Meet the quiet man who sold Obsidian Entertainment on Project Eternity, and a $2M Kickstarter
Adam Brennecke is project director of Project Eternity, a monumentally successful Kickstarter project currently in development by Obsidian Entertainment. This is the company behind Planescape: Torment, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, and Fallout: New Vegas, but you'd never guess Brennecke works for them, or that Project Eternity has been such a success based on how he speaks. He told the Penny Arcade Report that this was his first phone interview. Ever. He's quiet and courteous, and sounds like the kid in Engineering class, who only peeks out from over his book to answer a professor's question, immediately re-burying himself in knowledge and work. He's the everyman; the one who slips by unnoticed until he does something extraordinary. In the case of Brennecke, that something is Project Eternity. Project Eternity was Brennecke's pitch to Obsidian, a gamble that old-school, high-fantasy RPGs like Baldur's Gate aren't dead yet. Not only did Brennecke's gamble pay off, it reached its Kickstarter goal of $1.1 million in 24 hours, placing it among the top single-day totals ever on the crowdfunding platform.
Becoming his own person
“I was always into developing my own ideas for worlds,” Brennecke said. “I actually started off doing level design work way back in the day. As I found out, my artistic talents aren't good enough, so I tried to pursue other things. The other thing I pursued was programming, and I think it's another avenue of self-expression that a lot of people don't really think of. It's an art form in itself.” Brennecke sees a beauty in programming many don't, but that's not surprising to him. He's always been something of an oddball. “I come from a family of pharmacists,” he told me. “We've been on the Internet since the '80s. We were early adopters of all that stuff, but when it comes to gaming I'm the only person. No one in my family plays games besides me.” Even at a younger age, Brennecke's friends consisted of like-minded outcasts who never fit in with the popular kids. “I did well in school, I studied, and my friends were pretty similar,” Brennecke said. “We all had similar interests, like we were all in the honor classes… We were all nerds, basically.” “When I was in high school, especially my freshman and sophomore year, I was really small. I don't know how tall I was, but I was really shrimpy and I got picked on a lot,” Brennecke told the Penny Arcade Report. “My Calculus teacher, who was also my Physics teacher, he had kind of like a safe haven for nerds in his classroom. You could eat lunch in his classroom and feel safe.” “It's always good to be yourself and embrace what you like in life. I think that makes you a happy person. I think most people at Obsidian have a story very similar to mine,” Brennecke said. “We have all the nerd board games and roleplaying books everywhere in the studio. We embrace that nerdiness, and that's a lot of fun.”
Making (too many) ends meet
Little is known about Project Eternity at this point. Brennecke told the Penny Arcade Report there isn't even a story yet, just an abstract collection of topics the team would like to discuss and lore into which they'd like to dig. Brennecke said that at its core, Project Eternity is about the soul and the state of life vs. the state of death. Weekly updates on the Kickstarter page go further into detail, but everything's up in the air at this point. Heck, the Kickstarter isn't even halfway done and as of this writing has $2 million in its pocket. That's enough for Eternity's stretch goals of two additional player races, two additional classes, two additional companions, Mac support, Linux support, an additional storyline, and the ability to own and customize a home within the game world. If funds reach $2.2 million Brennecke and his team will add a new faction and territory, complete with even more NPCs, items, and a third companion. If funds reach $2.3 million there will be yet another character race, plus the addition of hardcore mode. At the rate Project Eternity's total is climbing, it's no wonder details are hard to nail down. At any moment the team may need to justify a new race, territory, faction, or start work on writing another companion. Still, there are some themes, ideas, and personalities the team has created, such as the character you see below. With regards to combat systems and leveling up, Tim Cain writes, “You shouldn't go up levels any slower by using your non-combat skills rather than your combat skills. We plan to reward you for your accomplishments, not for your body count.” Brennecke talked about Project Eternity exploring mature themes, though the studio's definition of “mature” doesn't necessarily mean sex and gore. Brennecke's example was racism. Reading through the Kickstarter updates, there's some hints of how that could play out on reincarnated souls. “...souls are subject to “fracturing” over generations, transforming in myriad ways, and not quite… working right. Some cultures and individuals place a high value on “strong” souls, souls with a “pure” lineage, “awakened” souls that remember past lives, “traveled” souls that have drifted through the divine realms, or those that co-exist with other souls in one body. However, the opposite is also true, resulting in negative discrimination and sometimes outright violence.” Although they're not ready to share it just yet, Brennecke told me he saw the first screenshot of the game the day we spoke. Even he was impressed. “It looks amazing.” I asked Brennecke if he ever feels like the team has bitten off more than they can chew. While he was surprised at how positively things have gone – “We just had another $10,000 contributor this morning,” he told me – when I asked if he ever felt nervous, his answer was a quick and decisive “nope.”