Feargus Urquhart Interview, Part One

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has published the first part of a meaty conversation they had with Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart at DICE. The core of the discussion is the future of RPGs, and Obsidian fans will be pleased to know that the studio's future is looking okay, with another project signed for after they're done with South Park:
RPS: The recent industry (transition) has taken a ridiculous toll. It feels like it's been layoffs every other week which is weird, since it's basically been every week. It's been hard to watch, to say the least. Obviously, you guys temporarily lost a publisher, but are you chaffing elsewhere? After all, your biggest project [South Park] is slated to come out sometime this year. What happens after that? Are you worried about securing more work?

Feargus Urquhart: If you asked me that question eight weeks ago, I would have said yes. Luckily we signed another contract in December. I can't go into any details about it, but it's a game that will employ at least the same number of people that are working on South Park right now. And of course, our hope is that there will be more South Park work. It would be awesome to keep on working with Matt and Trey and the group.

For us, we're doing pretty good right now. I can't rest on my laurels, as they say. And this is where I say (I) and not (we) because this is the (me) part of Obsidian. Now I have a year, probably about a year, to get a publisher interested in a game so that then we can go through the six-or-nine-month period of getting that thing signed up. It's nice. I have about 18 months right now to get that next big thing signed up. It's giving us a good amount of time to get all our ideas together. Having Chris Avellone as one of my partners is awesome, because he's a fountain of ideas. Along with Josh [Sawyer], and now having Tim Caine at the company. This is going to give us the time to sit down and say, (What is this game we want to make?)

So, I think the big thing for us right now is, what is going on with RPGs right now? Obviously Skyrim was successful, and Fallout was successful. Mass Effect is still successful, even with all the hoopla. Dragon Age is a little rocky.


RPS: For Obsidian, what are the core tenets of role-playing games? You could say something like The Walking Dead is a role-playing game, if you choose to zero in on choice and story as key elements of role-playing games. For you personally, is it that fusion, that sort of midpoint between choice and story and combat and character growth?

Feargus Urquhart: It is combat, toys, and story. Sorry, it's combat, characters, toys, and story. Why I'm separating characters and story is because when you're playing a great role-playing game, you have relationships with NPCs. They aren't really the story. To me, and Obsidian, a story is something that I can. I know where to go in the story, but I'm choosing I want to have the story play out. Which you see in a lot of our games.

Sometimes it's what gets us in trouble. We want and feel that what an RPG is about is the ramifications of my actions in the world. Not just system-wise I rip this guy off and so this stuff happens. I don't mean that. It's, (I chose to do this.) Usually consciously, occasionally unconsciously. Then this is the ramification of that. Bundled, of course, with fun combat and character development. I'm a min-maxer so there's my love of figuring out the exact character build. But that's it.

I guess if you need to boil it all down. I'm not to say (more than other game developers,) but I don't think that's the case. Maybe we talk about it a little bit more. But it's the choice aspect of RPGs. RPGs are so much about choice and the ramifications of those choices. This is something that Chris Avellone hit upon that really is a tenet of what we do now. In Alpha Protocol, he really pushed this idea forward that there is no [good or evil]. Morally there may be a good or a bad choice, but there is no bad choice for the player. Even if it's (evil,) you're rewarded.

And not just with cash. A lot of RPGs in the past, the way they handle good and evil, if you did good you got a pat on the back and everyone was nice to you, and if you were bad you got money. In Alpha Protocol it was about making the choices a bit more gray. The problem with gray choices, of course, is that it's hard for the player to. They don't just see it as being evil or being good. You then have to explain it more. The gray choices then come with, (No, this is what's gonna happen.) There's a near-term, medium-term, and long-term reaction, if we can do it that way, to all of these choices that you make. That web is what makes the game feel like it's my game.