Pillars of Eternity: Josh Sawyer talks mods, PC-first focus, Big Head mode, and more

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On experience parity

JS: We went back and forth on this a number of times and there were lots of people crying about it, so we had to be careful about how we did it. Initially we only gave quest XP. You got experience from doing quests, you didn't get it from killing monsters.

A lot of people were really mad about that. But we also didn't want to make that situation where "I did the stealth route. I got less XP than everyone else." Or "I did the stealth route and now I'm going to go back and kill all the things I passed the first time around."

So what we do is: We have a bestiary, and it unlocks more as you kill more monsters. You get XP as you unlock it, but when you're done with an entry you don't get any more XP for it. So as you go through the game you do get combat XP, but you stop getting XP for a given creature way before the point where you've exterminated all of them in the world.

Pillars of Eternity

It does make you feel like you get rewards for it, but it's not encouraging you to slaughter the entire population of the world. Hopefully that does give a nice balance so if you choose to circumvent a group of monsters that's okay because you'll still get that XP somewhere later in the game.

There is not a complete pacifist route through the game. We do try to have lots of options for either talking your way through or sneaking your way through. But it's not like Fallout. Tactical combat is a core part of the game, like we said from the beginning. Making it so there's a big emphasis on not fighting seemed contrary to the roots we're trying to emulate.

It can be a great reward for the type of character you're trying to build though, so we do try to have some of that. And a pretty large amount of it, actually.

On enchanting

JS: We can enchant any piece of armor. You can enchant unique items you find. You can enchant regular clothing. A lot of people want to be able to continue upgrading their items throughout the game, so our enchantment system actually allows you to keep going.

Pillars of Eternity

You can add attribute bonuses, proofing (which is a defense against a certain type of damage). All of this is designed so unique items stay unique, but if you want to just extend their basic power, they can keep up. If you find your favorite sword, or "This armor has such a cool history and appearance but it's terrible now," you can use the crafting system to keep upgrading it.

Each mod has a certain cost to it and you can only have so many on any piece.

On difficulty

JS: Different difficulty levels, what we do is actually change the composition of fights. Instead of just scaling stats, which is kind of boring, we say "Now when you come in here the creatures are moved around and there are different creatures present." That's true of the whole game.

On adventuring

JS: This is another scripted interaction where you can take grappling hooks and ropes and a lot of other traditional adventuring items...

[Ten foot pole?]

JS: Everyone keeps asking! Early on there was a ten-foot pole. After a while we were like "Hey designers, where are you using all the adventuring items?" And we went through it and we were like "Nobody's using the ten-foot pole."

[Because nobody ever uses the ten-foot pole! That's the whole joke!]

JS: So we cut the ten-foot pole. Because it wasn't being used.

[Can players mod back in the ten-foot pole?]

JS: I'm sure they will.

On mods

JS: We don't have a lot of [mod] tools. We've tried to be very open with how our files are structured and how our file formats work. People have already been making mods in our backer forums and stuff like that, especially UI mods because holy ^$&^&#% everyone has a different opinion on how the UI should look. So people have done a lot of really cool mod work already. As much as we can support mods, we want to, but it is Unity so some aspects of it are black-boxed.

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[Last time I talked to you, you said probably no new maps because it's really hard. Is that still true?]

JS: It is really hard. Maybe they'll be able to find a way to do it, but right now it's still a very difficult process even for us. I shouldn't say it's difficult for us, but it's a very time-consuming, multi-step process to get stuff in.

[How hard would it be for people to take the maps you've made, rip all the characters out, and put new stuff in?]

JS: Much easier. People inserting their own content will probably be a lot easier than someone creating something from scratch. Easy is relative, but I think they could do that. People have already messed with our conversation files and stuff like that. A lot of our conversations are just in XML format, so they're easy to open up and [imitates typing].

On expansions and sequels

JS: They're going to be extensions of the main game. We are making an automated save for you, it's actually called the Point of No Return Save. So if you complete the whole game and you're like "Oh %#&^, the expansion came out," great. Load that save, you can go straight into it, it's fine. It's something connected to the main game but its own separate storyline, and you take your normal characters into it. We're in the very early stages of planning it.

Pillars of Eternity

We have to see exactly how it integrates in terms of location and how it shows up on the map, or whether it's its own separate world map. But we have a ton of locations. Baldur's Gate was about 100-110. Baldur's Gate II was 200-and-something? Ours is 150. Pretty big. It's a long game, even if you play just the crit path. If you play all the stuff it's a very long game.

[Are you looking at save imports for a sequel too?]

JS: We'd very much like that. People like the idea of taking their characters on a long, epic journey. Even going back to the classic RPGs, it was nice to bring your character in and keep going with it.

Contrary to what someone interpreted what our CEO said, we're not working on a sequel at all yet. We're not even really talking about it except to say "That'd be cool. Hope people like this game." But we do think about, if we were to make a sequel we do want the player to be able to bring their character from this game, come over into the next game, and of course reflect the choices they made in the previous game.

On pandering to the PC

JS: Because it is PC-focused, we can say Mouse and Keyboard. Yes. You play the game this way. Someone asked about consoles last time, I said "$&$^&# no." You're not going to do that. This is a very—it's not actually an RTS but it is RTS-like.

Pillars of Eternity

If you actually go back to Baldur's Gate, that was based on something called Battleground Infinity that was an RTS. Then they said "Eh, it's a D&D game" and it worked out pretty well. Being able to make it a PC-focused game means we can stick to a mouse and keyboard set-up and focus on that sort of combat that's more RTS-like and more true to a PC experience.

On Beamdog and Baldur's Gate

JS: That's cool! I thought the Enhanced Editions were really nice updates for the old games. It was really cool they came to tablets. As one of the main designers on Icewind Dale, seeing the BG2 kits in there destroy all the balance kind of made me a little sad. The BG2 kits are really powerful and Icewind Dale was kind of balanced around one thing.

But it was still really cool to see it with all the tech upgrades. Trent Oster obviously has a long background with the Baldur's Gate series, so it's cool they'll make more.

On tabletop Pillars of Eternity

JS: We have talked about it. The way I always look at that is...every once in a while I go into a gaming store and I see like, " Diablo 2: The Role-Playing Game" and I'm like "Did people buy this? I guess someone did."

As people who work in the computer game space, making a game like this, we can bring something. These games weren't being made for a very long time, so we could bring something back that was missing.

But making Pillars of Eternity into a tabletop game, it's like "Hey dude, D&D exists. Pathfinder exists." I don't personally know what—we're ripping off tons of D&D and Pathfinder things to make this—what would we really bring to the tabletop environment that would make people go "I've got to have that game."

I'm cool with us doing lore books and novellas and all that. A standalone tabletop game? I think the tabletop designers that are out there making their own systems or working within existing companies are doing a great job. I wouldn't rule it out, but would people really play this? You could play in the Pillars of Eternity world and just play D&D or play Pathfinder and it would probably be fine.

And lastly, on Big Head Mode (yes, it's in the game)

JS: It's always been a dream of mine to work on a game with big head mode.

That's it! Pillars of Eternity releases March 26 for PC/Mac/Linux. Be sure to check out our previous two deep-dives with Sawyer if you're craving even more information. You can find those here and here.

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