Today's update isn't about lore as much as it is about the focus and process of developing our central plot. I'm not going to spoil any details of the story, but I do want to share what we're working on.
When we develop stories at Obsidian, we often ask ourselves (and each other), "What's the conflict and why do I care about it?" and, "What is my range of roles in resolving the conflict?" "RPG" means a lot of different things to different people. For us, it's important to let the player decide who he or she is in the story. That means when you set aside class, race, magic missiles, and all of the other goodies, the player needs to be able to define his or her own motivations, attitudes toward others, and ways of resolving problems in the story.
Finding the right level of player freedom and clarity of purpose can be difficult. It's tricky to develop scenarios that can convincingly motivate characters of many races and classes, many backgrounds, and many moral and ethical stances. A conflict that is too "hands-off" or impersonal (e.g. a political conflict that doesn't directly involve the player) can make it difficult for players to connect to it. A conflict that is extremely personal may rub players the wrong way if it assumes too much about their character or if it feels like their choices don't have a large enough impact on the world around them.
Because this is the first story your characters will shape in this world, we want to start with something small that grows into something larger. As we have hinted before, the story opens with the player's character witnessing a supernatural event that puts him or her in a difficult situation. The full ramifications of what you become a part of are not immediately apparent, but you quickly become aware that you have... new problems. Dealing with these problems makes you realize that resolving your situation is inexorably linked to the fates of many others. In some cases, these "others" are individuals. In others, they are much larger groups of people. You will get to interact with them all in various ways over the course of the story. If we do a good job in developing these groups and characters, the decisions you make in the course of resolving your problems will be interesting and difficult to make.
That's what we're aiming for, but that doesn't necessarily tell you what we've been doing. On this project, the process started with a rough idea for a story and a theme that went along with it. The story itself wasn't that important; it was just an idea to get us moving. What followed were critiques of the story's premise, the unfolding of the plot, the player's motivation and involvement, and the scope of the conflicts the player faces from the beginning through the end. For the past few weeks, we've been exchanging various small ideas, big ideas, minor tweaks, radical overhauls, and brand new storylines. Through it all, we regularly return to the questions I posed up above: "What's the conflict and why do I care about it?" and, "What is my range of roles in resolving the conflict?" We can (and do) write about all sorts of character and location ideas, subplots and interesting takes on themes, but until we answer those questions in a way we believe will be compelling to your characters and all that they may be, we still have work to do.
We like to develop fun ideas we come up with and every once in a while we delight at some clever character or situation we think of, but for us, it's more important for you to feel clever, for youto feel like you can take control of a situation -- by whatever means you see fit. Until we believe we have a few gems on our hands, we'll keep the Story Gnomes digging in the mines on your behalf.
Thanks for reading.
Update by Josh Sawyer
PS: Chris says he will start playing Arcanum mid-January.