While we know that Fallout 3 will be an M rated game, we still don’t know if all of the sensitive content from the previous games will appear. To illustrate the difficulties in the present political atmosphere of using children in a violent Role-Playing setting, we have a never before released interview with Timothy Cain, one of Fallout’s founding fathers, discussing his troubles in the days of the forced removal of children from Temple of Elemental Evil. The interview was conducted by PCGamer columnist Desslock that used some blurbs in his column. In Desslock words:
The interview was conducted right after TOEE was released (may even have been before it hit retail, as I got a gold copy before that for the review), and I used Tim’s answers for a related column that ran in PC Gamer at the time.
Tim had mentioned prior to the game’s release that content had been stripped out at the last minute, including kids, and so the column focused on the reasons behind that decision – influence of WoTC, Hasbro, etc. – and compared how things have changed since the old Ultima days (when Richard Garriott deliberately put you in situations where you would likely kill kids, etc.).
You can read more about these issues in his article in the latest PCGamer “Where Have the M-Rated RPGs Gone? The death of the Mature RPG is Bad News for the Genre”.
So here’s the full extent of the interview, I’ve left the material that isn’t related to the problem of mature themes and children in for accuracy reasons:
1. Desslock: Can you explain why it was necessary to take out the NPC children in TOEE? Was it just more practicable to take them out as opposed to making them invulnerable, or otherwise unkillable?
TC: Making the children invulnerable would have led to many serious issues (and probably bugs) to resolve. If the children were invulnerable and attacked, then they would slaughter the party (or if a PC managed to cast Dominate Person on a child, he would have a perfect killing machine). If they were invulnerable and did not attack, then they would provide cover and flanking that could not be avoided. If they were invulnerable and ran off at the start of combat, we would need to account for their eventual return to the map; otherwise after the first combat, the map would be devoid of children, just as if we had deleted them.
These were just a few of the issues we thought of immediately. We were sure that more would arise if we made the children invulnerable. After all, no other creature in the game is invulnerable, including the gods. Invulnerability ran counter to our design goal of making anything possible, even if difficult, to achieve.
2. Desslock: Troika is obviously a company that likes to make games with adult content, since both Arcanum and the original Fallout were “M” rating games. Would you have preferred to make an M rated D&D game, or did you always realize that a D&D game would have to be Teen rated (because of Hasbro/WotC concerns, in addition to any raised by Atari/Infogrames)?
TC: Yes, Troika would have preferred to make an M rated D&D game. As you pointed out, our previous games were both M rated, and we feel the most comfortable with the creative freedom that we gain with that rating. With that said, however, we understood that a T rating would gain us a wider distribution and also allow for a bigger, younger audience. In the end, that was the trade-off we had to make.
3. Desslock: How “hands on” is WotC in the development process? Do they review design documents, or actual content through alpha/beta builds, etc.?
TC: WotC (and Hasbro) reviewed our master design document (approximately 150 pages) at the end of the fourth month and reviewed the content of the gold master candidate at the end of the development cycle. Art assets, such as monster animations and screenshots, did get approved earlier, since these assets were sent to previewers.
4. Desslock: When in the game’s development were the children removed, and do you think the timing created any problems in terms of ensuring bugs in the code didn’t result, or scripting errors (or just NPC conversations that weren’t correspondingly updated)?
TC: The children were removed a few weeks before we went gold. Children had never been part of any quest, so no quest was broken by their removal. Several dialogs remained that referenced non-existent children, but none of these dialogs lead to any bugs in the game.
5. Desslock: Was there mature content, or content other than the children, that was removed? — if so, for what reason(s) (rating/publisher/Wotc concerns?)
TC: In our effort to target a T rating we did in fact remove additional content.
A brothel in Nulb was removed, which contained several dialogs, quests and potential followers. In fact, the madam of that brothel had one of the longest dialogs in the entire game…our team was pretty broken up about that one…as I’m sure you can imagine!. We also removed some swearing as well as some references to sex or sexuality. Overall, the changes, while sometimes difficult to make from a design standpoint, did not adversely affect gameplay too significantly. That said, most of the changes primarily impacted the path of evil player characters.
We also removed content that contained references to other games, books, movies or comics. As you probably remember, In Arcanum and especially in Fallout, we enjoyed adding subtle references to works we had enjoyed, but they didn’t make it despite our best efforts to get them approved. Maybe next time!
6. Desslock: I understand that you also spoke to Gary Gygax during the game’s development, to better understand his intentions to the extent there was ambiguity in the pen & paper module. How much direction did you get from him? Can you give any tangible examples of where he helped?
TC: I cannot overstate how wonderful it was to discuss the module with its creator (and the co-creator of D&D itself). Mr. Gygax was charming and easy to talk with, and he really helped clear up several ambiguities in the module.
The biggest controversy in the module is that Prince Thrommel is listed as a Paladin Lord (and hence Lawful Good) but his artifact sword Fragarach is listed as Chaotic Good. This means Thrommel would take damage from wielding his own sword, due to alignment conflicts. Either the man or the sword would have to be changed, and Gygax told me his original intent was for Thrommel to be a Chaotic Good Paladin. I opted for a Chaotic Good Fighter instead.
Another hazy area involved the spider queen Lolth and her involvement in the Temple. Gygax identified the two characters who were answering directly to Lolth (Lareth and Falrinth), and that her goal was to prevent the Temple from re-emerging as a potent entity. Actually, Gygax referred to the original design of the Temple in which the big bad guy was not the demoness Zuggtmoy but the Elder Elemental God, who existed on lower levels of the Temple that were never designed.
We also discussed the issue of save-or-die traps in the Temple, as well as the realistic chances of any player group unsealing the magically held bronze doors throughout the Temple. In the end, the traps were replaced with 3rd edition versions, and the bronze doors were made inoperable.
7. Desslock: Does Hasbro/WotC still have a “D&D licensing guidelines” book that you have to follow? I remember looking at one of those books about 5-6 years ago, which was probably created primarily to shape the development of books. But it contained pretty detailed restrictions on matters such as “always being consequences to evil actions”, as well as vague guidelines such as “the depiction of filth should be minimized”. Do they still have such guidelines? If so, I presume they’ve been loosened up a bit, since obviously you can play character of evil alignment in TOEE (and it’s one of the game’s key attractions).
TC: No, Troika did not receive any licensing guidelines from Hasbro or WotC. But we stayed very close to the original source materials, and Troika always has followed the design credo of reaping what you sow, so evil actions usually have some kind of penalty associated with them.
8. Desslock: Since you have to account for concerns raised by Publishers; content licensors (WotC); ESRB rating concerns that may affect the availability of games in key distribution chains like WalMart; conversion/localization issues given the stringent requirements of some foreign markets such as Germany; and even civil litigation concerns given the tendency of some individuals and groups to blame criminal acts on violent games — how much do you feel those considerations compromise your creativity, or your ability to create open-ended RPGs?
TC: There’s no question that they do compromise our creativity and reduce our ability to create entirely, open-ended RPG’s. The issue with children is a perfect case in point: our games can either feature no children at all or children that are immune to harm. This means no kidnapped children, no imperiled orphanages, and no possibility for an evil player character to even threaten a child, much less harm one. Since we at Troika enjoy dealing with the gray areas of morality and player choice, such limitations can certainly feel stifling at times.
But, of course, there are a number of very valid reasons why those decisions do in fact need to be made and I think you cited several in your question. As a creative developer we want to ride the bleeding edge and in some cases go well beyond it, but we’re also very aware of the importance of reaching wider audiences with our products. So we understand that sometimes content must be changed.
Fallout 3 Blog wants to thank Desslock and gives a warm salute to Tim Cain