Project Eternity Social Round-up

While we wait for this upcoming weeks' new Project Eternity update, you migh want to read our latest round-up of forum posts/social network activity from the developers (strictly concerning the game, given I figure/hope our readers aren't interested in the way J.E. Sawyer ties his shoes).

First of all, there's been quite a lot of discussion concerning the UI mockup, with project director J.E. Sawyer chiming in on the discussion (keep in mind that since then Obsidian has been working on their own revised UI):
Thanks for the feedback, everyone, divergent though it may be. Here are some things we are going to continue to look into:

* Better use of space overall. Not all of the decorative elements need to be there. We would like to have more room for the ability icons in particular.
* Re-working and re-positioning of the player menu (inventory, etc.).
* Possibly vertically orienting the character portraits and ability icons on one side of the screen. The combat log pretty much has to be horizontally-oriented, but other than scrolling through it, that's a non-interactive element of the UI.

I have to say I think it's strange that people are requesting UI layouts with character portraits far away from action icons, floating wireframe UIs, and similar features. While it's true that BG1 and IWD1 used wrap-around UIs, that was because 640x480 base resolutions didn't allow us to fit all of the elements along one edge of the screen. As soon as we went to 800x600 in IWD2, we immediately went to a consolidated UI layout that made mouse movement much more efficient. I understand that a lot of people use hotkeys and we certainly plan to support that, but GUIs need to be functional for people who use them. Putting abilities 75%+ of the screen width away from the character portraits is really inefficient.

While I certainly think the idea of a bone and obsidian UI could be really cool looking [note: he's referring to a forum user's idea], it would also be very stark and high-contrast. I think it would wind up dominating the screen, regardless of the environment. Our outdoor environments, especially, will fall more in the BG and BG2 spectrum of colors, which is why we went with more subdued natural tones and copper accents. We can certainly look at alternatives, but I wanted to give feedback on that particular idea.


We are designing the GUI to be mouse-friendly. Designs that put character portraits on top of Old Smoky and action icons on the bottom of the Mariana Trench go very strongly against that goal.


My mouse can move from the top to the bottom of my 1920x1200 screen with less than 1/2" of motion not even on highest sensitivity.

Using the left-side 'L' layout makes the worst case essentially an equilateral triangle of mouse movement and the best and average cases strongly obtuse or acute triangles - very close to lines in other words. In any case far more compact than the original BG layouts.

I don't think your mouse sensitivity is typical. Mouse travel is important not because of the distance it covers once, but because the distance it covers literally thousands of times over the course of the game. UIs intended for long-term use should have ergonomic considerations.

Left-side L is also creates the most uncomfortable direction to move the mouse in (assuming you're right-handed): upper left to lower right. Given the choice between a left- or right-side L, I'd prefer a right-side L. But I'd rather not have an L for portraits/action icons at all. The combat log is one of the most domineering elements of the UI but it's also one that could easily be separated from the rest. If we were to have some sort of an L layout, I think a right-side pane containing portraits and action icons with an adjustable combat log on the bottom could work well.


This mockup is not far from where we are going with our revisions.[note: you can see the mockup at the link]

To correct one statement you made: it's not true that the majority of players will play at 1920x1080, but more polled Steam players play at that res than any other. If you combine 1920x1080 with 1336x768, those two blocks form a majority. That's why we're constantly checking both 1920x1080 as well as 1280x720, the latter of which will be our lowest supported resolution.


The elements are symmetrical by default, but we're designing with the goal of allowing you to disable segments (like the combat log) if you would like to. I.e., there's a gap between the two "sides" of the UI, but the two sides will be equally-sized unless you start disabling elements.


A minor note for clarification: our dialogue window will be a different interface from the dialogue log. The former will be prominent and display larger character portraits (among other things). The log itself is really just for scrolling back through the conversation if you want to review it. It can be toggled with the combat log in the same window.

Then we move on to some mechanics chat, starting from the Chanter class:
We're about to implement the chanter, so details may change, but the basics are that chanters start the game with a list of basic phrases. Phrases are not individual words or ideas like "protect" or "fire", but full phrases like Aefyllath Ues mith Fyr or Thick Grew Their Tongues, Stumbling o'er Words. Phrases encompass a complete idea that is passively expressed as a magical effect in the area surrounding the chanter.

Chanters do not use phrases on their own, only in the context of a player-assembled chant. A chant is a sequence of phrases. It can included repeated phrases, but phrases all have a linger duration that is applied after the phrase has completed, so linking the same phrase back-to-back undercuts the potential power of overlapping the durations of different phrases.

Additionally, after a chanter has spoken a number of phrases, he or she can use a targeted roar. This is a special type of phrase, but it is shouted in a cone (always) in front of the chanter and can produce beneficial or harmful effects (sometimes both). E.g. the roar And Hel-Hyraf Crashed upon the Shield temporarily reduces the DT of all enemies caught in the cone. Roaring interrupts the chant, but the chanter will resume it a few seconds later.

Chanters always have one chant selected (they are modal and exclusive to each other). They will always start chanting as soon as combat begins and always stop chanting as soon as combat ends.


I would like to have the chants spoken continuously during combat but we'll have to test that out to make sure it isn't obnoxious. Roars will be loud, but phrases may be relatively soft, "charm of making"-style.

Then we move on to inventory management stuff:
Individual characters contribute space to the Pack (not the Stash, which is effectively unlimited in size). I.e., two characters will have less Pack space than six characters. However we wind up displaying the Pack, each character's section will be marked as "theirs" even though it's effectively a common pool of items. The main thing we want to avoid with the Pack is forcing the player to flip between six screens.

BTW, you can carry overflow items without assigning them Pack slots or throwing them in the Stash, but it encumbers the entire party until you handle it. Encumbrance inflicts combat penalties, not movement penalties, so you can move at full speed while encumbered, but you're fighting at a significant disadvantage with no real upside because you can't access the Pack in combat.


You can put items into the Stash anywhere and at any time (more or less), but to withdraw items from the Stash you need to be at a camp, inn, or similar location.


How will unlimited stash space affect the game's economy? won't the fact that u can stash every short sword and black opal gem you find affect it?

A patient player can do this in any IE game as well (barring areas you can't return to). I don't think our economy should be balanced around the expectation that players are impatient.

Other assorted mechanical tidbits:
A lot of the more "magic-y" flavored things that fighters, rogues, et al. can take will probably wind up being Talents (optional) instead of core class Abilities. If you want to play an effectively non-magical fighter or rogue, you will probably be able to do so, but there will be more fantastic options available for players who want them.


I believe that right now all of the core class Abilities that fighters and rogues (specifically) have are described as being more-or-less mundane/non-magical.


How do I learn new Spells in Project Eternity? Must I choose a spell at level up (like the Sorcerer in NWN2) or do I get all spells if my level is high enough(like the Cleric in NWN2 ). is it for all (spellcasting) classes the same?

Wizards learn a few spells every time they gain access to a new spell level. They must find the rest of the spells for each level in the world (stores or found grimoires). No matter how many spells a wizard knows, he or she can only have a subset of those spells available in a given grimoire at one time, meaning that the number of spells they can choose from at any given time is more limited than those of clerics or druids.

Clerics and druids gain access to all spells of a given level as soon as they are able to cast from that level, though their spell lists are smaller than those of wizards.

Chanters learn some phrases as they advance and can find additional phrases in the world. Ciphers choose individual powers as they advance.

Josh: Do you plan to have spells that are unavailable from level-ups? That is, you'd have to find them in the world if you want to have them?

I'd really like to. If we have time, I would like to have unique spells for the player to find (or possibly make/help make).


Will PE feature "Instant Death" spells and abilities like Desintegration and Imprisonment from BG?. Or skills with similar function - maybe Headshot for handguns. Something with chance to kill PC instantly, unless he will be lucky to roll a saving throw?

No. Save or die effects are really easy to abuse offensively (as a player) and they require either luck or hard counters to defend against as a player -- neither of which are very interesting, tactically.

PCs can be downed in a small number of hits (possibly one if the enemy is powerful enough), but that has less to do with luck and more to do with the raw power difference between the attacker and the defender.

What about merely situationally hard counters? Headshots are a good example here. They are commonly implemented in FPS games, and there is no way there to immunize your character against them. Yet, they are far from random and no one but shitty players complains about randomly dying to them. That's because there are situationally specific methods of avoiding headshots, necessitating special playstyle from defending player. OTOH this special playstyle can be anticipated and exploited by the attacker.

They are far from random in FPS games where accuracy is primarily determined by player skill. Accuracy in PE, like the IE games, is determined primarily by character stats, not player skill. Hard counters in a single-player RPG are obnoxious, IMO (cont)

Because either you're prepped for them or you aren't. If you aren't, you reload and voila, you are. If you prepared save-or-die tactic that the enemy is immune to, you're hard countered through no fault of your own. If not, you steamroll the enemy.

Or you do what many players do, which is reload until the primary target fails its save and the entire tactical challenge of the fight is rendered trivial/pointless.

Josh, your answer to this question disturbs me in more ways than one so I'm going to split this into 2 posts. First off, feature design descisions should be based on making the game better, NOT trying to second-guess player behavior. (cont)

Second, "hard counters"? "Improve your Saving Throws" is the best way to defend against save-or-die. And Everyone should be doing that anyway. Also, what's wrong with "Luck"? It's the driving element behind just about All D&D mechanics. (Dice Rolls)

I believe this does make the game better. It's not second-guessing; it's simple observation. If players can use save-or-die effects against an enemy as a tactic that has a 10% chance of success, many would rather reload repeatedly until the target drops than develop adaptive tactics to deal with the specific threats posed by the enemy. Why should a player bother attempting to adapt when they have a big hammer with a 10% chance of ending the fight each time it's swung? We give them the tools.

But we don't have to include save-or-die effects, and the game isn't made worse by doing so, IMO. Luck is an element of conflict resolution, but the larger element in A/D&D as levels rise is, of course, BONUSES. In 3E/3.5, saves progress in such a way that at higher levels, many classes have virtually no hope of making saves against their weak save categories and it can be extremely difficult to shore up against the numerical disadvantage.

When the effect is a save-or-die (or equivalent), it can immediately remove the character from combat. If the saves are hopelessly improbable, the solution becomes a hard counter (like Death Ward) which typically relies on post-reload metagaming to make the deadly effect completely impotent.

Even in tabletop, where reload is not an option, the virtual absence of save-or-die effects from 4E was never missed by our gaming groups in over 2 years of play and two different campaigns (albeit one much longer than the other).


In Project Eternity will all classes have different spell lists or are there some spells that more than one class can use (like in NWN2 where the druid could use some of the spells from the Cleric or the wizard and sorcerer would use the same spell list)?

Currently, spells are entirely unique to each class.


Josh, what's your opinion of JRPG-style spells that take off a fixed percentage of the target's health? Seems those might be a good fit with your design philosophy, since they're potentially very powerful, yet not "Instant Death" by definition.

Fixed percentage always seemed a little weird to me. I generally prefer tight ranges or flat values. I think the design of 3E's Disintegrate is an improvement over 2nd Ed.'s because it's "just" a high damage attack, but it still has some nasty side effects even if the target makes its save. It also uses a lot of d6s, which makes its expected damage pretty reliable. At 12th level, 24d6 produces a tight bell curve.

4E's Disintegrate is also pretty powerful and has some additional utility applications that are nice.


Another question - what do you think about long-term paralysis spells? Spells that take the target out of commission for an extended period of time, leaving it alive but completely helpless? Is that the same thing as a "save or die" spell to you?

I generally think that A/D&D paralysis effects have excessively long durations. I don't think most targets need to be paralyzed for long for it to have a very deleterious effect on their side's (or their personal) combat ability. Longer duration stuns are less of a concern in a party-based game, but I still think that PE's stuns will be shorter than 1st/2nd/3E durations. IMO, their usefulness should revolve around a short-term removal of the character's combat contributions and less on setting them up in a helpless state.


In PE, will the player choose a class ability on level up or is there one specific ability per level?

We haven't decided on that yet. I'm designing the class abilities to be pretty complementary to each other so if we wanted to just let players go buck wild with any ol' combination of abilities, it *could* work, but we'll experiment with it to see how it feels.

Talents were always intended to be wild cards, so you can take them whenever as long as you meet one of the prerequisites. Prerequisites are designed to be "or"s and many of them will have an option that opens at higher levels. E.g., to take this talent you need to be an Elf or Aedyran or 9th level.

If you end up going with one specific ability per level, how will you allow for the choice between, say, active ability-focused or passive bonus-focused fighters?

Talents are a mix of active, passive, and modal. We've also talked about the player picking from different pools of abilities instead of saying that they have free reign or no choice at all.

Thanks for the reply. Is there any fundamental difference between talents and abilities?

Abilities are always unique to a class. Talents are sometimes unique to a class, but often can be taken by a variety of characters.


Being that P:E is getting closer to being feature complete, are you now starting to think about ability scores ?

Since Tim finished the first five levels of chanter today, he's implementing Attributes next.

does Tim do the coding for those as well? or is his design work passed on to Adam/Steve for Implementation

I did the Attribute system design and Tim's doing the implementation.


Will Attr system feature AD&D-like useless attributes? I mean attributes that players have no reason to raise for certain classes. Int for pure fighter, str for wizard etc. Also, will Attr. increase be a rare option or we'll see increase every level?

No. It took a long time to design the Attributes specifically because I really wanted to avoid dump stats. Because that was the goal, the system may seem a little unconventional to some players, but I believe it will produce more practical options for players in the long run.

You mean like Diablo? Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and maaaybe Constitution too. Somewhat uncoventional for an rpg, yes...

No, not like Diablo. All Diablos have irregular ability score application between classes and all Diablos have dump stats.

:/ oh no, it is a 3 attribute system, isn't it?



It's not the number of Attributes that is unconventional, but how they are applied to derived statistics. It's more "gamist" than "simulationist". D&D's ability score system tries to be both and, IMO, fails because of it.

Are you willing to share with us *how* are they applied to derived statistics? An example that shows the uncoventional part, perhaps?

Not until we're done implementing and experimenting with them in game.


Reading the Torment's Reach ability for the monk made me wonder will there be different attack ranges for weapons? being able to attack from further away with say a spear than a dagger?

Melee weapons have very coarse attack range granularity. Almost all melee weapons attack from the same (close) range. Weapons like pikes allow characters to attack from at least one full character away, allowing for "second rank" fighting.


Thanks for answers, Josh. What kind of loot system are you planning for PE? Fixed loot(BG2)? Random loot(Diablo)? Semi-random or mix of both?

It will be a mix of fixed loot and a bit of random loot.


So, in PE, if stamina regenerates outside of combat, then does it make sense to have traps that inflict stamina damage outside of combat? Maybe they should do health damage only. In general, what do you think is the purpose of traps outside of combat?

It's generally best for damage to hit Stamina first since some characters (e.g. barbarians) have a different formula for converting Stamina damage into Health. Even though the Stamina damage will roll off rapidly (assuming the trap doesn't go off in combat), the Health damage won't.

I think we place traps in levels for a few reasons. We want to make environments feel dangerous outside of the actual enemies in them. We want to encourage players to be cautious by providing a disincentive for running around. We want to emphasize that certain types of enemies are craftier or more underhanded/devious by placing traps in their areas.

Finally, though I don't think this is a good reason on its own, I think we continue to use traps because they are part of RPG tradition. I like the motivations above as long as the mechanics aren't frustrating and the presence of traps makes the game more enjoyable.


What level of difficulty are you designing the game for as a reference ? I assume that for convenience the production level of difficulty will be blocked in fairly easy and then designed up / down for others during post-production ?

We're using Icewind Dale 2 and Baldur's Gate 2 for reference. The game is being designed for relatively high difficulty at first and later tuned down for lower levels of difficulty. It's easier to lower difficulty from a high bar than to raise it from a shallow baseline.


Until now, all discussions of combat difficulty in PE have been in the context of dungeons, where there's a strategic context to consider. What about town battles, where a rest spot is always close by? In those battles, the party is always at full power.

In those cases, combat will likely be tuned for a "full-bore" party. It's easier to make strategic adaptations if you fail a fight and can immediately change the party's loadout, but such fights will have a heavier emphasis on efficiency and tactical precision.

We conclude with some more tidbits on various subjects, including lore (unfortunately this time around there isn't much of it), from J.E. Sawyer and George Ziets:
In PE there are no medical items in the game that can heal instantly (thats great) - but i cant understand how such a setting can exist without some sort of medicine, - at all. Its just not possible. Wounds, cuts, broken bones, diseases? + No "doctors" ?

There's medicine, but nothing that heals in seconds, minutes, or hours. It's all equivalent to early modern European technology at best.


So, the Infinity Engine games had no animations for anything except walking and fighting. There weren't even any animations for basic things like opening doors and chests (which actually had its advantages IMO). Will PE have more animations?

PE will have more animations, but we probably won't be animating a lot of the basic things like opening doors and chests. Not being bound to sprites allows us to extend the animation set a lot more.


Can I play a godlike in Project Eternity from all races, or only a human godlike?

We currently believe it should be possible to play as a godlike from any "parent" race.


Will PE feature sentient demons\devils? Especially those who are willing to bargain and propose various pacts and infernal contracts to the willing? Is there some kind of Demon King in a way of AD&D - "There are many gods, but only one Asmodeus"?

So far, I haven't heard much talk about standard-issue demons and devils. Of course, that isn't to say that they won't exist in some form. The PE universe is a big place, and not everything will be revealed in the first game.


Will ridiculous Landsknecht fashions be featured in Project Eternity?

In terms of outfits, the closest we will have to Landsknecht clothing are probably the Vailian outfits, but Vailian colors and patterns are much different from historical Landsknecht garb.


Our spell effects will probably have a "flashiness" level of Icewind Dale 2. We can use a combination of 2D and 3D effects and Unity's effects editor is pretty robust. We won't be doing spell "cutscenes" like Torment, though.


Dimitri just showed us a render of his Zbrush model for a male wild orlan head and it looks very cool.

In early internal polls (and on our message boards) we found a strong divide between people who wanted relatively "normal" looking orlans and people who wanted them to be even more animalistic. Both hearth and wild orlans have vertical slit pupils, but the hearth orlans look more like the cipher concept that Kaz did. Wild orlans are more evenly covered with hair to the point where it looks more like fur.