Update by Chris Avellone
This week? Companions. I have been designing companions.
I lucked out, because I got to do companion design work for BOTH Eternity and Torment, so two birds, one stone. Or three companions, one lodestone? I don’t know.
Eternal Companion Facts
Some facts from our Eternity design documents that I wanted to say up front before going any further: thanks to backer support, Eternity supports 8, yes 8, pre-made companions and 8 hired adventurers (16 total). You can have up to 5 in the party at any point in time (the 6th/1st role is your player character, who, well, sort of has to be there, you know, because it’s your game). It’s a lot of writing.
We want to allow you to encounter all companions before the mid-point of the story. One issue we’ve found with introducing companions too late is that it doesn’t give players enough time to bond with them, and/or the player may have already formed a strong attachment to their other allies so much so there’s no physical or emotional room for more party members in their lives.
Each companion also has their own mini-arc and quest woven into the game as well, so be prepared - they have agendas of their own. You know, like real people.
Lastly in the fact train, we don’t force you to take anyone in your party. If you want them, take them. If you want to go to the Adventurer’s Hall and make your own, do it. Go solo. We don’t own you. We’re not trying to control you. Play how you want.
Narrative Update...So a narrative update related to companions... Eric Fenstermaker (designer, Fallout: New Vegas, also responsible for Boone and Veronica and worked on NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer and... and... oh, just Google him) has been hard at work on the narrative, and it’s reached the point with the arc and themes that now seemed like a good time to introduce the companion supporting pillars to the process to take the story higher (...not necessarily in a “Can you Take Me Higher” Creed sort of way, since it’s not really a question, it’s more like, “yes, we will take you higher.”)
Over the past few months, I’ve been scrutinizing the systems and story documents for Eternity (and Torment), the themes, and also checking out the other companion briefs from the other designers. Aside from the companion designs I wrote, feedback has been wildly traded in the interests of making companions even better than their core concepts. It was my goal to read EVERYTHING about the narrative I could, even brainstorming - and in Torment’s case, novellas as well. Now it was time to work on the structure of the individual companions.
...and now on to Companion Design
We discussed companion design (http://forums.obsidian.net/blog/1/entry-168-project-eternity-and-characterization/) way back at the start of Eternity, so some points in this update will callback to this. There shouldn’t be a need for a refresher read unless you want to. The process for Eternity (and Torment) has followed these bulletpoints, and we’re holding true to our goals as well as expanding the design methodology as we go ahead.
The first and best place to start with companion design is the game systems. For companions, this means considering race, class, and their role in the conflict mechanics of the game. Knowing what class of character you’re making is key to building their history and personality. For example, in the case of Gann in NX1: Mask of the Betrayer, knowing his class before writing was a big help, and I can use that class’s list of abilities, class focus, and the abilities the class specializes in and weave it in with the backstory. The Eternity designers have been good about indicating the spread of classes and races for the companions and rationing those out during the process.
For Eternity, since combat is the primary challenge mechanic, one major goal is to make sure the companion is combat effective. Why would you take them in your party? How are they useful? In other instances of conflict mechanics (for example, dialogue or Tide reactivity in Torment), we also examine how the character is useful in terms of these challenges as well.
A Note About Challenge MechanicsReally quick, I want to clarify what I meant about “challenge mechanics.” That doesn’t always mean combat – it’s whatever the primary challenge in the game is. If we were doing a Thief-style RPG, then stealth and avoiding detection becomes the primary challenge mechanic, not combat. Depending on the RPG and its range of challenges, a character can still be fairly weak in combat, but if that’s the case, we try to think of how they’re helpful with regards to the game’s other challenges (giving an edge in dialogue, healing, fast travel).
For all the characters I’ve seen or designed for games that don’t cater to at least one of the game’s primary challenge mechanics, those guys are often unpopular or unused because they’re not helping out with the systematic gameplay, regardless of how cool they might seem. And the more actively these characters can participate in the mechanics (vs. passive), the stronger their appeal.
Also at the same time, I try to be careful that the companion's skill set doesn’t overlap with the challenge roles of the other characters. We try to indicate in the companion briefs how each companion's challenge role is intended – one thing I learned as a pen-and-paper Gamemaster is you want to be careful about two players sharing the same role (Tank, Mage, Priest, etc.) – if one is clearly stronger than another, then the second one needs something else to make them stand out and be “special” in the party and fulfill an equally cool role in the party dynamic, otherwise one ends up getting upstaged by the other. And feelings get hurt. Which isn’t something you want in a game designed to entertain.
For Eternity, we’re setting it up so even if players choose the same classes as some companions, the companions are designed to assist those character types and make them more special (ciphers, for example, can chain, and even priests with the same religion can discuss theology and combo attacks).
In addition, we wanted to be careful about personality overlaps as well. I wanted to make sure any companion design didn't overlap with ideas or “concepts" of the other characters (or across projects – so for example, while I’m doing a Glaive for Torment, I’m not doing any fighters for Eternity) ...and that extends to personalities as well. As an example, I told Colin for Torment it might be a good idea if I didn't do a female rogue with a ruthless hidden agenda who can shape-shift according to your personality and have her/it be redundant with the Toy or the Cold, Calculating Jack in Torment.
So knowing the general class-focus, role, and personality for each, as well as ones that would be useful, we try to include in the character briefs and get that info to people as quickly as possible so everyone can get a sense for what direction to take their characters.
As for me, after much begging for the class itself and begging for the specific companion, I asked for the cipher. The cipher is near and dear to my heart, it felt like the first brand new class we were introducing that was tied into the soul mechanics of the Eternity world, and the freedom to explore it is a great opportunity.
Character FreedomBoth the Eternity and Torment leads have been strong advocates about letting designers channel their characters. If you are excited about an idea, they are willing to work with you to help realize that idea and help it fit into the world, without giving barriers to entry. In my opinion, the best GMs do this – rather than give you character sheets, they help you make a character you care about. In essence, companion design is a designer’s chance to design their very own player character that fits in with the world and the theme.
On Eternity, Eric has a strong theme for the story already. While not the original theme, Josh was accommodating and we all recognized that if another theme came to the forefront naturally through the writing process, it’s fine to alter it to make a stronger design. Having this theme clearly identified and supported in the narrative is good, but we’re taking care to make sure the companions can provide direct examples of the theme at work (or present counters or alternate viewpoints to it) - and the more, the better.
The companions cover a good range of culture and religion and factions in the game, which we hope to showcase more of in the future... the machinations of the world and the politics are prominent in the story (along with the magic system), and the characters showcase these elements very well.
Companion IterationThere’s still plenty of work to do – like all design, iteration is key, and we have been doing passes of the characters to make them stronger. While the companions exist as individual entities, we also feel it’s important to do a pass of the companions to show how they relate to each other, which we feel is an important part of making the game Infinity Engine-esque, and it was a big part of the dynamics in Baldur’s Gate and Torment – describing how companions relate, fight, argue, or even act as sounding boards for both your character and each other’s viewpoints is an important part of creating a living world – and your party is very much the living world that follows you around.
The work doesn’t stop there. A pass of the companions asking “why the players should care” is also something we like to make sure we have an answer to for each companion. While the answer of “good fighter” is an answer (and one that’s worked well for a number of companions in the past), we prefer to add more layers showcasing how they’re specifically adding to the player experience.
Companion Nuts and Bolts
There are other finishing touches we like to add.
The companions have unique signature items (very Torment and Baldur’s Gate) in addition to their personalities and strong visual signatures as well. One comment we’ve always tried to include in these visual hooks is that because of the camera angles in the game, we want to make sure these visual hooks are easy for the players to see in the environment as well.
Also we’re doing what we can to get the area designers involved with not just the story, but companions as well. A good chunk of the game is dungeon exploration, and we felt that what the designers had done in NX1: Mask of the Betrayer in making sure that each companion had a significant interaction in a specific area was important for the story – and having areas that revolved around companions as well gave them and the dungeon design more strength. Right now, the companions already have strong internal conflicts (and religious and faction, if not inter-party), now tying those more to NPCs and dungeon explorations is one of our next targets.
With the companion design, we also tried to include narrative samples of analogies to that character that we’ve seen in other media or fiction that we feel help capture the character’s essence. Also, as we’re designing the characters, we include sample lines of dialogue when we can as another layer in the process so audio and other designers can get a sense of how the character sounds (both spoken and text-wise).
That’s all I can share about companions for the moment, and we’re looking forward to elaborating further as the game progresses.
If you have any thoughts or ideas on companion design, specific or general, feel free to post in our forums, we look forward to hearing from you!
ArcanumLast but not least, we have the first of two blocks of Arcanum playthroughs in Shrouded Hills for you... from bank robberies, to mine plundering, to death, to dealing with telepathic bridge bandits. We’re releasing one with this update, and then (cross your fingers) the second will be part of the next update. It’s all recorded, production just wants to put some touches on the audio. Possibly to strip out my voice. And my breathing. And screams.
Also, I may end blogging critiques of the game as well, just to distill the game critique information. It’s a little hard to get the design critiques during the playthrough – if that’s something you’d like to see in addition to the videos, I’ll try and make time for it.
Check out the first video at: http://youtu.be/MNOJ5DRO7uQ.
See you guys in a couple of weeks!
Kickin' it Forward: WARMACHINE: Tactics
Do you like turn-based strategy? Do you like giant steam-powered robots? Then our friends at WhiteMoon Dreams and Privateer Press Interactive have the game for you - WARMACHINE: Tactics. Go support their Kickstarter and help bring the award-winning WARMACHINE miniatures game from the tabletop to your desktop PC or Mac. Click here for more info.
seconds to go
Pledge $5 or moreYou selected
Thank you for your pledge! Everyone at Obsidian loves you! Every backer for this level or more will receive a KICKSTARTER BACKER BADGE on the PROJECT ETERNITY forums. We want to invite you to our forums where you get a place to speculate about the game, offer suggestions, and interact with the development team.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $20 or moreYou selected
25000 backers All gone!
For early backers only! DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPY OF PROJECT ETERNITY. This limited price point is only available for the first backers of PROJECT ETERNITY. All Kickstarter backers will receive a special Kickstarter only in-game achievement and item. (The item will not affect the game's balance). Includes Cooking with Tim – An RPG-themed e-Cookbook, and Making of Project Eternity Documentary (streaming).Estimated delivery:
Pledge $25 or moreYou selected
DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPY OF PROJECT ETERNITY. This price is only available for those who help fund before the game is released! All Kickstarter backers will receive a special Kickstarter only in-game achievement and item. (The item will not affect the game's balance). Includes Cooking with Tim – An RPG-themed e-Cookbook, and Making of Project Eternity Documentary (streaming).Estimated delivery:
Pledge $35 or moreYou selected
Previous reward tier + DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE SOUNDTRACK + DIGITAL COLLECTOR'S BOOK IN PDF FORMAT. The digital book will include concept art, player's handbook, monster manual, exclusive information about the campaign setting and characters, and the Making of Project Eternity Documentary (download option).Estimated delivery:
Pledge $50 or moreYou selected
DIGITAL ONLY TIER - All previous digital rewards + NEW NOVELLA BY CHRIS AVELLONE (PDF) + DIGITAL CAMPAIGN ALMANAC + EXCLUSIVE IN-GAME PET + DIGITAL HIGH RESOLUTION GAME MAP + DIGITAL HIGH RESOLUTION CONCEPT ART PIECES + WALLPAPERS FOR MULTIPLE MONITORS + RINGTONES . You will get a new, original novella written by Chris Avellone and multiple high resolution downloads of concept art and wallpaper (single through triple monitor resolutions). We've also added in a super high resolution PDF of the game map. Our great audio guys are also going to pick out some of the best sound effects and music for you to have a little of Project Eternity on your phone.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $65 or moreYou selected
Previous reward tier + BOX VERSION OF PROJECT ETERNITY. The boxed copy will include a DVD version of the game and a printed manual. This is in addition to the digital version of the game (so 2 copies total!). Please add $15 for international shipping.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $80 or moreYou selected
DIGITAL ONLY TIER - All previous digital rewards + DIGITAL STRATEGY GUIDE PDF + ANOTHER DIGITAL DOWNLOAD OF THE GAME. We are going to be working in conjunction with a great strategy guide company and at this reward level you will get a PDF of the guide. You will also get a second key to enjoy Project Eternity on another computer, platform, or as a gift to a friend.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $100 or moreYou selected
Previous reward tier + a PROJECT ETERNITY T-SHIRT + SPECIAL THANKS IN GAME CREDITS + THANK YOU POSTCARD FROM THE DEVELOPMENT TEAM + VIP FORUM BADGE. We really appreciate your contribution, and by showing our appreciation we will add your name to the game's credits and send you a thank you note in the mail. This tier will also unlock a special VIP badge in the PROJECT ETERNITY forums. Please add $20 for international shipping.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $110 or moreYou selected
COLLECTORS DIGITAL ONLY TIER - All rewards from the previous digital tiers + SPECIAL THANKS IN GAME CREDITS + THANK YOU POSTCARD FROM THE DEVELOPMENT TEAM (sent physically) + VIP FORUM BADGE + EARLY ACCESS BETA KEY + all the other digital rewards of the $140 tier available now and added during the Kickstarter campaign. If you are looking for all the rewards of the Collector's Edition, but you don't need the physical goods, then this is a great reward tier for you.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $140 or moreYou selected
Previous reward tier + we will upgrade your box to a COLLECTOR'S EDITION BOX. You will find a CLOTH MAP OF THE GAME WORLD and the PROJECT ETERNITY CLOTH PATCH inside the box + EARLY BETA ACCESS + PROJECT ETERNITY MOUSE PAD. The collector's edition box will include a cloth map just like the old RPGs that we love. You will also get early access to the game with a BETA KEY. Includes Making of Project Eternity Documentary (DVD/Blu-ray). The game patch is an embroidered high quality non-iron on patch. Game patches are a tradition at Obsidian, and we want to share that tradition with you! Please add $20 for international shipping.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $165 or moreYou selected
FIRST EXPANSION/WASTELAND2 DIGITAL ONLY TIER - All rewards from the previous digital tiers + PROJECT ETERNITY'S FIRST EXPANSION + DRM free digital download copy of WASTELAND 2 + all the other digital rewards of the $250 tier available now and added during the Kickstarter campaign. If you don't need the physical goods, then this is a great reward tier for you.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $250 or moreYou selected
Previous reward tier + you get your COLLECTOR'S EDITION BOX signed by CHRIS AVELLONE, TIM CAIN, JOSH SAWYER, and the rest of the development team + full color printed PROJECT ETERNITY COLLECTOR'S BOOK + an elite version of the PROJECT ETERNITY CLOTH PATCH. The book will be a full color book that includes concept art, player's handbook, monster manual, exclusive information about the campaign setting and characters, and a special behind the scenes look at making the game. Please add $30 for international shipping.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $350 or moreYou selected
30 backers All gone!
Obsidian-AMD Loot Bag (US. ONLY). The Loot Bag contains an AMD Processor donated by our incredible friends over at AMD, a signed Obsidian game (not Project Eternity), and a random assortment of Obsidian loot such as pens, coasters, t-shirts, game patches, doodles, etc. The AMD Processor is an A10, does not have a heat sink attached, and will be shipped OEM style. The Loot Bag includes everything in the $250 tier level too. Since we are shipping computer parts, we can't ship outside the USA with this one.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $500 or moreYou selected
The Complete Kickstarter Obsidian Pack: signed COLLECTOR'S EDITION BOX (cloth map, elite cloth patch, and printed manual included) + your name and a personalized message on a MEMORIAL STONE IN-GAME + full color PROJECT ETERNITY *HARD COVER* COLLECTOR'S BOOK SIGNED by the development team + A GOLD PLEDGE SPECIAL THANKS in the credits + T-SHIRT + DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPY OF PROJECT ETERNITY + DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE SOUNDTRACK + A GOLD PLEDGE VIP FORUM BADGE. Your name will also go on our top pledger plaque in our office, so we can always remember your special contribution.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $750 or moreYou selected
29 backers Limited (1 left of 30)
Chris Avellone draws you a CUSTOM TROLL PORTRAIT. Chris Avellone has graciously volunteered to draw a custom troll portrait for you to help raise additional funding towards our last stretch goal target of $3.5m for Big City #2. Chris will number and sign the portrait, write a humorous message to you, and a print will be physically and digitally sent to you. This is a limited run of 30 at a $750 tier (includes all the goods in the $500 tier), so get in quickly. If you are above the $750 tier and would like a custom troll by Chris Avellone please contact Obsidian and we will work with you.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $1,000 or moreYou selected
114 backers Limited (86 left of 200)
NAME AND DESIGN AN NPC (Non-Player Character). Help us design PROJECT ETERNITY! We will send you a PROJECT ETERNITY NPC character sheet for you to fill out for our design team. We will turn your personalized character design, with your name, class, and race into an NPC in the shipped game (within reason of course). You will also receive The Complete Kickstarter Obsidian Pack ($500 reward tier) + 5 EXTRA DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPIES OF PROJECT ETERNITY to gift your friends and family.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $1,000 or moreYou selected
49 backers Limited (1 left of 50)
HELP DESIGN AN EPIC HIGH LEVEL WEAPON, ARMOR OR ARTIFACT. Help us design PROJECT ETERNITY! Your personalized item will be used by thousands of players and will be one of the best in the game. You can provide the lore, look, and type of the item (within reason), and we will put it in the shipped game. You will also receive The Complete Kickstarter Obsidian Pack ($500 reward tier) + 5 EXTRA DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPIES OF PROJECT ETERNITY to gift your friends and family.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $3,000 or moreYou selected
7 backers Limited (13 left of 20)
BECOME A CUSTOM PORTRAIT IN THE GAME + GET A SIGNED ART PRINT OF YOUR PORTRAIT. Help us design PROJECT ETERNITY! Your personalized portrait will be seen and used thousands of players. With a supplied photograph and some additional input from you, a talented Obsidian artist will make a custom portrait to be used in the shipped game. The artist will sign a print of the portrait that will be sent to you. You will also receive The Complete Kickstarter Obsidian Pack ($500 reward tier) + 5 EXTRA DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPIES OF PROJECT ETERNITY to gift your friends and family.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $5,000 or moreYou selected
3 backers Limited (3 left of 6)
NAME AND HELP DESIGN AN ENEMY ADVENTURING COMPANY. What beats the classic RPG challenge of squaring off against a diverse enemy party with skills, abilities, and equipment to match your own? Nothing, that's what! Now you can design a crew of knuckle-cracking skull-crushers to ambush players at the worst possible moment. Ha, HA! You are the devil himself! We will send you six PROJECT ETERNITY NPC character sheets for you to fill out for our design team. We will turn your personalized party design into a lethal wrecking crew to oppose the player in the shipped game (within reason of course). You will also receive The Complete Kickstarter Obsidian Pack ($500 reward tier) + 15 EXTRA DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPIES OF PROJECT ETERNITY to gift your friends and family. You also get the top tier WATCHER FORUM BADGE.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $5,000 or moreYou selected
5 backers All gone!
NAME AND HELP DESIGN AN INN OR TAVERN. Help us design PROJECT ETERNITY! Your personalized area will be prominently seen in the shipped game. You can name it (within reason), and with your input, the design team at Obsidian will create an inn or tavern in your honor. You will also receive The Complete Kickstarter Obsidian Pack ($500 reward tier) + 10 EXTRA DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPIES OF PROJECT ETERNITY to gift your friends and family + DESIGN AND NAME AN NPC + DESIGN AN EPIC WEAPON. You also get the top tier WATCHER FORUM BADGE.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $10,000 or moreYou selected
The Ultimate Pledge Pack. We really want to thank you for your generous pledge in person. You will receive an INVITE TO THE OBSIDIAN PROJECT ETERNITY DEVELOPER LAUNCH PARTY + AN INVITE TO COME PLAY A GAME AT OBSIDIAN. You and a buddy get to party with the game developers at Obsidian and get a behind the scenes tour of the Obsidian office. You get to have a once in a lifetime opportunity to play a board or pen and paper game of your choice with Chris Avellone, Tim Cain, Josh Sawyer, and Feargus Urquhart! You must be able to pay for travel and accommodations to the Obsidian office in Irvine, California for the party and game day. You will receive everything else: The Complete Kickstarter Obsidian Pack ($500 reward tier) + 10 EXTRA DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPIES OF PROJECT ETERNITY to gift your friends and family + DESIGN AND NAME AN NPC + DESIGN AN EPIC WEAPON + CUSTOM PORTRAIT. You also get the top tier WATCHER FORUM BADGE.Estimated delivery:
- (32 days)