Project Eternity Interview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Paradox Interactive
Developer:Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date:2015-03-26
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
I can't help but think that the future of the PC role-playing game is brighter than it's ever been when I stop by the Project Eternity Kikcstarter campaign and see that it's nearly tripled its original $1.1 million funding goal with two full days to go. Here's to hoping the publishers who have no interest in funding an RPG that isn't filled with "visceral action" stand up and pay attention.

But there are 47 hours left as of this writing, and I'd love nothing more than to drive that message home even further. So to fuel the crowdfunding energy even further and glean a few more details about the game at the same time, I fired off a second set of questions to Obsidian Entertainment's Josh Sawyer and Feargus Urquhart. The bevy of answers can be found below, but you may also want to check out our first interview and consider participating in our "Immortalized!" promotion for even more Eternity goodness:

Buck: You've stated that you're taking an open world approach with the game, but will there be some areas where a more linear design makes more sense? When do you think a linear approach makes the most sense?

Josh: I'd like to avoid linear sequences whenever possible, but there are usually a few choke points the player will have to go through even in open games. For example, you have to get the water chip and deal with the Master in Fallout. There are a lot of ways to actually do those things, but you can't avoid dealing with them in some way. That's as "linear" as I'd like to get.

Buck: How do you intend to integrate challenging, tactical, and ultimately rewarding battles within Project Eternity without requiring long resting periods between each fight? And what are your thoughts on regeneration and early access to character resurrection?

Josh: I think that capturing the dungeon-delving feeling of the Icewind Dale games and many tabletop AD&D adventures means that there should be both strategic considerations and tactical considerations in exploration and combat. To me, that means that there's some level of upfront resource planning going on as well as a moment-to-moment consideration of "is it worth spending Resource X now or should I save it for later?" I.e. a tactical consideration can also be a strategic consideration if resources are part of a running series of battles (as most dungeons are).

However, I don't think all resources need to be per-rest, only the more powerful ones at a character's disposal. For casters, this means shifting slightly away from the AD&D/3E paradigm of most spells being linked to a per-rest spell count. Within a battle, there should be tactical considerations to using any spell, and we don't want resources to be spam-able, but a caster's base abilities will likely not require a full rest to recover.

As for regeneration, I'd like to experiment with handling health in a manner somewhat similar to the 1992 RPG Darklands. Characters have two health resources: Stamina and Health. Proportionally, the character takes much more Stamina damage from an attack than Health damage. Stamina recovers relatively quickly on its own (and with the aid of magic) but Health damage requires rest. If a character hits 0 Stamina, he or she will go unconscious. If a character hits 0 Health, he or she dies.

This sort of a system provides a buffer for characters so they can be temporarily defeated in combat without being brought to the verge of death every time. Similarly, allowing a character to recover to full Stamina over a short period of time does nothing to help his or her Health, so walking around with full Stamina and low Health would be extremely dangerous.

As far as resurrection goes, Project Eternity will not have any form of in-game resurrection. Healing magic of any sort is extraordinarily rare in this world and resurrection would pull at the fabric of the mortal reincarnation cycle. However, we may include an option to turn off permanent character death. Naturally, this would be disabled in Expert Mode.

Buck: Can you give us a better understanding of how skills will be performed and function within the game world? Will there be cooldowns associated with many of them, and how many factors will be taken into consideration when determining success and failure?

Josh: For non-combat skills, we want every skill to have both a systematic application and the ability to develop scripted interactions. For example, we may have a Mechanics skill that covers picking locks. Lockpicking is a more-or-less standard interaction. Either your Mechanics skill is high enough to pick it without any resource (lockpick) cost or you fall short. If you fall short within a small enough margin, you can spend lockpicks to pick the lock anyway. We may allow the Mechanics skills of other party members to marginally contribute to the overall cost, but otherwise the interaction is standardized every time you find a lock.

However, we may put some sort of crazy mechanical apparatus in a level that the player can interact with to accomplish a variety of goals. This will also allow the party to use their Mechanics skills, but the manner of interaction can be narrated through text and handled in a way that's scripted very specifically.

Buck: Hard-to-master puzzles, lethal traps, and even secret doors are almost non-existent in modern CRPGs. How much of a focus will you be putting on these elements?

Josh: We will have these elements when they make sense, but I don't want to force them in. Often, dealing with them feels less like gameplay and more like guessing until you get lucky.

Buck: How much of an emphasis are you putting on enemy AI? Will the enemies we face employ tough strategies of their own, such as using the environment to their advantage or even setting traps for the party?

Josh: We will probably develop encounters in a manner similar to the IE games, hand-placing groups of enemies in the environment for staged encounters and using patrolling or wandering enemies to add in a "wild card" element. To me, it's not as important to make enemies clever as it is to make enemies distinct in their behaviors and strengths. It's up to the designer to be shrewd about how the encounters are staged and scripted.

Buck: We understand that Ciphers are essentially the psionic class of Project Eternity, but how will you be handling their abilities? Will they have a similar number of combat and utility "spells" as the wizard and priest? Since they're not a pure spellcaster, will they be more formidable in melee?

Josh: Ciphers are going to have an odd assortment of powers, much like psionicists have in most editions of AD&D. They will likely have fewer total potential abilities than wizards or priests, but with more unique mechanical capabilities and effects. Some of their powers will be designed for close-quarters use so you can get your Psylocke on.

Buck: How about barbarians? You've stated that they're reckless and induced with rage, but how will this affect the way we play them as opposed to a fighter?

Josh: Most barbarians will not be able to take as much punishment as a standard fighter. While they are raging, their Stamina may become much more resistant to attacks, but their Health may not be protected, meaning they can endure a short period of extreme abuse without being knocked out, but may actually drop dead from wounds. In some ways, the play of a barbarian will likely be something that has more severe ups and downs in combat as the player has to choose the right time to rage and use the barbarian's other special abilities.

Buck: How integral will crafting and enchanting be to the game experience? Will we constantly be finding and acquiring mundane components that will allow us to forge new items when we return to a workshop of some kind?

Josh: Probably not constantly, but you will be finding ingredients frequently. These ingredients will be segregated into their own inventory space to prevent them from cluttering up your inventory UI. The use of forges, alchemical labs, or other interaction points will allow you to perform crafting. It will not be integral to the game experience but will give the player many more options for customizing their gear and consumable items.

Buck: Given the addition of crafting and enchantment, how will inventory management and encumbrance be handled in the game? Will be carrying around a set number of items per character, making use of a grid system, or working with another system entirely?

Josh: We haven't talked about inventory management in depth yet, but we want to make sure it's easy to manage and both allows the player both carry the gear he or she wants as well as requiring him or her to make strategically important decisions about what to carry into the field.

Buck: Will there be some sort of damage type system in play (bludgeoning, piercing, slashing), and what steps are you taking to ensure that all weapon types (two-handed, sword/shield, dual-wielding, and ranged) are balanced and, ultimately, viable pursuits?

Josh: I'm not sure if there will be or not. I don't want to introduce so many moving parts to the damage, weapons, and armor systems that we become unable to present player choices that are meaningful and coherent. That is, depending on how many factors the player is expected to analyze when selecting a weapon for any given task, we need to make sure that the range of choices the player can make feel like they have clear, solid benefits and drawbacks instead of coming across as a bunch of "mush".

The first step in ensuring that weapon types/combat styles are viable pursuits is saying, "All weapon types and combat styles must be viable pursuits." If that's your high-level goal, design decisions should always be framed in that context. If someone says, "Daggers are the bad weapons for characters who suck!" that clearly flies in the face of the stated goal.

I think some editions of AD&D have really struggled with this. The rules seem to want to structure weapons in a certain way that promotes trade-offs, but mechanics are in conflict and produce a bunch of choices that feel dead in the water outside of niche circumstances. If you ever look at a choice and say, "Obviously everyone should take this," or "I would never take this," there's probably something wrong with how they've been balanced.

Buck: Why did you feel it was important to add early firearms to the game and how integral will they be to the tactics employed by a typical character party?

Josh: I didn't necessarily feel that firearms were important, but I wanted the world to feel like it was more technologically advanced in some (but not all) ways than a standard fantasy setting. I had an early idea that firearms would be interesting in a setting where warfare included dealing with enormous beasts and magic, meaning that their single-shot potency at range was not as much of a "game changer" in mass combat as it was in Earth's history. Having a reload time that's more than three times as long as a crossbow is important when you're being charged by something twice the size of a human that's moving at 30mph.

We will have to experiment with firearms to see how integral they are to strategic loadouts and what their different tactical applications are. I want them to feel similar to historical firearms: inaccurate, powerful, and slow to reload, but I want them to be a real choice compared to other ranged weapons. It comes back to the high-level design goal: if we're including something in the game, it needs to be a viable option, not a marginal gimmick or no-brainer.

Buck: How important will currency be in the game, and what steps are you taking to ensure that there are enough money sinks to keep it important from start to finish?

Josh: I think currency is really interesting and it says a lot about the state of the world and the cultures in it. My interest is not necessarily shared by everyone, so I don't know how important individual currencies will be. What we use as money sinks will depend in part on how our stretch goals turn out. We already have a player house and that can be a good money sink. If the stronghold is funded at $3 million, that can be a huge money sink. Additionally, some crafting options and the Adventurer's Hall can serve as money sinks.

Buck: Was the vast cross-platform support of Unity the main reason why you chose to develop the game with it instead of Onyx? Do you anticipate using the Onyx engine for any future games beyond South Park?

Josh: Cross-platform support was important as was its general flexibility. We were able to prototype a lot of ideas very quickly, which is fantastic. I don't know what the future of Onyx is like, but we're still using some of our internal Onyx tools on Project Eternity. Our tools programmers have hooked up our string and conversation editors to work with Unity, which is enormously valuable for us.

Buck: Have you put any consideration into the UI yet? Aside from the Infinity Engine games, has the UI from any other titles inspired the direction you're taking the interface in Project Eternity?

Josh: We have. The Infinity Engine games' UIs did a good job of feeling like they were part of the world, but they had a lot of scaling issues. By Icewind Dale II, we had worked out most of the functional issues and I think a lot of people enjoyed having most of the major options at the bottom of the screen. But there's still a lot that could be improved.

The other big source of inspiration has been Temple of Elemental Evil, since that had an elegant UI that managed to handle a huge spectrum of D&D spells and abilities. I've also looked again at the UI for Dark Sun: Shattered Lands, since that had some nice context-sensitive UI elements that kept the screen mostly clear of icons while exploring. Finally, I've always liked Darklands' method of handling special interactions in the world, using a simple "ink" and "watercolor"-style image with descriptive text, almost like a mini choose-your-own-adventure.

Buck: How long before the game releases do you anticipate having a beta version available to those backers who pledged enough, and will there be multiple phases of testing?

Josh: I really can't say. It depends on when we target our alpha and how the alpha goes. Personally, I'd like to do two phases of beta testing but we'll have to wait and see how things go.

Buck: What are your thoughts on add-ons for Project Eternity? Given the time and resources, would you prefer to release several bite-sized DLCs or one major expansion pack? Would any future additions be funded through Kickstarter or would they be developed using the proceeds from sales of the main game?

Josh: After we finish Project Eternity, we're planning to develop an expansion pack in the vein of Tales of the Sword Coast, Heart of Winter, and Trials of the Luremaster. We'd prefer to use the sales of the main game to fund development of the expansion.

Buck: What are your plans for supporting the Project Eternity community up to and beyond its release? Have you considered the possibility of releasing any content-inducing patches or even a toolset of some kind?

Josh: Our testing and beta processes will minimize the need for patches, but we like to support the longevity of our products. We recently made an update on what our plans are regarding mods. We've partnered with the Nexus Network to host mods. Additionally, we will be releasing file format information and leaving a lot of our data tables open for easy modification.

Buck: I know that Obsidian Entertainment owns the Icewind Dale franchise assets and that you've approached publishers in the past about the prospect of pursuing Icewind Dale III. Given the success of your Project Eternity Kickstarter, what are the odds that we may yet see an ID3 in the near future, crowd-funded or not? Hypothetically, what direction would you take a third entry in the series?

Feargus: You are correct, we approached Atari a number of times about doing Icewind Dale 3. We hope that with the success of Project Eternity that it might be possible to talk to Hasbro / Wizards of the Coast about those games again. However, our focus right now is Project Eternity. We would not want to start working on something like IWD3 soon, since we don't want anything to compromise Project Eternity at all. If we were to do IWD3, I think we would continue the focus of what the IWD series was all about a great dungeon crawling counterpoint to Baldur's Gate and Torment.

Buck: Thanks for your time, guys!

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