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Vince D. Weller interview (part 1)
Posted By Pavlos - 05/06/08

Discuss it here...

Mr. Vince D. Weller of indie developer Iron Tower Studio was kind enough to answer my pleas for an audience which resulted in this obscenely over-sized interview about their current work in progress Age of Decadence and game design in general. The whole thing is around three thousand words long. So this is part one of three. Parts two and three will be released on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.

So, obviously, major kudos goes to Mr. Weller for this.

Enjoy!

* * * *

I suppose the most obvious question would be: Why? Why do this when you could be smelling roses, or playing tennis, or drinking tea or something?

This question has been asked before twice, in the Rock, Paper, Shotgun & Down The Well interviews. I don't think a lot of people care about why some guy is making some game, so I'd suggest asking questions that can either lead to interesting discussions or provide interesting answers."

Then perhaps you can explain why you've decided to go the indie route rather than seeking employment with a game developer. This thing is obviously a labour of love, would it not be better to be paid to do what you love?

It would be, of course. Unfortunately, I like games that nobody wants to make anymore, so "do it yourself" seems to be the only option at the moment. It's quite possible that nobody wants to make these games for a reason and I'm about to learn a very valuable lesson. Well, worth a shot...

Overall, there are 3 RPG studios left in North America: Bethesda, recently assimilated into EA Bioware, and Obsidian. So, it's not like an enthusiastic RPG developer has a lot of options these days.


I would have thought that Obsidian's recent performance with MotB might have given you a little more hope. Besides its intelligent story-telling -- they resisted the urge to spoon-feed the player as they had done in NWN2, preferring, instead, to have the player slowly piece the clues of the puzzle together -- and the (un)loveable One of Many, it had choices aplenty with the consequences of those displayed in the game; the most obvious being whether or not you should kill Okku. Combined with the Spirit Eater mechanic -- a wonderful, if not perfect, way of making the player think about when they rest.

I assume you've read my review. I loved MotB and I certainly wish I could work with and learn from Avellone, Mitsoda, Sawyer, Sanders, Ziets, etc. I think that Obsidian is loaded with extremely talented developers, but unfortunately, they must make safe games, appealing to the mainstream, in order to survive.

* * * *

In countless interviews and forum posts you've spoken about "choice and consequence." Would you like to explain to our readers what that means, exactly? From here it sounds little more than a buzz word -- like "extreme" or "epic".

Buzzwords like extreme, epic, next-generation, etc. describe nothing and mean nothing. Reading that game X is epic tells you nothing. These concepts are subjective and since gaming journalism tends to attract the dumbest, you can read deep thoughts like KotOR is the pinnacle of greatness in TB RPGs or KotOR's story in fact is one of the best stories told this century.

"Choices & consequences", like "turn-based" or "isometric", refers to a very specific design that can't be interpreted in different ways. A game is either turn-based or not; it either has choices or not; the gameworld either reacts to those choices or not.

Choices are the core of role-playing. That's what separates RPGs from adventure games; instead of following a predetermined path and solving problems in very specific ways, you decide what to do (within the frame of a story and setting), when to do it, and how to do it.

While I understand that attempting to define genres is a mostly pointless exercise -- they exist for the better appreciation of a work, not the other way around -- I feel that I must ask if this is your sole definition of an RPG and whether or not the idea of choices and consequences is the most important thing in one of these games? Is the plot entirely secondary to the player's freedom of choice?

Let's deal with the "defining genres is a mostly pointless exercise" first. Anything that exists can and should be defined. Not to restrict, but to understand it. Can you tell the difference between a shooter and a first person RPG? Between an RTS and a party-based RPG? I assume the answer is yes. There you go.

As for plot, a good plot is a bonus, not a requirement. All genres, even shooters and strategy games, would benefit from having a good story, but I think that only the adventure genre can claim plot as a genre-defining element. As for the definition, here is an article I wrote on the subject. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

An RPG has certain broad characteristics. You expect certain things of an RPG when you install the game; say, statistics, or a dialogue system. But an RPG designed by Bethesda would be entirely different from one designed by Black Isle. You would call both Morrowind and Fallout 2 RPGs but to say that one is intrinsically better designed than the other is impossible. It would never occur to the average gamer to think that there is some Ideal RPG, to quote – with amendment – Gamini Salgado, “which could be abstractly defined in terms of history, development, and convention to which the works of” Bethesda, Obsidian, BioWare, Troika, and Black Isle “are more or less successful approximations.” It is not a categorical straightjacket.

That is what I meant by “mostly pointless.”


And a shooter designed by ID would be very different from a shooter designed by Valve, which would be very different from a shooter designed by Crytek. Yet all these games would firmly belong to the FPS genre. It's trickier with RPGs, but common traits and design directions could be easily traced.


[Anyway...]

An RPG should never tell you "See that castle over there? You absolutely must get inside like NOW! Here is the front entrance guarded by a small army... what? No, you can't climb the walls. Can't sneak inside either. They'll notice, trust me. Can't talk your way through either. What do you mean why? You hate them, they hate you... It's beautiful, man, and you're ruining it with your whining. Get to the killing already...."

An RPG should give you reasons to go to that castle without actually forcing you to go there. An RPG should provide different ways to get in, rewarding different play styles. If you'd like to know more, here is a link.

Now, consequences. Take Knights of the Old Republic for example. Remember when you decided to be the true Revan, the Dark Lord of the Sith, and then finally arrived to the Sith Academy on Korriban and ... nobody cared. You, the Dark Lord of the Sith, had to jump through the same hoops as any other character. Remember now? Well, that's what lack of consequences feels like. You've made an important choice, but the game ignored it completely. "What? You are THE Dark Lord of the Sith? Good for you, sugar. Now go back to you corner."

Consequences complete your choices, make them meaningful. Instead of using generic examples, let me illustrate that with an actual in-game example. An Imperial Guards faction is plotting to take over a small town. You may be given an opportunity to assassinate the Guards' commander. If you do that, the guards will not attack. You'll be added to their "**** list" though. If the commander lives (you didn't take the contract or you did, but decided to double-cross and kill your partner instead), then the guards attack, but the outcome isn't certain (depends on a number of factors). If you actually side with the guards, they will take over the town, which makes them much stronger and eliminates one of the key factions from the game. Decisions, decisions...


* * * *

Keep pressing the refresh button... you'll get a link to the next part eventually. Clicky for part two.

- Pavlos

Part One
Part Two
Part Three


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