So Obsidian, when is Pillars of Eternity coming out?

UPDATE: "Winter 2014" window announced.

UPDATE 11/02 11.45PM: Obsidian has just officially announced a "winter 2014" release window for Pillars of Eternity.

"We are looking good to release Eternity by Winter 2014. So, look forward to getting your hands on Pillars of Eternity later this year," wrote producer Rose Gomez in the latest project update.

ORIGINAL STORY 05/02 10.30AM: When is Pillars of Eternity, your 10th most anticipated game of 2014, coming out? Spring? That's what developer Obsidian said during the game's Kickstarter campaign.

But no, according to project lead Josh Sawyer, who spoke to me recently, "It's not going to be in spring." What about summer? Probably not.

Is it realistic, then, for people not to expect Pillars of Eternity in the first half of 2014? "Yeah," he answered. "It's going to come later."

And then he explained: "We foresaw needing a bit more time when the Kickstarter ended. It's understandable that people don't know this but when you start a Kickstarter, once it goes live, you can't change that [estimated release] date. You're not allowed to change to that date.

"We foresaw needing a bit more time when the Kickstarter ended"

Josh Sawyer

"When we started with a million-dollar budget and a relatively modest game with five classes [there are now 11], that was assuming if we get $1m we can make this game and we'll probably get it done by April. We got almost four-times as much money and that's a much bigger game, and that doesn't mean that immediately we just dump four-times as many people on it and it also gets done in April. There's a lot more stuff to do.

"We knew that at that time," he said. "But until we get really close to releasing the game we don't want a specific release window, because we're not a publisher, we don't have to! Virtually nothing good comes from us releasing a date before we're very confident in it. It's not going to be in spring; we're going to be working into spring to get alpha done because it's a big game."

Today, "more than half the content of the game is done, at least to an alpha state".

Bear in mind that while Obsidian employs more than 100 developers, only 20-25 work on Eternity. Once Ubisoft's South Park: The Stick of Truth finally wraps (it's out in early March), Eternity's staff force will grow, particularly in the design and animation departments, but it won't as much as double. This is a Kickstarter-funded project, remember, not a publisher-backed blockbuster.

Nevertheless, Sawyer said Eternity's budget continues to grow, as people up pledges or others put money down, and he believes "at least a few hundred-thousand [dollars] more" have been added to the original $4.3m pile.

When Pillars of Eternity finally does near completion, an Early Access release is very much the plan. "We are going to be having a [beta] section of the game that the players can play through to get a feel for all the mechanics and style of character interactions and all that kind of stuff," said Sawyer. "Yeah, that is planned."

That (above) brief video montage of Pillars of Eternity is the most Obsidian has shown of the game so far. It was released in December, more than a year after the end of the Kickstarter campaign, and frankly I was disappointed not to see more. Why couldn't we see a chunk of gameplay? Two reasons, Sawyer said: it was supposed to resemble a trailer for an old Infinity Engine game, and, raw gameplay requires a much higher level of polish in order to stand up to continuous scrutiny.

Not that the Eternity trailer wasn't scrutinised anyway - particularly the animations and effects. But apparently Obsidian expected that, because the way the team works is to block sections of the game out before refining them later. Plus, Sawyer said, there are going to be "a zillion" monsters in Eternity, and polishing them all to a high sheen won't be possible. "We would rather have a lot of monsters and some of them be polished and some of them be pretty good, because variety is an important thing in a game this size."

'This size'? How long will Pillars of Eternity be? "Way longer" than 20 hours, but beyond that Sawyer doesn't know nor want to say. "We want to make this a very big game, and right now it is a very big game. I have no idea what the final hour output is going to be - I'm not even going to guess at that ... because I know better than to say."

There'll be replayability from wanting to adventure with different classes and working towards different endings, of which there will be "lots". It'll be like Fallout: New Vegas, he said, both in its variety of endings and in them being "something you really build towards and agonise over". "It's not like you can just reload and experience the different ending: you have to work towards that ending in a different way."

The other thing the trailer revealed was a new name for the game: Pillars of Eternity. Doesn't exactly stop you dead. But the 'why?' involves talk of the future, of sequels and a series.

"Titles can be very overwrought," explained Sawyer. "Especially with the first title in a new IP - really overwrought with subtitles, and they're very long and strange." Obsidian chose Pillars of Eternity because it fit both the game specifically and also "the setting we're creating", much like Forgotten Realms did a generation ago.

"In the same way, Pillars of Eternity is indicative of not just the story but of the world. Pillars of Eternity is something that's specific to the world, not this one story. We hope that, as time goes on, and as we make more games and stories and stuff in the setting, that that name is appropriate for the world and setting overall."

"We view this as the start of a series of games"

Sawyer

Eternity's potential as a series has never been a secret: future games were mentioned as far back as the original Kickstarter campaign. It's why you'll only level to 12 in this first game, and not beyond. "We view this as the start of a series of games," said Sawyer, "and we'd like you to continue playing your character, so we don't want to do a full, crazy range of character levels."

Whether you'll be able to take your party of six with you, or your upgradable Stronghold, or have all your decisions affect the new adventure, remains to be seen. "We'd like to carry over as much of that as we can," he added.

But although he talks freely of future plans, those sequels aren't a sure thing. "If somehow we completely screw up and this is received really badly and we mismanage it then we're probably not going to make any more in it.

"But I've been in the game industry now for, I guess this is my 15th year, and intellectual property is one of the most valuable things - probably the most valuable thing that an independent studio can have. So if we develop this and it goes well, there is no good reason for us to not continue make games in this setting.

"Whether it's a direct sequel or something else... If we put in the time and the energy to not only develop the technology [technology Torment: Tides of Numenera will also use] but also develop this world and the characters and all that stuff, it just makes sense for us to keep making games in it if people like it."

All of which leaves us with the most important question in people's minds: How many pillars does it take to hold up Eternity? "A lot!" Sawyer chuckled. "It takes a lot of pillars!"

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