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Update #60: Camaraderie

Chris Avellone Project Eternity Companions Narrative

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#1
BAdler

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Update by Chris Avellone
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This week? Companions. I have been designing companions. 
 
I lucked out, because I got to do companion design work for BOTH Eternity and Torment, so two birds, one stone. Or three companions, one lodestone? I don’t know. 
 
Eternal Companion Facts
Some facts from our Eternity design documents that I wanted to say up front before going any further: thanks to backer support, Eternity supports 8, yes 8, pre-made companions and 8 hired adventurers (16 total). You can have up to 5 in the party at any point in time (the 6th/1st role is your player character, who, well, sort of has to be there, you know, because it’s your game). It’s a lot of writing. 
 
We want to allow you to encounter all companions before the mid-point of the story. One issue we’ve found with introducing companions too late is that it doesn’t give players enough time to bond with them, and/or the player may have already formed a strong attachment to their other allies so much so there’s no physical or emotional room for more party members in their lives. 
 
Each companion also has their own mini-arc and quest woven into the game as well, so be prepared - they have agendas of their own. You know, like real people. 
 
Lastly in the fact train, we don’t force you to take anyone in your party. If you want them, take them. If you want to go to the Adventurer’s Hall and make your own, do it. Go solo. We don’t own you. We’re not trying to control you. Play how you want.
 
Narrative Update...
So a narrative update related to companions... Eric Fenstermaker (designer, Fallout: New Vegas, also responsible for Boone and Veronica and worked on NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer and... and... oh, just Google him) has been hard at work on the narrative, and it’s reached the point with the arc and themes that now seemed like a good time to introduce the companion supporting pillars to the process to take the story higher (...not necessarily in a “Can you Take Me Higher” Creed sort of way, since it’s not really a question, it’s more like, “yes, we will take you higher.”)
 
Over the past few months, I’ve been scrutinizing the systems and story documents for Eternity (and Torment), the themes, and also checking out the other companion briefs from the other designers. Aside from the companion designs I wrote, feedback has been wildly traded in the interests of making companions even better than their core concepts. It was my goal to read EVERYTHING about the narrative I could, even brainstorming - and in Torment’s case, novellas as well. Now it was time to work on the structure of the individual companions.
 
...and now on to Companion Design
We discussed companion design (http://forums.obsidi...aracterization/) way back at the start of Eternity, so some points in this update will callback to this. There shouldn’t be a need for a refresher read unless you want to. The process for Eternity (and Torment) has followed these bulletpoints, and we’re holding true to our goals as well as expanding the design methodology as we go ahead. 
 
The first and best place to start with companion design is the game systems. For companions, this means considering race, class, and their role in the conflict mechanics of the game. Knowing what class of character you’re making is key to building their history and personality. For example, in the case of Gann in NX1: Mask of the Betrayer, knowing his class before writing was a big help, and I can use that class’s list of abilities, class focus, and the abilities the class specializes in and weave it in with the backstory. The Eternity designers have been good about indicating the spread of classes and races for the companions and rationing those out during the process.
 
For Eternity, since combat is the primary challenge mechanic, one major goal is to make sure the companion is combat effective. Why would you take them in your party? How are they useful? In other instances of conflict mechanics (for example, dialogue or Tide reactivity in Torment), we also examine how the character is useful in terms of these challenges as well.  
 
A Note About Challenge Mechanics
Really quick, I want to clarify what I meant about “challenge mechanics.” That doesn’t always mean combat – it’s whatever the primary challenge in the game is. If we were doing a Thief-style RPG, then stealth and avoiding detection becomes the primary challenge mechanic, not combat. Depending on the RPG and its range of challenges, a character can still be fairly weak in combat, but if that’s the case, we try to think of how they’re helpful with regards to the game’s other challenges (giving an edge in dialogue, healing, fast travel). 
 
For all the characters I’ve seen or designed for games that don’t cater to at least one of the game’s primary challenge mechanics, those guys are often unpopular or unused because they’re not helping out with the systematic gameplay, regardless of how cool they might seem. And the more actively these characters can participate in the mechanics (vs. passive), the stronger their appeal.
 
Also at the same time, I try to be careful that the companion's skill set doesn’t overlap with the challenge roles of the other characters. We try to indicate in the companion briefs how each companion's challenge role is intended – one thing I learned as a pen-and-paper Gamemaster is you want to be careful about two players sharing the same role (Tank, Mage, Priest, etc.) – if one is clearly stronger than another, then the second one needs something else to make them stand out and be “special” in the party and fulfill an equally cool role in the party dynamic, otherwise one ends up getting upstaged by the other. And feelings get hurt. Which isn’t something you want in a game designed to entertain.
 
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For Eternity, we’re setting it up so even if players choose the same classes as some companions, the companions are designed to assist those character types and make them more special (ciphers, for example, can chain, and even priests with the same religion can discuss theology and combo attacks).
 
In addition, we wanted to be careful about personality overlaps as well. I wanted to make sure any companion design didn't overlap with ideas or “concepts" of the other characters (or across projects – so for example, while I’m doing a Glaive for Torment, I’m not doing any fighters for Eternity) ...and that extends to personalities as well. As an example, I told Colin for Torment it might be a good idea if I didn't do a female rogue with a ruthless hidden agenda who can shape-shift according to your personality and have her/it be redundant with the Toy or the Cold, Calculating Jack in Torment. 
So knowing the general class-focus, role, and personality for each, as well as ones that would be useful, we try to include in the character briefs and get that info to people as quickly as possible so everyone can get a sense for what direction to take their characters. 
 
As for me, after much begging for the class itself and begging for the specific companion, I asked for the cipher. The cipher is near and dear to my heart, it felt like the first brand new class we were introducing that was tied into the soul mechanics of the Eternity world, and the freedom to explore it is a great opportunity.
 
Character Freedom
Both the Eternity and Torment leads have been strong advocates about letting designers channel their characters. If you are excited about an idea, they are willing to work with you to help realize that idea and help it fit into the world, without giving barriers to entry. In my opinion, the best GMs do this – rather than give you character sheets, they help you make a character you care about. In essence, companion design is a designer’s chance to design their very own player character that fits in with the world and the theme.
 
On Eternity, Eric has a strong theme for the story already. While not the original theme, Josh was accommodating and we all recognized that if another theme came to the forefront naturally through the writing process, it’s fine to alter it to make a stronger design. Having this theme clearly identified and supported in the narrative is good, but we’re taking care to make sure the companions can provide direct examples of the theme at work (or present counters or alternate viewpoints to it) - and the more, the better.
 
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The companions cover a good range of culture and religion and factions in the game, which we hope to showcase more of in the future... the machinations of the world and the politics are prominent in the story (along with the magic system), and the characters showcase these elements very well. 
 
Companion Iteration
There’s still plenty of work to do – like all design, iteration is key, and we have been doing passes of the characters to make them stronger. While the companions exist as individual entities, we also feel it’s important to do a pass of the companions to show how they relate to each other, which we feel is an important part of making the game Infinity Engine-esque, and it was a big part of the dynamics in Baldur’s Gate and Torment – describing how companions relate, fight, argue, or even act as sounding boards for both your character and each other’s viewpoints is an important part of creating a living world – and your party is very much the living world that follows you around. 
 
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The work doesn’t stop there. A pass of the companions asking “why the players should care” is also something we like to make sure we have an answer to for each companion. While the answer of “good fighter” is an answer (and one that’s worked well for a number of companions in the past), we prefer to add more layers showcasing how they’re specifically adding to the player experience. 
 
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Companion Nuts and Bolts
There are other finishing touches we like to add. 
 
The companions have unique signature items (very Torment and Baldur’s Gate) in addition to their personalities and strong visual signatures as well. One comment we’ve always tried to include in these visual hooks is that because of the camera angles in the game, we want to make sure these visual hooks are easy for the players to see in the environment as well. 
 
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Also we’re doing what we can to get the area designers involved with not just the story, but companions as well. A good chunk of the game is dungeon exploration, and we felt that what the designers had done in NX1: Mask of the Betrayer in making sure that each companion had a significant interaction in a specific area was important for the story – and having areas that revolved around companions as well gave them and the dungeon design more strength. Right now, the companions already have strong internal conflicts (and religious and faction, if not inter-party), now tying those more to NPCs and dungeon explorations is one of our next targets. 
 
With the companion design, we also tried to include narrative samples of analogies to that character that we’ve seen in other media or fiction that we feel help capture the character’s essence. Also, as we’re designing the characters, we include sample lines of dialogue when we can as another layer in the process so audio and other designers can get a sense of how the character sounds (both spoken and text-wise).
 
That’s all I can share about companions for the moment, and we’re looking forward to elaborating further as the game progresses. 
 
If you have any thoughts or ideas on companion design, specific or general, feel free to post in our forums, we look forward to hearing from you!
 
Arcanum
Last but not least, we have the first of two blocks of Arcanum playthroughs in Shrouded Hills for you... from bank robberies, to mine plundering, to death, to dealing with telepathic bridge bandits. We’re releasing one with this update, and then (cross your fingers) the second will be part of the next update. It’s all recorded, production just wants to put some touches on the audio. Possibly to strip out my voice. And my breathing. And screams.
 
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Also, I may end blogging critiques of the game as well, just to distill the game critique information. It’s a little hard to get the design critiques during the playthrough – if that’s something you’d like to see in addition to the videos, I’ll try and make time for it.
 
Check out the first video at: http://youtu.be/MNOJ5DRO7uQ.
 
Kickin' it Forward: WARMACHINE: Tactics
 
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Do you like turn-based strategy? Do you like giant steam-powered robots? Then our friends at WhiteMoon Dreams and Privateer Press Interactive have the game for you - WARMACHINE: Tactics. Go support their Kickstarter and help bring the award-winning WARMACHINE miniatures game from the tabletop to your desktop PC or Mac. Click here for more info.

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#2
Sensuki

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Nice to hear from Chris again.

Cool update, sounds like the companions are going to have a lot of depth. Looking forward to playing with them.

Do you have the companion list down to a final 8 ?

Also George Ziets has said that he hasn't had any Eternity work to do for a month, will he be doing any area design as well as narrative design ?
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kirottu

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For Eternity, we’re setting it up so even if players choose the same classes as some companions, the companions are designed to assist those character types and make them more special (ciphers, for example, can chain, and even priests with the same religion can discuss theology and combo attacks).

 

 

The bestest idea I have heard in a while.


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#4
Hormalakh

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Thanks, Chris, for the posting. Always great reading your posts especially when they include your doodles.

 

1- Priests and Religion: I really liked how you guys are thinking about letting characters still be relevant even when their role might overlap with the PC. You stated that they might interact if they are the same religion. How about the priest companion interacting/dialoguing with the PC if they're different religions? I think that would be cool and it can give even more characterization to that companion. How do they treat their "friends" and how do they treat their enemies? It is definitely more work and more writing, but it really makes replaying the game worthwhile and gives that character a lot more depth, at least in my humble opinion. I want some EPIC religion BATTLES! :p

 

2- Utilizing items/weapons/armor as character visual signatures: I noticed this specifically with Baldur's Gate 2, but I'm sure there are other examples out there too. Whenever developers create armor/weapons/items for a specific companion, players are presented with a dilemma. Often, the item that the companion has is extremely strong in the beginning of the game and is a worthwhile addition to the party. However, as the game progresses, newer/better weapons/armor become available and it makes sense mechanically for the companion to drop their signature item. However either developers won't allow/lock it (for story purposes or because it's the signature item or whatever other reason) or it just doesn't feel right (You're going to drop the shield that has passed down your family linage for another shield because it gives you +1 to damage resistance? OK...). I don't  think that developers should ever force an item on a player ("If you pick this companion, you're stuck with his shield FOREVER!"), and at the same time, I think that the current crafting system as currently described actually helps with minimizing the player/developer dilemma of companions dropping their signature item. Allow the signature item to continue to "grow" with the companion as they progress through the game through crafting or as a quest. So, that way you can start the companion's signature item at a lower "level" and reduce how OP a certain item is, but at the same time, you can let the item "scale" with the companion as he/she grows in strength. The addition of gems/other crafting options that have been discussed are great ways to allow players to determine which way they want that signature item to grow. It could even be possible that the signature item would grow maybe marginally more than if the item being "upgraded" wasn't a signature item, so that players would be more likely to keep the signature item in play with that specific character, e.g. the knight's family shield is better than most iron shields and if (through crafting) you add the fire resistance gem, you get +30% fire resistance (as opposed to most other iron shields giving only +15% fire resistance).

 

3- Arcanum: blogging and the 60 minute playthrough: *Thumbs Up* with the idea for blog posts about your thoughts. I'd really like that. The 60 minute playthroughs are much better IMO than the 10 min ones from before. I really hope you get far enough into the game: there are a lot of interesting plot-type ideas in that game. It starts slow, but the payoff is definitely worth it!


Edited by Hormalakh, 23 July 2013 - 09:26 PM.

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Elerond

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Very informative update and I love Chris' troll pictures.



#6
BruceVC

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Excellent and informative update. Nice one :)

 

I consider your party members to be an integral part of the overall RPG experience. In fact when I think back to certain RPG I played years ago I may not remember all the quests and lore but I seem to distinctly remember my party members and there own reasons for joining me on my epic journey

 

It may be too early to ask this question but I'll ask anyway :) Do we know if there will be Romance in PE?


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Superpat

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2- Utilizing items/weapons/armor as character visual signatures: I noticed this specifically with Baldur's Gate 2, but I'm sure there are other examples out there too. Whenever developers create armor/weapons/items for a specific companion, players are presented with a dilemma. Often, the item that the companion has is extremely strong in the beginning of the game and is a worthwhile addition to the party. However, as the game progresses, newer/better weapons/armor become available and it makes sense mechanically for the companion to drop their signature item. However either developers won't allow/lock it (for story purposes or because it's the signature item or whatever other reason) or it just doesn't feel right (You're going to drop the shield that has passed down your family linage for another shield because it gives you +1 to damage resistance? OK...). I don't  think that developers should ever force an item on a player ("If you pick this companion, you're stuck with his shield FOREVER!"), and at the same time, I think that the current crafting system as currently described actually helps with minimizing the player/developer dilemma of companions dropping their signature item. Allow the signature item to continue to "grow" with the companion as they progress through the game through crafting or as a quest. So, that way you can start the companion's signature item at a lower "level" and reduce how OP a certain item is, but at the same time, you can let the item "scale" with the companion as he/she grows in strength. The addition of gems/other crafting options that have been discussed are great ways to allow players to determine which way they want that signature item to grow. It could even be possible that the signature item would grow maybe marginally more than if the item being "upgraded" wasn't a signature item, so that players would be more likely to keep the signature item in play with that specific character, e.g. the knight's family shield is better than most iron shields and if (through crafting) you add the fire resistance gem, you get +30% fire resistance (as opposed to most other iron shields giving only +15% fire resistance).

 

I find that Torment did that wonderfully, the whole spiritual evolution of Dak'kon through conversation with the player being mirrored by his equipment getting better as his will could more efficiently shape the primal energies that made them up was very immersive, interesting and efficient.


Edited by Superpat, 23 July 2013 - 09:36 PM.

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#9
Falkon Swiftblade

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Nice update :-D my fav parts how companions work with you and assist you. Have you played Demonstone from atari? They had a fun feature that your party of 3 periodically earned enough points that enabled you to do a special attack. There was 3 levels of the attack depending on if one person attacked up to all three doing a coupe de grace (or however ya say it). I've always liked the idea of collaborative attacks, like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters. Please have stuff like that kind of intetaction with the companions!

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I hope those priests have a combo gauge and get buffs scaling with the number of hits in the combo.

Wait, what? He was referring to the other kind of combo attacks?

Well, it's something to consider, at least.

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Xienzi

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But, like we could in Neverwinter, will be be able to run around with a mini-army if we wanted to through non-standard means? Well, that's an idea for when everything else is complete.


Edited by Xienzi, 23 July 2013 - 10:00 PM.


#12
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A good chunk of the game is dungeon exploration

 

I am satisfied. You may proceed.


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#13
Monte Carlo

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 Do we know if there will be Romance in PE?

 

Look carefully: there is a cartoon of a very non-Obsidian house diktat female in boob-plate. She is talking to an NPC with a broken heart over his head. This is clearly the crumb of hope the promancers have been waiting for. You may now wet yourselves.


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#14
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This is a great update with a lot of substance. I loved it. I also am a big fan of your playthrough, though I know its a big time investment. The blog is a good idea, though not necessary. I've played through Arcanum twice. The first time I was using a charisma character. Just so you know, you don't get Sog Mead with a bad charisma, so your character choice is already paying off :)

Just one question when you say one can hire 8 adventurers, how do those differ from the premade characters and the ones you can make in the adventurer's guild? (or are those the ones in the adventurer's guild?)



#15
BruceVC

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 Do we know if there will be Romance in PE?

 

Look carefully: there is a cartoon of a very non-Obsidian house diktat female in boob-plate. She is talking to an NPC with a broken heart over his head. This is clearly the crumb of hope the promancers have been waiting for. You may now wet yourselves.

 

 

:biggrin: Yeah I noticed that and this make me cautiously optimistic about the implementation of Romance  in PE



#16
Sacred_Path

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thanks Chris.

We want to allow you to encounter all companions before the mid-point of the story.


Excellent! Not because I care about companions so much, but because I'll want that 6 person party ASAP.

Depending on the RPG and its range of challenges, a character can still be fairly weak in combat, but if that’s the case, we try to think of how they’re helpful with regards to the game’s other challenges (giving an edge in dialogue, healing, fast travel).


I hope that those options (that make characters universally useful) are also in some form available to the hired goons, i.e. via talents.

#17
AW8

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We want to allow you to encounter all companions before the mid-point of the story. One issue we’ve found with introducing companions too late is that it doesn’t give players enough time to bond with them, and/or the player may have already formed a strong attachment to their other allies so much so there’s no physical or emotional room for more party members in their lives.

Great! A prime example of this is KotOR II, where if you go to Nar Shaddaa last, you only get to know a third of the companions in the hectic endgame.
 

Each companion also has their own mini-arc and quest woven into the game as well, so be prepared - they have agendas of their own. You know, like real people.

Perfect. I'm playing Fallout: New Vegas and I love how Boone gets pissed and threatens to leave when I randomly slaughter NCR citizens (quickloaded afterwards obviously). Anything that makes a companion more like an independent person than a subservient drone is good. Which ties into...
 

Lastly in the fact train, we don’t force you to take anyone in your party. If you want them, take them. If you want to go to the Adventurer’s Hall and make your own, do it. Go solo. We don’t own you. We’re not trying to control you. Play how you want.

An awesome decision. This way, if a companion really asks for a good strangling you can simply tell him to go f69k off when he wonders if he could tag along.

There aint much more I can say about this. Sounds promising, intriguing, sounds great.

Oh! And another Arcanum video. :) 65 million years in the making.



#18
Luridis

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But now the questions is... can we get much higher?

 



#19
LadyCrimson

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I love adventuring with complicated/interesting companions (even when they're not cats), I so far have loved how Obsidian generally writes/does companions, and thus I love this update. Hearing about the process, what the goals may be, etc. 

 

And the hilarious troll pics are like the warm drizzle of sweet cake icing that tops it off. 

 

That'll do, Chris (and other team members), that'll do.


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#20
Jarmo

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Lastly in the fact train, we don’t force you to take anyone in your party. If you want them, take them. If you want to go to the Adventurer’s Hall and make your own, do it. Go solo. We don’t own you. We’re not trying to control you. Play how you want.

 

Thats awesumps, because in Kotor2 there were a couple of "companions" I immediately wanted to dump into the first barren rock available. 

(And it would have been a good call too.)







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