Matt MacLean Interview

Gameumentary has talked with Obsidian's narrative designer Matt MacLean about his work on Tyranny. Matt describes in what ways Pillars of Eternity helped shape their future project, he talks about the game's influences that include Fallout: New Vegas, Warhammer, and even Soylent Green, touches on the intricacies of creating a believable magic system, and the woes of coming up with good names in fiction.

The interview is rather long and detailed, so here's an excerpt:

While all of these influences play a part in making Tyranny what it is, a great deal of original thought went into every aspect of its creation. A lot of fiction – unless it’s deliberately absurd – is built on the suspension of disbelief, where even the most fantastical worlds are governed by rules which keep them consistent and relatable. The control of magic plays a central part in Tyranny’s gameplay and storyline, and while its true source is left ambiguous, the Obsidian team made sure to ground it firmly within Tyranny’s lore.

“In most games, I’d argue it’s good to have a deep explanation for how magic works should your players want to know and if it’ll add to the game,” says MacLean. “If Phantom Menace has taught me anything, it’s that not every magical gimmick should be explained down to the microscopic details. If we had a tutorial window that popped up telling you ‘oh by the way, you have magic germs in your blood’ you’d be right to be furious.

“In the case of Tyranny, this is a rather tricky subject. Kyros has a monopoly on the total understanding of magic. The Archons have magic, mages can imitate it, but only Kyros has a true understanding of how it all works, and how it can best be used.

“The magic system was the source of a lot of discussions with Brian Heins, he being responsible for making the magic work in combat, and me being responsible for making the words people say about it not sound like cringe-inducing malarkey. We always knew the top of the food chain – the Overlord and Edicts – from day one, and we knew from the start there would be a cast of a half dozen villainous generals/agents/judges, and the cast of Archons you see in the game were from very early on in the design process – down to the names – and each of them had their powers/functions in broad strokes.

“And we knew we’d want something resembling fantasy-setting magic since not having it would be outrageous for fans of such a genre, but we had this rather off-the-rails scaling of power going on here, with Edict at the top, eccentric magic misfits in the middle, and some sort of magic lower class that can serve as part of combatants of our world.”


In any creative work, things change as ideas evolve over time, and not always for the reasons you’d expect. Adjustments as seemingly innocuous as wording a game’s title can have far-reaching effects, leading the Tyranny team to tweak and revise fundamental details in the story throughout development – even reworking the player-character’s role in the game-world in response to publisher feedback.

“So fun fact: the player character was a Herald of Tunon for a large chunk of development, not a Fatebinder,” MacLean says. “Thus, Enkumar became a go-to name when jumping into the game to playtest something. At some point, we got the name of the game from the publisher and it was in the form of title, colon, subtitle. We went back and forth on the title part but the suggestion was Working Title: Fatebringer and they wanted the player to be the Fatebringer. Since you… bring a lot of fate? At the time, the School of Ink and Quill was originally called the Binders Guild, being that they were book binders, so Lantry was a Binder, not a Sage.

“Anyway, in our back and forths we eventually settled on Tyranny (no subtitle) and Fatebinder as the player’s title – putting us on a renaming spree. This caused some very amusing bugs, like one of the very first examinable objects you see in the very first scene of the game saying “…this standard is the only Fatebinderry the Disfavored ever need.” If you notice some of the characters have a hard time mentally parsing your title, that’s a bit too much of my rage seeping through – sorry.”