Divinity: Original Sin interview: how Larian built an RPG with no wrong choices, and details on its next update

PCG : I've seen a pretty vocal minority, I think, but still vocal, group of players who talk about how some of the puzzles tend to be pretty obtuse in the game. The specific example where I found this last night was I was near the end of finding the vial of Leandra's blood and in order to open that small alcove there are a certain number of switches that you have to zoom in and find in the world, and I needed to look up a little bit of help to find it. I'm not going to lie to you or anything, but as I was reading people talking about it, there were people who seemed to think that the solution to that puzzle was pretty obtuse and pretty cheap. Do you have a response to that?

Vincke : You're in hour 57, right?

PCG : Yes.

Vincke : We're making a game between 50 and 100 hours, and for sure not everything is going to be great or perfect in puzzles. It's a puzzle, you know? Certain puzzles are going to be better than other puzzles.

PCG : Would you say that puzzles like that, where the answer is not just immediately given to you?

Vincke : Yeah. That's by design.

PCG : Were you specifically trying to build something that was more "old-school?"

Vincke : People say that it's because we were trying to put it old-school, but the thing is that if you don't put in place certain mechanisms then there's no value in you drawing your character. I don't know. What's the highest perception stat in your party?

PCG : I think my ranger has a nine perception.

Vincke : All right. That's pretty low, actually. If you would have a higher perception you would find plenty of secrets, so lots of puzzles would become a lot easier for you, because you would see little highlights appear in around things which you otherwise wouldn't see. Like, for instance ... Do you want me to spoil you something or not?

PCG : Oh, sure.

[Spoilers follow]

Vincke : All right. You're going to be arriving in Hunter's Edge soon, which is the next village on your list. You're going to be encountering orcs and Immaculates and the story's going to turn darker. If your perception is high enough, you're going to see a trail of blood. If your perception is not high-enough you're not going to see that. That trail of blood can shortcut for you an entire quest line.

There are multiple layers, and you would be surprised at how many there are, and depending on what your characters are there are things that you are going to discover and that other players will not discover, that part obviously being a prime example of that. I don't know how many animal quests you've done, but there's plenty of them, If you wouldn't have had the PetPal ability, all those quest lines would have been different. Doesn't mean that you can't finish the game. You just would have a different storyline, basically. Different adventure and different solutions for it. Same thing goes with characters' high perception. Yeah? They're going to have a field day on certain things.

Did you find the Troll King in Silverglen?

PCG : Yes. I found the spell book in the magician's secret alcove.

Vincke : Okay. All right. Did you find the magician's alcove by chance or by somebody giving you a direction there?

PCG : If I remember correctly I stumbled upon that ridiculous major's hidden area because I was trying to solve another smaller quest, where an imp had pushed his master off a cliff.

Vincke : Your perception was high-enough, I think eight or nine is high-enough, that suddenly that thing appeared there for you, let you go towards a little hatch, which appeared, which, if your perception had been too low, you wouldn't have found that, and you would have had to quest to find out about that.

PCG : By trying to solve that smaller imp quest I stumbled into something else that ended-up being a solution for a much bigger quest line. You're saying I did that simply because one of my characters had a high-enough perception?

Vincke : Yes. If perception would have been too low you wouldn't have found it that way. You could have found it in other ways, but this happened to be the way that you discovered it.

[Spoilers end]

We put in these things so that when you have those little victories of your characters being able to defeat something, it feels like something of value, because if we would make everything simplified or like what people are calling "old-school," then we can't create contrasts. Does that make sense to you?

PCG : It does.

Vincke : It is about creating contrasts. It's same thing why the difficulty level is steep. It's like, okay, it's steep because then when you find a way of getting around it you're going to feel good about it, and that's where you get growth.

PCG : You talked a little bit about the update coming soon. Do you have an ETA for when that update will be pushed out to people?

Vincke : We are actually hoping to get it done this week, but we're still hunting something that we haven't found yet. Once we've found that one, everything should be set. I was going over the lists of everything that's in there. It's pretty much all there but it needs to be tested still. Don't make me quote a date because it really depends on testing. If they find something then it comes back and then we have to change it and then goes back into testing. Once it's tested, it's out there.

PCG : Divinity was a Kickstarter project. Then it was also a long-running Early Access game, where people could jump in, play the beta, obviously gave you a lot of feedback. How would you rate the process of making a game with that much community involvement?

Vincke : Tough but worth it. It puts an enormous amount of pressure on you because it's a lot of people who are constantly giving you opinion, but it's worth its weight in gold and it allows you to rise above yourself as a small developer like we are. It would have been impossible for us to make the game that it is now without our community, for sure, so in that sense it's a really cool development, actually.

If you would look through the tracks of the history of the development of this game, especially on the forums there's a big beta section where you can find a lot of it. You will literally see a lot of things taking shape, and being streamlined and more focused as a result of community feedback.

It's not always the best thing for your ego, that's for sure. If you listen to them you really get, literally, a goldmine, and then it's just a question of picking the right things, because obviously there's a lot of contradiction also that you have to filter through, but it's worth it. The patience of these people is enormous.

PCG : Would you say that this is a model that Larian would use again?

Vincke : Yeah, without any shadow of a doubt. Kickstarter was already pretty cool, but then Early Access—I actually almost didn't go through Early Access. We were afraid of it because we went to Kickstarter and there was so much negativity around Steam Early Access, but then as we did it and we tried to do it the way that we thought would be fair to people who bought the game on Steam Early Access, I found it to be probably how developments should be. You're making it for that fraction of your target audience who is willing to participate in development, and if you work together with them you can do much greater things than you can do on your own.

Obviously it's very hard because you have to draw a limit somewhere and at the personal level you also need to draw a limit because this is the games industry. These are gamers, right? So they can be very, let's say, vocal. If you can manage to deal with that your game becomes a lot better. The list of things that they've helped us make better is just gigantic. It's really large. We still have a list of thousands of things that we would have to do for them that we never managed to do, because again there's just so much suggestions, but it's really cool.

PCG : Are they things that you still want to do with the game later on down the line? How long do you see future support for the game carrying on?

Vincke : Quite long. We have the Editor, which is shipping together with it, so that was always part of the vision. If you make a multiplayer RPG and manage to be successful then the Editor is going to give it a longer life-cycle, and we are going to ... It's the same editor that we used to make the game with, so it's not necessarily the most user-friendly thing in the world, but we'll fix that.

It's definitely powerful-enough to make the game, and luckily right now the game is doing well, so I think that we're going to supporting it for a very long time, and that's cool because that's going to help us also, because again we will have people who are using the Editor, it's the same tool that we are using, and more people that are using that thing the better it's going to become, and the better it becomes the better the RPG that we can make, so we will be happy.

PCG : Are there plans for expansions or DLC or massive content updates?

Vincke : We are going to add a number of extra companions. There were planned to be more companions, but just the deadline and production realities, that's too hard to be able to include this, so that's going to come in August, the extra companions. They will be probably more fleshed-out than the ones that are in there now, so a lot of effort is being put into that.

Then beyond that, to be honest, I told you at the beginning of our conversation that this was “all-in,” so we didn't really make any concrete plans. We obviously have lots of ideas, but there are no concrete sense of what we're going to do, so we're going to finish this patch, do a couple of more hotfixes and then probably we're going to take a break, and then I think at that we're going to spend August figuring out where to next, with the RPG that we're going to be making. Then we will announce it with a lot of fanfare and so forth.