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Obsidian Media Blitz: Josh Sawyer and Feargus Urquhart Interviews

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Obsidian Media Blitz: Josh Sawyer and Feargus Urquhart Interviews

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Thu 7 September 2017, 20:33:44

Tags: Feargus Urquhart; J.E. Sawyer; Obsidian Entertainment

After taking a break for the weekend, the Obsidian media campaign continued this week in full force. There was a rather pointless interview with Feargus Urquhart at VG247, and an interesting but esoteric feature about the graphics in Obsidian's new isometric games at Rock Paper Shotgun. Once again, it was up to USgamer's Kat Bailey to deliver something more meaty - another massive interview with Josh Sawyer. It's a biographical piece that covers Josh's entire life and career, the companies that he's worked at, the games that he's made and the lessons that he's learned. It's incredibly long, so I'll just quote a couple of select bits from it:

I'm not a designer by any means, but I used to make missions and that kind of thing. I would also play the occasional tabletop game, and it did get me thinking in kind of game design terms. Was that the same for you?

JS: Yeah, very much so. I started thinking like, "I don't really like how these rules encourage this behavior or how these rules discourage this a cool and fun behavior." Or, "I don't really understand what this rule accomplishes, like why is this rule here? What good does it do?" That's when I started just modifying rules, just sort of saying to the players, "Hey, I'm going to change this. Does anyone really care?" Sometimes they cared, most of the time they were like, "No, that's fine." Sometimes it was to their benefit and so they were like, "Oh great, sure, change whatever you want.

Then in college, I played a lot more tabletop games. Played GURPS, played Vampire, played Legend of the Five Rings, played a lot of this stuff and so I was getting exposure to different mechanics that were just fundamentally really different from AD&D's. Then I started thinking, "Oh, okay, so this is another way that you can do things and this is what this accomplishes and this is what this really doesn't accomplish," or, "These are the problems that arise in something like Shadowrun." People joke about rolling 20 six-sided dice to do things.

Also, a friend and a classmate of mine, Jer Strandberg, was designing his own roleplaying game and he wanted playtesters. I signed up to just break the rules. I would be the guy who said, "Hey Jer, you know if you do this then you can basically break the game," and he's like, "I don't think that's true," and I'm like, "Here we go, my friend." I'd start building the characters. "Okay, okay, okay, you proved the point, you proved the point!" It wasn't to do anything malicious, it was literally to help him. I said, "There is a structural problem here."

College was when I started developing my own tabletop roleplaying game and playing with my friends. I ran a campaign for a few years and that was really complicated, but it also showed because in my mind, being a young amateur game designer, I was like, "Oh, I want to simulate things more, I want it to be more realistic." But in doing that I also saw, "Oh, this can really slow the game down, there are drawbacks to doing this."

I think that's when I started to understand that design is less about coming up with a perfect decision. Like, "Oh, this is the perfect answer to the problem." It's more about what compromises you are willing to deal with, because there are really tradeoffs to almost any decision you can make. There are people that you're going to make happy, people who are not going to be happy, things that you're going to accomplish, things that you're not going to accomplish, things that you're going to cause to happen that are negative, but you have to weigh them against, "Well, that's a negative, but I think that overall accomplishes something good, so I'm willing to accept that."

Even as an amateur designer I was starting to get a picture of design as about deciding what you want to do. Like fundamentally at a high level, "What am I trying to accomplish with these rules, these characters, these systems," and then thinking about, "Okay, if this what I'm trying to do, how can I get there?" Constantly reevaluating and saying, "Am I still really getting to where I want to go or have I gone astray?" That helps redirect me into hopefully something better.

What was the number one thing that you learned from working with Chris Avellone?

JS: I would say it's thinking about what the player wants to do. There's pictures of Chris around the office with a speech bubble that says, "Can I make a speech check here? Because I really want to make a speech check."

The idea is like if a NPC says something, imagine if you're sitting at a table. You have to write the possibilities of what the player can say. If an NPC is a jerk, think about, "Okay, well how is a player going to want to respond? How are different players going to want to respond? Is the player going to want to slap this character? Is the player going to want to take the high ground and be above it all? Are they going to be quiet and just accept it? Or are they going to want to do something else?" Also like, "Oh, if there's a quest that presents this thing, does that sort of beg, 'Oh, I'm a character with these skills and that makes me want to do these things?'"

He was always the guy who was pushing for us as designers to find ways to respond. Not only to give players opportunities to slap the guy who makes fun of you, but also saying, "Hey, if you have this skill in the game, if you have electronics in the game, you have to find ways to bring electronics to the surface and let a character who specializes in electronics feel like they are a cool character." He reinforced that a lot.

Sometimes when we would play through games, he would make a character with an odd build that would seem kind of unusual and he would say, "Why can't I use these things," which is a good point. Again, if you make a character that's built in a certain way, if the player doesn't have some opportunity to really shine and go, "Ah yes, finally, all those points I put into doctor make me feel like I'm really cool," then that sucks. It feels like a huge letdown.
On the same day, Rock Paper Shotgun published an interview of their own with Feargus. It's about Obsidian's relationship with publishers, a topic he's much more qualified to speak about than what he was asked about in the VG247 interview. Since I've run out of room here, I won't post a quote, but I thought the part about how crowdfunding experience has improved Obsidian's interaction with publishers was interesting.

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