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.

Gstaff succumbs to my whining!

After much begging on the part of many, many people.  Good ole Matty G’staff has come through with some new wallpapers for us culled from the recent series of ads at the D.C. metro station.  Included in the set is a striking photo of a Brotherhood Paladin standing guard in front of the Washington Monument as flags flap in the background.  See if you can spot what’s missing on the flags.

X-Play Fallout 3 Special

If you’re like me, you probably can’t even find G4TV on your television dial and luckily for us the good people at G4 know this.  They’ve posted up their Fallout 3 X-Play special on the internets for all to see.  Included is some great footage of Rivet City and commentary from Todd, Pete, Istvan and my personal favorite Emil (do moar interviews, plz).

Gamasutra Interviews Todd

Gamasutra has posted an interview with Todd Howard.  While light on Fallout 3 details the interview does go into some of Todd’s view on game design:

As a game director — and it’s not like this is the first time you’ve done this — how do you even approach something like this? It seems like such a fairly monumental task, on two fronts: one, it’s just the issue of making a game this big, but you guys have done that before. But then there’s also the issue of inheriting that IP. Not that you’re doing it alone, but it seems like a pretty substantial undertaking. How do you approach that?

TH: The good thing with Fallout is that…  from a workflow standpoint — I mean how we go about what we do — it’s similar to what we do with Elder Scrolls, where it’s very big, and it’s an established world — whether or not  we’ve established it, or somebody else. The Elder Scrolls [world] is so big that no one person can remember it all, so when we think up stuff, we have to go research it. Like, “What did it say in this book in Daggerfall?” It’s so much stuff. So we go through the same work with Fallout.

And frankly, it was a very nice change of pace for us. We were really excited to do the project. So, I think we’re kind of used to doing it; I don’t know that there’s something specific I could point to, and go, “Here’s how we go about it.”

The one thing we do is we lay out the world. One of the first things we do is draw the map, and come up with the people and places. And the rest of it comes out of that. I mean, in Fallout, we knew we wanted to have vaults.

I usually come up with — this is bizarre — the first thing I always come up with is the beginning of the game, and the interface. I don’t know why. Like, how does it start, and what’s the interface. There’s no reason for that; it’s just what goes on.

And we knew we wanted to start in the vault, and play through. I’ve always been interested in games that just start, and you play them; the character generation is part of the game. An early influence is Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

Check out the full interview over yonder.

This newsbit pilfered mercilessly from Kharn.

Bring Back Will Wright

A new episode of Todd Time has gone live on G4TV’s website.  This week, Todd talks about reinvention in game design.  Recycling old ideas.  Professing his love for space marines and nazi killing.  Yeah, I’m not sure either.  Make sure you navigate away from the page before that E for All video starts, you might find yourself in mortal danger before you know it.

You’re Not Invited

Why is VaultBoy holding a toilet seat?

Joystiq got invited to a party, we didn’t.  Not that we’d go.  We’re busy that night.  We’re busy every night.  Too busy for launch parties anyways.  People that did get invited:

The party features headline music by the Foo Fighters, and it’s hosted by Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Odette Yustman, Ben Harper, and it’s being co-hosted by the Bethesda / Zenimax board of directors, which includes bigwig producer Jerry Bruckheimer, bigwig CBS president Les Moonves, bigwig MGM president Harry Sloan and and bigwig baseballer Cal Ripken, Jr.

I heard Ausir was invited too.  (Not really but I’m using this to link the wiki and make him feel better about the whole thing.)

Ashley Cheng on Fallout 3

It has been a great year for Ashley Cheng, he’s gotten married and now he’s shipped Fallout 3.  He shared a few thoughts on the latter over at his blog:

There’s always some work to do, but I’m finally at the point where I can actually breath at work. The game is done done. Like done. For most of the team, the game has been done for a while and the final push of a project always feels like a lot of hurry up and wait, as we wrap up testing, carefully eyeballing every bug we find, trying to get as much information as possible before deciding if the risk/reward is there to make the change.

Now I get to wait along with them. I’m very fortunate to be working with an incredibly talented team, at an awesome company, for great bosses, where we work on fun and successful games.

It is as good as I hoped it would be. I can’t express how proud I am of Fallout 3. It is the best game, in my opinion, that we’ve made. And (doing my best Peter Molyneux impersonation here) it will be one of the best games you’ll play this year 😉

And as we continue on, my goal, as ever, is to make sure our next project is even better. Most people don’t know this but I am usually the last person to touch all the games we make here. So as you boot up Fallout 3 on your PC, Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, know that I was the one who sent it off to you. So you know who to blame:)

I know how lucky I am to be in this industry, to have been given the opportunity to make these great games, and to have our hard work pay off with the tremendous success we’ve had.

I think I can speak for everyone here at the blog when I say congratulations to Ashley on both counts.  I hope he, and the rest of the good people at BethSoft, enjoy this quiet time before the next project kicks into high gear.

Pete Hines: Bounty Hunter

According to Kotaku, Bethesda is searching for those responsible for the recent leak of Fallout 3 (360).  Pete Hines has made the solemn vow to hunt them where they sleep, to find those responsible and make them pay by any means necessary.  That’s not actually what he said, here’s the quote:

“We’re looking into it. Since we haven’t sent out a single disc, it greatly reduces the number of places this might have come from.”

The Kotaku reporter wasn’t sure what to do with this non-quote and started talking about sniffing his games.  I’m not that kinky so I’ll just ask that you postulate who will be rounding out Pete Hines’ vengeance posse in the comments below.  My money is on Gstaff, I heard he carries a peacemaker with him everywhere he goes.

GTTV Footage

A Planetarium in Fallout 3

As Briosa mentioned earlier, GTTV had an episode dedicated mostly to Fallout earlier this morning.  You can watch the episode over at Gametrailers.com,  There’s some new footage interspersed with lots of old footage and short Q&A sessions with various developers from the game.  There’s also some coverage on other games and an exclusive Red Alert trailer.  But hey look, a planetarium, I love planetariums!

Benchmarking Tool

For those of you still unsure as to whether or not you have machines capable of running Fallout 3.  YouGamers.com has integrated the released specs into their benchmarking tool.  It’ll install a small Java applet that will assess your system, compare it to the specs furnished by BethSoft and report back to you on whether or not your machine is up to snuff.  Give it a shot and then head on over to NewEgg to fill in the gaps where need be.

Fallout 3 v The Originals

With the release of Fallout 3 nearly upon us, Videogamer.com has decided to run a comparison on Fallout 3 and the original games of the series.  They’ve broken down the game over a variety of categories; combat, perspective, quest, and a few other categories.  The author basically states the obvious over four pages and comes to the same offers up the same attitude outsiders think old Fallout fans should have towards the game (neutral acceptance and get the fuck over it).  But hey, this is the internet and we like to share hits so here’s a snip:

If, however, you’re a fan who is open-minded about the idea of a non-Black Isle Fallout, you’ll find that Bethesda has done an admirable job of capturing the atmosphere of the wasteland you trawled through in the late 1990s. No, it’s not exactly the same – and it was never going to be – but from what we’ve played, we reckon that Fallout 3 will offer one of the most exciting and involving video game adventures of 2008. And, we reckon, it’s going to introduce a huge swathe of new players to the Fallout world – and that can only be a good thing.

Yeah, he used ‘reckon’ twice.  I think he’s trying to be folksy.  Read the whole article here.

Thanks to Kharn for pointing this beauty out.

System Reqs… Finally.

What are the PC system requirements?

Minimum System Requirements:

  • Windows XP/Vista
  • 1GB System RAM (XP)/ 2GB System RAM (Vista)
  • 2.4 Ghz Intel Pentium 4 or equivalent processor
  • Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 256MB RAM (NVIDIA 6800 or better/ATI X850 or better)

Recommended System Requirements:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo processor
  • 2 GB System RAM
  • Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 512MB RAM (NVIDIA 8800 series, ATI 3800 series)
  • Supported Video Card Chipsets:
    • NVIDIA GeForce 200 series
    • NVIDIA Geforce 9800 series
    • NVIDIA Geforce 9600 series
    • NVIDIA Geforce 8800 series
    • NVIDIA Geforce 8600 series
    • NVIDIA Geforce 8500 series
    • NVIDIA Geforce 8400 series
    • NVIDIA Geforce 7900 series
    • NVIDIA Geforce 7800 series
    • NVIDIA Geforce 7600 series
    • NVIDIA Geforce 7300 series
    • NVIDIA GeForce 6800 series
    • ATI HD 4800 series
    • ATI HD 4600 series
    • ATI HD 3800 series
    • ATI HD 3600 series
    • ATI HD 3400 series
    • ATI HD 2900 series
    • ATI HD 2600 series
    • ATI HD 2400 series
    • ATI X1900 series
    • ATI X1800 series
    • ATI X1600 series
    • ATI X1300 series
    • ATI X850 series