Obsidian Entertainment Interview

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Feargus Urquhart is one of the most prominent figures in the role-playing video game business, having spent the last 18 years of his life contributing to it.  We've chatted with many of Feargus' colleagues over the years, but never to the man himself, so we made a point of catching up with him before the team went into crunch mode for Alpha Protocol.  Read on to learn more about Feargus and what the team at Obsidian has in store for us next:

GB: To start things off, tell us how you originally started your career in video game development. What inspired you to move into this field in the first place, and what games have you directly contributed to over the years?

Feargus: I originally started as a playtester back in 1991 at Interplay Entertainment. Other than being a summer job that I could get that would let me play games and hang out with my friends, making games was something I was always interested in doing. I made a few text games on my Commodore 64 and also ran a bulletin board (BBS) for about five years - this was in the time before fire, or the web/internet - your choice. J But what really inspired me was that I just loved playing games, particularly RPGs. I spent hours playing the Ultima series, particularly Ultima 4, and other RPG series like Bard's Tale, Wizardry, Might and Magic, Phantasy and even some early MUDs even though I didn't know what that term really meant back then. With that background and pretty much falling into a job at Interplay, I was incredibly lucky.

As for the games that I directly contributed to - that's a pretty long list, but I'll give it a shot. Castles 2 (PC), Rock N Roll Racing (Genesis), Blackthorne (32X), Bard's Tale Construction Set (PC), Star Trek: 25th Anniversary (PC), RPM Racing (SNES), Solitaire Deluxe for Windows (PC), Lost Vikings 1 (SNES), Lost Vikings 2 (SNES), Shattered Steel (PC), Descent to Undermountain (PC), Dragondice (PC), Blood & Magic (PC), Fallout 1 (PC), Fallout 2 (PC), Baldur's Gate 1 (PC), Baldur's Gate 2 (PC), Planescape: Torment (PC), Icewind Dale 1 (PC), Icewind Dale 2 (PC), Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 1 (PS2, Xbox), Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 2 (PS2, Xbox), Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2 (Xbox, PC) and Neverwinter Nights 2 and expansions (PC).

GB: What roles did you serve throughout your career at Interplay? What was day-to-day business like at Interplay, as opposed to Obsidian Entertainment?

Feargus: At Interplay, I started as a play tester (QA) and then was hired on full time as an assistant producer in 1993. From Assistant Producer, I was promoted to Associate Producer in 1994, Producer in 1995 and then Division Director in 1996. My title was then changed in 1998 (or there abouts) to President of Black Isle Studios. While it was a great new title, it was pretty much just the same job I had already been doing for a couple of years.

As for my day to day job, it's really not a lot different other than I need to deal with company related stuff that I didn't at Interplay. Things like what medical insurance should we have for the company, should we get our own exterminator because the landlord can't seem to get rid of the ants and spending more time on overall budgeting. Oh, and I do a lot more business meetings with publishers to get new projects signed up.

GB: Tell us a bit about your decision to leave Interplay and form Obsidian Entertainment. What actually prompted you to make the transition, and how difficult of a decision was it for you at the time? Were there any other options that you were considering?

Feargus: It was a really hard decision. I loved working with Interplay and I was really attached to both the people and the work we had done at Interplay. I had worked there for 12 years and anywhere you have worked or lived for that amount of time is hard to leave. As for the reasons, in a lot of ways it was just time. Interplay started to focus more and more on console games and while Black Isle shipped one of Interplay's most successful console titles (Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance), Interplay did not see Black Isle as a console developer and so we received increasingly less in the way of support. I'm not suggesting that it was a good or a bad business decision, just that it was the decision that was made. So, we decided that it was time to take off and go make games outside of that sort of environment.

GB: It's a well-known fact that quite a bit of content was cut from your first project, Star Wars: KotOR II, prior to its release. Can you give us a little insight into the decisions you had to make during the game's development, as well as what correspondence took place between LucasArts and Obsidian Entertainment as the release date drew nearer?

Feargus: This is a real tough thing to answer, because the real answer is really long and complicated. So, what I'll say is that all games have content cut from them during development. Unfortunately, two things happened with KotOR 2. First, we did not strip it completely out and people were able to find it. Not that I'm trying to sweep it under the rug, but if we hadn't left the stuff in there then the fact that it was missing would never have clouded anything. The second is that we did run out of time to adequately polish the final area.