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Obsidian’s Feargus Urquhart talks Dungeon Siege, Fallout and new IP

Features
20 Jun 2011

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.

Obsidian’s Feargus Urquhart talks Dungeon Siege, Fallout and new IPObsidian Entertainment has been around for eight years now. What were your initial strategies for a development studio and do you think you have so far matched your vision?

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.’

Obsidian’s Feargus Urquhart talks Dungeon Siege, Fallout and new IPFallout: New Vegas has now come and gone. How was that experience, given that you personally worked on the first two games? Was the team happy with the end result?

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.

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  • AngryGamer

    Has Brian finally lost touch with reality and committed to groupthink behaviour of made-up mainstream perceptions? Fallout: New Vegas came out just about 7 months ago and you don’t exactly “jump into the action”; its character creation is little different than these “old old games of yore” like IWD (and in fact, in repeated plays, character creation in F:NV is just painful because of this nonsensical “cinematic” approach you have to go through every time). How about Storm of Zehir? Or the main game itself, NWN2? Were these games not made by Obsidian? These aren’t exactly “old” games. Or how about games like Dragon Age Origins? It’s not even like the character creation in Infinity Engine games like IWD was particularly deep and complicated, they were pretty simplified games.
    I’m sorry Brian but you are delusional. You want to increase accessibility? Here’s an idea that used to be the standard in those terrible days of yore: provide premade  characters/classes/parties besides character creation so those who are oh so “intimidated” by the latter can jump straight into the action with premade characters. Ever notice how these “old games of yore” provided solutions for everyone which have eroded due to naive developers buying into the mainstream nonsense? I find it most fascinating. It certainly warrants a sociological study.

  • Johnny

    “ then everything after that is pretty much just bug polish”

    lol, that sounds like Obsidian we know and love

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=794310182 Angelo Buono

    …and yet, I hear Skyrim will allow customization… and it will sell like mad… going for the casual gamers has been proven to not work.

  • Jai Alai

    I think Obsidian is starting to get it wrong these days. I’d rather play a buggy game that is awesome at its core, than a sub-par game that runs like butter. The former can be fixed with patches, the latter – not so much. I think we got the latter with Dungeon Siege 3, according to reviews. It’s bug free – but who really cares? The loot system doesn’t really give you any rare items that make you FEEL the difference. And no one seems to be able to make sense of the stats. The characters and voice acting are wooden – the LAST thing you’d expect from Obisidian, making a game that should have come from Ubisoft, not my favorite rpg maker.

  • zer0

    Cool interview… I have played games by these guys (Obsidian crew) since the Interplay/Black Isle
    days. It’s always interesting to read the views of those who make/made those games I spent hours playing.

    Feargus is straight forward and seems honest, which is rare nowadays.

    RIP Black Isle, Thanks for all the games… All the best of luck to Obsidian and crew.

    Well, I’m off to play some NWN2:MotB

  • Anonymous

    You had to create 6 characters in IWD so it was much more time consuming.

    F:NV was made for Fallout 3 fans so it followed the same character creation process.

    NWN2 had premade characters.

  • Spartanm624

    At the very least, the character creation in New Vegas didn’t take that long (all of five to ten minutes). Now Fallout 3′s hour-long character creation, that was painful

  • SECTOR57

    The story of FNV was made following the origanal two games story type. The entire game was not tailor made for fallout 3 players it mearly used the same engine. Next the hour long creation in fallout 3 wasn’t all character creation, it was all backstory in order to help you get into the story more and understand it. While yes premade characters would make the game easier in the begining and less time consuming the point of the Bethesda form of fallout is to “play it how you like” as they say in the Fallout 3 game manual. Then there is the fact that if you don’t understand the games mechanics then it IS a hard game. You have to understand what a high damage rating of a gun is, what a high DT for armor is how rads are gained and lost and while some of that is found out during gameplay endurance rating to total HP is not(as an example). The point is to find all this out though experamentation. FNV has multiple endings and new downloads coming out as did Fallout 3. 3 different endings 4 different downloads for Fallout 3 that all had people coming back to the game in order to experament further.

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