Project Eternity Interview

GameRanx has an interview with Project Eternity designer and Obsidian/Black Isle veteran Chris Avellone, focusing mostly on Obsidian's crowdfunded Infinity Engine-inspired project. In the interview Chris tackles a variety of subjects, including dialogue mechanics, pacing, ever-discussed NPC romances, emergent behaviors and more.

Here's a sampling:
Are there non-violent or non-lethal options available to the player in Project Eternity?

Yep. You can use stealth and speech options to circumvent, prevent, and resolve tense situations, much like in the Fallout titles. While there won't be a pacifist path in the title, there are times where you can accomplish objectives with more social/sneaky builds in inventive ways.

We also want to explore the idea of speech as a tool, not as a key. That may sound odd we don't want speech skills used as insta-wins when the option comes up, which doesn't allow for much player contribution in the interaction beyond pressing the highlighted button. We experimented with this slightly in Fallout: New Vegas and the DLCs, although what we'd like to explore is more along the lines of what we did in Alpha Protocol: if you know enough about a target or subject, there may be different ways and approaches you want to use to create a desired result, which may involve pissing the listener off, flattering them, or intimidating them, for example, but none of these technically (win) the scenario, they either provide a broader context or more information on the target's attitudes and motivations but it all depends on which way a player wants to push them.

A better example of a dialogue tool is the (Empathy) skill from Fallout 1 and 2. It was a perk that color-coded your responses to indicate whether the response would create a favorable, neutral, or hostile reaction. That didn't mean that that option would lead to a good or bad result, however, and you had to decide what to do based on the clues the Empathy perk gave you (for example, you may not want to get in good with the leaders of Vault City in F2 because you feel slimy and dirty doing so, even if you're being unfailingly polite or you may want to make a mob boss angry and hostile so he has a heart attack right then and there).


Given your vast experience with designing and developing RPGs, are there any lessons or experiences you'd take from those previous games to avoid in Project Eternity?

Awareness of scope. If you don't know the scope, find out the specs for each part of the design and development toolbox (build a small level, a medium level, a large level, write a 15 node dialogue, a 50 node, a 150 node or more companion, build a weapon from start to finish, build a critter using the full range of animations, etc.). Then use a stopwatch to time each task until you know how long each one takes, and use that as a gauge of how much work you have in store then seriously consider cutting it down to 50% or 75% of that amount to account for X factors during production.

Second, always ask (why the player should give a shit?) with every design decision, lore choice, and faction design. When fleshing out the world, keep in mind the player's role as an agent of change, not your personal presentation. While you do want to put yourself and topics you're passionate about in a title, that doesn't mean crap if the player can't interact with it in a way that empowers them.

Examine pacing and expectations. As an example, Torment was an extremely dialogue heavy game, and I do believe (I can hear pitchforks and torches being gathered) it could have benefited from more dungeon exploration, more combats, in addition to the dialogue depth it had. I tried to correct that when doing Targos in IWD2... I started off with a lot of fights and exploration rewards that immediately highlighted the threat the city was facing, then moved into dialogues (punctuated by a few fights), then a blast-off at the end.