Tyranny Interview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Paradox Interactive
Developer:Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date:2016-11-10
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

GB: One recurrent criticism of Pillars of Eternity has been that its prose is sometimes too overwrought and its plot too slow-paced. While Tyranny doesn't share the same creative teams, some Obsidian developers and writers in particular have worked on both. Do you consider these criticisms of Pillars of Eternity to be fair, and have you applied any such feedback to the writing approach you’ve taken with Tyranny?

Brian: We always try to look at players’ reactions to our games, trying to learn from what worked and what didn’t. Tyranny has a different narrative style than Pillars, but that’s mostly driven by the fact that we are a smaller game that focuses on giving players the chance to play in an evil world, with multiple different paths through the story. Those choices required us to take a different approach to how we write the game.

GB: Since the game's announcement, you've been keen to stress that Tyranny is a shorter RPG than Pillars of Eternity, but is more focused on offering many choices and consequences. Can you give us an idea of the breadth of the choices offered by the game? Will we be dealing largely with signposted moments like the showdown you used as your E3 demo, or will there be occasions where a seemingly benign choice earlier in the game will have a profound or unexpected effect much further into the game?

Brian: During character creation you get to decide how your character was involved in Kyros’ conquest of the Tiers. Those initial decisions will shape the starting state of the game, changing what some areas look like entirely, determining which factions are in control of others, as well as changing how various factions will react to you as you adventure through the game.

On top of those early choices, you can decide to ally with certain factions, which will unlock entirely different questlines for your character through the game.

Beyond those larger decisions, you’ll make a lot of choices about how you solve the problems you confront. How you make those decisions will change how various factions feel about you, which will have repercussions in later quests and interactions with those factions.

Basically, it’s a combination of the larger decisions that will shape the broad arc of the game’s story, and the moment to moment decisions that will change how your character resolves the problems they’re presented with.

GB: Speaking of reactivity, one of your previous games, Alpha Protocol, became something of a cult classic, largely because of the way even minor choices such as Mike Thorton's attire would be taken into consideration during the game. Can we expect this same attention to detail to be present in Tyranny, or will reactivity be largely limited to dialogue choices?

Brian: Reactivity is largely based on choices you make during character creation and in dialogue with NPCs throughout the game. We would have loved to include reactivity to things like what the player is wearing, but we simply didn’t have the time or localization budget to account for reactivity of that type. We’ve written over 700k words for the game so far, so there will be a ton of reactivity for players to explore.

GB: Our understanding is that Tyranny will feature many choices and a variety of paths for players to explore. How do you ensure that each of these are weighed against one another such that players don't feel punished for making the "wrong" choice, while at the same time offering substantial gameplay differences between them?

Brian: We try to design the choices such that players can’t make a ‘wrong’ one. There may be some that are more suited to their play style or goals, but we don’t want to give the player a choice where they feel punished for making the decision. It may open up a different quest path than what they originally thought, but that will give them a new option for how they play through the game.

GB: Tyranny utilizes a classless skill-based system, where skills will be improved through use rather than via level ups. This type of system is usually associated with more open-ended games where there's room for a lot of experimentation, while Tyranny sounds like a game with a tighter scope and a faster, more directed pace. Can you elaborate on why you chose to use such a progression system and how it has impacted your design approach in regard to interactivity with the world?

Brian: The simplest answer is probably that it’s my favorite type of RPG system. I’ve both worked on and played many games that use a similar skill system, from pen-and-paper to CRPGs to online games. So designing this type of RPG system for Tyranny felt a bit like coming home.

I personally like to create the hybrid character, the one that doesn’t fit neatly into any specific class. One of my goals with Tyranny’s RPG system was to allow players to make those type of characters easily, while still allowing for the pure fighter / mage / rogue archetypes as well. This type of skill system works really well with that goal, as someone who wishes to be both a fighter and a mage can practice both types of skills, and grow in strength naturally. And, if they decide partway through the game that they’re really liking the mage aspect they can naturally focus more on that by casting spells more frequently. It allows them to adapt their character to what they’re enjoying about the game.

One of the potential flaws with many skill-based progression systems is the ability for players to level up their skills / characters by doing mindlessly repetitive actions – climbing the same wall over and over, swimming back and forth across a safe stream, or sneaking next to a creature that’s scripted to not respond until a quest trigger happens. We designed our environment and dialogue skill checks such that they will only ever grant skill XP the first time they are used. So trying to game the system by climbing a wall over and over again will only waste the player’s time, not unbalance the experience progression. Combined with focusing on a small number of skills with broad applications lets us give players plenty of opportunities to increase their skills in a more controlled manner.