So if there was one meticulously-crafted video game that you would all but sell your soul to play at the moment, what would it be? For me, it would be a party-based role-playing game with vibrant characters, vast amounts of branching dialogue, beautifully painted two-dimensional backdrops, and history-rich equipment that hearkens back to what we saw in the Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape Torment titles. And today I find myself in extremely fortunate circumstances, as it's no longer something I have to dream about. That's because the RPG veterans at Obsidian Entertainment have just launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of crowd-funding such a title, and its name is Project Eternity.
As fate would have it, I actually played a small role in getting the development wheels turning on Project Eternity. While the lengthy chat I had with Obsidian Entertainment CEO Feargus Urquhart during E3 2010 isn't entirely represented in that previously linked interview, it was clear to me at the time that Feargus felt the same way as I did - that the Infinity Engine was one of the greatest RPG engines ever created, and that its retirement wasn't due to a lack of demand for the style of gaming that it provided, but rather the many turbulent forces within the industry that were pushing back against developers who aspired to keep building new games with it. But these forces have no bearing on Kickstarter, and so it's with great exuberance that I bring you the very first details on this IE-influenced game through yet another publisher-free chat I had with Mr. Urquhart earlier this week:
Buck: Alright, wait a minute. Was Project Eternity really inspired by the old-school CRPG talk you and I had at the Square Enix booth during E3 2010?
Feargus: It was absolutely inspired by our talk. At Obsidian, we would often reminisce about the Infinity Engine games, but it was hard to come up with a way to get one started. After you and I talked at E3, I mentioned it to more people and even talked with an investor about getting it going. However, as the Kickstarter momentum got going, it brought the conversations back and we were all sitting around one day and said “Let’s do it!”.
Buck: Why do you feel that now is a good time to pursue a party-based, IE-inspired RPG, and why do feel that Kickstarter is the best way to do it?
Feargus: The reason is not a whole lot different than what we talked about a couple of years ago. It’s not as if people stopped wanting games like Icewind Dale or Baldur’s Gate, it was more that BioWare moved on as a studio and Black Isle went away. I hear from people all the time that they run out of the newer games to play and go back and play Baldur’s Gate 2 or Torment for the fifth or sixth time. What Kickstarter does is let us make a game that is absolutely reminiscent of those great games, since trying to get that funded through a traditional publisher would be next to impossible.
Buck: What sort of style and play experience are you hoping to achieve with Project Eternity? What is it about the game's premise and engine (with two-dimensional painted backgrounds!) that wouldn't fit into a traditional developer/publisher arrangement?
Feargus: We absolutely want to bring back what was great about the Infinity Engine games. While we plan to improve some things based upon what we think fans of the older games expect now-a-days (like the interface), Project Eternity is going to play and feel like an Infinity Engine game.
When it comes to not fitting into the traditional developer/publisher arrangement, it is probably going to sound like we are giving publishers a really bad rap. In some ways that’s true, but in other ways – this kind of project is just not one that fits in the traditional model. The big publishers are built around making games that cost millions of dollars to make, millions of dollars to promote and market and millions more to build the units that get shipped to stores. Their organizations are built around that model. To make the same amount of revenue on games like Project Eternity, they would have to ship hundreds of games a year instead of ten or twenty. They are just not built that way. Plus, with Kickstarter, Steam and social media – we can fund, distribute and promote our games entirely ourselves. In a way, we just don’t need them for a game like Project Eternity.
Buck: Who are the people at Obsidian Entertainment that are actively working on the game? How large of a development team do you think you'll need to achieve your goals for the game?
Feargus: On top of Josh Sawyer, Tim Cain, Chris Avellone, and Adam Brennecke, we have a few other people working on technology and an entirely new rendering method that should surprise everyone when we are able to show it off. The ultimate size of the development team is going to be dependent on how the Kickstarter campaign goes – the more money we get in, the more people we are going to bring over onto the team.