RPS: For Obsidian, what are the core tenets of role-playing games? You could say something like The Walking Dead is a role-playing game, if you choose to zero in on choice and story as key elements of role-playing games. For you personally, is it that fusion, that sort of midpoint between choice and story and combat and character growth?
Feargus Urquhart: It is combat, toys, and story. Sorry, it’s combat, characters, toys, and story. Why I’m separating characters and story is because when you’re playing a great role-playing game, you have relationships with NPCs. They aren’t really the story. To me, and Obsidian, a story is something that I can… I know where to go in the story, but I’m choosing I want to have the story play out. Which you see in a lot of our games.
Sometimes it’s what gets us in trouble. We want and feel that what an RPG is about is the ramifications of my actions in the world. Not just system-wise – I rip this guy off and so this stuff happens. I don’t mean that. It’s, “I chose to do this.” Usually consciously, occasionally unconsciously. Then this is the ramification of that. Bundled, of course, with fun combat and character development. I’m a min-maxer so there’s my love of figuring out the exact character build. But that’s it.
I guess if you need to boil it all down… I’m not to say “more than other game developers,” but I don’t think that’s the case. Maybe we talk about it a little bit more. But it’s the choice aspect of RPGs. RPGs are so much about choice and the ramifications of those choices. This is something that Chris Avellone hit upon that really is a tenet of what we do now. In Alpha Protocol, he really pushed this idea forward that there is no [good or evil]. Morally there may be a good or a bad choice, but there is no bad choice for the player. Even if it’s “evil,” you’re rewarded.
And not just with cash. A lot of RPGs in the past, the way they handle good and evil, if you did good you got a pat on the back and everyone was nice to you, and if you were bad you got money. In Alpha Protocol it was about making the choices a bit more gray. The problem with gray choices, of course, is that it’s hard for the player to… They don’t just see it as being evil or being good. You then have to explain it more. The gray choices then come with, “No, this is what’s gonna happen.” There’s a near-term, medium-term, and long-term reaction, if we can do it that way, to all of these choices that you make. That web is what makes the game feel like it’s my game.
RPS: That sort of takes us back into Walking Dead’s territory, given that it stripped away pretty much everything else and narrowed the focus to pure choice.
Feargus Urquhart: And they had our Alpha Protocol timer [laughs].
RPS: Yes! You really should’ve trademarked that. The concept of time, I mean. But anyway, do you look at something like Walking Dead and think, “Well, if we really want to focus on the choices, let’s strip out the combat and just make a story”?
Feargus Urquhart: That’s hard. I don’t want to say I’m a traditionalist, but my upbringing is Dungeons and Dragons. There was the lecture by Heavy Rain creator David Cage about violent video games and all that stuff and why we have such a focus on combat and stuff like that. I was thinking a lot about it as he was talking about that. Interestingly enough, a lot of how we look at combat is that it’s more of a… How would I put it? It was like playing paintball. When people are playing paintball, somehow paintball never gets brought up as something evil in our society.