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Leonard Boyarsky Mega-Interview at PCGamesN
Interview - posted by Infinitron on Fri 15 December 2017, 23:14:18Tags: Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura; Blizzard Entertainment; Diablo III; Diablo III: Reaper of Souls; Leonard Boyarsky; Obsidian Entertainment; Temple of Elemental Evil; Troika Games; Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
Following on the heels of the semi-reveal of Obsidian's new project with Take-Two Interactive, PCGamesN have published a very extensive interview with co-game director Leonard Boyarsky. The interview covers three eras of Leonard's career - the Troika years, his decade at Blizzard working on Diablo III and its expansion, and his return to RPG development at Obsidian. He's not allowed to talk about the new game yet, but there are some interesting anecdotes here, a few of which might tell you something about his current frame of mind. Here's an excerpt:
And, of course, you were making nice and simple games, nothing too big, nothing too ambitious...
Yeah, we didn't do things where you could do anything you could ever possibly imagine, that was probably not in the timeframe of any realistic budget or anything [laughs]. Even though I feel like we could have got a lot more QA for all three of our games, especially Arcanum. I think [that] was a game where I'm not sure any reasonable person would have put in the amount of money and time needed to successfully test that game with all the permutations we put in there.
We virtually let you do anything. If you're a Dwarf, you immediately get penalised if you try to use magic, vice versa with Elves and technology. Which made [it possible to make] non-viable characters, but we were like 'oh it's so cool, people will love playing this!'. If we went back and did it now, we [could] say it was a racial thing [where] Dwarves are not able to use magic [and] cut out some of those things that were not viable builds, save ourselves a lot of headaches and still pretty much have the same game. Just things you realise in hindsight.
You think you could have found a spot along the curve where you weren't sacrificing too much, but you have a game that's a lot easier to make and test?
I think in a lot of ways it would still seem like the same game. I don't think you'd know we made that [other] version if you didn't know it existed. I don't think people would think it was any less reactive than it ended up being. You can present it in such a way that, of course, they can't do this, y'know? For both Arcanum and Temple we were just the victims of our own ambition, optimism, and enthusiasm. Tim has talked about it at length. I wasn't really involved beyond the contract phase of Temple, but 3.5 came out halfway through development, and Atari's like 'well why don't you put 3.5 in?'. We're like, 'well, can we have extra time?', and they're like 'no’.
Why don't you just... change everything?
Yeah, I think we ended up getting another month or two but it definitely wasn't as much time as we needed or asked for. Instead of us going 'welp, then you can't have it', we're like 'we can do it!'. Which was our failing every time, we want to do something extremely difficult that's gonna take extra time, we'll do it, we can do it, we'll stay extra. I mean I spent most of Troika's existence at work. Night time, weekends, I was there pretty much all the time. There were times we weren't but especially when we got into Vampire it was just crazy. It was crunch for something like two-and-a-half years, some insane amount of time.
There have been some rumblings of a game after Vampire being developed at Troika, is there anything you can talk about on that? Is it even true?
We did a bunch of pitch documents. We did a demo for what was a post-apocalyptic game, but all we had was some concept art and the engine demo. We had not really put a lot of design into it, we were just hoping that we could shop that around and people could see the promise there. We were fairly early in the development, that eventually leaked, but still no-one was interested in it. We weren't too upset it was out there.
We did actually make, I forget how far we got, we made I believe a workable prototype of one small little area that was like a Werewolf version [of Vampire]. We made a game where you could turn into a Werewolf or you could be a Werewolf, but it was only one small area using a lot of the assets if not all the assets from Vampire.
A lot of conversations with publishers, a lot of pitch documents. The one people ask about mostly is the post-apocalyptic one - what you see in those videos out there is what it was. There was no grand... I did a concept piece and I think we had a very, very basic pitch that's in a box somewhere at my house. I believe me and Tim and Jason all have copies of it, I could dig it up but I do not remember virtually anything about it. It was almost Thundarr the Barbarian-esque. Magic came into the world after the apocalypse - it was one of those things. It was like Conan with dark magic as you're running around giant ruined freeways and buildings.
Every game I've worked on in my entire career you start with a design and the game changes a lot from your original vision as you're making it. That happened even with Fallout, Arcanum had a bit of that [too]. So even though we had an original pitch for that post-apocalyptic game, I feel like it was barely the kernel of an idea. We would have taken a very specific direction, we liked to have a very tangible vibe and direction for the game, and I feel like that was very very early - we hadn't really solidified what that was going to be.
You're at Obsidian but you're also back with the people you worked with before - but there was a ten year gap in there. Was it like going back to the way things used to be or is there stuff that has changed for the better?
Yeah. Obsidian has this fantastic dialogue writing tool that is just great. We were writing dialogues in Excel, literally, on Arcanum and Vampire. They have processes that have been in place for years and years and years that we never got a chance to do at Troika. It's not to say that I didn't learn a lot of valuable stuff at Blizzard. Working with a whole different set of people.
At Troika, and when we were working on Fallout at Interplay, and probably at the beginning of Obsidian, they would have said the same thing, we were maybe a bit myopically focused on hardcore RPGs. Over the course of the past ten years or so, working with other people and talking with people who are passionate about games but maybe not the same games that I'm passionate about, really gives you a different insight into things and you learn different ways of looking at games, and different ways to accomplish the same goals.
Some things you look at you're like 'yeah, I wouldn't do it that way' and some things you're like 'I never would have thought of that, that's a really good idea’. So, in a way, when I say it's like coming home it's not like nothing has changed, but the big thing is working on another game that's really, really focused on the story and the way you play the story. [That's] the thing I love and the thing that felt like coming home more than anything.
Read the whole thing, it's good stuff. Apparently Matt Barton is going to publish an interview with Leonard in the near future as well. Now that the news about Project Indiana is officially out there, hopefully information about it will start to trickle out.