Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Developer Livestream, Josh Sawyer Interview

As promised in the latest Fig update, Obsidian's Josh Sawyer and Dimitri Berman took part in a Q&A livestream on Twitch, and now we have an hour long VOD to check out:

And if you don't have an hour of spare time to go through the whole thing, there's a transcript up on Reddit, courtesy of a user who goes by Fereed. A snippet:

Dimitri, are you done modelling the Godlike options for the player? It's been said you had a lot of fun working on these races, but we all know it's because you despise modeling hairstyles. #haircurls

Dimitri Berman: I'm done modeling all the base Godlike heads, but I'm not done with all the variants of them yet. Modeling Godlikes is like really awesome, and it's one of my favorite parts of Eternity 2 for sure.

JS: Did you also—you modeled all the Genasi, right? For Neverwinter 2?

DB: Not all of them. Some of them were done by David Espinoza.

JS: Oh, that's right, that's right.

DB: But, yeah, Godlikes kind of echo that whole idea.

JS: Pretty much. We just ripped that off.

The new 3D character display in the inventory looks amazing. Did you have to start all of it from scratch or did you use base models from the first game?

DB: Yes, everything has been remade. Our initial plan was not to do that. But to achieve the quality level that we wanted we for sure had to start over. Everything you're seeing in Eternity 2, other than some creatures that have been updated but not done from scratch, we definitely remodeled—and redesigned, too.

If Pillars of Eternity was Main Content|Side Content 50/50(JS: That's questionable.), what would be your guess for Deadfire? 40/60? 30/70?

JS: There's a lot of side content. There's a lot of crit path content technically, but a lot of those crit path areas—1) They can be done not as faction content, and 2) A lot of is faction specific content. So, for example, if you include stuff that a faction asks you to go do, the bulk is larger.

But there's also a lot of content where you can do it even if you're not aligned with the faction that might send you do it officially for a quest. I don't know what that breakdown exactly is, but there's a ton of optional side content for you to do. It's not like super, super focused on only your crit path.

Also, we have tried to make it as friendly to skipping around as you want. There are big sections of the crit path where, if you're a super smarty player, you can actually leapfrog sections of the critical path and the story adapts to it.

Additionally, Josh Sawyer talked about Deadfire in a recent interview where he shared his thoughts on how to deal with community feedback, Deadfire's learning curve, new gameplay mechanics, and more. Have a look:

It's great to be talking to you about Pillars of Eternity II. Maybe we can just start off with a quick rundown from your latest update that you put out this week?

Josh: So, one of the things that has really been coming together is our combat is a lot clearer in Pillars II. One of the features that we highlighted in our update was the visual effects opacity blending. Some of the feedback we got for our combat was that the visual effects were overpowering – they would blow up the screen, they were super opaque – and so we changed how we render visual effects. We changed how we author the visual effects so that they are shorter and snappier, and then we put in that new rendering feature where as soon as you pause it lowers the opacity of everything. So overall, combining the feedback with all of the pacing changes we have made (such as the fact that it is a 5-character party now) I think that the combat is much, much easier to follow.

At the same time, overall I think that the tactical challenge in each individual combat is a lot higher. Our combats tend to be a lot more handmade – there are far, far fewer trash mobs. So I think that players are going to find that combat is easier to follow, but it is even more challenging than it was in the first game. Not in a frustrating way, but rather that the gameplay feels really good – it’s going in a good direction.

You mentioned that the new combat system is more challenging – is there a lot more for players of the original game to learn? And how will the learning curve be for someone who is coming to Pillars for the first time?

Josh: I think it will be easier. For one thing, we’ve planned out our tutorials much earlier. In pre-production we talked about how we have a lot of things to teach the player, what are we going to teach the player and when, and part of that also means that the content we give to the player in the early game has to be paced in such a way that we’re not forced to introduce concepts before it’s time to introduce them.

So for example, in the first hour of gameplay, unless the player really goes off the beaten path and goes looking for it, they’re not going to encounter afflictions. Afflictions are the big mass of nasty status affects which hit the player. There’s so much other stuff to learn that afflictions are just not important in the early game. So our area designers, just for the first few areas, they don’t use enemies that inflict afflictions. We’re thinking ‘if we introduce those, we have to teach it, or we run the risk that players are not going to understand it, so let’s just wait a little bit before we introduce it’. And there’s a lot of little elements like that where we think, ‘look, we’re not ready to introduce this, so don’t put that in the early game’. Of course, the player is free to explore however they want, so they can go off the beaten path and find it, and that’s OK – but we designed the core content around this idea of really trying to gently and logically introduce concepts to the player as they go.

I think that overall, the system itself is clearer, the system is more consistent, there are fewer exceptions and edge cases for the player to learn, but it still is a really deep system to learn over time. I think it’s a lot more coherent and clearer, and that newcomers are going to have an easier time understanding Deadfire than they did Pillars 1.


Sounds very interesting. On to the gameplay itself – can you please also talk about skills what you’re doing different in Deadfire that wasn’t in the original?

Josh: Well in Pillars 1, I wanted to solve a lot of problems that I saw in games that had parties. One of them is skill redundancy, where you have multiple characters that have the same skills and you’re thinking that that is just a waste of skill points, and you feel either you made a dumb character, or the companion that you have is dumb because you have overlapping skills so they don’t work, and also that some skills seem to come up in conversations and they were only for one character, and other skills were more applicable to multiple characters in a combat situation for example. So for Pillars 1 we really pared it down to a set of five skills that were useful to every character that invested in them. If you put points in Lore, you could use scrolls – it didn’t matter what your class was. If you put points in Stealth you could sneak around. If you put points in Athletics you could do a self-heal. All that felt very tight and solid, but it also did leave a lot of room for defining nuance in a character. Lore, for example, is very broad. History or metaphysics or religion are much more specific, so if you have a priest character, he could say, “well I know a lot about religion, but I’m not a historian” or “I’m a cypher and I’m interested in animancy and metaphysics” – the specificity of it allows the characters to feel a little more, well, specific and detailed and closer to a character concept and they can execute on that.

It's our responsibility to make the content really make use of all that stuff. We talked about it for a long time and the other thing that we did was we had a skill system where even if you have redundant skill overlap, other party members can contribute to the total.