Taking Back Fallout
August 2, 2010 Page 1 of 3
Obsidian Entertainment's appointment as the developer of the next Fallout game under Bethesda's stewardship has particular resonance for longtime fans of the series. The Southern California developer is a direct descendent of Black Isle Studios, the former internal Interplay team responsible for Fallout and Fallout 2.
With Fallout: New Vegas, Obsidian is inheriting the basic design framework Bethesda Game Studios established with its acclaimed sequel Fallout 3, and applying to it an intense familiarity with the roots of the post-nuclear role playing game series. And even more than Fallout 3, New Vegas' retro-future Las Vegas harkens back to the kitschy 1950s aesthetic of its forbears.
Since last year, a 50-person Obsidian team has been hard at work on the game, going so far as to take inspiration from the PC mod community's tweaks to Fallout 3 in the development of new systems for New Vegas.
Gamasutra sat down with Feargus Urquhart, CEO of Obsidian -- and a key team member on Fallout and Fallout 2 -- to discuss his company's approach to New Vegas, the game's spotlight on 1950s excess, and his own thoughts on Fallout 3.
It's frequently observed that a number of you at Obsidian worked on the original Fallout games. What's it like working with the new gatekeeper of the series? How did you get together with Bethesda?
Feargus Urquhart: Ever since we left Black Isle and started Obsidian Entertainment, we still make role playing games. It's what we love to do. It's just what we do. Bethesda is a publisher of role playing games. They have their big internal team.
I think a lot of times, and you saw this sometimes with fans talking about Fallout 3 in particular, people say things like, "Oh, are we going to have to wait another five years to see another Fallout?" Well, Bethesda knew that we make role playing games, and the industry is not that gigantic -- I mean, Bethesda's VP of development is Todd Vaughn, and he used to be an editor of PC Gamer magazine.
Todd and I had talked together for a really long time, and we just kept in touch and talked about things. It all really seemed to fit well. We had a team available, and they really wanted to get another Fallout made. In some ways, it was an easy thing.
A lot of times, when you're trying to get a game gig and a publisher is looking for a developer, it's really complicated. You're worried about risk and how this is going to work and how this is going to mess up. In this case, we're really good at using other people's technology to make games. We know Fallout. So it just all clicked.
What did you personally think of Fallout 3?
FU: I don't want to just say that I really enjoyed it, because that feels like I'm just kissing ass: "It was a wonderful experience!" But I am not a guy who was caught up in the notion that Fallout had to be an isometric, turn-based experience. To me, Fallout was always just the feeling of the world.
Maybe that's the difference between someone who makes a Fallout and someone who plays a Fallout. Whenever we think about Fallout, it's about the areas you put in there. Whether those areas are isometric or in 3D first-person, you do a lot of the same stuff.
For me, Fallout was always the world. In playing Fallout 3, it just felt like being in that world. That was what was great for me. I really appreciated that. I like playing FPSes -- not so much on my console, though; I'm a PC FPS guy.
The VATS system really melded everything together for me -- I get to be in the world looking out my own eyes, and I don't have to fight every fight in an actual physical skill-based way. I can use my stats and ammo and all that kind of stuff and see people's heads getting blasted off in Technicolor, which was awesome. [laughs]
I think you take that. You take the feeling of being there. I really enjoyed it. I don't get to finish a ton of games, because -- I'm sure, like you -- there's usually a stack. I don't have to review them, so I don't finish everything. But I made a point of making sure that... No, you know what? I didn't have to make a point of it. I just finished it because I was having fun.
I remember back when Fallout 3 was in development, I was talking to [Bethesda Game Studios game director] Todd Howard and he said, "We're all fans of Fallout; we all played those games," but he said they made a decision that, between Fallout 1 and 2, they were going to follow up on Fallout 1, and not so much on 2. What is the significance of that decision to you?
FU: Right. You know, it's funny, because I remember that as well. There are some distinct opinions that people have about Fallout 1 versus Fallout 2. My role on the project was a little bit different.
One of the reasons I ask is because I generally associate Obsidian more with the Fallout 2 team.
FU: Yes. Well, really, most of the people, if they worked on Fallout 2 they worked on Fallout 1. Most of us actually kind of worked on both. For example, Scott Everts is actually working on Fallout: New Vegas and laying a lot of the areas. He laid out every single level in Fallout and probably 50 or 60 percent of them in Fallout 2.
It's true that when I think back, a lot of people will characterize Fallout 1 and Fallout 2 as being so different in a lot of ways. We made some decisions to have them be different, but to us they weren't as different as a lot of people make them out. We had some technical problems when Fallout 2 released, and that clouded a lot of things.
But it's interesting. I don't know if it's 50/50 or what, but I get very distinct people who come up and say they like one more than the other. From a vibe perspective, Fallout 1 was more directed. It was nonlinear, but you had more of a straight shot. It wasn't as big or as complicated as Fallout 2. I haven't actually ever talked to Todd Howard about it, but I wonder if that's more what they were trying to go with.
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