On October 16, 2012, Project Eternity, the highest funded video game on Kickstarter was officially funded at a grand total over $4,163,208. With the end of the campaign, its time to look back on what that money is going towards, and what we can expect from the final product from the team at Obsidian, and why we should be excited.
Project Eternity is a return to the old school RPG, with the core tenants of party based tactical gameplay with pause, a fixed isometric camera angle, a deep story that explores mature themes,well written companions that complement your player character,all wrapped together in a brand new fantasy world built from the ground up. Obsidian has directly cited Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, Icewind Dale 1 and 2, Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, and Planescape Torment as direct inspiration on the project.
You've probably heard of Obsidian Entertainment at some point. They are an independent company home to some of the biggest names from Black Isle Studios during the golden age of CRPGs in the the late 90's, finally brought together on a single passion project that's been given an opportunity thanks to Kickstarter. Some of the big names on the project include Tim Cain (creator of Fallout), JE Sawyer (Icewind Dale 1,2), and Chris Avellone (lead designer on Planescape Torment). Since 2004, Obsidian has been generally contracted to work on sequels to popular RPGs, starting with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II : The Sith Lords, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, and Fallout: New Vegas. Obsidian also developed the underrated Alpha Protocol, their first homegrown IP as a studio that delivered a incredibly reactive and deep story, but suffered from crippling bugs and a general lack of polish. A team at Obsidian is currently working on South Park: The Stick of Truth for release early next year.
So why Kickstarter? With such a pedigree and stable of great talent, why couldn't Obsidian find a publisher to fund Project Eternity? To begin with, Isometric party based RPGs just aren't exactly publisher friendly in this modern era of gaming. Obsidian has been notorious in the past for having games like KOTOR 2 that feel unfinished, and Fallout New Vegas, seemed to have skipped QA altogether. The blame doesn't lie entirely on Obsidian though, in an interview with Ripten, Wasteland 2 developer and founder of Interplay Brian Fargo talked about how the New Vegas's ship date was moved up, causing a lack of QA testing. In addition to this, Bethesda refused to pay Obsidian their bonus for reaching an 85 Metacritic rating. The actual game had an 84 overall.
Needless to say, Obsidian has had a tenuous relationship with publishers in the past. Project Eternity marks the first time that the company will finally be able to own their intellectual property. The studio will be able to explore mature themes without fear of publisher backlash or restriction. In an interview with indierpgs.com, Chris Avellone spoke on past publisher experience.
"There was one example on the design side – we wanted to have one of the companion characters be bisexual (along with his romance options), and we couldn’t convince them to allow us to do it, which was unfortunate. Other than that, they were pretty hands-off with the design and they trusted us to do our job, since we’d done so many titles in the past. As for the other departments, they may have had a different experience." - Chris Avellone
In recent months there have been big layoffs at the company due to the cancellation of "Project North Carolina", rumored to be a next generation game for Microsoft. For the company, Project Eternity is so much more than a passion project. Its represents a chance to make the first steps to full financial independence, without being beholden to publishers or having to live from one publishing contract to the next.
Obsidian originally started with the initial funding of $1.1 million, which was evidently shattered shortly after the Kickstarter went up. In the time since then we've learned much about what to expect from the game.
Project Eternity will be based in medieval fantasy, but the main hook of the game is the concept of souls. The idea of reincarnation and the eternal cycle of life and energy is at the heart of the universe. Through the cycle, old souls may be awakened to remember past lives, which can result in a type of worship from some, and prejudice and discrimination from others. Souls will be tied to magic, and gifted individuals can use their souls to access greater power.
There will be 11 classes and 6 races, offering many choices for different types of RPG players. Like other infinity engine games, there will be options for non combat, and Tim Cain has stated that non combat skills will provide never deny you experience or levels. Additionally, some combat scenarios can be avoided through non combat skills. Low traits in Intelligence and Charisma will be reflected in your speech for example. If your character is spec'd to be dumb, it will be shown outright.
There will be two big cities, relative to the size of Baldur's Gate and Athkatla from the Baldur's Gate series. A mega dungeon called "The Endless Paths" was introduced during the campaign, and will continue to grow in size based on the amount of Facebook likes on Obsidian's page. The dungeon has hit 15 levels at this time of writing and is still accepting likes for a limited time.
Expert Mode, Trial of Iron, and Path of the Damned are modes that will support additional challenges and difficulty to the game. Expert mode is essentially hardcore mode, providing realistic modifiers, and less items and abilities of convenience for the player. Trial of Iron is a permadeath mode that locks you to a single save and deletes it upon death. Path of the Damned tosses all enemies from all difficulties and makes combat more difficult. All of these modes can be mixed and matched to the player's desire.
Graphically, Project Eternity will follow the path of the Infinity Engine games, with the addition of a decade's worth of technological improvements. The environments are initially built as 3D levels, which are then rendered out as 2D imagines, and finally painted upon by artists. The game will run on the Unity engine, which has been used for various indie and mobile games, most notably, Rochard.
Project Eternity will receive a full expansion at around six months after release, but the money from Kickstarter will not be used in its development.
Its worth nothing that while a budget at 4.1 million is impressive for a Kickstarter, it still pales in comparison to some of the large scale RPGs like Dragon Age: Origins and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Still, the focus on single platform development, team experience, and size should help curb costs enough without compromising quality and scope. The Witcher 2 had a budget of around $8 million, and managed to deliver one of the largest RPGs in terms of scope in recent memory.
From what we've heard about Project Eternity, its hard not to get excited by its potential. In this generation we see more and more developers moving away from RPG conventions in favor of the action oriented "blockbuster" approach. A game that returns to the roots of why people love the genre in the first place is long overdo.
Project Eternity is currently slated for a April 2014 release, but it is of course subject to change. More information can be found at http://eternity.obsidian.net/, as well as the official Obsidian Forums http://forums.obsidian.net/.