Wasn't Sensuki one of the beta testers for POE, filing endless lists of bugs plus youtube videos, and pushed for the IE Mod thing?
People like that tend to be outspoken. Combination of passion with perfectionism.
But even if that was a different person I'm recalling, the people who tend to focus hard on these rpgs tend to form their own sub cultures. Even though the RPG culture itself is a sub culture, it just sorts of goes down further once you get into card games vs board games vs war games vs the ones that use dice vs the ones that don't vs the fantasy x sci fi settings.
As for the interview, that's good hearing the design perspective. It allows me to make more informed and better criticisms of their work, if I know what their intent was.
"From Torment and BG II both came a sense that the degree to which a story is personal is a strong influence on the impact of the narrative. I don't think our story ended up being as strong in that regard, but it was a guiding principle, and it's the reason we elected to develop a past life backstory rather than having the player be a complete blank slate."
Knowing what I know now, my recommendation would probably be that a single narrative style should have been adopted for each of the different personalities, like stoic or passionate, which would then determine the 4 or 6 or whatever number of backstory combinations there was for the main crit path. Instead of giving 4 choices to the player. Why is the player choosing which of his memories are true? That doesn't even make sense and actually breaks the 4th wall, at times. Worst time to do that at.
That's why it isn't as strong. Because there's no beginning and end. It's just some random choices you pick up in the middle, due to whatever reasons, and nobody can figure out which is which by the end. There's no consistent vision from beginning to end, concerning player choices and reactions. The plot was consistent, of course, but the way it linked to the player was jumbled around too much. The dispositions were a good touch, but that was all, a touch not a slam dunk or knockout.
For example, if the player has 3-5 deceptive ranks in personality, then the soul personality that manifests in the visions would be that of a deceiver, one who wishes to deceive the world about x, y, or z. And that does come up in the central plot point once or twice. But it is consistent from beginning to end, narrative wise, and it is consistently poking the player with reliable gameplay details over time.
One of the problems of offering too many (randomish) choices to the player, is that the player will often times choose mutually exclusive things when testing role playing. And that produces cognitive dissonance, if people think about it for a few seconds. There's no way the plot can address the player's own internal doubts and questions either, it's not a reactive intelligence system. That happened with people clicking on Backer npcs too. A lot of freedom, but how do you handle edge cases where players use the freedom to make their experience less fun?
"You have to plan your project to make the best of the resources you have. That sounds obvious, but some people really struggle with that when they get excited about a particular idea or feature."
People do tend to get spoiled with the potential of technology these days. Which is why when I look at what people did with visual novels, just a basic script engine running text and some 2d backgrounds and sprites, I often recall that that was the kind of barrier Torment was breaking through as well. There was just no industry to support that kind of thing, because it wasn't even classified as a genre much less a sub genre of another genre. Not in the West at least, and not since the days of text adventure games and or MUDDs.
"Often you'll look to recent similar games to see how they solved your problems, but in our case, few of those games existed."
The Banner Saga was out for some time before, if I recall. The narration was strong there because the initial conditions were limited, but all the gameplay mechanics and stories linked together. In Pillars, I notice a lot of game systems that Stand Alone. Stronghold not connected to the main plot or side quests, main plot not connected to Dispositions, dispositions not connected to Main Crit path background visions, player background visions not connected to player powers, tactical combat, classes, stronghold, etc.
They all had their own unique flavors and gameplay bonuses for the user, but they weren't connected in a strong link. That isn't the responsibility of the content creators or the writers, that's more of a very high level design decision.
The writing and story craft/lore craft in Pillars is strong, but that alone isn't enough to connect the gameplay details together. And without that, the player's reaction and emotional feedback from the plot and events, is lessened as a result. That may be why some reviewers said this story was serviceable, but not extraordinary. The lore is quite well done, it is merely the way it is transmitted to a player that is playing a game. (Fenster mentioned Maerwald once before) They are not reading a book. There are ways to turn reading a book into an interactive game, of course, but that's not where Pillars went.
"We weren't going to build the vision environments (although we'd have loved to if we could have)"
Could have reused the stronghold and Endless Paths for some of that, then re used some of the art work, conceptual stuff, and modified it for an adventure text box. Of course, it's better if the player didn't get another load screen at that moment. But it's one way to tie the story around and link it to all of its parts, as it reduces the amount of work to make it visceral. The Engwithans at Caed Nua, was in the same era as when T started his own endless path. They might have had shrines there as well, with peculiar themes to them. Instead of looking at the Stronghold as a separate area, much could have been done if people used the Stronghold as an excuse to tie it in with the main crit plot as well. I mean, how many levels do you have in the Endless Paths to work with here?
"Ideally you want to develop that in your side quests, and we did that to a degree, but I don't think we covered enough of it, or made a big enough deal about religion and the pantheon in the first two acts."
That's where the PC starting off as a priest of X, would have helped out. Of course, you can't include that in the crit path because you can't assume the PC is class A. He may not be Class A. So the link is broken before it even begins. But there's always dispositions...
Link gameplay elements together. And try not to have so much reactivity like all those dispositions, which probably ends up being bigger word count than Durance uncensored. But that was probably Josh's part of systems design. Between disposition A through E, helping me understand the world, and better companions with more "stuff" to do with them, the latter part will always pull me into the plot and world harder than Disposition A through E as they are currently used in game.
"It was considered, too, that in BGII, the strongholds didn't have much of a connection to the narrative beyond the quest to acquire them, so I think that was chosen more as the model."
That's because in BG2, there were many many strongholds, and you couldn't have all of them without modding and editing files. How do you connect 5 strongholds to the main crit path when the player only uses 1 of them, some of the time? That's like having 5 dispositions that don't affect the critical path of the game's plot... because you can't just have a Game Over due to somebody's dispositions, there's too many (combinations) of them.
It is not necessarily the stronghold that needed connections, but the gameplay around it. Something more could have been done with the Steward, adding dialogue options to the UI instead of the stronghold mechanics being in the UI only. This would allow direct dialogue with the steward, which could be rolled into content like the 3.0 stronghold quests. Creating its own miniature narrative. Not using the NPCs that the player already knows about, or rather relegating the steward to a stronghold mechanic and nothing more, disconnects the gameplay from the rest of the world and story narrative. Adding more stuff isn't always better than just improving the quality of what's already there. Takes less time and resources for the latter.
"Later on in development, we got kind of a hyperlinked tooltip system that explained certain highlighted words when you'd mouse over them. This was used to explain systems primarily, but if I'd have known about the system early on, I think I could've made a lot of the early dialogue cleaner by offloading those explanations into some database the player has to opt into. Wouldn't have solved everything, but wouldn't have hurt."
Check out that visual novel Gahkthun of the Golden Lightning or Steins;Gate encyclopedias. Similar problems and solutions.
"I haven't seen what Torment: Numenera is doing, but hopefully they've learned from our mistakes, and I'm interested to see what they've come up with."
If I have it right, their quest designers have a pool of backer npcs with specific background, and they will sometimes pick one of the NPCs to tie it into one of their quests. So instead of that npc on the road you kill in Pillars area 2xb, that then ends up dying or getting sent to jail and they then escape, which was their entire content, now there's probably some kind of content onion, where an NPC is involved in more than 2-3 quests in total for that area. But that was often the case with Torment to begin with. There were a lot of NPCs in Pillars, who it would have been interesting to soul read their backgrounds as part of the dialogue, it would have made the Watcher thing more relevant to gameplay since dialogue and combat is like more than 75% of the game there. The backer npc text was very interesting, and I wanted to read more. But there wasn't more. There was just like dozens and dozens of them, all isolated, without context, beginning, middle or end. It was just there. Read a few paragraphs, like a trip to starbucks, go back to what you were really doing. Of course it distracted people and broke up their gameflow. What else could it do? Placing all of the backer NPCs at the STRONGHOLD or the second city would have made more sense.
On another note, looking at Carrie's writing and short stories, she is very good at writing short, succinct, pieces that capture strong or vivid images and concepts. Working on GM must have been very problematic, since Chris Avellone is... the opposite, for a similar end result. No wonder, thus, that Durance and GM felt like very different story companions, even though they should all have come from the same source material. The writing felt different to me, not just the content. Asking Durance about all the lore stuff, was great for me, but wasn't in it for GM, for example.
"They achieved their purpose at the time, which was to drum up enthusiasm among the backers, but some of the bigger goals probably cost quite a lot more to develop than they brought in - the second city, the megadungeon, and the expansion come to mind. Smaller scope would've afforded us more polish time."
Certainly, but there could have been ways to deal with it in a creative sense. Having the second city be Creitum in the past, for example. That would allow a direct development and link to gameplay, questing, combat, and the player's backstory. Caed Nua, also a timeslip back into the past. And all the old excuses that there's no VO or visual art resources for it, are easily shattered by that trace drawing for the adventure box narratives. Which weren't utilized as much as they could have. Ironically, the best parts of the game were the most experimental tech, that people didn't touch much of. There wasn't much of it to consume.
" I don't want to tip my hand, so pardon the vagueness. One would be having fewer, but far deeper and more interconnected companions"
I agree. Class changing them would also be neat if it could fit within the lore, as it allows people to fill in the party with whatever, without losing flexibility. Less important given Pillar's already good and hybrid like class system, however. More important for reading stories, though since it connects the companion npcs directly to the game fabric, the game lore, and the game mechanics. Which in turn, connects them to the player experience.
Even having extra companions sitting back at the stronghold can become a fun mechanic, if you could play from their perspective and do combat or quests, with an instant transition, leaving your main character elsewhere.
"But better. More memorable. More like a real group of people. Less likely to be collecting dust in your stronghold."
Also less but more impactful dispositions. It's like Josh missed out on all the Fallout new vegas faction reputation points. But there's no factions. And dispositions aren't connected to the backstory, the soul, the plot, the combat (other than paladins), or the gods. Looking at the number of combinations and work put into it, the text lines themselves, that's a lot of work for little inter connectivity.
Going back to the subject of Backer NPCs, the reason Obsidian may have been caught off guard was because their backer beta testers saw the content there, but it wasn't clear that these were backer npcs. It was also not explicitly stated that this was ALL the content, always, same style, for the backer npcs, that they would have zero quests, zero connection with plot or companions. Zero.
At the time, the testers might have just been withholding judgment, because there were more interesting things to test and talk about. But if the designers had asked them straight out, "how do you think this would work if the npcs were everywhere, but they had no content and were just a paragraph of text, just like you saw in backer beta 333"? You all might have gotten some interesting responses, which would have lead to a more easy way to adapt to the gamefeedback from the public.
If you do not ask the right questions, you will not get the right answers, even if most of the answers are wrong to begin with.
This got long enough that I reread it and edited a few times. Editing, which is slightly less work than rewriting. (There is a VN called Rewrite, however)