In the year 2003, following long-standing disagreements with Black Isle Studios, its parent company Interplay laid off most of its staff. Most of the former Black Isle developers, including its founder Feargus Urquhart and writer/designer Chris Avellone, moved on to found a new game development company: Obsidian Entertainment.Since then, Obsidian has formed strangely fond relations with fellow RPG company BioWare, to the point that its first two titles were sequels to BioWare games using modified versions of the originals' Aurora engine. This happened because by that point BioWare switched from producing licensed games based on established franchises (Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic) to their own original universes, and in the case of KOTOR, recommended Obsidian to LucasArts as an alternate developer for the sequel.So far, Obsidian's games have been a mixed bag: deep and thought-provoking storylines on the level of the former Black Isle titles... and very buggy programming, usually requiring several patches to rectify (or in some cases, fan-created mods). Though most games are fairly bug-free with the final patch installed. This earned them the nickname "Bugsidian".One thing to note about Obsidian is their business model. Obsidian is hired by publishers for fixed amounts of money, rather than being an internal studio or making a game then looking for a publisher to publish it. This results in Obsidian not bearing the financial cost or gain of the failure/success of any game they make beyond reputation or future deals. This mercenary model is responsible for their buggy reputation, as the release schedule or budget is not as negotiable once the deal is made. This came back to bite them in the ass with Fallout: New Vegas; their contract with Bethesda specified a tiered bonus based upon the game's Metacritic score. They missed the bonus by one point. They have since decided to get serious about QA work; in an interview with Kotaku, CEO Feargus Urquhart said, "We as a company got into a big room and we said, 'We are not gonna make buggy games anymore.'"In October 2012, they greenlit Pillars of Eternity, a Kickstarted project that will be free of Executive Meddling (by publishers, at least). Needless to say, fans were rather pleased.See also Troika Games and inXile Entertainment, two other studios formed by former Interplay employees who left at different times.
On August 22, 2012, the old Black Isle website went up, announcing the revival of the old studio. How serious that announcement was and what it means for Obsidian is still open.Compare and contrast Bioware.
List of tropes persistent in Black Isle/Obsidian RPGs:
The Artifact: The "influence" system used in most of their games was part of the Exile's special bonding ability in The Sith Lords. The system still works without the story connection, though.
Black Humor: The jewel in their crown is either Torment or New Vegas. Both allow the main character to joke - repeatedly - about being technically dead, and that's just the start.
But Thou Must: Alpha Protocol in particular was an attempt to subvert this. Obsidian has actually discussed this trope in a panel titled "But Thou Must" after the original trope namer, which got to the point where they made a drinking game of the word "Choice".
Considering the release period of The Sith Lords, one could make the argument that the darkness thrust upon the Expanded Universe was a byproduct of the game. The New Jedi Order series had recently finished, leaving the books on a high note. Much of the novels that have come out since have become increasingly darker and more depressing.
Evil Is Petty: Obsidian is often credited with averting or outright inverting this trope, whereas moral options in many RPGs play this straight. An exception is Neverwinter Nights 2, which is usually seen as playing this trope all too straight comparatively.
Game-Breaking Bug: Sadly, this is pretty much universal in the initial release of a game, though in many cases these bugs are patched later on after development. Neverwinter Nights 2, for instance, arguably one of their worst games so far as this is concerned, is, as of the most recent patch, pretty stable.
Gameplay and Story Integration: In Knights Of The Old Republic II, your ability to influence your companions and swing their alignment is explained via an uncommon Force ability. In Neverwinter Nights 2, the reason monsters are constantly after you and the way in which you progress as a character is explained via a MacGuffin. In Mask of the Betrayer, a specific game mechanic plays an important role in the story. In Fallout: New Vegas, you have the option of playing the so-called "Hardcore Mode," which incorporates your need to eat, drink, and sleep into game mechanics as well as the fact that certain statistics can lead to other options in dialogue.
Gray and Grey Morality: The exact grayness of a particular game's morality is variable, but generally Obsidian stays pretty close to this trope. Villains will usually have sympathetic or at least understandable motives and goals, heroes are frequently ruthless or given to vices or pettiness, and moral choices are sometimes pretty murky. There are usually a few exceptions that are clearly black and white, but the tone as a whole leans toward ambiguity.
Hide Your Gays: Obsidian has been accused of this due to the lack of homosexuality in the majority of their titles (though they have a low number of heterosexual options as well, due to their dislike of Romance Sidequest). However, Fallout: New Vegasaverts this trope completely, as it allows player characters to be homosexual or bisexual via specific perks. Similarly, a male Straight Gay doctor and a Lipstick Lesbian Brotherhood Scribe are available as party members, but their sexual orientations are only revealed in certain dialogue options. It is also worth noticing that the prostitutes in New Vegas services both sexes equally (and in the Fallout series, always have).
Joisey: Project New Jersey (AKA "Seven Dwarfs", a fantasy game using Unreal Engine 3) was canceled.
Karma Meter: Present in every Obsidian game except for Alpha Protocol but it's actually very rarely used in a way that matters. Instead, Obsidian seems to much prefer the various variations of its "influence" meter, a mechanic that is omnipresent in their games and codified by them and which often fulfils a similar purpose story-wise that the Karma Meter does in other RPGs. Rather than adhering to some arbitrary moral standard, your actions affect the opinions of those with whom you interact. Certainly some will prefer kindness to cruelty, but others may applaud cunning manipulation, direct action, brutally efficient logic, verbal sparring matches, thoughtfulness, entertaining lies, or rapier wit.
Tellingly, Alpha Protocol is their only standalone game so far, and isn't burdened with a legacy Karma Meter from the setting or prior games in the series.
Relationship Values: Obsidian's most significant contribution to RPG design is probably bringing these back into fashion.
Romance Sidequest: Present in most Obsidian games, but the company as a whole appears uncomfortable with the trope and outright avert it in Fallout: New Vegas. JE Sawyer (lead designer of said game) in particular has been quoted as having a rather derisive opinion of the subject. Chris Avellone, too, has stated that he finds love stories uninteresting/difficult to write (especially if they're traditional and cheerful) and prefers other forms of interpersonal interaction.
Despite all that, Sawyer and Avellone also said a romance was planned for New Vegas involving Cass where she and the Courier would get hammered and wake up in Vegas married by The King, but it was scrapped due to time.
When developing Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, LucasArts told them that they were going to delay the release until a bit into 2005. Obsidian decided to use the extra time to expand on the game, before LucasArts suddenly decided to revert back to the original Christmas 2004 release date. Since the delay at this point had been a spoken agreement and not a signed contract yet, Obisidian had no choice but to rush the game out of the gate, meaning that several quests and mechanics, including much of the ending sequence, were left incomplete or broken. And when Obsidian offered to put out a free patch fixing most of these issues, LucasArts denied them permission to do it, leaving the fans to try and pick up the pieces with mods. The point may have been academic; the game sold most of its copies on the Xbox, and wasn't enabled for Xbox Live, meaning it couldn't be patched.
When Alpha Protocol was nearing completion, SEGA said they weren't too happy with the current state of the game, and announced they would push the release date back a couple of months. Obsidian hoped that this would leave them with more time to give the game some much needed polish, the logical thing to assume since the game was delayed anyway, but when they appealed to SEGA for more development time in the delay period, SEGA flat out refused to greenlight it.
Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: If you have a party in an Obsidian, they are very unlikely to get along. Not in a harmless, sibling-ish bickering way, either. They will genuinely despise each other - manipulating, tormenting, injuring, and murdering rivals if they can get away with it.
"Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Continuing their traditions as Black Isle, Obsidian likes doing a closing narration detailing what the choices you made during the game eventually entail for your companions and locations you visited on your journeys.