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Pathfinder: Kingmaker Developers on Working with Obsidian, ''Mentality Check'' and Console Release

We’ve listened to an 80-minutes podcast with Owlcat Games and picked the most interesting things on the game development, Pathfinder roleplay system and working with Chris Avellone

Pathfinder: Kingmaker development leads Oleg Shpilchevsky (studio head) and Alexander Mishulin (creative director) took part in the podcast of the Russian entertainment site Disgusting Men. They talked about the development of the game, working with Obsidian and Chris Avellone, favorite tabletop and video games, as well as their plans for the future. Previously, Oleg had already given an interview to App2Top.ru

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Pathfinder: Kingmaker Developers on Working with Obsidian, ''Mentality Check'' and Console Release
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Pathfinder: Kingmaker Developers on Working with Obsidian, ''Mentality Check'' and Console Release
 

Oleg and Alexander come from Nival Interactive — developers of Heroes of Might and Magic V and Silent Storm. As a part of Mail.Ru Group (parent company of My.com), they took part in developing Allods Online and Skyforge. At first, Mail.Ru were not very enthusiastic about developing a singleplayer RPG, publishing primarily online games. Nevertheless, they caved in.

Their team was an experienced mix of their former colleagues and some fresh blood. All of them were huge fans of classic CRPGs, such as Baldur’s Gate, Fallout and Planescape: Torment. They were on the same page — feeling ‘’enthusiastic and lifted’’. It was an ‘’opportunity to realize a dream’’ — one that puts you on the industry’s map

On the idea behind the game

They wanted their own classic ‘’singleplayer, hardcore’’ RPG a long time ago, even before Heroes of Might and Magic V. Then it seemed that the genre was dead, and singleplayer worked only in major franchises. Online and mobile games were at their peak, and they did not want to risk.

On meeting Obsidian

One of the Obsidian’s teams was developing Armored Warfare for My.com (Editor’s note: more on this can be read in Jason Schreier’s book ‘’Blood, Sweat and Pixels’’). When Oleg visited the company’s office, he saw the project that would later become Pillars of Eternity. He asked Feargus Urquhart (Obsidian CEO) about it and learned that they were developing a CRPG. At the time he was surprised, because it was a risky project with little profit opportunities. However, the game itself was ‘’awesome’’.

Then PoE blew up, and the team set on making their RPG yet again. They saw the hungry audience and the opportunity, so they founded Owlcat Games in 2016.

On the real-time battles

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Developers on Working with Obsidian, ''Mentality Check'' and Console Release-3

It was one of the main arguments during the development and a tough decision. Alexander said that it was a success, being more dynamic and pleasant to play, while preserving the depth of the combat system.

Two aspects were important in this decision: the pace of the game and the balance between the different gameplay elements. Turn-based combat ‘’takes a lot of time, attention and effort’’. They wanted players to enjoy the game as a whole — that is why they opted for real-time combat, ‘’defocusing’’ that part of the game and blurring the lines between combat and exploration (a major trend nowadays).

On difficulty

There were many talks in regards to the game’s difficulty. It would be safe to assume that the new casual audience was not ready for true CRPG game, but Oleg stated that experienced players also expressed similar opinions.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Developers on Working with Obsidian, ''Mentality Check'' and Console Release-4
They put a lot of effort into difficulty settings, building a complex system with many options, such as automatic skill distribution for the characters. Relatively high difficulty was a deliberate choice, with the highest setting being the closest one to the tabletop rules

Difficulty settings ‘’allow you to choose your own gamemaster’’, finding something that fits your style of gameplay. Still, they received enough complaints, which they tie to the perception problems. The thing is that most of us are used to ‘’normal’’ difficulty being a hassle-free walkthrough, with ‘’hard’’ offering some challenge. In Pathfinder: Kingmaker, standard setting was already challenging.

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Funnily enough, they fixed this problem by changing the order of the difficulty settings. ‘’Normal’’ button was made bigger and moved to the center, while other settings got some additional splashes of blood, further hinting on their difficulty
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Funnily enough, they fixed this problem by changing the order of the difficulty settings. ‘’Normal’’ button was made bigger and moved to the center, while other settings got some additional splashes of blood, further hinting on their difficulty
 

On script and Chris Avellone

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Developers on Working with Obsidian, ''Mentality Check'' and Console Release-7
The studio worked with Chris due to the combination of luck and mutual acquaintances. They needed a Western screenwriter to do a ‘’mentality check’’ — to evaluate if the game developed by the Russians will be understood correctly on the West

They wanted to bring in Brandon Sanderson (American fantasy and science fiction writer), but he was busy at that moment. So they went to Feargus — he suggested a couple of guys from Obsidian, but they were not up to par.

Obsidian also suggested Avellone. Oleg wrote his proposal to Chris, who was not too enthusiastic initially. Then he found out that the game is based on Pathfinder and lit up, being a fan of their RPG system. In 2016, they met on one of the events in Krakow, discussed the details and agreed on their partnership.

At the beginning of the project, Chris dedicated almost all of his time to it. Then he did a ‘’mentality check’’, making sure that Russian ideas are appropriate to a Westerner. He went through the text, editing and working on the stylistics. He also wrote one the companions — a goblin named Nok-Nok, and introduced several ideas on the in-game philosophy.

Owlcat Games also worked with writers from Paizo Publishing (Pathfinder publishers), who wrote Pathfinder Modules. Notably James Sutter and John Compton — they each wrote a major questline.

On choosing Pathfinder universe

The choice was almost instant, as they played the game themselves, along with Dungeons & Dragons. Paizo proved to be a lot more open than D&D publishers Wizards of the Coast, who were a bit closed on the business side.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Developers on Working with Obsidian, ''Mentality Check'' and Console Release-8

They also described Pathfinder as ‘’the legacy of D&D 3.5 plus engaging stories’’. Pathfinder creators expanded upon the familiar mechanics, introducing their ‘’cool’’ new world, adding new classes, systems and guilds. The Kingdom was not an exception, as they designed it specifically for Kingmaker campaign.

On their favorite games and influence

Alexander: Assassin’s Creed and Persona 5 among the recent ones. Baldur’s Gate and Infinity Engine games influenced him the most. On the other hand, Pillars of Eternity did not ‘’click’’ for him — he describes it as uncanny valley, which looks familiar, has familiar names but the nuances are very different. He also does not really like dark fantasy

Oleg: Baldur’s Gate — they looked at many of the game’s elements thinking how they would look like today

On profits

Oleg did not give exact figures, since it is still too early to evaluate, but he assured the hosts that ‘’everything is fine’’. Their experiment was a success.

On future plans

In the next patch, they plan to add support for changing the font size to accommodate players with smaller screens. One DLC is in the works, two more will follow.

Console version is still at the initial stage, but the studio has already received their devkits. No Switch support for now, as it is a unique console ‘’from another world. While Xbox One and PS4 versions can be done at the same time, Switch needs a separate approach.’’

Oleg shared that they wanted to do the simultaneous release on all consoles, but it would have significantly delayed the release. He said that they will need to change the interface for consoles, and it will be the main point during the porting. Right now they are ‘’only beginning, looking at the competitors’’.

Alexander concluded with a positive example of Divinity: Original Sin 2 — the game has a lot of text, but it plays really well on console — new interface did not get in the way.


Ostrog November 14, 2018