Tag Archives: pillars of eternity

Weekly Wyrm: Achievement Complete

game screen

This week I’m working on my fantasy RPG, because last week I finished the final edit of my fourth novel, wrapping up eight months of working almost every minute of every day. My novels are epic length (130k+ words). I’ll start publishing this fall.

So I think I’ve written the same amount as Tolkien at this point. I have five books–a trilogy and two one-offs that expand on the most important characters and settings (Earth, Tartarus, Elysium, and Heaven). These add to my published short stories.

My novels aren’t pure genius, but they aren’t crap either. They’re *so* much better from having been written all at once.

All five novels have had 10-30 full re-writes or revisions over fifteen years. I took two years off work. I tortured, maimed, murdered, and enslaved a respectable number of characters who had perfectly nice lives before I came along.

I invented my own language–Demonic.

Instead of using a profound Tolkien knowledge of linguistics to create Demonic, I channeled the syllables from an Atlantean spirit guide named Neemoo. So don’t make fun of my Demonic language, because Neemoo is just a boy, and you might hurt his feelings.

Do I even read novels anymore? No. I’ve read a thousand works of fiction, but almost none in two decades. I was busy writing for like 10,000 hours.

*Must* You Use The Product To Be Good At Making It?

I was thinking today that I don’t agree with Linda “Brasse” Carlson‘s hiring strategy, as discussed in a previous post here about Trion’s livestream, where Linda and company were talking about getting hired at Trion.

Linda wants to hire people who are passionate about video games, but that seems like only hiring carpenters and plumbers who are passionate about “houses”–i.e. passionate about living in houses, decorating houses, a nice patio for barbecuing, a foyer to die for, raising a family in a house, and enjoying the fruits of houses.

Was Howard Roark (Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead) passionate about office buildings? No. He was passionate about designing and building buildings. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about the stuffed shirts who lived and worked in those buildings. He just wanted to cut the crap and reach for his vision.

Gamers often lambaste devs with the suspicion that they don’t even play their own games. That’s probably true most of the time, but that doesn’t mean they can’t raise the roofbeams like nobody’s business.

There are too many metaphors to even start supporting my point, and Linda Carlson’s point is probably more complicated in terms of human resources. Walter White (Heisenberg) also says no, and video games seem a lot like methamphetamine.

RPG Writing Ruminations

So this week I’m back on my video game project. I’m posting a screenshot here of my interface so far (open in a new tab to see a larger size). The game is playable except for combat, which needs a lot of (boring) thought about strength and intelligence and spells, and worse of all, animation.

Animation is a pain, precious.

I’ve made some important and interesting changes based on my observations of what worked and didn’t work in recent games I’ve played, mainly Pillars of Eternity. I wanted to write down my thoughts in a mini-developer diary.

The first companion characters in Pillars (Calisca and Heodan) are my favorites, and yet Pillars throws them away. This is a mistake. So why are these characters my faves? What qualities do they have, which the later characters don’t show, at least not right away?

Love-at-first-sight Bonding. I’m starting to wonder if the first people you meet in a game world form a special bond in your brain. It’s like being born into a new world, and your mind grasps onto the first friendly face you see. That’s why the first characters are so important.

Of course, the most important character in the story is you, the player.

Calisca and Heodan have strong goals. In the Pillars opening sequences, this means survival against an immediate threat. My Jedi master of writing, Jack Bickham, stresses the importance of the immediacy and realness of the threat. Pillars nails this.

Goals are imperative for NPCs. We can do better than “sure I’ll come along, why not, safety in numbers, I wouldn’t mind–”

Calisca and Heodan have inter-character conflict. Right away Calisca and Heodan are at odds over which path to take. You decide, and there are consequences. The only way this amazing starting survival scenario in the cave could be stronger is if your decision develops your own character a little more.

Conflict is super-important not only to create tension and move the plot forward, but also to develop characters with emotion. So I need to hit these important points with the NPCs. Conflict, goals, and the first characters you meet are highly important. I re-wrote the beginning of my game (again) because of these observations.


Weekly Wyrm: Why More Male Companions?

pillars of eternityI get the concept of why games offer more playable males. More boys play video games.

I was leafing through a Seventeen magazine this morning, and it’s all about cosmetics, more cosmetics, your face, your hair, your eyelashes, your period, or the prom.

I’ve got a cute boy with lip gloss in the centerfold, but there’s no information on the proper handling of Sniper Rifles, submachine guns, or death spells.

I don’t get why most companions are male, though. Why do game developers keep the same male ratio with companions, mercenaries, or whatever?

Here are my quick counts of balls to boobs in recent RPGs. I’m using the internet, so I’m sorry if any numbers are significantly wrong.

*Recent RPG Companion Gender Ratios, Male To Female, DLC Not Included*

DA: Inquisition – 6:3
Dragon Age 2 – 5:4
DA:Origins – 4:3 (no Dog)
Pillars of Eternity – 5:3
Diablo 3 – 2:1
Baldur’s Gate Enhanced – 3:1 (only added companions)
Divinity: Original Sin – 2:2
Wasteland 2 – 9:6

As you can see, males seem favored. I picked these RPGs at random from the top of my head. This isn’t a feminist rant. I’m not demanding change. I’m just trying to understand why this is happening.

According to a poll, most players use the Enchantress in D3. You could argue that reasons for choosing a follower usually have nothing to do with gender, but no amount of anecdotal reporting can be accurate.

Do adventuring groups just seem more heroic with more men in them? I’d like to hear some opinions of some guys. Do you prefer male companions? Are girls annoying, so it’s nice to get away from them in a game?

Why are game developers designing like this?

Are game developers mostly male, so they are writing characters they can most relate to, expressing a part of themselves? This is the best argument I can think of. Is there data that shows players prefer a more capable man at their back?

I can’t find a preference poll for Divinity: Original Sin, the only game on my list with an equal ratio.

Pillars of Eternity : Re-incarnation Rampage

I keep starting Pillars over. So far, I’ve started the game over at least five times.

My first character was a wizard, but I found the wizard underwhelming, and the game hands you a wizard out of the gate anyway. I created a rogue hireling with my wizard to do traps and locks, and I ended up liking my rogue more than my main character.

So I started over with a monk, giving her points in mechanics.

I played a lot with my monk, and ended up making some evil choices. I decided I’d rather stick with the good choices, and I didn’t like how my conversation options were panning out with my character stats.

So I started over with a barbarian, so I could still roll at the front of the party and do some mechanics and tanking.

Once again, I managed to make a few choices that the game seemed to think were evil, but I didn’t interpret them that way. I created a druid hireling to go with the barbarian, and again I liked my hireling more than my main character.

So I started over on a druid with mechanics skill (not exactly thematic).

I made my first druid a wolf for knockdown, but I’m starting over one more time with the cat shifter. I’m just not a wolf fan, even if the wolf has cool perks. (The druid makes a great werewolf by the way, if you’re into the furry thing.)

The fun thing is that I’ve taken different choices with each re-run, mostly based on stats, and Pillars of Eternity has rewarded me with different events and outcomes. I’ve also played in Spanish, although the voice-overs are still English.

The druid is weak at the front of the group, but has good spells. More importantly, the druid’s primary attributes seem like the best so far for conversation choices (strength, intelligence, resolve).

I can be persistent and witty, or go for a strong paw to the face. A starting stat score of 16 seems like the perfect level for hitting those special conversation choices.

So I’m giving two opposable thumbs up for the Pillars of Eternity druid. I hope I’m finally good to go forward and explore new and more dangerous areas. Happy gaming, whatever you’re playing.

More Reading On Pillars:

F*ck Yeah, Pillars of Eternity
Using Custom Portraits In Pillars Of Eternity

Kobold’s Corner: Pillars Of Eternity Impressions: NPC Writing

kobold deekinMMORPG published an article a few days ago: 5 Things MMOs Could Learn from Pillars of Eternity. It was good to see characters and story near the top of this list.

Some reader comments on the article are skeptical, suggesting that single player RPGs and MMOs are different categories, but no. Characters should be the #1 most important thing in anything fiction, and every video game is fiction.

No? When you think of Mortal Kombat, what comes to mind? The gameplay or the characters? What about driving games? GTA is the best-selling driving franchise of all time, edging out Mario Kart. And Mario Kart is called Mario Kart.

MMOs tend to overwhelm players with too many throw-away character names. Pillars of Eternity tries to avoid this trap. Instead of naming every villager, PoE just calls them villagers.

One of the companion NPCs in PoE, written by Chris Avellone, is the Grieving Mother. She doesn’t have a real name, but she has a long and detailed backstory. This seems to be a self-conscious experiment in naming conventions. When you meet Durance, the priest companion, he says to you:

“You probably find names as useless as I do… The names that litter this world like debris are hard enough to wrap around the tongue, and what do they matter? It’s what’s beneath the skin and the names I care about, what burns within.”

The character of Durance was also written by Chris Avellone. Just a coincidence? No.

Currently, standard MMORPG writing gives a new name to every little quest giver and NPC with a role to play in every quest hub, and you forget most of them. While playing Elder Scrolls: Online, I feel the game is a little guilty of this.

I’m currently playing through Pillars of Eternity with both a good and ‘evil’ party. I’m super-impressed, but I’m not ready for a full critique. I’ve noticed that PoE companions are ‘played slowly’ with their backstory. PoE does a great job with mystery and subtext.

So what can be improved?

Emotion. In Pillars, my favorite NPCs easily are the first ones you meet. You bond emotionally with them through hardship, and they have likeable voice actors. Then they die. Why?

The PoE developers have excellent reasons to kill off these characters: establishing a gritty world immersion through realism and starting a heartwrenching quest that strongly supports the main story. I would rather have Calisca alive, and have a likeable companion with motivation and serious things at stake (helping her sister).

A sympathetic emotional aspect is important for the player to bond with the NPC, and if there is one nitpick I’d have for Pillars, it’s that the permanent companion characters – so far – lack emotion, including sympathetic goals in life and a sense of humor.

Like every RPG, Pillars needs a friendly, likeable sidekick in the beginning of the game. Planescape has Morte. Baldur’s Gate has Imoen. Vampire:Bloodlines has Smiling Jack, who is my usual example. Neverwinter has Deekin (I don’t really remember when he shows, but he’s so cute and friendly in his picture.)

Fewer, more important named NPCs. I would advocate more quests given by a smaller number of NPCs who are central to the story. This means more traveling to visit the same NPCs again and again, but modern MMOs have that covered with maps, portals, and horses.

How many times have you done a lot of work for a faction, like vampire Bodhi in Baldur’s Gate, or the Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion? Now, how well do you remember those NPCs compared to every other non-affiliated NPC in the game world. You remember them better.

You have instant sympathy from being on the same team, plus the extra engagement of your own personal trials and judgement, instead of just helping someone else, plus the human desire to rise in the ranks.


This week I’m pushing yet another revision of novel #3, with my eyes set on finishing my fantasy trilogy, which matches The Lord of the Rings in written length.

After 15 years of effort, I have hopes that these highly-polished epics (i.e. 20-30 revisions over the years for each 130k+ word manuscript) will do better than my published short stories. This writing effort involved sacrifices of money, relationships, my previous job, and a big chunk of my adult life.

Weekly Wyrm ~ Kiss This, Blizzard. Pulitzer Prize For PoE.

pillars of eternity dialog imagePillars of Eternity released a week ago and received strong reviews online with a Metascore of 91%, handily slaying Dragon Age: Inquisition, which stands at a respectable 85%.

I just now purchased PoE, and I’m looking forward to playing it tonight. Obsidian released the first patch for PoE, 1.03 on Steam this morning.

The game is built on the Baldur’s Gate isometric Infinity Engine. The writing is supposedly brilliant. A reviewer on Steam said the writing team of Chris Avellone, Josh Sawyer, Feargus Urquhart et. al. should win a Pulitzer Prize.

I watched Cohh stream PoE for a few hours last weekend. I was impressed by PoE, even if the game looks a little too familiar at times.

PoE uses a text/voice combo to convey the story, setting, and characters. Since the arrival of full voice-overs (ESO and SWTOR), I’ve really been a defender of text. I hope game history will show that a combo like PoE is better than full voice-overs.

PoE uses a writing style that includes a lot more action and emotes in the text than ‘normal’, which is very interesting. I personally use a lot of action tags (or beats), in my fiction.

pillars of eternity dialog imageAction conveyed through text may also offer a cheap substitute for facial animations in a game where you can’t see the faces well.

I remember facial animations being a part of marketing for Fallout 2, a game made way back in 1998 by the same developers as PoE, when Avellone and Urquhart were helming Black Isle Studios.

PoE is going on the cheap, replacing the animated faces with text descriptions (and probably an animator with a writer, which doesn’t happen often enough). PoE was kickstarted for 4 million. I wonder how that budget compares to Fallout 2.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

If you like PoE or this genre, don’t forget that Torment: Tides of Numenera is also scheduled to release this year, and it’s also a Chris Avellone (and others) writing production.

Torment is supposed to be “primarily story-driven, giving greater emphasis on interaction with the world and characters, with combat and item accumulation taking a secondary role.”

Tides also has an award-winning erotica writer on its staff, while PoE offers no scripted, evolving character romances. For me, this is a strike against PoE, and this issue literally pulled my paw back from the buy button at one point last weekend.

It’s fantastic to see this classic genre making a comeback. I’m worried that PoE has lots of strategic combat. Wave after wave of enemies were the reason I quit playing Wasteland 2 and Baldur’s Gate Enhanced, and also the reason I didn’t buy Diablo 3 on a 50% off sale last weekend.

Thankfully PoE offers an “easy” mode. So, we’ll see.

Escapist dropped an article this week on eight amazing isometric RPGs. I’ve played them all except Divinity. Torment should be on the list instead of Icewind Dale, in my opinion.

Hearthstone: Blackrock Mountain

So what made me buy PoE today? Hearthstone’s Blackrock Mountain released yesterday.

I logged in ready to play what I’d paid for, but only one wing released. Why would I want to play just 20% of an 8-hour (or whatever) expansion, once per week, for the next month and a half?

I asked in the forums why Blizzard is releasing Blackrock strung out in little weekly pieces like a TV serial, and my legitimate question was insulted and buried in immature negativity.

Blizzard also put a new daily quest in Hearthstone this week – a quest that makes you watch a friend win a game to complete your quest. This quest isn’t a special one-timer.

It’s implemented on purpose to fill up one of your three slots – annoying you, hindering your questing, re-appearing if you reroll it, and most importantly – getting you to invite your friends.

Blizzard is also sweetening their expansion by advertising a “free” card back, while calling the card back a “limited edition” in their advertising. New card backs come out all the time. They have no real value.

I borrowed some ‘friends’ off of the forums, but this whole scene just feels really manipulative suddenly. Hearthstone is Free-To-Play, but I’ve been paying. For some reason I expected more class from Blizzard.

Elder Scrolls: Online

So I’m done with Hearthstone. I’ve just downloaded 14GB of Pillars of Eternity, and I’m also back playing Elder Scrolls Online.

I was happy to see a revamped starting sequence in Elder Scrolls that helps you establish a friend in Lyris and connect with real emotion. It’s working much better. The story is still a little opaque, but hardly more so than Rift, and it’s more personal.

In this week of headline news about Indiana’s new laws allowing religious discrimination against LGBTQ people, I’m also pleased to support Elder Scrolls because Zenimax/Bethesda supports the LGBT community. So happy gaming, whatever you’re playing.

More Reading on Pillars of Eternity:

Overview Video of Pillars of Eternity on MMORPG