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Feargus Urquhart feargs out at Red Bull Games, reveals Obsidian turned down Game of Thrones RPG

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Feargus Urquhart feargs out at Red Bull Games, reveals Obsidian turned down Game of Thrones RPG

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 6 May 2015, 15:10:56

Tags: Feargus Urquhart; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

There's a new interview with Feargus Urquhart over at Red Bull Games. The main topic of the interview seems to be Obsidian's decision to use a "generic high fantasy" setting for Pillars of Eternity, which in typical Feargus fashion leads to some interesting relevations. Here's an excerpt:

If these games weren’t what people wanted, their creators wouldn’t have taken penny one. But we’d suggest that the success of Kickstarter the gaming platform can be celebrated once a game without feet so firmly planted in the PC classics of yore can pull in the same amount of money. Could these games’ creators have pitched something completely novel to potential backers, and come away with the same amounts of cash? Was Pillars of Eternity – a spruced up fantasy CRPG for the crowdfunding age – pitched because it was the game that developer Obsidian wanted to make? Or because CEO Feargus Urquhart and his team knew it would be the easiest Kickstarter sell?

“To be honest, it’s a bit of [both],” Urquhart tells Red Bull in the aftermath of the game’s release. “Part of it was the reality that Brian [Fargo] had already done Wasteland, which was post-apocalyptic, Harebrained [Schemes] had already done Shadowrun, which was fantasy and cyberpunk. For us, it seemed like the best opportunity was fantasy.

“[But] more importantly, a lot of us all came up in the D&D world. I had the privilege of making D&D games from 1996 until 2008… Fantasy is also something we love – I loved working on the Baldur’s Gates with Bioware. So part of it is that we’re making Pillars because that’s probably the best place we can be as a business. But look, hey, [we also said:] 'It feels like there’s an opportunity here, to make something we love and we want to make'. So luckily, we were able to line both those up with Pillars.”

The success that Pillars of Eternity has enjoyed since its release at the end of March has been staggering, sitting on a Metascore – from both critics and users – that would make most triple-A publishers cry under their mahogany desks. But its roots in classic RPGs raise an interesting question: when you’re selling your game (before it’s even been made) on the promise that it’s like what’s gone before, does keeping that promise restrict the sorts of creative decisions you get to make in its development? In simpler terms: would people back a fantasy game without elves, dwarves and haunted ruins full of loot?

“I don’t look at it as a standard high fantasy game being restrictive,” Urquhart says. “The way I look at it is, it’s not wrong for people to want that sort of high fantasy – it’s comfortable. I can more quickly immerse myself in this world because I understand orcs and elves and dragons and zombies and liches, and that’s what we do.

“But there needs to be different stuff as well. We’ve done different styles of fantasy games: go back to [erstwhile RPG publisher] Black Isle and you’ve got Icewind Dale, which had a very different focus, and Planescape Torment, which a different focus on top of that. That’s how we look at it, you know, ‘do we always want to make a high fantasy game?’ No. But it’s fun to do.”

Fantasy as a genre has changed a lot since the PC RPG heyday. But while Pillars is about complexity and had the fortune (and guile) to launch its Kickstarter in September 2012, just a few months after the wrap of Game of Thrones season 2, it’s Lord of the Rings to which Urquhart says the team owes the most credit (particularly Peter Jackson, and “his belief in Lord of the Rings as not just something that the nerds love”). In fact, around eight years ago, Obsidian actually turned down the opportunity to do the first Game of Thrones RPG.

“I don’t know if the project would have ever happened,” says Urquhart, candidly, “but we were approached by a big publisher, and they had the Game of Thrones licence at the time. And I love Game of Thrones – it’s an incredibly rich story and world and obviously the characterisation is amazing. But, there’s a couple of things about it that are challenging if you want to make a roleplaying game.

“Part of it was very interesting to us because of the focus on characters, and that’s kind of what we do. But if you think about the world, it’s so much about the politics and it’s so much about the linear story of what’s going on. Then you tie that to magic playing a very little role, and to be honest, [the story is] mostly [about] people. There’s not a lot of standard role-playing fantasy things, [like] putting an adventuring party together and going to find the abandoned ruins full of zombies and witches and ghosts and spectres and ghouls and all that kind of stuff.

“My recommendation at the time was that it would make a better RTS [real-time strategy game], or something like an RTS. Again, a geopolitical, war simulation-type game.” (Something which, incidentally, now exists: in the form of this mod for medieval RTS Crusader Kings 2).​

See the full interview for more thoughts from Feargus on balancing the generic with the unique, on how Obsidian would do a "Skyrim Kickstarter" (again), and on the recent Steam paid mods controversy. Ah, Feargus. I do wonder if it's really as simple as Obsidian "turning down" that Game of Thrones offer, though.

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