Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Chris Avellone leaves Obsidian Entertainment

Chris Avellone, one of the best-known writers in the CRPG field, has left Obsidian Entertainment, the company he co-founded a dozen years ago, for pastures new.

"What can change the nature of a man?"
"Being reduced to a floating, disembodied skull."
"Oh, right."

Normally, a change of career for a video game staffmember would not be news-worthy, but Avellone is one of the most critically well-regarded writers in the genre. He started out at Interplay, in particular its Black Isle RPG development team, where he won early acclaim for directing the development of Fallout 2. Following that he worked on what is widely regarded as the greatest CRPG ever written, Planescape: Torment. He proceeded to work on Icewind Dale and its sequel before leading development of Project Van Buren, the code-name for the original Fallout 3. During the development of Van Buren Black Isle was abruptly shut down due to financial issues and Interplay effectively ceased to exist as a games development company.

Avellone and several of his Black Isle colleagues regrouped to found Obsidian Entertainment in 2003. BioWare, who had produced the Baldur's Gate series for Interplay and worked alongside Black Isle, gave Obsidian their first break by convincing LucasArts to hire them to make Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, with Avellone taking a key writing role. Although hamstrung by budget and time constraints, Knights of the Old Republic II won critical acclaim for its subversive deconstruction of the Jedi and the simplistic black/white morality of the Star Wars universe. Obsidian subsequently developed Neverwinter Nights II, Alpha Protocol and Fallout: New Vegas, the latter of which re-used some of the old Van Buren ideas. Avellone worked on all of these games, gaining kudos for his key work on the Mask of the Betrayer expansion for NWN2 and Old World Blues for New Vegas.

More recently, Avellone has been allowed to branch out and outsource work to inXile Entertainment (made up of other ex-Interplay and Black Isle staff), contributing quests, dialogue and characters to both Wasteland 2 and the upcoming Torment: Tides of Numenera. His last big project for Obsidian was working on the hugely successful crowdfunded RPG Pillars of Eternity.

Avellone's writing is noted for being rooted in character and thematic development, philosophy and internal realisation, unusual for a medium which is usually more story and action-focused.

According to Twitter, the break with Obsidian was wholly mutual. Avellone's next project is unknown, but speculation is rampant that he may team up with inXile, who recently regained access to the Van Buren trademark. Although it won't be a Fallout game (the rights for which reside with Bethesda, who recently announced Fallout 4), there is speculation that Van Buren will be re-tooled either as a whole new post-apocalyptic franchise, or may form the basis for the inevitable Wasteland 3.

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