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Eric Fenstermaker Narrative Interview at RPG Codex


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#101
Nonek

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2) The devolution of Elder Scroll titles (Arena vs Skyrim)

 

Fixed that for you, you're welcome.


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#102
Quillon

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I don't think the game's too long or its not too long for my taste, just that act2 to 3 transition felt strange... I don't know how to put it to words but when I arrived at twin elms it was like starting the game from scratch again, by that time I shoulda already been familiar with the world and stuff and anticipate/maybe predict the next narrative direction instead I got another portion of the famous lore dump, this times about glanfathans, tribes, their way of doing things etc etc... I had half a mind to rush through it since I was overlevelled at that point.

 

 

It's not due to the kickstarter stretch goals or the promises, but due to the way they designed their content in preproduction. T Elms was designed at the same time as Defiance Bay. As its twin, so to speak.

 

Thus it feels the same way. The crit path was added later, with the content already preproduced and already in production probably. Without combining the two and getting player feedback, they didn't get the chance to iterate, based on the feedback. All the backer betas could test was dyrford. The crit path and the big cities, were not allowed to be BB tested. It was only internal testing. I liked Dyrford, it had a good sense to it and it attached itself to one of the primary plot arcs.

 

In a sense, the preproduction for the world lore was already done. So it was easy for them to make a big city about Glanfathans. That's in the lore. But it was not necessarily something that made the crit path more emotionally deep or satisfying. There were creative ways around that, as I've described before. But those decisions have to at least be thought about and argued on during preproduction. Not having time to iterate is pretty tough. As you lack the time to improve upon the way the product is executed. Many tests in the BBs were to balance the combat system, so to speak. And that's why the combat system started out pretty good. Well, other than the fact that per gave deflection, the BBs didn't suggest that as the solution.

 

 

The cut content for act 2's ending could have helped, if they didn't have to make 15 levels of CN maybe they wouldn't have had cut it. 

 

Tho I'm talking hypothetically; maybe without the promises/constraints game would have turned out worse since Obs is famous for doing sequels to someone elses' games, tho in this case they had to copy/change/revise someone else's world/systems. Maybe "copy" is a harsh word in this case but they had to make it as familiar as it can be. 



#103
Ymarsakar

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"In the end, I feel that the desire for shorter games in the guise of "quality over quantity" is just a ruse to hide the fact that the new age of "mobile apps" has created a breed of gamers with very short attention spans: instant gratification vs worthwhile investment. I remember a time when the "instant gratification" debates took place between FPS gamers vs RPG gamers. But now the debate takes place between RPG gamers. I blame the mobile app industry for this shift."

 

I've seen some of this conflict and dichotomy at work, of course. I think it does exist, but isn't behind some of the feedback concerning Fenster's issues with Pillars' crit path.

 

Part of the reason, I surmise, people had a hard time finishing Act 2 was that when they would take a break, of say 2-6 months due to real life or waiting for better patch fixing bugs, they would come back to their old save and it would be hard getting back into the game. Because Pillars is punishing on people who "forget" the mechanics. It has deep, not shallow, mechanics. Which is to say, complicated, people get more the more they put in. But if they come back after a few months, it's like summer vacation for students. They forget stuff, and then they feel lost when they try to get back the fun in their game save, then they lose interest because the game is in the middle and doesn't prod them as much. Of course other people may react differently.

 

Games like CK2 (Crusader Kings 2) are even deeper, similar to war games, but the player can set short term goals for themselves and isn't reliant on a quest or narrative arc to give them satisfaction.

 

The problem with long term games in the US/West is one of emotional payout. In Japanese visual novels, I regularly spend tens of hours, and in the rpg VNs it nears the 3 digits number if not over, for content consumed. But that content would seem utterly boring to people, Clannad might be an example although it has pretty good humour. But I go through it because there are several emotional and payback highlights during the game, and not at the "end of the game" either. If Clannad has a 90/100 in emotional payback at 20% of game completed, Pillars is reliant more on its combat and item/companion system, with the narrative ending being rather cold, less than 50/100 I would say. The companions and combat would be closer to 80/100 throughout the game, but the climatic ending wasn't really as climatic, except in the combat sense. And if that is all it has going for it, might be a problem. The Witcher 1, felt very different as a result, because it wasn't from the Western culture. It was Eastern European in culture. Close, but different enough that the high points felt different.

 

Pillars is an old school game in more than one meaning, in that the content and gameplay is the highlight and the narrative arc isn't necessarily designed to stand on its own. Except it does stand on its own, being divorced more from gameplay mechanics. Mask of the Betrayer wasn't like that, and I liked the spirit eater mechanic because it was more geared to the narrative, role playing, and plot. Others hated it, of course, but what I really hated was the 3d camera and all the other micro involved that had nothing to do with the stuff I wanted to consume. The game engine was a mechanical layer I was fighting, including all those hundreds of crafting ingredients.

 

Another issue with these types of demographics is that we aren't part of all of one demographic. Our tastes and subjective views of quality diverge due to generational and sub culture issues. We're all lumped into the "old school rpg" scene because of neglect from corporate sponsors or mainstream unification. What divides Obsidian's customers are humongous, however, but because there's no "genre" to classify us in various sub genres, they have to dig around blind for feedback and how to make use of it. People didn't like the spirit eater mechanic in Mask of the Betrayer, so when Eric Fenster wanted to make the Watcher insanity more real and demanding on the player, that was axed off probably for that reason. Then people would later complain that the narration has no solid component and the player is often lost. And if you change that, then people would say that you can't explore the world without a quest timer. And then people would complain about Fallout's quest timer.

 

The point is not that this is special to gamers for old school rpgs. The point is that this is evidence of several dozens of sub cultures all trying to fit into one game genre, old school rpgs. And they don't, they can't. So Kickstarter with Torment : Tides, Wasteland 2, Pillars, Divine Divinity, Shadowrun and so forth is ensuring that people recognize that fact. They aren't pulling from the same "money pool" even. It's more like 3-8 venn diagrams mixing together, and old school rpg is dab smack in the middle touching everything.

 

For most people, when they play a game like an AAA title or smaller independent title, they know whether they like it or not. But they cannot in any specific way explain why they don't like it or what they would like to see. That's the job of developers, for the most part to envision, predict, and iterate on.

 

"And my point is that gaming in itself is subpar/filler in the grand scheme of things (e.g., spending time with family, friends, work is much more productive than gaming if you're an adult)."

 

And yet people go to Hollywood movies and play around with their smart phones all day long, even while talking to people. If gaming itself is subpar filler, then a majority of people's free time is subpar, unless they're slaving away to pay the bills for some corporate baron. What you're addressing has more to do with 1st world civilized culture vs barbarian tribal existence than with gaming.

 

"The cut content for act 2's ending could have helped, if they didn't have to make 15 levels of CN maybe they wouldn't have had cut it. "

 

If Fenster and Josh had placed a higher resource priority on finishing the crit path, they would have been able to re allocate resources early on in production. Making 15 levels is one thing. Allocating the resources they did, was the decision of the designers and producers. And when you're making the end, at the end, when resource time has run out, inevitably the lower priority stuff gets cut. In this case, that involved the crit path. The crit path didn't have critical priority, strangely enough. It had VO priority, hearing Thaos and it was well done VO. Narrative and content wise, there was something missing. Dyrford, even, felt more polished and more linked together.


Edited by Ymarsakar, 18 March 2016 - 09:12 AM.

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#104
Zenbane

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And yet people go to Hollywood movies and play around with their smart phones all day long, even while talking to people. If gaming itself is subpar filler, then a majority of people's free time is subpar, unless they're slaving away to pay the bills for some corporate baron. What you're addressing has more to do with 1st world civilized culture vs barbarian tribal existence than with gaming.

The disconnect here is that when people are glued to their phones all day the activities are primarily "social media" related; which tends to be the opposite of someone glued to a video game all day. The only relation between someone making status updates all day and someone leveling up their Nightshade is the "screen" on the device. But make no mistake, just because civilized adults are staring at a screen doesn't mean they are "just like gamers."  There's a huge difference between "put your phone down" and "stop playing video games."
 
Other than that, I concur with the rest of your thoughts. Bonus for mentioning the Witcher which is high oh my "badass games" list.
 
 

 

2) The devolution of Elder Scroll titles (Arena vs Skyrim)

 
Fixed that for you, you're welcome.

 

Both Skyrim and Oblivion have certainly been subject to much criticism as Elder Scrolls RPG titles, so I would better adjust my original statement as such:

2) The evolution of Elder Scrolls titles (Arena vs Morrowind)

Surely, you would not dare taint the great name of Morowind?? :blink:


Edited by Zenbane, 18 March 2016 - 11:43 AM.


#105
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Both Skyrim and Oblivion have certainly been subject to much criticism as Elder Scrolls RPG titles, so I would better adjust my original statement as such:

2) The evolution of Elder Scrolls titles (Arena vs Morrowind)

Surely, you would not dare taint the great name of Morowind?? :blink:

 

 

 

 

I feel also compelled to point out that evolution does not necessarily mean 'improvement'.  There is a misunderstanding that as something evolves that it gets 'better' and more 'complex', eg that humans will evolve to be brainier or into energy lifeforms, that each step is an improvement of the capabilities of what came before.  This is not what natural evolution does, evolution is the adaptation of a species to better succeed in its current environment.  This may sometimes lead to more capability, but it can also lead to actual lessening of capability or taking on of flaws that fit with its environment and make its survival and ability to reproduce more likely.  

 

Mother Nature is not only a bitch but also a complete idiot, she doesn't care what accomplishments Bob makes, its the fact that Bill has knocked up ten women that she cares about.  Likewise, the evolution of game does not necessarily mean improvement, just whether or not it makes the owners more money.


Edited by FlintlockJazz, 30 March 2016 - 05:03 AM.

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#106
redneckdevil

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I'm gonna start up a new game in morrowind as a paladin of the tribuneral who pieces together the "truth" and decides to side with Dagoth Ur, the true hero of the Dunmer elves.
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#107
Flouride

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I definately agree with Eric's remarks on shorter games. I don't have time to replay games that take 50-80 hours to finish. I work and I have other hobbies and games to play as well. Putting 160 hours into just one game just doesn't work for me.

Except that you are still putting in 160 hours of gaming time despite having a job and other hobbies. There are not enough games out there worth playing, especially as we get older and require more mental stimulation from software games (at least I do). I would rather play a single 80 hour epic masterpiece than 4 mediocre 20 hour video games.

 

 

Well maybe for you there isn't. For me, there's a backlog of around 50 games on Steam that I own and some never ending games and some that I will go back to from time to time.



#108
Batbro

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Great stuff in that interview, Eric definitely seems like he handled it with aplomb.

 

I am definitely in the camp of "make the game shorter if it allows you to give it more depth and make it more reactive."  Replay value is one of my highest priorities with RPGs.  I want to be able to roleplay fundamentally different characters and have the world respond to them differently.

 

Personal highlight of the interview was this bit:

 

The other thing worth mentioning with theme is that I think it's often best, in an RPG in particular, to look at themes as questions rather than as moral suggestions. In a novel, you might have a theme about injustice, for example, and the author's ultimate incarnation of the theme might boil down to "Everyone has a moral obligation to fight injustice, whether they are victimized by it or not." But in an interactive, branching medium, it's better to ask, "Are we obligated to fight injustice even when we are not personally involved?" And then you give the player the tools to make his or her own decision. You show them a variety of perspectives. Then you give them an opportunity to act on their own understanding of the matter, as influenced by everything they've seen so far in the game.

Brilliant writing advice, and it feels personally validating, since it's a philosophy I've been trying to apply to my own game development.  Have the story raise questions, then let the player answer them.

 

This definitely applies to one of the themes I picked up in PoE's story: "Things are what you make of them."  That is to say, how you INTERPRET what happens in life is as important as the events themselves.  You can see this really clearly with the whole "gods" dilemma, as well as most of the companion quests.



#109
NegativeEdge

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I'm a little dismayed to hear Eric is enthusiastic for shorter games, though clearly this sentiment need not be expressed with any coyness or qualification in the future as It obviously resonates with a large and receptive audience here, and on other gaming forums. While I wasn't looking everybody got old, busy and accumulated a 'backlog' of games that are simultaneously important enough to infringe the length of theoretical future titles but not important enough for people to actually sit down and play in the meantime.

 

On the slim chance any body in a decision making role both reads these forums and agrees with me that the majority can be wrong I want to advocate for length and substance in RPGs as things inherent and absolutely necessary to their quality.

 

It's funny because people have criticized people like Fargo for using word count as a metric for the new Numenara which boasts over a million words, and at first I agreed that word length as a measurement can't indicate much of anything other than verbosity. But maybe it can. Or rather it indicates the potential for something great. Do you need a million words to satisfyingly explore an original idea? maybe not but, can you do it in twenty thousand? or ten?

 

I want to see something bullish and daring. Something that will demand an investment of the players time to appreciate. A vision that refuses to compromise itself in the face of calls for brevity and sneers at your cries of 'muh backlog' and can't be reduced to a 'solid 15 - 20 hour experience'. It's 100 hours or bust and if you don't like it, the other 99 % of the market has you covered.

CRPGs are the natural vehicles for long-form narrative games and that has value, let's not sacrifice it so lightly on the alter of modern day convenience.

 

There's a time and place for short and superficial but one also for glacial and magisterial. A place for 'pointless filler' even.

I can't tell you how disappointed I was when reading the introduction to a translation of les miserables where the editor cheerfully describes excising an 100 page detour into French revolutionary politics Hugo took part way through the story that he felt impeded the plot. F*$! plot. The book is hard enough to read as it is but should I do it an enormous disservice because boredom offends or scares me?

Despite having little literary merit I have a similar respect for The Wheel of Time series. A turgid and unbelievably difficult death march of thirteen door stop sized volumes at the conclusion of which you can genuinely from the bottom of your heart say I have stared into the depths of tedium and I did not flinch, petty distractions and amusements are beneath me now.

 

Let's see some of that in POE2.

 



#110
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I want to advocate for length and substance in RPGs as things inherent and absolutely necessary to their quality.

Well that's the issue. Length and substance. If a game is over 100 hours long and those 100 hours offer meaningful content, I will play it for over 100 hours. Honestly I find the "backlog and job" arguments kinda weird myself - nobody ever forced me to only play one game at a time or to finish a game within a week. If a game is very long, I'll take months to finish it while also playing other stuff, and that's fine. On the other hand, if there's nothing of substance you can add to your game and you're only adding content for the sake of boasting long playtime (see Dragon Age: Origins), you should stop adding content. That's why I believe being too hang up on playtime is harmful - it'll make short game pointlessly longer or, like the modern trend goes, long games shorter.






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