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Default Obsidian Entertainment - Keeping the Lights On

September 16th, 2017, 10:21
Eurogamer asks how Obsidian kept the lights on during difficult times.

Over the years, I've come to know what to expect from Obsidian, or so I thought. Obsidian makes RPGs, beautiful, intriguing, sometimes slightly shonky RPGs with great writing and vivid characters and just a lingering trace of thriftiness. They make games where the concepts, where the soul, trumps the budget.

And then they made Armored Warfare.

I've been worried about Obsidian, since then. Worried about a studio that can seem like a double-A developer in a triple-A world. Why was it making a free-to-play World of Tanks game when anyone who knew the studio would much rather a new Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic instead? Were publishers not interested in Obsidian any more? Over the last few months I worried that Obsidian was drifting away. And then this August I visit the studio and it starts to make more sense.

I learn what Armored Warfare, the studio's longest-running and most lucrative partnership, was really all about. (It is hard to know what tense to use when talking about Armored Warfare, to be honest: the game is out, but Obsidian's work on the project is over, and the studio has handed control over to Mail.ru.) Why tanks? Why Obsidian? Sure there was some desire to make a World of Tanks-inspired game, but more importantly this was an attempt to retain a size and level of craft that prospective publishers would be impressed by.

"What publishers look at a lot is whether you still have the ability to make triple-A assets," Feargus Urquhart, studio co-owner and CEO, tells me. "Can you work on these new consoles?" He can say Obsidian can, "but it's just words". "I can't show a pretty level working on Xbox One.

"One of the things we recognised with Armored Warfare - because the goal of Mail.ru at the time was to make a triple-A game that could transition to console - was this would let us make triple-A-looking tanks and triple-A-looking levels, and we would keep and potentially even grow that competency at the studio.

[…]
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September 16th, 2017, 10:49
Ok, this makes at least a little bit sense. I was always thinking "WTF" when I heard of Armored Warfare.
Still, I think Obsidian is its own biggest obstacle.
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September 16th, 2017, 13:08
The biggest thing for me is the over-stretching themselves. NWN2 is the classic example where you have all these classes and feats and crafting etc but unfortunately the game content can't match the choices in character creation. You are funnelled from pillar to post (forced companion choices, linear gameplay) while playing a poor implementation of rtwp with bad camera controls, admidst a buggy overall launch experience; which they eventually patched out.

This pattern seems to repeat itself in many of their subsequent games. Far too many in fact. For my money the lack of quality control and scope creep is why no publisher wants to buy them. They are lucky to have an audience that was desperate for new games to play. Luckily for us there is much more competition now and Obsidian are showing signs of beginning to learn from their mistakes.
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September 16th, 2017, 14:21
I think Feargus is working on the "Say Triple A in every interview" achievement.

We get it, you have a bit of a complex
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September 16th, 2017, 15:17
The revelation that grabbed the commenters at Eurogamer was this:
"There's a new project," Urquhart says cagily. "Yes" it has a publisher but he won't tell me who it is, nor if Obsidian has worked with the publisher before. "That's too easy!" he says. Then after careful consideration he continues: "We're making a big RPG - and it's not Fallout!" Whether or not it's a new IP we'll apparently see.

Some commenters thought a disclaimer at the end of the article probably identified the above referenced unidentified publisher:
"Disclaimer: Travel and accommodation for this trip was provided by Paradox Interactive.

Guess we'll learn more about the project and publisher at some point…

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September 16th, 2017, 18:03
Originally Posted by Silver View Post
The biggest thing for me is the over-stretching themselves. NWN2 is the classic example where you have all these classes and feats and crafting etc but unfortunately the game content can't match the choices in character creation. You are funnelled from pillar to post (forced companion choices, linear gameplay) while playing a poor implementation of rtwp with bad camera controls, admidst a buggy overall launch experience; which they eventually patched out.

This pattern seems to repeat itself in many of their subsequent games. Far too many in fact. For my money the lack of quality control and scope creep is why no publisher wants to buy them. They are lucky to have an audience that was desperate for new games to play. Luckily for us there is much more competition now and Obsidian are showing signs of beginning to learn from their mistakes.
Their games are from perfect and usually buggy on release. Still when I look at Neverwinter Nights 2 (and expansions), Alpha Protocol, Fallout:New Vegas, Dungeon Siege 3, Pillars of Eternity (and expansion) and Tyranny, and try to compare those games to any other developer in the same timespan, I find it hard to find anyone else who has produced a body of work that I like as well. I think I enjoyed playing all of the games above, even Dungeon Siege. There is also a huge variety from hack & slay to party based r/twp games. I know they're not as popular around here as Larian (who also has an impressive body of work, though all their games pretty much belong to the same universe) and CD Project Red (Who up until this point have made 3 Witcher games and an online card game), but I for one am very thankful for their continued existence.
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September 16th, 2017, 18:59
I really liked alpha protocol and was one of the few that thought Dungeon Siege 3 was under-rated but I also think square eq hit a home run with rise of the tomb raider. So what can I say ?
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September 16th, 2017, 20:04
I tend to agree with Silver as to Obsidian's shortcomings. In my mind Obsidian is the way they are because of their Black Isle history -- and Black Isle's inability to remain solvent.

It's a two edged sword. Obsidian is very focused on getting their games out the door ASAP and thereby being able to maintain a profitable enterprise -- but the games typically go out the door a bit too soon. Hence Obsidian's (i) survival as a game developer, and (ii) their reputation for buggy releases.

Things were looking to turn around quality wise with FNV, as I saw it. But the jury is apparently still out on that one. Hope their new big RPG makes it to release in a state of high quality.

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September 16th, 2017, 21:38
Really glad to hear their new project is another RPG, but please God not another South Park… Also glad he thwarted any Fallout speculation, early.

I'll predict it's either Baldur's Gate 3 or Neverwinter Nights 3. Yep. I said it.
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September 16th, 2017, 23:00
Originally Posted by Silver View Post
For my money the lack of quality control and scope creep is why no publisher wants to buy them.
But if a publisher bought them, they could fix the quality control issue with ease, by simply giving them enough money to do it properly.

Anyway, not sure it's fair to say no publisher wants to buy Obsidian…would we even know? I would hope Obsidian doesn't want to sell, even if someone did want to buy them. A big publisher like EA or Activision isn't going to let them keep making the same kind of games they're making now.
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September 17th, 2017, 00:32
Originally Posted by Stingray View Post
But if a publisher bought them, they could fix the quality control issue with ease, by simply giving them enough money to do it properly.

Anyway, not sure it's fair to say no publisher wants to buy Obsidian…would we even know? I would hope Obsidian doesn't want to sell, even if someone did want to buy them. A big publisher like EA or Activision isn't going to let them keep making the same kind of games they're making now.
Agreed. I think they would be swallowed whole by a publisher and lose their identity.

As to the question of would publishers want to buy them? I think some have possibly shown some interest but the deal has not been good enough for Feargus to bite and that speaks volumes.

Obsidian always has a scattergun feature approach it seems and the overall package suffers. A publishers laser focus would force this to change but we would not care about the games they produce anymore.
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September 17th, 2017, 00:46
Originally Posted by forgottenlor View Post
Their games are from perfect and usually buggy on release. Still when I look at Neverwinter Nights 2 (and expansions), Alpha Protocol, Fallout:New Vegas, Dungeon Siege 3, Pillars of Eternity (and expansion) and Tyranny, and try to compare those games to any other developer in the same timespan, I find it hard to find anyone else who has produced a body of work that I like as well. I think I enjoyed playing all of the games above, even Dungeon Siege. There is also a huge variety from hack & slay to party based r/twp games. I know they're not as popular around here as Larian (who also has an impressive body of work, though all their games pretty much belong to the same universe) and CD Project Red (Who up until this point have made 3 Witcher games and an online card game), but I for one am very thankful for their continued existence.
Thats exactly the problem through isn't it. There has been no-one else making these sorts of games to a reasonable level of quality until recently. Obsidian were lucky in a way and yeah I am glad they continue to exist but they will find the competitive environment much more demanding for these types of games going forward.

My subjective experience of Obsidian games for comparison.
-NWN2 bad game, good toolset.
-NWN2 expansions are good games especially Mask of the Betrayer
-Alpha Protocol is a very flawed game which is only saved somewhat by Chris Avellones writing. The rest is terribad.
-Fallout: New Vegas is their one quality game that is only hamstrung somewhat by Bethesdas engine.
-Kotor 2: An unfinished game with a decent engine behind it. Good writing, poor level design. A typical Obsidian game.
-Dungeon Siege 3 - I feel sorry for the fanbase of 1 & 2. The series is certainly dead now.
-Pillars of Eternity & Expansion - Impressive commitment to patching aside the game is just average to me and borderline frustrating. Not bad but not very good either. Kind of bland.
-Tyranny - The game just seems meh to me. Doesn't do enough in most areas and feels like a b effort.
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September 17th, 2017, 00:57
Feargus and partner Chris Parker are definitely ready to sell for the right price and terms. From the subject Eurogamer article:

As an independent, it's also been harder for Obsidian to get extensions than it generally is for internal studios at publishers. "We sign a contract and we must hit that number and it is the end of the earth if we [don't]," says Urquhart. "We've had to sign away royalties, we've had to sign away ownership of IPs…" He pauses again. "Whereas internal studios, it's just another month - they're already paying the people, it's already in the budget these people are going to be paid."

That said, Obsidian has had offers of acquisition from publishers - "a lot", according to Urquhart. "It's not like we're 'indie for life'," he says, "not like we bleed indie blood. We were an internal studio [Black Isle] for a publisher for a long time and we were successful."

"If the right opportunity came up," adds Parker, "it's certainly something that we would do."

It would certainly be an easier life with malleable deadlines and someone else absorbing responsibility for people's livelihoods. Plus, Urquhart wouldn't have to go out on the road all the time and do "his little horse and pony show" as Chris Parker so brilliantly puts it. But the deals have never been right. "We just didn't think the offers were commensurate to what we're worth and then what we would get to do," Urquhart says.

Urquhart is, if nothing else, a salesman. "A lot" of buyers are interested. Act now, make the right offer, and get a deal before its too late.

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September 17th, 2017, 03:39
It's too bad Obsidian seems so married to RTwP combat for their CRPGs. Supposedly Josh Sawyer is more of a fan of turn-based, so I wish they'd let him make one.

I would be interested in a NWN3. Or maybe if the put Tim Cain & Leonard Boyarsky in charge of some Troika revival game. Beyond that I don't think I care what Obsidian does. Mask of the Betrayer was their last release that I actually enjoyed / finished.
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September 17th, 2017, 03:57
Originally Posted by Silver View Post
Thats exactly the problem through isn't it. There has been no-one else making these sorts of games to a reasonable level of quality until recently. Obsidian were lucky in a way and yeah I am glad they continue to exist but they will find the competitive environment much more demanding for these types of games going forward.

My subjective experience of Obsidian games for comparison.
-NWN2 bad game, good toolset.
-NWN2 expansions are good games especially Mask of the Betrayer
-Alpha Protocol is a very flawed game which is only saved somewhat by Chris Avellones writing. The rest is terribad.
-Fallout: New Vegas is their one quality game that is only hamstrung somewhat by Bethesdas engine.
-Kotor 2: An unfinished game with a decent engine behind it. Good writing, poor level design. A typical Obsidian game.
-Dungeon Siege 3 - I feel sorry for the fanbase of 1 & 2. The series is certainly dead now.
-Pillars of Eternity & Expansion - Impressive commitment to patching aside the game is just average to me and borderline frustrating. Not bad but not very good either. Kind of bland.
-Tyranny - The game just seems meh to me. Doesn't do enough in most areas and feels like a b effort.
Maybe you just don't like RPGs, lol. That's like an all-star list of them.
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September 17th, 2017, 10:25
I'm with Silver on this one. Due to my preferences Obsidian usually make games I feel are mediocre. I prefered Fallout 3 over New Vegas, Kotor over Kotor 2 and so on.
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September 17th, 2017, 10:47
Originally Posted by Fluent View Post
Maybe you just don't like RPGs, lol. That's like an all-star list of them.
lol indeed. Don't you like every rpg ever made?
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September 17th, 2017, 11:03
Originally Posted by Silver View Post
lol indeed. Don't you like every rpg ever made?
For sure. They're all 10/10s for me.
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September 17th, 2017, 11:06
What's the point of even scoring then? lol.
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September 17th, 2017, 11:09
Originally Posted by purpleblob View Post
What's the point of even scoring then? lol.
Great question. To me, there is none. A number is just one person's subjective "analysis" that is not based on anything but their own idea of what a score means to them.
Last edited by Fluent; September 17th, 2017 at 11:23.
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