Fred is not dead

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A few highlights from the current Meet the Devs topic at Bethsoft Fallout 3 Forum, starting with Fred “Fizzbang” Zeleny:

Advertising in games: for or against?

Personally, I’m very tentatively okay with in-game advertising, but ONLY if it makes sense in the setting. If it doesn’t make sense in the setting, it kills my immersion in the game.

If I’m riding my steam-powered mechano-drake into a pitched battle against the invading draconians from the Hollow Earth, seeing a billboard for Coke on the battlefield is going to pull me out of that game as surely as pulling the plug on the computer. But if I’m leading my recon team through a supermarket that’s being held by terrorists, seeing a display for Coke near the register is going to make perfect sense, and might even add to the realism of the environment.

Of course, for a Fallout setting, the only ads I’d expect to see are for Nuka Cola or Vault-Tec or the like. Anything else would sound out of place and very weird.

Where do you see the future of rpgs headed ? More open-endedness or cinematic gameplay, like in Mass Effect ? Or more of a sort of simulation game ? (like the direction Fable 2 seems to go ??? )

Well, ultimately, I hope they aren’t going in just one direction. I enjoy tactical RPGs along with simulation RPGs along with narrative RPGs and so forth – it all depends on what I’m in the mood for. And while I know not everyone agrees on what does and doesn’t count as a Role-Playing Game, I don’t think any particular type will ever die out as long as there’s still a crowd that’s willing work to make one and willing to pay to play one.

Open-ended RPGs (so called “Western RPGs”) seem to be growing in popularity at the moment, possibly prompted by various (RPG and non-RPG) sandbox titles like TES and GTA, and as they become more common and more refined, I’m hoping they’ll allow for more real player agency in changing the world through the player’s choices. Playing in a sandbox is nice and all, but I’d like a few of the things I build to change the landscape, you know?

Why do you put up with all the flaming on this forum? You can’t go three threads without someone flaming Bethesda or Todd Howard.

Well, I’m not the one in charge of moderating it, so it doesn’t make much difference whether or not I “put up with it.” I still skim around the other threads (and other forums) because I like getting a little idea of what people are thinking about. It’s easy to ignore the occasional nasty or trolling comments, and once in a while I find a well-argued, polite post that gives me some insight into people’s desires, fears, and so forth. And that does inform my decision-making.

As for this thread in particular, I still post here because I do believe in communication with the fans, and because it wasn’t so long ago that I was on the other side of the curtain, wishing I knew more about the game-making process and slightly awe-struck at the thought of how much work goes into making a game. As someone who has an automatic distrust of large companies (I blame playing too much Shadowrun as a kid), I think it’s important to hear from individual voices in a company, when possible. And I think that talking about our favorite games, influences, childhood experiences, pets, and so forth reassures people that we’re gamers, too – even if we’ve made different decisions than they might have made.

Obviously, I’m prevented from talking about anything game-specific by my NDA and the horde or nano-ninjas that were injected into my bloodstream when I started work. But I think at least sharing some of my thoughts on game design in general helps provide some insight into the things a game developer considers. Similarly, I really like reading Wolfric’s posts because even though I work with him, the world of sound design is mystery to my untrained ears, and the arcane arts he performs in his hermetically sealed Vault of Sound are unknown to me. I find it all fascinatingly informative.

Besides, any forum on the net is going to have flaming. It’s part of what makes the information age great. Or, at least, entertaining.

The Matrix or Star Wars or LOTR?

LOTR for me. Nothing against the other two, though – I just think LOTR’s been handled better overall.

I was particularly interested in Healy’s thread comparing Peter Jackson taking up LOTR and the diehard fanbase’s concerns to Bethesda taking up Fallout. As someone who thinks Peter Jackson not only made the definitive translation of LOTR to the screen, but also revitalized that entire genre of movie in Hollywood, that just adds to the pressure to live up to that comparison.

When you design a quest do you need to get the okay from the lead designer or whoever before you go ahead and start implementing it, or do you just create the quest first, show it to the lead designer and then start making changes/additions once that is done?

Quest concepts are handled in group sessions, with people brainstorming and then narrowing down the ideas they like into specific quest concepts, which then get assigned to different designers for further refinement before implementation. The Lead Designer is there for the brainstorming session, has final say on which concepts are and aren’t happening, and goes over the refined versions of the quests before they get implemented, and that’s before any of the rounds of revisions and peer reviews for the implemented versions of quests.

It is to hear that you have group sessions brainstorming ideas for quests and designs. I can understand why the Lead Designer is there to a certain extent. I just thougt that it was the Executive Producer, Todd Howard, that was the decider — at least in theory, and maybe also in practical terms?? Or is Todd only the decider if there is a major disagreement ?

Being the new guy, I’m not really involved in decisions that high up the chain, but my impression is that the Lead Designer and Executive Producer work to come to agreements on these sorts of things. When it comes down to it, the Executive Producer has final say, but there’s a good respect between Todd and Emil (just like there is among the rest of the team), so it doesn’t generally get to such an extreme point.

Of course, for all I know, they might solve all design disputes with a game of Super Smash Brothers.

As you set out to explore a new concept for a weapon or event how much of you gets caught up in extending realism to single details as opposed to focusing on the whole mechanic?

Personally, I don’t see “realism” as being as important as an enjoyable game experience and story. If I wanted something that was focusing heavily on realism over an enjoyable experience or story, I’d play a simulation. And I’m not very fond of simulations.

But on the flipside, I think it’s very important to make sure things are consistent and make sense within the confines of the game – call it “believability”. Sometimes that requires a bit of suspension of disbelief, but as gamers, we’re all used to that. Realism says nuclear radiation does not make people into unaging, foul-looking ghouls, but in the fictional setting of Fallout, it’s believable, and it makes for a great story device, so we just say, “okay, that’s how that happened,” and get on with the enjoyable story. But if it doesn’t fit into the setting, I’m going to think, “Wait, that doesn’t make any sense in this setting,” and suddenly I’m pulled out of the game.

Sometimes, you have to set the stage before introducing something, to build an item’s believability, or the player will balk when they first see it. If all I knew about the Fallout setting was what you learn in the first 5 minutes of Fallout 1, and then I hear about The Master, then the idea of some combined blob of multiple people and technology who wants to “unite” the wastes is going to sound pretty out of place. But if the stage has been set by learning about FEV, hearing references to some “Dark/New God” behind this encroaching cult/army, and so forth, then he’s entirely believable in the setting. Presentation and build-up is very important.

So, when I’m thinking of something to add to the game, or the setting, I worry more about how it’ll fit into the story’s world and experience than I worry about how realistic it is.

Of course these tidbits were heavily edited, so you can read the rest here.

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