Let’s be honest, everyone knew that Obsidian Entertainment would be dancing the Kickstarter tango. It was only days after Double Fine took the gaming world by storm that we saw the first, “what if?” tweet from them… and then there was silence. In the intervening period, we’ve seen Wasteland 2, Shadowrun Returns and even the mystifying success of the Ouya. It would have been easy to believe that fatigue had all but killed the momentum. Then there was Project: Eternity.
Like a gunshot, Obsidian’s project emerged with unbelievable speed, blowing past the $1.1 million goal in a scant 27 hours. Now, beyond $2 million and beginning to meet stretch goals, the Project: Eternity campaign continues to chug ahead with over two weeks left before the end. We had the opportunity to chat with Chris Avellone, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Obsidian to learn more about the game and the planning that went on behind the scenes.
RipTen: The Soul system/philosophy seems to underpin everything about what we know of Project Eternity (setting, society, etc). Can you talk a bit about how that will be woven throughout the combat and non-combat experience? In other words, how will souls link the narrative with the interactive aspects?
Chris Avellone: We don’t want to give too much away on the story and narration at this point. That said, the idea of souls persisting from being to being, and being reborn and finding homes in people is a concept that not only gives more strength to the world and connections between individuals, but the purest (unfragmented) souls are able to allow individuals to create tremendous displays of power… and even souls that have fractured and shattered over time are capable of magic as well, although in different respects. This directly fuels our combat and ability system, and it is the source of the player’s and companions’ power, for example.
Also, equally important, it factors into the cultures and theology of the world. The soul doesn’t die, there is proof it persists over time, and that in itself does a great deal to change people’s outlook and behavior… as well as those of factions, nations, and their rulers.
RipTen: In the last update, there was a point made that the printing press is noticeably absent in the world of Project Eternity (along with discussion about deities that intentionally obfuscate the nature of souls). Can you talk a little bit about these two things? Are they linked?
CA: They have significance… if only in the short term meaning that there was no worldwide press release in the papers about the nature of souls in the world of Eternity. (I kid, I kid.) It does say a lot about the rarity and preciousness of texts… and the danger of oral histories in the shaping of things.
RipTen: Project Eternity plays on the things that gamers who grew up with Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment and other Infinity Engine titles love. Obviously, there is a lot of support (hitting your $1.1 million goal in just over a day is proof). What about those games allow them to stand the test of time, and are there elements that will be upgraded/enhanced/tweaked based on contemporary sensibilities/trends?
CA: I suspect people miss having a large party of individuals (and colorful personalities) to control in a tactical encounter. Most D&D bands in the pen and paper days were approximately five or six heroes tackling a dungeon. In addition, the characters and storylines of the IE games were always strong… this, coupled with the great environments and dungeons players could explore (Icewind Dale had some of the best dungeon ideas, and we just had fun creating them for the sake of cool visuals). While making these dungeons weren’t necessarily easy, the fact you could paint dungeons and create beautiful vistas without too much worry about memory management made for some wondrous dungeon ideas.
RipTen: Along those lines, there are a lot of younger gamers that might not have experienced those titles when they were new. Any thoughts on how to get them on board and excited? Is it something that is even being considered?
CA: This is a compliment to the Kickstarter process and our target audience: We have expressly said what this game is and who the game is for. We could try to force it and sell it to players that wouldn’t naturally gravitate toward it, but that’s not our goal, and it was never part of the pitch in my mind to try and force them to care. We just want to make a great IE-style game for the backers who want it. If they like Obsidian games, there’ll be enough in Project: Eternity for Obsidian fans to enjoy, regardless of playstyle.
RipTen: The success of the project came very quickly. Have you had to scramble for stretch goals, or did you have those in your back pocket before launching? Any hints on what might be coming for 2.4MM and beyond? Also, can you talk about what went on behind the scenes before going live?
CA: We didn’t want to jump into it half-assed, and we wanted something that felt like it belonged to everyone at the company (Planescape, for example, didn’t feel that way). Why would we do that franchise when we have Tim Cain, Feargus [Urquhart], Josh [Sawyer], and I and we could create something NEW? So we did a lot of research, gauged the climate and our pitch, and tried to make sure we were taking the right steps and due diligence and not just leaping into the process and rolling the dice.
And as you’ve indicated, our challenge ended up not being the pitch, but keeping up with the fan interest. We didn’t expect it to get funded so fast, we’re grateful, and we’ve been burning the midnight oil and weekends to make sure we’re providing updates, info, and (as you see here) interviews to the press outlets talking about the game.
As for new stretch goals, we have suggestions flying through email, the ether, and our daily scrums about new ideas and content to bring to the table. More to come soon!
RipTen: What arrangements, if any, needed to be made to balance publisher-funded projects (like South Park) with Project: Eternity?
CA: Not a one. They’re two separate projects, with separate staff. We have gotten a lot of requests from the other team to volunteer their off-duty time, mostly because everyone’s pretty excited about the chance to contribute to a world and game of our own.
RipTen: In your opinion, has the Kickstarter landscape (at least with regard to gaming) changed since Double Fine Adventure and Wasteland 2 succeeded? If so, how?
CA: Absolutely. A few things have changed – one, inXile and Double Fine struck while the iron was hot. The energy was high, people were hyped about the process, and there was a sense of urgency that this was a BRAND NEW thing, a revolution, etc. It’s definitely cooled down since then and a number of titles are barely making their donation amounts – I suspect it’s because the public’s enthusiasm for KS has waned, and also, people only have so much money to spend on projects. There’s so many out there it’s hard to stand out now… for quite a while, it felt like inXile and Double Fine were the only big ones, now there’s quite a few projects competing for attention. The fact that we’ve been able to do so well is gratifying, and it’s also validation that people really do want old school RPGs like the IE games again.
RipTen: In your opinion, does the nature of Kickstarter impact the role of critics in the gaming ecology? If so, how?
CA: This might be unprecedented, but I’d love to ask you the same question, since you’re on that side of the fence. My thoughts? I don’t think it’ll change Metacritic, although I do wonder if the press may view Kickstarters differently either from an underdog perspective or if they might get a harsher critique because they won’t be competing at the same hype or features as say a summer blockbuster like Call of Duty. Would they be more forgiving or less? I don’t know.
This interview was conducted via email, and in response to Chris’ inquiry, I took a step back to consider my response. Here’s what I sent him:
I didn’t want to be leading, but I do have an opinion. In the case of Kickstarter, the assumptions are that the campaign covers costs and that there is a lot of love and emotion behind the projects that might take the place of a desire for profits above and beyond. Might not always be true, but seems like the prevailing sentiment.
With that in mind, I think the only critics that matter are the backers. Because if they are happy, they’ll contribute next time. They’ve already “paid for their copy,” and it’s not like they can return it. They’ll give their extra copies to their friends and they might back next time.
I think the games press is hugely important during the campaign and to build hype with important updates. On the review side? I’d be very surprised if we mattered in the same way we do in the publisher model where so much money is risked up front.
Whether I’m right or wrong remains to be seen, and we may never know until a developer comes back to the well with a second project.