Tacticular Cancer: We'll have your balls

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Interview Obsidian Media Blitz: Josh Sawyer and Feargus Urquhart Interviews

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Sep 7, 2017.

  1. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ Trade Master Patron

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    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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  2. Sensukigender: ⚧ Arcane Cuck

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    I see the paid media campaign extends to here as well
     
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  3. TorontRaynegender: ⚧ Arbiter

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    Probably right. Too much news about them damn video games.
     
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  4. Iznaliugender: ⚧ Arbiter

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    I would prefer news of what's going on inside the Codex.
     
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  5. Urthorgender: ⚧ Learned

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    If they're really interested in doing some absurd media blitz because it's the end of summer vacation so why not, why don't they do the manly thing and front up Tim Cain and Leon to the media? They're the ones we really want to see.
     
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  6. Iznaliugender: ⚧ Arbiter

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    I'm not sure you want Mr. Triangle in front of things.
     
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  7. Azarkongender: ⚧ Arcane

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    I guess it makes sense that Josh Sawyer's favorite character is a super intelligent and ruthless woman who defies stereotypes.

    Probably not the best idea to talk about how story isn't central and how walls of text are boring, when the guy is asking about the success of Planescape: Torment. But then again, Josh Sawyer didn't address a single line to Planescape: Torment in his answer, maybe because he hated the game?

    But at the time Brian Fargo was running Interplay, CRPGs weren't niche. The sales numbers for Baldur's Gate 1 was right up there with Doom, and both Wizardry and Ultima were mainstream. Isometric CRPGs became niche in the same way all isometric games became niche - due to the 3D decline. Obsidian ended up making niche isometric CRPGs because all their attempts to break into the 3D mainstream failed. There is still a significant market for well made isometric CRPGs, but it is a very different market from back then.

    I don't know whether Josh Sawyer's dream CRPG is a game I, personally, would want to play, but still, the best advice I'd have for him is to make the CRPGs that he wants to play, instead of constantly thinking about what the market, the audience, etc. demands. Give me your preference - not what you think is my preference, because chances are, you won't be able to figure out my preference and even in case you do, you won't be able to empathize with it enough to do an excellent job developing it.

    In my opinion, this is the biggest problem with the mainstream game industry today: developers trying to develop for the audience, rather than themselves.

    Here's to the hope that Josh Sawyer gets to work on that dream game of his, instead of what the owners decide to give him next.
     
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  8. I'm With Her SausageInYourFacegender: ⚧ for prison Arcane Patron

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    I am glad that historical game is not off the table yet but it will probably depend very much on how well PoE2 sells.
     
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  9. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ Trade Master Patron

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    Meh, this is just the grognardy way of repeating the "Games are art" dogma that gives us SJW Tumblr games. Sawyer recognizes that game development is an act of craftsmanship, not of artistic self-expression, and thank god for that
     
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  10. Prime Juntagender: ⚧ Arcane

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    People with interesting ideas are capable of making interesting games. It's not very surprising that a middle-of-the-road average dull person's dream game will be middle-of-the-road average dull.

    IOW I'm all for artistic self-expression if the person doing the expressing has something worth the trouble, and the craftsmanship to pull it off. That's a tough equation though.

    /insert plug for No Truce
     
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  11. Make America Great Again torogender: ⚧ Arcane

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    This is how a prostitute advertises that she's available. Good job Obsidian.
     
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  12. Azrael the catgender: ⚧ Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    Sounds like a commonly interviewed, but nonetheless "employee only, yet manged to squeeze a founder and equity partner out of the fucking company" project lead is on orders to re-recruit Avellone:)
     
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  13. Lurker Kinggender: ⚧ Self-Ejected The Real Fanboy

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    Ever heard of Skyrim? They support every “unusual” build. That’s a good way of ensuring that the game world will become a egocentric theme park mess.

    That sounds like you want to have the cake and eat it too. What if the believable response is to punish the player for doing idiotic shit for the lulz? Oh, wait. You can't do that because [insert sanctimonious nonsense about manchild's ego player's freedom as a justification].

     
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  14. Make America Great Again Rogueygender: ⚧ Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

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    Yeah, they were "dead."

    BG perhaps made crpgs more popular than they ever had been (just as Diablo had done for dungeon clickers), its level of success was completely unexpected. Wizardry and Ultima were both dead in 1998, though Ultima didn't truly die until the following year.
     
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  15. Chainsaw Gutsfuckgender: ⚧ Educated

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    Except that in the case of game developers, their goal is to make something enjoyable, therefore being able to enjoy games themselves is a necessity in order to understand the craftsmanship behind them.

    If you don't like a certain type of games, it means that you don't understand what makes them good. If you don't understand what makes them good, how can you possibly understand, let alone master their craftsmanship?
     
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  16. Make America Great Again Kz3r0gender: ⚧ Arcane

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    :nocountryforshitposters:
     
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  17. Shadenuatgender: ⚧ Arcane

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    All the time back then, he already was one of those people

    [​IMG]
     
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  18. Chainsaw Gutsfuckgender: ⚧ Educated

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    He obviously refers to the choices related to character building. So for example if you roll a sorcerer and the GM throws at you an enemy with strong magic resistances that you cannot possibly beat, wouldn't you call that unfair?

    He doesn't say that the players should never suffer consequences (or even die) if they fail a (fair) challenge.
     
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  19. Lurker Kinggender: ⚧ Self-Ejected The Real Fanboy

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    We already had long discussions about this topic. Twice. So let me give you an advice: you are giving advice to the wrong people. Obsidian is a big studio with a huge payroll, and the only way the have to paid these bills given their know-how and target audience is by making accessible isometric games. They were hugely successful by making a generic carbon-copy of BG, which they viewed as a safe product with guaranteed return. And they will do this again, and again, and again, until the “wider audience” becomes bored with superficial isometric games. Then they will move to other things. The sales of engrossing cRPGs are not enough to maintain medium and big studios. That’s why Troika failed, and that’s why an older Tim Cain is talking about replacing stats for figures and the necessity of making cRPGs more friendly for people who hate cRPGs. If you expect these people to design games motivated by passion you are delusional.

    The biggest problem is that the world changed and people’s tastes changed. It takes a type of person to appreciate a good cRPG and they moved on to other interests, types of games, etc. People enjoy MMOs, FPS, etc., but they don't want to make a good build. I don't know what are the causes of this change. The fact that the core audience lost interest when it got older and did not ‘pass the torch’ to a new generation did not help, but even if that did not happen the sales would still be smaller than in other genres. The sustainable path of solid cRPG development involves smaller niche studios focused on a smaller audience, alongside the recreation of a niche cRPG culture in which new cRPG players can develop their tastes and communicate about their interests.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2017
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  20. Lurker Kinggender: ⚧ Self-Ejected The Real Fanboy

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    No, he isn't. This is the expanded quote with the proper context:

    The problem is that most cRPG players are so spoiled after decades of ego pandering that they will acuse developers of removing player's freedom for doing things in a believable manner, e.g., sending guards after the player.
     
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  21. Chainsaw Gutsfuckgender: ⚧ Educated

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    ?

    He literally gives an example of the player being punished for making a bad decision:
    Is it the "probably" that puzzles you here?
     
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  22. Prime Juntagender: ⚧ Arcane

    Prime Junta
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    Nah, he's just beating his usual drum, i.e. his odd claim that games nowadays are made to never challenge the player.
     
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  23. Kev Inklinegender: ⚧ Arcane

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    I think there was a typo, so I fiixed it:

    JS: I started thinking like, "I don't really like how [...] these rules encourage this a cool and fun behavior."
     
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  24. Lurker Kinggender: ⚧ Self-Ejected The Real Fanboy

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    I’m aware. The point I was trying to make is that most people who criticize developers coercion at the expense of player's freedom will hypocritically use this mantra as an euphemism to cater to every player's whims, or demand “freedom” when this is not believable. The result is idiotic game worlds, ego pandering, broken games, etc. Notice that in the same interview Sawyer mentioned that the developer should support any unusual build that the player can come out with. This is pure nonsense and the logical consequence of this principle is popamole games.
     
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  25. Lurker Kinggender: ⚧ Self-Ejected The Real Fanboy

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    I’m trying to uncover what is the hidden mindset in these cases. It's curious because they will portrait this discussion as a dualistic conflict between immersion/narrative/story/developer/coercion and gameplay/player’s preferences/freedom. That this is a superficial or caricatural way of seeing things is attested by the facts that many of your abilities and gameplay options are conditioned by narrative expectations, e.g., stats and skills are supposed to mimic people’s actual abilities in the real life; resource management is supposed to mimic our limitation of resources, etc. It is true that cRPGs are games, not visual novels; but on the other hand they are a specific type of game that has an intrinsic narrative vocation.
     
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