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Josh Sawyer talks about Neketaka at PCGamesN

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Josh Sawyer talks about Neketaka at PCGamesN

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Tue 8 August 2017, 00:41:52

Tags: Bobby Null; J.E. Sawyer; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

Last week's Pillars of Eternity II Fig update showcasing the city of Neketaka made such a good impression that the folks at PCGamesN decided to interview Josh Sawyer about it. The first part of their interview is focused on describing the city's politics. I quote:

Pillars of Eternity 2 draws from the history of the East India Company as inspiration for its capital city, Neketaka. The city is torn between the competing interests of the trading companies looking to exploit the resources of the Deadfire Archipelago and the natives trying to turn this foreign interest into personal gain.

Talking to us last week, Pillar of Eternity 2 director Josh Sawyer says that Europe's imperial history was very much in mind when designing the game, and Neketaka in particular.

"We’re definitely trying to draw connections to things like the East India Trading Company, and various Belgian and Dutch trading firms as well," Sawyer says. "Each of the colonial cultures has a different interest in the area. They overlap a little bit, and they are in direct competition."

Neketaka has a long history. Its original builders are the Huana, an ancient tribe that were contemporaries to the Engwithan, the precursor race that you learn about in the original game. Unlike the Engwithan, though, the Huana were set back by "a big, cataclysmic event that occurred, and wiped out a huge portion of their population," Sawyer says. "They had to rebuild from almost nothing. Neketaka is actually a surviving element of that ancient culture, but it was abandoned for centuries until it was repossessed by a powerful Huana tribe, the Kahanga."

The Kahanga is "nominally the ruling tribe of the Huana, but they don’t really respect their authority." The queen and prince of the tribe have a strong military but they don't command as much respect among the tribes as you'd expect of "autocratic rulers."

Then, within the city there are: the native Huana; the Vailian trading company - a group sponsored by the Vailian Republics, who you could encounter in the first game - they control a district called Queen's Berth; and, finally, the Royal Deadfire Company. They control their own district, too - a large, fortified district.

Hated by everyone are the Principi, a pirate collective. Naturally, with so many traders around, the Principi have infiltrated the city with their agents.

All these factions are interlinked with alliances and rivalries, and being an Obsidian RPG, many of them want you to help turn the faction confusion to their advantage. For example, Sawyer explains the queen's plan: "She is trying to play them off against each other, but she’s playing a dangerous game. Those groups are very powerful, and because those tribes are not that unified, they are vulnerable to outside colonial forces that are more organised."

But you aren't just a pawn for these groups, Sawyer says: "The player has their own agenda for coming to Neketaka [and] you see different elements of each faction before you get to make alliances among them. You’re pursuing one objective, but it drags you into the middle of these four groups. Neketaka is a place where you see these cultures coming together and you see the dysfunction between them. As a player, you can be extremely resistant to making alliances with them, and although it’s very difficult, we do offer the option to go your own way. But, all these factions want to do a ‘quid pro quo’ with you, like ‘Why don’t you help our faction? We’ll help you achieve your objectives’."
The second part of the interview goes into more detail about the experience of being in Neketaka. Here's an excerpt:

With Neketaka possessing such scope and bustling culture, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ll slip in unnoticed and be able to quietly manipulate its systems. Quite the opposite is the reality; you’ll be a big name from practically the moment you walk through its gates.

“As soon as you get to Neketaka, something happens to establish who you are,” Sawyer teases. “It’s a big event that means we can justifiably have anyone in the city be aware of who you are. When you’re on the critical path, while you’re suggested to go to the palace, it’s possible to avoid it if you want to. But if you do go to the palace, everyone who sees you knows who you are.”

And when everyone knows who you are, there’s one thing you can count on: an ever-growing line of NPCs demanding you help them out. Pillars of Eternity II’s cities will, without question, feature dozens of quest opportunities, but Sawyer notes that Obsidian have been careful with how those opportunities are presented.

“We do want players to stumble across quests, but if they’re forced into it all the time, that can get irritating,” he explains. “It can also be overwhelming when you have so many quests that you just don’t know where to go. Baldur's Gate was much too sparse, and Athkatla [the capital city in Baldur’s Gate II] was a little too dense. Part of it also had to do with the way the player was pulled into those conversations. Sometimes it’s ok to pull players into a dialogue, and other times it’s ok to let a player see there’s something going on and decide [what to do].”

As you travel around Neketaka, you’ll find that the citizens respond to you in a variety of ways governed by a specific sense of logic. This is based in Obsidian’s wish for NPCs to be notably and realistically reactive.

“If you rob from a regular citizen, it seems a little jarring if they go berserk and attack you,” Sawyer notes. “[In Pillars 2] if regular old folks get mad, they will try to call the guards. If you start attacking them, they’ll flee or they’ll cower. The people who are there to protect the citizens - the guards - they’re the ones who will come and try and attack you.”

If you’re planning on staying on the right side of the law, the new chatter system is where you’ll notice most of Pillars II’s reactivity. “People react to you in different ways based on who they are,” Sawyer details. “People react to you being godlike, which is something [players] said they wanted more reactivity to. If you do certain things, people will thank you or they’ll curse you in the street. We try to have a lot of logic to it.”

That reactivity runs deeper than merely what people say about you, though. Your decisions and actions will have an obvious effect on Neketaka; the city itself will change over time. “The bigger challenge is less about giving something a sense of place, and more about giving a place a sense of change over time,” Sawyer says. “It’s the thing in roleplaying games that is much more difficult. Almost any genre can give you a strong sense of place, but when the player does something in a roleplaying game, they’re looking for what changes based on that. ‘Do people come? Do they go? Do they treat me differently?’ That’s always a challenge, and it’s something that we keep pushing.”
For more details about Neketeka, you may also want to check out this brief interview with lead designer Bobby Null at MMORPG.com. It's nice to hear Obsidian reiterate their commitment to NPC schedules, which we haven't really heard anything about since the Fig campaign.

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