Official Fan Interview II

During May 2008 Alexander, Briosafreak, and Gizmo collected suggestions for questions by the fans to put on the new Official Fan Interview, compiled a final list, sorted it and then condensed it.
These are the answers as posted by Todd Howard in July 2008.
Todd Howard: After long last, here’s the 2nd Fan Interview. Along with it, we hope you all enjoy these three exclusive screenshots, that we took just for you. I just want to say again, thanks for being so patient with us on this one, I know it took awhile. And thanks to everyone on these boards for supporting our games for so long.

Megaton Bar

Shotgun on Robot

Pip-Boy Skills

1) Which of the following, if any, will be featured in Fallout3; Romance, Sex, Homosexuality, Nudity, Prostitution, Slavery, Cannibalism, Children, Child killings, drugs, addictions? And of the things that won’t be featured, can you explain why they won’t be included in the game?

It touches on most of those. Slavery, children, drugs and addiction more than the others, as those factor for into the setting more. In regards to nudity and child killings, no, it features neither of those, as they don’t really add to the flavor of the game (I’ll get into children in the next question more). I think if you look at Fallout 1, and the footprint it has with the topics you ask about, Fallout 3 is pretty much the same, in that it features the types of things you mention at about the same rate, no more, no less. Drugs and drug addiction play a larger role perhaps, as it’s a key gameplay device. I think the heart of this question is “has the harshness and maturity of the world of Fallout 3 been tempered from the earlier games?” and I can certainly say “No, it hasn’t been.”

2) Are children and otherwise non essential or non-quest related NPC’s vulnerable or invulnerable to accidental or purposeful (deadly) harm? And how about quest essential people? Please elaborate as much as you can, especially on why you choose to do it that way.

You will not be able to be a child killer. There are several reasons for this, some of them are very basic, like we wouldn’t be able to sell the game, anywhere to anyone, if the children could be killed. I’m not using that as a scapegoat. We never wanted the game to offer any incentive or desire to be blowing kids away, so from our initial designs, we didn’t know how we were going to handle if you shot them, we just knew it was going to be a big no-no, especially with a system like VATS and the graphic fidelity the gore has. Anyway, when attacked, all children flee and any regular NPCs friendly to the children will instantly attack you, so it feels good in the game, in that there is an appropriate response.

In regards to essential NPCs, it works like Oblivion, in that when they “die” they get knocked “unconscious” and get up a little while later. It worked well in Oblivion, so we kept that system, as you can still attack everyone that you want, and get at least a small benefit (being able to avoid them while they are down). I will say that the number of essential characters is minute compared to Oblivion and we’ve gone to pretty big lengths to cover a lot of people’s deaths, but sometimes that’s just not possible.

3) Could you outline your thoughts on the matter of ensuring that choices and consequences provided by the various quests within your game are crafted so as to be more nonlinear than simply the superficial choice between “good, bad and neutral”/”affirmative, negative and nothing?” Also, will there be other aspects to choices in Fallout 3? Political? Philosophical? Exactly how far will you go with the player’s moral freedom, the “gray” solutions?

That really depends on the quest, so it’s hard to say. There are certainly some that are clearly good/bad, like blowing up Megaton. It’s clearly bad to nuke an entire town. It’s clearly bad to kill innocent people throughout the game, and your karma is affected. It’s also clearly good to help people in need, giving to charity, passing out clean water, and more. Those are specific examples in the game. I think many people want to play “good” and want to play “evil”. Both are fun in different ways. The gray area comes into several quests, where the situation is just “bad”. Some feel like no-win situations and they come across as “make a hard choice.” I think that’s where it feels best honestly, but we do need to mix it up between that and simpler good/bad.

4) Are most of the non-human entities in the game of hostile intent, or can some be reasoned with, or even recruited as companions under the right circumstances?

Most are hostile, but not all. Yes, some can be reasoned with and even hired.

5). Will crimes committed in one place automatically be known everywhere and by everyone? Or is this limited to the zone the PC committed the deed in?

It’s limited to the faction you did the crime to, and we also put towns into their own faction. So a crime committed in one town will not affect another, but crimes committed to a group will be known to that group (say the Brotherhood of Steel) throughout the world.

6) Would you take us through a hypothetical dialog tree that demonstrates the typical choices made available to the player?

I don’t have enough space to really do that. They are big. If you look at Fallout 1, it’s deeper than that. To give you the scale, we have over 40,000 lines of dialogue, compared to a few thousand in Fallout 1.

Usually we start a conversation with an NPC with some flavor from the player, kind of the “how do you want to act towards this person?” Are you going to be nice, direct, polite, an ass? We cover it all. Some of my favorite player responses are simply “<Say Nothing>”, and playing the silent type. But probably my favorite opening is the first time you talk to a Ghoul, one of the choices is “Gah! What the f*#$ are you?”

Depending on the character, there’s usually a list of common questions about him or the town/area you are in. If it’s quest related, it can get pretty deep with that character, as most have different paths to how you handle them. You can also use your Speech skill to persuade, and sometimes special dialogue options come up based on other stats, whether that is strength when talking to a tough guy, or options that come from perks you may have.

7) What can you tell us about the way Armor works, will it come as a full set or as parts, and how will it influence perception? Will there be a special HUD when wearing it?

It comes as two parts, the body part and the helmet. So you can mix and match. And then you can also put on things like glasses and other items. Different outfits also come with different stat boosts sometimes, and do more than basic “damage resistance”. Like mechanic’s coveralls that boost your repair skill, that kind of thing. We wanted a reason that you might wear clothes as well as armor. There’s a merchant’s outfit that ups your Barter skill for instance. When it comes to armor, and in particular power armor, yes it does affect some stats (Power Armor lowers your Agility). There is not a special HUD when wearing Power Armor.

8 ) How does the inventory system work? Is it slot based? Or a never ending back pocket like with the original games?

It’s based on weight. No fiddling with slots. The Pip-Boy separates your items into categories for you – Weapons, Apparel, Aid, Misc, and Ammo. The “Aid” category is for things like meds, chems, food; anything that you can consume to modify stats. It also contains the books, as like Fallout 1, these are read/consumed and raise a skill (permanently). Also, Ammo has zero weight, as we didn’t want the player having to micromanage that aspect.

9) Will the PC version of the game include some sort of SDK or level editor like Elder Scrolls games have? If not, might one become available via download in the future? And how about the console versions, what have you done to give them the same options PC players have?

It will definitely not be included on the disk. If and when one is available, it will be a free download. I wish I could promise that an editor will be coming and when, but I can’t. Our focus is first and foremost the game, and it’s a major undertaking getting an editor ready for release, and making sure the game plays nice with the data users create. That being said, we’d love to see it happen. We’re really proud of our tools and what the community has created for Morrowind and Oblivion, it’s really awesome stuff. It’s one of those things that even if only a thousand people use it, they create enough great stuff that keeps the larger audience interested and going. I always found it a great “pure” RPG experience, creating your own stuff and sharing it, like a good DM. I still have “Stuart Smith’s Adventure Construction Set” for the Apple 2 on my shelf. I have no doubt that Fallout would benefit from such a thing as well, so we’ll see what happens, it’s not something we can just throw out there.

As far as consoles go, that’s not happening for this game and user content. It’s something we keep talking about with Microsoft and Sony, but there are a lot of barriers there right now, from delivery to security. We’d love to see that happen. I’d love to see Oblivion content created by PC users available to all platforms, because the data is the same, most of them would pretty much “work” right away.

10) How advanced will the AI of NPC’s be this time around? Are they really going to have a life? Speaking to other NPC’s in a logical manner, traveling and trading with/in faraway places, Submitting to the player rather than fighting if they know, or think, they’re no match for him?

I wish I could answer with a number, like “it will be 17 advanced.” AI is difficult to define, the NPCs certainly appear much smarter than our previous stuff, by a lot. Much of that is us giving them better data, massaging what they do so the player gets to see more of it. We added a lot of animations, so people in town are doing more. They “seem” to be interacting with the world in a more realistic manner, but that usually means going up to something and playing an animation. It can be something really simple, like we added “lean against wall”. It’s funny how something that small can give life to a person. They walk into a space, and just lean against the wall, arms folded. Like Oblivion, we use our Radiant AI system, so most of the NPCs eat, sleep, work, etc. I think we take it for granted now, but it’s pretty great to have that level of control. We’ve also done a lot to the conversation system, which makes them seem a lot smarter, but again, that’s better data, not a new system.

On the technical side we spent most of our time doing an all new pathfinding system. Morrowind/Oblivion use nodes for pathing and Fallout uses a navmesh. This is the difference between an NPC having a valid point to stand on (node) versus an area to stand in, or walk around (mesh). You can do much more sophisticated actor movement and behavior with a navmesh, and I think you’ll see the results onscreen, especially when the bullets start flying. The actors do a great job of finding cover and using the space well, something we could never have done with pathnodes.

In terms of the NPCs traveling around, many travel around town, and some travel the wasteland. There are a few caravans in the game that go from town to town trading. Radiant AI handles something like that really well.

Lastly, as far as submitting to a more powerful foe, yes they do that, in that they run away. If they’re overmatched, they holster their weapon, flee and try to hide. While this sounds cool on paper, it’s often not fun at all, and we’ve ended up really dialing that back, because it gets really annoying really fast, to have people run away all the time. The main faction that still acts like this are the Raiders, the others don’t do it so much.

11. How common are the ‘Dungeon’ areas, and do they play a part in the main story, or are they isolated side quests of their own with little bearing on the outside world. And regarding the creatures inside the dungeons, do they re-spawn or can players clear the area permanently?

They are common, and play a part throughout the game, whether that’s the main quest, side quests or just exploring. To even get to downtown DC you’re going to have to go through some metro tunnels. And then when you are downtown, the whole thing is like one giant “dungeon”. Any structure of size, an office building, destroyed factory, school, hospital, you name it – we use all of these as “dungeons”.

Most of these do not respawn, once they are cleaned out, they are clean. Some respawn for specific reasons, and some have a limited number of creatures respawn to keep it interesting if it’s a huge area that we don’t want to feel “dead” later on.

12) From the four archetypes (Charisma Boy, Stealth Boy, Science Boy and Combat Boy) which of these are carried over into Fallout 3 and to what degree will that change the gaming experience? Will it change our starting equipment? Will the rewards and/or results of quests actually differ depending on the way you play through it or the way you play at all?

Actually, we think of it purely in terms of skills. How useful is the particular skill? As much as possible we want the choice for which skills you are going to use to be even, so “Science” is one skill, but there are many combat skills. I can definitely say that what skills you focus on is the largest element in how the game plays for you. Skill choice does not change your starting equipment. And as far as quest rewards, yes, many, but not all, have different rewards for not only the outcome, but how you achieved it.

13) What will the map travel look like? Is it a dotted line that slowly crawls towards the destination on the map, or Oblivion-type fast travel? And will there be random encounters during said map travel?

It works like Oblivion, it’s a system we got great feedback on from that game and while we tossed other ideas around, it works best for us. It has a different flavor than Oblivion, in that when the game starts you don’t know any locations, so you have to discover everything on foot, by yourself. The world map only acts to get you back to places you have already been.
There are no random encounters while you fast travel, but there are random encounters while you walk around. We actually have a great system for random encounters in this game that we’re really proud of.

14) How much diversity will there be in the factions (and structures of factions) found in Fallout 3? And what can you tell us about those factions and inter-faction politics?

They all have it to some level. Some of that is hard to see as a player unless you really look, we only shove it in your face where it makes sense. I think the Brotherhood of Steel is probably the one players will get a feel for the best. See Emil’s dev diary for a taste of what the Brotherhood is going through.

15) How will the real-time combat skills work? Will the chance of missing be larger as the skill is lower, or does it affect the amount of damage done? Or will this be featured in weapons swaying and/or recoil compensation?

The skill affects both how well you aim (your hand wobbles on screen), and how much damage you do with a shot. Over the course of the project, we really dialed back the skill wobble, and dialed up the damage effect. It’s really not fun to miss all the time, it just made the game feel terrible. You can also “aim”, like many shooters. You use the right mouse button, or left trigger on a console, and your character aims at the target. You can’t run while you are aiming, but it negates most of the skill wobble. Not all of it, but enough to compensate for a really bad skill. What you find is, as your skill raises, you don’t have to rely on aiming as much, so it’s a good balance.

Keep in mind the guns have condition too, which affects how much damage they do as well. The gun condition used to also affect rate-of-fire as well as the spread of bullets, but we took those elements out, it was just too much going on, and you usually started the game with a bad skill and a bad gun and it just felt “broken”, with bullets shooting off in all kinds of crazy directions. Now the gun condition affects damage and how much the gun jams when you reload it, which ultimately equates to a rate-of-fire, but feels better when playing.

16) What will be the interaction between two aggressive NPC’s (or creatures) in regards to each other? On a scenario where a couple of ghouls and some mutants are at a close distance do they fight among each other? Do they ignore you? Do they both attack you? Will they follow you until you reach the next town?

They don’t treat the player any different than anything else. In the case you laid out, they fight each other. One may switch to you for any number of reasons, but you aren’t deemed “special.” As far as enemies following you, yes, they can follow you for a while, but we eventually have them break it off so you don’t train legions of mutants back to other areas.

17) How much can you tell us about the stats, skills, traits and perks featured in the game? And what skills/perks were carried over and which were dropped from previous Fallout games? And why choose the ones you did carry over and why did you not choose the ones that were dropped?

Big question, and I can’t discuss all the specific stats yet. I do know the skill list is coming out in a few weeks, perhaps by the time you read this. Perks will not be until much later, as we’re still doing some final tweaks on them. I think when you see the skill list, the choices will be obvious, and they’re the ones most of you would agree with.

Ok, time for some, perhaps, bad news. Traits have been rolled into Perks. That was a hard decision for us, and one that took, literally, years. We kept coming back to it, and re-discussing it, and once we were playing the game, found that the difference between the two systems was so similar that even half the entries in the community “design a perk” contest were actually traits. Take “Bloody Mess” for example, probably the most famous trait. Is the game really more fun if that can only be taken at the very start? Why can’t you pick it at level 6? What’s so important about having it only at the start? The perk choice is probably one of the most fun parts of the game, and to relegate certain ones to only be chosen when you first start, before you’ve even played the game and know how any of it feels, just didn’t prove as fun to us. How do you know you want Bloody Mess if you haven’t seen how bloody the current mess is? (did I just type that?) Anyway, trust me when I say this one was a debate, a long one, and a decision we’re not naive enough to think will be understood or applauded by everyone.

Anyway, many traits from Fallout return, but as perks. And many perks return, as perks. Another change over the last year is that you now pick a perk every time you level, and the perks have been balanced accordingly. Like I said before, we found the level-up-pick-a-perk experience to be so enjoyable, it was actually confusing people why they couldn’t do it every level. Perks also still have prerequisites for certain stats, including your level. New perks open up at even levels, so while you still get to pick a perk at the odd levels, you won’t see any new ones based on your level, but may see a new one based on say, your Science skill.

The good news is that there are a ton of perks, around 100 if you include the multiple ranks. And with a level cap of 20, you still have only 19 times you get to pick one, so you need at least 5 playthroughs of the game to use them all. It was important to us with all of this, that the choices were hard for the player, no matter what the skills/traits/perks were, and that you couldn’t see it all the first time through.

18 ) How far will physical character creation be able to go? That is can we go so far as to add scars and tattoo’s in player selected places? Can we decide the body type, facial appearance etc? And will stat changes or fights or anything else later in the game change that appearance?

You get to create your face, but not your body style. You choose your race (Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, or Asian) and sex (Male or Female). You can manipulate your face any way you want, shaping it to your liking. We also have a number of “preset” faces, so you can start with a decent looking face. You can also pick your hair style and color. There are not scars or tattoos you can pick. But, there are beards. And not just any beards. We have them all. We have the most ridiculous list of beards in any game, ever. One of our artists went crazy with beards and didn’t stop. We’ve joked about making a prerelease video of “the beards of Fallout 3”. Anyway, they look great. Lots of cool hairstyles as well, from 50s style normal, to half shaved wasteland Mohawks. There are also some ways to “get a haircut” and change your hairstyle later in the game.

19) Will the PC be able to crouch, kneel, lie down, and climb? And what are the benefits to that overall and in a combat situation?

You can crouch, this is good for taking cover and also acts as “sneaking”. When you do so, you get an indication of how well hidden you are as well. You cannot kneel, lie down, or climb.

20) What sort of weather effects will we be seeing and will it effect the game play in some manner (e.g. change the landscape, people get off the street to take cover etc.) or is it more or less just ‘eye candy?

Other than different cloud types that come and go, there are no other weather effects. We toyed with rain and windstorms but decided not to do them.

21) What can you tell us about companion NPC’s? About their limits, their abilities, how everything works exactly.

There are a very limited number of them and they are hard to get. Not only do you have to find them, your often need significant money, and you also need to have the correct karma for many of them. Some won’t come with you if you don’t “match” with them.

They are pretty special though, they have great personalities and we’ve found them great fun to play with. You can also give them stuff, that they will use, so it’s fun to give them weapons and armor you aren’t using and watch them play dress up and use other weapons. But we’re careful not to overpower them, so for them to survive, you need to manage them a bit. You’ll want to give them stimpaks to heal, and better weapons, etc.

You can only have one follower at a time, you have to “fire” the one you have to get a new one. Except Dogmeat, he’s special, you can always have him with someone else. Lastly you can also give them some basic commands, like how they should fight, whether to wait for you, or to go someplace else.

22) How much will the main storyline tie into the storylines of the previous games? And how have you worked towards making it both accessible to new players and recognizable for veteran players? And do you think it will feel more like a reboot of the series or a continuation from the previous games?

It has the themes of the previous games, but is not a continuation of that specific story and those locations. Events from the previous games are referenced, sometimes subtly, sometimes very specifically, but if you never played the first two, you wouldn’t even know, it just feels like good history you’d see in any “first” game, for how the world is the way it is. If you’re a fan, I think you’ll get it all. At the same time, I’ve never really viewed Fallout 2 as a direct continuation, since it’s not a “here’s what the hero did next” sequel, it has a decent sized distance from the first. I think if you look at our Elder Scrolls stuff, and how we keep the timeline and overall world moving forward, but each game is its own thing, that’s how we approach this.

23) One of the previews mentioned perception effects when you see enemies on your radar. How does the player’s Perception affect the radar’s maximum number of targets? Should we think of something along the lines of Counter Strike, or a quest compass like Oblivion had? And if it’s the latter, are we able to toggle it?

It’s most like the Oblivion compass, and “ticks” appear on it when you “perceive” other NPCs or creatures. If the creature/NPC is hostile, the tick will appear red. If not, it appears green. No, you cannot toggle it off unless you toggle off the entire HUD, which you can do.

24) Will it be possible to finish the game using no weapons but only hand to hand combat? And when you level that skill up, do you just do more damage with the attacks you already have or do you learn different and more moves?

Playing the whole game with only hand-to-hand wasn’t a goal of ours. I’m 99% sure you can, but it will be hard. As your Unarmed skill number goes up, you do more damage. There are also weapons you can get to use with this skill, like brass-knuckles. Lastly, there are some perks that give you special things like new moves.

25) How much of a role does morale or fear play for an enemy? And how much difference is there in intelligence and combat tactics found in different enemies?

Like I mentioned before, they have a “confidence” setting that determines when and if they will flee, but we’ve dialed it down a lot. NPCs, for the most part, are much smarter than creatures, but mostly because they simply can do more. They can use any number of weapons, take cover, and use chems. They’ll even pickup weapons lying around. Super Mutants can do the same. You think you’ve played it great when you take out the arm of one Super Mutant and he drops his mini-gun, only to see another one pick it up and use it on you. We’ve really tweaked how they play depending on their equipment and the area they are in, and I’m really happy with how that part turned out. I think that ends up being the pure “meat” of the game – exploring a space and using your skills and equipment to deal with the enemies there.

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