Kickstarted: Old School ‘Project Eternity’ RPG Gets Funded — Could It Raise $10 Million?

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Obsidian Entertainment

So this is happening: Developer Obsidian — with talent responsible for roleplaying oldies like Fallout, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment — just killed it on Kickstarter, hotfooting from zero to $1.1 million with its “Project Eternity” halcyon-days RPG reboot in about 27 hours.

Is that a record? I’m not sure. What I do know is that a developer promising to give us a time machine back to the days roleplaying games didn’t involve mashing buttons on gamepads or nosing about in newfangled “first-person” just galloped from zero to over $1 million in slightly more time than it takes the planet to spin once on its axis.

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Obsidian’s now fully-funded Kickstarter project is about making “an isometric, party-based RPG set in a new fantasy world,” according to its design team, who read like the holy trinity of retro-PC gaming: Chris Avellone (Planescape), Tim Cain (Fallout) and Josh Sawyer (Icewind Dale). It’s like a big hair super-group, only one slinging lutes and crooning stuff like “Road goes ever on and on…” or “An Elven-maid there was of old…”

Here’s the description:

Project Eternity aims to recapture the magic, imagination, depth, and nostalgia of classic RPGs that we enjoyed making – and playing. At Obsidian, we have the people responsible for many of those classic games and we want to bring those games back… and that’s why we’re here – we need your help to make it a reality!

The goal: To “pay homage to the great Infinity Engine games of years past: Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment.” The Infinity Engine turned out to be finite, of course, ending its reign after a handful of games with Icewind Dale II in 2002, though it’s making a prominent reappearance in November on the iPad vis-a-vis Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, a port of the game that re-launched Dungeons & Dragons on the PC back in 1998.

Fun fact: Developer BioWare’s first stab at the Infinity Engine was a real-time strategy project dubbed “Battleground Infinity.” So sayeth that online tome of infallibility, Wikipedia, anyway. Former BioWare designer Trent Oster recently clarified that “Battleground Infinity” was actually a “hacked Direct X demo” and that the Infinity Engine “was a from-scratch effort.”

Hold on, the days of isometric roleplaying games are over, aren’t they? Oh right, hello Diablo III and Torchlight II. But those games aren’t technically isometric, and that’s not how we use the word these days anyway. Nowadays, it’s meant more in its literal sense: “having equal dimensions or measurements.” You wouldn’t call Diablo III an isometric RPG, you’d just call it an action-RPG, and if pressed to describe how it looks, you’d probably say something like “3D point and click” — that is, if you bothered at all.

Since everything’s pretty much rendered as a 3D object of one sort or another in today’s games and you can theoretically view it from any angle, the need to describe stuff like perspective, beyond genre where it’s implied, e.g. first-person, third-person, etc., has pretty much passed.

But in the 1990s and early 2000s, “isometric” was wonk-speak to loosely reference an entire era of games where the camera was situated above the play area, looking down at an angle — games that ranged from Ultima VIII to Arcanum to Divine Divinity. An “isometric RPG” also came to signify thoughtful storytelling, tactical depth, player parties of six or more, lush and often hand-drawn backdrops, dozens of hours of gameplay at minimum and armor ratings where lower ratings were desirable and negative ones sublime.

Project Eternity is Obsidian’s bid to bring some of that back. According to the Kickstarter explanation, the team wants to “take the central hero, memorable companions and the epic exploration of Baldur’s Gate, add in the fun, intense combat and dungeon diving of Icewind Dale, and tie it all together with the emotional writing and mature thematic exploration of Planescape: Torment.”

And that sort of name-dropping, I suspect, is why it hit $1.1 million in slightly more than a day. It’s up to $1.45 million as I’m typing this. If it slips past $10.2 million, the total for the Pebble E-Paper Watch, we’d be talking about the highest funded Kickstarter project yet.

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What do we get for $1.1 million? Nothing, technically — Kickstarter’s a venture startup thing, not an e-store, and there’s no formal mechanism for returning what amounts to an unconditional donation if thing go awry. That said, whatever you think of Obsidian’s more recent games, the company knows how to run the ball in, so when they lay out the following details about “Project Eternity,” I’m inclined to think it’ll happen, as estimated, by spring 2014.

Combat uses a tactical real-time with pause system – positioning your party and coordinating attacks and abilities is one of the keys to success. The world map is dotted with unique locations and wilderness ripe for exploration and questing. You’ll create your own character and collect companions along the way – taking him or her not just through this story, but, with your continued support, through future adventures. You will engage in dialogues that are deep, and offer many choices to determine the fate of you and your party. …and you’ll experience a story that explores mature themes and presents you with complex, difficult choices to shape how your story plays out.

Speaking for myself (but probably most of you, too), this sort of thing makes me want to throttle my inner-cynic. It cuts ROI-obsessed publishers out of the picture and, assuming Obsidian’s budgeted properly, shows how we might actually be able to have nice things without corporate benediction. It gives guys like Avellone and Cain and Sawyer, who’ve clearly wanted to make further games in the Planescape mold but haven’t been able to secure backing, a way to go forward democratically. And it all happened in a day. A day! From nothing to “it’s on” in no time.

And to think, $1.1 million for — I say this with love — a pretty niche computer roleplaying game. Imagine the possibilities were Jane Jensen to revisit Gabriel Knight (she successfully funded a new standalone adventure game on Kickstarter earlier this year). Or Tim Schafer (via LucasArts) to give the Grim Fandango or Full Throttle universes another shake. Or Square Enix to throw its weight behind a long-pined-for Final Fantasy VII remake.

Actually, forget the remakes, because who needs ‘em with sites like Good Old Games (as well as Square Enix) making yesterday’s stuff playable on today’s hardware. The beauty of this Obsidian Kickstarter thing is that, while it’s retreading certain core design principles, it’s its own thing. A brand new world with the promise of future installments, us willing. Exciting times — our chance to see what might have happened, had these sorts of top-down, roots-roleplaying games lived on.

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16 comments
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Falcon D. Stormvoice
Falcon D. Stormvoice

I love oldschool RPGs like this. My big concern here is that the plot they've given so far does worse than bore me. I really hope they prove me wrong and this 'souls' thing is actually engaging while I'm playing it.

Don Moman
Don Moman

I would think that someone who gets paid to write about video games should have at least heard of games like Bard's Tale (amp; its sequels) or Might and Magic (amp; its sequels), and would therefore know enough about video game history to know that a first person perspective is not "newfangled." 

Also, maybe some evidence to support the suggestion that Project Eternity can hit 10 million would be nice seeing as it's right there in the headline? I mean, I'd love for that to happen, but right now, the average pledge per backer is $41.89. That number is considerably lower than comperable games Wasteland 2 ($47.86) and Shadowrun Returns ($50.62), although it has been going up by about 50 cents a day, but even if that trend continued and at the end of the Kickstarter the average pledge was in the $50 range, the project would require 200,000 supporters to reach $10 million. For comparison, the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter which kicked off the recent rash of (relatively) well-known developers going to Kickstarter for funding, finished with 87,142 backers. Now, it's not terribly unbelievable that Project Eternity might finish in the 90k backer zone, that would mean that they doubled their number of backers in the latter 2/3 of their campaign, which is pretty average for similar gaming Kickstarters. A $50 average pledge and 90,000 backers would put the total at about $4.5 million. So where does the extra $5.5 million come from?

If you want to say, "Wouldn't it be cool if Project Eternity hit $10 million?" maybe you should say that on Twitter or Facebook. Journalism, however, is more than saying what you think might be really cool. 5 minutes on Google, in this case, would have given you a number of actual facts that you could have used to provide an insightful analysis of Project Eternity's Kicksterter chances. Alternatively, you could have dropped the baseless speculation about final totals and stuck with the stuff that was right there on the projet's page, like who's involved and what their former games were.

I'm very disappointed Matt, you can do better. Please see me after class.

JOSH STOWERS
JOSH STOWERS

I'd be happy with another Obsidian Fallout for sure.. F4 - Black Isle Style, oh yess...

grape_crush
grape_crush

For me, Planescape: Torment was the high point of that generation of RPG gaming...as it was as much about the story, characters, visuals, and choices a player made as it was about the game mechanics or the actual gameplay itself. You could look at, say, Mass Effect or The Witcher as being current-gen games that serve as spiritual descendants of those earlier, excellent games.

Still, it's a niche market; gaming has evolved from that point because technology and gamers' tastes in gameplay have evolved. What hasn't changed is the desire for an engaging plot that respects the intelligence of the person who's playing the game.

Wes Kerfoot
Wes Kerfoot

I have many fond memories of playing their games, especially Icewind Dale I and II, as well as Baldur's Gate II, which I still find incredibly addictive, and still periodically play. I'm pretty excited about this because it has been a long time since a decent RPG in this style has been made, it seems like these days it's either over-marketed action-rpg bs or Bethesda's brand of RPG (which I enjoy, but it gets tiring). With this, Broken Sword 5, Wasteland II, and the Double Fine Adventure, I think we are seeing some fantastic people get to return to their creative roots.

Dave Oshry
Dave Oshry

Best Kickstarter related article I've read in quite some time, and I read em all!  I threw my money at this on day one.  I have high hopes and no regrets!

Karl Melton
Karl Melton

Just imagine if Bethesda gave Obsidian the rights to Fallout New Vegas 2. Now, imagine further that Bethesda eliminates itself from the publishing role, and allows Obsidian to fund it through kickstarter. No deadlines from Bethesda, no crappy QA testing from Bethesda, just the original creaters of Fallout doing what they do best. Yeah, I know I'm dreaming here, but I really am concerned that Fallout 4 (If Bethesda develops) will dump all the improvements in mechanics and writing that New Vegas made.

Falcon D. Stormvoice
Falcon D. Stormvoice

Oh, yes, because then we would only have a vastly improved Fallout 3... I do like New Vegas better, but I definitely won't be crying if all we get in 4 is akin to the leap from one TES game to the next. 

Alper Atik
Alper Atik

I wonder... Since there's no $10 million stretch goal on the official Kickstarter Page, how'd you figure

'Old-School Project Eternity’ RPG Gets Funded, Stretches for $10 Million' ?

Dylan Endries
Dylan Endries

It explains in the article that the current record for a Kickstarter project is 10.2 million or so, they're just using that number to be sensational, but it's not like they just pulled it out of their ass.

Matt Peckham
Matt Peckham

Yep, I meant in the "reach" sense, as opposed to the goal sense -- just clarified.

Alper Atik
Alper Atik

 Thanks for your immediate reply. I'm cool :)