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Codex Interview RPG Codex Interview: Chris Avellone on Pillars Cut Content, Game Development Hierarchies and More

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Apr 30, 2018.

  1. iamleyeti Barely Literate

    iamleyeti
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    After years of lurking, I’ve decided to join and post. Took me a while.

    I read the whole topic and it was a weird experience, pretty much akin to the realization during your teenage years than your parents are not perfect people, but real, flawed human beings. Obsidian, Black Isle, Interplay … and Chris are keystones of my years as a gamer … and a professional now working in the industry (9 years in a few months). If I had to name 3 writers who have inspired me over the years, Chris would be on the list for sure.

    Almost everything stated in this topic by Chris and others is extremely similar to what I heard (and experienced) in the industry. Most studios born in the 2000s are run by dangerous/crazy/authoritative/toxic CEOs, and the industry is such a bad state that people prefer to leave their job and become freelancers which is a fact that blows my mind every time I think about it (that’s what I did too).

    So… Good luck Chris. Thanks for sharing. I really hope this whole shit show will buzz enough so Obsidian (and other studios) is forced to manage its teams better.

    (writing this I realize this is my first post and that nobody will ever see it so yeah … too bad.)
     
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  2. Shilandra Educated

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    I know this is an old post and probably off topic and far to late for this warning to matter but I have read this book specifically (and many others of J.A. Cipranos works and I would say that his books do not justify the blurbs at all. While he has a talent for writing mildly entertaining adventures his erotic scenes are far to tasteful and short to merit anything more than an "adult themes" warning blurb. So if reading that blurb aroused even a passing curiosity in you, unless you like silly people having silly fun and doing enjoyable silly things, its best to save your money for something more... Heavily oriented towards completions. The Melody smith novels come to mind, though the same author does have more traditionally male oriented stuff if you're looking for something with the harem themes but with more complete scenes that would actually justify an exaggerated warning blurb like ciprano employes.

    Honestly though, what shocked me most about all of this isn't that Fergus and I read the same book. Its that our reading list look almost identical. That really threw me for a loop. I wonder what that means or if these kind of fantasy books are just popular in their genres.
     
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  3. Prime Junta Arcane

    Prime Junta
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    You should get in touch and make beautiful babies together.
     
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  4. ERYFKRAD Arcane Patron

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    Serpent in the Staglands Shadorwun: Hong Kong Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    How naive can you be to hope that people with such taste in books can produce beautiful babies. Besides, the odds are their spawn will inherit the same taste in books.
     
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  5. Prime Junta Arcane

    Prime Junta
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    Beauty, like taste in books, is also in the eye of the beholder.
     
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  6. Neanderthal Arcane

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    No there was no Beauty stat in Eye of the Beholder only Charisma, you're thinking Arcanum.

    Show Spoiler
    :happytrollboy:
     
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  7. fantadomat Dumbfuck! Dumbfuck Edgy

    fantadomat
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    Finally a family member has come up in the codex. Are you his son?
     
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  8. SausageInYourFace Arcane Patron

    SausageInYourFace
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    Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech Bubbles In Memoria A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    No better way to judge people than by their taste in books. Cicero said, that a room without books is a room without a soul.

    A cursory examination of Feargus soul by way of his books would led me to believe that he is a bit of an inane manchild, which is surprisingly congruent with what else is known about his behavior, such as randomly and frequently yelling at his employees and friends when he doesn't get his will.
     
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  9. Kyl Von Kull Magister

    Kyl Von Kull
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    I really don’t think they’re that popular (I certainly hope not!). My guess is that you and Feargus don’t like to spend more than $4.99 on a book so you end up buying a lot of garbage tier, semi self-published junk. That’s the most generous explanation, a kind of literary false economy.

    The other explanation is that you’re both reading exactly what you want to read. So would you mind telling us why you like these LitRPG harem novels? It could give us a lot of insight into Obsidian’s future content. What were your favorite books of the last few years? What titles are you most eagerly anticipating? What do you look for in a $3 novel? I bet you dollars to donuts we’ll see some of this stuff in Obsidian’s future releases, assuming they can keep the studio going after The Outer Worlds.

    You have to answer my questions because I have a magic pen that lets me rewrite the fabric of reality.
     
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  10. Bumvelcrow Bellator Sempervirens Patron

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    Codex 2013 Codex 2014 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech Bubbles In Memoria A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    So come on then, out with it. This thread is dying down and we need more drama.
     
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  11. Ziggy Novice

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    MCA too busy enjoying Critically Acclaimed Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire™ to shitpost
     
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  12. Ninjerk Arcane

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    I NEED MY TRUMP DISGUSTING BUTTON :negative:
     
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  13. Darkzone Magister

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    But you know this saying has different meanings and its correctness is dependent on the interpretation?
    A person can only reproduce with what it has been feed (their Mind / Brain) before and there is a whole system behind what is beauty and the perception of beauty itself. The short answer to beauty is phi or approximation by Fibonacci sequence, 1/n while (n element N) and the hero's journey. This is a very interesting subject, but i doubt that we can even scratch the surface in such a thread. So in other words be careful with "the eye of the beholder" saying.
     
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  14. Shilandra Educated

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    I would actually say its both explinations actually. Kindle unlimited is super cheap and there are tons of these kinds of books and others that you can get for 10 bucks a month so I technically don't even spend more than 3 dollars a book.

    To the second point, funnily enough, my favorite books aren't even litrpgs. The Space princess collection by Cyranno Johnson is at the top of my list because who doesn't like sexy star trek?

    But when it comes to the litrpg harems its actually a twofold fantasy. The first part is most of the time the guys are super sweet and the relationships built with the girls can actually vary pretty broadly but are built on these foundations of warmth and fulfilment that just make your chest want to burst. This first part feeds heavily into the second part of the fantasy, which is essentially "the perfect rpg"

    While you're reading, if the author isn't to heavily invested in throwing game terms at you, you can see and feel the organic flow of the game. You can tell when the players are taking quests and interacting with important npcs and traversing, affecting, and manipulating the game world. And its all happening organically, responding and reacting to the player in interesting, diverse, and unexpected (or expected) ways.

    All of these elements, action, sex, skills, reactivity, companion relationships, quests, danger and fun come mix together with each other into a kind of intoxicating soup that makes you wonder, for about 300 or so pages, at what could be. That is an exceptionally powerful draw.

    With that said, the gamer girl Carly books by cat wilder are some of my favorites. Fun, hot and with a little something for everyone. Some more traditional ones that are recent would be the enthralled series by prax venter and the succubus series by A.J. Markham. I think all of these books capture at least a little bit of what I'm talking about. And while they're no literary masterpieces and I have no illusions about the erotic elements being a primary focus, it still stands that the two reasons I mentioned are a good part of the magnetic pull of these books.

    Edit: forgot a question you asked, I'm pretty sure Fergus does this too because its the only way to do it. When looking at these 3$ books you have to look at the lowest reviews, not the highest. Because the highest are almost always generic praise when the lowest points out specific criticisms of specific parts of the book. So you can see if it contains, or mangles, certain elements that you like. Even better if the reviews are from moralizing pearl clutchers because they'll be super specific about what it is they didnt like and the way they complain almost always tells you exactly what you need to know about the contents of the book. Suprisingly there are very few spoilers when engaging in this method of filtering.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2018
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  15. GarfunkeL Racism Expert

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    :what:
     
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  16. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

    Chris Avellone
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    Hey, thanks for signing on and contributing, appreciate it. And thanks for positive comments/hopes about changing the state of the industry.

    I don't think silence helps much, and often those who benefit most by it use that silence as a shield (both to their employees and among themselves). There's a reason Obsidian employees aren't speaking out, positively or negatively, despite the fact it would debunk a lot of debates in the future, as they don't know the whole picture (I didn't while working at Interplay, for example) and they've most likely been ordered not to respond. Partly it's to not draw attention to it so discussion dies, and partly it's to control the flow of information from spreading. I will say when Eric spoke out, that was able to confirm that neither he or I agreed the process was correct, it raised more issues Eric was frustrated about (which were new), but then I was able to answer as well - which I think is a good thing all around.

    On the "make money side" of the CEO/owner equation is what always concerned me was that people who either don't care about the games they make and/or care more about what they can gain from it (which is a shift that can happen over time) become entrenched in the process. Sometimes this is due to family concerns (if you have children, you need to know how you're going to support them), seeking stability for later years (we all won't stay young in the game industry), but other times, it's greed and control.

    This happened a lot when Fallout 1 got successful at Interplay - people who financially discounted it (marketing) suddenly wanted more control, greater % of involvement, so ironically, the accomplishment the team made to generate trust in their abilities ends up having the exact opposite effect because the hanger-ons and nay-sayers now want to benefit from that success - or they become involved if they feel their power is threatened (Feargus wasn't happy about the team's direct link to Fargo because it was an issue of power, and he was very quick to instate himself as "one of" the Lead Designers on F2, which I thought showed poor judgment).

    That said, I think it would be wrong to say the Obsidian owners "don't care" about the games the studio makes, but many advocate their own profit. One told me directly, one showcased it by being more involved in profit discussions than any dev discussion, and the last showed it by cutting game dev time short to maximize returns and contract gains despite the fact we could have taken the time needed to make any of our various games great - I'm worried this is what happened with PoE2 with the bugs.

    When it comes to quality, it's often up to the devs, but they can only do so much without production support (ex: QA, time to fix bugs QA finds, and also getting the word out, which is marketing). The majority attitude both at upper management in Obsidian and other managers we worked with was, "of course we care about quality... when it's convenient." The problem is, game development is rarely convenient. I do believe you build a strong studio and strong developers by doing whatever you can to make a quality title, despite sacrifices. That reputation builds over time (Blizzard, BioWare when it was self-owned, etc.) until people start trusting more in the company's rep vs. the individual title gains. I do think it's another reason why Obsidian was well-received when it was formed... it had the Black Isle Studios rep to build from (as well as being a good underdog story).

    I think the devs should be proud, the game seems to be doing well and being received well. I was curious about how well it's doing sales-wise vs. PoE1 (or in general).
     
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  17. fantadomat Dumbfuck! Dumbfuck Edgy

    fantadomat
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    Chris Avellone in your experience what kind of sales would be considerate a success for a games like PoE/Deadfire,and when does a dev studio sees a game as a flop?
     
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  18. Latro Arcane

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    you're a business CEO looking for business CEO main characters too?
     
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  19. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

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    I don't know about PoE in general (although I'd be curious in the sales).

    In general, any product makes the money back for the costs of running of the product, inc. patches and more, plus 20% overall on top of that would be minimal (this should usually already be in the contract).

    I don’t equate success solely to financials, though (as long as there’s another project immediately waiting when the current one is done). Sometimes a financial failure/disappointment can lead to long-term other gains that are equally beneficial to the studio.

    In my view, you want to have at least 6 months in the bank (not paid to upper management or in their accounts, but in the bank for the company) at all times to support the full team AND another project for a % of the team to immediately move on to go before the end of production and before release.

    EDIT: "to support the full team AND also have another project ready to go and signed for a % of the team..." Essentially, this means you make at least your 20%, and then immediately start getting paid for the next game with no downtime, which ideally allows you to keep saving from project to project.

    I say “% of team before end of production” b/c artists, then designers, generally have less work to do than say, programmers, so it’s a perfect time to get them rolling on the new project you’ve signed – you don’t want to finish a project and wait around burning your savings while trying to get another project at all, you want to keep amassing savings (and then share that with everyone when the company feels healthy enough to do so).

    So - 6 months in the bank for me wouldn’t be ideal, it’s the least I would plan for, and I wouldn’t be comfortable with that, I’d be worried (6 months to sign a deal is a short time frame in the industry). I’d prefer a much longer grace period, as it prevents making bad decisions because the money’s running out, if that makes any sense. For example, some publishers can detect when a developer has no leverage, for sure, and exploit that (again, that's good business, unfortunately, so that's why it's best not to be in that position and be in the position to say, "no"). For some publishers, a developer's financial starvation woes can also give them considerable leverage for every milestone thereafter b/c they know how much the developer needs the income (they’ll always stop short of ruining their investment, however – they usually don’t want the studio or the game to fail, only to have them do what the publisher requests).
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2018
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  20. set Erudite

    set
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    I'm in software...not games...but I think six months is a little too small. I think you need to be able to plan out a whole fiscal year, you can't run a company where people are stressed about making it to the end of the year! It obviously does happen, but I wouldn't call "enough funds to stave of death for six months" "success" I'd call it "scraping by the skin of your teeth". If those are the conditions Obsidian regularly puts up with (it seems to me like that was the case on and off) then it's no wonder people like Feargus are created. Years and years of stress will warp your brain and make you think differently. Many years where "six months are all we have" only to be presented with a golden token that might make that "six months" into "twelve months"? I'm sure it would warp a lot of prerogatives of instinctively good people.

    For me, I'm passionate about creating things. I see value in the act of creation - not in the generation of money. The construction of a product that does something that is part of a positive sum game. If you're making a video game, that's just splendid - it's art, it's above "function", it's got this aesthetic to it on top of everything else. If you're a CEO and you don't care that your money is generating art...then you've lost your way. But I think that accounts for most CEOs, blindly speaking. And I think that's not entirely their fault, you just get into the rhythm of running a company and treat people like they're assets instead of people.

    When you only have "six months of funds in the bank" a dangerous kind of mentality creeps into project owners too, where flexibility just up and dies. Where thoughts discussion meetings and "chances to scrap or rewrite" are things are not even allowed to be spoken of, nevermind acted upon.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2018
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  21. fantadomat Dumbfuck! Dumbfuck Edgy

    fantadomat
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    Chris Avellone,it is very interesting to read your perspective on the business side. I see that you are looking at it as a running on the edge rather than a success. Do you have any ideas what kind of expense a full VO is for a game such as PoE? It shouldn't be cheap,seeing how it have a lot of words in it. If i have to guess,i would go for around a 500,000,maybe a million. But that number is out of my arse,have no idea how expensive is in California. Also do you think that Feargus is able do sensible expense cuts or is he very wasteful? I am not talking about going down a dead end during development,more of a "paying more than needed for x service" .
     
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  22. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

    Chris Avellone
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    Yeah, I agree.

    To be clear, I wouldn't be and wasn't comfortable with 6 months, either, as it just kept the cycle of starvation going when we could have just changed spending and management practices (among other things) and focused more on how not to waste the budget we had (delaying decisions, suddenly changing plans, etc.).

    It was always "not enough money and not enough time," but there were reasons that kept happening.
     
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  23. Chris Avellone Arcane Developer

    Chris Avellone
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    Running on the edge: No, I was only speaking in game dev terms in general, it's not at all how I'd run a business or want to run a business - I don't believe in running on the edge, I believe in mitigating problems (inc. financial) in advance so they don't adversely affect your decisions in the present, otherwise bad decisions lead to more problems, etc, etc.

    So I don't plan for success, I plan for failure first ("this could bomb"), and then consider any success as more in the bank, better for reputation, better view of the studio, etc.

    In short, if a game does 500% more than expected, that's ideal - everyone wants that.

    But when it happens, you don't squander that money and that success, you find a way to put it in the "bank," whatever bank that may be (reputation, critical acclaim, studio marketing, raising quality level for employees, etc.) that could make things easier to make a game in the future and use it to secure better projects, with better terms, and to reward and retain good people, rather than lay them off.

    (Lastly, I don't know what the VO cost of PoE or PoE2, but it would depend on using union actors or non-union actors, among other things. I'd love to see the numbers myself - voicing PoE2 sounded like a late decision, and it sounded like an owner decision, not a Project Director position, based on Josh's posts.)
     
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  24. fantadomat Dumbfuck! Dumbfuck Edgy

    fantadomat
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    Hmm i worded my self poorly,i didn't meant it as being your ideal for running a business. I meant more that it was your experience at Obsidian,and the way how that experience affected your views on the topic :). As money in the bank,i wouldn't recommend having all the money in a single bank. Having a few bank could be a little bit more messy but it gives you a lot more flexibility,opportunity and security.

    I was left with the same impression from his twats and streams. By the end he felt very ......defeated and not giving a fuck about anything. I must ask now. Does he have anything to do with the writing in those games,or is he mainly on the world/level design part ?
     
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  25. MajorMace Educated

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    Chris Avellone I always wondered something about Kreia in Kotor II, and pardon me if it's well-known out there and i'm just clueless.

    The game has a pretty cool relationship system. It's a nice gimmick which keeps track of the player's influence on Atton et al. and that reenforces the relevance of the player's choices throughout the game.
    When it comes to Kreia though, there's a distinct difference, since she's a very important character in the story. She basically conceals (I guess ?) her affinity with the force and appears as a perfectly grey Jedi in her character window. Also, she's one of the few main companions that the player can't lead to the light/dark side of the force by influencing her (either antagonizing her or befriending her). I also noticed that whenever the player gains influence over Kreia, it's systematically when he does something that she, as who she actually is, would want the player to do. And as the game goes, it feels like whenever I gained influence towards her, truth is she actually was gaining influence towards me.
    Was it the point or am I overinterpretating ? Or is it widely known and I just forgot that I read that somewhere ?
     
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