Obsidian’s Feargus Urquhart talks Dungeon Siege, Fallout and new IP
With a studio reputation that has been moulded by taking on existing licenses, games™ speaks to Feargus Urquhart, head of Obsidian Entertainment, about taking the lead on Dungeon Siege, the lessons learnt from Fallout: New Vegas’s reception and whether we can expect another original IP anytime soon.
It’s not like there was a grand vision, but our ultimate goal was to continue to make role-playing games and to have multiple projects. If those were the two criteria, then I would say we’ve succeeded. What has taken longer, as with Dungeon Siege, is that this is the first time we are using our own engine for a product and I think that has taken longer. Our initial vision was that we would create our own engine more quickly and we would have it in the 2006-2007 timeframe rather than 2011. So, there are certain things we’ve been successful with and certain things we haven’t.
Obsidian has a reputation to take on well-established IP. Alpha Protocol, then, was a really interesting project for the company. How do you think the new IP came across and are there any future plans for similar projects?
Alpha Protocol was a very interesting thing for us, obviously. I mean I’m always pragmatic and honest; the average of our reviews was not very high, but it was a very odd game. It was very strange to have a game that you work on where your breadth of scores is like 60 points. But we had to learn from that. We looked at it and said, ‘What were the reasons?’ Some of the reasons were us, in that they were clearly to do with the development of the product. There were certain things in the game that we didn’t do as well as we had wanted; other things we did well.
It just made us look at it and say, ‘When we go off and do an original IP, how do we have to handle it differently? How do we take all those things into account? What can we bite off and actually complete to the best of our abilities, and how do we make sure what that game is gets communicated as clearly as possible so that there is no confusion?’ I think a certain amount of the confusion was that there was a certain expectation and it didn’t meet those expectations.
Are there any more original games in the pipeline, then?
Sure, we’re going round to publishers right now and we are pitching a new IP, which is getting pretty good reactions from people. We’re hoping to get working on that real soon.
Aside from Alpha Protocol, Obsidian has worked on existing licenses solely. Is that something that the studio has purposely approached or is it simply a case of taking on the projects that are offered to you?
It’s generally a whole bunch of things. Every time you approach a new RPG, so much of what the game is is the story and the characters and the ongoing evolution of the world, so doing another one within a series has always made sense and in the past people have always enjoyed it. I’ve never been averse to doing licensed games because that’s almost how we’ve always thought, but I think a part of it is, to be honest, that licenses can be easier. They can be easier to sign, they can be easier internally to do, but even then it’s always a challenge. I guess the best way to answer your question is: we didn’t found Obsidian and say,‘Look, we are only going to concentrate on new IP and we hate licenses.’
It was great to get to make another Fallout, the team really enjoyed it. I mean, making Fallout games is just fun and I think in the end, everyone is really happy with the core of the game, the changes we made – it’s a lot more fun to play as an FPS, it added enough new stuff in, the story of course is new. So there was a whole lot of stuff.
They’re giant games and so our hope would have been that it would have been a little less glitchy when it came out. So since we finished work on the project, we’ve been focusing on that kind of thing as a studio – how to make our games less glitchy, less buggy. It’s definitely something that we’ve applied to Dungeon Siege III. Because of people’s remarks about our studio, a lot of our energy in the last year has been in [making sure] our engine doesn’t crash as much, how we can make it easier to find bugs, report bugs and all that kind of stuff. We take it really seriously as a company.
Do you agree that maybe your end ship date was too ambitious for New Vegas, and that was the reason that it shipped with so many bugs?
You know, it’s hard to say. I think, as a developer, it’s not the end date that matters; it’s the dates prior to that. So, if we hit our vertical slice then it makes us really ready for production and then production goes more smoothly. If we then hit our alpha date, then everything after that is pretty much just bug polish, tuning and things like that, then it just guarantees that we hit our end dates and I think that is something that we as a developer, and others out there, all have to get better at. Because there are some dates that can’t be missed, you know.