Obsidian designer says ‘publisher deadlines’ contribute to buggy games reputation

“We’re not total idiots,” says designer director

Obsidian Entertainment design director Josh Sawyer has said a combination of more development time and better planning can help the RPG specialist shed its reputation for releasing “buggy games.”

Sawyer was responding to a commenter on his personal Tumblr account, who suggested the studio’s more recent releases, including Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, were more polished than its older games.

Asked whether this was due to the studio refining its QA process over the years, or simply a result of it having “more time and money”, Sawyer argued that bugs were a natural by-product of creating complex non-linear games like Fallout: New Vegas, which he directed, although he said that steps can be taken to mitigate them.

“With Pillars 1 and Deadfire, we were the ultimate arbiters of our ship date,” he said. “In both cases, when it came down to the wire, we decided to push back the release of the game by a few months. That can make a huge difference.

“We’re not total idiots,” he added. “We know that we have a reputation for buggy games. And while some of that is endemic to making big, complicated RPGs with thousands of different ways through them, it’s still within our power to reduce bugs on our end with more time. When it’s a publisher’s choice, that ability (or priority) can be taken away from us.”

With the Pillars of Eternity games, Sawyer also said Obsidian lead designer Bobby Null “did a great job of limiting quest complexity at the document stage. There is a potential danger in quest design being so limited that it isn’t complex enough to engage the player’s interest, but we benefit by having less buggy quests overall”.

He added: “Games like F:NV didn’t really have any framework for quest design, which often resulted in extremely fragile quests that took more time to implement than expected and pushed testing outside of the development window.

“It’s definitely a trade-off, because some quests in F:NV are very cool because of their complexity.”

Obsidian is currently working on The Outer Worlds, which is due for release on PS4, Xbox One and PC later this year. It’s set to be published by Take-Two publishing label Private Division, which was established in 2017 to work with independent developers.

Private Division signed The Outer Worlds prior to Microsoft’s acquisition of Obsidian, which was announced at E3 2018. Microsoft’s executive VP of gaming, Phil Spencer, said last week the company plans to show off 14 Xbox Game Studios titles at its E3 2019 press conference this Sunday, meaning there’s a good chance it’s set to reveal a new Obsidian game.