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

by Dhruin, 2011-09-26 22:56:31

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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