Level Designer Diary

A new dev diary has hit the official site.  This time we’re talking level design.

Fallout 3 has been the first Bethesda Game Studios project with a dedicated level design team from the outset. With this resource, we were able to set our sights higher than ever before. We knew early on that one of our big concepts for the game was to challenge the traditional RPG divisions between towns, wilderness, and dungeon. With that mission in mind, we actively sought to blur the lines and create a world that was at once believable, unpredictable, and above all; entertaining.

It’s an interesting read, especially in light of the repeated criticisms of how tightly compressed the world feels.  Hopefully this is a topic we’ll be able to revisit once the game hits and we’ve all had a chance to judge for ourselves.

Emil Thinks We’re All Crack Addicts

Bigguns is looking for the groin shot.

Bigguns is looking for the groin shot.

Emil made an appearance at the BGS forums to defend his baby.  Some interesting comments in there about the inspiration for V.A.T.S. and the implementation.  Here’s one quote that tickled my funny bone:

It certainly wasn’t the case that we came up with a concept, put it into the game, and said, “There it is! It’s perfect” The road from paper design to implementation was loooonngg…. So regardless of what the paper design was, for us, that’s always just the beginning. The one thing you have to realize is that anything can look good on paper. Anything. In a written doc, you can justify your arguments, tighten any logic errors, dot your i’s and cross your t’s… but if you get it into the game, and it sucks (and it often does!) you have to change it. Most of the “bad’ games I’ve played are bad not because they’ve been crappy ideas, but because they haven’t been properly executed. It’s as if the developers were so blinded by the the awesomeness of their ideas on paper, they couldn’t accept that those same ideas just did not translate into fun gameplay. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and every developer has at one point or another, myself included.

Laughing with me yet?  Maybe sometime soon.  He also goes on to say that V.A.T.S. will please everyone, really!

We designed the combat balance with V.A.T.S. use in mind. Trust me, those who say they won’t use it will. If there’s one thing we learned throughout development it’s that people use V.A.T.S. It just feels natural, and the camera playbacks are a kind of visual crack. So V.A.T.S. is one part tactical, one part pure visceral entertainment. Chances are at least one of those elements will appeal to you, and you’ll end up using V.A.T.S.

And of course, later in the conversation, the sore subject of groin shots reared its ugly head.

Quick answers — no groin shots because it took long enough for us to get the other body parts balanced. And we were afraid the groin shots would instantly change the tone to “goofy” — so they didn’t make the cut.

Yes, it seems groin shots were the tipping point on the goof-o-meter.  Truly a fine line between the comedic and the dramatic that the designers had to walk.  Steel be with them in that endeavor.

Chime in over here.

CanardPC Hates Fallout 3

I think we’ve all suspected for a while that the fine folks at CanardPC are not huge fans of Fallout 3’s new direction.    They’ve recently rebelled against the BethSoft imposed review exclusivity by publishing a not-quite-a-review article summing up their feelings and criticisms on Fallout 3:

Even when you want to explore things and let alone the main quest for a while, it still tastes weird. Besides the cardboard sets, the feeling of emptiness suddenly goes away. Just like in Oblivion and Gothic 3, adventure awaits at every corner of the street. Literally, unfortunately. A two minute walk and you’re there! A design decision which probably has everything to do with the average attention span of the console gamer.

A similar theme from earlier reviews.

On the other hand, don’t expect to be able to convince anybody that originally does not like you. NPC reactions are determined by your Karma and even a professional liar won’t be able to convince someone who does not like him to become his partner. But have no fear: you can change your reputation just like you can switch clothes. You’re too good to obtain what you wish? Steal, kill generic NPCs (those with no name) and here you are: the incarnation of evil! But don’t worry: after three days, people forget about your deeds and you are forgiven.

Your karma is too low for a particular quest? Just kill bad guys and give water to hobos (it comes for free if you have your own house) and there you go: holier than saints. Where the first Fallout episodes where built around balancing your own desires and deciding what sacrifices you were ready to do in order to fulfil them, Bethesda sweeps this and allows you to switch styles at will. Nothing is important any more, everything becomes relative. Everything black. Everything white. No need for grey when redemption and condemnation are made so easy.

This is an interesting criticism.  I think we’ve all been a little concerned about the ‘gamey’ implementation of karma in Fallout 3 and the level of importance it has been given in NPC interactions.  It sounds like a system that was mostly broken in Fallout 2 is now completely broken in Fallout 3.  Progress!

Read the rest of his thoughts and comments at NMA.

PS – Many thanks to Xark for the header art.