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The editors over at IncGamers managed to catch up with Obsidian Entertainment's Josh Sawyer for a sizeable interview about the newly launched Pillars of Eternity. Topics include the freedom they had on the title thanks to its crowd-funding origin, min/maxing and character development as a whole, organizing the creative talents of so many developers on a project of this size, what they've done to tighten up the release in terms of lingering bugs, and more:
IG: You've talked recently about designing the character system to avoid so-called '˜trap builds'. Can you talk a bit about what they are and what you did?
JS: Yeah, it revolves around making strategic decisions for building your characters which can result in a severely underpowered character. Not just a 15% difference, but like, '˜whoa, this guy is totally screwed.' Those are things which experienced RPGers usually spot a mile away. '˜I'm going to make sure I've got a 13 in this state because then I'm going to take this (feat) and that'll raise it' and so on.
Stuff like that where it requires either system mastery or prescience knowing what things are coming up in the game for a person to really do well. There are two problems with that. it makes it very difficult for us to balance the game. Because if we're trying to balance the game for intelligent but ignorant, not in a bad way, people then it has to pretty easy but if we balance it for system masters then it's going to be a lot lot harder.
To eliminate that problem we just try to raise the floor, so to speak. '˜Look. the worst you can make this character is still pretty decent.' We don't have stat requirements on the talents, most stats are pretty good on any class as long as you play to the strengths of that character.
I've played a lot of fairly complex RPGs with intelligent people. sometimes people will have a bad experience because they try to make this cool character idea they have but the system just doesn't support it. They get frustrated because the game isn't balanced for them.
IG: How was your experience with using your backers as testers?
JS: Because we had a backer beta, we had people giving their impressions and it wasn't just what they thought from watching something it was actually something that they did. It's like, '˜I played this and I did this, watch what I did.' and we'd be like, '˜oh. that's not good.' or '˜I didn't think of that combination' or '˜.that someone would do it that way.' That was a great amount of feedback.
Sometimes we'd talk to them on the forums, sometimes it's best to let them talk amongst themselves. Even just watching conversations between different groups is very informative. There're a lot of different opinions and foundational reasons for why people want certain things and just watching people bring those up and defend them to each other is worthwhile.
In QA things are usually very structured. The nice thing about fan QA is that they're going to go and do whatever they want to do, which is unfocused but other times it's something that we just wouldn't have found because the structure of how we're looking at things makes it difficult to see. I'd say it's very cool that people can have the chance to do that.
IG: Obsidian has always been a company with great vision, but sometimes games have been plagued by bugs on release. How confident are you that Pillars of Eternity is coming out solid?
JS: I came here to work on Neverwinter Nights 2. The early days of Obsidian were Knights of The Old Republic 2, Neverwinter Nights 2 and Alpha Protocol, and all three of those games had a lot of bugs. After Alpha Protocol we said that as much as possible we needed to fix that problem.
So with Dungeon Siege 3, that came out and it was, I don't want to say completely bug free, but that was a really really solid launch. South Park also did really well coming out.
With Pillars, because it's our game and we were doing some of the QA, we knew we had to take control of it and make sure it's really solid. That's one of the reasons why it was delayed.
With any RPG of this size there's so many things you can do that I'm sure people are going to find something that we didn't find when it comes out. Basically, we're ready so that when people find things, we're going to turn around and fix them as soon as possible; come out with a patch as soon as possible; fix anything big. Then we're going have another patch after that to fix the longer term things people are going to encounter. It's important that people feel they can trust us and that the game is going to be good when it comes out, but we know that given that it's and RPG being made from scratch, and an engine that we haven't worked with before, there's always going to be some weird stuff that. you know. a few hundred people who might have played the game is not the same as hundreds of thousands of people. But we're ready!