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Final part of Chris Avellone interview
Posted By Pavlos - 02/26/09

Talk all about it

Apologies for the delayed post. This is the final part of our Chris Avellone interview. Yeah... that's all there is to it. Parts one and two can be found here und here.

Romance. You always say that you don’t like writing them but I don’t think you’ve ever really explained why. So: Why?

I guess I'm not very romantic (although Alpha Protocol is a different experience for me). And I guess I think from an entertainment perspective (although I think many fans will disagree, and have), romances that lead to resolutions too early deprive the player of drama and conflict, which I think are essential to creating and maintaining entertainment value.

****


Turning a pepper pot into a religious text or a totemic object seems to be something that you do rather frequently. Take the player’s lightsaber; it is transformed from a “cool lazor sword” into a defining part of the player’s identity.

This is just the way of making the player feel cooler. If everything they touch or use becomes something that can be used for imagery or a metaphor, the more artistic it is, and the more weight the player's presence has in the game world. It helps the player achieve a sense of epic-ness beyond just their actions.

****


Would you say that there is a place for making the player feel weaker as well as “cooler”?

As long as being weak is cool. To explain:

Weakness is cool when it's obvious it was done by the player himself. If the player learns that their character has subconsciously cut himself off from his own powers out of fear of causing a nuclear explosion in the immediate area if he loses control of his emotions, I'd argue that makes me feel cooler as a character.

This also ties into loot placement - weaker items don't need to feel that way. As a game designer, I feel it's imperative to control player's access to powerful items - you need to pace item gains slowly so even what would be considered minor rewards end up being epic when found (we used to do this all the time in my old Warhammer campaign, and it re-surfaced in some of the item design in the Icewind Dale series). If you attach the right rarity and history to a +1 Spear that gives the player bonus +5 hit points, players will get much more of thrill about getting it than if they get their 5th +4 sword during the same time frame. I mean, what's cooler - collecting your 17th lightsaber or struggling through 4 battle-strewn worlds to find the parts to build a lightsaber yourself? In Fallout 2, I was stoked the first time I found a rifle because I'd spent the first few hours just using the spear, and it made me appreciate the rifle more.

****


There seems a great concern with the past in both Torment and TSL. Just why is that?

I think most of a story’s strength and “epic”-ness for lack of a better word (even though I've now used it twice), comes from the sense that you’re part of something larger, and history’s one of the best ways to do it. Torment, for example, would have felt much different to me if there hadn’t been a previous party of adventures that the Nameless One had gathered in a previous incarnation to assault the Fortress of Regrets. There needs to be a sense of something-that-came-before, and preferably, a series of questions about the past events that help heighten the mystery.

****


"I am never going to do an Empire Strikes Back ending again in a game, even if they put branding irons to my feet." Why not? What sort of Will save do you need to successfully resist the branding irons, anyway?

You can never guarantee a publisher will want to do a sequel, and if they do, there's no guarantee that a development team will remain stable for the next game. For example, for NX1: Mask of the Betrayer (and this isn't a bad thing), the NX1 team did not wish to continue the NWN2 narrative. For Knights 2, we didn't have Knights 3 lined up. For Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance 1 we didn't have the same team for Dark Alliance 2, and unfortunately for the second team, they felt the need to explain the ending for Dark Alliance 1, which I didn't feel was necessary in the first place.

So, in short, I guess the cautionary tale is not to present any sort of ending that doesn’t resolve itself, because anything that follows is so uncertain that you can’t guarantee you’ll have a shot at continuing the story.


Putting aside Mr. Avellone, the businessman, though: Did you like the ending (or what was planned for it) yourself?

Yes - I thought it tied up a trilogy nicely. Granted, I like Babylon 5 machinations and the idea that Revan had a master plan, but so be it. I just like to think that Revan was smart and cunning enough to have the big picture in mind because those are the villains I can respect even while they're sending death fleets after me and bombing worlds into submission.

****


And they all lived happily ever after. The End.


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