Interview: Josh Sawyer Talks Fallout: New Vegas
Written Thursday, June 03, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Obsidian's much anticipated Fallout spin-off, Fallout: New Vegas, is only a handful of months away from its general release now - after all, it is June already... oh my, where does time go!? With the title already confirmed to be playable for show attendees later on this month at the industry's most lavish trade show, E3, we caught up with Project Director, Josh Sawyer, to talk about all things New Vegas where we left no stone unturned. Yes, no stone. Having seen the title in France at Bethesda's Gamers' Day recently, we had many burning questions. Yes, many.
It seems that Obsidian have a knack for taking on sequels from other developers and putting their own spin on them, resulting in some great experiences. Why do you think that works?
Many Obsidian developers have been creating RPGs for over a decade, going all the way back to Black Isle. We're used to using other developers' technology to create RPGs, so it's easy for us to adapt to another company's content development pipeline. We generally try to focus on incrementally improving the game play and providing Obsidian-style content.
Is it something that you think should happen more often in the industry? Obviously, you guys have proved it’s possible to make successful games out of it.
If you have access to solid technology and a good working relationship with the tech's developer, go for it. Working on an established tech platform saves a lot of time.
So we have a new setting, new story, new everything in Fallout: New Vegas. Can you tell us a bit more why you chose “New Vegas” and how the wastelands in your title will differ to Fallout 3’s?
In many ways, Las Vegas is the opposite of Washington D.C. When many people think of Washington D.C., they think of traditional American virtues and the history of our young country. It's full of the enduring monuments of our nation. In contrast, Las Vegas is a city that appeals to contemporary American vices. It continually re-invents itself, destroying landmarks and creating new ones every few years.
The Mojave Wasteland itself is also quite different from the Capital Wasteland. The Mojave Wasteland in the game did not suffer as badly as the Capital Wasteland when the bombs were dropped. It has bright blue skies, sprawling warm deserts, Joshua trees, tumbleweeds. All the good stuff.
The wastelands in Fallout 3 were a pain to travel sometimes, especially when you were travelling to a new place for the first time, can we expect anything to help us get there quicker? A penny farthing... or a skateboard for example? Maybe a jet-pack.. okay, no... but something else?
Nope. We believe that the initial journey is part of the fun of the game. If you could skip that, it would detract from exploration tremendously.
Are there any nods to Fallout 3 in New Vegas, crossovers maybe where fans will go “holy crap, I remember that from Fallout 3!?”
There are a few small references here and there, but New Vegas is its own story.
From what we’ve seen so far, the engine looks untouched from a visual standpoint. Is there anything you’re trying to do to make New Vegas a better visual package from Fallout 3 or is it more of the “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mantra? I see we have blue skies now!
We did not want to delve too deeply into the rendering technology because of the relatively short development cycle. One element that we have changed is how the level of detail system works for distant objects. Specifically, they can now support material shaders, including emissives. We also implemented an "imposter" system that allows us to more convincingly represent distant buildings and effects. This was important for us because light pollution from casinos is such an important element of seeing Vegas from the desert.
Is there anything you’ve taken out the engine for the simple reason it didn’t work? Or is it Fallout 3’s engine in its entirety and then some?
There are some behind-the-scenes formulae used for weapon condition that we changed to help normalize the progression of weapons, but for the most part we've just tried to build on the engine.
Each community and organization in Fallout: New Vegas has its own reputation tracker for the player. As people in the community or organization take note of good or bad things the player does, the player gains positive or negative reputation. Based on that reputation, people in the community will treat you differently.
In some cases, you may receive some benefits or suffer some penalties for the reputation you build with a group. It's also possible to have a mixed reputation, which has its own consequences. Certain characters, especially misfits in a group, tend to treat the player better if he or she has built up a mixed reputation.
The weapon customisation system is new as well we assume, can you tell us a little about that and what sort of advantages players will be able to take from this? Can we expect to be making a number of wacky contraptions?
We've tried to avoid wacky contraptions for the most part. In the Fallout universe, the western portion of the United States is a lot more industrialized and generally "with it" than the east. As a result, most of the mods are of the traditional variety.
We have a large number of traditional firearms in the game and there are a lot of mods for those weapons: extended magazines for pistols, larger ammunition drums for submachine guns, custom high-speed actions for lever action rifles, silencers, suppressors, and so on. We also have mods for energy weapons and explosives, like focus optics for the laser rifle (increases damage), and the "Little Boy" kit for the Fat Man, which drastically reduces its weight.
You’ve also spiced up the melee system with the alternate attacks, an example of which is the “Fore!” move for the golf club. Can we expect to see some artistic license taken with these? If you had to pick one, what would be your favourite?
The special melee attacks are all meant to be a bit exaggerated and fantastic in nature to set them apart from the standard moves. My favorite move is probably Mauler, used by sledges and super sledges. It's a really tremendous swing and does a lot of damage.
There seems to be any number of new partner characters this time around. Have you placed added emphasis on this aspect? Ultimately, do you think that maybe co-op in a game like Fallout could work in the future? It seems like with these partnerships, that co-op is the next evolution. If so, do you think co-op in an RPG could work? Or is it all about the single player experience?
Co-op certainly can work in RPGs, but I think one of the main staples of the Fallout experience is that it is primarily driven by the player's character. While companions have also always been part of the experience, their presence is purely optional. It's only in the spin-off games (Brotherhood of Steel, Tactics) that multiplayer has been a focus.
What else have you added to New Vegas gameplay wise that will add to the experience, other than the reputation system and the weapon customisation?
A ton of stuff, honestly. We've changed the SPECIAL system so the ability scores have more impact on your character. As an example, weapons now have Strength requirements. If you don't meet the weapon's requirements, your aim will suffer (for firearms) or it will attack more slowly (if a melee or unarmed weapon). Strength also affects how far you can throw weapons like grenades. On the more "cerebral" side of things, Charisma affects a statistic called Nerve that is applied to companions as a combat bonus.
We created a new crafting interface for the game that is quite extensive. Initially it was only going to apply to the Survival skill, but we expanded it to use a variety of skills at different locations. Crafting ranges from cooking raw meat into steak at a campfire to hand loading custom ammunition from spent shell casings at a reloading bench. I think people will really enjoy it.
Can you tell us a bit about hardcore mode and how insane it’s going to be... Is it really that hardcore?
I don't think it's really about being insanely difficult as much as it is about adding some more tactical and strategic elements to the core gameplay. Healing over time makes a significant difference in how combat feels, since a last-second stimpak probably isn't going to save you if you get in over your head. The other changes, namely weighted ammunition and the new survival elements such as dehydration, require the player to manage their inventory more carefully.
If you thought Fallout 3 was difficult, you will probably find Hardcore Mode to be appropriately-named. For me, Hardcore Mode is just the way I play the game. I'm sure that PC modders will very quickly add even more levels of challenge on top of Hardcore Mode as well.
We understand that a few of the guys at the studio also worked on Van Buren – the could have been Fallout 3 game – what came of that in the end? Have you taken anything across from that development in to this one?
Like most cancelled projects, the assets and documents went on a drive somewhere and collected dust in the "could have been" vault. We have carried some of the ideas from Van Buren into New Vegas. Primarily, the use of Caesar's Legion as a looming threat in the region, though it is much more present in New Vegas than it was in Van Buren. Most of the other similarities lie in bringing back regional power players from previous games: the New California Republic, Gun Runners, Crimson Caravan, Followers of the Apocalypse, and so on.
Fallout 3 was a very well supported game post-release, some say the best supported console video game quite possibly ever (I say that by the way), are there any plans in place for the same to happen with New Vegas? The engine has proved it’s robust enough to do that.
We know that Fallout 3's DLC packages were very popular, but it's too early to talk about that for Fallout: New Vegas.
And Fallout: New Vegas is penned for a fall release. Are you on schedule to hit that? Have you pinpointed a month yet?
We are still on track for fall of 2010.