Chris Avellone Interview

Ustatkowany Gracz, or The Settled Down Gamer, a Polish website, has managed to get some alone time with Chris Avellone and ask him about a variety of gaming-related topics, like his thoughts on video game translations, his perceived disdain for conventional romance, preachy characters, and more. An excerpt:

The Settled Down Gamer: Planescape: Torment remains a cult classic in Poland partially thanks to its great, full Polish localization, including its memorable dubbing and translation of the difficult source material. Not every localization, however, gets it right. Do you catch yourself thinking or worrying about how translators can make or break the reception of your work in different countries? Any advice for translators of your writing?

Chris Avellone: I do worry about it and I think about it quite a bit, even though in the past, it’s often been out of my control, unfortunately. I often find fans to be great translators, and strangely, ones that volunteer can end up really shining, but I suspect that’s because they love the work so much they want to do it justice – and they don’t see it as a job, but a labor of love. I don’t know if I’d have much advice for someone translating my writing, but there are some techniques I’ve used over the years to help the process:

– Be careful of using word puzzles or puns in writing, as it can be a challenge for translators to make that work in other languages.

– It’s sometimes very hard to get the meaning of a line 100% right, but if writers take the time to leave “voice direction” notes in, I feel that helps translators get the line. For example, “Let me help you with that” can have an entirely missed meaning without “{Sarcastic} Let me help you with that.” Even going so far as to make sure scene directions are left in word exports for translators can help quite a bit (as well as including exports that indicate clearly not just who the speaker of a line is but who the listener is as well).

– Carve out time to make yourself available for localization questions. This can be hard around the end of production, but taking the time to sit down and answer localization questions can improve a game’s reception globally.


The Settled Down Gamer: Divinity, Wasteland 2, Pillars of Eternity, Shadowrun Returns, Tyranny – cRPGs harkening back to the late ‘90s are coming back in style. Do you think it’s all temporary and that at some point the “classic” cRPG will fizzle out again, or are they back for good like adventure games? Is the classic isometric model viable in your opinion, or is it mostly nostalgia?

Chris Avellone: I think there’ll always be an audience for them – and even if they fizzle out again, it’s only a matter of time before they come back in full force (as has been proven). I do think the isometric model is viable, but I don’t know if it’s a huge moneymaker – at least for larger publishers. It’s definitely not a huge revenue source as many other game genres out there. I do know no matter what, I’ll still keep working on them because I enjoy them – although I’m trying my hand at other game genres as well just to stretch my skills, and because there’s a lot to learn about game writing from other genres.

The Settled Down Gamer: You sometimes get accused of writing “preachy” characters like Kreia or Ulysses, even though you’ve mentioned several times that you write them as if they were wrong; many other fans obsessively look for aspects of Ravel in the games you write (I admit that I’m one of those guys). Are you ever bothered by the audience reading into your work, getting caught up on stuff and perhaps missing the point?

Chris Avellone: I think whatever point players derive from any characters I’ve written is the point, despite whatever intentions I had while writing them – and it likely says a lot about the players themselves (in a good way). I do make an effort to step outside the characters I write, especially if they have markedly different attitudes and perspectives than I do, and try to see how they might view the world. I’ve even chosen in the past to purposely write characters that are 180 degrees of my own beliefs just to try and work through how perspectives like those might arise -and not to be preaching, but to understand. I think it’s a betrayal of a game’s theme to introduce a theme and then (as a developer) choose the answer for the player or dictate that answer to them as the “right” way – you want the player to think about the question, not get lectured.

Neither Kreia or Ulysses are anyone I 100% agree with, but they are intended to ask questions of the player and the universe, yes. I think their superior tone is what comes across as preaching, but for me, it just makes defeating them (especially out-thinking them) even stronger for a protagonist… because you’ve just proven they don’t know as much as they thought they did. I think the only time I ever get bothered (although I’d use the word “embarrassed”) is when people assume a character, world, or piece of writing I did came from a more educated place (philosophical, religious, historical, etc.) than it actually did – I’m not really classically educated, I just like writing about worlds and imagining what a character’s life would be like in that world.