In-depth interview: Pillars of Eternity's Josh Sawyer talks character creation, cloaks, and ten-foot poles

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Post-creation

After that, we go straight into the same demo I saw at E3, although we take a different path—we even solve a floor puzzle at one point. I pepper Sawyer with random questions.

On dialogue

How does dialogue work? How do I tell who in my party is speaking?

JS: Your main guy is always speaking unless a companion specifically has an interjection. And that's because we want to emphasize the choices that you specifically made for how you built your character. You don't have any control over how the companions are built, so it seems weird to play off that. "Yay, I got this character. Oh, she has a high Intellect! I didn't pick it, but lucky me I guess."

Also, you're supposed to be the...It's not like Icewind Dale. You are the central character of the story, so things respond to you and you're the speaker for the party. And then every once in a while companions will jump in and say stuff.

Something we've added since the last time you saw this: Any dialogue options that your character doesn't qualify for, you can optionally have it say "Hey buddy, if you had a higher Lore, there would be an option here." It gives you insight into "Oh, cool, I could build my character different ways and get all these other responses." If you're super pro, you can turn it off. You can just hide all that stuff, hide all the feedback. Some of the players like the "purist" experience where they just read the lines, they don't want to know there are secrets there.

Pillars of Eternity

We're going to try and intimidate this player with might. We're going to be all buff and tough and this guy's like "Eh, fuck you." One thing we found ourselves falling into in a lot of our recent games, especially Fallout: New Vegas, it's that if we give a character a dialogue unlock from a high ability score or something, that's the right response. That's the thing you pick.

That's kind of not fun because it makes you feel like "Oh, well this is the way I should do this." So we unlock things based on your stats now, but that doesn't mean it's going to work out well. So in that case you have a high might, you can be like "I'm going to intimidate this guy," and he'll go "Nope, I'm a crazy fanatic" and try to murder you. The unlock doesn't always mean you're going to get the upper hand.

On inventory

JS: You can manage everyone's inventory from the same screen. Normally in combat you can't access your inventory but you can access your weapon sets.

Right now it's unpaused while you're in the menu, but I think we're probably going to have it paused in the menu.

Inventory is just slots. This is actually more slots than characters will typically have. Characters will usually start off with eight. You also have the stash. The stash, you can look at and put things into when you're not resting, but you can only get things out when you're resting or at a store. The way we handle a lot of this stuff is...the idea is your characters have a limited number of slots to carry things, but we don't want people to...it's not fun to...

Make this person carry all the arrows

JS: ...Rearrange weapons. Take a trip out of the dungeon and come back in. Whatever. When you're at a tabletop playing D&D with someone you can say, "Hey DM, uh, we make two trips to carry out all the gold," and he can go "Uh, cool, nothing happens." Whereas in this game or the Infinity Engine games you'd have to walk in, pick everything up again. So that's what the stash is for. The stash, you put it in a bag but you can't take anything out until you rest.

Pillars of Eternity

On fighting

JS: While characters are moving, their recovery bars don't move. Movement is free, you can move whenever you want to, but if you attack someone and then start moving away your attack is not recharging. It stops until you stop moving and then it respawns. If you try to kite someone, it's probably not going to work out in your favor.

Dual-wielding gives you faster attacks.

How does health work?

JS: You saw the red fill, right? There's this green bar over here. There's two resources—one that's short term and one that's long term. The short-term is called Stamina right now but it will be called Endurance. That goes down, that's your per-fight health. Your Health goes down about a quarter as fast as your Endurance goes down. That's your long term.

So if you get into a fight and a guy's like "Hey buddy" BOOM and hits you in the face and you drop over, you're unconscious and you're out of the fight. Someone might revive you, but if you don't get up by the end of the fight you get up and you get all your Endurance back but you've lost a quarter of your Health. When you get down to zero Health, depending on the difficulty you're on you either die immediately or you're "maimed" and when your main character is maimed you drop, you get up, and when they get up they have very bad defenses, very bad accuracy, and they have one Health. If they get hit again at all they die. So that's your "Okay, you got your guy in harm's way and you were a bit careless, but now they're really screwed up."

Pillars of Eternity

The reason we use that system is because in the Infinity Engines, zero hit points and you're dead. It was extremely unforgiving. No one could go down ever, and it was kind of annoying. In Neverwinter 2 it was the other end. Everyone could get knocked down except one guy, and there were no long-term consequences because you'd all get up and heal everything.

With the mixed Endurance/Health system, there are consequences for getting fucked up in a fight, but they're not brutal.

Long-term injuries last until you rest. Resting is a tightly controlled resource in the game. If your character gets injured, which usually happens in a scripted interaction or a conversation, it can have long term consequences but it's fun to play around with. Characters get concussions and other injuries like that with minor side effects.

On skills

JS: You can see, when I highlight abilties, they have "Uses 2/3 per rest," "2 per Encounter." Some of those are per-rest resources, so when those get used you don't get them back until you rest. You want to massage and manage your characters. "Okay, I want to use per-encounters in the fight. Maaaaybe a per-rest depending on how long I want to go." You also pay attention to the Health and how that's creeping down. How far can I go before I need to rest? Okay, let me use my Camping Supplies and gain that stuff back.

So it gives fighters and other characters a system similar to wizards?

JS: Exactly.

Pillars of Eternity

On ten-foot poles

JS: Early on we talked about what are the traditional D&D items, like the ten-foot pole, ropes, what are the things you use a lot in adventuring but don't get a lot of use in games? Those are the things we tend to use a lot in scripted encounters.

I think the torches are eventually going to be a consumable item.

On cloaks

JS: People were very concerned about us having cloaks. We're just glad they're dynamic, because we've had to hand-animate them in every other game.

On pets

JS: We have them.

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