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Eric Fenstermaker Narrative Interview at RPG Codex

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That was fantastic, Ymarsakar, and completely on target.

 

God, having the second city be Creitum during your past life ... that would have been ridiculously cool. Probably kinda resource-intensive to get right, but cool.

 

I was just thinking of all the resources they put into the second city in Pillars, and while the crit path quests were nice, some of the other stuff did feel like it was just more side quests. The crit path was ramping up and I was like... why didn't they just put that big city resource into a city specifically designed for Act 3? They had DF for Act 2, they didn't need another one for Act 2. When Fenster mentioned that Breg E had to be cut from Act 3, I thought that sounded funny, if the crit path had Josh's A priority. Why would an A priority be cut but then you would have the second big city right before then? It felt off to me at the time. That would only make sense if the end of the game wasn't done, but Big City 2 had already been half finished or was in production. So this was would be a mistake in pre production at a high design level. Once you decide on Big City 2, you can't change it when the crit path might need it later on in game.

 

That's a lot of resources, and if game creation is zero sum, then making the best use of resources can be a solid tactical benefit. Of course, using conceptual art and backgrounds (colored ones, not just white sketches) for the adventure box might have fleshed it out as well. For a vision, the paper ish white look of the conceptual art would fit. Then when you start getting sucked into the crit path, make the backgrounds full color if 3d map assets were too problematic at that point. Would make a big aesthetic difference and capture the shift in something other than words or plot quests.

 

The Kickstarter goals never required that the second city be in Act 2 or that it would have only a slight relation to the spoilerish crit path. They could fulfill their promises and also get more resources to flesh out some of the main plot arcs. My guess is that in pre production, they committed resources to things that could have been used for the crit path, but the crit path wasn't done yet. As Fenster, mentioned, they only had time to write it once, put it in, and release it. No iteration. The resources that could have iterated it, were already used up by then, from pre production on wards. It's like in Baldur's gate where people chose a strength 9 or 13 fighter, and thought it would be good.

 

Torment Tides, with a longer pre production schedule and sooner access to the Pillars engine and coding tools, benefits from having a little bit more pre production time. Now that I think on it, the old Torment was like that as well, from what I've heard. The Infinity Engine had already been tested by BG or IW.

 

Correction: Act 3 does have its own big city 2. The game feels like it split in two after DB. While big city 2 had the feeling of starting DB once again, exploring and questing, the crit path had moved far enough forward that it felt Act 3 was more about the crit path. Or should have been at least. I think some of the criticism concerning how Act 3 felt too distant from the plot were right on that. To me, big city 1 and 2 felt like they were in the same act, because the gameplay was more or less the same. The boss fights were pretty noticeable though. That part was done well.

Edited by Ymarsakar

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while there was some great info in here, i f****** hated the interviewer the entire way through. from his opening line to presuming to know things about the game's development, it absolutely reeks of typical, RPG Codex idiocy. seriously, those guys are so entitled they can't even ask a series of questions without making that incredibly obvious.

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Good interview. Nice to get more info on the behind the scenes process that led to the final game.

 

Anyway, I'm in the "shorter games" camp. When I was a kid and had tons of free time and little money to spend on games, I could spend months on the same game, but that just isn't the case any more. More often than not, I start games and fail to finish them because my attention gets pulled away by other concerns before I get to the end. Then, when I finally get back to the game, I can't remember what was going on well enough to feel connected to it.

 

So yes, shorter, more polished games please.

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While I definitely don't agree with Mr. Fenstermaker regarding "shorter" games (I'm getting older as well, but that doesn't automatically mean that I have less time on my hands for something as demanding or consuming like The Witcher 3 for instance) this was a very good read nonetheless.

I wish other developers would be this forward in acknowledging faults.

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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. I've only fully replayed two of Obsidians's games and those are Alpha Protocol and Dungeon Siege 3, mainly because those games didn't take forever to finish. And in Alpha Protocol's case because the game had great reactivity to what I did in the game.

So, yes. I would rather get more polished games with great reactivity (c&c) than one big epic adventure that takes forever to beat. While I definately loved Baldur's Gate 2 for it's epicness, I never finished it again.

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Hate the living, love the dead.

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Alpha Protocol hit kind of a sweet spot for me in length where it really enhanced the replayability. Witcher 2 might be even better at reactivity but it's like 25 hours long and it's not fun enough for me to want to play it through a load of times to see everything; I played it twice to see Roche and Iorveth's paths and I was rushing towards the end of that. Alpha Protocol is flawed too but it's fun enough to justify ~8 hours of investment every now and then to see something new, with the result that I've played it through close to a dozen times.

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You guys realise the point had nothing to do with making games shorter because games take too long to finish, right?

 

He's saying maybe it's better to make a shorter and better game because the demand for longer games makes it hard to polish, add quest reactivity, etc.

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You guys realise the point had nothing to do with making games shorter because games take too long to finish, right?

 

He's saying maybe it's better to make a shorter and better game because the demand for longer games makes it hard to polish, add quest reactivity, etc.

He actually does mention being older and having less time to spend. That said, all folks are saying is that they have reasons to prefer short, high quality games beyond any debate about game composition itself. Eric's remarks are appreciable in that regard.

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If I'm typing in red, it means I'm being sarcastic. But not this time.

Dark green, on the other hand, is for jokes and irony in general.

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I agree. I really like your point about replay value going up with shorter more reactive games.

 

As well, mark me in the group that would rather play a polished shorter game rather than one that less polished filler just to increase game play time.

 

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. I've only fully replayed two of Obsidians's games and those are Alpha Protocol and Dungeon Siege 3, mainly because those games didn't take forever to finish. And in Alpha Protocol's case because the game had great reactivity to what I did in the game.

So, yes. I would rather get more polished games with great reactivity (c&c) than one big epic adventure that takes forever to beat. While I definately loved Baldur's Gate 2 for it's epicness, I never finished it again.

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I agree. I really like your point about replay value going up with shorter more reactive games.

 

 

That isn't automatically true.  You also need narrative arc and mechanics need to be made in such way that playing game again don't become uninteresting work where player hunts those reactivity nodes. For example Walking Dead and other Telltale Games' highly reactive adventure games aren't interesting to play again because their narrative arc mainly same regardless of what you do and seeing results that are caused by different choices have hard time to keep player's interest up. And things aren't helped by fact that their mechanics aren't something that interest player without story and they have high change to become blockers for players who aren't immersed by the story.

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Nice to see what the lead writer had to say about the production.

 

About the shorter games, I don't really get it. I don't have much time to play either but I don't want my games to be short! Short games are good if they are made to replay them many times, like platforms or roguelikes or whatever. Short rpgs? wtf? The time you have available to play the game has nothing to do with the game's length. You can play it with your own pace. There is "save game" option, no? It took me 3 weeks to finish Pillars. 3-5 weeks is what it takes me, usually, to finish an rpg. An I don't mind! I don't want them to be short because I have less time per day to play than I had as child. I wouldn't mind if I had even less time than now and took me 3 months to finish them! A 10-hour rpg is a short story not an adventure!

 

*edit* And, no, I wouldn't spend 60$ for a 10-hour game even if it was really good! I value my few money too much to do so. Hope Eric isn't implying anything there :p

Edited by Sedrefilos
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Come on people. He's just saying that there is pressure to make rpgs longer and longer, and that usually ends up with them being a "little" bit thin. I'll always take a well thought out 40 hour game, over an 80 hour one that becomes a chore halfway through.

Edited by Lychnidos
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There is no pressure to do so. Rpgs were always long and that's what's expected by them. To be long, to be an adventure. Some of the best rpgs in time were extremely long (Baldur's 2, Fallout 2, New Vegas etc). Rpgs are long games but noone want them to be "even longer"! They just don't want them to be short.

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Some games don't need to be that long. FPSs or 3rd person action games, for example. They don't need to be open world and have 300 side "quests" when all you got to do is the same thing over and over. RPGs (and strategies, I'd add) are a genre that has the potential to be long and not repetative - it has only to do with the designers' abilities and commitment.

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I wouldn't want a game to be short for the sake of being short. Long games like Baldurs Gate 2 or Pillars can be the best. But, when it comes to the designers choosing between making a game longer and having more filler content, or making the game more polished and reactive, I hope they always pick the last one.

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They do, but they don't make always the best choices. On the contrary - they do the worst because they believe this or that will appease the players. But they usually change their mind when they do a sequel.

How many times have you seen this?: Game is out, is good but not as good as people expected it to be -> Audience criticize the game -> few months after release the developers admit they could have done this instead of that and the game would be better -> sequel comes out - it fixes all the bad things the original had and adds new stuff making it what the original could have been (no +budget in the discuddion, only design choices).

I believe I've seen it many many times (XCOM 2 is a recent example I can think of). Most of the times budget isn't the problem. Yes, they cut stuff because of it but the thing is what do you do with that that remains. And usually the problem, then, comes from bad or mediocre design choices.

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They do, but they don't make always the best choices. On the contrary - they do the worst because they believe this or that will appease the players. But they usually change their mind when they do a sequel.

How many times have you seen this?: Game is out, is good but not as good as people expected it to be -> Audience criticize the game -> few months after release the developers admit they could have done this instead of that and the game would be better -> sequel comes out - it fixes all the bad things the original had and adds new stuff making it what the original could have been (no +budget in the discuddion, only design choices).

I believe I've seen it many many times (XCOM 2 is a recent example I can think of). Most of the times budget isn't the problem. Yes, they cut stuff because of it but the thing is what do you do with that that remains. And usually the problem, then, comes from bad or mediocre design choices.

 

 

You seem pretty clueless about budgets and sequel development. And you're also contradicting yourself. If they "cut stuff" then how can they make the game "long AND reactive"? Cutting by definition makes the game shorter.

 

Sequels aren't developed from scratch. They always have "+budget in the discuddion" because they build on top of the budget already invested in the first game.

Edited by Infinitron
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You have to be carefull with the reactivity, Witcher 2 could have been twice as long if they didn't split the second act into two exclusive halves, and that's just a single choice. Kind of a shame to put all that work into something only about 50% of players will see.

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You have to be carefull with the reactivity, Witcher 2 could have been twice as long if they didn't split the second act into two exclusive halves, and that's just a single choice. Kind of a shame to put all that work into something only about 50% of players will see.

 

Kind of a shame to put all that work into the Pillars ending, when only about 10% of the players will see that.

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I have a project. It's a tabletop RPG. It's free. It's a work in progress. Find it here: www.brikoleur.com

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You have to be carefull with the reactivity, Witcher 2 could have been twice as long if they didn't split the second act into two exclusive halves, and that's just a single choice.

 

...So what? The game was long enough as-is.

 

I mean, you could argue that it was poorly done (choosing Roche's side nets you less content overall, I believe - and it was even more anemic at release), but that's on the sloppy execution, not the concept itself.

 

 

Kind of a shame to put all that work into the Pillars ending, when only about 10% of the players will see that.

 

 

Well, they did cut out a major area just before to the ending...  :lol:

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"Lulz is not the highest aspiration of art and mankind, no matter what the Encyclopedia Dramatica says."

 

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Also I do believe more than 10% have seen the ending. Using consoles and some mods disables achievements and that's what they were looking at.

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The Witcher sounds less like they did reactivity and more like they created separate plot arc and endings, sort of like visual novel "alternative endings".

 

As for long games, Eric's problem is probably how to create a tight narrative and gameplay ish plot arc that lasts so long players tend to forget about it as they try to finish within 6 months. The solution to that, in my view, is to have separate climaxes. 2 or 3, instead of one big plot arc end at the end.

 

Gurren Lagann is a good example. Plot 1 starts and ends. Everybody thinks it is over, since it feels like it is over. Nope, Plot 2 begins after some split time.

 

Eric did mention that they were debating whether to pass time or not (such as Dragon Age 2). Passing time between Acts would allow greater narrative... power over the player. It would limit the player's freedom and change the world, however. So mechanically, it wouldn't fit within Josh's freedom to explore and side quest vision.

 

Of course, there are other ways to make each narrative act separate and unique, without passing plot time.

Edited by Ymarsakar

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