Chris Avellone is the co-founder of the growing and popular Obsidian Entertainment. Avellone was the lead designer for Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Lords video game as well as the writer for quite a few Star Wars comics, including “Unseen, Unheard,” in which he visits his Kotor II characters once again.
Chris graciously agreed to be interviewed about anything from his work with Kotor II, the comic series “Clone Wars Adventures,” some of which he wrote, other comics, and even Kotor III!
EUCantina (EUC): Mr. Avellone, thank you so much for joining me for this interview!
Chris Avellone (CA): Thanks for the opportunity, I appreciate it! By the way, I wanted to warn anyone who hasn’t played Knights of the Old Republic II that spoilers follow, so if you’d rather experience the locales and events in the game on your own, you may want to stop reading now.
EUC: So, we’ll start off with talking about the award-winning Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Now, in my mind, Knights Of The Old Republic II was one of the best RPGs ever made. What, exactly, did you do as “lead designer” of the game?
CA: I was responsible for the over-arcing storyline, the area design and scripting of Peragus (and the Harbinger), the polar cap of Telos, the initial first stage design of Nar Shaddaa (up until the point where you leave the planet), Nihilus’s warship, and Malachor V. I wrote all the companions and a good chunk of the companion’s special sequences/vignettes in the game, scripted a bunch of sequences and quests, and did layouts of the maps of the areas as well as populating them once the artists finished the areas. I was also slated to do the HK-50 droid factory on Telos, but that was one of the locales that didn’t make it into the final game.
EUC: What character from Knights Of The Old Republic II is your favorite?
CA: It’s a toss-up between Kreia and T3-M4. T3-M4 may seem like a strange choice, but I always thought he had the most potential in expression for all the characters.
EUC: What is your general favorite part of the game (Kotor 2)?
CA: There’s a few. One is when Kreia explains her relationship with the Force, another is when the Sith holocrons are whispering what’s really going on in the galaxy, and a third is when the Disciple’s discovery of what Revan was planning to do with the infrastructure of the galaxy and why. I also really liked the introduction with Nihilus and Visas Marr, I thought that set them both up perfectly.
Lastly, and this is a minor thing, but I really liked how the Handmaiden and the Echani had trained themselves to think through every battle a few minutes in advance and sort through all the permutations to defeat their foes.
EUC: What, in your opinion, was the most challenging part of making The Sith Lords?
CA: It was mostly time and resources. The game was on an ambitious timeframe, and I think while the game is fun, it would have benefited from dropping a planet and one or two companions, even if it would made the experience a shorter one than the first game. I also think the engine wasn’t well-suited to doing cut-scenes, and our thematic direction of trying to introduce a cinematic experience may not have been a wise choice overall.
EUC: Were there any experiences that you thought of as fun when you were in the process of designing Knights Of The Old Republic 2?
CA: I thought using the influence system as a means of determining who sided with you vs. siding with Kreia at the end game would be pretty powerful (and even characters who didn’t care for Kreia might be equally wounded if you chose another companion – such as a romance option – instead of you). I thought this would be a good way to showcase reactivity throughout the game, but again, time and resources didn’t help pulling this off and my resource estimates were off.
EUC: How satisfied are you now with KOTOR II, considering all the things that were left out of it?
CA: Not terribly satisfied, mostly because I can see what was supposed to go into it vs. what made it in. I thought the ending (which was my fault) could have been much stronger if I’d focused on that more than setting up the global companion conversations – although I did think the player was likely to hit the global companion conversations first. I still think it’s a fun game, but it could have been much more. I do think the design team in general put in a lot of hours to make the game at the level it was, and in the time provided, did some amazing stuff, so I thank them.
EUC: What aspect, subplot or character in KOTOR II would you like to see explored more in the future?
CA: Darth Sion’s relationship with the exile if the player chose a female character. I also would have really liked to showcase more of the Telos reconstruction project and G0-T0’s role in it… and his eventual rebellion.
EUC: What was the most important, key thing that you feel you did to make KOTOR II a success?
CA: I feel that Kreia was a deep character (even if she was more grey than the genre may have warranted) and she had a motivation that I found satisfying, and I think Brian Menze’s final visual rendition of Darth Nihilus was spot-on and helped create a nice visual hook for the character.
EUC: If you could go back and change one thing about Kotor II, what would that be?
CA: Drop a planet, chop 1 or 2 levels off of Peragus, drop the Disciple and Hanharr, and then use that energy to focus more on Malachor V. I would also remove all party-splitting mechanics (which while true to the franchise, didn’t go over well with players), and de-emphasize all cut-scenes (which the engine couldn’t really do well in the time provided with the programming and scripting support we had available).
EUC: Okay, moving away from Kotor II-At least the game-for a second. You also wrote the comic Unseen, Unheard, which tells us of the story of Katarr’s destruction; what can you tell us about that work? Would you like to do another tie-in comic?
CA: I pitched the idea to Dark Horse to see if they’d be interested in it, and to my glee, Jeremy Barlow was more than happy to check out the script. I would love to do another tie-in comic (I did a number of short stories for Clone Wars Adventures as well, although they aren’t in the same time frame as the Knights of the Old Republic, obviously).
EUC: Let’s move on to the well known Kotor II Restoration Project, Team-Gizka. Have you been following them lately? I believe they are almost done. From what you’ve seen, will the mod really be what Obsidian envisioned for Kotor II?
CA: I’ve actually been too busy to study it, unfortunately. If they were able to use most of the sound files and recover some of the closed-off levels, however, I hope that gives them enough to play around with.
EUC: What part of the infamous Kotor II cut-content would you like to see Team Gizka restore, or are happy they have restored?
CA: If they get HK-47’s infiltration of the droid factory on Telos in, I would be forever grateful.
EUC: Now, here comes to unavoidable: Kotor III. Do you think it will happen? If so, is it possible Obsidian could take it?
CA: I have no idea, except to say we’d certainly love to work on K3. Right now, Obsidian (and I) definitely have our hands full.
EUC: Would you like to design Kotor III? If so, what engine would you like to use?
CA: Sure… it was always the intention that plot threads from K2 would reach into K3 if that ever became a possibility (and taking the battle to the true Sith Lords in the galaxy). I’d like to use the engine we’re developing for the Aliens game, however, since that has aspects that would definitely mesh with the Star Wars universe.
EUC: What projects are you working on at Obsidian?
CA: I participate on most of the projects in a design capacity (Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer and doing creative lead duties on the Aliens RPG during a chunk of pre-production), but currently my duties involve doing lead design on Alpha Protocol, our CIA modern day RPG, which is a lot different than most products I’ve worked on in the past. And refreshingly so – I’ve always wanted to work on a modern-day game, and AP definitely provides that outlet.
EUC: Many people seem to think that if Alpha Protocol succeeds, Lucasarts will ask Obsidian to work on Kotor III. What do you think about that?
CA: I have no idea, except to say we’d certainly love to work on K3. Right now, Obsidian (and I) definitely have our hands full with Alpha Protocol and are focused on that IP.
EUC: Thank you for allowing for this interview, Mr. Avellone!
CA: Thanks again for the opportunity – it’s a nice breather from scripting characters and doing area design. :)
EUC: One last thing: Mira and Visas Marr are fighting, both as Jedi, who would win?
CA: In an urban environment where Mira has had a few minutes to prepare before the fight and she has some inkling of her Force abilities, Mira would win (especially with mine placement), but in most other situations, Visas Marr would defeat Mira pretty soundly – she’s has much more experience in the ways of the Force than Mira has.