BGamer: Interview With Chris Avellone

This Interview with Obsidian Entertainment Chris Avellone first appeared in issue 120 of BGamer, a gaming magazine of reference in Portugal.

It was made by Ana C. Santos, to whom I would like to thank for the good will in allowing me to publish this.

I also would like to thank Chris for giving his yes nod to the publication, and special thanks to our friend ZiggyMeister for taking on his shoulders the task of getting all of this together.

BGamer : How did you start in the games industry?

Chris Avellone: It was kind of an accident – I stumbled into it, mostly since I didn’t realize it was there. So if anyone ever tells you can’t make a living at your hobby, they may be wrong – I had no idea there was ever a full-time career in my hobby, and it changed my life.

I got my start writing for pen-and-paper role-playing games for Champions and Dungeons and Dragons, until one of my pen-and-paper game industry friends mentioned they were opening up a D&D division at Interplay. So I submitted my resume, and within a month or two, I was hired at Interplay’s Dragonplay division, producing role-playing games. My first released title was Fallout 2 (though I worked on a bunch of titles before that that took a little longer to come out of the pipe), and I worked on that at the same time I was doing lead design duties on Torment, which was challenging, but it turned out all right in the end.

Any game you worked on that you are particularly fond of?

I enjoyed working on almost all of them, but I loved working on Planescape: Torment the most, mostly because I can point to it and say, “that game is what I wanted to say about RPGs.” That said, I did enjoy working on Fallout 2 and I love working on Alpha Protocol at Obsidian – I think it’s going to add a lot of depth and intrigue to espionage games from a role-playing perspective. Also, the chance to script characters who can talk about problems in the modern world and use modern-day slang and phrases is a huge plus.

Fallout 2 and Planescape Torment are to this day considered cult classics. How does it feel to have people still discussing and asking you about games that you developed a decade ago?

It’s pretty gratifying. It was a labor of love for both titles above, and to still have people respond enthusiastically to both titles makes all the effort and long hours we put in worthwhile. When releasing a game, there’s always the subconscious thought that it’ll be forgotten in 2-3 months, but seeing the long-term feedback to Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment has been rewarding to the teams on both titles.

If you could go back in time and change anything in one of your games, what would it be?

I’d probably drop a planet out of Knights of the Old Republic 2 to make the game shorter and more polished. In Fallout 2, I’d probably have dropped one of the crime families in New Reno for the same reason – the raider cave in Fallout 2 didn’t get as much love as New Reno did just because New Reno was so big.

What, for you, makes a good story?

Providing the player with interesting companions and characters who react to the player’s actions I think is more important than a linear storyline. In most cases, I feel the best way is to allow the player the pieces to build a story in their own mind as opposed to forcing a storyline on the player. If you give the player a great villain and some companions that serve as good sounding boards for the player’s actions, that can present a far more effective gaming story in the long run – players would prefer to explain to others how their character dealt with a certain situation or dealt with a certain NPC rather than have the exact same experience that was imposed on them as someone else who played the same title.

Also, one aspect to a good story (in games), is that the game needs to end and achieve some sort of resolution. Obviously, single-player RPGs hold the monopoly in this, but this is something I think MMOs have the potential to solve depending on how they structure their quest and story mechanics.

What is your most memorable gaming moment?

(Spoilers for Ultima Underworld 1 and Torment present in this answer.) Outside of games I’ve worked on, my most memorable gaming moment was getting to the end of Ultima Underworld 1 and rather than having the end game solution presented to me on a silver platter, I had an NPC who I thought was going to give me the key to solving the game just shrug and ask me how I should solve the end game, which totally floored me from a design perspective – it was incredibly effective for giving the game depth. It was 2AM, and I just stared at the screen with my mouth open, I had no idea what to do, but the game was making me suggest how to defeat the bad guy, which was awesome.

Within games I’ve created, I’ve been especially happy with the pregnant alley in Torment (which was developed into its full potential by designer Steve Bokkes) and also the end sequence in Torment when you unlock the bronze sphere.

Can you name your five favorite games?

System Shock 2, Chronotrigger, God of War, World of Warcraft, and lastly, I also have a fondness for the Phoenix Wright games, even though adventure games don’t always strike a chord with many players. I’ve been playing Advance Wars: Days of Ruin and Call of Duty 4 and enjoying both titles, but it’s still too soon to say how those will fit into the long-term game rankings in my head. 🙂

You have worked in some of the best RPG ever made. What, in your opinion, are the crucial elements for a good game of this genre?

Aside from the ability to advance your character, player choice (whether in character development or quest resolution) and world and character reactivity to these player’s choices is key.

Players want to build the character they envision, and then they want to push buttons in the world and see the world give them positive (or negative) feedback that is unique to their character – it makes them feel that they are having a direct impact on their environment based on their specific choices. In addition, the more specific you can make the reactivity to the player’s character creation choices (Fallout 1 and 2 did a fantastic job of this, in my opinion), the better. The more a stealth character is given consistent rewards and feedback on their chosen skills and using those skills to solve quests, for example, the more they feel their character choices and their character’s skills truly matter.

What is for you the most important feature that today’s technology provides for gaming?

I’d probably cite the ease of downloadable games and content, whether XBox Live or Steam. That may seem like an odd answer, but I think the ease with which you can access games and get more casual players involved in the titles, the better.

You started developing primarily for PC and lately there’s been a lot of talk about the decline of this platform compared to the consoles. Do you agree with this? What in your opinion could (if anything) revert this tendency?

I think the PC has a struggle against consoles in any non-multiplayer arena, mostly because there’s few obstacles to firing up a console game as opposed to the sometimes-complicated installation procedures for PC games (video cards, system specs, long download times, etc.). I think Steam is a good answer for this, however, and I’m still amazed about how much more willing I am to try a game off of Steam rather than buy it in the store and go through the hoops of installing it.

By Ana C. Santos, July/2008, @ Bgamer


One thought on “BGamer: Interview With Chris Avellone

  1. Great interview, I really enjoyed reading this 🙂

    Thanks briosafreak, for you kind words and accepting my suggestion, but I only sent a few e-mails, the rest was all up to Ana, Chris, BGamer and you.

    Of course, a Special Thanks to Ana, because without her there would be no interview…

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