Pillars of Eternity by Obsidian Entertainment
Published: December 19. 2014
Obsidian Entertainment embraces legacy with its forthcoming fantasy RPG, Pillars of Eternity
Pillars of Eternity represents one of Kickstarter’s most impressive success stories to date, eventually accumulating some $4 million when it ran in October of 2012. And with good reason: The game is Obsidian Entertainment’s love letter to a genre that has largely faded from the mainstream. It’s a fantasy, party-based RPG that features tactical, real-time combat and a rich, winding narrative, done in a classic style.
The world of Eternity spreads far and wide with open wilderness, two large cities and a 15-level dungeon, all packed with adventures and quests. The character creation process is deep as well, with 11 classes across six races; there are no racial or equipment limitations whatsoever. Players can join up with as many as six companions in their party at one time, human or animal. It is hardcore RPG through and through, conceived and executed for those that love them.
“At Obsidian we've always wanted to make a successor to the Infinity Engine games—Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale, which many of our founders and employees got a chance to work on at Black Isle Studios,” says the game’s senior programmer Adam Brennecke. “We loved making and playing those games, and hardcore RPGs are our bread and butter here.” Because raising funding through traditional methods wasn't working, the team turned to Kickstarter to raise funds; thanks to the more than 78,000 contributors, the game is now deep in production.
The Pillars of Eternity team has been hovering around 25 people since starting full production. (Prior to that, there were roughly 15 developers working on the game.) The decision to use Unity for development was made just before they started their Kickstarter, back in August of 2012. “We chose Unity because it fit well with what we needed,” says Brennecke. “In terms of value, Unity is great out of the box. It's very easy for all departments to be highly productive, makes iteration fast and fun, works with Mac and Linux, and Unity's license cost fits with making a small-budget title. We've found it to be a great fit, and Pillars of Eternity is shaping up to be a great game.”
Pillars of Eternity incorporates beautiful 2D handcrafted backgrounds with 3D characters layered on top, and Brennecke says that getting early prototypes together went quickly. “We had a simple gameplay prototype up in a couple of days that featured a test character walking around in a scene, complete with mouse movement and attack commands,” he says. “Our rendering tech was also quickly in and up and running within a few weeks.” Brennecke points out that Unity’s navmesh and pathfinding tools are getting a good workout, as has Mecanim. “Our animators have been extensively using Mecanim with great results, and the team loves how easy it is to get animations into the game,” he says. “We've taken full advantage of extending Unity's editor with our own custom inspectors and property drawers. This goes a long way to speed up design and art workflows.”
For Obsidian, it’s long been a central focus to work with tools that facilitate the creative process. “Having good tools is always important for a high quality experience,” continues Brennecke. “At Obsidian, we make it a priority that the content team has the great tools, and we have a dedicated tools programmer that can spend time improving pipelines to make sure that everyone is working productively. We know that we don't have the time or budget for every feature, so it's been our team motto to work fast and efficient.”
When asked about what aspects of the game he’s proudest of at this point, Brennecke points to the scale of the production. “I'm really proud on how big of a game we've been able to make,” he says. “This goes back to having good tools—our team is small, but we have been able to make a very large game by today's standards. It's amazing to see how much content we have generated in such little time. There are always road-bumps when creating a game from scratch; thankfully it's been a pretty smooth road so far.”
Well after its successful Kickstarter campaign, Obsidian’s head honcho Feargus Urquhart and his team began discussing the possibility of joining with a publisher for Pillars of Eternity in order to maximize both the game’s quality and its reach. One company came to mind above all others: legendary RPG publisher Paradox Interactive. When the development studio learned the Pardaox was interested in their title, the two companies began to circle one another, and eventually a deal was struck.
To those criticizing Obsidian for partnering with a publisher after going through Kickstarter funding (to ostensibly avoid doing just that), Urquhart has expressed that he wants backers to know that no money was lost in the deal, and that partnering with Paradox will allow the team to focus making the game as good as it can possibly be. Paradox will support Obsidian through the release of Pillars of Eternity, as well as all of the game's subsequent DLC and expansions.
Indeed, all of that extra content stems from the team’s efficiency. “The advantage we would have is we'd be more familiar with the toolset, more familiar with the pipelines," designer Chris Avellone said in an interview with Eurogamer last year. "And the energy and resources that are usually spent on programming the systems and getting the framework all set up, they can be devoted to creating much more player-seen content, more spells, more ways of casting and reacting to the environment.”
Pillars of Eternity ships in 2015 on Linux, Mac OS, and Windows PC
Kickstarter, Kick Harder
“The outpouring of donations was very humbling to everyone on the tea,” Pillars of Eternity lead programmer Adam Brennecke says of the game’s explosive Kickstarter campaign back in October of 2012. “We didn't have high expectations, and were blown away by the response on our first day. He says that the dollar amount was set at a minimum value with which the team could deliver the base game, based on a preliminary staff budget; as the budget grew past their original goal, stretch goals were added to extend the scope. And the rest, of course, is Kickstarter history.
Heads Up, Heads Down
Making use of Unity has helped the Obsidian Entertainment team achieve some of its goofiest pursuits with its upcoming Pillars of Eternity. “One of our favorite things is big head mode, and we've never been able to do in any of our past games,” says lead programmer Adam Brennecke. “Thanks to Unity, a programmer was able to code Big Heads in a few minutes, much to the delight of our project director Josh Sawyer. Big Heads makes any game better.”