Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Interviews

After being showcased in a recent Fig update, the city of Neketaka, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire's main hub, has been getting quite a bit of attention. I've seen it compared to Athkatla from Baldur's Gate II, and I would be lying if I said I weren't intrigued and curious to know more. To satisfy this curiosity, Obsidian's Josh Sawyer and Bobby Null have discussed Neketaka in a couple of recent interviews.

We've had a taste of Josh Sawyer's interview with PCGamesN already, and now we have more to go through:

Creating a city with such scale and density requires a plethora of coding and artistic tricks. By designing district maps that don’t flow directly into each other, Obsidian are able to provide the impression of a much larger city beyond that of the areas you’ll be able to explore. What’s not directly witnessed is illustrated with lore drops. “We have a pop-up window that shows things like the population, a breakdown of the different races in the city, who rules the city, and what their major trade exports are,” Sawyer explains. “It helps flesh out your sense of the city, but also its place in the world.”

By moving away from free-flowing exploration of every nook and cranny in Neketaka, Obsidian risk making the city feel like an artificial playground. But Sawyer is confident the art team’s attention to detail makes it feel genuine. “It’s very important to give a sense of place within the city,” he says. “For example, when you go into the temple district of Neketaka, you can see this great drop-off in the background, because you’re pretty high up on the mountainside. As you walk around, there’s a great sense of depth. Whether you’re down at the docks and hearing the sound of ships coming in, or you’re up the clouds, we want to give you that sense of scale and place within the city.”

With Neketaka possessing such scope and bustling culture, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ll slip in unnoticed and be able to quietly manipulate its systems. Quite the opposite is the reality; you’ll be a big name from practically the moment you walk through its gates.

“As soon as you get to Neketaka, something happens to establish who you are,” Sawyer teases. “It’s a big event that means we can justifiably have anyone in the city be aware of who you are. When you’re on the critical path, while you’re suggested to go to the palace, it’s possible to avoid it if you want to. But if you do go to the palace, everyone who sees you knows who you are.”

And when everyone knows who you are, there’s one thing you can count on: an ever-growing line of NPCs demanding you help them out. Pillars of Eternity II’s cities will, without question, feature dozens of quest opportunities, but Sawyer notes that Obsidian have been careful with how those opportunities are presented.

“We do want players to stumble across quests, but if they’re forced into it all the time, that can get irritating,” he explains. “It can also be overwhelming when you have so many quests that you just don’t know where to go. Baldur's Gate was much too sparse, and Athkatla [the capital city in Baldur’s Gate II] was a little too dense. Part of it also had to do with the way the player was pulled into those conversations. Sometimes it’s ok to pull players into a dialogue, and other times it’s ok to let a player see there’s something going on and decide [what to do].”

And here's an excerpt from Bobby Null's interview with MMORPG.com:

MMORPG: What can you tell us about Neketaka? Without giving anything away of course…

Bobby: Neketaka is our big city. It’s the hub of the region where the player will meet several factions vying for control, each in their own way. While the player is encouraged to explore the Deadfire, and all of the islands and ports within the region, many will return to Neketaka between adventures for various reasons. We wanted to make sure the big city stays relevant throughout the game, both from a narrative and gameplay perspective.

MMORPG: What player feedback has been taken into account for Deadfire?

Bobby: As it pertains to Neketaka, we’ve listened quite a bit. In Pillars of Eternity we had two big cities as part of the crowdfunding stretch goals. While we’re proud of what we accomplished in Defiance Bay and Twin Elms, we felt like we wanted to spend more time on a single city for Deadfire. There was a lot of feedback from fans about the two cities, what worked and what didn’t, and we’ve been working hard to address that feedback. By focusing on a single huge city, as opposed to two large cities, we’ve been able to create a city that feels far more alive. This has been accomplished with new features, better level design and improved art, among other things.

MMORPG: You have some new locations to share, which one stands out to you guys as a team?

Bobby: To be honest, it’s really hard to choose. Each of the locations we’ve shown is really cool in its own way. From team feedback during play days, I can say there has been a lot of positive feedback from Arkemyr Manor. Jeff Husghes and Paul Kirsch did a great job on the quest content of the area and Demi Warren’s art skills are on display as you can see in the video.

MMORPG: NPC behavior is a big asset to the game. How do you continue to tweak their actions to help the player and the story?

Bobby: We’ve added NPC schedules to improve the overall bustle of the city. These schedules also allow us to create additional ways for players to solve quests in creative ways; pickpocketing, reverse pickpocketing, time-of-day NPC locations. All these things can factor into solving quests now. Pathing has been overhauled along with major improvements to combat AI. In a nutshell, the NPCs will feel more like real people in Deadfire.