Josh Sawyer: Chapter V

In the final part of this extensive interview, my curiosity naturally shifted toward Josh’s creative future and also his life outside the studio. 

Let’s move into the final lap. Could you give me any hints about the future?

That’s the question? The future? [laughing]

[Laughing] I mean, do you have any idea what is going to be your next project after Deadfire?

Personally, I would like to develop a historical game.

Something, perhaps, like Kingdom Come?

No, I think smaller-scale. KCD is very epic—like, armies clashing. It’s really about this huge Bohemian conflict.

what I want to do is actually have it very specifically set in an actual, real historical place, but with fantastic elements that are pulled from history

What I mean is more in terms of general attention to historical detail, rather than scope.

What I like to say is that I take a lot of inspiration from Darklands and Ars Magica. Both are historical fantasy, where the fantastic elements are things that are pulled out from folklore and the beliefs of the people at that time, rather than just suddenly like, ‘Hey, people can cast fireball!’ That is the area I like; it is not strictly realistic history, it’s history with fantastic elements.

From more current examples, Age of Decadence comes to mind. Of course, it does not take place in Ancient Rome, but it is very much inspired by it. Have you played that?

I still have not played AoD—just Dungeon Rats. But, see, what I want to do is actually have it very specifically set in an actual, real historical place, but with fantastic elements that are pulled from history. Like when you look at something like Picatrix or Malleus Maleficarum, or any of these texts that talk about how witches behave, how magic works, talismans and charms, phases of the moon, and all these things that influence life and magic. There are kobolds—not the kobolds you see in D&D, but little kobalds that are down in there setting traps for miners. It is stuff like that which Darklands did really well; taking the actual folk beliefs and making them real within a game. That’s the sort of stuff I am really interested in and I am looking at.

Darklands (1992)

Have you consulted this idea with the others at Obsidian? Do you already have some potential recruits for the project?

Quite a few people are interested. I don’t know if everyone would be interested in this specific game, but there is certainly a fair amount of people at Obsidian who are interested in history. Jorge Salgado, who made Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul and works at Obsidian, he actually has a master’s degree in history.

Have you thought about a specific era the game could take place in?

Yeah, there are two eras that I am really interested in. One of them is early modern—so late medieval into the really modern era.

So a bit of late Renaissance perhaps?

No, this would be the early Renaissance, so it would be something like the 15th century.

The Age of Exploration?

I would like to say the very beginning of the Age of Exploration—from maybe the beginning of the 15th century through the 17th century.

Why this epoch?

Because the dawn of the early modern era saw so much upheaval and change. The Renaissance caused a lot of upheaval—all of these changes in religious and philosophical thinking. Humanism became a core aspect of philosophical thinking for the time moving on from scholasticism. Because of all these changes, I am really interested in that transitional phase of European history.

Would you bring in some famous historical figures?

Especially because my academic training is more post-modern, the focus is not on the great men. It is more about social dynamics and the way the technology and thinking changed. Today, I was at the German Historical Museum reading about the [German] Peasants’ War and how a lot of their grievances were distributed on pamphlets that were made possible by the printing press, something that wasn’t available [before]. Martin Luther did, so they were like, ‘Cool, we are going to do it now,’ and that got everyone riled up. But that widespread dissemination of subversive thought among what were previously uneducated classes of people was made possible by shifting technology. Dealing with these power structures and how they influenced the way society works and interacts is very interesting to me.

Do you know who we will play as?

Can’t talk about it yet [laughing]. Oh, yeah, but I have ideas, a lot of ideas. The other era I am interested in is 19th century America, especially post Civil War.

That’s a part of American history I know only very little about.

So, after the Civil War, they finished the conquest of the West, but it was also when all the major American cities—not all of them, but Chicago, for example. Chicago is really fascinating to me, because after the Civil War ends it becomes, I think, the fastest growing city in the world. Have you ever been to Chicago?

I have never been to the States.

It is a pretty cool city with a very interesting history.

I know that Chicago was a haven for European immigrants back in the day. I heard it has one of the largest Polish populations, right?

There are certainly a lot of Poles there [laughing]. I just remembered a funny anecdote. I have a friend—ex-girlfriend—who lives in Chicago and she looks very Polish. There are Polish nationals who live in Chicago, so they would just start speaking Polish to her, but she does not speak any Polish [laughing].

I think people are kind of surprised that I like competitive team-based shooters—I am not good at them, but I enjoy them

In your free time, do you also play anything other than RPG games?

Right now, I am playing PUBG quite a bit and I am very bad at it. Also my home computer is very out of date [laughing]. I think my kill ratio is like one to one.

How come?

I haven’t really upgraded it that much in the past years, because I have not played anything that is really that cutting edge. I like competitive team-based shooters. I played Overwatch for quite a while, but I kind of fell out of it. I think people are kind of surprised that I like competitive team-based shooters—I am not good at them, but I enjoy them. I used to like RTSs—but I actually just liked the Age of Empires series, I don’t think I really liked RTSs in general [laughing]. But I got the remastered AoE HD. I played that, I love that.

With these RTS games, I really don’t enjoy the constant need to fast click. In base construction, resource collection and mass production of units, faster usually wins.

I’m very bad at the games but there’s something I really like about playing Teutonic Knights; having all my Teutonic Knights in their blue capes walking across the battlefield, very slowly with a bunch of priests behind them.

Another historical title just crossed my mind. Have you, by any chance, played Expeditions: Conquistador and/or Viking?

Yeah, I’m bummed out because I actually backed the Conquistador game, but I still haven’t played it. That’s something that follows the historical thing and it’s also a hardcore RPG.

Yeah, it’s strange. I didn’t think about it immediately when we talked about it, but it seems like a very fresh mix of RPG and history.

Yeah, I need to play it. I also really like the story-heavy adventure games. I just played Tacoma—I really enjoyed that. Night in the Woods, I still need to get through that. But I enjoy those, just cruising around.

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