Funded! This project was successfully funded on October 16, 2012.

Update #76

Music in Pillars of Eternity

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Public Service Announcement by Darren Monahan, web guy

Before we get started on this week’s update, we wanted to make all of you aware of a very serious website vulnerability called “Heartbleed” that was discovered since our last update. This bug affected a huge number of sites and services across the internet, potentially exposing passwords and other sensitive information to hackers that understood how to exploit it.

Heartbleed warning.

Unfortunately, the Eternity website was running an affected version of this software, and as soon as we became aware of it, we took the appropriate steps to close the vulnerability. While we have no evidence or other reasons to believe any passwords or personal information was stolen, we do recommend you change your password if you have an account, especially if you reuse this same password on other sites.

To change your password, visit your Account Profile, click on the E-mail & Password tab, enter your current password, and your new password twice and click Save Changes. Please leave the e-mail address boxes empty.

Learn more about Heartbleed.

xkcd comic: How the Heartbleed bug works.

Update by Justin Bell, Audio Director

Hello awesome backers. My name is Justin Bell and I’m the Audio Director at Obsidian, and the Audio Lead/Composer for Pillars of Eternity. I know a lot of you have been waiting patiently to hear some news about the game’s music. Thanks for waiting, I’m happy to say this update will focus entirely on music! In it we’ll cover the high level creative guidelines we’re using to write the score. I’ll also provide you with an in depth look into my music writing process. For those of you who are chomping at the bit for more info about the sound design for PoE, don’t worry... We’re going to do another update in the future that focuses on that as well. But for now, let’s talk about music!

Our next update will be a look at the most recent art our talented team has put together for the game.

Justin's workspace.

Justin's every day workspace.

Style

Making Pillars of Eternity feel like a modern day Infinity Engine game is important to us, and music plays a big role in achieving that goal. But what does that actually mean in practice? Well if you were to loosely analyze the music from Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2 and Icewind Dale 1 & 2 for example, you would find a number of stylistic similarities between them. Without getting too technical, their music combines tropes found in European folk and pre-Renaissance modal music, and mashes that together with modern day orchestration techniques and film music aesthetics.

You’re probably thinking... “Where’s the human side of all this? Where’s the emotion? The music for the IE games is so much more than simply a mash-up of musical elements!”

Putting it in such cold and analytical terms doesn’t really give those soundtracks the justice they deserve, does it? Still it’s important for me as the composer to understand things in that way, and here’s why. An incredible teacher of mine used to say, “When in doubt, use a model”. Another incredible teacher would likewise say, “Never proceed without a plan”. What they were both saying is that if you’re going to take a journey, you need to understand the path and know your destination to the best of your ability. Even if the plan needs to change at some point down the path, always think it through first.

Luckily for me both are pretty clear. In that sense the soundtracks for the IE games are both my model and my plan, at least to a point. I’ve made a couple minor structural modifications to the formula, which I’ll describe in greater depth further on. But first I’d like to give you an inside peek into the creative process I use to write music.

The Commute

Here’s some news that’ll undoubtedly shock each and every one of you...

I commute to work. Every. Day.

Exciting right?! Right... Don’t let the mundaneness of that description fool you, as this is actually one of the most important parts of my day. It’s one of the few times that I get to listen to music without interruption, and I use this time to get inspired to write. Things I’ve been putting on lately are the soundtracks for The Elder Scrolls (III, IV, and V), The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, anything by Basil Poledouris, and of course the IE soundtracks, just to name a few.

As I’m driving and listening I stay on the lookout for small moments that inspire me in some way. When I come across something that attracts my attention, like an interesting harmony or nice orchestral combination, I document the track number, time range, and any observations I have using a little handheld recorder. By the time I get to work I usually have roughly 10 small voice memos recorded for myself. When I get in front of my computer at work I pull the tracks I noticed into my audio program, edit out the sections in question, and categorize them with my notes for future use. It’s a way of systematizing inspiration, which I’ll admit may sound counter intuitive to some. When working on a project with deadlines while simultaneously trying to keep things the creative juices flowing, being organized is critical to successfully balancing those two often competing requirements.

Justin's workspace.

The audio booth with noise making props.

Daily Bach

After I’m through categorizing the nuggets of inspiration, I sit in front of my keyboard and sight read a single chorale from J.S. Bach’s beautiful collection of 371 four part chorales. Each day I read a new one in sequence, and I do this for a couple reasons. I’m a musician, sight reading is fun, and this is an excuse to keep my chops up. But more importantly, I do it to get motivated by the master of modern tonal harmony himself. When I’m actually writing music and get stuck at a tricky voice leading spot, the fact that I have Bach in my ear and at my fingertips is often a lifesaver.

Sketches

I like to keep the actual writing process as simple as possible. To do that, I open up my writing program (Nuendo 6 + NEK for those who are interested) and compose with one piano patch and one full string patch only. This is pretty standard practice for some, and I do it too. It allows me to focus on just the melody, rhythm, and harmony alone (i.e. the Music, with a capital “M”) without concerning myself too much with instrumentation or the mix. Both of those things aren’t important now and I know I’ll get to them later. For now it’s all about the music. By keeping the writing process simple, I free up my ability to stay creative.

Here I’ll write whatever comes to mind. Sometimes it’s entire pieces of music, other times it’s a small fragment. I don’t really try to do anything specific or limit myself in any way; I just let the ideas flow as freely as possible. The idea here is to write as much music as possible without concern for the end result. Again, it’s important to keep things loose. At the end of each day I may write up to an hour of sketches, about 90% of which will never see the light of day. It’s the remaining 10% that I’m really after.

I liken this process to panning for gold. The way I look at it is that in order to succeed, you need to know how to fail. It doesn’t matter to me if I’ve deliberately crafted a piece of music through the sheer force of my will and divine creativity or whatever. Happy accidents can and do often yield the best creative results, and allowing them to happen is essential to remaining creative while working under tight deadlines. Now you may be wondering, “Where’s the artistry in that?!? Anyone can do that!” The artistry lies in the ability to recognize a great idea when it comes to you, regardless of where it comes from or how deliberate the process to create it was. Simple as that!

Process of Elimination and Categorization

Once I’ve run out of time sketching things out, it’s time to start identifying the material that actually has potential to be made into a larger piece of music. I do this by color coding each region (i.e. sketch) based on how good I think it is. By default all of my regions are blue because it’s soothing for me to look at. All segments that are halfway decent get turned purple, which means I may or may not have a use for it. Everything that sounds amazing and I’m confident in gets coded red. Once that’s done, I version off my session and delete all the remaining blue regions for them to go to unwanted sketch heaven.

In Eternity we break music into four basic “types”: town, dungeon, wilderness, and combat. Each major area of the game will have its own unique set of these. The next step for me is to assign each sketch to one of those categories.

Sketch in progress.

A sketch in progress.

Musical Quilt

So I have all these little segments of music and cool little snippets, but I don’t exactly have what you’d consider to be a piece of music. Time to change that! The next step involves stitching all of those little fragments, expanding them where necessary, into a full-fledged piece of music. A lot of mixing and matching goes into this and the process takes me about a half day per 3-5 minute piece of music. I focus a lot on form, pacing, and musical trajectory. Once the form has taken a shape I’m happy with, I separate each voice out into individual track lanes so I can begin the process of digital orchestration.

A Word About Templates

Prior to working on Eternity I spent a couple of weeks creating what’s known in the digital composing world as template. A template is essentially a collection of sample based instruments that are preloaded into a massive audio project. In my template I have all of the most common instruments found in the orchestra (i.e. winds, brass, percussion, and strings), as well as some less common ones, all set up and mixed in advance. This is done to help minimize the steps I have to take between the spark of inspiration and manifesting that inspiration into music. All in all I have about 150 unique tracks for all the instruments and articulations that I’ll need to write the music for Eternity, though I’ll rarely use all 150 at one time.

There are a couple of reasons why using a template is important and they all have to do with speed and convenience. When writing, the last thing you want is to get bogged down with technical issues. Doing so will often destroy the spark of inspiration, which can be a fickle thing. By creating a template in advance you separate the technical from the creative which allows you to focus purely on writing the music. Templates are also critical because modern day multi sample libraries eat up a lot of RAM and take a long time to load. Your average sampled instrument can require anywhere from a couple hundred to a few gigs of memory. (Fun fact: My computer at Obsidian has 32 gigs or RAM installed, and my template uses every last gig!) Needless to say, loading all those samples takes up precious time, and it’s a waste to have to do that over and over.

Someone needs an upgrade.

Using all the RAM.

Orchestral Colors

Back to the music writing... Right now the form of the music has been fleshed out, but it’s still just using piano or string orchestra. This is where orchestration comes in. We often refer to the different ranges and combinations of instruments as having a certain “color”, which is really just a fancy way of saying sonic timbre. You can think of orchestration as being similar to taking a pencil sketch and filling it in with color. The way I like describe this stage of the writing process is that here I have the “bones” of the music all assembled like an archeologist assembles dinosaur bones; it just needs to be “skinned”.

At this point I already have a good idea for what the general moment to moment feeling of the music will be, and ideas for orchestration are already beginning to take shape. This is where those references I mentioned earlier on come in handy. What I do is comb through my reference library looking for snippets that will inspire and inform me on how to approach the instrumentation. When I find something suitable I line appropriate reference(s) up against the sketch.

More sketches!

A piece in the middle of development.

Even though the actual harmonic and rhythmic content of music that I’ve written is quite different than the references I have, I can still use them to extract the orchestral colors the original composer used and apply them to what I’m doing. This helps me to produce the most realistic result possible (remember I’m using samples most of the time) and allows me to get through the orchestration process in the fastest way without spending too much time on R&D.

At this stage in the project it’s less important for me to spend a bunch of time trying to come up with the most unique orchestration known to man, than it is for me to get 70% of the way there using a combination that I know will work. I don’t always need to do this for each musical phrase, but it sure comes in handy when I’m stuck. Once the references are all lined up, I start assigning the different layers of music to the instruments that are loaded in my template.

Polish

In its current state, the music sounds really static and pretty bad. Not ready for prime time. Even though I just assigned the music to different instruments, it’s not quite done yet. For example, phrases lack shape, the mix between instruments is unbalanced, and articulations are all wrong. To fix that, I hand sculpt each individual note and phrase to make it sound more convincing, trying my best to make it sound as if a real live musician were performing the piece (which is actually impossible to do, but that’s the subject for another conversation).

This, my friends, is where the music really comes to life. It’s a painstakingly slow and highly detailed process but by the end of it, we’re left with something that actually sounds pretty good! Now I bet you’re wondering how that sounds? Well wonder no more because I’m about to show you!

Drum Roll Please...

The first region I focused on was Dyrford, and I’d like to share the music that I wrote for the town of Dyrford with you. I hope you enjoy it!

Dyrford Village music.

Dyrford Village ambient music.

Modifications to the Formula

While we are following in the footsteps of the Infinity Engine soundtracks in terms of style and implementation, we have decided to tweak that formula a bit. Most of the in-game tracks for the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale games are between 1-2 minutes in length, and in some cases those tracks loop immediately. There are some inherent risks and benefits to looping a short piece of music immediately.

One of the risks is that the music could eventually become annoying to the player if heard too many times in a row. We call this “listener fatigue”, and from a usability perspective, it can negatively affect the way a gamer will feel about a game. It’s a psychological effect; the fact that the music is short and repetitious can make long playthroughs tedious. On the flip side, a benefit to having short loops is that we can write more unique pieces of music, which will by nature increase variety throughout the game. Approaching it this way would allow us to make specific areas feel “special” because they will have unique music.

We’re going to balance those two considerations for Pillars of Eternity. Music will always loop, but it will be longer in areas where the player spends a lot of time (like quest hubs) and shorter in areas where the player doesn’t (like some dungeons).


Update #75

Bringing Creatures to Life: Animation on Pillars of Eternity

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Update by Rose Gomez, Associate Producer

Hello backers! After a successful week at GDC everyone is back in the office energized and inspired. This week we'll be taking a look at what the life of an animator is like on Pillars of Eternity, from what an average day looks like to how an animation goes from concept to being in the game.

In our next update, look forward to an update all about the audio design on Pillars of Eternity, featuring Justin Bell, our Audio Director.

As a reminder, the survey deadline has passed. If you still need to fill out your surveys, we encourage you to do so by going to the backer portal and completing your order. We will attempt to accommodate as many late surveys as we can, but we can't promise that the content will make it in to Pillars of Eternity. Late survey entries may have to go into a future Eternity product instead.

The animators gathering reference for a wild Xaurip attack.

The animators gathering reference for a wild Xaurip attack.

Average Day

Each day, our animators gather together in the lead animator's office to give an update on what they're working on. Any road blocks or challenges that an animator is running into can be brought up and the entire animation team can help to figure out a way around it. Everyone on the team tends to work very closely together. It's very rare for an animator to be working alone for the entire day. Most animators will collaborate and look for critique and feedback as they work so that they can make sure their animations look as good as possible.

Once everyone has been brought up to date with what the team is doing, the animators head back to their offices and begin to work. Many of our animators like to take reference of themselves acting out certain attacks, and it's not unusual to walk by an animators office and see them growling, snarling, and stalking around while they try to work something out. You can usually recognize an animator's office by the mountains of toy swords, shields, staffs, and guns they have lying around for any impromptu reference sessions that may come up. Once they've figured out how they want the animation to feel and look, they can sit down and really start animating.

Animators acting out Xaurip animations.

Animators acting out Xaurip animations.

The amount of time spent animating is smaller than one might think when compared to the time spent in iterations, adjustments, and actually successfully implementing the animations into the engine. When an animator feels like they have something ready for the game, the animations go into the game engine and off to the lead for review.

Challenges

For Pillars of Eternity, there have been a variety of challenges our animators have come across. To begin with, this is the first project at Obsidian to use the Unity engine. It's always a challenge to learn a new engine for a project and to adjust to a new set of tools. While animating is animating regardless of the project, the availability of different tools can really make a difference to an animator's process.

Since Pillars of Eternity is designed from an isometric view, the animators need to stay aware of the locked camera at all times when animating. Characters are also relatively smaller on the screen than they would be in another type of game. This means that animators need to focus on stronger poses and broader movements than they would use on a game with a first person or third person camera. The motions of the animations have to have a strong silhouette from as many angles as possible so that they can be read clearly at a distance.

From Concept to Completion

A lot of work has to go into a creature or NPC before the animating even begins. Using the Druid Cat Form as an example, the pipeline begins with taking a look at the design documents to see what the designers have come up with as to how the creature should look and feel. What kind of attacks should he have? What mood should his walk and run animations portray? Once those things are decided, it moves onto the concept stage. When it comes to creatures, it's usually Polina who will take a crack at fleshing out what they are going to look like. You may remember the Cat Druid Form concept from a few updates ago, shown here again:

Druid Cat Form Concept.

Druid Cat Form Concept.

Once the concept is finished, that's when animation team comes in. The animator will consult with the designer and the concept artist in order to break down what specific animations need to be made for every creature. An animation list gets written up and saved while the creature is sent off to the character team to get modeled and skinned.

The character artist will block out and hook up the model in the engine so that we can take a look and see if any new systems need to be implemented for this creature. Maybe we want him to have a special ability that hasn't been designed yet, like a transformation between one form to another. That's when a programmer would step in to help design a way to make those special systems work.

With the systems in place, the animators can finally begin to animate! Animating for a video game is a bit different than animating for a feature. Each action a character is going to use has to be broken into a separate animation so that the game engine can call on them when different criteria are met. Even simple things like a character's run and walk need to be planned out and separated into small individual animations. A typical full animation set can take up to a month (and for more difficult creatures, sometimes even two months) to implement. During the animation process, animators will work very closely with design to make sure that every creature looks and moves just like they envisioned.

Once all of the animations for the creature are blocked in, the animator can bring them into the engine and start seeing how they fit together in the actual game. There is a lot of back and forth between the animation package and the engine at this point in order to fine tune each animation. If the lead is happy with how an animation looks then the animator is done and can move on to the next creature on the list.

In-engine creature animations.

In-engine creature animations.

GameCrate

We have a bunch of new interviews and articles out on Newegg's new gaming site, GameCrate! GameCrate visited our offices in February for a behind the scenes tour of the studio and got to take a firsthand look at Pillars of Eternity. Take a look at their article, The Factory Level: Obsidian Entertainment to see what they experienced.

Check out what Josh had to say about the game in his interview here then take a look at an interview with Feargus here about the business side of Pillars of Eternity.

If you're in a hurry and want to get down to the quick details, check out their article 10 Pillars of Eternity Details We Picked Up During Our Tour of Obsidian Entertainment.

You can also check out their twitter account, @GameCrate, for updated news and articles about gaming.

Kickin' It Forward

Dwarven Forge Caverns

We love tabletop games at Obsidian, and what better way to bring your campaigns to life than with some awesome modular cavern sets? The guys over at Dwarven Forge are releasing a brand new set of modular cavern tiles crafted from their new unbreakable Dwarvenite material. They've got some really cool stretch goals to add even cooler pieces, including a Lava Cavern Add-On Pack. Check out their Kickstarter campaign here!

ARMing the Masses

Hey, guys. Brandon here.

Here at Obsidian, we know that DRM can be a touchy subject so we got together with our friends at Paradox to think of a better solution, because you know, rights need to be managed. What came out of those discussions is... the Pillars of Eternity A.R.M.

PoE ARM

Pillars of Eternity A.R.M. (Analog Rights Management)

Much like the code wheels of old, players will be greeted with a large, glowing question rune on the title screen. In addition to the question rune, ten smaller runes will also be displayed. Players will then have to use the Pillars of Eternity A.R.M. code wheel to decode the question rune and select the properly revealed rune. It's fast and (somewhat) easy.

Be careful, though, because two incorrect selections in a row and your copy of Pillars of Eternity will become locked down for 72 hours while our customer service department investigates possible fraud.
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April Fools'! As we said from the very beginning, Pillars of Eternity is, and always will be, DRM, and ARM, free.

That's it for now. Head over to our forums and let us know what you think of the update.


Update #74

The Mob Rulers: Wizards and Druids and our Partnership with Paradox

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Update by Josh Sawyer, Project Director

Josh discusses wizards and druids.

Welcome to our second class pair update. This week, by popular vote on our forums, we will be looking at the folks who rain down death (figuratively and literally) on the masses: the mob rulers, wizards and druids.

Before we begin, I would like to remind our backers to complete their orders on our website if you have not already done so. Many of our backers have filled out their surveys and we've been able to work on implementing their content. Not long ago, Kaz generated these portraits for some of our generous backers.

Some cool backer portraits.

Backer Portraits

We've also finished some of the inns that were designed by backers. Hector Espinoza just finished this render of the Celestial Sapling, an inn that is built into an enormous tree.

Backer inn in Twin Elms.

The Celestial Sapling

As always, the earlier we get your specifications for the content you've backed, the easier it is for us to integrate into the game. For those of you who backed content, remember that the deadline is March 31st, only two short weeks away! In our next update we'll be showing off some of the cool animations from Pillars of Eternity.

Partnership

A few minutes ago, Obsidian made an important announcement about a new partnership with Paradox Interactive for Pillars of Eternity. We wanted to give some information to our backers to give you a full understanding of what this partnership means and to let you know that nothing has or will change when it comes to the making of Eternity. Pillars of Eternity is still our product, we're making 100% of the development decisions, and we will still be communicating directly with you every chance we get.

So, you are probably asking, why are we doing this? Obsidian is really good at making games. Everyone here is focused on that goal every day and we are heavily invested in our work. That said, Obsidian's focus is in creating games and not in marketing and distributing them. It takes a lot of time and effort to do those things properly - time and effort we want to use to make Eternity the best game it can be. We chose to partner with Paradox because they can help us with those things and really believe in PC games in particular. This lets us spend 100% of our time (and your money) towards making Eternity great. Every dollar you have given us will to go into making the game.

We have setup a FAQ on our forums that will go over any questions you may have about what this partnership means for Pillars of Eternity. Please take a look and let us know if you have any other questions. And now, on to the magic of the mob rulers!

Mob Rulers

While neither wizards nor druids are restricted to offensive spells that target groups or areas, they excel in that arena. Whether it's dishing out elemental damage or inflicting status effects on enemies, both classes have a wide variety of spells to whittle down the hordes. Rangers and rogues are the kings of single-target takedowns, but the mob rulers exist to soften up, slow down, hinder, or otherwise mess up groups of enemies. Both classes focus heavily on spellcasters, but they have slightly different mechanics to how they work. Together with priests, wizards and druids are the "traditional" spellcasting classes that can cast a certain number of spells of each level per rest. As they gain levels in their classes, they can access more powerful spells. Over time, their weakest per-rest spells become per-encounter spells. At very high levels, the weakest spells eventually become at-will abilities, capable of being cast indefinitely.

Wizards

A typical grimoire used to hold wizard spells.

Typical Wizard Grimoire

Wizards are researchers and experimenters. Like animancers, their understanding of the spirit world and soul energy is technical and scientific. For this reasons, wizards have a skill focus in both Lore and Mechanics. Also like animancers, wizards rely on special tools to achieve their effects. Specifically, wizards use grimoires, arcane books made with rare materials that can absorb and temporarily hold fragments of ambient soul energy. Unlike priests and druids, wizards do not personally shape the magic that is released. Instead, their grimoires' spell pages do most of the work. The wizard's specialty is in understanding how to help the magic flow in and out of the grimoire without going haywire. As wizards continue to research, more spells are created every year. Some spells remain in the private collections of individual wizards while others see widespread distribution and can be found in grimoires all over the known world.

In game terms, all wizards start with a single grimoire. Even as big as they are, grimoires can only hold a set number of spells from each level. Wizards have the potential to access many more spells than priests or druids, but that potential is restricted by what a grimoire can hold. As a result, experienced wizards carry multiple grimoires with subsets of spells to handle different situations. Grimoires can be switched during combat, but there is an opportunity cost to doing so -- the new grimoire needs to attune itself to the wizard for several seconds before its spells can be used. Outside of combat, wizards can outfit their grimoires with any spells that they have learned. If they come across a spell in an enemy's grimoire, they can choose to learn that spell for the cost (in copper pieces) required to research it.

As a result of their varied studies, wizards have access to both "meat and potatoes" spells and more eccentric effects. They excel at area attacks, but also have a healthy number of spells for personal defense and more than a few oddballs in the mix. Occasionally, wizards become known for a particular spell or family of spells that they've invented and their names are inexorably linked with their contributions to magical research. Here are some of the many spells wizards can learn in Pillars of Eternity:

  • Fan of Flames - Creates a short-range cone of fire that does Burn damage to everyone caught inside. (Reflexes)
  • Jolting Touch - Inflicts heavy electrical damage to the target then jumps to the two nearest enemies. (Deflection)
  • Minoletta's Minor Missiles - Launches three missiles of magical energy that inflict Crush damage on a single target. (Deflection)
  • Thrust of Tattered Veils - Generates a precise thrust of Crushing force that does little damage but has a high Interrupt. This fast-casting spell is often used to disrupt enemy actions. (Deflection)
  • Wizard's Double - Creates a single duplicate image of the caster that grants a high Deflection bonus against a single attack.
  • Concelhaut's Corrosive Siphon - Inflicts a Corrode effect and restores Stamina to the caster over time. (Fortitude)
  • Ray of Fire - Creates a lingering stream of flames between the caster and target, doing damage to the target and everyone caught in between. (Reflexes)
  • Fireball - Classic, reliable, deadly. That's fireball. (Reflexes)
  • Kalakoth's Minor Blights - Creates a random "blight" in the caster's hand that does Burn, Freeze, Corrode, or Shock damage to the target and anyone caught in the area. After the wizard throws one minor blight, it will continue to spawn additional random minor blights until the spell's duration runs out. (Deflection/Reflexes)
  • Minoletta's Bounding Missiles - As Minoletta's Minor Missiles, but each missile bounces to one additional target, does more damage, and has shorter overall range. (Deflection)
  • Ryngrim's Repulsive Visage - Targets near caster are Sickened and Terrified by the wizard's horrifying appearance. (Will)
  • Dimensional Shift - The caster and one ally are able to immediately switch locations, leaving a shockwave between them. Anyone caught in-between may be briefly Stunned. (Fortitude)
  • Essential Phantom - Summons a ghostly double of the caster that fights with its bare hands, doing Shock damage. Other than the appearance of the caster, it shares no other properties.
  • Minor Arcane Reflection - The caster erects a field of arcane energy around himself or herself, similar to the Arcane Veil. However, Minor Arcane Reflection has the ability to reflect an incoming hostile targeted (only) spell, sending it back to the original caster. The Reflection can try to reflect spells up to 3rd level -- and up to 10 total levels of spells -- before it expires. A failed attempt at reflection counts toward the limit. When an incoming spell targets the caster, the Reflection attacks the enemy's Will. If it succeeds in the attack, the spell is reflected. If two casters both have Arcane Reflections up, the attack can potentially bounce back and forth repeatedly until one caster fails his or her attack -- or exhausts his or her Reflection.
  • Citzal's Spirit Lance - Creates a pike out of magical energy that does Pierce damage and causes a foe-only Blast explosion like wands do. (Deflection/Reflexes)
  • Malignant Cloud - Creates a cloud of virulent poison that does raw damage (ignoring DT) to anyone in the cloud over time. (Fortitude)
  • Arkemyr's Capricious Hex - Targets are randomly subjected to one of several afflictions, each with an equal chance of appearing, although at different durations: Dazed, Sickened, or Paralyzed. (Will)
  • Ninagauth's Freezing Pillar - Slams a huge gleaming shard of ice into the ground, doing Freeze damage to anyone in the immediate area. A circle of frost spreads from the pillar, creating a Freeze hazard that also inflicts the Hobbled affliction on anyone it touches. (Reflexes)

In addition to their per-rest spells, all wizards have two basic abilities that serve them well: Blast and Arcane Veil. Blast allows wands, scepters, and wands wielded by wizards to do a small amount of foe-only damage in a small radius around their target. Arcane Veil is an instantaneous ability that dramatically raises the wizard's Deflection for a few moments. Its one weakness is firearms; the Arcane Veil is not able to react to the speed of a bullet before it passes through.

Druids

Another cool backer portrait.

Druid Backer Portrait

Druids are animists, drawing power through the webs they believe connect all living souls in the world. When not casting spells and transforming into mythical beasts, druids spend a great deal of time in nature, giving them skill foci in Athletics and Survival. Much like priests, druids draw ambient fragments of soul energy toward them and shape their effects through practiced concentration. While druids do not have the diverse spell repertoire of wizards, they have more than enough to handle most problems that come their way. Druids' spells often take the form of natural phenomena -- storms, coiling plants, rapid decay -- to reflect their primal connection to the world. Despite their heavily-offensive nature, they do have a few defensive and healing spells to aid their allies.

One of the druid's forms, the stag.

Druid Stag Form

  • Nature's Mark - Enemies are outlined in pale green light, decreasing their Deflection and Reflexes. (Will)
  • Talons' Reach - Caster creates an oversized projection of beastly talons striking everyone in the area for Slash damage. (Deflection)
  • Tanglefoot - Lingering, sprawling patch of magical vines and other plants Hobbles anyone caught in the hazard. (Reflexes)
  • Winter Wind - Characters in the area are pushed back and take Freeze damage. (Fortitude)
  • Firebrand - Caster wields a massive sword-shaped blade of fire that does Burn damage on a hit. Switching to another weapon ends the spell.
  • Insect Swarm - Targets take Pierce damage over time and have reduced Concentration. (Fortitude)
  • Beetle's Shell - An allied target is encased in a shell that prevents him or her from taking actions (including moving) but will absorb a fixed amount of damage before shattering.
  • Twin Stones - Two boulders fly out from the druid, causing Crush damage as they go. If the boulders strike a solid surface the boulder explodes, doing Pierce damage to anyone in the area. (Deflection/Reflexes)
  • Moonwell - Creates stationary radius in which allies recover Stamina and gain a bonus to all defenses.
  • Overwhelming Wave - Creates a rolling wave of water that smashes everything in its path, causing Crush damage and a Stun. (Fortitude)
  • Firebug - A ball of fire rapidly bounces from enemy to enemy causing Burn damage. It hits up to 8 targets total. (Deflection)
  • Nature's Terror - The druid gains a terrifying electrical aura that causes Shock damage and the Terrified affliction to anyone nearby. (Reflexes / Will)
  • Wall of Thorns - Creates a wall of thorns, which does Pierce damage to anyone in it or who attempts to cross it. (Reflexes)
  • Garden of Life - Plants spring up from downed enemies, generating healing auras around them.
  • Rot Skulls - Summons necrotic skulls into the caster's hands. The skulls can be thrown at targets for Crush damage and a Corrode explosion. (Deflection / Reflexes)

In addition to their spells, druids have two base abilities that assist them in dealing with single targets. At character creation, players select a damage type for their Wildstrike passive ability. Wildstrike adds a small secondary amount of damage to all damage-dealing attacks that the druid makes.

Druids also all choose a spiritshift form at character creation. This form represents a type of animal spirit with which the druid has developed an intimate level of understanding (wolf, great cat, bear, stag, and boar). A few times a day, they can use this understanding to transform their bodies into a hybridized form between their natural shape and the shape of the creature they are emulating. In these forms, they cannot use any of their normal equipment but can attack with powerful natural weapons. Each form also has a special passive ability that applies while the druid is in that form. Over the course of the game, druids can acquire additional spiritshift forms to give them more options.

There are many more wizard and druid spells where these came from. They all add up to give both classes a wide variety of abilities to play with. Please let us know what you think of the flavor and mechanics of these classes in the discussion thread!


Update #73

Narrative Design: A Day in the Life, Companion Goals, and the Undead

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Update by Eric Fenstermaker, Lead Narrative Designer

Undead abound in Heritage Hill.

Undead abound in Heritage Hill.

Hey everybody. I'm Eric Fenstermaker and I'm the lead narrative designer on Pillars of Eternity. Before this I held the same position on South Park: The Stick of Truth, so if the dialogue in Eternity ends up being a long string of obscenities and fart jokes, you know who to blame. You can direct all hate mail to my work email account, brandon.adler@obsidian.net.

I know we suggested last week that I was going to give you a lore update, but I thought, this is a crowdfunded project. Why not completely fail to deliver on what was promised and instead give our backers something no one asked for?

I have three things for you today - the first is a look at what my daily experience is like, then I'm going to talk a bit about some high-level goals we have for writing our companion characters, and finally I might just have some lore about Eternity's undead.

On the next episode of Pillars of Eternity: Josh Sawyer writes a class update about wizards and druids, and Adam meets a wacky goblin neighbor only he can see!

But what to talk about first? Being a narcissist, the answer is obvious.

What It Is Like to Be Me

Today has been busy and varied. I thought it might be interesting to take you through a typical day as a narrative lead person. I will tell it in second person so it feels like virtual reality. Most of this is somewhat based on real events - at least as much as American Hustle.

10:05 AM

You arrive at work. Take serpentine route to your desk to avoid being seen by anyone who would frown upon your five minutes' tardiness. End up accidentally passing all of them in the hallway anyway. Pass subordinate in hallway too. Shake your head at him to note disapproval of his tardiness.

10:10 AM - 10:25 AM

Watch internet video of intro to Japanese wrestling match featuring life-sized animatronic raptor. Dream of making it big as a game designer and having a raptor of your own. Someday...

10:25 AM

Deny your subordinate's purchase request for an ergonomic keyboard to help with her carpal tunnel. That is what stem cells are for. Back to work, slave.

10:30 AM- 11:30 AM

Brainstorming meeting: What kind of monsters can we reasonably use in an urban docks district along the shoreline that somehow have not worked the surrounding populace into a panic? Proposals: invisible giant crabs, giants with poor height genes from both parents, low-key mummies.

11:30 AM

Reminded for seventh time about backer update, which you knew about but have been deliberately putting off. Chastise producer for not reminding you enough.

11:50 AM - 12:00 AM

Called in to review cutscene animatic. Despite the storyboard being delivered exactly as asked for, you berate the storyboard artist to consolidate power. This is garbage, GARBAGE!

12:00 PM

Lunch alone at office desk, like every day.

So alone.

12:10 PM - 1:00 PM

Spend the rest of lunch on Facebook and Twitter making it look like you have the perfect life and everybody loves you.

1:00 PM - ??

Intermittent raptor daydreams.

1:30 PM - 2:30 PM

Work with narrative designer on the design for a new companion centered exclusively on maximizing companion's potential to be spun off into a line of toys. Huge adorable eyes, soft plush fur, impressive physique, ability to transform into racecar, check, check, check and check.

2:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Passing off subordinates' ideas as your own. Crushing their spirit.

4:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Brainstorm barbarian clan names.

  • The Large and in Charge Clan
  • Clan Pizzaface
  • The One-Man Clan
  • The Passive-Aggressors
  • The Doughmen

5:00 PM -7:00 PM

Annoy backers.

In Summary

I may have taken a few liberties, but some of that is really a snapshot as to what my role is.

Day-to-day, I spend a fair amount of time coordinating the efforts of narrative designers with level designers, so for example I really did have a meeting this morning to figure out how on Earth we could have a quest with some monster combat in a populated, more-or-less oblivious urban district without the monsters there feeling absurdly out of place. The game needs to be fun, first and foremost, with or without a story. It's ultimately my responsibility to make sure that the fun things our designers come up with have a cohesive narrative wrapped around them. Sometimes it's an easy fit, sometimes it's a puzzle to be solved. Fortunately I am backed up by some very talented designers whose ideas I can steal liberally - that part was all true, too.

It's also on me to try and make sure the story is being told properly in-game, so there was in fact a meeting with a storyboard artist to look through one of our game's introductory cutscenes. Our concept artists' stick figures look better than the most realistic human portrait I could ever draw.

And I have to curate lore, though that's a responsibility I share with Josh Sawyer, our project lead. In general I prefer this to be a decentralized process where designers come up with things that make their quests and areas and subplots cool, and then we find ways together to work them into the overall scheme. But there was also a good amount of up-front central planning, dating back to before I was on the project. In this case, today I did have a long conversation with a couple of our level guys about the names and personalities of a set of barbarian-ish tribes.

Skeletons...

Skeletons...

What's missing from the above is that on some days, when I am fortunate, I get to do some writing for the project, which is really fun. If you are a narrative lead you get to claim all the choicest dialogues for yourself. It's a great privilege, which is one reason why so many narrative leads are murdered by the narrative designer who is next-in-line.

So Alone

Companions may be my favorite things about RPGs. Long after you've finished the game, looking back, if they're done well, they feel like old friends. Lately we have been ramping up our companion writing. (We really did have a discussion about one of those designs today, and did some iteration on it.) As such, I've been giving a lot of thought of late as to what our goals should be in creating the companions for Pillars of Eternity, and I thought they'd be worth sharing with the people we're designing them for. These are a few of the benchmarks I want us to try to hit:

Interactively Dynamic

It's common in most types of fiction for major characters (or the protagonist at the very least) to follow an arc, in which their character begins a certain way and ends up being changed by the events of the story, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But for a video game, that's not really taking advantage of the medium. This is a story about the player's character, told by the player's actions. It stands to reason that the ways in which a companion would change should be dependent on what the player does.

So we have an arc for each of our companions, but each arc has multiple potential endpoints, in just the same way that the plot has multiple endings. Which endpoint the arc ends up at will be, in one way or another, determined by what the player does - whether it's something they say or an action they take or some other choice they make. This was an approach we last took in Fallout: New Vegas and I thought it was something to definitely keep.

Unique, Varied, Relatable Ambassadors

Chris Avellone touched on this in a previous update, and it remains a core goal for us. Pillars of Eternity takes place in a brand new setting. Most players won't know their boreal dwarf chanters from their hearth orlan ciphers. Getting to know companions that run the gamut of races, classes, and cultures will help the setting come alive and hopefully become a place players will find themselves wanting to stay awhile. Each companion, in a sense, becomes an ambassador for his or her race, culture, and class.

And we only have so many companions. So they can't all be snarky elves (or can they?) - they need different characterizations, different voices, different struggles. As a designer, you never know what's going to strike a nerve with a given player. Rarely for our games is there a universal favorite companion - almost always there seems to be an even distribution for how many players like each character. In some ways that's maddening, because how do you adjust for that, but it's also one of the best things about writing companions - as long as you write a character that is authentic in its humanity, somewhere, somebody is going to identify with it, and that will be the character they enjoyed spending time with the most. By varying widely the particulars of each companion's persona and struggles, the hope is that while not everybody will necessarily love every companion, most will find at least one that means something to them.

Lanterns to the Themes

"Why should the player care?" is a question we try to ask ourselves for all aspects of the narrative. When it comes to plot, the question is answered by its themes - they make the plot about something more than a physical struggle.

But again, our narrative is interactive. The themes shouldn't be predetermined morals. There should be many facets to them, and it should fall to the player, not the designer, to decide what his or her perspective winds up being on the theme. To take a well-worn example, if the theme is about the struggle of good vs. evil (don't worry, it's not), the ending shouldn't simply assert that good always triumphs over evil. It should ask the player what he or she believes, given everything they've learned on their journey. Maybe they even surprise themselves with their choice.

That's where companions come in. If we're designing them well, their struggles should tie into the themes on some level. And the resolution they come to, which, because of the interactive dynamism discussed above, is influenced by the player, gives them a distinct perspective on the theme. The goal is that in the process of helping the companions resolve their conflicts, we give the player something to think about for what that might mean in the context of his or her own character, and in the long run, that gives the themes personal meaning when it comes time to resolve them for the player character.

I'd be interested to hear, what do all of you think? Not so much specific characterizations, but more, what are the abstract qualities that make you enjoy and remember a companion? (e.g. They made you laugh, they seemed like a real person, their quest was engrossing, etc.)

Here, Have Some Lore

Compensation for being subjected to the rest of this update.

All my best ideas are stolen. This one I ripped off from our lead level designer, Bobby Null. It is about the undead.

Male and female darguls.

Male and female darguls.

One of the strengths of the Eternity setting, in my opinion, is its ability to put a new spin on the familiar. Let's be honest, you've seen undead before in a video game or two. I bet you've had a virtual conflict with a skeleton or perhaps even a zombie. But no matter how many times we see them, they're fantasy RPG staples - it'd be weird not to have them, and many people would really miss them were they omitted.

So we did some thinking as to how we could have undead but have them be our own special brand of undead that makes sense in this world.

This is How Undead Work

Let's say you are a wealthy noble who would like to cheat death. There are a variety of options at your disposal, but this offer from a shady animancer sounds the most painless. All he is going to do is bind your soul to your body, so that way when you die, your soul stays put and you still retain all your motor control.

Sign me up, you say. Suck on this, death! The animancer sets up some bizarre tools and machines, has you hold onto some copper wires, and before you know it the whole thing is over. He leaves and takes his fee. A few years later you die in a horrific skiing accident. Not to worry! Your soul isn't going anywhere. You are living large, my friend. But here's the thing. Your soul isn't going anywhere, but your body is. It starts to decompose. Slowly at first. A maggot here, a maggot there. And you are starting to get weird cravings, kind of like a pregnant woman, but instead of peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches, you could really go for some human flesh.

So you eat some guys. And lo and behold, the decomposition stops! You're cured! Except that after a while, you start to rot again. Over time, you find that eating folks and absorbing the essence from their flesh is the only way to stop decomposition. But after a while you run out of neighbor kids and it gets harder and harder to track down a meal. Flesh is dropping off in chunks. And it feels like your IQ has fallen a few points, like that time you used to live next to that industrial solvent factory. In time, your mind goes as well as your body. You become feral, then near-vegetative, then purely mechanical - your body nothing more than a fleshless marionette.

Revenant bestiary concepts.

Revenant bestiary concepts.

What you have just done is experienced the full continuum of undeath. Corporeal undead in this world all suffer from the same malady, and are merely in different stages of decomposition. How do you get this condition? It's usually something that you would get by commissioning an unscrupulous animancer to help you live forever, or by volunteering for a "harmless clinical trial." These ladies and gentlemen have been studying a certain banned piece of literature known as the Theorems of Padgram and are trying to develop a true path to immortality. But there are supposedly other ways - certain alchemical tinctures, ancient architecturally-embedded machinery, self-pleasure (according to some disapproving Dyrwoodan moms), etc.

  • You start as a fampyr. (And these names are not different-for-the-sake-of-different - they're just following location-appropriate linguistic rules.) By appearances, you're basically a normal person who is going through a bit of a cannibal phase.
  • Allow yourself to decompose for a while, and you start to lose control of your urges, and your memory begins to slip away. Your self-consciousness is flimsy. You are now what's called a dargul.
  • Much more decomposition, and you become bestial. Your hair is gone (if it wasn't already), the flesh sags on your bones, and you live only to feed your hunger. You are a gul, but you don't give it much thought at this point. You just think you are hungry.
  • Then your mind gets really pretty thoroughly rotted, like what happens if you play a lot of FPSes, and you're only running at the basest level of instinct. You have no memory. You, my friend, are a revenant, and you are not very fun at parties.
  • After the last bit of flesh falls away, and the last mildly complicated neural synaptic path fires for the final time, you're running on pure reflex. You're not even hungry anymore (no stomach!). Your body is a murderous automaton. You are a skeleton, and your next step is dust.

Lastly

It's a fun time for the project. Amazing new level art and some of what I think are our best quests yet are being added every day, and I'm very excited for what's ahead. I personally want to express my appreciation for the thing all of you made happen by backing us, and I want to do everything I can to make sure you guys are suitably rewarded for your efforts.

Thanks for reading and don't forget to fill out your backer surveys. Those of you who have surveys will find them on your account page on the backer portal under the Surveys tab. You have until March 31st before they become as worthless as that Myspace page I had in college with all the animated gifs on it, so get those suckers in. Huge thanks to those who've filled theirs out - the team is already putting that content into the game and it's coming out pretty slick.

Last Lastly... reddit /r/Games AMA

Hey, everyone. This is Brandon. One last note, the Eternity team will be taking part in a reddit AMA in /r/Games. This is scheduled for today at 5:30 PM PST, so be on the lookout.


Update #72

Death Godlike and Expected Ship Date

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115 likes

Update by Rose Gomez, Jr. Producer

Hello everyone! My name is Rose Gomez - I'm the newest Producer on Pillars of Eternity. I'll be handling a lot of the Kickstarter related duties for the game from here on out. I've been working at Obsidian Entertainment for a little over three years now. My previous titles include South Park: The Stick of Truth and the Fallout: New Vegas DLCs. I'm thrilled to be able to work on Pillars of Eternity and can't wait to interact more with all of you in the coming months.

For this update, we've got some awesome new character, area, and concept art that we're excited to show. However, before we get to the art, we wanted to officially update everyone that we are looking good to release Eternity by Winter 2014. So, look forward to getting your hands on Pillars of Eternity later this year.

Our next update will be all about Pillars of Eternity lore by Eric Fenstermaker.

Stretch Goals

After much discussion and consideration of the poll on our forums we have decided not to pursue any additional stretch goals. Rest assured that the team is working hard on completing the game and including our current stretch goals.

Surveys

Our designers are working hard to implement the designs that our higher tiered backers have come up with. If you have a survey that needs to be filled out, please do so by March 31st. It's important that you get your surveys completed by the deadline because we are closing in on Alpha quickly. The team needs ample time to get your content into the game. We can't guarantee your in-game contribution will make it into the game if you are late. This includes inn/tavern designs, adventurer party designs, portraits, NPCs, and items/weapons, so make sure you get your idea in before the deadline! You can fill out your surveys on our Backer Portal after you've finished managing your pledge. They can be found on your account page under the Surveys tab.

Worried that your design won't fit into Pillars of Eternity lore? Not sure if you want that innkeeper to be an Orlan or an Aumaua? Take a peek at the Pillars of Eternity Wiki to get some inspiration or clarification on the world.

Characters

With all that news out of the way, let's get to the art. To kick things off this week, we'd like to show you all some of the awesome new Godlike variants Dimitri has finished up - the Death Godlike. As we've mentioned before in previous updates, the Godlike are people that were "blessed" before birth by one or more of the deities of the world. Godlike manifest their divine heritage in a variety of ways, and in the case of the Death Godlike that heritage can be seen through their wicked looking horns and the misting darkness that shrouds their visage.

Death Godlike.

Death Godlike.

Another type, the Earth Godlike, can be seen below in some new portrait variants that Polina whipped up. These are just a few of the combinations that will be available to use for your character during the game.

Earth Godlike portrait variants.

Earth Godlike portrait variants.

Areas

The environment artists are flying through their various scenes and churning out awesome looking pieces week by week. Below you can see a cool new interior from a Blacksmith's shop by Holly Prado.

Blacksmith interior.

Blacksmith interior.

Up next we have a really awesome piece by April Giron from an area called Ondra's Gift. This area is still a work in progress but we thought you all would enjoy taking a look at what we've got so far.

Ondra's Gift interior.

Ondra's Gift interior.

Both of these areas have a lot of cool detail in them so make sure you view them at full resolution.

Creatures

In Pillars of Eternity, Druid characters will be able to shift into a few different spirit forms. Druids start with specific spirit forms and can find additional spirit forms in the world. One of these forms is the Cat, shown here in a concept drawing by Polina.

Druid Cat Form concept.

Druid Cat Form concept.

Below you can see what the Cat form looks like when modeled and textured, rendered out of our engine.

Druid Cat form in engine.

Druid Cat form in engine.

That's all for this week. Don't forget! If you need to fill out a survey for any Pillars of Eternity pledges please do so on our Backer Portal by the March 31st deadline. In the meantime, keep managing those pledges and commenting on our forums.


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    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.

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  • Pledge $3,000 or more
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    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.

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  • Pledge $5,000 or more
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    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.

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  • Pledge $5,000 or more
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    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.

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  • Pledge $10,000 or more
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    5 backers

    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.

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Funding period

- (32 days)