Post Script

Read­ing into Pil­lars Of Eter­nity’s wordy ap­proach to lore


No one reads the lore. Oh, don’t look like that. We don’t mean no one reads any of the painstak­ingly crafted words that RPG writ­ers take the time to squir­rel away in fic­ti­tious vol­umes and menu screen tips, but hardly any­one de­vours ev­ery dusty tome that games put in their path. Adventure calls, so you de­light in a few of th­ese an­cil­lary texts, skim a lot more, and fil­ter out the rest. You close your in­ven­tory and mean to re­turn, but never quite find the time.

At least, you sus­pect that’s how devs see it. It’s the rea­son that au­dio logs be­came a fad af­ter BioShock, be­cause they pro­vide a way to off­load back­story while the player plunges on with killing Splicers with mur­der­ous bees. It’s why in This Month On Edge you’ll find us por­ing over a real-world vol­ume that col­lects to­gether the in-uni­verse writ­ings of Skyrim, par­ing away the end­less dis­trac­tions of the north­ern reaches to de­liver a con­cen­trated seam of El­der Scrolls fan­tasy. It’s why Thomas Was Alone’s mem­o­rable nar­ra­tion won a BAFTA. All are al­ter­na­tives to screen read­ing.

Still, when your PC’s fans are hum­ming, game lore gen­er­ally works more by os­mo­sis. It’s about weav­ing to­gether com­ple­men­tary no­tions that ex­pand a world be­yond the lim­its of its en­gine’s draw dis­tance, but it’s just one chan­nel of many, all work­ing in con­cert to con­vince you of this fab­ri­cated world’s au­then­tic­ity. All those palimpsests add depth, colour and oc­ca­sion­ally hu­mour to a place, and your im­pres­sion of it is en­riched for their very pres­ence, just as you needn’t con­sciously lis­ten to ev­ery song on the sound­track to be stirred by a tug of strings in the over­world.

In this con­text, then, Pil­lars Of Eter­nity rep­re­sents a coun­ter­cul­tural ap­proach to world­build­ing, be­ing unashamedly pred­i­cated on the writ­ten word to drive its meta­phys­i­cal tale of souls and flesh. It even presents tiny snip­pets of de­scrip­tion as a flour­ish to com­ple­ment its art team’s work, rather than ex­pect the as­sets to speak for them­selves. It is the very op­po­site of the ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra that Hol­ly­wood screen­writ­ers are so en­am­oured of. Through sheer craft and ef­fort, Ob­sid­ian’s tal­ented word­smiths have wrought some­thing of rare del­i­cacy and breadth: a game world that ex­cites and de­pends on the power of the reader’s imag­i­na­tion. De­sign­ers of­ten talk about a lack of hand­hold­ing as re­spect­ing the player, but leav­ing space in your world for them to fill is kow­tow­ing on an en­tirely dif­fer­ent level. And that is per­haps the great­est homage Pil­lars can make to its core in­spi­ra­tion: Dun­geons & Dragons.

Of course, that is ex­actly why Pil­lars would not ex­ist with­out Kick­starter too. Pub­lish­ers tend to re­vere cur­rent trends and sure bets, and as we’ve es­tab­lished, such a wordy, lore-heavy world looks far from ei­ther. But there is a place where this kind of sto­ry­telling, if done right, was sure to flour­ish: in the heads of those who fondly re­call the Forgotten Realms RPGs of the early 2000s. And the magic of the In­ter­net is that while 74,000 peo­ple is still niche com­pared to Skylanders or Call Of Duty num­bers, you can deal with them di­rectly, cut­ting your costs and cut­ting risk.

But while Pil­lars’ writ­ing leaves a lot up to the player, per­haps go­ing as far as to give play­ers a space to write mes­sages in the game was a mis­take. It’s not just the mod­er­a­tion bur­den, or the un­suit­able con­tent that slipped through. Rather, when your whole world is be­ing honed and re­fined by care­fully de­ployed, oc­ca­sion­ally op­tional prose, even a stray sen­tence can poi­son the well, let alone whole me­mo­rial plates of In­ter­net in-jokes. It’s a strange ab­di­ca­tion of power, though the in­tent is ob­vi­ous and in­no­cent. Pil­lars wouldn’t ex­ist with­out its back­ers, but even a world as de­tailed as Eora can­not with­stand tak­ing a club ham­mer to the fourth wall for their sake. Here’s hop­ing re­turn trips to Eora find its bol­shie ap­proach to writ­ten fic­tion in­tact, with­out feel­ing the need to com­pro­mise that for the sake of a few more fund­ing dol­lars.

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