[Fallout: New Vegas] Interview with Chris Avellone

[Fallout: New Vegas] Interview with Chris Avellone.
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Фон // Fallout: New Vegas

Is it true that in the process of the development a substantial part of the Caesar's Legion content has been cut out? In the final version of the game Legion occupied only a few settlements and a large part of its quests were "evil" counterparts of NCR quests, whereas the latter had many unique quests, not connected with Legion directly. Was it possible to develop the game in a way that both sides would have been represented more or less equally or inequality had been planned right from the start?

To the last question — yes, it was possible to develop both sides, and I agree that NCR felt more prominent in New Vegas, design-wise and scope-wise, than the Legion. While I wasn’t involved with the faction design and divisions in New Vegas (I was mostly companions, some major NPCs like the Legate, the graphic novel, and some end slide work), our lead writer, John Gonzalez, and I did kick around thoughts on Caesar’s role and characterization as well as the structure of his presentation when the player meets him, and I shared the backstory on a number of Legion references in dialogues that herald back to tribes we developed way back when for the first iteration of Van Buren (Hangdogs, Twisted Hairs). I always felt that Caesar’s goals were going to die once he ran out of lands to conquer — he had a war machine, and once it stopped rolling, the other societal problems his faction had at their core would surface and they would tear themselves apart… or simply decay until they became the prey of someone else.

In addition, we did want to include a Legion companion, Ulysses, who would be tolerant of Legion behavior and provide an internal perspective on it, but he got moved to the DLCs as an antagonist. My feelings on the Legion were summed up both with him, and also in a conversation tangent with Rose of Sharon Cassidy, where she inadvertently peppers her anger at the Legion with a slow, grudging respect for some of the other benefits they bring when they conquer an area (protecting caravans, uniting tribes, keeping the peace). In many ways, the Legion is better adapted for the wastes than many of the other factions.

Снимок экрана (1) // Fallout: New Vegas

Some people would say that locations like New Vegas casinos and McCarran Airport were weak points of the design: they were too big and too empty with almost no quests. However, thinking about the way to improve the design of those locations, I, for one, could not come up with anything worthy enough to mention. What do you think about New Vegas casinos design and what is the way to create a good large location?

There's a few things you do with a seemingly large, empty location - take Fallout New Vegas: Old World Blues, which takes place inside a giant self-contained crater surrounded by pylons that shock you unconscious when you leave.* Okaaaaay, so you have this big bowl, you don’t have much resources to create new models or new locations, so you have to sit down and examine the experience you can make.

Here's how you fill it up, in detail, especially when you have next to no resources to generate content:

— Open your tool box and lay out the tools you do have. If you can't make new assets, scavenge assets and play around with them in new ways. Recognize that there is a wealth of props and geometry that has been created for F3, the F3 DLC, and for New Vegas itself. Examine each piece of content (and we did) as to how we could use it to make new adventure areas. Even things like file cabinets, silos, and even areas used in the main game can be placed, twisted, given a new context, and made into an interesting explorable space.

— So this may seem obvious: Don't make large open spaces. A plain stretching off into infinity is the player's equivalent of hell. A big bowl is a big bowl. So instead, break it up, both visually and with sub-levels whenever possible. Use pipes, trees, stairs, fencing, buildings to break up the space and break up the encounters — even a seemingly empty space bisected with props is more interesting on the eye than a stretch of open ground. And as a side note, occluding geometry (for example, solid fencing) helps with level design because it limits how many polygons are on screen at any one time. Breaking the player's line of sight with something interesting for them to process and navigate around rather is far preferable than seeing a stretch of open ground with nothing between them and a destination far, far in the distance.

— Add system elements to empty space. Crafting elements, crafting benches, loot containers, locked doors, landmines, safes — these are easy to place and give a wide range of system challenges for the player (you could make almost any stretch of ground or cul-de-sac in New Vegas interesting by putting a crafting plant/loot plant there). As an example, dropping a brand new crafting recipe in an area can suddenly spark the player to view the location's item placement differently and go scavenging for certain items for the new recipe he's found — items he previously would have ignored.

— Make spectrums of encounters as well — fights are easy to place, for example, and it's surprisingly easy to give them variety in the engine with naming, stat adjustments, weapon switching (give them fire, give them rockets, and changing the name of an enemy can even help tell the story of a location), and by combining two enemy types in a new way (have a robot escort healing the bad guys you're fighting as it's carrying out its pre-war programming).

— Aside from systems and encounters, you can also include navigation puzzles and exploration puzzles, hidden items, puzzles to navigate the environment, etc. — I tend to call these "non-quests" that still drive the player to complete them without a journal entry. To explain, "formal" quests require a lot of time investment to special case, they usually require voice over, and there’s simpler ways to communicate objectives and the Fallout equivalent of dungeon crawling without creating a whole town in a location. (Wait, I see smoke… from what looks like a camp on that ridge — how the hell do I get up there?)

— Lastly: Delete it or find a way to take that dead space and make it an non-traversable, cool vista (a lot of the vistas in Lonesome Road). If you really are just adding filler, you should just cut it, imo. A bigger game isn't a better game.

*Although the pylons do teleport you back to your new HQ, so they can be used as fast travel if you want, I requested that much. I didn't want them solely to be obstacles if you could make use of them.

Снимок экрана (2) // Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas took a lot from the original concept of Fallout 2 while being quite different. For example, the narration centers not on the various settlements and global events but on characters — their personalities, problems and perspectives. How can you account for this sudden change? What characters did not appear in the final version of the game?

Well, Obsidian loves characters, and character-driven events are more interesting in a lot of ways (to the point you don't see it as a global event as much as "Caesar's making his move!"). I agree that Fallout 2 was lacking a strong central adversary, for example, but I feel like specific leaders and companions in each community were very strong, and Fallout 2's community design and the interconnectedness between locations was even stronger — to me, each location in Fallout 2 felt like a character you were interacting with, and the designers did a great job of giving each one a different tone. Also, the fact that there now were communities struggling to grow and reach out to each other meant more potential for global events between them as they started testing their borders, setting it apart from most of Fallout 1.

In terms of balance of characters vs. environments: Other Fallouts have had different spectrums: Fallout 1 has the Master (who doesn't show up until the end, but there's plenty of other cool dudes to distract you on the way, like Set), Fallout NV had House and Caesar (although not as strong a figure in NCR's president), but I wouldn't describe either as having lack of community or lack of global events (some of which were systematic and outside the player's control, although the player understood the trigger for them).

In terms of characters that weren't included/got cut, Ulysses got moved to the DLCs, obviously, but as for a list of other casualties, I don't have that full list of digital deceased. ;)

New Vegas has hardcore mode, added for the players who like tough game, but many people think that it is quite simple. For example, it allows the character not to eat, drink or sleep many days without any harm. Why is it so and haven’t you planned to make it more difficult?

I couldn't say, I didn't do any system work until the DLCs. Technically, Dead Money was intended as a hardcore mode all its own to reinforce the survival horror experience.

Someone over the Web mentioned a quest, that had been planned to be added into the game, but then it was cut out. Can you confirm or disclaim this information?

I've never heard of that quest.

Снимок экрана (3) // Fallout: New Vegas

When Bethesda released Fallout 3, it was praised by the majority of players, but quite a substantial group of people not only disliked the game, they hated it and the developer for ruining the series. However, when the next Fallout from Obsidian appeared on the shelves they had a change of heart and named it "the true Fallout”. Along with this, there is a notion that New Vegas is nothing more than a global modification for Fallout 3. Can you think of the changes that made your game more alike the Fallout that the fans of the classic two games had waited?

Different opinions for different folks, I suppose. Personally, I enjoyed Fallout 3 and have said as much, and Bethesda not only did a great job, but they also did a great job of reintroducing players to the Fallout world. I liked Fallout 1 and 2 as well. Hell, all three were fun.

In terms of feel, the locale of New Vegas makes a difference, since the physical proximity of the Mojave wasteland to Fallout 1 and 2 made hooking into some past F1 and F2 world elements easier. This allowed for…

  • Continuing the story with nostalgic factions — for example, you got to see more about NCR and how they were fucking up the world.
  • Callbacks to events and locales (New Reno, as a simple example) that were in F1 and F2 from locals and travelers were easier to do and made sense.
  • Callbacks to old pals from F2 (Marcus, Cassidy's daughter) and a continuation of similar technologies (Cyberdogs).
  • Creature callbacks to F2 (Geckos).
  • A companion design structure which was a lot like F2's structure. This wasn't a proximity choice, this is just something we do as a studio.

Anyway, that's a few, but you get the idea.

As in Fallout 2 the player could visit Vegas right from the start, avoiding the proposed "standard route”. Was this variant an initial part of the game? The NPCs along the "long way” reacted as if the character hadn’t been in Vegas, while he could have been there.

Well, kudos to them, because my attempts to get to Vegas directly was a blood bath. Yes, being able to go there was intentional (as well as the difficulty). Fallout games should be a go-anywhere-you-want-even-if-it's-at-great-risk. There are a few chokepoints, but the design theme of the Fallout series is that the player should have freedom to explore the world however they want, and that's a long-standing principle of the Bethesda games as well.

Fallout: New Vegas has four main endings. Which one is "the best” in your opinion? Maybe you can list another variant, which didn’t find its way into the game?

I don't think any of them are super-positive (nor would I classify any of them as "the best"), and some of them even scared me while I was doing a pass of them at the end of production, mostly the Legate ones. But hey, that's Fallout. In the DLCs, I did want to nuke a good % of the NCR because I thought the faction was getting too big and making the wastes too civilized to the point where the apocalyptica was being lost.

Old World Blues (1) // Fallout: New Vegas

You are famous for your love to develop the narration using the elements of the game environment. Could you please give some examples of such "environmental” narration used in New Vegas, which you liked the most?

I'll use Old World Blues again, where environmental narration was our default. We didn’t have much to work with narrative-wise, so we told stories in prop placement, journals, and even in item names. We even had narrative docs for specific locations in the game that had no text, but detailed out exactly how the props should be placed.

For example, the Little Yangtze location, I needed to reinforce that (1) Elijah set up a temp camp inside the watchtower, (2) Christine snuck in the destroyed building outside the Chinese concentration camp to watch Elijah and as the best sniping position, and (3) a huge battle took place here where a horde of robots tried to capture Elijah and failed.

So here's how I would suggest design placement in tandem with the world builder, starting with Christine's sniping spot/observation post (again, the naming of the inventory item and the prop placement tells the explorer exactly what was going on here):

Christine's Sniping Spot: In the opposite side of Little Yangtze is a ruined building that Christine was using to spy on Elijah before all hell broke loose. Should have binoculars, a first aid kit, and a sniper rifle leaning up against the wall near a spot that gives a good view of the tower. Should be an empty bottle, and Steady here. Spent shells and an ammo case with sniper rifle ammo would be good.

Still, that isn’t enough, so we requested the sniper rifle be changed to a unique variant (Christine's COS Silencer Rifle that's auto-modded with suppressor and carbon fiber by default), which both gives the name of the owner and a clue that whoever this sniper is, she's pretty skilled at her craft. And it gets more complicated with Elijah's placement, but here's how I might describe Elijah's placement with specifics.

Outside the tower, put binoculars on the side facing the Dome - Elijah was occasionally popping out to check on the Dome to make sure no one was coming to grab him. Also, put ham radios near the binoculars and around the perimeter of the tower railing, as if Elijah was trying to pick up frequencies, and have one tiny satellite dish pointing toward the Communications Center to the NE.

Inside the Watchtower, place scrap terminal parts (use the hollowed-out computer terminal models), a working terminal (will include log entries), and transfer as much of the "feel" of Elijah's BOS Bunker in Dead Money into the watchtower - tattered bedrolls, burned books on the floor, toolbox with tools lying around, and if at all possible, put deactivated bomb collars (should be normal models with different names) on the tables. Should also be a radio that Elijah left on. On the floor should be a poster of the Sierra Madre, which Elijah laid out there to remind him of his destination.

If possible, I'd love to have a ghoul with a bomb collar laid out on the floor, as if someone was dissecting it (scalpels, surgical tubing, along with other equipment, including radios around it). If we can put the ghoul body in one of the "X" jumpsuits from Dead Money, that would be welcome.

Outside Perimeter of Little Yangtze: Whatever we can do with props to emphasize that waves of ghouls with bomb collars were sent against the Sentry and other robots sent to capture Elijah to destroy them should be placed here. Elijah also activated automated turrets to wipe out attackers as well, so if we have destroyed versions of those, that would also make sense.

And also, it was important that everyone knew what the paths for each of the major DLC characters was throughout Big MT, so we visually laid that out using a top down view of the whole DLC - we usually have a big bmp file and we add pathing layers to it, including a graffiti pass (Ulysses left flag symbols: red for danger, blue for cache or something interesting, and white for safety, and where those were placed in the DLC were important). These design images traced the character's paths, critical moments (Elijah at Little Yangtze, Ulysses frees Christine from the medical center and takes her to his camp). And as a result of this, Ulysses' camp might read:

This is Ulysses' basecamp where he went to scout/scavenge the Big Empty. As such, it should have relics from all over the Big Empty organized carefully around the camp area. Leave a tiny satellite dish inside along with radios, that would be good. It should feel like a military, efficient camp, but not trapped like the Survivalist cave (Ulysses deactivated all his camp's defenses when he left Big MT).

Ulysses should have a few ammo boxes as well with carefully organized ammo (SMGs, pistols, knife, landmines and pulse mines), some reloading bench crafting materials (powder, shells, SMG cases) and empty holodisks and books he's gathered from the Big Empty (burned books, stacked carefully, since he sorts and reads them). Ulysses' sleeping area should have a bedroll, a hot plate, campfire, and some stacks of food by it on shelves (carefully organized, not scattered). He would also have plenty of bitter drink and have gathered plants from around the Big Empty as well (think shaman caves from Honest Hearts).

Ulysses carried Christine back here to have her heal up. Include a First aid box for Christine, empty bottles, dish, a bedroll/cot for her to lie on with scalpels (lots of blood nearby), and other first aid equipment nearby.

Include Ulysses' Map in this area (a note with no text) that gives COC locations to a number of areas of the Big Empty, notably Little Yangtze, Medical Center, and esp. the Weather Station, the Escape Tunnel, Nightstalker Den, and Elijah's Watch.

Include a Christine's Log here on holodisk near the bedroll in an obvious location.

Nathan Hardisty has a great blog that includes Higgs' Village as well, and we had design docs laying out each of the Think Tank houses to give clues of who they were when they were human, with the same level of detail as above: https://blogossus.com/2011/07/23/old-world-blues-environmental-storytelling/

It is known that many of the ideas and materials left from Van Buren were used later in the development of Fallout: New Vegas. However, Van Buren as well as its predecessors was supposed to be an isometric game. Consequently, you had to transfer all your ideas and materials in 3D environment with completely different camera angle. What advantages and limitations presented itself in the use of the Bethesda’s engine? Could you please give some examples of the new concepts you implemented using it and those you had to put aside?

I'll use Old World Blues as an example again - the Bethesda engine definitely presented an advantage in the design (and the vistas) of the dome. The dome itself was loosely based on the Boulder Dome from Van Buren, but I don't think it would have had the same effect with the camera angle as it would in Bethesda's engine - it's pretty cool to see the whole crater from the Sink.

Still, that's a limitation as well - you can't show too much in the camera view, or the geometry slows things to a crawl, so you have to design limitations for that. With an isometric engine, the camera view can protect you to an extent.

I also think the 3D environment allows for a lot more complex explorable spaces and verticality (like in Lonesome Road, which would have been difficult to pull off in an isometric game with the same kind of canyons).

Other things were easier to transfer over... this isn’t commonly known, but almost all the text for the opening slides in Old World Blues was born out of the "opening slides” for the Boulder Dome in Van Buren. Even though it was only used in the pen-and-paper game, we had "narrated” opening slides for every new location the player discovered in the game (Denver, Boulder, etc.), so carrying that over to most of the DLCs was a nice addition.

BTW, recently did a talk at the Nordic Game Conference on Van Buren (not sure it's posted yet) and a podcast concerning Van Buren for Gamer's Tavern if interested (https://gamerstavern.org/episode-48-chris-avellone-takes-over/) about Van Buren and its influences on New Vegas.

Dead Money (1) // Fallout: New Vegas

Playing Dead Money DLC there was constant feeling that with Veronica things would have been quite different. How difficult was it to set aside such an option and follow the DLC concept? Or maybe the fans just made it all up and such an idea didn’t exist at all?

We couldn't have brought in a companion without the expense of additional recording, so we did the next best thing we could do with the budget. DLCs don't usually get large budgets (at least ours), so we just made more gameplay and made a narrative reason why you went solo (like Lonesome Road). We did record Veronica's reaction lines in advance, though, because we knew Elijah would be encounters (and killed/defeated) in the DLCs, and we did try and foreshadow him through the BoS dialogues.

BTW, in the "text" portion of the Gamer's Tavern podcast above, you can find out more about Elijah's original role in Van Buren, if curious (https://gamerstavern.org/episode-48-chris-avellone-takes-over/).

Did you plan from the start to make Randall Dean Clark a ghost character? The Courier finds his traces during all Honest Hearts DLC. Was there a version of the plot where he was still alive to meet the Courier in Zion after finding all his diaries?

We were limited on voice over budget for the DLCs, Clark was a way of including stories without voice (and a great way to do it) and adding more background and context for the location (John Gonzalez did a great job with it). In terms of plot, I wasn't involved in the Honest Hearts DLC except for requesting some Ulysses hooks, although many of those fell off the radar - but I was able to get in a mention with Graham to set the stage for Ulysses' background at the least, which was the key bit.

According to Dr. Whitley’s records, he was interrupted in his development of Subject E. Therefore, was ED-E a real AI or Enclave hadn’t achieve such success and our companion was perceived as intelligent only from the point of view of the Courier?

ED-E was a very intelligent, empathic robot that was loved very much by his creator. Whether he was a real AI or not is unknown, but artificial intelligence is a pretty rare thing in the Fallout universe (with certain major NPCs being an exception, if still rare).

Who has created the models for tunnelers? Don’t you think that they look too futuristic and are more suitable to be aliens in a space opera?

We asked for them to resemble the Mole Men in 1950s sci-fi and cited Marvel's Old Man Logan as reference as well (written by Millar - the moloids in that graphic novel are pretty horrifying and cool). But no aliens weren't the inspiration - I'm not a fan of aliens in any Fallout game (I believe it throws off the feel of the world - it's like adding ghosts or magic - and yes, I know F2 has ghosts, but I didn't like that bit, sue me).

I am sure that you have heard this question several times already, but I haven’t found the answer on it so – do you plan to continue Let’s Play Arcanum series?

Yep, absolutely. Got the equipment, the rig, and a lot of great advice on next steps, so going to resume. I don’t have a definite date yet, but yes, it's on the radar.

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