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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

RPG roundtable podcast: Josh Sawyer, Mike Laidlaw, Strix Beltran, Paweł Sasko, and Lis Moberly go deep on writing and playing RPGs

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In March, PC Gamer’s Fraser Brown wrote an editorial titled “The cinematic BioWare-style RPG is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet,” comparing the likes of Dragon Age and Cyberpunk 2077 to the more novel experiences of recent RPGs Disco Elysium and Citizen Sleeper.

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RPG Roundtable

Our interviewees, from left to right:

Mike Laidlaw: Chief creative officer at Yellow Brick Games. Known for: Jade Empire, Mass Effect, Dragon Age series.

Paweł Sasko: Quest director at CD Projekt Red. Known for: The Witcher 3, Cyberpunk 2077.

Strix Beltran: Narrative director on D&D game, Hidden Path Entertainment. Known for: Blubeard’s Bride, Beyond Blue, State of Decay 2.

Lis Moberly: Narrative designer at Obsidian. Known for: Cursed to Golf, We Went Back, Singularity.

Josh Sawyer: Studio design director at Obsidian. Known for: Pillars of Eternity, Fallout: New Vegas, Pentiment.

Just a few weeks later, at the 2023 Game Developers Conference, I assembled a group of five RPG designers with decades of experience between them—including Dragon Age lead Mike Laidlaw and Cyberpunk 2077 lead Paweł Sasko, whose games heavily featured in that editorial—and lobbed the headline out like a live grenade to start the conversation.

Thankfully no one caught any shrapnel.

“I know this article very well, because we’ve been discussing it at [CD Projekt Red] quite a bit,” Sasko said, jumping in first. “We mostly agree, actually. At least when it comes to triple-A, we’re running at a fucking wall, and we’re gonna crash on that wall really soon.”  You can read more from that bit of the conversation right here.

From there we roleplayed brilliant conversationalists for more than an hour, touching on:

  • How games are on the cusp of a procedural narrative breakthrough
  • What players expect from RPGs today
  • How their personal experiences playing RPGs have informed their games
  • Writing characters that really resonate with players

We also talked about the making of The Witcher 3’s Bloody Baron quest, great tabletop systems that videogames should poach ideas from, and the impact of Elden Ring. 

You can listen to the full 80 minute conversation above (or find it on the PC Gamer Chat Log podcast feed in your podcast app of choice) and read highlights of the conversation here on the site.

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