"Working with franchises can be challenging, but at the same time I really did enjoy working on Star Wars, for example, and I have done a lot of Dungeons & Dragons games, but I still enjoy it very much," Obsidian creative director Chris Avellone told me. "And there's plenty of franchises out there that we would love to work with still."
Developing games in pre-existing universes can be rewarding for Obsidian, Avellone suggested. South Park: The Stick of Truth, which is as far from Obsidian's comfort zone as anything would be, illustrates the benefits.
"The fact that you're implementing game system mechanics that cater to the South Park franchise, in the sense of rude and obnoxious different weapon types," Avellone explained, "we rarely get a chance to flex our design skills in those directions, and it's a lot of fun to do. We're actually learning a lot while we're doing it. That's another advantage of working on someone else's franchise. You sort of get inside their head for a sense of how they think, and how that stuff can be converted into game mechanics."
Obsidian was dropped into South Park with a surprisingly clear vision of what to do, as a concept had already been proposed. "We didn't actually know what they were thinking about in terms of RPGs, so we went up there for one day, they ran us this animatic sequence of how they imagined the opening of the game playing," and Obsidian "got it" immediately. "It was hilarious, and we got it, we see what you're trying to make here. It's going to feel like the show, it's going to look like the show. Here's how you interpret the controller mechanisms."
What wasn't as clear from the outset was whether the Stick of Truth offer was true. "I would never have thought we'd get a chance to do an RPG like that, and like holy crap," Avellone said. "When we first heard about it, I seriously thought some other game company was punking us. 'Ha ha ha, we're from South Park and we want to do an RPG!... ha ha, fake.'"