Pillars of Eternity GDC Europe 2016 Talk Report and Slides

While Gamescom has understandably taken the bulk of our coverage, Germany was also home to another event, one more geared to the gaming industry professionals at large. GDC Europe 2016 saw many game developers give talks about their areas of expertise and experiences, including Pillars of Eternity project director J.E. Sawyer, who spoke about the lessons learned from the development of Pillars of Eternity and how they will be applied in the future.

While a recording of the talk isn’t yet available (and will likely not be free when available) at least one outlet, ThumbSticks, has penned a report of the talk. During the talk Sawyer covered high-level ideas, inspirations, mistakes made during development and ways to avoid them in the future. He does so across the board, so there’s a lot of ground to cover, but I’m going to quote some considerations concerning the game mechanics, and combat pacing and mechanic complexity in particular:

The pace of combat was also something Sawyer was keen to increase, certainly in the game’s early stages.

“This was done to address problems we had in earlier Infinity Engine games, where combat could be very slow. Each round was on a six second timer and each character performed one action, so at the beginning of the game combat moved very, very slowly. It could be very boring.”

The flip side to speeding up combat was that once a player had five or six party members the on-screen action became hard to follow.

“It was exacerbated by the fact we had visual effects that were very over-powering,” Sawyer admits. “So people almost all wound up defaulting to a slower pace after a few hours of gameplay. That was not really the way we wanted it to go. We over corrected in that regard.”

The combat model was revised and is something that will continue to be developed future, says Sawyer.

“We’re looking at adding back in layers of combat complexity. Once you’ve been playing the game for three or four hours you can add in a new layer of complexity. If you’ve been playing the game for twenty hours, you can add in more layers of complexity. That’s why it’s interesting making RPGs; you have a lot of hours over which to introduce new concepts.”

The slides for the talk are also available. They only offer bulletpoint, but they’re still a good snapshot of the ideas exposed during the talk. Of particular note, in my opinion, is the fact that Sawyer, a noted critic of the “hard counter” philosophy to combat that dominated much of Baldur’s Gate II, is actually now looking into reintroducing similar mechanics in the series. Excessive exposition is also mentioned and will apparently be addressed partly via the introduction of the highlight system that Tyranny uses during dialogue, which is similar to how the Pillars of Eternity encyclopedia already works.

All in all, it’s an interesting read, though it only matters inasmuch as it provides a little glimpse of the developers’ intentions. In the end, what will matter will be the games released in the future.

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