Project Eternity Interview

Vince of Iron Tower Studio's fame has interviewed Project Eternity's lead J.E. Sawyer, on subjects such as combat, alternative means to resolving quests, the balance between familiar and "weird" setting elements and more.

Here's a snip:
8. Chris Avellone mentioned several times that the player will be able to avoid some combat encounters with non-combat skills. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that Project Eternity will be a combat-heavy game (like Baldur's Gate was) with combat oriented classes. Why would a combat party want to avoid combat? How are you going to balance the loss of experience, content, and loot?

Yes, Project Eternity will have a lot of combat (though probably not as much as Icewind Dale II!) and the classes are all "battle ready". Players can avoid or stall combat either to gain an advantage or to stretch their resources between safe resting locations. Some players may simply not want to fight certain enemies or they might want to peacefully resolve a conflict.

Tim and I would both like to use an experience system that relies heavily (if not wholly) on quest, objective (i.e. steps within a quest), and challenge (e.g. exploration rewards) rewards. We want to encourage players to solve problems by whatever means are at their disposal. Combat is a very common solution, but that shouldn't be the only solution. If our experience system discourages the use of alternate resolution mechanics, it's at odds with that goal.

As far as loot goes, I don't want to rely heavily on putting all of the best gear on enemies. Again, that would conflict with the goal of allowing the player to resolve problems in the way that they would like to.

9. Which speech/conversation skills and ability are planned or being discussed and why? Are there any spells that can grant you new dialogue-related abilities like PST's speak with the dead ability?

We haven't discussed conversation skills as much as reputation mechanics. To me, conversation is one of the primary means players have of defining the type of person they are playing in the world. Instead of a heavy emphasis on conversation skills, I would rather allow players to behave in a variety of ways and develop robust reputation systems to react to those choices throughout the game. I think it's more interesting to allow a person to select diplomatic responses and develop a reputation for being a diplomat than to level up a Diplomacy skill and pick the Diplomacy option when it's unlocked for you.

I think some of the best role-playing experiences come from expressing your character's personality in the way that you want and seeing how the world reacts to it. I believe that we can make a conversation system that allows people to do this with dialogues and characters in a natural way.

10. Chris mentioned that you "want to explore the idea of speech as a tool not as a key", citing "intimidating, flattering, pissing people off" as examples and "providing a broader context or more information on the target" as the goals/rewards. While it worked well in Planescape: Torment, it does sound like you're marginalizing the speech skills, going from one extreme (a win button) to another (mostly flavor). Any thoughts on that?

I'd like to marginalize the speech skills into the dust bin, personally. I think the player's conversation choices should be important without dead-ending quests and I think that Alpha Protocol managed to find ways to do that. There are certainly optimal choices for the player to make if you want a certain type of outcome (e.g. impressing one character instead of another), but dialogue isn't a right/wrong puzzle.

I don't think it's correct to say that I want dialogue choices to be flavor only. I want the player's choices from node to node to actually be more mechanically significant that they have been in most RPGs. That consists of two parts: the immediate reaction within the conversation and the long-term effects of how that choice feeds into your reputation. Sometimes the short-term effects are minor, but the reputation system won't "forget" what you've done.