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RPGWatch Forums » Comments » News Comments » Obsidian Entertainment - Nathaniel Chapman and J.E. Sawyer Interviews

Default Obsidian Entertainment - Nathaniel Chapman and J.E. Sawyer Interviews

September 27th, 2011, 14:19
Obsidian has kicked up the 4th part of their community interview with Dungeon Siege III lead designer Nathaniel Chapman. This time, the questions are more general:
WorstUsernameEver asked:
But anyway: What does “immersive” mean, in your opinion? It’s one of the most popular industry’s buzzwords today, yet I have never seen anyone explaining what they think it means. And on that matter, do you think it’s important for an AAA RPG today to be “immersive”?
Immersion means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, I think. To me, immersion is the extent to which a game world feels believable – note that I use believable and not realistic. Because a world feels believable, players tend to get “lost” in it – they stop consciously considering the gaminess of what they’re playing and instead accept the game world on its own terms.
As to why I think this happens, I think people generally act as if the world operates in predictable ways. If you repeat the same action multiple times, you expect the same results. You then combine your knowledge of different predictable operations in the world to form creative ideas. You can imagine an ancient human combining their knowledge that wood can float on water with the knowledge that holding a billowing cloth in the wind causes them to feel like they are being pushed, and developing the first sailboat from the combination of those two ideas. The core thought here being that people become creative when they combine knowledge based on consistent feedback within the world.
Games work in the same way – when you take an action in a game, and it responds in a given way, you’re encouraged to repeat it and combine it with other knowledge you have about the game. As you begin to experiment and get creative in your approach to the game, the “gaminess” of it fades – at least until the game world stops being believable, say when you hit a bug or something stops working the way you expect.
If you recall Will Ooi's recent interview series with Chris Avellone at Gamasutra, the spotlight has now moved to J.E. Sawyer. A sample from their conversation:
WO: The information available about you on the net tells us that, having completed a history major and participating in theatre, you then became a game designer. How did this happen and how did you make the decision to pursue this career path? Who and what has influenced you?

JS: The transition from college to game development was stroke of luck. I was a bad student in college. I don't mean that in the "zany Val Kilmer Real Genius" way, but in the way that a lazy wastrel who plays video games and tabletop RPGs all day is a bad student. A friend of mine noticed that Interplay was hiring a web designer for an unannounced RPG. I had taught myself a bunch of web design (including Flash) and was a freelance web developer, so I fired over a resume. Apparently my absurdly long cover letter and knowledge of Flash were the keys to success. I was the second choice of about sixty applicants. The first pick decided to follow his girlfriend to Seattle.

As for how I became interested in game design, it probably started with my first introduction to CRPGs. At a public library, I saw an older kid playing the original Bard's Tale on a C=64. I was mesmerized. The older kid, Tony Unate, introduced me to a wide array of CRPGs as well as AD&D. I had already played Basic and Expert D&D, but AD&D is when the obsession truly took flight. Tony and I and our mutual friends debated a lot of the finer points of game design, both in CRPGs and in tabletop games. We sector edited games, modified board games, and altered RPG rules to suit our tastes and sensibilities.

When I got to college, I started playing a wider range of tabletop games with a diverse group of gamers of varying backgrounds. We did a lot of customization and system development along the way. That process of critical analysis and revision made me interested in game development, though I always envisioned myself getting into tabletop design.
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September 27th, 2011, 14:19
I found this exchange both sad and telling:

"WO: What are your passions in life?

JS: I don't really have any these days.

WO: Surely there must be something. You sound like the type of person with many intellectual passions. How about the motorbike riding across the country?

JS: I have a lot of interests. I just wouldn't describe them as passions. To be passionate would require a higher level of focus and dedication than I am currently giving to anything in particular."

This is exactly why I quit working in the game industry after a very brief foray. It kills your passions elsewhere…. a pure time vacuum that sucks up energy and joy…. and the joy of building the game eventually gets sucked up too…. or, at least that was my experience.
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September 27th, 2011, 14:21
Well, that kinda explains their recent efforts.
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September 27th, 2011, 20:08
What's that meant to mean exactly? Josh expresses a completely rational statement of fact about his own interests not being that individually focused or intense and suddenly this reflects upon Obsidian's recent work as a whole?

What a ridiculous thing to say.

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September 28th, 2011, 06:04
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
Well, that kinda explains their recent efforts.
Recent efforts like the outstanding New Vegas?
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September 28th, 2011, 06:39
Originally Posted by GhanBuriGhan View Post
Recent efforts like the outstanding New Vegas?
One good game out of three does not make them outstanding. Look I like there games but this company has problems.

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September 28th, 2011, 08:18
Ghan didn't say they were an outstanding company; he said F:NV, which is one of their recent games, was outstanding.

Problems? Hyperbole much?

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September 28th, 2011, 08:39
I think NV's success did wonders for Obsidian's reputation vis a vis publishers and gamers, it should have been their ticket to bigger and better projects.

It's kind of odd that one year down the road they've only followed it up with some NV dlc, the poorly received DS3 and no other announcements.

Any bets on what that franchise Feargus couldn't refuse is?
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September 28th, 2011, 09:19
Originally Posted by Dhruin View Post
Ghan didn't say they were an outstanding company; he said F:NV, which is one of their recent games, was outstanding.

Problems? Hyperbole much?
Not really the company is terrible when it comes to the technical side of there games. To many bugs and bad design decisions. On the other hand they know how to write good settings and campaigns.

The engine for NV was already developed so it helped them make a good game. So would you like to exaggerate more also?

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September 28th, 2011, 10:31
Where did I exaggerate, exactly?

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September 28th, 2011, 11:11
Originally Posted by GhanBuriGhan View Post
Recent efforts like the outstanding New Vegas?
You mean their bland, dreary and extremely buggy New Vegas?

Yeah, though not the worst of the bunch.
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September 28th, 2011, 11:27
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
You mean their bland, dreary and extremely buggy New Vegas?

Yeah, though not the worst of the bunch.
Yeah, that one.
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September 28th, 2011, 11:32
Originally Posted by GhanBuriGhan View Post
Yeah, that one.
It's never easy when people disagree about such things, but such is the way of differing tastes.
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September 28th, 2011, 11:50
Yup.
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, 10 characters….
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September 28th, 2011, 20:03
Personnally I'll go and say that I don't feel Obsidian has released any bad and if anything their games ranks amongst some of my favorite RPGs.

KOTOR2 was great in spite of LucasArts's butchering (note to everyone: do yourself a favor an play the "completed" version with TSLRM), a IMO a better game than the first game.

NWN2 obviously had horrid technical issues, but coming into the game only a couple years after release I had no issues on that count. It has a very good main campain, MOTB was nothing short of a masterpiece, and SoZ was a nice throwback to old school D&D stuff even if a bit lackluster on the plot department.

Alpha Protocol played as a sneaker was a very good game IMO. I never got the complains about the technical issues eitehr since it ran flawlessly on my PC, but perhaps the console versions were that bad.

New Vegas was a great Fallout game in my book (but I'm a weirdo who loved Fallout 3 too).

Dungeon Siege III, while very much unlike DSI&II, was pretty much a great Dark Alliance clone in my book. I can't help to point that by all account the game and engine were very stable, which gives credit to the fact that using their own tech makes thing easier for them.

So basically I'm a big Obsidian fans personally. While their games tend to have issues in the polishing department (though hopefully if DSIII is a sign of things to come, things will go better if they stick to their Onyx engine), I think they tend to be great in other department, and I honestly consider that they offer the best writing of any RPG developpers.

Originally Posted by KapitanUnterhosen View Post
Any bets on what that franchise Feargus couldn't refuse is?
People are probably gonna think I'm crazy, but I'm thinking: Final Fantasy.

Why ?

Well let's head back a few years: Square had a Final Fantasy outsourced to a western developper (GRIN) codenamed Fortress and based upon FFXII's Ivalice setting. It was also reportedly to have a more WRPG kind of gameplay and design.

Things did not go well however and Square displeased with the project, pulled the plug of GRIN's iteration (which basically lead to GRIN's demise as well) but rumor was that they gave the project to another unnamed developper.

Considering, Feargus has expressed many times over his love of JRPGs, (notably of Chrono Trigger, a Square game of course), and they have already worked with Square-Enix with DSIII and reportedly had very good relationship with them… some how I could just see them working on a some form of Final Fantasy spin-off, as horrific as it'd probably seem to many Obsidian fans

And clearly, Final Fantasy would fall in the "franchis nobody could refuse" category.

(On a personnal level I'd love to see Obsidian work on Ultima, Feargus said it was his dream project and it almost happened a few years back, but with the rumors of something being cooked up at Mythic that seems extremly unlikely).

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September 28th, 2011, 21:10
Originally Posted by Sergorn View Post
People are probably gonna think I'm crazy, but I'm thinking: Final Fantasy.
Nothing says the franchise has to based off of a prior gaming license… Though I'm not entirely sure what tv, book or movie franchises are left untouched?
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September 29th, 2011, 13:17
Oh sure it could definitly be a non gaming license - I'd assume it's gotta be something either really huge or with a really strong cult status/aura.

I'm actually wondering what Obsidian is working on nowadays since all their announced projects (minus Wheel of Time, but last we heard it hadn't even started) have been released at this point.

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September 29th, 2011, 15:35
Like Sergorn I'm a big Obsidian fan, and I've enjoyed all their games so far. F: NV won GOTY here on the watch by a mile if I recall correctly, which is hardly surprising - it's one of the best games I've played in recent years. In fact, it blows most competition out of the water in my opinion.

There are no game developers I trust more than Obsidian right now, and the only other studio on the same level is Piranha Bytes. Beyond those two, everyone seems to let me down from time to time. PB probably has the best track record, but they also have the least variety and use the exact same formula every time - easy to maintain a track record under such circumstances.

Blizzard never really lets me down either, but I rarely get hyped by their work anymore. Also, they release a game twice per decade or something, so I can't rely on them to tend to my gaming needs.
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September 30th, 2011, 01:27
Originally Posted by Dhruin View Post
Problems? Hyperbole much?
Well, they have at least had problems in the past for sure.
There must be thousands of 3rd person games (not just RPGs) out there that have established a certain control scheme that feels natural and makes character/party movement a no-issue.
And then along comes Obsidian and craps out NWN 2's control scheme that is completely unintuitive and makes the simple act of navigating your character(s) around the map a royal pain in the ass.
Let's be honest here. They failed on the most basic level right there and it is outright scary that no one inside Obsidian either had the brains or the guts to speak up and tell someone how much the controls suck before the game was released in that state.

I got to give them credit for AP though. I really liked that game and would have been quite the happy stealthy camper if AP would have been so kind as to turn into a series. Oh well…
Haven't played FNV yet because post-apoc isn't really my cup of tea but if they ever release a GOTY edition with all of the DLC included and once that drops to below €10 I think I'll give it a try just out of curiosity.

Until then I guess I have to trust y'all that FNV is cool and I'd have to conclude that Obsidian have somewhat gotten their act together ("somewhat" because DS3 appears to be an in-between stinker).
In summary, I'd say that their problems have gotten far less but I'd personally find it problematic to call them a problem-free company .
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September 30th, 2011, 01:53
Um, Obsidian has problems because of a couple of games? Funny how piranah bytes and cd projekt get passes in this regard (to think the original witcher used the nwn engine, but I guess that is different.) CD projekt has made two action rpg's to date and can do no wrong.

Funny stuff here.

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