How much do you think about balancing demands on the player's investment in terms of the main quest and the side quests? Although you can't dictate the pacing, do you try to guide it at all? Across different Bethesda games, the critical response has differed in terms of which is more engaging -- the main quest or the world and what you can find in it.
EP: Structurally, Oblivion and Fallout 3 are very similar. We have our main quest, and the main quest is where we like to tell our story. But all of the side quests that we do aren't really connected to the main quest in any way; most of the time, they're not even connected to each other. They just fill in the world, and they're just out there for you to find.
That's one of the benefits -- the player can jump between one and the other at any time. It's interesting how we concentrate our time, because we spent a lot of time working on the story for the main quest and its polish and stuff, but at the same time, we have almost two games there to make that the player's experiencing.
It's impossible for us really to track what that experience for the player is going to be. Do they do two quests of the main quests, do thirty hours of the side quest, then come back and finish the main quest? Do they just beeline through the main quest? We find that most people don't do that.
When we design the game, we tend to structure it so that the player traverses the map. We'll actually move the quests to achieve that: "Let's put this over here because when they're on the main quest, they're going to run into this location." They're two separate things, but they're symbiotic, too.
And due to the nature of the world, there are times when you can inadvertently run into a clue or mission that most people probably won't find until later in a quest line.
EP: Oh god, yes. That was a decision we made. If the player wants to explore, you can actually cut out probably 10 to 15 percent of the main quest by finding stuff early, like the dad character. The first quest is geared toward finding him, but if you go off and explore, you can still run into him.
Presumably, that's necessary if you blow up Megaton right off the bat.
EP: Right. Some of the things really aren't necessary, but we still let you do them. We just say, "You know what? If the players out there are exploring and they want to find this stuff, let's do it."
With games like Oblivion, or certain titles in the GTA series, you hear a lot about players just going in there and spending all their time goofing around in the world and not resting as much on the main storyline. Although people have explored Fallout 3 a lot, it seems less of one of those "endless" games, probably in part because it has an ending.
EP: Yeah. With Oblivion, we knew that the gameplay was going to offer, if you did "everything," 200 hours, right? We figured Fallout was probably more like 30, 50, 60 -- anywhere in that range.
But I think what we're finding now is that one of the reasons people complained about the game ending was because they wanted to keep playing in the world. Now we're finding people, especially with the DLC, playing 60, 70, even 80 hours. And on the PC side, all the plug-ins and mods help with that.
So, yeah, people like to just live in the world and screw around. It's funny; one of the designers, Brian Chapin, has his house in Megaton. Todd Howard came by and we were watching Brian's house during his playthrough at work, and he'd found every single book that he could find and put them in his house. Every book, every skill book.
We just live in the world and screw around a little bit, play with the Havok physics, and make little contraptions, throw stuff in the water, throw grenades around to watch things all blow up. We realize how easy it is to just get lost. Because it's a toy in a way, too. People like it as that.