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Josh Sawyer Pillars of Eternity Post-Release Interview at Gamasutra

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Josh Sawyer Pillars of Eternity Post-Release Interview at Gamasutra

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Fri 1 May 2015, 18:06:55

Tags: J.E. Sawyer; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

It's not a proper postmortem, but I believe the new interview with Josh Sawyer over at Gamasutra is the first proper Pillars of Eternity post-release retrospective from an Obsidian employee. In it, he discusses the challenges of the game's development, and a little bit about what they're planning next. Here's an excerpt:

That weight of expectation wasn’t as straight forward as it might seem. Both Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, and to a lesser extent both their sequels, are revered for a range of reasons, but on top of that they’re far enough in the past that nostalgia is going to warp and alter exactly what people love about them. Identifying what that core expectation is when developing something new can’t have been easy.

"It’s not a case of pure logic," Sawyer tells me. "It’s not a case of, 'This is the most logically sensible thing.' It’s that this is the thing that is sensible enough, but also feels correct from the perspective of the player. And that’s a very difficult balance to strike, but that’s what we tried to do.’

"So we still have a class-based system, and while my personal preference is for skill-based systems that don’t have classes or levels, that feels very very different from the Infinity Engine games, as they’re all Dungeons & Dragons based. So we knew from the beginning we were going to have classes, and we were going to have levels, everything like that. We tried to keep those familiar structures, but then within those structures we tried to change them in such a way that players thought it was a positive change, but wouldn’t react negatively to the fact that it had been changed."

It was here, in figuring out exactly what people were expecting and wanting from Pillars of Eternity, that their established audience of Kickstarter backers became an asset to development. Through an extensive backer beta, as well as having an open discourse with their audience from very early on in development, the team was able to ask the people most invested and excited about the game their opinions, and then iterate on those opinions where they felt it necessary.

"If a bunch of people really don’t like a system it doesn’t necessarily mean we should change it, but we do need to look at it more and make an evaluation. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can usually find something that’s enjoyable for everyone, even if there are bits and piece some people don’t like."

When it came to building the world for Pillars of Eternity, the expectations shifted dramatically. On the one hand Sawyer and his team didn’t want to stray too far from the established tone and settings of those games which had inspired Pillars, but on the other they were still making something original, that needed to feel like a new place, and a new world. I ask Sawyer whether they felt pressure to strike out in a starkly different direction, to set it apart from what came before.

"No, I don’t think so. I do think we still need to account for player familiarity. We intentionally created a setting that felt ‘Realmsy.’ It was very D&D, high fantasy. If you look at Torment: Tides of Numenera, they’re definitely doing something that feels very very different, which is great and cool, and they were very successful. But for this project we wanted to do something that was very much in the line with Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, so that meant ‘Euro’ fantasy.’

"We’ve developed a world where, in the future, we can explore all of these other cultures we’ve established, which are much more non-‘Euro’, for lack of a better term." The idea being that, now that the team has established the world of Pillars with the familiar part of it, they can now use it as a spring-board into new and more unfamiliar places, knowing that they have eased the players into their setting already.

[...] Now that Pillars of Eternity has had a month out in the wild, it’s clear that it achieved what it was intended to: To create a game that tapped into the nostalgia and yearning for a game in the same vein of those great CRPGs of the late '90s and early 2000s, while still offering something new and unique. According to Sawyer, Obsidian is pleased but vigilant, still working to refine the game and address the concerns people have about things like the late-game being too easy, as well as ironing out bugs.

Looking forward, it seems like, even with Pillars' success, Obsidian is eager to go down the route of Kickstarter again -- if only to have that backer resource that proved so valuable in development. "I think the whole process of Kickstarter was very good for us," Sawyer elaborates. "I think it gave our backers a lot more insight into the process of development, even if it could sometimes be frustrating for them. But now I think they understand how it goes. We wouldn’t be opposed to using Kickstarter again in the future, and there is also the possibility of doing partial funding, such as how Shadowrun: Dragonfall did."

But for now, Obsidian is focused on the expansion to Pillars of Eternity. "It is looking incredibly beautiful. Our artists had a whole game to get back into the groove of making 2D environments, and what they’re creating, now that they’re comfortable with it again, is astonishing, and I’m really excited for people to see it."
Heh, the self-awareness shines though. Good to hear that they're addressing the late game difficulty issue.

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