase our output and also give a little bit of flavour. In DOS, sometimes we had to keep the player characters neutral, which affected our ability to characterize them. With this system, I'm hoping we can put a little bit of flavour into the text, but still let the player role play how they wanna role play. We're not giving them the character that they have to play; they can kind of imagine how the character is sneering and walking away from the conversation.
Watch: I have heard you write with five people, two seniors?
Sarah: Yeah, I think so.
Watch: Are there women on the writing team? You and... Char[lene Putney]?
Sarah: Yes, just us two on the writing team.
Watch: Often it's the male perspective in games; do you think you can add something different to the game with two women?
Sarah: It's a good question, yeah. It this is true, it was evidenced in Original Sin. That was just me and Jan, so it was half and half. Compared to some of their earlier games, I think there's a bit of my touch in there. For example, if I'm imagining an NPC, I imagine her as a woman and [inaudible] her a woman, and the woman goes in the game, and so the gender balance is a little bit more balanced, I guess. I'm also reading some of the female characters written by our male writers, and I find them very cool, fully fleshed [out] people, fully realized, not cliches, so, I think ultimately it's kind of a matter of the intent of the writer to put themselves in somebody else's shoes. But it's nice to have another lady on the team.
Watch: I can imagine, if you are writing something, that it might be lost while producing [the game].
Sarah: Yeah, that's occupational hazard, I think. You imagine it one way and... gameplay is king; so it's always gonna be gameplay first, story second. We come up with a [character] design, or the scripters come up with a design, they tell us the character, we rewrite it, it gets put in, then the character get changed because of gameplay events, we rewrite the character, it kind of goes back and forth like this a lot.
Watch: It's nice to see a Captain who's female [in the prototype]. It's not just because I'm female – on RPGWatch, several men have also said "We like more women – realistic women – in games."
Sarah: Yeah, it's true. I mean, you don't wanna walk into a town and have it be a cliche of everything you've seen before – women are only doing certain things, men are only doing certain things, the men are all drunken boors, the women are all prostitutes, like, we've seen that a thousand times. It's kind of time for everybody to...
Watch: ...grow up.
Sarah: Yeah! For the characters to expand their roles, to have a more realistic or interesting world, I think.
Kieron: I think speaking from the perspective of a man on the team, we do have a strong desire to make sure that... if you look at the NPC list on a spreadsheet, we're actually spreading [the genders] quite evenly. There's a few of us, myself included, that have a passion to make sure there's really strong female characters in there. And we're also sensitive enough to make sure that we're not being cliched.
Sarah: One thing we discussed – you know, the team is really growing, at the moment there's 90 people, which shocked me when I found out – and we're trying to develop a vision of the kind of games that we wanna make, around the world, and one thing our lead designer was saying was "Make it diverse! For each character that you have, before it's been fleshed out by the writers, flip a coin for their gender, make sure that we have skins for a variety of looks, so that everybody can be realistically represented in the game," and that's something we're all thinking about all the time and it's important to a lot of us.
Watch: When you start the game, you create only one character, right?
Sarah: Yeeee.....eees. It's still on the table... but so far, yeah.
Watch: And you've got three you pick up or select.
Bubbles: In prison – that's what Swen said.
Sarah: In prison? Oh, I'm not sure – I think Swen has more advanced knowledge about how it's gonna end up.
Watch: The single character, you still select the background story for it, right? How does that work then, do you pick it from a multitude of background stories? Do you select key words?
Sarah: Well, right now, we're going to figure out how many backgrounds we can realistically make meaningful in the world. Right now, we have four – we saw what kind of challenge that was, developing this prototype, making sure all four backgrounds have different ways people can respond to them, different stuff to talk about with different people, different interests in the town – and then we're gonna see how many of these we can do well in a larger game. It could be that you start the game and have 15 backgrounds to choose from, and you can pick one – or you can pick neutral, [if] you wanna role play your background. There will be some where your race is completely tied to your background – so if you're from the Isle of Lizards, and used to be a dragon, then you have to be a lizard to play that [background].
Kieron: Your backgrounds may also dictate things like your race, your species, and also your gender – it depends on how easily we can separate your background from those. Whichever background you pick will actually exclude it from being a companion background.
Bubbles: The most common complaint we've heard in our community is that the first game was too silly in the writing. Are you doing anything to address that, and to accommodate these players, or are you continuing with the known... setting, basically?
Sarah: The setting remains the same, but we're very aware of this – I read it all the time and cry, I read the Codex... – going forward, the NPCs and the people that you meet are gonna be light hearted, but we want the main story to be elevated. The main story in D:OS got a bit lost – the execution of it was a bit too high fantasy, it was not connecting with people very well. We're very much aware of that, which is why we got an office in Dublin full of very talented writers and screenwriters to help us bring out the kind of emotion and connect the tone of the game to the feeling people have while playing it. Every time Swen is reviewing [our writing], he's saying to himself “This is too silly, no, we don't wanna do this, this is too goofy...This is an acceptable goofiness level.” For example, in the prototype I wrote this Dwarf who was drunk, and I wrote him hiccuping too much, and Swen said “What are you doing? This is not a child's cartoon, we don't have hiccuping Dwarves, this is what everyone's talking about!” So I went back to my computer and rewrote it in a more serious way. But we still wanna maintain that Divinity “wink” [she winks], that Divinity light heartedness. Even if we tried to scrap out the wink [she winks], I don't think we could.
Gameplay: Can writers add tags [which unlock and indicate special dialogue options, like a “Charmer” tag] on their own, or are they set in stone by the lead writers? Do you know how many tags there are?
Sarah: The tags are a bit unique – if we put them in, we have to make sure they've got opportunities in the game to actually develop. So if we put a tag in there, and it doesn't affect your character development in any way, then it's gotta go. We try to develop a system from the beginning that we're all aware of to make sure it's integrated at the same level as the other tags throughout the game. Right now, in the prototype, there's 10 or so – but for the long game, it's gonna be a lot more.
Watch: In what way can the community add things to the story? Last time, with the Kickstarter, you could contribute your own stories…
Bubbles: Your own quests too!
Sarah: Ah, like the Codex and the Watch quest? Yeah, I wrote those, I really liked it. I'm not sure, but typically this is something we like to do.
Bubbles: We also have people in our community who are, I would say, vehemently against diversity. Could they create a party for themselves that was very stereotypical and very “traditional”?
Sarah: I think that's the idea, yeah. I think that the idea is that everybody can create the party that they wanna make, and that there's enough options for everybody. Within reasonable restrictions in the game.
Gameplay: Do you test with your QA guys if the player is actually getting the emotion that you're trying to sell?
Sarah: Yeah, it happens. I just got an e-mail from one of our QA testers in Russia, and she was critiquing some of the story elements we had changed in the Enhanced Edition, “When I walked into this scene, I had this reaction, and I'm not sure that's what you guys wanted,” so there's this dialogue between QA and us going on, but I think there's room for more. Actually, that's what the leader of the Russian office said: “I don't ask them 'What's wrong with the game?', I ask them 'How does it feel?'”
Watch: Is it difficult working with people in all these locations?
Sarah: Yeah, we have four offices and a couple of freelancers, but we have an internal chat system that's really convenient, and I think our communication is actually better now than it was before we had all these offices, because we can talk to each other really easily.
Watch: Are you all working on the same game, the four offices?
Sarah: Here in Ghent, it was mostly myself and Jan who were working on the prototype – everybody else was working on the Enhanced Edition. Canada is entirely devoted to the prototype, and Russia has some people on the prototype, and more working on the Enhanced Edition.
Bubbles: You mentioned having a very self organizing writer's room, and you've also mentioned having freelancers. The Codex is very interested in seeing Chris Avellone join the project.
Sarah: Yeeeees, I've seen, uh-huh.
Bubbles: You probably can't speak to this particular issue, but I wanted to know how much leeway you can give somebody with this kind of setup in the writer's room, to somebody who wanted to pitch something as a freelance writer.
Sarah: Gosh, our brain storms are such, like, everybody's stew, I feel like it's really easy to come in with an idea, and everybody comes on to it and develops it a bit more. I remember when I joined the team, it was just Jan, and I was so amazed that he was the only writer on these games [Divinity 2, Dragon Commander, and the first half of D:OS development]. I kinda expected there to be a bit of conflict or something, like it was his baby, but it was never like that. It's not a very hierarchical…
Kieron: Right now there's no freelancers on the writers' team. On the off-chance theory that somebody was to join, what Sarah said is true: it does feel like one big soup. If somebody was to join… it's open arms, really.
Sarah: It's open arms. If Swen ends up bringing in Chris Avellone, he'll get a big bear hug from everyone.
Bubbles: For the Enhanced Edition, your PR team have heavily communicated that controllers were a viable option even on PC. For OS2, are you planning to bring the different interfaces of mouse and keyboard and controller even closer together – make “one interface” – or are you willing to let them develop on their own?
Sarah/Kieron: Ask Swen about that.
Gameplay: There are many different races – are you planning on giving some of them their own languages?
Sarah: We're talking about putting a bit more time into the manner of speaking of these races, but we haven't talked about giving them unique languages. But it's interesting.
Gameplay: Can you write dialogue for your own pets? Would you like to have your own pets fully made by you? Would you like your own pet, and if so, what kind of pet would it be, and what kind of story would it have? How would you introduce it?
[I'll spare you the answers. At one point Sarah mentioned that they're adding lots of new interactive animals to the game world, including squirrels, bears and frogs.]
The discussion turned to players trying out different options to beat quests in the prototype, like trying to frame somebody by planting poison in their house and telling the guard captain to search it. Some of these options were not being recognized by the game.
Sarah: You can try so much stuff, but we definitely try to get the interesting solutions in there; hopefully we can get in more time, flesh out these quests more, and put in all of those options and possible solutions. That's Swen's big thing. It drives us crazy sometimes, 'cuz we'll have a quest that's working fine, and then Swen comes in and says “Why can't I plant poison on her, doesn't that make sense?” and we go “no-no Swen, nobody's gonna think of that!” and he's like, “just do it, put it in!”, and we're like “huargh!” But then it's in and we go “you're right, this is great.” It's good that he's always pushing the extra stuff that makes it a good experience.
Kieron: As many different way as possible to solve the problem, that's the goal, every time.
Sarah: We always say “come on Swen, that's like 1% of players,” and he's like “yah, but if you take 1% of our 2 million players [!], that's this many people, and they're gonna want that option, so…” For us, as Swen said, it's our most ambitious project, the one that has the most resources put into it.
Watch: Are there any limits to the scope of the game at this point?
Sarah: That's the problem, right? I've read this again and again about The Witcher, that it was this great game, but it was so long that you had to play it full time to finish it. There's some kind of happy spot in between content and a concise playable experience that you can reasonably... get to. We don't exactly know about how many hours it's gonna be, but Swen's talking about a lot of regions. He's saying variety is the key; we're gonna have a lot more unique locations than we had in OS for sure.
Bubbles: You haven't compared the length to the original game yet. Would you say OS was the right length?
Sarah: I think the length was okay, but the third act was not okay. Length wise, you could kind of play it how you wanted to play it. It could be a really, really, really long game if you made it a really long game, or you could – I've seen like a thirty minute run through, which was kind of incredible. For me, DOS was alright, but the Enhanced Edition fixes some of the problems in our third act, and it'll be good.
Watch: There's a history with Larian games where the story goes down hill a bit somewhere after the first half.
Sarah: It's a matter of experience, I guess – us realizing the habits that we develop. Putting in so many ideas and possibilities, you end up building a really robust beginning like Cyseal, and then your deadline stays where it was. So if you're developing and developing and developing to make something even better, something has to suffer. Now we're trying to learn from the stuff we did before; maybe do discrete chunks of stuff: “'kay, we did this, now it's done, put it away.” I think the bigger team actually makes this more necessary.
Bubbles: During game development, ideally you would want to know what can go into the game and how much you can add before you finalize the Kickstarter stretch goals. Will you continue planning while the Kickstarter is still running, or are you saying “What we offer in the Kickstarter is what we can add?”
Sarah: I think it's a bit of both, actually. I think you have estimations for how long everything's gonna take, and when you start working on it, it has to shift: some parts get bigger, some parts get cut, some part you thought was going to be easy to put in, but it's not – day and night cycles, for instance. You can plan as much as you want, but I think game development is just this kind of living breathing beast with, like, stuff coming off of its head, and it's hard to predict, I guess.
Bubbles: Swen mentioned that adding origins [meaning backgrounds] was part of the Kickstarter stretch goals. From talking to you and to Swen, I get the idea that you don't quite know how much work these origins will take in the long haul. How much writing, if you are going to voice it or not… So if you're saying “okay, we'll reach that stretch goal and put in an origin”, can you guarantee that that won't harm other parts of the game, extend development time, cause financial problems, and all these things?
Kieron: Is there a guarantee in game development?
Bubbles: No, there isn't, of course...
Sarah: The nice thing about the prototype is that it was a closed thing, and we got to make it from beginning to end, there are some problems with it, but it works. So we can estimate the size of that, how much dialogue that was, based on this. So this is the first time we've kind of had a completely closed little system that we can take the size and scope of, and extrapolate from that to a larger project.
Bubbles: Are you already making plans for an Enhanced Edition of D:OS 2?
Sarah: [laughs] No, we're not talking about post release yet. Eyes on the prize.
Kieron: Joking aside, the Enhanced Edition itself, it wasn't like things were put off, “we can just do that later on.” It was a passion project as much as anything else.
Bubbles: So you're satisfied with the original game as you released it?
Sarah: I'm extremely proud of the game. Stuff that made it in – like the cheese vendor spam – wasn't perfect, but the game in its original form is still a good experience. Everybody was really trying to get it all in from the beginning.
Bubbles: So the console version was decided on after release?
Sarah: I don't know.
Kieron: Well, you can't say that, because there was always concept art from the very beginning with controllers. There was always a desire to do couch co-op. Whether or not that was on console, you have to ask Swen. [I forgot to.]
Bubbles: In the original game, you had these four gated areas – these big overworld maps. In the new game, are you also implementing that same system of entering one area, doing as much as you want, do the main quest, go to the next area, do as much as you want...?
Sarah: I'm not 100% sure how they're gonna do it. I guess it will depend on how independent vs. co-dependent the four players will be. Even in OS 1, you can move on without completing the main quest [in that map], so: actual physical gating? No. But actual story progression gating...ish? Uhm…
Kieron: Yeah, the engine is still built so that we have these large maps. That's the engine. It's built in such a way that it allows us to build these gigantic levels, these huge worlds. Like, Cyseal is one of the biggest we've made, and actually, one of the maps that are currently being made for the new game is actually a little bit larger. We're stretching the limits of what the engine will run before your machine will break down. The maps are so big, and eventually we're gonna have to create a story based reason for you to progress. The engine isn't changing in that way, and it's too early to say how… I don't wanna use the word ”bottleneck”, but… again, if you wanna progress and get your butt kicked, because it's a Divinity game, that option should be available.
Bubbles: Swen mentioned that there was going to be a city much bigger than Cyseal in the original game. And I was wondering how that would fit on the map. Just a map with a city on it and nothing else? But you probably can't answer that.
Sarah: The last thing I heard was variety, from the beginning. Like, instead of jumbo-Cyseal maps, smaller ones. But maybe that has been developed since I heard about it.
Kieron: If he's mentioned that big city, it's gonna have its own map, because… yeah. Just ask him, because I'm not sure what I can actually say. [I ended up forgetting to ask Swen about this. It was a long day.]
Watch: Do you watch what the competition is doing, or are you just doing your own thing, following your own ideas?
Sarah: A bit of both, I think. Sometimes, when we're coming up with ideas, an artist will overhear and say “Oh, they did that in Dragon Age, you can't do that,” or something like that. I think everybody has their niche of stuff they like to play, and everybody brings some of that to the table. I played Pillars of Eternity, that was the most recent competitor I played – not the whole thing [very understandable], but a chunk of it. And I learned a lot from that.
Watch: From the story….????
Sarah: From the story, yeah. It was a completely different method of story telling from what we had. It was really strong, and I really enjoyed reading it, so I was taking notes while I was playing it. It's not something we could do in a Divinity game, because we have this completely open world, we never take the camera, we don't do a lot of cutscenes, but I think there's lessons to be learned from playing stuff, and learning what you can.
Bubbles: So you're saying Pillars of Eternity was an inspiration for your writing?
Watch: [laugh] Tread carefully!
Sarah: I would say it was an interesting and enjoyable experience as a writer.
Bubbles: Can you list any specific inspirations for both the writer's room and for you specifically?
Sarah: I think I take a lot of my inspiration from books; surprisingly, I think poetry has a lot of influence on my writing. I really like imagistic writing. It's gonna be surprising hearing me say this, knowing that I worked on Original Sin, but writing that conveys a lot in a few words is important. So poets like T.S. Eliot, H.D., Walt Whitman on another spectrum, I would say these are my biggest writing influences. I think a lot of the Irish guys are Terry Pratchett people.
Kieron: I think that's fair. Yes. I not so much, but there's quite a few in the office.
Sarah: And then there's Char, our fantasy queen, and Jan is Mr. Shakespeare.
Watch: What are the things that bind you all together? What is specific about your team?
Kieron: I credit Swen. Joking aside, I think I credit the fact that he hires people, that it's not an HR guy. If I get hired, I have an interview with Swen. On a personality level, he's performing a litmus test just doing the interview. I was surprised, actually, in Dublin: with 6 brand new staff together, we've actually gelled very well.
Sarah: Maybe part of it is actually the “wink” [she winks] a bit, maybe he's looking for that sense of humour in people when he's interviewing them.
Bubbles: Do you have any plans for the mod tools yet? For expanding them?
Sarah: That would be so great. We'd really love to see a thriving mod community… but the editor was not so user friendly, which I think was a bit of a turn-off. I know that, last time, Swen was really looking forward to seeing everybody's stuff, but… I don't know, specifically. We're not talking about it right now. [I later asked Swen about the mod kit; he indicated that OS2 would offer players the same editor that the team was using, with “some improvements” added compared to OS1.]
Bubbles: When we first came in here, somebody pointed at the wall [of artwork] and said “we've added much more detail to the art style.” How would you describe the art style in general? Is is just more detail?
Sarah: … good question, probably better suited for our art director or for Swen. I think it's a bit more realistic looking, more details, but I don't wanna speak for them.
[I asked Swen about the art; his first response was “Can't you tell?” I could not. He explained that the new art style was showing more detail and offered a greater degree of realism. The detail I could see, but not the realism; maybe it'll become more apparent as development progresses.]
Gameplay: Was there a fame or infamy system in the prototype? For example, I took the bomb to blow up the ship, but I opened it in the market, so I was a suicide bomber. I did a lot of damage and a lot of guards were around, but there wasn't a real fame or infamy change. Is that something that will be implemented?
Sarah: Normally, yes. Currently we have these generic behaviours imported from Original Sin, and they're not functioning perfectly in the prototype. The idea is that it's not just “plus/minus attitude per person”, but that, if you go into a town and save it from a dragon or destroy it, everybody will acknowledge that. But we also want to avoid a system where you kill one legionnaire and suddenly every legionnaire in the realm hates you.
Kieron: There's a couple of systems that we're working on, but it's way too early to talk about them.
Bubbles: You worked on the Codex-Watch quest, right? Can I take a picture?
Sarah: Err... yeah? Did people really like the quest?
Bubbles: Oh yeah, absolutely. People will want to see who worked on it.
Sarah: Yeah, the story came from Jan, and then I just did the dialogues. But yeah. I like the Codex Imps. You have a short deadline, when a quest needs to be done, but... yeah. They're just a good time.
Bubbles: They're such a mainstay of the series – they've been there from the beginning, and they're so much fun. I really like the realization of the Codex-Watch quest in general, because it makes the Codex seem spontaneous and clever, while the Watch is a bit dull. A little.
Sarah: [laughs] It would have been nice if we'd had more information time to flesh out the quest a bit more, and give the Watch more of something to do, because the imps are so present in it, they're so wonderful, they're following you around with these little quips and stuff. And then the Watch you unfortunately only get to meet once, and then you send them to the Homestead. It's a bit abrupt, and it would've been nice to have a bit more space to play with that. But the imps are fun. Sometimes I toss in the game and go "oh god those imps are driving me crazy!" and [another writer] goes "yeah, that's the idea."
Bubbles: Must be based in Swen's psyche, perhaps.
Sarah: [laughs] I don't know. As far as the fact that they show up in your homestead, and just follow you around, I.... don't know who designed that actually, but it's fun. It's a fun bit of gameplay.
Bubbles: Which part of the Original Sin did you feel that you really “nailed”; a prototypical part of your writing?
Sarah: I can't really say – I think it's the experience as a whole in Original Sin. I don't think I can pinpoint one particular aspect of it. When I play the game, I feel what I felt when making it; I feel happy and enthusiastic. It was a pleasurable experience; I think there was a lot of energy in it, and I feel that energy when I play it.
Bubble: That's quite revelatory; I know it's typical for writers to say, alright, now I've finished my work, and, well, it's horrible. And you don't have that?
Sarah: No! When I come back to the game, I just feel that energy again. And I enjoy what's in the game, and it comes back to me every time I play it.
Bubbles: What would you say is the “source” of your writing? Do you draw from your personal lives? Where do you think the writing comes from?
Sarah: Swen. Nothing would be as it is now without him; he affects almost everything about the game. I think we all bring parts of ourselves into the game. Jan, example is Jahan. Jahan is a “Jan” character; he's always very sarcastic. Me, I'm probably Jake's dog, Murphy. [laughs] I think there's a lot of [our] personalities drawn together in the writing.
Bubbles: Thank you very much.
The rest of the day was taken up by lunch and dinner, which were not the proper occasions for hard-hitting Codex Questions. Besides, I felt like I'd asked virtually every question that I had wanted to ask. The only thing left to do was to listen. And remember.
"Sometimes, after work, I'm really tired, and then I look at the Codex and go 'oh no...'"
"I don't have any messages for the Codex. [pause] But I enjoy the site. Keep on doing what you're doing."
"The Codex does good analysis."
"I like Roguey's posts. I don't always agree with him, but I respect him."
[pointing at me] "He's very secretive about his forums name."
"This is off the record. Off the record!"
"He did this four hour video, and it's totally unwatchable. I'll send you a link!"
"Mandatory. Roguey. Romance."
"I think I'm going to stay away from the Codex for the next month."
And that concludes this particular piece. I hope the information gathered was useful enough to justify the eternal shame of having sold out to a big developer on the eve of his Kickstarter campaign; if not, feel free to complain in the comments.