Project Eternity is the new old RPG being made by Obsidian Entertainment. If you follow Kickstarter, or Obsidian, you already know about it – an isometric party-based game in the style of the old classics such as Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate. Between Kickstarter and their Paypal donations, Obsidian raised just over four million dollars for their project, far more than the $1.1 million they were aiming for. As a result, they have added a truly staggering amount of extra content into the features list of the game thanks to the “stretch goals” meant to entice potential donations beyond their original asking price. Despite this, as of the time of writing they are still aiming for the original release date 18 months from now.
And this is where I start to get concerned.
I’ve donated to the project, despite having something of a love-hate relationship with Obsidian. Specifically, I love their writing. It’s not as good as some of their more zealous fanboys claim, but it is generally a cut above the average for the industry, especially now that Bioware is tumbling downhill at a disconcertingly rapid pace. Alpha Protocol and Fallout: New Vegas showcase some of their best work.
Unfortunately, that’s the extent of the love; the rest is hate. I find any game in which they get leeway to design the UI or systems tends to be clunky and frustrating to interact with (see Dungeon Siege 3’s character menus, or everything combat-related in Alpha Protocol). I find their game design questionable at times – invisible walls in New Vegas, incomprehensible UI decisions in Neverwinter Nights 2, and absolutely atrocious party composition in Mask of the Betrayer (no, it’s cool, just give me a ton of spellcasters, I don’t need any rogues or tanks or healers or anything) are some of the rawest memories.
And then there are the bugs. Obsidian is infamous for its buggy games. Personally, I’ve run into everything from the benign (random missing spell textures in NWN2) to the annoying (enemies clipping inside the terrain in New Vegas) to the game-breaking (my own avatar clipping inside the terrain in Alpha Protocol). I’ve been fortunate enough not to have any of their code eat my save games, but it’s still been a rough ride.
The bugginess of Obsidian’s offerings, as well as the famously truncated ending of Knights of the Old Republic 2, have long been laid at the feet of publishers. “They weren’t given enough time!” is the rallying cry, and there’s some truth to it, which begs the question – what on earth is Obsidian thinking? There’s no publisher enforcing their self-imposed deadline. They’ve at least doubled their workload with the sheer amount of extra content promised through the stretch goals, but they’re still sticking with the original release date. It’s folly.
Obsidian, if you’re reading this (and of course you’re reading this – where else do you go to keep your finger on the pulse of the gaming community if not an obscure history blog), extend your deadline. There’s no point in rushing yourselves. This is your moment. This is the time when you step up and show all your naysayers wrong – when you prove, once and for all, that you can make a game that isn’t constantly imploding on itself behind the scenes. Take your time. QA this game into the ground. Whatever you do, don’t release it early because you want to stick to your own release date. Take a page from Valve on this one: When it’s done, and not a day earlier.