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.

Inside Brigner

Daryl Brigner

Daryl Brigner

From the Bethblog:

Inside the Vault presents one of our level designers, Daryl Brigner.

What’s your job at Bethesda?
I’m a Level Designer. I design the layout for specific areas/dungeons. This usually consists of where enemies are, where and what the loot is, and what the basic flow of the dungeon is.[…]

Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Playing games, watching movies, and, believe it or not, making levels for other games. I’ve recently made a small map pack for Portal called Ren_Test3 It’s been featured on our site here along with my previous map. I have a lot of fun making those Portal maps because it’s less about the aesthetics and more about the puzzle design.

I’ve also done a few mapping tutorials for Half-Life 2, and will probably do some more of them in the future. They are four beginner tutorials and can be found if you just Google “Renstrike Mapping Tutorial”.

Message in a Todd Bottle

Howard during his Mars hollidays

Howard during his Mars hollidays

For only the third time in four years Bethsoft Executive Producer and Fallout 3 Lead Todd Howard leaves a message on the Bethesda Games forum:

See, I read the forums too.

Thanks to everyone here that has supported us and our games over the years. I really enjoyed meeting so many of you at PAX, and I know Pete, Emil, Istvan, and Matt did as well. It was, by far, our favorite convention ever. We really do have the best fans in the world, and we take both the praise and criticism the way it’s intended – to help us make better games.

Maybe someday we’ll be popular enough to have a “Bethfest!” and you can meet the whole team of over 100 people that work on these games. I assure you, they’re some of the most dedicated and amazing people you’d ever meet.

In other news this blog will return for the regular news service next Wednesday or Thursday. I’ll still be available on Meebo or mail.

Inside Bernstein

Sam Bernstein

Sam Bernstein

From the Bethblog:

Today’s Inside the Vault is about Sam Bernstein, QA tester.

What’s your job at Bethesda?
I’m a tester in the Quality Assurance department, currently working on Fallout 3. I try to break stuff.  Basically, I have the dream job of a 12-year-old, and it makes my inner 12-year-old very, very happy.[…]

What is the best part about working as a tester? The worst part?
Hmm, tough question. I guess the worst part about being a tester is having to replay the same things over and over and over again. It’s not that it stops being fun, it’s that there aren’t any more big surprises. Just a quick word to those who think VATS will get boring after a while, it’s been a little over six months and I still love it.

Inside The Vault: Ricky “socrates200x” Gonzalez

On today’s Inside the Vault at the Bethblog we have one of the most quoted devs in this blog, UI programmer Ricardo Gonzalez:

What’s your job at Bethesda?
I’m almost positive that what they pay me for here is “interface programming”. That is, I create, maintain, and polish that thin, delicate membrane that resides between the game world and the real one. There’s a glut of information and goings-on in our games that I’m told is very important and it’s my job to see that it gets presented to the player in some semblance of order. I also get bonus points if it looks pretty and if it doesn’t crash the game. To date, I think I have 3 bonus points.
What other games have you worked on?
This would be the first professional game I’ve worked on. As a kid, I invented a whole bunch of the single-player variety to keep myself, how did my parents put it?  “Occupied far, far away from the house”.  Old favorites like “Run There and Back Again” or “Spin in a Circle Really Fast”. I also had a lot of fun burying things in the sand and trying to find them again. I only lost that one once, and afterwards my mom made me promise to stay out of her medicine cabinet.[…]

What games are you looking forward to?
Fallout 3 for one. It’s one thing to constantly debug and playtest it; I really want to take it home and have my way with it for a hundred hours or so. Also Mass Effect for PC, although that’s more because I’d need to upgrade my rig to be able to run it comfortably and I want to have a reason to spend cash money upgrading my rig.

And this is his opinion on what is the best thing about the classic Fallout RPGs:

That I could dynamite the entrance to the Shady Sands Radscorpion cave instead having to kill anything. That I could hack my way into the depths of the Glow without firing a shot. That I could join the Skulz gang, double-cross them in the middle of a gun fight, and still get credit for it. In essence, Fallout is one of the best games I’ve played in allowing you to play the character you want, as you want, and still have a meaningful game experience.

In too many other RPGs, I just can’t play the lazy, self-centered intellectual that I so enjoy playing. Because I have to save my village. Or avenge my village. Or gather happy, glowing stones for my village. You don’t want to? Tough. Take this sword. Or twin daggers. Or talking hauberk. Or whatever. Fallout gives you the exact same opportunity to be the hero, go slay the bad guys, finish that main quest line, but then lets you say, “Screw this. I’m going to go get laid and play chess with my super-computer friend.”

Inside Bloomfield

Brian Bloomfield

From the Bethblog:

Today’s Inside the Vault features Brian Bloomfield from our QA dept.

What’s your job at Bethesda?
Quality Assurance Project Lead

What other games have you worked on?
I’ve worked on Oblivion, Fallout 3, Star Trek: Tactical Assault, Start Trek: Legacy, Star Trek: Conquest, Pirates of the Carribean: Legend of Jack Sparrow, AMF Pinbusters Wii, AMF Pinbusters DS, and Ducati DS.

What is the best part about working as a testers? The worst part?
I work with some of the most talented people I’ve ever met. It is also an awesome sight to see your name in a game played by millions.  The worst part, I think, is the misconception that I get paid to “play video games”. I have a friend, who happens to be a firefighter in Frederick County, and he thinks my job is a step above Mime, and a step below Magician.

Inside The Vargas

Rafael Vargas

Rafael Vargas

New Inside the Vault with Rafael Vargas:

What’s your job at Bethesda?
I get to do what I love the most, which is building and designing environments. In my previous work experience, as well as much of my free time, I am devoted to creating spaces and architecture. So I guess that makes me by now a World Artist.

What other games have you worked on?
I worked on Battlespire, Redguard and The 10th Planet as an animator for the cutscene movies. As part of the development team, I’ve worked on Bloodmoon, Oblivion, and Fallout 3 — pushing, pulling, cutting, inserting, and all of the good things you can do to geometries to make it look good and work correctly.

What is the best part about working as a artist? The worst part?
The best part for me is the creative freedom. In Bloodmoon, I pretty much had an open canvas to do what I wanted; I was told to do a Nord city on an icy landscape. I created it from early concept work all the way to the final product. It was quite a challenge, since at the time I had recently moved from the sister division of ZeniMax to Bethesda. The creative freedom continued in the development of Oblivion and much into Fallout 3.

Spotted on the BethBlog.

Fallout 3: Emil Clears Things Up With More Detail

Clear shot at the Super Mutant Behemoth

Pretty relevant post from Emil Pagliarulo, this one clears several issues of importance:

What was said recently, by both Todd and me, is that in real-time, skill affects chance to hit less than it used to. This change was made after extensive playtesting. Why? Most everyone found it annoying that you’d have your crosshair over an enemy, and your bullets would go completely wide. So we dialed the accuracy penalty back so it would feel good in real-time. Two things, however — 1.) it’s still not completely pinpoint accurate, unless your skill is really high. So accuracy is still affected, just less than it used to be. Again, it felt better this way, after loads of testing 2.) your damage output is affected with increased skill, so in run and gun, putting points into, say, Small Guns, will certainly improve your combat effectiveness when you use an assault rifle. Etc. etc.

Another thing to consider is that in V.A.T.S., it’s different. It’s much more of a numbers game. It’s all character skill. Your percentage numbers to hit are going to increase as your skill increases. So yeah, putting points into weapons skills is pretty damn important to your survival, whether you prefer run-and-gun or V.A.T.S.

Now, to answer the lingering misconception that you can just somehow blow everything in the game away with the Fatman. Look, the Fatman shows great in demos and movies because it packs a big punch and is visually impressive. And yeah, it’s very powerful when you use it in the game. That said, you’ve got to remember a few things: 1.) The Fatman is huge, so it weighs a lot. Carry it around, and it means you can carry less of other stuff. Your choice. 2.) The Fatman shells aren’t exactly littered around the Wasteland. They’re a valuable resource WHEN you find them (hell, the same is true of the Fatman itself). So you’ve got to use them wisely. 3.) Try using the Fatman indoors and you’re more likely to kill yourself than anyone else. In all of my playthroughs of the game, I’ve only used the Fatman a small handful of times… usually to kill a Behemoth or take out a concentrated group of opponents.

And last but not least, the original topic of this thread. Are Charisma/Speech characters gimped? Not by a long shot. There are tons of speech options in the game. I can’t even count how many quests and situations can be bypassed/modified/overcome by using the Speech skill. It’s incredibly valuable. In fact, with my most recent character, I’m not concentrating on Speech, and boy there are times I wish I had. It’s a completely viable play style.

So I hope this answers some of your questions. It’s always a pleasure to surf the forums and see such lively debate… and most of the time I just hang back and watch you guys discuss/ponder (as it should be). But in this case, I’m happy to clear up some misinformation.

You can read the full post here, thanks Incognito.

New Featured Article: BGamer’s Interview With Chris Avellone

This Interview with Obsidian Entertainment Chris Avellone first appeared in issue 120 of BGamer, a gaming magazine of reference in Portugal.

It was made by Ana C. Santos, to whom I would like to thank for the good will in allowing me to publish this.

I also would like to thank Chris for giving his yes nod to the publication, and special thanks to our friend ZiggyMeister for taking on his shoulders the task of getting all of this together.

It’s a treat for Video RPG games fans, hope you enjoy it, here’s a snip:

Fallout 2 and Planescape Torment are to this day considered cult classics. How does it feel to have people still discussing and asking you about games that you developed a decade ago?

It’s pretty gratifying. It was a labor of love for both titles above, and to still have people respond enthusiastically to both titles makes all the effort and long hours we put in worthwhile. When releasing a game, there’s always the subconscious thought that it’ll be forgotten in 2-3 months, but seeing the long-term feedback to Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment has been rewarding to the teams on both titles.[…]

You have worked in some of the best RPG ever made. What, in your opinion, are the crucial elements for a good game of this genre?

Aside from the ability to advance your character, player choice (whether in character development or quest resolution) and world and character reactivity to these player’s choices is key.

Players want to build the character they envision, and then they want to push buttons in the world and see the world give them positive (or negative) feedback that is unique to their character – it makes them feel that they are having a direct impact on their environment based on their specific choices. In addition, the more specific you can make the reactivity to the player’s character creation choices (Fallout 1 and 2 did a fantastic job of this, in my opinion), the better. The more a stealth character is given consistent rewards and feedback on their chosen skills and using those skills to solve quests, for example, the more they feel their character choices and their character’s skills truly matter.

Inside The Greco Vault

From the BethBlog:

On Inside the Vault today, our subject is Tony Greco, one of our world artists. During development, Tony’s test cells are among the best to visit. He makes lots of cool unique items and you can find them all in his test areas — you know, the amazing stuff that you get as rewards for quests or after fighting a tough boss or [Fallout 3 stuffs we can’t talk about], imagine all that awesome loot in one place. Hmmm….

What’s your job at Bethesda?

I’m a World Artist that mostly specializes in clutter meshes. It’s my job to make the game-spaces not look empty and to give you a reason to check out what’s on the kitchen table. It’s my job to make those sweet rolls look extra tasty. Mmm…sweet rolls.

Full List Of Skills In Fallout 3

Finally we have the full list of Skills in Fallout 3, courtesy of Emil Pagliarulo:

Speech

Small guns
Big guns
Energy weapons
Melee combat
Unarmed
Medicine
Sneak
Lockpick
Explosives
Science
Repair
Barter

Yes, Speech is in, and Emil also said the Galaxy News Network DJ is called “Three Dogs”, different from what PSM3 was reporting.

And about the possibility to talk to a few Supermutants he had this to say:

Well, there’s only so much I can talk about, and I don’t want to turn this into a QA session, BUT… anything is possible, right? It’s a big Wasteland, after all…

Lead Designer Jumps Into The Forum

Emil Pagliarulo went to the Bethesda Games Fallout 3 forum and left a few enlightening posts, let’s start with armor in Fallout 3:

I know it’s been mentioned in some preview or other that all the apparel (armor and clothing) is a single suit. Headgear is separate. There are a LOT of apparel options, and yes, there are are some pieces of clothing that give stat boosts, so if you decide to wear clothing and not armor, you’ll still get a discernible gameplay benefit.

I’ve seen some apparel/headgear combinations I never wood have imagined (some which involve a big pre-war lady’s sunhat…)

And real time combat:

For us, balancing the combat is very much a “feel” thing. It’s something that takes a ton of playtesting (involving the entire dev team), and determining what feels right for everyone. It’s all about finding that nebulous perfect balance between player skill and character skill.

In run-and-gun, melee feels a lot like melee in Oblivion. If you connect with the weapon, you hit. There’s no die roll to determine that. But your character’s skill, as well as the condition of the weapon, determine the damage done.

In run-and-gun, ranged combat is… I dunno. I’d say it feels a lot like Deus Ex 1. Accuracy is affected by player skill and weapon condition — so if you’ve got, say, a really high Small Guns skill and a perfect condition assault rifle, your aim will be dead on. Low Small Guns and crappy assault rifle, and you’ll miss more. The skill and condition also affect the damage you’ll do.

With most ranged weapons in run-and-gun, you can also go into an aim mode, which zooms you in and increases your accuracy. With Melee and Unarmed weapons, the player will block instead of zooming in.

Based on all the feedback we’ve gotten, it feels really solid now.

Of course, V.A.T.S. is its own story completely…

I’d say for combat, I generally go 70% V.A.T.S., 30% run-and-gun (but that’s different for everyone, really).

Finally level scaling:

I’d say that:

a.) because of the issues some people had with Oblivion’s leveling
and
b.) the fact that we’ve really been focusing on the importance of overall game balance…

…this is something the dev team has come back to time and time again during our playtests, and is something we’re still tweaking. We’ve finally gotten it to a level that we feel really good about.

So basically, if you do the main quest path and adhere strictly to that, there are some areas that are set up to match your level, so you don’t get your ass handed to you unfairly while just naturally playing the game. But certain paths and locations are more difficult, by design.

It’s also the case that the farther you wander out into the Wasteland, the more you’re taking your life into your own hands if you’re not prepared. I mean, hey, a Deatchlaw’s a Deathclaw. smile.gif

And, um, yeah — no Raiders in Power Armor.

ZRG Online

Well this is off topic but since I love these guys I had to mention this. Zero Radius Games, the love child of Chris “anarchy” Taylor, Tom Decker and Scott Everts, is now fully back online:

Zero Radius Games is a small hobbyist game design group and web-based publisher. We’re not just rabid game players, we’re veterans of the computer game industry and games are quite literally what we do for a living. However, we need to depixelate after work and that’s where ZRG comes in.

For the last few years, we’ve been tinkering with small (and not so small) board and card games. Collectively, we have made dozens (and dozens!) of prototypes then played, tweaked and played them some more. A few we’re really happy with (and we’re working on getting them published someday) and a few that needed to be put down quietly. The rest will, eventually, make their way here for you to download and try out.

Please, look around and check out some of our free downloadable print-n-play games. If you like you see, try printing them and assembling them. They’re pretty fun to play and we would love to hear back from you if you’ve tried our games.

Check out our blog for the most recent updates and news bits.

They offer some goodies too:

The links below will take you directly to our free print-n-play games. Directions for assembling each game, when required, are included. You will most likely need a PDF viewer, like Adobe Acrobat® Reader®. If you have any questions, please contact us.

Do take a look, it’s well worth it.

Inside The Vault: James Cory Edwards

New Inside the Vault at the Bethblog, this time with Cory Edwards:

Inside the Vault welcomes Cory Edwards, world artist, to answer a few questions about his work and his life. He has done some amazing work for Fallout 3. Cory is also our resident 3D Max guru.

What’s your job at Bethesda?
I’m a world artist working on texturing and modeling for our environments. My primary focus is on making kits for the level designers to use and abuse. I’ve spent the last two years making a large number of the dungeons kits used in Fallout 3 and the kit pieces for Megaton.

Knowledge communities: Information, interpretation, and the currency of the era

Image Master Scorpion

There’s a new piece by Ryan M. Milner at Online Fandom, dwelling into the relation between Fallout fans and developers:

I think there’s something Bethesda, and producers of media texts in general, can learn from these observations. The Fallout fanbase (at least the majority of the vocal fanbase) has been wary of Bethesda’s handling of Fallout 3 for a while now. And time and exposure has only resulted in a stalemate, if not worsened relations. Part of me thinks that so many fans made up their mind so long ago that the only thing that would satisfy them was a Fallout 3 that looked just like Fallout 1 & 2, with no updates or changes. But another part of me wonders if the problem isn’t one of information and interpretation. Bethesda to date has released only a small number screenshots and one teaser trailer for a game that comes out in a few months. No beta test. No demo. No real glimpse into the process of creating the game. No invitations for input other than forum space and a character attribute contest where Bethesda picked the winner. All other information has been disseminated through third-party sources such as industry magazines. I think maybe Bethesda is ignoring the cardinal values of the Fallout community.

If fans thrive on knowledge, why not open up a bit? Maybe more disclosure about what Fallout 3 will look like would help. And maybe even more than content, openly discuss ideas. Ask for fan input, and give them detailed feedback about the process as you consider their suggestions and perspectives. I know that’s not the typical PR we see from most media companies, but helping fans feel like collaborators could do wonders. I understand why Bethesda might be skeptical about doing so. They’ve had to be on the defensive with the Fallout fan community since they got the rights to the game. But it seems like this wrong-foot start has been made worse by their guarded tone. When fans interpret this guardedness as disrespect, a vicious cycle ensues. Given how entrenched this pattern is between the two parties, I don’t see how a shift to an open exchange of knowledge could make the situation any worse.

Thought provoking stuff, really worth a read.