Feargus Urquhart Interview

A new interview with Obsidian Entertainment's CEO Feargus Urquhart has popped up on VG247. It covers quite a broad range of topics that include the reasons people might want to play cRPGs on consoles, the overabundance of action in RPGs as of late, playing as a Lawful Good Paladin in a world where everything has to be morally gray, Obsidian's brief foray into online gaming with Armored Warfare, and much more. We also get a few words on the overall vision for Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, and learn that at some point, if the stars align just right, Feargus Urquhart would very much like to make a new Alpha Protocol game.

And although I wholeheartedly disagree with his assessment that the party creation process in Icewind Dale was too complicated, the rest of the interview is quite a nice read. An excerpt:

You’ve obviously had a lot of success with Fig and Kickstarter now, getting smaller-scale projects off the ground – but you are still fishing about and looking for large-scale projects?

Yep! We’re a pretty big studio and it’s not a big surprise but Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky [Alumni of Fallout, Vampire: The Masquerade, Arcanum and others] work for us – that’s pretty public, and they’re not working on Eternity. [laughs] So it’s pretty much a two and two thing that people can put together.

But you’re right – I’ve talked to people publicly before about… my brain is this weird half-and-half of the business and the game. A lot of times that’s what I’m looking at, the business. I think I even said publicly at one point, y’know – doing two Eternity games makes us more money than doing a big game. Someone asked me recently… so then why do the big game? And I said… ‘cos we’re stupid. [laughs] No, it’s because that’s what we all got in here to do. We want to do the big RPG, and that’s… when I go home, that’s what I want to play, so that’s what we want to make for people.

You guys have played in the worlds of others a fair amount – is that something you’re still particularly keen to explore, even as you build your own?

When we look at other worlds – Star Wars, D&D, South Park, things like that – we like doing those things. That’s for a lot of different reasons. Making a new IP is hard, and stressful, and tiring. I don’t want to say working in somebody else’s world is a break because it’s not in the long term, but it’s a change. You get to shift your brain and go exist in someone else’s world. Since we started working on D&D games back at Black Isle in the 90s it’s always been our feeling that D&D is not ours. We love it, but it’s not ours – and so we need to be good shepherds. That’s the most important thing.

The IP, the brand, the world – that is what’s important. Then let’s go tell a really cool story within that which fits it. I think when you take it that way and you always protect that… a lot of IPs, after we’d been working with it for a while we get very little brand feedback because we’re protecting it as much because it’s important to us. When we protect it and tell our story within it, maybe that’s what makes it resonate with people – because our story isn’t fighting the brand.

It’s maybe a different feeling of story or a different story, but the story is still reinforcing the brand rather than just telling a story while the brand is just there. Maybe that’s why what we do resonates? I don’t know. It’s funny, we don’t really think about this… we just do it. I know some people think we just sit in rooms with our big brains… and we do that about some things, but not everything. Sometimes we can’t tell you why something was as successful as it was – we just know that it was.

Let’s talk about Pillars of Eternity 2. At a high level, what’s your vision and aim for the sequel?

We learned a lot making Pillars. We built a whole engine, we had to do the kickstarter thing – and that was all great. The thing about Pillars is we wanted to make it… we used the example and I almost hate to say it… but we always try to use the example of Baldur’s Gate 1 to Baldur’s Gate 2. That’s sort of like – BG1 was building the engine and figuring out how to make role playing games, and BG2 was okay, we’ve figured this all out and we’re going to use our engine again and make this incredible sequel – and that turned out amazing.

Now size-wise we can’t mimic BG2 just because making a 200-hour game is just insane. But what we did learn is what we can do to… how to say – how to flesh it out and make everything feel like more. From the standpoint of things like one of our big criticisms was that the characters were okay, but they weren’t great. They look really, really good now and everything is unique. We’ve put more animators on it. Y’know, people can sit down now! [laughs] And they can even get back up!

The world too – because we’ve moved to this Caribbean setting there’s winds and we wanted trees to move and so we came up with a way to have moving trees within our 2D backgrounds. We wanted effects and fireballs to just have way more parts and pieces and so we worked on that. We created the world map, so you can take your ship and go around where ever you want – so it’s more open. We just wanted it to feel more open and dynamic.

Pillars is awesome and it’s still a great game, but it wasn’t as open and as dynamic as Eternity 2 is gonna be. That’s what it is – it feels like it’s now more of… In Pillars 1 you were in an area. In Pillars 2 you have a whole part of the world to explore.

To close off I want to ask some of the obvious, wishy-washy, pie in the sky questions. If you were going to revisit something from your past, what would it be? Another Fallout? Alpha Protocol? Star Wars? Something from the Black Isle days?

Y’know, that’s interesting! I would… what would I want to do…? Um… A part of me I would say… I’d love to do another Fallout, but I kind of want to come up with a better answer than that. I love Star Wars.

We talked a lot before InExile did Torment about if we wanted to do another Torment. Another Torment is interesting to me because I love the ending of Torment. It’s almost like the character walking away from the vault in the original Fallout. If we wanted to return to Planescape and Torment at some point, I don’t know what you’d do, I don’t have a good answer for that. We never did.

I would… I think it’s Alpha Protocol. I would want to go back from everything that we learned and do that because I think there’s a lot that can be done. We had some really cool ideas for Alpha Protocol 2. That would be it. I think I’d want to do Alpha Protocol 2, particularly now that it’s almost like the game has sort of… I don’t want to say aged, because I mean it in a positive sense. It’s found what people love about it and what we love about it, and now I think we could express it differently fixing a lot of the things that weren’t maybe what they should’ve been.

No, yeah. It’d be Alpha Protocol.