JONAS: What is your favourite sort of thing to write? And what is your least favourite?
CHRIS: Dialogue is the most difficult, and it’s frightening because I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up. Lore and area design is much easier – it’s more abstract.
JONAS: How do you feel about the things you’ve written? Are you generally happy with them or are you never satisfied? When you go back and read your old work, do you cringe or do you beam?
CHRIS: You always see the flaws, but seeing people’s reactions to the characters, either by choices you’ve made on purpose or an inadvertent line or hook you didn’t realize would strike a chord, can help smooth that out. Even if players end up hating a character, you can add it to your list of “don’t”s for the next design.
JONAS: Any particular design ideas or concepts that you’re obsessed with right now? Anything you’re particularly excited about in one of your current projects, or particularly determined to find a way to use in a future project? (I promise I won’t steal it, we probably don’t have the budget for it anyway.)
CHRIS: A few, I suppose. At a high level, this may be shooting myself in the foot, but I’ve become increasingly interested in narratives without words, especially after New Vegas (where prop placement told better stories, imo).
At a specific level, in Eternity, the original premise of the companions I wrote (Durance and the Grieving Mother) was unpeeling the layers and discovering what they were at the core – unpeeling these layers involved slipping stealthily into their unconscious, a dungeon made out of their memories. There, the player could go through an adventure game-like series of interactions, exploring their memories using psychological items important to both your character and to them as emotional keys to thread your way through the memories – but carefully, without revealing your presence. The memory dungeon was to uncover their shared history, how it impacted you, and the core of who they were as people.
And their core was pretty unpleasant. Both of them were very bad, very weak people, committing not only violations on each other, but on the player as well. When faced with the discovery that your allies, even if they fiercely support you and fight for a larger cause, have some pretty horrid faults, what do you do? Do you pass sentence? Do you forgive? Do you assist them to reach an understanding? And what I found more interesting with the spiritual physics in the Eternity world is that a death sentence isn’t a sentence – killing someone actually sets a soul free to move on to the next generation. So if you intend to punish someone in a world like that, either out of revenge or to correct their behavior, how do you do it when execution is not an answer?
The elements above got stripped out of the companions in the end, so I’m happy to share it here (and I may re-examine it in the future). Overall, I thought they raised interesting questions for the player to chew on, and it was interesting to explore those themes, as most game narratives and franchises wouldn’t allow for such examinations – still, Eternity was intended to be a more personal project for Obsidian where we can stretch our narrative legs more, both in structure and themes.
JONAS: Thanks for answering my somewhat rambling questions, Mr. Avellone! Now, just one last thing… could you send my apologies to George Ziets for frying his videocard with our hideously unoptimised game? Because that is apparently a thing that happened, and we all still feel super bad about it.
CHRIS: This has been relayed to Mr. Ziets! He’s a forgiving person, so I wouldn’t worry too much. 😉