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Chris Avellone

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  1. Knights of the Old Republic II: Sith Lords questions from Joakim... some spoilers follow. 1. K2 pretty much changed on how the force, the galaxy, the Jedi are portrayed. How did that work in terms that you were making a sequel to a very typical Star Wars game? (KotOR1, we have this evil dude who wants to blow up the galaxy just for the hell of it). A lot of it came from deep-rooted feelings and opinions about the Star Wars franchise, both positive and negative, and especially what it would feel like to be a Jedi or Sith in that universe. I've always had an issue with the Force because of its predestination aspects, and I wonder if any Jedi or Sith would ever want to rebel against it entirely... and if they'd be willing to give up their ties of the Force (and all that power) to do it. Nihilus in K2 is a being who's wholly surrendered himself to what the Force is, and the fact he's completely consumed by the self-destructive Sith technique sums up my problems with the Force. Don't get me wrong, though, I found a lot to enjoy in the Star Wars universe, much like the other franchises I've worked with. I do like to go into a campaign setting though and poke at the foundations a bit. 2. The ending of the game was pretty much a buildup for a (where is?) Kotor III. I imagine that you had the details pretty much figured out - but how much details did you have in mind before the game (the time between K1's ending and K2's start). Not much, was mostly struggling with K2 storyline at that time. The events that were to lead into K3 came more and more as we backtracked through Revan's plotlines in K2 and wondered if we could do a Babylon 5 spin with it, where Revan had a greater plan in mind when attacking the Republic. Just thought that would be kind of cool. 3. Where the game inspired by some real characters and/or events? Not really, although Kreia had some similarities to Ravel in Planescape: Torment, since there were some directions I wished I could have taken with Ravel. 4. What would you change with KotOR 1? Nothing, overall, I liked it. In fact, there were a number of high points when I was playing where I almost broke the controller because I didn't see how we could possibly top some of the events or locales in K1 (like walking on the sea floor in Manaan). I wish Juhani could have been a lesbian, though, not for a crude reason, but because that seemed true to her character arc. 5. Who do think deserves the most credit for K2? (except you) The whole team for different reasons. Really, we had such a small team that everyone really had to wear a lot of hats to get it all wrapped up, and everyone pitched in and pushed themselves, even those that came on at the end (Tony Evans, one of our senior designers and the lead designer for Storm of Zehir, showed up in the last part of the project, and he was instrumental in getting the game done). 6. Would the game (K2) have turned out different (story/characters) if you would have worked on it today or five years before you did (1999) that is. (If we pretend you had the same amount of resources and technology) Totally - it would obviously be a much more polished experience. However, it would suffer from the fact that if it had been worked on in 1999, some of the character arcs (notably Kreia) would not have been present, since much of that was spawned from NPC ideas in Torment. 7. Were there some things that you had to change due to disagreements with LucasArts or other Obsidian employees (not talking about cut content) If so, what - overall, are you happy about those changes or do you think the game would have turned out better without them? Lucas Film had about 5-6 comments on the game over the course of the title, which I'd like to think was because we "got" the universe, but might have been more because they were so swamped with making Episode III. We do try to thoroughly research the franchises we work on at Obsidian and do due diligence to the franchise holders so we can match their ideas for the license. As such, we've rarely had problems in the approval process. There are times we've asked to do things with a franchise that have been turned down (we wanted to make Gann in Mask of the Betrayer a bi-sexual, for example, because that felt true to how he perceived love). In the Obsidian ranks as far as K2 is concerned, I think we probably wasted time with the mini-games (we should have dumped those), done one less planet, and did less with the interface (we lost a lot of scripting and programmer time to it in exchange for not a lot of impact) and just concentrated on making a great polished adventure. 8. How did the first draft of KotOR 2 look like, and did any ideas survive to the final product? The Handmaiden did, some characteristics of Kreia, and so did the planet Peragus, but almost nothing else did, which was for the best after playing K1. The original premise had the player drafted for help by the Handmaiden to free her world from matriarchs led by a figurehead reminiscent of Kreia. After playing K1, we ditched the storyline - and it sucked that we wasted 2 months on it considering how little time we had over the course of the project, but LucasArts couldn't legally give us copies of K1 to examine or play until the contract was signed, so no one's to blame, it was just circumstances. 9. What made you go for the Exile as the main character? Maybe it was just that because I didn't grasp the Force (or want to, initially) that seemed a natural character to start the game with. I also had been watching Chinatown and the whole ending for that movie (that there's an event in the character's past that's never spoken about that haunts him) also seemed to be appropriate. GAME QUESTIONS. 2. What happened with Bao-Dur - we know that he was supposed to die near the end because of the: "make my sacrifice matter line". Bao-Dur - we didn't have time to finish his thread, but if I recall (it's been a while), he was supposed to die on the attack on Telos to help HK-47 get to the HK-50 factory and shut it down to save the planet. 3. How much content did not make it into the game (such as Bao-Dur's death. Content that aren't even in the game files). I wanted some more unrequited romance sequences between Sion and a female Exile player (there was supposed to be more build up to Sion's obsession for the player stemming from something other than just hate), but that didn't get in. Also, obviously, the companions turning on each other at the end didn't have time to get in and polished, and I've never been happy with the final confrontation with the Jedi on Dantooine. One last thing - I guess what I miss most about K2 that never got in was an audio sequence where the Exile is meditating about where Nihilus and Sion are striking from, and there's a telepathic blending sequence of all the companion VO that culminates in the revelation of Malachor V. I was so sad there wasn't time to do it, because the blending just sounded soooooo good. Ah, well, I guess that just adds another brick to the Fortress of Regrets. ONE FINAL QUESTION. Do you have some tips and tricks to new game designers (people who already are one)? What "traps" they should avoid and what do you want them to focus on? Document all you can in case you're hit by a bus but don't make them so exhaustive that no one ever reads them - keep it to bulletpoints, streamline it, use mock-ups, and if a particular design runs more than 3 pages, consider fragmenting it into its own document to ease reading. Details matter. Learn scripting, make attempts to understand the tools and pipelines of other departments. Don't just play other games to get ideas - read books, graphic novels, history, non-fiction, and expose yourself to a variety of media to round out your design ideas. Learn to recognize design clich
  2. Got some general questions from Joakim, and wanted to post them in 2 parts in case folks were interested. If not, that's fine, too. Joakim had some Knights of the Old Republic 2 questions as well, and I'll post those in a few days. 1. If you couldn't be a game designer what would you be, and why? (in the game industry of course) I would either be cartooning (I still do one-shots for the comic "Knights of the Dinner Table" from Kenzer & Co), writing game supplements (Champions/Dark Champions) or scripting comic books. My current job allows me to do a little of all of this (my last stint was doing some of the Clone Wars Adventures with Jeremy Barlow, and that was great fun, especially having a chance to write Aurra Sing). Being able to do a little bit of each is a nice break from doing computer game design full time. Still, if I could get a job as a full-time gamemaster, I'd take it - that's what got me into the industry in the first place. 2. Do you have some/a favorites people that are in the industry? I have a lot of respect and admiration for Richard Dansky, I think he's done a lot to help aspiring game writers and has also been a strong advocate for writers and assisting with promoting game writing in the IGDA. He actually makes me feel guilty, since he makes me wonder if I could do more than answer random inquiries from students and designers. So now that I think about it, Dansky makes me feel like crap, so I guess I actually hate him. I have a lot of respect for Tim Cain for the role-playing mechanics in Fallout (he's also a great guy, even with his obsession with pomegranates), Tim Donley and Kevin Saunders for teaching me aspects of management that a book can't teach you, David Gaider (who I hadn't met until recently) for the amount of investment he has in his writing and the way he's able to quickly and efficiently critique what's wrong with a character or story (he nails it pretty well in a lot less words than I do), Josh Sawyer and Dave Maldonado for the passion with which they express their design ideas, and Dan Spitzley and Eric Campanella for their work on Torment, which showed me what a strong work ethic combined with the "labor of love" perk can accomplish - Eric was one of the first artists I've encountered who not only read design documentation, but expounded on it in his concepts and character modeling. There are plenty of others whose work I respect, but this list is getting pretty long. Maybe I'll expound on it in another interview. 3. You have told many times that you're sick of certain stuff in certain genres... What do you think is missing from most of the games that makes them boring in the long run - or in the industry in general? Lack of ambition in game premises. I don't think enough developers ask "what's the one thing that's going to set this game apart?" and then stick to it. I've seen pitches and proposals that don't even bother ask this question and are content to embrace being a lesser clone of a more popular game in the same genre, which makes me sad. At least choose *some* new mechanic you're bringing to the table to try and push the genre forward. 4. a) Who has been your favorite character (of all the characters you have worked on) to develop and why? Morte and Fall-From-Grace in Torment, Myron in Fallout 2 (he was the first full companion I'd ever done) followed by Cassidy (the second), then Kreia in Knights of the Old Republic II. Just about every character I've worked on, though, has "moments" that I've really enjoyed scripting for them (writing HK-47's definition of love, or the Handemaiden's Echani philosophy of combat, how Atton obsesses over Pazaak to prevent his thoughts from being picked up by Jedi, or Visas Marr's feelings for your character). b) Also, what makes a good character? Consistent, believable motivation and a believable personal agenda. A tie to the game's theme either to reinforce it or as a sounding board for exploring a different perspective on the game theme. An emotional tie to the player (either hate, envy, love, friendship, respect) and reacts appropriately to the player character's actions. Proper casting of a voice actor or, if text only, insuring that the right writer is assigned to developing that character because they understand it (some narrative designers can't write sociopaths, do reverse gender romances, or commit to doing a goodie-two-shoes character). For a computer game, I feel it's also essential that the player understand the purpose of the character and that the character fulfills that role in the game mechanics and the world (for example, companions in F2 needed to be an asset in and out of combat, which I learned in Fallout 2 - Cassidy was much more valuable and appreciated than Myron). 5. Who was your first character to design, and what has changed in your design process since then? (how you design characters now) The first characters I designed was Myron for Fallout 2. I was given the "child genius," but I did what I could to make sure he wasn't the Wesley Crusher archetype, which I thought was pretty played out in most media forms. In the end, however, Myron had his problems - he talked too much, could get really annoying in parts (especially if you were female) and was useless in combat. I do think he succeeded in being a highly-reactive character to events in the game and things your player did, and it was pretty awesome for high Intelligence and high Science guys to argue with him about his own creations. I really like it when he gets frustrated when you keep asking him insightful chemistry and pharmaceutical questions about Jet. 6. You have said that you weren't very "happy" when you were announced to on K2 because how the force works and so on. Any other franchises you will try to avoid (if possible), and what franchises would you like to work on? That was my reaction at the beginning of the project, and it vanished after a few weeks. Star Wars and Dungeons and Dragons were acid tests that proved to me that any franchise has room for you to express yourself within the franchise and have a great time doing so. I am fond of both now that I've been able to work with them and contribute to them. Franchises I'd love to work on: The Dresden Files, System Shock, Wasteland, Syndicate, a Bully RTS, the Wire (don't get me started), Aliens (I love the human psychology component), and anything involving superheroes (if they did a Dark Champions game, I'd be on that in a second). There's probably some I'm forgetting, but those are the ones that jump to mind. 7. What do you find the most difficult thing with your job? Juggling some of the co-owner stuff along with design. I like to work - so being in a position where you're not in the trenches as much as I used to be during Torment and F2, I don't always feel good about going through the day without having something to point to that I physically did in game production, even if to say "hey, I did THAT." 8. What are the disadvantages/advantages to move from a very sci-fi game such as Neverwinter Nights to something more realistic-based (Alpha Protocol)? It depends - on one hand, it was refreshing to work with characters who use real-world speech patterns and phrases and actually reference things a player can empathize with, but you also have to keep the game within real world parameters which aren't a concern with a fantasy title. For Alpha Protocol, we had to come up with the "bookends" of the powers, abilities, and gadgets of the character and the world, while in Neverwinter Nights, Dungeons and Dragons had set up that framework for us. Also, we'd done a number of titles with that ruleset already, so with Neverwinter Nights, we had many years of experience in area and dialogue creation to draw upon - with Alpha Protocol we were re-inventing some of these aspects, especially the one-route conversation system, the stance choices, dossier research, positive/negative reputation mechanics, and so on. I think they turned out well, and definitely complement the game's genre (just to be clear, the dialogue stance system isn't my creation, that was Mitsoda and Spitzley). 9. Is there some you would thank extra that made you come into the industry? Scott Bennie was a colleague I
  3. New News, Same as the Old News: The fun of prepping for game tradeshows. But the research is fun! [/font]
  4. I recently did an interview regarding morality and games for a student's Master's Thesis, and I wanted to share in case anyone was interested. Or wanted to quote me in or out of context for fun. What is your name and professional title? My name is Chris Avellone, and I'm Creative Director (and Lead Designer on our Alpha Protocol CIA RPG) here at Obsidian Entertainment. For how long have you been working in the computer games industry? Over ten years (yikes) - I got my start in pen-and-paper gaming (Dungeons and Dragons, Champions), but the last decade has been primarily at two companies: as a designer at Interplay Entertainment, and then I went on to be one of the founders of Obsidian Entertainment. Could you outline your professional relation to moral aspects and choices in games? For example, have you worked on titles where these kinds of choices have been a premiere aspect of the game? Almost all the titles I've worked on have dealt with player choice and moral consequence, either in terms of a character alignment (good, evil). The moral consequences of choices you make in computer games is one of the hallmarks of a role-playing game, so it's core to what we do. If so, which titles? Planescape: Torment (the alignment system - you start out as a blank neutral slate, then your actions make you more chaotic, lawful, good, or evil), Fallout 2 (the karma system), Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords (you can fall to the light side or dark side of the Force, depending on your actions, and it has consequences for your companions as well through the "influence" system), Neverwinter Nights 2, Neverwinter Nights: Mask of the Betrayer (both feature improved versions of the influence system, where not only can you become more good or evil, but the respect of your companions also increases or diminishes based on your actions). Do you consider moral choices in games to be an important aspect of game design? If so, why? At the risk of being quoted out of context, I don't think it's important. I think that the player should have difficult choices to make and moral choices are one of the best ways to present it, but the most important thing from a role-playing game standpoint is that there be reactivity and consequence to your actions, whether they are moral choices are not. In what game design phase do you think one should begin to think about moral issues in the game world, and why? Generally, I think it should be considered as early as possible in the game design, preferably at the time that you decide upon the game's "theme." For our Aliens project, for example, the moral theme that we're trying to communicate was considered an important establishing point in our early pre-production phase (as it was for Mask of the Betrayer). What do you consider to be successful use of morals in a game? Fallout 1 and Mass Effect come to mind. In Fallout 1, part of the dilemma in retrieving the water chip for your home has the potential to cause another community to be extinguished. This ultimately doesn't have the impact it could because you have the ability to save both, but it's a choice that makes you pause for a moment, since your choice can condemn one civilization or another to death. There's several moments in Mass Effect where I had to pause before making a choice because the game had done an excellent job of painting what the consequences of each action could be as I was making the choice. I don't want to give any spoilers unless you've played the game, but I had to struggle with some of the choices while making them, which makes them successful in my book. In our latest title, Alpha Protocol, we're presenting some of the moral choices within the context of the CIA operation itself - and the choices you make to achieve your mission or your goal can depend on how much you're willing to place others at risk. What do you think (in an ideal case) should be the consequences game-wise of a moral decision made by the player in the game? (for example: branching plotline, different reward/penalty, story related or functional character development, NPC-PC relationship development) All of your examples would be appropriate. The most important thing is that the world react to the choice, and the player sees the consequences of the action. To what degree do you think the consequences of such moral decisions can affect the player's progress without damaging the game experience? What, if any, non-game sources do you draw upon when contemplating moral choices in games (i.e. works on moral philosophy, current events, movies, literature etc)? A good many of the choices we make in daily life are the best indicators. Usually, the game sources we draw on are the situations that take place in the game - for example, when doing area summaries for a locale, usually a number of moral choices will suggest themselves just from the overriding idea for the location. What do you think a game design team should do in order to impart a coherent view on morality in a game? At Obsidian, either the lead designer or the lead creative designer (the designer responsible for the narrative and character) is the enforcer of the morality and choice in the game, in tandem with the game's theme. They act as the policeman across all quests, interactions, and NPCs to see that the theme and any moral arcs in the game are maintained. Have you ever during your professional career made any efforts to ensure a coherent game world regarding morality? If so, what have these efforts been? Not so much morality, but presenting balanced lawful, chaotic, good, and evil choices in Planescape: Torment, and in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, the main characters in the game frequently questioned the over-arching influence of the Force on the lives of individuals and whether surrendering to its Light or Dark sides served the purpose that was intended for good or evil, or whether the true enemy was the predestination the Force seemed to lay out. ...and that's it for Part 1. I'll post the answers for Part 2 in the coming week.
  5. I got to join some distinguished colleagues in giving some comments on world, story, and character design - many thanks to Vince for giving us the opportunity. You can find the interviews and the collected thoughts at: Story, Character, World Interview at Iron Tower Forums.
  6. EU Cantina Interview, Part 2. It's the last ten questions, but better late on my part than never, I suppose.
  7. Working on Alpha Protocol is great, although it has caused some... changes around the office. Alpha Protocol work environment. Hope you all are having a more fun and less paranoid week than I'm having.
  8. Thanks to Andrew (Son of Skywalker) and EUCantina.net, part 1 of writing/designing Star Wars comics/games is up at: Star Wars Expanded Universe Interview Part 1 Clone Wars Adventures (Issues 7-10) is also nominated for Best Children's Comic in the 2008 Eisner Awards! I feel incredibly stoked (I contributed stories for issues 7, 8, and 10).
  9. You can read it all here. Not company safe in an abstract respect, I guess.
  10. Fallout Memories, a decade later, over at Vault Network.
  11. I have to confess, I was pretty happy to hear the Writers Guild of America, West was giving awards for video game writing. Award Criteria and Submissions Then the fine print came out, which basically invalidates all the writing work we did at Black Isle and Obsidian for the past ten years, including: "Submitted games MUST have separate credit for writing (i.e. Written By, Story By, Writer, Story Designer, etc.). Writing credits must be verified by their inclusion in the game manual. If writing credits are not printed in the game manual, the publisher must fax or e-mail screenshots of the game's complete writing credits directly to Melissa Gage at the WGAW, fax no.: (323) 782-4810 e-mail: Melissa Gage. Alternate proof of writing credit will be addressed on a case-by-case basis. While there is no limit on the number of credited writers a particular game may have, credits not specifically tied to videogame writing are not acceptable (i.e. Lead Designer, Designed By, Produced By, etc.)" This is a little frustrating because we didn't employ solely writers at Black Isle or Obsidian, mostly because our writers are designers... and I believe part of being a game writer is being able to do design work that complements the story within the engine you're "writing" for. I could go on a seperate rant on how the story should express itself through game mechanics as much as possible, but I'll leave that for another blog. Anyway, enough venting. I'm pleased to see awards being given out, but not so much the criteria invalidates a % of writers that also do design work.
  12. Some fan-based questions I answered recently, posting them to share - it's about Ravel Puzzlewell from Planescape: Torment and some of the thoughts behind her creation. What was the origin of Ravel? We had a number of physically powerful enemies in Torment, and I thought a night hag would be a good adversary, especially if she was a cryptic, deadly puzzle maker. As the game went on, the idea that Ravel was a branching creature whose life resembled a great tree (or bramble) stretching across the planes, was in love with the player and she genuinely tried to help people at times (only to have it turn against her and the recipient) seemed to be some good hooks to make an adversary. Writing Ravel was perhaps one of the experiences I
  13. I occasionally get interview questions from students aspiring to be designers. I try to warn them, but... ...anyway, if you're curious, here's some answers. And some questions to go along with them. 1. What is a typical day for you as far as working on a project or projects? I get into work at 9:30, and try to work for an hour without checking email. This work can be writing design documentation, designing a system, doing mock-ups for an editor or toolset, or formatting an Excel sheet. After that, I check email, respond to pending requests, then hit lunch. After lunch, I resume work for and attend design meetings (interface, level reviews) for the rest of the afternoon. I usually hit dinner around 6, come back to work at 7, and work until 9 or 10 on raw design material while the office is quiet and most folks have gone home. Then I go to the gym and then go home and either play videogames or watch DVDs (usually in the genre related to the games I'm designing) until I fall asleep, and repeat the cycle the next day. It
  14. Comic-con redux, and here are some "celebrity" pix from the show. Again, we'll be at Gen Con and PAX, so keep an eye out for Mask of the Betrayer.
  15. Not only am I, in fact, in love with Doctor Doom, but when it comes to romances, I think you
  16. Got back from Comic-con, and here are some pix from the show, in case anyone is interested. Just a heads up that we'll be at Gen Con and PAX in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for Mask of the Betrayer.
  17. So, I generally despise writing companion romances (I think unrequited and/or doomed ones are ultimately more dramatic), but there are some techniques I've accumulated over the years that I try to incorporate into writing and designing romances in RPGs. A lot of these things came out while writing Gannayev-of-Dreams in Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, and I suppose it could hold true for other inter-party romances in games. What follows is a summary of some points we kicked around for how to foster romances with the PC. Any suggestions or examples of other techniques that work would be welcome because us Obsidian folks (or at least me) aren't the romantic types. Note: I'm going to cite examples from Season 1 of Lost a lot, so if the character examples below don't make sense to you, watch that and come back - although there's no spoilers below. I think. It's hard to tell with Lost what's a spoiler and what's not. Also, I haven't watched Lost past Season 2, so it's possible all the examples below are overturned in Season 3. Anyway, here's how to foster romance between characters - part one, and subject to iteration. First, the NPC romantic interest must be good in combat or contributes effectively to a mission. It is much easier to like/love someone who fulfills an effective combat role in the party (Final Fantasy VI/Final Fantasy III was always my model for this). Kate from Lost, for example, pulls this off - she's a good tracker, good with a gun, and can handle herself in a fight for the most part. The NPC is not subservient to the player, but either equal or not quite his or her equal. Kate from Lost does not feel she
  18. Off to Comic-Con within a week, although we won't be showing Mask of the Betrayer there, the plan is to show it at Gen-Con Aug 16-19, and PAX Aug 23-25 as it currently stands. This may fluctuate, so don't quote me on this. In honor of convention season, I present some things to look forward to at game conventions. Enjoy and have a good weekend, folks.
  19. There were some concerns floating around about Aliens being an action RPG, so I thought it would best to clarify. While there will be action elements to it, it is still an RPG in every sense of the word. An analysis of the elements, along with diagrams as to what constitutes an action RPG in the aliens universe, is presented for your viewing enjoyment here. Hypothetically, the diagrams may resemble cartoons. And it may not be a serious analysis. All other standard caveats apply. Happy pre-Memorial Day week, everyone. Chris
  20. As part of the discussion involving Aliens interface design, our Systems Lead, Paul Boyle, showed us this supercool lighttable interface. Here's a glimpse of what future keyboards may be like. There's also pretty lights and a cartoon in there as well, for your viewing pleasure.
  21. Technically, this is "Unofficial GDC Report, Part 3." Technically. This is because this topic goes faaaaaar beyond GDC. Regardless, I wanted to take a moment to show you why we love the fans who hate us.
  22. Finally made it back from the Game Developer's Conference, and I'll be blogging the experiences through this coming week and the next. I will say, that parties at GDC can get awkward, depending on the celebrity turnout.
  23. My Obsidian message inbox is full, and it
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