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Eternal Arcanum
February 15, 2013 7:40 PM   Subscribe

Chris Avellone, a writer and designer who worked on Fallout 2, Fallout New Vegas, Planescape Torment and Neverwinter Nights, plays and comments on the steampunk RPG Arcanum to celebrate raising almost 4 million dollars toward his upcoming RPG, Project Eternity
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (41 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Another Fallout and Planescape veteran, JESawyer has a pretty informative formspring account if you're into the trivia behind RPG design
posted by The Whelk at 8:46 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think one of the funding goals should have been "A fully playable release." Maybe if it hit 10 million dollars or something.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 9:44 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Raised by elves MY ASS"
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:46 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


for whatever reason, chris avellone has always seemed like kind of a jerk to me
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:09 PM on February 15, 2013


I never realized that Chris Avellone is an elf-racist.
posted by Grimgrin at 11:26 PM on February 15, 2013


Fallout 2, Fallout New Vegas, Planescape Torment and Neverwinter Nights

You forgot Alpha Protocol.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 11:34 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Reading JESawyer's question and answer thing is sort of depressing. Half the questions are people asking upon which real firearm various firearms in FNV are based. Who gives a shit? What difference does it make? There are so many wonderful and interesting things about FNV and its DLC and you want to know what the model is for the Hunting Rifle?
posted by Justinian at 11:49 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think one of the funding goals should have been "A fully playable release." Maybe if it hit 10 million dollars or something.

Wow, that seems unnecessarily mean.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:22 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


So wait, was there actually an incentive that said, in effect: "If we raise $4 million, I will make a video of myself playing a 12 year old RPG with some clumsy narration"?

I play plenty of video games but I have never been the type to be interested in the stories of the people behind the games, for whatever reason. Is this guy some kind of superstar in the industry such that people are honestly eager to watch and listen to him wander through an old game?
posted by ShutterBun at 4:17 AM on February 16, 2013


He's enough of a superstar that people gave him four million dollars to make a new game based on some concept art and his reputation, so yes.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:19 AM on February 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Less sarcastically, there is a lot of love for Fallout 2, New Vegas, and Planescape: Torment, even if he is also famous for releasing games that are… a little buggy.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:22 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I usually dismiss story in games as as necessary as story in porn. Avellone's games are an exception. Planescape Torment had real writing and 80 hours into New Vegas and its DLCs I'm still not sick of the characters or the choices they force me to make. It's more about getting to play one of the few isometric RPGs he wasn't involved in.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:02 AM on February 16, 2013


Wow, that seems unnecessarily mean.

It's consistent with the conventional wisdom regarding Obsidian releases. The term "flawed masterpieces" gets thrown around a lot.
posted by lumensimus at 5:06 AM on February 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


So wait, was there actually an incentive that said, in effect: "If we raise $4 million, I will make a video of myself playing a 12 year old RPG with some clumsy narration"?

The aim of Project Eternity was to make an RPG in the style of old Black Isle games. Devs who had worked on Black Isle, like Chris Avellone and Tim Cain, kept on releasing RPGs with their own studios since. Arcanum is one of the most fondly remembered games of Tim Cain, who is now working for Project Eternity, and since Project Eternity was raising $60-200K per day and had achieved a ton of goals, when the backers learned that Avellone hadn't played Arcanum, it was added as a jokey incentive. Keep in mind that the money raised was still used for other goals, as at this point they were introducing new incentives every couple of days because the money wouldn't stop flowing.

/inside baseball
posted by ersatz at 5:06 AM on February 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


New Vegas was buggy, but so were Fallout 3 and Skyrim.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:09 AM on February 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Playing Fallout 2 right now, and it is pretty buggy (even comparing it FO1).

Been following this game, which I also hope does well: Underrail (yt)
posted by rosswald at 5:18 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fallout 2 was hilariously broken. My favorite bug involves the car you can get. Sometimes, when you drive the car someplace, half the car comes with your and half of it doesn't, and then the car is broken forever. It takes a lot of work to get the car, and its almost always for nought.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:24 AM on February 16, 2013


Thanks for the explanation, Ersatz. I can see how it would make sense from a "fan of the developer's" point of view.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:40 AM on February 16, 2013


No problem. Avellone is also considered pretty likeable because apart from having worked on some great games, he's not businesslike about them e.g. he had released a 'Fallout bible' organising all available material about the timeline and other aspects of the games.

Re Fallout 2, the final build is pretty good (unless you are a massive hoarder and get the item-hoarding bug near San Francisco) and the fan patch removes most bugs iirc. My favourite story was that when your car gets stolen during a quest in Reno, many players thought they had run across a car bug and would simply reload.

Anyway, these games are always ambitious but the devs aren't allowed enough time to catch each and every bug, so they usually become what they ought to be years later.
posted by ersatz at 5:47 AM on February 16, 2013


Arcanum...man, there was a tragic game. Steampunk before "steampunk" was huge, it should have been amazing. Instead it was just a disaster. One of the first NPCs you get can heal you, but casting spells fatigues the character. He would often heal you repeatedly for minor injuries until he fell unconscious. You could choose technology or magic, but it didn't really matter because with either one your offensive power get crazy out of control in no time. You had dozens of spells to choose from but one of the first ones you get will pretty much lay waste to anything and there's no need to ever try any other ones out. It was literally as though no one had actually played the game before it was released.
posted by Legomancer at 6:07 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, who on earth got the idea to include a sound effect for the weapon swinging, but not one for when it actually hits the target?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 6:34 AM on February 16, 2013


Less sarcastically, there is a lot of love for Fallout 2, New Vegas, and Planescape: Torment, even if he is also famous for releasing games that areā€¦ a little buggy.

I will play Fallout 2 until the day I die. There is always a save file that I've been using within at least the last 2 months. My love for that game knows no bounds.

Also a big New Vegas fan, and though I never had time to play them (probably because I was busy replaying Fallout 1 and 2, despite Fallout 1's absolutely horrible party barter system) I have seen only good things on Neverwinter Nights.

Basically I'm saying I'll support whatever project this guy does, bugs and all.

Weirdly I don't think I ever had the terrible troubles with Fallout 2 people are talking about here, even back when I was playing the original game without the fan patch. Hm.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:01 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was steeling myself not to care, but this has a linux release, so I can play it, and will definitely check it out when the game is released. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:16 AM on February 16, 2013


It's consistent with the conventional wisdom regarding Obsidian releases.

I don't recall NWN2 being very broken. A little glitchy, but hardly unplayable. Not releasing the toolset for mac was....toolish, though.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:19 AM on February 16, 2013


The flawed-but-brilliant RPG is so frustrating. Add Knights of the Old Republic 2 to Avellone's flawed record. Cain's guilty as well: Temple of Elemental Evil, Vampire: The Masquerade. Between these two game developers we have a long string of beloved story-rich RPGs, all of which were very difficult to complete at release because of all the crippling bugs. My impression is they were forced to release before they were ready; that's certainly the case with KotOR 2. But another way to look at it is the projects were overambitious and mismanaged and couldn't be completed with available resources. I also wonder if there's something special about branching story RPGs with tactical combat that makes them particularly difficult to test.

Project Eternity must be terrifying for them; for once they have no excuses. There's no strict deadline, no publisher meddling in the game, they got nearly 4x the funding they said they needed to make the game. It's the chance to finally make the amazing game they've always wanted. Although $4M is one fifth the budget a game like this would typically have. We'll see what happens by September 2014.
posted by Nelson at 9:00 AM on February 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


A better budget comparison might be other isometric RPGs rather than fully-voiced 3D RPGs. My cursory search turned up a wikipedia entry claiming Fallout 2 was made for about 3 million in 1998. In 2013 money that would be $4.23 million.

If we assume that Obsidian isn't funding the entire project off of Kickstarter donations, their budget could be pretty reasonable.

Or that could be rose-coloured glasses. I really want this to be good.
posted by squinty at 9:39 AM on February 16, 2013



The flawed-but-brilliant RPG is so frustrating. Add Knights of the Old Republic 2 to Avellone's flawed record. Cain's guilty as well: Temple of Elemental Evil, Vampire: The Masquerade. Between these two game developers we have a long string of beloved story-rich RPGs, all of which were very difficult to complete at release because of all the crippling bugs. My impression is they were forced to release before they were ready; that's certainly the case with KotOR 2. But another way to look at it is the projects were overambitious and mismanaged and couldn't be completed with available resources. I also wonder if there's something special about branching story RPGs with tactical combat that makes them particularly difficult to test.


I did Quality Assurance on one of the big famous massive RPGs. Most people have no idea how difficult it is to find, report, and fix all of the bugs in a game with the scope and complexity that players expect from an RPG. Add in the programming adage about introducing two new bugs for every one fixed, and life gets extra interesting.

Some of the big names in RPGs have been trying to dial back the scope of their games because the development costs and timelines spiral madly out of control. RPGs eat time and money like crazy, and still come out broken. You are always forced to release before you're entirely ready, and there will always be some bugs that go unfixed.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:34 AM on February 16, 2013 [2 favorites]



A better budget comparison might be other isometric RPGs rather than fully-voiced 3D RPGs. My cursory search turned up a wikipedia entry claiming Fallout 2 was made for about 3 million in 1998. In 2013 money that would be $4.23 million.

If we assume that Obsidian isn't funding the entire project off of Kickstarter donations, their budget could be pretty reasonable.

Or that could be rose-coloured glasses. I really want this to be good.
posted by squinty at 9:39 AM on February 16 [+] [!]


Professional voice acting is cripplingly expensive.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:35 AM on February 16, 2013


Man, Arcanum was awesome. As buggy as it was.
posted by New England Cultist at 11:16 AM on February 16, 2013


I will play Fallout 2 until the day I die. There is always a save file that I've been using within at least the last 2 months. My love for that game knows no bounds.

Have your people call my people (at the retirement home).

As for the bugs, the popular image of these games gets tainted by the first impression they make before patches. The last patch doesn't deal with one major bug: if you hoard items in reloadable maps e.g. a player's 'home', by the time you reach San Francisco there are too many items in the game and there are some memory hijinks. The skills button turns black and if you keep playing, sometimes you can't save. If you go to a random encounter map and offload some of your items, the bug is taken care of, but you might lose a save game if you are unlucky and don't deal with it. Iirc you might still come across a car bug, but I don't use that gasguzzler anyway.

P.S. The barter issue in Fallout is that you can't freely move items between party members, but the game allows you to steal with impunity from them.

posted by ersatz at 12:52 PM on February 16, 2013


Half the questions are people asking upon which real firearm various firearms in FNV are based. Who gives a shit?

Yeah, it's kinda weird. I mean we now have all this computing power to simulate subs, fighters, bombers, you name it, and everyone's just obsessed with ground tactical sims and realistic firearms. There's a whole world of weaponry out there, people!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:54 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Half the questions are people asking upon which real firearm various firearms in FNV are based. Who gives a shit?

What real life gun plays a Western theme song when you upholster it?

And forget blaming games for violence - New Vegas is to blame for me liking Eddy Arnold.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:34 PM on February 16, 2013


Obsidian has, in my mind, always had the unenviable role of being the canary for Bioware's coal mine. That is to say that Obsidian (who is either a partner of or a developer that branched off from Bioware) always seems to attempt something giant, groundbreaking, and progressive in the genre. They, of course, attempt this with ample pressure from a publisher to speed the release of the game and a less than ample budget. These ambitions usually end up realized via Bioware's budgets and time.

KOTOR 2 attempted to bridge a narrative across multiple games. I have little doubt that Bioware studied this attempt when furnishing Mass Effect's grand plan.

Alpha Protocol is really interesting to look at when considering Mass Effect. Gameplay-wise I actually really enjoy a lot of Alpha Protocol. The problem is that the Stance System it used along with a lack of downtime in its central HUBS (the safe-houses that function like ME's Normandy) unintentionally strips the player of the ability to do any kind of enjoyable RPing. That is to say that the main character isn't that customizable and without the time/budget to create points of small talk the player doesn't have a chance to create a believable backstory for their protagonist in the same way that they did in ME.

In other words, Alpha Protocol had a really awesome setting and some pretty good (if buggy) gameplay but you won't ever hear people talking about "My Michael Thorton." Many people who played ME will gladly tell you about "My Commander Shepherd."

Giving players the ability to find themselves and express themselves within the boundary and structure of the game is key to RPGs. Bioware, I think, has to thank Obsidian for being a bit of a lab for their own successes.

I wish the Obsidian gang the best of luck on this project.
posted by sendai sleep master at 4:59 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I did Quality Assurance on one of the big famous massive RPGs. Most people have no idea how difficult it is to find, report, and fix all of the bugs in a game with the scope and complexity that players expect from an RPG. Add in the programming adage about introducing two new bugs for every one fixed, and life gets extra interesting.

posted by Stagger Lee



I'm trying to write a Stagger Lee parody, but I only got as far as "I'm the bad bug tester known as Stagger Lee' and "He clipped right through the floor".

Probably for the best.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:56 PM on February 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Professional voice acting is cripplingly expensive.

Which is why going to fully voiced games was the worst thing that ever happened to the RPG genre.
posted by Justinian at 7:27 PM on February 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Gameological Society thinks its the worst thing to happen to Mario too.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:45 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


That LP has some issues, no HD and he needs a better mic. It will have to do though, All the pro LPers are doing some kind of Bloodbowl league and that shit is tedious.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:03 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Voice acting also limits the responsiveness of the dialog. If you need to record everything an NPC says, that NPC can only say a finite number of things. If all you need to do is tweak some text around, an NPC can say a bunch of different things in a bunch of different situations. Their reactions can change based on the character's appearance, or history, or attitude, or whatever.
posted by wheloc at 12:29 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Torment 2 kickstarter is live and will hit its 900k goal in approximately 6 hours. If anyone is still reading this.
posted by Justinian at 11:53 AM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Too busy pledging.
posted by ersatz at 1:04 PM on March 7, 2013


Yeah, I missed the $95 level and had to get in at $110.
posted by Justinian at 3:13 PM on March 8, 2013


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