Deep dive with Pillars of Eternity project lead Josh Sawyer: The full interview

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Do creatures scale to your level in this game or is it set from the beginning?

JS: It’s all pretty much set from the beginning. We may—we haven’t really looked into it a lot but we might do specific encounter scaling on crit-path stuff, but we haven’t so far done anything like that.

So there’s an optimal path—like Fallout: New Vegas, don’t head North right away.

JS: Yeah, to make things clear we are going to have stuff, like, “Hey, this looks like a really horrible cave.” Maybe you don’t go in there, or you’re super cool, you’re a really cool dude, and you go in there and you win and you get a special prize. We’re not going to scale that stuff, and we’re specifically going to put stuff near the crit-path that is potentially enticing and really dangerous with some warning so that you as a player will poke your head in and go, “Maaaaaybe.” We want people to see that stuff and be tempted by it and play the risk-reward game and feel proud if they make their way through it.

Or feel wise for waiting.

Do the rewards for those areas scale to level?

JS: No.

So if you go in early, you’ll get great loot. But if you go in later and slaughter everything, you’ll get a dumb reward you don’t need anyway?

JS: Yeah.

AB: For example, Od Nua—the Endless Paths of Od Nua is a fifteen level dungeon, it’s enormous. What we’re doing with that is as you go down into the dungeon, each dungeon level outpaces how fast you could level by going through it, so you basically have to be really good to get through it all in one run or you have to exit the dungeon, go do some other things, and then come back.

Is there a way to teleport out?

JS: There’s ways.

Pillars of Eternity

It's risky, but braving hidden depths while underleveled can lead to great rewards.

Do places repopulate once you’ve cleared them out?

JS: Generally not. We will use reactive respawning or repopulation sometimes, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

AB: And it’s done for a reason, probably.

You were showing off the options menu at your GDC talk and showing off how you could make the game more interesting to players who wanted their 90s D&D experience. One of the things you were talking about is quest markers and turning off quest markers—

JS: Oh, we don’t have quest markers. No quest markers.

Okay, great. So how does the quest system work?

JS: The way the quest system works—and I know from that slide it’s difficult to parse that stuff out sometimes.

So in the good ol’ days, if you got a quest entry or a journal entry for a quest, it wouldn’t have an explicit quest objective. It would typically have a timestamp, and you’d have to read the text to figure out—not in the sense of a puzzle, but you’d have to read the entry and be like “Oh okay, that’s what that guy wants me to do.”

Project Eternity

By default, we also have explicit quest objectives. You have the journal text that says, “I talked to Captain Stupidface and he said maybe I should look into what’s going on down by the docks. There’s been some murders and blah blah blah.” And the objective says, “Go talk to this guy about the thing,” and it’s a very specific, “Yo, do this.” You can turn that off, so it’s just a timestamp and it’s like the old games where you read the whole thing and figure out, “Oh I guess I should go down there and talk to this guy.”

In that way it makes a person actually look at the entry and think about what they’re reading and it will engross them a bit more. I think people will like that.

Is it going to be Morrowind-style where it says “Go past this house and take a left at the fork”? How are you going to direct people to where they need to go?

JS: People say where you’re supposed to go, generally speaking. We don’t try to be ambiguous about it, but we also don’t give turn-by-turn directions. “This dude, his house is on the west side of Brackenbury.”

Exploration is one of the things we wanted to reinforce for this game, and part of that means look around. Walk around. Figure it out. We don’t want to be vague, but talk to people. Use your eyes and brain.

Is it harder to make a game like that now? Obviously you were backed by people who want that sort of game, but is it a tough sell to people who have grown accustomed to the big “Follow” sign?

JS: I do think it might cause some dismay, but I think it will be initial dismay and I think people will get used to it. I feel like if we write dialogue and journal entries that people are interested in reading, then when they get used to the fact that that’s how the game is played I don’t think people will have a big problem with it.

And I think if a person really couldn’t stand it and always wanted a quest objective, a lot of the stuff we’re doing in this game they wouldn’t like anyway. Like, writing dialogues that branch in a lot of ways and are very reactive—those are probably the same people who are, not to generalize, but the same people who are not going to be interested in those. So it’s okay for them to not like it, but we’re not really making it for people that don’t.

It’s like a suite of things we think our players are going to enjoy.

Pillars of Eternity

Is the game mod-friendly?

JS: It’s not mod-unfriendly...

There are certain elements of it that I think are probably going to be easier to mod than others. Environments are probably going to be pretty tough to author on your own, because even for us they’re complicated, they’re time-consuming to build, they’re very hi-res, they involve a number of special passes and things.

Other things I think are friendlier to modification, but we’ll have to see.

AB: It depends...we’re still investigating how much...since we’re using Unity there’s a lot of things we need to work around for modability, but we want to do everything we can do for the mod community. We’ll be really open, if they have questions. It’s nice because with publishers a lot of times they don’t like us talking about the technology and ways of doing things, but people can ask us on the forums and we can answer them.

So it would be hard to make a new environment but easier, maybe, to do a quest line or...

AB: Or an item pack. Adjust the rules system a little bit.

JS: Some of that stuff we’re externalizing. Weapons, some of the racial modifiers, we’re putting them in separate things so some of that stuff will be easier to modify than others.

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