Pillars of Eternity Interview

The folks at AusGamers chatted with Pillars of Eternity project director J.E. Sawyer at the GDC 2014, and asked him questions concerning the title's more open development (when compared to publisher-funded AAA projects), its isometric 2.5D visuals and how they impacted area creation, the projects Obsidian is working on and more. Here's a sampling:

AusGamers: Obsidian has created RPGs in pretty much every possible form factor it seems: first person, third person, 2D. Has going back to the isometric classic RPG style felt restrictive or limiting at all? Were there any kind of modern game mechanics you wanted that just couldn't translate back?

Josh: There are certain things, but they're not things that are really missed that much. Obviously there's a sense of intimacy with first person that you don't get when you're pulled out into isometric view. There are certain ways that you have to build levels that you really can't. like, this will sound kind of weird, but with an isometric viewpoint, you can kind of get an M.C. Escher style warped perspective, because the depth of everything is sort of flattened. So you have to build things in a certain way to avoid creating optical illusions. You can very easily create and illusion and spoil the player by how you build things.

So there are certain things that you have to keep in mind, but those are things that I still remembered from when we worked on the original games. So yeah, obviously you're not doing a lot of fast-paced action-based combat, because you're controlling six characters and way zoomed out. But then again, we're not going to have very high fidelity models and animations, because we're pulled way out; that's not the style of game we're doing.

So we're not doing big crazy cinematics; we're not doing any of that stuff. It's more about illustrations and dialogue, and narration and the traditional tools that we used way back then.

AusGamers: You mention you yourself recalled how to work way back when with those methods. Has that been a bigger adjustment for the newer staff that weren't around back then and are used to working in dynamic 3D, whereas now they're baking in these isometric scenes?

Josh: Yeah, it took them a while to adjust. Mostly it took them a while to adjust to the rules of how to lay things out and how to not lay things out. For example, one of the rules that we have is don't ever raise the terrain elevation toward the bottom of the screen, which might sound strange, but if you see it. when a staircase looks like a line, then when characters walk up it, because it's isometric, they don't get any bigger because the perspective is flattened.

So there are certain things like that, where we're telling them don't have rolling terrain, because it screws up the walk-mesh and the player can't appreciate the difference anyway because it's all isometrically rendered. So there are certain things about laying levels out that they had to learn, and there are certain things about where to place creatures and monsters relative to the fog of war -- because we have a fog of war system -- and other things like that, that they had to all learn over time. But most of them picked it up pretty quickly.

There were enough of us there that had worked on those games, or who had played those games obsessively enough that they sort of new the rules intuitively on how to build things. So it did take some adjusting, but they go into it pretty quickly.