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An evening with Todd Howard about Fallout 3
[ Game -> Interview ]
Interview posted by DarkUnderlord Fri 04 Feb 2005, 7:41 AM
More info on Game: Fallout 3 | More info on Company: Bethesda Softworks | More info on Person: Todd Howard

A bit of History

Fallout fans have wanted a sequel to their favourite game ever since Fallout 2 (FO2) was released in 1998.  While Fallout 2 wasn't considered a great sequel to Fallout, it was pretty darned good.  Monty Python, Silence of the Lambs and blatant Terminator references aside, it offered all the goodness of the original Fallout, except that is, for a well put together ending.  While fans clamored for another sequel along the lines of the original, Interplay had other ideas.

Fallout: Tactics (FO:T) was announced and fans were initially optimistic, until it was released and they played it...  After that (and much criticism and debate later) Interplay made another Fallout announcement, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (I'll let you follow the link to find out what we thought about that one).  17,000 sales later, FO:BOS has long since been forgotten and Fallout fans, watching the continuing demise of Interplay, had almost given up hope.  Until rumours started circulating about Project "Van Buren".  Seems Black Isle Studios - the RPG division of Interplay - had started work on Fallout 3, seeing as Project Jefferson had been cancelled right at the last minute when Interplay bungled up the D&D license (they couldn't use it to make PC games basically and Jefferson was a PC game).

The fans went nuts and participated on the Interplay forums for any topic about Van Buren.  Combat, weapons and story were discussed, some in more detail than others.  Some fans helped, others didn't.  Eventually though, Interplay slid into further decline, Van Buren was cancelled, everyone was forced to leave and Van Buren was shelved.

Then, on July 12, 2004, Bethesda Softworks published a press release.

Bethesda Softworks® announced today that it will develop and publish Fallout 3 -- a sequel to the highly popular Fallout role-playing game franchise. Bethesda licensed the rights to the Fallout franchise from Interplay Entertainment Corp. (OTC Bulletin Board: IPLY) in a deal that awards Bethesda exclusive worldwide rights to the Fallout franchise on the PC, home consoles, handhelds, and other media, with the option to develop and publish additional sequels.

Going down fast, Interplay had sold one of the last things it had that was worth any money, the Fallout license.  The only thing Interplay kept was the license for a Fallout MMORPG, not that we ever expect that to get made.  When Interplay released their quarterly report later that year, we found out what Bethesda paid.

Interplay sold to Bethesda Softworks LLC, "Bethesda" the rights to develop FALLOUT 3 on all platforms for $1.175 million minimum guaranteed advance against royalties. Bethesda also has an option to develop two sequels, FALLOUT 4, and FALLOUT 5 for $1.0 million minimum guaranteed advance against royalties per sequel. Interplay retained the rights to develop a massively multiplayer online game ("MMORPG") using the Fallout Trademark.

So fans of Fallout were a wee bit concerned at the time.  Our beloved Fallout, which has already seen two bad spin-offs (Tactics and that console one nobody likes to talk about now), was in the running to possibly get three sequels... The question is, would they be "real" Fallout games or "Morrowind with Guns"?

Now that things have quietened down, Duck and Cover decided to ask the man who knows more about Fallout 3 than anyone else.  Todd Howard, the guy who runs Bethsoft and the one who makes all the decisions about publishing and developing their games.  Now that you're up to speed, here's what Todd had to say in an interview with Mr. Teatime.

Interview with Todd

(Interview by Mr. Teatime)

Hi Todd. Firstly, can you elaborate at all on the status of Fallout 3?

It's currently in pre-production, which includes design, concept art, and prototyping various systems. We'll be in that phase for a long time until we have something running we feel is fun and works well.

Would you say you plan to work on Fallout 3 alongside Oblivion, or wait until Oblivion is nearly ready to ship before really getting into work on Fallout? I noticed you're looking to hire new people who preferably have experience with the Fallout series...
We stagger projects, so while one is in full production, another is in pre-production. They're very different modes of developing. Pre-production is a lot looser, trying ideas, doing concepts, and really getting a small version of the game up to try all the risky ideas and see what works and what doesn't. Pre-production is done with a smaller team. Once we have a good nugget of the game pinned down, we move a lot of staff on the game and start "production," where we are really churning out content. So you don't really want to throw lots of people on a project until that pre-production version is really tight, or you end up with a lot of people doing a lot of work that ultimately you may redo, which only frustrates everyone and lengthens the development time.

Are there any plans to have contact with developers who have worked on the franchise before, for consultation on the Fallout universe or any other aspect of development of Fallout 3?
Yes, that's already occurred. There's a lot of passion from everyone to see Fallout return.

What, in your mind, are some of the things that differentiate the Fallout games (ignoring FO: Tactics and FO: Brotherhood of Steel, which didn't happen) from the Elder Scrolls series of RPGs?
Outside of the obvious flavor and setting, the number one thing is stronger characters. Fallout really set the standard for me on believable people, good dialogue, and character choice and consequence. With Elder Scrolls, we do aim for something enormous, and we simply can't focus on say - 20 to 40 really deep strong characters and just do them. With Oblivion, we're doing a much better job than we've done before, but the scale of game is so different that without sacrificing some of what makes The Elder Scrolls what it is, I don't think we'd be able to have the same level of characterization in NPCs Fallout did. So with Fallout 3, that's something we want to do well, a limited number of super-deep NPCs.

Concerning Fallout 1 and Fallout 2, what marked the games as special for you? What were some of your favourite experiences in those games?
There are so many, most of them stem from the first game, because that's the one that obviously had the biggest impact. The ending always stuck with me. It took balls to end the game like that.

What are your goals for Fallout 3?
To return Fallout to RPG prominence. To do the series justice while also bringing it into the current day. This is as big for us as an Elder Scrolls title, so we're not going to skimp on it.

Any hints about plots you're considering?
Sorry, no hints yet. smile

What are your thoughts on the timeframe and location for the game? By the end of Fallout 2, the world had changed a lot from the way it was when first emerging from the vault at the start of Fallout 1.
Ok, I can say it takes place after Fallout 2. But it's much more in the Fallout 1 flavor. I'm not sure if that makes sense without the specifics, but Fallout 1 is more our role model than Fallout 2.

Whilst every fan tends to have a different idea of what precisely Fallout 3 should be, there are a few things that most of us are unified on. Are you aware of the strong desires for turn-based combat and the classic 3/4 top-down viewpoint? Do you think pure turn-based combat in an RPG is viable in today's market?
Yes, of course we've heard many of the old-school fans regarding the view and combat resolution. What's viable today? Certainly turn-based combat limits your audience to a small number, but I do find that audiences will come if your game is good enough and the presentation is superb. Ultimately we'll do what we think will be the most fun.

Though I understand a lot of decisions are yet to be made about the game, could you see Bethesda doing an RPG that didn't use first/third person camera angle (like Morrowind) as its default view? Should you decide to explore this direction, is the technology you're developing capable of supporting this viewpoint?
The rendering technology can put cameras anywhere. But don't confuse camera angle with interface and interaction, they're two very different things.

Will you be using the SPECIAL system in Fallout 3?
Yes, we have rights to it and plan on using it.

Ron Pearlman. Do you know if he still does voice-over work? smile
He does actually. I'm pretty sure he was in Halo 2.

It's known Oblivion will ship with comprehensive editing tools, just like Morrowind did. Do you plan for similar tools to ship with Fallout 3, given the strong modding community the series has built up?
I can't really say yet, but we had a great experience with Morrowind doing it, and are doing it again with Oblivion.

Have you thought of doing any spin-off titles in the game universe, or is Fallout 3 the only thing you've got planned for the franchise?
It's the only thing we're doing right now with Fallout. So if you hear or see anything other than "Fallout 3," it's not us.

What's your opinion of the Fallout fanbase?
The response we've gotten from everyone has been incredible. It seems like almost every gamer and press guy is a fan of the original, and are really looking forward to what we're going to do with it, and really looking forward to seeing Fallout return to a new era of gaming. I think the hardcore fans are incredibly misunderstood, and frankly, have been mistreated in the past. We've been reading the forums a lot and much of our thinking on Fallout 3 is just listening to experiences people had with the other games, like how those games made them feel, what they liked and disliked about every Fallout game.

The reason we wanted to make a Fallout game in the first place, was just how much we loved the first game. But we weren't the ones online posting all the time about a game from 97. Think about that...8 years later and they still haven't gotten a decent Fallout RPG, and people keep shoving crap at them. I'd be pissed too. I'd be wary of the new guys from Bethesda too. Hopefully when they see our game they'll give it a shot.

Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add, or say to the community in general and Duck and Cover's readers?
Keep it up, keep posting. We really do read most of it. Frankly, we do get uncomfortable talking about things that are still a moving target, and really don't want to say something is or isn't in the game until we're playing a working version we think is great. We've said stuff prematurely in the past on our other games, and it really bit us in the end. I know everyone wants to know everything now, but it's going to be a while and when we have stuff we think is ready to show, everyone will see it.

[end of interview]


(Editorial by DarkUnderlord)

This interview, especially now coupled with the recent situation regarding Troika, has made me think twice.  Like most in the Fallout community, when I first heard about Bethesda acquiring the Fallout license my initial reaction was "Morrowind with guns".  If that's not clear, it's not meant to be a compliment.  Morrowind was a great game that let you play dress-up.  You got to wander around an enormous environment playing whack-a-mole as you were railed down through the story's narrow, linear plot.  You had lots of skills, most of which revolved around combat and the game was, by and large, all about the combat.  The dialogue was little more than a wikipedia. The ending itself was a shoot-out with a boss monster albeit with a twist akin to the ending of Doom 2 (don't shoot what's attacking you, just ignore it and go for the brain - or heart in Morrowind's case).  So while I had fun with it, it wasn't Fallout.

The other reaction I had at the time was disbelief at some of the claims coming from Bethesda in the string of interviews they gave.  All of them pointed to a "Shit, let's buy the Fallout licence" response without any pre-planning being made, which I found unbelievable at the time.  No way in hell could Bethesda have spent big bucks (remember, we're looking at around about $1 Million US just for FO3 alone with a total $3 mill for 4 and 5) on a license without having any idea of what type of game they were going to make.  Surely they had some kind of plan.  If we take Todd at his word, perhaps they didn't?  Maybe, quite simply, they bought the Fallout licence because it was up for grabs and they really are huge fans.  I hope that's the case or if not, that the plans they have include an "isometric" (3/4 over the top) view and turn-based combat.  Sure, viewpoint doesn't make the game but it has a huge affect on how the game plays.

We also now know that Troika were in a bidding war with Bethesda at the time.  They missed out.  This disappointed me but looking at the stakes now, that may have been a cruel twist of fate.  If Troika had bought the license, would they really be in a position to - as Todd says - stay in pre-production until they have something "that feels right"?  Though then again, these are the people that seem to enjoy whack-a-mole an awful lot...

If Troika had bought the license in a deal with Activision, what sort of compromises would they be forced to make in order to make the game acceptable to their publishers? Bethesda have one luxury Troika don't, money in the bank or at the least a business cash advance.  Interestingly, they are probably the best developer/publisher in the financial position to create the RPG we all want Fallout to be.  The question is, will they be able to do it and will they want to do it?

"We are overjoyed," said Howard. "Fallout is one of my favorite games, and we plan to develop a visually stunning and original game for Fallout 3 with all the hallmarks of a great RPG: player choice, engaging story, and non-linearity."

I have no doubt Fallout 3 will have great graphics. The pity is, Fallout was never about the graphics. Bethesda haven't proven to me that they can create an interesting dialogue system beyond "dialogue vending machines" and non-linearity in Morrowind (their biggest game to date) was non-existant (anybody remember the "You have killed an important character!  You've stuffed up the main plot! You should reload!" dialogue box?).  Here's hoping Bethesda have the will and determination to pull it off though because if they can't do it, who else will?


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