The revival of the cRPG has seen a host of incredibly well received games cropping up over the last few years, and Divinity: Original Sin was very much at the forefront of this when it was released towards the end of 2014.
However, Larian Studios are not ones to rest on their laurels, and have spent the last year giving the game a thorough overhaul as they ported it across to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as recently concluding a fresh Kickstarter campaign for a sequel. With the Enhanced Edition out this week, we reviewed the game earlier today, but also had the opportunity to speak with Swen Vincke, Larian Studios’ founder, about everything they’ve been working on.
TSA: Having set out to make a cRPG, specifically a computer role playing game with all the depth and complexity that brings with it, at what point during development did you think, “Hey! Let’s bring this across to console!”?
Swen Vincke: The idea for making it on controller was already present, way before we were even talking about Original Sin, when the game was still called Eyes of a Child. There’s an image somewhere – I think we posted it on one of our Kickstarter updates – which is concept art from a very, very, very early pitch of the game, and it’s of two people sitting together on a couch, playing it on controller and having a conversation in game.
That was very much the idea from the very beginning, so it was a no brainer that we were going to try doing it. However, a console release like the one that we’re doing now was quite a lot of effort and back then we didn’t have the means to do it, so we postponed it. When Original Sin was released, one of the very first things that we did was to finally try out that split-screen idea, to see if it was going to work, and when we saw we could make it work, then it went very fast.
TSA: Even with it in mind for so long, would you say that getting the game work on and be comfortable on controller was the most challenging aspect of the leap to console?
Swen: Yeah, I mean, we started in July 2014 and we are now in October 2015 and it wasn’t so many months ago that we finished on it, so we spent a lot of time on getting the controls right.
You have to realise that part of the game is that you can play it in co-op split screen locally. That meant all of the controls had to work for two people at the same time. That’s even hard for a simpler game, so imagine if you’re trying to do a deep RPG like this and you want to be able to allow that and do that in a seamless way, where you go from single player to multiplayer and you don’t want the player to learn new controls, it’s not so easy. So we had to iterate a lot and try a lot of things.
TSA: Beyond that, this is being marketed as the Enhanced Edition, and as a free update for PC owners as well, but I guess, well, what makes it so enhanced? [laughs]
Swen: Have you played it?
TSA: Not personally, but someone else on the team has been reviewing it.
Swen: Well I would hope that he can see!
There’s literally dozens of changes. It starts with the obvious things where you can play with the controller, play in split screen, you have full voice recording where we recorded ever single dialogue line, so that’s over 80,000 lines that are in there.
We revamped every single encounter in the game, we added Tactician Mode where we looked at how people were playing and then made those encounters harder for those who wanted an extra challenge, but we didn’t just make it harder by adding extra stats, we put in extra monsters, different skills, different monster types that are only available in Tactician Mode. Even in the Classic Mode we changed pretty much all of the encounters we thought were boring and all the traps that were boring.
We’ve revamped a lot of the story lines, we changed the ending so that it’s a lot stronger now, I think, we looked at how the story was being told to players, so a lot has changed on that front and there’s extra cutscenes that have been added…
TSA: It’s quite unusual for a developer to be able to go back to a game and overhaul it in such a comprehensive manner.
Swen: Yeah, but it’s been very successful for us and we’re very grateful to our players. When we decided to go on console, this gaves us the opportunity to make a different game, one that is better, and one that contains all the things we think we should have done in the original release. Every developer, when he releases a game, has this feeling like they have to release, but really they’d like to do this and this and this.
So it’s the Enhanced Edition because we were going to Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and we had that opportunity. Then it went completely out of control, as it usually does…
We had the same thing happen once before. It was different circumstances, but pretty much the same thing happen when we went from Divinity II: Ego Draconis to Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga. Suddenly everybody has a stake and this has to change, we can’t ship unless that hasn’t changed. It’s very emotional really.
Nobody has dared look at the exact budget for [Enhanced Edition], and we’re all fooling ourselves by saying that it’s all part of the work for Original Sin 2!
TSA: I guess as long as you don’t get a call from the bank manager, you’re OK. [laughs]
Swen: Yeah, but we do have a good idea of where we stand.
In a sense it’s true, though, because the engine is probably the thing that’s changed the most – it’s almost a new engine in that sense – although that’s invisible to most players, but if you put both versions of the game next to each other, then it becomes rapidly apparent.
TSA: Sticking with Original Sin 2, you’ve just rounded off the Kickstarter campaign, and I’m curious if there was anything you felt you were able to do better with this campaign compared to the first time through?
Swen: With the Kickstarter? It was easier to get started because we already had the fanbase in place. Other than that, the big challenge was to manage that success initially. We were a little bit overrun by how fast it went in those first days.
TSA: Yeah, because I think you reached all of your stretch goals almost before you’d put them up on the site!
Swen: Yeah, it went really fast. It wasn’t all of the stretch goals, but if I remember correctly, I think we reached a million dollars in four days, and our original goal was for half a million.
I have to check my facts, because my memory of that period is already hazy. It goes like that when you have a newborn… it’s a very tiring period, but it went really, really fast, and we got a lot of really positive feedback from our players. It was really nice to see the people who were really grateful for the experience they had with Original Sin, and that’s cool. I think that’s the best place you can be as a developer.
TSA: You ended up with twice as many backers and twice as much in additional funding, because the Kickstarter is helping to boost your own budget, but do you feel that’s added pressure for you?
Swen: Oh, yeah!
Even for the Enhanced Edition, the pressure is enormous. The original Original Sin won a lot of Game of the Year awards, including on Gamespot, which is for us a AAA site and we are and independent developer, so finding ourselves under that scrutiny was fun, but at the same time, it’s like the only way is down now… [laughs] This is the first time we do something as big and expansive on console, on new platforms for us, so you can imagine that we, yeah, we feel a little bit pressurised.
For Original Sin 2, the pressure is enormous, but we have good backers, so hopefully they’ll help us like they did for the first Original Sin, and then we should end up with something cool.
TSA: Looking through the Divinity series as a whole, you’ve always pushed in different and new directions with each game, so what are you looking to tackle with Original Sin 2?
Swen: Well we’ve got the entire PvP thing, and competitive questing hasn’t been done before or not at the level that we’re doing it, and we’ve got the Game Master mode which is going to be challenging.
The PvP takes everybody by surprise. We had a lot of people play it at PAX, we had a lot of journalists come over here and try it out, and everybody is saying, “Oh! It actually works!”
There’s something there, and so what we’ve got to do now is explore how far we can take that something. That takes iteration, so we’ll probably stumble a few times before we find the right gameplay, and something like Kickstarter gives us the fuel that we need to do that exploration of the gameplay.
TSA: Yeah, the Kickstarter really gives you extra time, which is the most important thing when you’re having to find your way.
Swen: A producer once told me, you can’t be creative if you can’t fail. So in development you have to accept that failure is part of the process as you’re searching for things. It’s painful for the people paying the bills, but you have to.
Richard Cobbett on Rock, Paper, Shotgun today, he did a piece on why dungeon master modes are failing. It was an interesting piece to read, because he’s probably right in a lot of aspects, and there hasn’t been one that’s really taken off so far. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be trying, because every time you try, something else is being discovered and eventually somebody’s going to put it all together and you’ll have a new game mode.
The great thing about Kickstarter is that it lets us explore that terrain. You get grilled when you fail, but that’s a different story.
TSA: With the consoles now having the Enhanced Edition, where do consoles fit in your plans for the future with Original Sin 2?
Swen: We said that with Original Sin 2 we’re going to focus on the PC version first, and we’re going to see if there’s a market for a game like Enhanced Edition on console. I think we did a decent job of bringing it to console and controller, but now we have to see if there’s people on PS4 and Xbox One that want to play it.
The reason why I say that is because when we were starting to make it for console, we were looking for similar games and there are none!
TSA: Well it’s been interesting to see the revival of the cRPG, and you’re in that first wave who went through Kickstarter and focussed on PC first. There’s also Wasteland 2 which has just come out on console as well, and both you and inXile are doing this as independent studios with the help of publishers, but the cRPG hasn’t really had that presence for the last decade, so there’s less chance of this kind of game appearing on console because of that!
Swen: But to be fair, that argument could be reversed! The reason why they weren’t coming out or you weren’t seeing them was because there was no market on console. Publishers only wanted to invest in multiplatform titles, and nobody really managed to do it well on consoles when there were experiments back in the days of PS2 which didn’t perform as expected, I presume.
So maybe they won’t work, maybe they’ll work, I don’t know. We’ll see!
Thanks a lot to Swen for taking the time to talk to us. Don’t forget to check out our review of Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition from earlier today. Depending on platforms, the game is out today or later this week on PS4, Xbox One and PC.