Fallout Retrospective Interview at NMA

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From No Mutants Allowed:

In celebration of Fallout’s 10th anniversary, NMA gathered a number of former leads that guided the series during its evolution at Interplay and Black Isle Studios. They answered us 10 questions looking back to the game, its influence on them and its fans, with one bonus question for two of them.

The leads are:

    • Leonard Boyarsky Fallout 1 lead artist and original game design
    • Chris Taylor Fallout 1 lead designer and original game design, Fallout Tactics senior designer
    • Feargus Urquhart Fallout 1 division director of Interplay TSR, Fallout 2 producer and lead designer
    • Chris Avellone Fallout 2 designer, author of the Fallout Bibles and lead designer of Van Buren (BIS’ Fallout 3) until he left for Obsidian
    • J.E. Sawyer Van Buren lead technical designer and lead designer until he left a few months before BIS closed its doors

It’s a great way to celebrate the ten years of the release of Fallout, a few highlights:

3. What bit of your work on Fallout were you most proud of?

Leonard Boyarsky
That’s a hard one, as I’m proud of so much of what I contributed to Fallout. If I had to pick one thing, it would be the mood/tone/50’s thing, because I can cheat and include things like the SkillDex (vault)guy and the intro and ending under that heading.

Chris Taylor
I’m most proud of the SPECIAL system, not because of how it finally turned out (there are bugs in the system and certainly, with some time, we could have improved it), but because we had a very limited amount of time to work on it and it was at a critical time in the development of Fallout. SPECIAL turned out pretty darn well for having been written in just a few weeks. The manual takes the runner up prize.

Feargus Urquhart
On the original Fallout, I was happiest with what I did with the Hub. Some of my work was taking a really complicated design that wasn’t really working and making it work. But, I also added the quest for the Blade Runner pistol that Jason was nice enough to make for me, even though I think he thought I was being silly. And, I also spent a ton of time balancing where the guards were and how they were equipped to make it really, really hard to steal stuff early in the game but just a hard fight later in the game.
I was also happy with what I did with the Boneyard and Adytum, which was again to take a broken design and make it work. I was happy that was able to add the Hardened Power Armor and Turbo Plasma Rifle pretty much at the last minute of the game. Of course, I’m still pretty embarrassed that I screwed up the balance of the later part of the game by reducing the AP requirements on the Turbo Plasma Rifle.

And lastly, I stopped Fallout from Gold Mastering for an extra day because I felt the Barter equation was broken and need to be fixed. It wasn’t a very popular decision on the team or with management, but it was the right one and Bartering worked out much better because of that.

Chris Avellone
All the pre-production work on Fallout 3, and the theme that was planned for Fallout 3. Following that, I was proud of the area design for New Reno along with the multiple branching and reactivity, and finishing up the quests and characters in Vault City, including all the little bonus reactivity events in Vault City (the singing caretaker, the broken auto-doc, yanking all the ammo out of Marcus, Vic and Valerie’s sequence, the Captain of Vault City, and some of the fetch quests).

J.E. Sawyer
Revising SPECIAL for Van Buren. In retrospect, I may have made a few choices differently, but overall I think the system needed an overhaul for clarity and balance reasons.
I also really enjoyed working on the “Poseidon-tier” technologies for Van Buren. They were a bunch of unfinished projects that science-oriented characters could complete to gain goodies like the ARTEMIS Light Rail Gun and HERAKLES Power Fist. The story behind the projects helped tie the Enclave to Poseidon, which was fun.

10. What advice would you have for someone making another Fallout game?

Leonard Boyarsky
That’s tough. I wouldn’t even know where to start, as Fallout was really a reflection of us and our personalities at that time, and we had nothing to live up to. We were just fired up about making our little game and we poured ourselves into it.

The only advice that comes to mind is to realize that its humor comes from a juxtaposition of the powers that be in the Fallout universe trying to put forth a silly ‘everything’s great!’ attitude and the stark reality that actually exists in the world. And even though there were some silly things in it, like the crashed flying saucer, overall it was more dark humor than silly humor.

Chris Taylor
No advice, but I wish them the best. I’m a fan myself and I look forward to FO3.

Feargus Urquhart
In the end the specific aspects of the rules system, the game perspective, the locations, all of those don’t matter when it comes to making a Fallout game. It is the feeling of Fallout. It’s the Overseer kicking you out, it’s getting to kill both Killian and Gizmo, getting to play at being Mad Max, having Dogmeat around and winning the game the way you want to win it.

Chris Avellone
Don’t do one. Do something better and raise the bar even higher.

J.E. Sawyer
Establish a vision and go with it. The Fallout games are great, but to progress the series, you need to separate the wheat from the chaff and build on top of that. Refine the strengths of the Fallout games and add new innovations. There’s a lot of dissonant noise from fans about what those strengths really are. And that’s fine. It’s not their job to make the game. They aren’t a team. But you have to be able to get to the heart of what’s really important.

There are probably a lot of decisions that you will make that infuriate a lot of people. If you feel those decisions need to be made, do not half-ass them. The people still will be infuriated, and what you are making will suffer overall because of those compromises. A compromise made for reasons of scope or quality — that might be a good compromise. Compromises made to quasi-please the average audience member aren’t a good thing, especially not with a concept as strongly expressed as “Fallout”.

And whatever you do, make sure you nail the art, the music, and the sound. That’s the stuff that transcends rules and combat systems and dialogue trees.

Must read roundtable interview, good work NMA.

 
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