One of the things I’ve always loved about working is hearing about people’s lives. I love hearing their stories, I love hearing about what made them… the games they make. The game we love.
It’s a privilege to be able to focus on this in my podcast One-to-One. Give it a listen (search anywhere for “Eurogamer Podcasts”). And we had a wonderful guest. But few surprised me, as Obsidian’s design director Josh Sawyer (Pentiment’s chief mind) did in the latest episode.
Sawyer was not what I expected. As someone who has met him a few times, I say this. But then I only glanced at him. It was like he was demoing games and chatting while thinking about his next job. But this time, I had the opportunity to sit down with him and ask him about his life and who he is. And there are many things I didn’t know.
For example, I didn’t know he was almost a tattooist. He used to do his designs on the web for a tattoo shop in his 90s, but the owner decided to pay him for the tattoo instead of money. he still likes them He currently has around 20 tattoos, including one on the back of his head. “And I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I could become an apprentice tattoo artist, and do some web design in the meantime.
I had no idea he sang. And he sings well. Like, he went to college to study it. One of his two large handwritten tattoos on his forearm is actually a song he sang at his audition. This is Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem “Silent Noon” set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. And the college he attended was the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music, a prestigious place.
But it didn’t last long. Sawyer grew up casually singing with his father, an acoustic guitarist and sculptor. “I had very little keyboard skills. I had no theory skills,” he says. When I went to Lawrence, it was clear. So was his discipline. “I wasn’t a serious student, I wasn’t prepared, and I burned out very quickly.”
However, singing was not his first love. His true desire as a child was to draw fantasy illustrations. He loves Dungeons & Dragons and wanted to draw the kind of pictures he saw in manuals and magazines. And again he got off to a very good start. “I come from a small town, where I won art competitions in my small town,” he says Sawyer. “I think my drawing and drafting skills were pretty good when I was in middle school and high school.”
But the problem was the color. Sawyer was colorblind, and as color became more central to his work, he struggled to keep up with it. So it’s his turn to sing. And when the song flowed naturally, that’s when the transition to history began. Another lifelong interest of his. The play was set aside. But college wasn’t really for him. “I was never a good student,” he says. “I was always goofing around, hanging out with my friends, hanging out with the girls, playing D&D. It sounds like a combination that shouldn’t exist, but it’s what I do.” It was what I was doing.”
After graduating from college and facing a pile of student loans, a friend informed him of a web design job at a game company called Black Isle Studios (90s computer role-playing game legends). I was. Life began to resemble what we now perceive. Yet he stepped there without realizing it. Surrounded by the Planescape: Torment team and the Dungeons & Dragons computer, he first took the spot and dropped a well-known penny while creating his game. “And I was like, ‘Oh shit, there are actually a lot of people making these games and I could be one of them.'”
I didn’t know anything about early Sawyer. And it doesn’t seem to come out at all because, at first glance, it seems irrelevant. Hearing him talk about the 12 bikes he owns for his 10 minutes doesn’t immediately remind you of Fallout: New Vegas or Pillars of Eternity.
but never indirectly teeth He, and he’s absolutely those games. And no game is more obvious than Pentimen these days. This is almost as if he fully authors the game. Sure, it was created by his small team of thirteen people, and Sawyer particularly credits the influence of his director Hannah Kennedy on art, but without him there would be no original idea or game.
You don’t need to look closely at Pentiment to appreciate Sawyer’s love of art and history. A large tattoo on his forearm looks as if it was pulled straight out of the game (it’s not, but still). He loves Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, which flows like a river through Pentimento. There are also characters singing in the convent and I wonder if Sawyer himself is singing. I didn’t mean to ask.
Dig deeper and you’ll hear about the Darklands MS-DOS game that gave him the idea for the historical RPG in the first place. He once pitched it to Black Isle, but the idea didn’t work out. Xbox Game Pass turned out to be the magic element in that regard, convincing someone to give it a chance. But there are also sad stories associated with the Darklands. It’s that the boy he used to play the game with was suddenly gone one day. I think it’s in the story that was told.
It comes from Sawyer’s tapestry of life, wrong turns, regrets and memories. And from what appears to be an endlessly curious mind. Sawyer reminds me of someone I met years ago. Game designer Phil Campbell tells a great story about meeting David Bowie and Marlon Brando I’m working on games like Omikron and The Godfather. Campbell seemed to be interested in everything, and so was Sawyer. Talking to any of them is like being in a company of pollen-collecting and flying bees. They never stop. They fly endlessly to another memory, another interest, another story.
And all of this pours into Pentiment, which gives it an extra dimension and makes it what it is. In it, you can sense Sawyer’s disposition for, as he called it, “fooling around” when he was talking about being in college. And what I find so fascinating about him is this predisposition to be influenced by everything in his life, I could talk to him for hours. I think I should probably listen to him just a little bit.
He wasn’t what I expected, but what do you expect as a game designer than someone who sponges the world around him, who can sponge one world and re-release it into another? should have?
https://www.eurogamer.net/the-unexpected-side-of-pentiments-josh-sawyer The unexpected side of Pentiment’s Josh Sawyer