Back in June, amidst all the usual hubbub of E3, Obsidian announced two DLC releases for Tyranny. The first, a smaller ‘Event Pack’ called Tales from the Tiers was released immediately. A larger expansion, Bastard’s Wound, is still to come.
To find out more about Bastard’s Wound, I had a chat with Obsidian’s Matt MacLean, the narrative lead on Tyranny. Also present were Obsidian’s Julia Kernan, Mikey Dowling, and, beaming in from planet Paradox, Gustav Groth. MacLean was understandably reticent about story-related matters in Bastard’s Wound and, as you’ll see from the transcript, feels that too much information is already out there. On all other topics he was open and engaging.
Read on for details about the upcoming expansion, how it will reintroduce the Beastmen, and Obsidian’s structural philosophy for replayability in Tyranny. There are also tidbits about the concurrent free update that will come alongside Bastard’s Wound to add a little more to the game’s third act. Bastard’s Wound doesn’t have a release date yet, but Paradox told me to expect one soon.
PC Invasion: Whereabouts in the game’s three acts does Bastard’s Wound slot into the story?
Matt McLean: This DLC is designed to be accessible to players who are at almost any point in the game. We put most of the action in the second Act of the game, to make it accessible to players on any of the major branches of the quest.
PCI: Is that so players who may have already finished Tyranny last year will be able to jump in asap?
MM: We have a New Game Plus mode that was released [for free] alongside the last DLC [Tales from the Tiers]. Our goal with this one is to have a DLC that doesn’t require the player to have already beaten the game. If they beat the game already they can go to an old save at Act Two, or just New Game Plus their way to Act Two. Act One isn’t very long, so we figured that’s the sweet spot to get the most players.
PCI: The main setting is a refugee camp that’s hidden from Kyros, can you talk a little more about that?
MM: [Laughs] Apparently it’s hidden from Kyros but not from the public.
PCI: Well, it’s on the Steam page [Laughs]. It’s kind of out there. Anyway, could you talk about that location and what kind of dilemmas it may present for the Fatebinder?
MM: We’ve kind of already spoiled a little bit too much about the story and the big thing we traffic in here at Obsidian is story, so I don’t want to speak too much more about it. But yes, the action takes place in a part of the world that was ignored by the major thrust of the war. Kyros’ armies marched past this place. It’s a spot where things are happening … not really a side-story, but one that’s happening concurrently with the main story. So players get to look on something that the rest of the armies haven’t seen.
PCI: So will actions you perform in Bastard’s Wound have an impact on the original story, or is this more separate?
MM: You’re asking for spoilers man.
PCI: We can be general about it …
MM: Yeah … there are certain ways to have it react to the main story, yeah. But I would say that the focus is not on a story that interacts with the main story. We only have so many hours in the day to work on content, so we wanted to create most of the content to be multiple ways to play out this additional adventure area. There are connections to the main world, but we wanted to focus more on lots of things to do in this area, and have less focus on how the ripples affect the main world.
PCI: There was reference in the original Bastard’s Wound announcement that this expansion would give a closer look at the Beastmen. Can you elaborate on that?
MM: In the main game we only really got to show one of the tribes of the Beastmen throughout the tiers, the Stonestalkers. There’s more to the Beastmen than just that tribe, unfortunately the story never took us to the places where we’d show you more of them. So we’re excited to have a chance to show more about the Beastmen, teach you about their history, have more characters to show you the different experiences the tribes have and what makes the different.
PCI: It seems like there are three companions who are getting new quests in Bastard’s Wound, is that right?
MM: That’s correct. For this particular DLC we have companion quests for Lantry, Barik, and Verse.
PCI: Since it deals with the Beastmen, is there any particular reason Kills-in-Shadow is not one of the companions getting a new quest?
MM: That’s a great question, but I don’t have a good answer for that.
Julia [Kernan]: Other than having time. Production time only allowed for us creating so much.
PCI: The spell system was one thing I really enjoyed in Tyranny, will the expansion add anything to that system?
MM: With the last DLC we’ve had some modifications to the spell system in terms of balance. We’re not adding any major sigils, mainly out of a problem of multiplicity. Any new sigil has to interact with every other shape and accent. We certainly thought about it, and it’s something we kinda wanted to do, but it’s something that turned out to be more expensive than we initially thought possible.
In some ways we made the magic system so complex that adding to it is a multiplication problem out of the scope of what we were trying to do.
PCI: Following on from that to some extent; when you’re designing a game like Tyranny that’s based around multiple playthroughs, what kind of internal considerations do you have to make when determining the ratio of completely new scenes that some people will never see, versus total play-time?
MM: That’s a really fantastic question. I think it takes you back to Alpha Protocol where we were setting up this story that had these hubs of Rome, Taipei, and Moscow. Early on we had this question of “should I be able to change the story so much that I don’t see Rome, Moscow, or Taipei on a given story?” And we said “no, we can’t afford to do that.” That’s too much content to make and then not show to a bunch of players.
When we got to Tyranny we had this situation where we had plenty of levels, and with the branching quest-line we actually chose in some cases to make a story-line that runs through some areas, but not all of them. I don’t necessarily know if that was the best thing to do in hindsight because I think some players when they talk to other players they find out “Oh, you got to go to that area? Well I didn’t go to this area, I feel like I’ve lost out on some content.”
In many ways making conditionalised content seems to have annoyed players instead of making them excited for different doors they can open and close. Instead they were just angry that they couldn’t see the content.
So, maybe the lesson is don’t make any levels the player can’t see. Instead you try to look at what areas you have and how different can you make each of these areas in the time you have allowed. Can you make it just like … does the area stay 90% the same and maybe the bad guy at the end changes? Well, that’s not very exciting. Ideally you want to change it so maybe you’re friends with Side A or friends with Side B, which is kind of the approach we took with Tyranny.
We knew we had the Blade Grave, Lethian’s Crossing, all these regions with set factions. Our way of embrace the change was to keep the set-ups mostly the same, but if we have these A versus B fights we can always have you explore the area at least two ways over by making you friends with A or B – or neither. That was our core philosophy for dealing with these regions.
Sorry, that feels like a lot of words [Laughs].
PCI: No no, it’s great. This is an aside but I absolutely loved Alpha Protocol, I really enjoyed the approach you took with that. I know you get asked this a lot but … Alpha Protocol 2, that’s down to SEGA isn’t it?
MM: Not up to me, but …
Mikey [Dowling]: That’s all on SEGA.
MM: Would happily do it, but I can’t make that decision.
PCI: Well, back on topic. Alongside the release of Bastard’s Wound there’s going to be a free update that’s going to expand the third Act. Could you talk a bit about how it’s going to do that … maybe without spoilers? [Laughs]
MM: It’s something I don’t want to over-sell because Act Three is a very wide Act in the game. Some players can get through Act Three very quickly, but there’s actually a lot of content because you can arrive at Act Three with about twelve different major permutations of the story.
A lot of what we’ve done is added some things to Act Three that add more … ah, not sure how to speak about this without adding more spoilers. We’ve added some more content to Act Three that we would have loved to have put in the main game, but we didn’t want to put it as part of the DLC, so we wanted to make sure it was a free update to everybody else. I think that’s the best way to describe it.
PCI: That kind of dovetails into another question. For the Third Act were there time or deadline constraints with that? Because it seemed like the pacing accelerates quite a bit.
MM: Certainly there’s always production realities to everything we do, but really Act Three is more a … it actually has a lot of scripting, more than any one player sees on one play-through. Act Three could have been much longer had we forced you to deal with the Archons in a very set order, because then we know exactly what’s going to happen. But we wanted to make sure the player could freely move around in Act Three and that required that every scene had to deal with “Did you deal with it first? Did you go and deal with these major things and then go deal with it?”
So in many ways Act Three is a very widely scripted, very open-ended experience that … the only way we could really make it much longer is to have made it far more constrained with a lot less choice. I think we did the right thing making it accept a lot of different Act Two starts. You can arrive it from many different Act Two variables and conditions, and you can play it in lots of different ways. In that regard it’s a success, it’s just unfortunate that any one player might see a very short run through Act Three.
PCI: It wasn’t so much a length thing for me, it’s that you … this happens with a lot of RPGs. You suddenly get a lot of powerful tools and powerful items at your disposal, but suddenly it’s right at the end of the game and you don’t get to use them. It’s a universal problem I suppose. Is that something you’d tried to work around at Obsidian?
MM: I really can’t speak to the systems design of it, that wasn’t my role. But yeah, I suppose we always try to make sure there’s a good, even distribution of systems as you play the game.
PCI: Getting into dangerous territory again, but there is a new ending path being teased as well. Is this another detail you wish was not out there yet?
MM: Yeah, file under “Things I wish hasn’t been spoiled already,” but yes. That’s all I’ll say about it.
PCI: This final question may be best for Gustav. You guys have been working with Paradox for a little while now. Paradox have got some very interesting intellectual properties at their disposal at the moment. Is there a chance of you continuing to work together beyond Tyranny?
MM: I love working on Tyranny but that’s really not my call.
JK: It’s more of a business question.
Gustav [Groth]: I can’t say anything about future projects between Paradox and Obsidian right now. What I can say is that the co-operation we’ve had with Obsidian since Pillars of Eternity has been great. We think it’s one of the best studios, certainly one of the top tier RPG studios in the world, and I think we’ve got a really good method of how we work together. So … it’s just a matter of whether there’s a good opportunity.