One of the earliest success stories on the crowdfunding service Kickstarter was Pillars of Eternity. Obsidian’s role-playing game was sold to the “backers” as a game based on the influential role-playing games of the 90s, such as Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, and the aim was partly to recreate these classics.
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In a panel discussion during the Game Developers Conference – hosted by PC Gamer – the game director behind these two games, Josh Sawyer, talks about how his game design career began with the classic Infinity Engine games.
Josh Sawyer, from a 2014 Pillars of Eternity interview.
Audun Rodem, Gamer.no
– I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games since 1985. When I first entered the industry in 1999, and the first game I worked on was Icewind Dale, I was excited, he says.
Sawyer goes into how this first game mission offered the opportunity to throw in all the game ideas that had arisen during the RPGs of the 80s and 90s. Since then, Sawyer has directed games such as Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol and, most recently, the powerful Pentiment.
READ ALSO: Where did Pillars of Eternity go wrong?
Felt an obligation
One of the topics the panel debate touched on was the extent to which the game developers made choices based on what the role-playing audience wanted, versus what the developers themselves wanted. For Sawyer, this changed from the beginning of his career.
Pillars of Eternity was largely designed to resemble RPGs that were over 10 years old.
In the years after Icewind Dale, and up to Pillars of Eternity, he had gained some new perspectives on game design, and reveals that not all of the design work on the games was completely optimal.
– Honestly, the games I’ve worked on where I’ve made the biggest compromises are Pillars of Eternity 1 and 2. Because, when I went back to that format I thought “Oh, I worked on these two games [Icewind Dale], and then I worked on Neverwinter Nights 2, and now I have a bunch of new ideas about how differently I would do it if I did these on my own.” But both Pillars of Eternity games were crowdfunded, and the crowd said, ‘No, we want Dungeons & Dragons, we want the exact same experience as the Infinity Engine games,'” Sawyer says.
Since the goal of Pillars of Eternity was precisely to be based on the classic role-playing games created in the Infinity Engine, Sawyer felt he had to make sure that the game’s design stayed the most of the time, even in cases where he thought he had better ideas for how things could be resolved.
– I felt some kind of obligation, but I also felt like I made some bad design choices in the end, like I made a worse game to appeal to the desires of an audience that wanted something ultra-nostalgic.
Nevertheless, Sawyer is not unhappy with the result, even if the games did not end up further developing the format to any great extent. He is still proud of the projects.
The panel also included Mike Laidlaw, best known for the Dragon Age games, Whitney “Strix” Beltrán from Hidden Path Entertainment, Lis Moberly from Obsidian and Paweł Sasko from CD Projekt RED.