WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!
I'm Pete Hines from Bethesda Softworks, and I'm the Fallout 3 product manager.
WP: With Fallout 3, where does it fall into the Fallout story line? Is it a direct follow-up to Fallout 2? Is it simply spaced in the world? How does it relate to the prior games?
PH: It is a continuation of the series and the overarching story in terms of what happens after a cataclysmic nuclear war takes place. It takes place some years after the events in Fallout 2, but it takes place, unlike the first two games, on the East Coast. Fallout 3 is set in and around Washington D.C., so it stays true to overarching story lines and themes about different factions in the world and their place and role in the game, but it doesn't specifically continue the story line in Fallout 1 and 2.
WP: Going from the style of Fallout 1 and 2 to the style of Fallout 3, where you're using an updated version of the Oblivion engine, how did your developers and designers attack that, and was there any concern of alienating fans who are used to the style of the first two games with such a drastic switch?
PH: We said, what is the best way to bring this world to life and make it as real and immersive as possible, and we felt that a first- or third-person approach, since you can play the game in both, was most appropriate and the thing that we would be the most excited about and wanted to do. As far as if that alienates fans, I guess if you're beholden to one perspective and say, "I will only play the game if it's this," then yeah, you probably could be alienated, but if you're willing to at least open your mind to the possibility of making a Fallout game that doesn't look exactly like the originals, I think there's something to be said for what we're doing with Fallout 3.
We felt that, to make the best game that we could, we had to take advantage of what games today could do and how they could look and feel as opposed to what they could do 10 years ago, and we're trying to hold onto and really adhere to a lot of the ideas of the first Fallout games. They were pretty graphically advanced for their day for what PC games looked like, and they were really violent and presented it in a rather interesting way that, for its time, was very different from other games. I think we're trying to do those same kinds of things in Fallout 3, given the environment that we're in today, what other games look like, and the technology that we have available.
WP: When creating a world like that of Fallout 3, did the world come first and the main story followed, or did the main story come first and then you filled in the bits and pieces of the world?
PH: It's really never sort of cart or horse, they sort of come to life together. One of the first things you do is, where is it going to be set? That was never set in stone, there was a bit of conversation about where it should be, but ultimately, we decided on D.C., and then as far as what that world looks like and what's the story, those are things that really get developed hand in hand. You've got concept artists and artists working on what's this world going to look like and feel like, you've got designers talking about what's taking place in this world, what are going to be the key locations and places that the player's going to discover, and how all those places tie together, both from a gameplay standpoint as well as from a visual standpoint, that it looks cohesive and has a Fallout vibe to it. It's not just '50s and it's not just postapocalyptic; it's a mesh of those things.
WP: As far as the story goes, there's obviously a main quest to Fallout 3, but there are also a number of side-quests that don't really tie into the main quest. How much of the game content is actually outside of the main quest?
PH: I'd say the main quest is probably going to take most folks around 25 hours to finish, but that's about a quarter of the total gameplay, so there's probably close to 100 hours total gameplay in the game. There are an awful lot of things to do that are off the beaten path, whether it's dungeon-type locations to explore, miscellaneous quests, random quests that you can find out in the world. It's up to the player to decide how much of that they want to do and how much time they want to spend doing those things.
WP: Can you give us an overview of the main quest? How does the story line get set up and play out in Fallout 3?
PH: The game actually starts with the player witnessing their own birth, and it was an idea from the original Fallout, where they said, "You've lived your whole life in the vault," and we wondered what that would be like for the player to experience, experience growing up in the vault and a very different atmosphere than the postapocalyptic world of the wasteland. So you witness yourself being born and you flash through different periods of your life, and at each stage, your father is always there with you, when you're one, when you're 10, when you're 16, and then when you're 19, you wake up and he's gone, and he's left the vault. In 200 years, nobody has ever entered or left Vault 101, so it's very jarring for the residents, and that's really your jumping-off point for escaping the vault and figuring out, "Where did my dad go? What was so important that he would go and leave me behind?" and that's what the main quest has to do with.
WP: You decided to set the larger city in the game was Washington, D.C. Why did you choose D.C., and how has it aged in the 200 years after a nuclear war?
PH: The choice of D.C., was for several reasons. One, we did want to set it in a different location from the first two. It is the nation's capital, and we were interested in this idea of what's going on in the nation's capital. Is anybody trying to get the country up and running again? It also happens to be our home. We're located just outside of D.C., and there was some sentiment of, "Go with what you know." Who could do a game in D.C., better than us? It's where we work and live. It's a combination of all those things that made it an appropriate location. One of the things that we spent a lot of time doing is, obviously, the universe of Fallout is different from our own reality. It's a different timeline. It progressed on a different scale in terms of how fast technology developed and what their world would have looked like, so we spent a lot of time figuring out what buildings would have been here, what buildings wouldn't have been here, to make it true to Fallout, not necessarily true to what you would see if you went to D.C, today. Yeah, 200 years later, it's not doing real well. I think the player comes to find that the world is not recovering, even from Fallout 2. Things have actually gone from bad to worse, and so it is definitely a bleak, harsh, violent world that you emerge into from Vault 101. I think we try and bring that across in a lot of ways visually, in the creatures that you come across and the violence that you come across; all are meant to emphasize that.
WP: Aside from the monsters in the game, not everyone you interact with is human. What races will you run up against?
PH: You do come across the ghouls, who folks who played Fallout 1 and 2 will remember, and they are sort of a form of humans, but they were exposed to so much radiation that they became horribly disfigured, and they are treated as outcasts by most humans. You can have some level of interaction with them and decide how you're going to treat them, whether you're going to be nice to them or treat them as horribly mutated freaks. Obviously there are the supermutants as well, but beyond that, there are a lot of factions in the world, groups that you come across, mercenaries and slavers and lots of different groups, so you've got to figure out how you're going to interact with and deal with them.
WP: Let's briefly talk about combat. You've got a combination of real-time with the FPS, as well as an Action Points system. How do you balance the two different systems so that one doesn't feel overpowered?
PH: That's one of the things that we always talk about in terms of our development philosophy. We try not to be beholden to anything that gets written down on a piece of paper. We try to get it in the game, play it, experience it, and see what's fun and what's not, what's balanced and what isn't. We spent months and months, years figuring out how to balance those systems so that it is a good mix that you can play the game with one or the other, or a combination of the two, and not have it ever be completely out of whack. How fast the Action Points come back, how many you have to use to take a shot, all of those things are part of the process of us playing the game and figuring out, is it too powerful, or is it not powerful enough?
WP: Karma. There are a lot of numbers and a lot of stat values in Fallout 3, but with everything our player had, we didn't see any specific numbers for Karma, although we did see a lot of "Karma up," "Karma down" notices while playing through the game. What can you tell us about Karma?
PH: Karma is intentionally meant to be a bit ambiguous in terms of, you get some feedback about whether you're good, neutral or evil and how good, neutral or evil. There are different ranks of Karma, but we didn't want to assign a number to it and say, "Your Karma is now 14," or "It is now -32." We'd prefer it to be a rough guide, a rough barometer of how you're playing the game, how good or evil or neutral you're being in the world based on your actions and the decisions that you've made. We want to allow the player to adjust that as they go along by the kinds of things that they do. If they find themselves being too much of a Goody Two-shoes and they want to go out and wreak some havoc and terrorize people, they can, and their Karma score will slide down appropriately. Or vice versa, they've done evil things and decide that they want to try and repent and do better, then they can spend a lot of time doing nice stuff and getting their Karma to go up. We wanted it to be ambiguous, and it's not the focal point of the game, it's just another aspect of how you're acting in this world, what kind of person you're being.
WP: Does that mean that there are multiple endings to the main quest, based on how your character plays?
PH: Umm, yeah. The different endings are designed to be customized to the kinds of things that you did in the game as opposed to wholly different things. One ending is completely different than another. It's more about having the ending of the game be appropriate to the kinds of things that you did and how you did them, and that's where that comes in. There's a lot of variation to that based on all the different little factors, but we wanted it to be customized as opposed to one generic ending or two generic endings.
WP: If you decide to be a total badass and start killing people left and right, can you totally screw yourself out of the main quest, or is the game able to compensate?
PH: We account for that a lot more than we have in our previous games. We try as much as possible to account for the player killing people just to see if they can still finish the quest or how it plays out. There are people in the world who you can kill, and it'll effectively end that quest, and we'll tell you in the game, "You've killed so-and-so, and you can no longer finish this quest." Usually when you do that, it's the player just testing to see what happens if they do that, and it's pretty obvious that if you kill the quest-giver that you knew that you were screwing with that quest. But as far as the main quest, no, we don't let you disable the main quest so that you can't continue it. We allow you to mess with any given quests, but we don't want you to break the game itself, which is the ability to get all the way through and finish it, so we do handle that in such a way that you can decide to be good or a total badass and have the game end in a different manner than if you're playing as a good guy, but we don't let you break it.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
PH: Our hope is that we've created something that is true to what Fallout is about, a game where folks can go where they want to and do what they want and have the freedom to play whatever character they want and any kind of game style they want, and hopefully folks will have a chance to play it and see for themselves.
Fallout 3 will be available in North America Oct. 28, while Europe gets it on Oct. 31, 2008.
More articles about Fallout 3