I think I would have preferred to see you address the point I raised in my original post about producing something unique rather than what the rest of the industry is creating.
Emil: You’ll really have to play the game to judge its uniqueness. Sure, we’re using an existing IP, but as someone who plays just about everything, I’d consider Fallout 3 pretty damned unique (if nothing else!). It’s a first/third-person RPG, but it’s got a different vibe than Oblivion, by a long shot, and a lot of other gameplay elements/sensibilities I don’t really think I’ve seen in other games. Okay, I’m biased. But I still feel that’s very true.
Wouldn’t you, as an artist, rather create something completely different to what the rest of the industry is creating?
Now you can come back and claim that this really is something that you’re doing with Fallout 3, but if you did, I think you’d be lying to yourself as well as us.
Emil: Well, I very much feel that Fallout 3 is different from what the rest of the industry is doing, whether we’re using an existing IP or not. That was one of the prime reasons I wanted to work on the project. Is a game “just a shooter” because it has guns in first person? Or is a game “definitely an RPG” because it has character dialogue and choice? Those are just two examples– I think, in Fallout 3, there’s a mixing of genres there that’s pretty rare in a lot of other games.
Now, if you’re asking if, as a creative person, I’d prefer to create a completely new IP from scratch, the answer is — it depends. If I had what I thought was a great idea, and were given the opportunity to create a new IP, would I want to do that? Sure. But if I were offered the Batman or Blade Runner licenses and asked if I could a make a game based on those IPs, I would kill for that chance as well. It depends on the strength of the IP, and what I thought I could bring to it. The latter is exactly what happened with Fallout 3.
There are still plenty of opportunities to be very unique within existing IPs, and I very much enjoy doing that. That’s basically what happened with the Dark Brotherhood stuff in Oblivion. The IP was there, the lore was there… I took it, was inspired by it, but in the end I sort of did my own thing (for better or worse). And I loved every second of it.
Oh yeah, weapons questions —
Sorry, I’m really not at liberty to talk about weapons in any way, shape or form.
While I enjoyed it [Dark Brotherhood Questline for Oblivion], I found it was not really revolutionary, and as with almost all of the quest lines in Oblivion, it was completely linear.
Emil: True, it was linear, but that was by design. Quests with multiple paths were never planned for Oblivion… with the amount of content we had, we simply didn’t have the time or resources to design them that way. So they had a different, more straightforward structure, and we were totally fine with that.
In Fallout, we have fewer quests, and they tend to have a level of complexity far beyond those in Oblivion. Multiple paths, multiple choices, etc. In the Dark Brotherhood, even if you learned who the traitor was, you couldn’t really affect the outcome. In Fallout 3, a quest like that would certainly have allowed the player more options.
Very different games.
Do you find that you often have to sacrifice the game you *want* to make in order to put out the game you *have* to make?
Emil: Honestly, what happens when you’ve been in development long enough, it’s pretty easy to understand what will and will not be feasible with any upcoming project. So you tend to scale back stuff in your own head before you ever even put pen to paper and start documenting the game. You become comfortable with those limits, so it doesn’t feel like you’re not able to do something… just like you’re working within the normal parameters. You know, guys who detail cars for a living don’t generally think about adding cloaking devices to Honda Civics.
So Fallout 3 is really close to what I had imagined in my head. Very little changed from paper to implementation. I mean, things get tweaked, sure, but the big picture is the same.
If I knew I could have had ANYTHING, would I have wanted something different. Yeah, probably. But I can’t really talk about what I would have wanted without giving away what’s already there, and I can’t really do that.
So ask again in the Fall.
I’m not throwing myself in front of a bullet to die for Emil P.
Will Wright is a savant
Emil: I’m a savant, too. I can count, like, 300 Cheetos in 1 minute.
Doesn’t the fact that you’re making a sequel to someone else’s intellectual property obligate you to maintain continuity with the design goals and principles (pen and paper RPGs) of the series you’ve taken upon yourselves to do.
Emil: I think we have a responsibility to make a good game, true to the source material, and I think we’re doing that.
Do I feel we need to maintain continuity with the design goals and principles (pen and paper RPGs) of the series? It depends on how you define those design goals and principles. Do we feel like we have to do exactly what the creators of Fallout 1 and 2 did? Clearly not. I don’t think it’s at all my responsibility to make a game that was just like the previous ones. I think it’s my responsibility to make the best game I can, one that’s true to the Fallout universe, spirit and style of gameplay (though this last bit is the most subjective of all).
How is the pen and paper basis of Fallout manifested in the gameplay of Fallout3?
Emil: Pen and paper gameplay is all about freedom of expression and choice, the way I see it. Those values are obviously evident in Fallout and Fallout 2. So that was one of our big design goals going in… give the player choices. Give the player the freedom to go where they want, and do what they want.
But you also have to be careful, because playing a video/computer game is much different than playing a paper and pencil game. Your DM or game master is there to prevent you from “breaking” the game and ruining the experience. So that’s our job as well — we have to handle stuff to prevent you from completely breaking your game. Games are an imperfect technology. Something can always go wrong. So you provide the player with a lot of freedom… but within a framework. You can give the player the freedom to, say, kill someone who gave them a quest… so long as that doesn’t put the player in a weird state where other quests break, etc. That’s just sloppy, so we have to take the time to cover those bases. But in an open-world game, there are only so many bases you can realistically handle. So it’s a judgment call.
Actually, I was more concerned where player skill subsumes PC skill, that’s a major foundation of the pen and paper RPG. We know you guys can do sprawl in RPGs.
I think it’s pretty fair to say player character skill trumps player skill in Fallout 3. In Oblivion, the character systems are much more centered around the player doing everything they want. That’s sort of an Elder Scrolls tradition. I mean, you level up through action. In Fallout 3, there’s far less of this, partly because your skills don’t increase through use; it’s a class XP-driven system.
Same with using VATS in combat. It’s much more about the combat skills you’ve raised than player reflexes.
So the characters in Fallout 3 tend to be more specialized.
What life lessons have you learned from your first time being lead designer? How easy/difficult is the “lead” part of your job?
Emil: It’s not really my first time being a lead. I was lead designer of a canceled project at Looking Glass (Thief 2 Gold…smaller game, same job), and my duties as senior designer on Thief 3 were pretty similar to what I do now. Before that, I was editor of the Adrenaline Vault for a couple of years (where I worked with Bethesda marketing guru Pete Hines, if you guys didn’t know that).
For me it’s a matter of enjoying working with other people, being a good communicator, and convincing other people that my ideas are right! (this part is, obviously, the greatest challenge…) I think every time you’re a lead you learn something new about yourself. About your strengths and weaknesses, about your willingness to compromise, all that stuff. You also learn a lot about your own limits; how to know when to do something yourself, and when to hand it over to someone else who may very well be better suited to the task. (Delegation of tasks is a pretty tough thing to get used to when you’re accustomed to doing things yourself.)
Being a lead means, in some obvious ways, that I’m responsible for the game’s quality, and that’s something I really love — the best time of a project is when you’re banging out all the dents, watching the game get better and better. Helping direct that is a great feeling.
I have been seeing contradicting information on whether Fallout 3 will be playable as a whole in 3rd person view or not.
Emil: The game is fully playable in an over-the-shoulder third-person view, yeah, and the camera can be zoomed out pretty far.
The third-person gameplay is really good. I mean, it’s fully playable in combat, dialogue, exploring (even small spaces). If you were turned off by the third-person camera in Oblivion you should know that we never really intended the game to be fully playable that way. I mean, you CAN, but we always looked at it as a “vanity mode,” so you could pull the camera out and see yourself in third person.
The third-person camera in Fallout 3 was designed so the player could actually play the game that way, and it works great.
On Vampire Masquerades: Bloodlines
Emil: Man, I loved Bloodlines. Had it share of issues, but whatever. Some of the best NPC interactions ever.
Do take a look at the full discussion, I had to edit things a bit, thanks for everyone that posted questions.