Pillars of Eternity creators on why it's easier to support the Mac (interview)
I recently had the chance to talk with one of the hottest developers right now: Obsidian Entertainment. If that name sounds familiar, it's because of the many critically acclaimed games under their belt, including Fallout: New Vegas, South Park: The Stick of Truth and Pillars of Eternity, their latest game (which we reviewed and loved).
Pillars of Eternity is one of the top role-playing games on Mac and having the chance to talk to its creators is priceless. Developer support is extremely important for us and opportunities to have their take on Mac gaming are golden.
Adam Brennecke, Executive Producer and Lead Programmer, agreed to answer a few questions for us, ranging from the future of Pillars of Eternity to the unique challenges of multi-platform development (and don't stop until you reach the end, that's where he answers the juiciest Mac-related questions!):
About Obsidian Entertainment
Can you tell us about your team? How many are you? Where are you located?
Hello! The Pillars of Eternity team is one of a few development teams at Obsidian, and at our peak, we were at around 35 people (currently we are about 20 - the rest have been moved to other internal projects). Obsidian Entertainment is located in Irvine in sunny Orange County, California. The studio has been around since 2003, and we've developed pretty awesome role-playing games over the years like Fallout: New Vegas, and South Park: The Stick of Truth.
About Pillars of Eternity
Can you tell us about Pillars of Eternity?
Pillars of Eternity was designed to be a successor to the classic Infinity Engine games such as Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment. It is a fantasy role-playing game where you control a party of up to 6 characters with real-time with pause tactical combat from an isometric view. You create your own character by picking a gender/race/class/background and journey to the Dyrwood, a frontier land in the world of Eora.
There's a huge world to explore with hundreds of beautifully handcrafted environments featuring lots of loot, dungeons, quests, and adventures. The game also features an engrossing and deep storyline with 8 companions that can join your party and help unravel the mysteries surrounding your player character. You can find more about the game at eternity.obsidain.net.
What are your plans regarding the future of Pillars of Eternity? Paid / Free DLC? A Sequel?
Currently, we are working on an expansion pack for Pillars of Eternity, which should be out later this year. We are going to announce more about it really soon. We are looking at Tales of the Sword Coast (The Baldur's Gate expansion) as a reference to the amount of content that we would like to include in it.
About the game's development
Regarding multiplatform development (Mac / Linux / PC). What factors went into the decision of going that route? Was it difficult given the size of your team?
We decided to do the Mac and Linux versions of the game based on how much funding we received during the Kickstarter (at the time the game was codenamed Project Eternity). We set stretch goals after hitting our initial funding goal to include Mac and Linux, which we hit very quickly. It was nice that our game engine, Unity, supports both Mac and Linux builds natively, so it was relatively easy to get Eternity running on the three platforms. I wouldn't say supporting three platforms was terribly difficult, but it does put an additional burden on the team.
For example, we needed to have additional QA testers to make sure the game works well on Mac and Linux. We also don't have a big enough budget and team for platform-specific programmers, so it creates an additional burden on myself and the other programmers to switch between operating systems when we need to debug and fix platform-specific issues.
Do MacOS and Linux sales justify the extra work involved?
Yes. Any time you can get the game out on multiple platforms is a huge win for sales because obviously your audience is expanded to include many more people.
Can you share an approximate split of expected sales per platform?
I don't have that information because most people that have purchased got the game on all three platforms with one key. We can do a more detailed analysis once we get more sales data coming in - but I'm not really sure if any of the data would be accurate.
Did they allow you to payback the extra investments (development time, etc)?
I think we will see a good ROI for the two additional platforms. We also have earned intangibles like more experience with the platforms, and now have lots of Mac machines for testing that will pay dividends down the road.
The Mac platform challenges (and future?)
Are there any specific challenges related to creating games on the Mac platform (OpenGL vs DirectX, etc.)?
There were a few minor adjustments that we had to make to a couple of shaders due to how UV coordinates work between the two APIs. There's Mac-specific code for handling resolution switching, going to fullscreen to windowed mode, mouse cursor support, etc. There are also small differences on how saved games work, and how files need to get loaded from disk. Making builds of the game to support multiple platforms can also exponentially complicate how regional SKUs work, and installers need to be made for each platform as well.
Do you see MacOS growing as a gaming platform moving forward?
I hope so! I personally play games on my MacBook Pro and I hope more developers support the platform. More and more games are using cross-platform engines like Unity, so I think we will see the majority of games with Mac support.
A big thank you (and what's next)
First of all, many thanks to Adam Brennecke and Shane DeFreest from Obsidian for their time. I certainly hope we will get to talk again when Obsidian's future games also make it to Mac ;).
Since my first interview with 11 bit Studios, I keep looking for more opportunities to talk with those who create the games we love. I promised you I would bring you more so the only question that remains is: Who would you like me to interview next?