Project Eternity, as a series, could run for eternity
Doing multiple hardcore isometric RPGs would make Chris Avellone very happy, "because that was Black Isle".
Project Eternity isn't a one-off trip down memory lane nor a mere Kickstarter curio for Obsidian Entertainment, it's a series in the making - a potential future upon which the studio could be based.
"We would like to keep it going for as long as..." What, eternity? I butted in, when I spoke to Obsidian's creative director Chris Avellone at Rezzed 2013. "Exactly!" He replied with his easy smile.
The plan was always to grow Project Eternity, or whatever it ends up being called, with expansions post-release - that was talked about during the Kickstarter campaign. But it's not a future that's set in stone.
"If the first game does well enough and generates enough profit beyond the backer amounts we got..." 'Well, then it will happen,' were the words Avellone intimated but left unsaid.
"We would need the same amount again."
Eternity raised a record-breaking $3,986,929 on Kickstarter and crossed over the $4 million barrier with PayPal donations added later.
"The advantage we would have this time around," he added, "is we'd be more familiar with the toolset, more familiar with the pipelines. And the energy and resources that are usually spent on programming the systems and getting the framework all set up: they can devote that to creating much more player-seen content - more spells, more ways of casting and reacting to the environment and things like that."
But what if Project Eternity doesn't do very well, doesn't raise enough money through sales - what happens to the series then?
"The way we structured the plan is I don't think there's ever an instance where it would be put on hold, because as soon as the first game is completed then we're still working on the expansion," he said.
"And during that time when we're working on the expansion, we have a good sense for how well Eternity is doing in the marketplace, and if it's doing well then we will have a sequel going on, and if it's not, no worries, at least we delivered what the backers were happy with."
The other option is returning to Kickstarter for funding, although the waters have been muddied by Tim Schafer and Double Fine, which Kickstarted a second adventure game before announcing Broken Age would be split in half, with the first sold on Steam to pay for development of the second.
"...if it's doing well then we will have a sequel going on, and if it's not, no worries, at least we delivered what the backers were happy with."Chris Avellone
Talking to Chris Avellone, it's clear he'd rather Project Eternity grew organically from its own success, and there's even emerging publisher interest in games of that size, type and budget to fuel them further. But none of that means Obsidian won't go back to Kickstarter for something else.
"I don't think there is any reason for Obsidian not to approach Kickstarter again," said Avellone, "it's just that if we did, we'd want to have a compelling concept for it, so that would probably be a discussion that we had.
"In terms of being involved with Kickstarter, that entire process is something we'd like to keep going whether it's providing support to other companies like we do with inXile [Torment: Tides of Numenera, Wasteland 2] and vice versa. But in terms of beyond that, I couldn't say."
(Chris Avellone also openly offered his services at Rezzed for proof-reading Kickstarter pitches and offering advice to any developer wishing it, the absolute horror.)
But let's flip the situation around; let's say Project Eternity does the business and sells 1 million copies or more - what then? Could it grow to become Obsidian's major project and occupy the entire 100-plus team there? Could Project Eternity become a blockbuster PC and console game?
"I don't know if it would grow into the console arena," said Avellone, "and I wouldn't want to change the format for how Eternity is presented and the more Windows-focused aspects of it, because I think that's what makes Eternity what it is. So I don't believe it would go to the console arena for that reason.
"Our goal was just to make a PC-focused, much more keyboard-driven - something that's a bit more, for want of a better word, old-school. We enjoyed making those old Infinity Engine games. I don't know that they'd work as well on consoles, which was one of the reasons we focused on Windows in the first place."
"We enjoyed making those old Infinity Engine games. I don't know that they'd work as well on consoles."
As it stands, Project Eternity will come out on PC (Windows and Linux) and Mac in spring 2014. No tablet versions are in development at the moment, but that doesn't necessarily rule them out for later.
Development is cruising along and there are frequent updates posted to the Project Eternity website. The focus is on producing a slice of the game (think slice of cake) to show what the rest of the game (cake) can be like.
That slice wasn't quite ready to air at Rezzed 2013 but sounds like it's close. What Chris Avellone did demonstrate in his talk at the show was his and his studio's immense experience making RPGs. You can watch his entire and very entertaining talk in the video below.
But in all the years he's spent in the industry it's clear he holds a special fondness for the era from which he's known best: the days of the Infinity Engine RPG - the days of Planescape: Torment. And he's already personally involved with Wasteland 2, with Torment: Tides of Numenera and of course with Project Eternity.
So when I asked him about the kind of future he'd be happy with at Obsidian, I should have perhaps expected the answer he gave.
"If we had multiple isometric hardcore role-playing games going on at the same time, with the scale of Eternity, that is something I think we'd be very very happy about as a studio," he said, "because that was Black Isle."