Fallout 3 with lead designer Emil Pagliarulo
Fallout has been one of the most respected series for design, writing and plotting ever made. Rumours of the franchise's resurrection, fuelled by no small amount of wishful thinking, have been waiting for this new instalment for a long time. Bethesda, a small bedroom coding team that have managed to shift a few copies of their 'Oblivion' game at the odd car-boot sale, have lucked into the franchise, and are remaking it as a first-person free roaming extravaganza on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Fellow Fallout fans, I propose we start bouncing up and down in our chairs forthwith, and commence apace we can buy beg borrow or barter for a copy. Here's a gentleman (Emil Pagliarulo, lead designer of Fallout 3) with the scoop on the stuff our post-apocalyptic dreams are made of....
The game has gone from isometric view, squad based strategy to a mix of first-person RPG. How has the spirit of a turn-based strategy game been preserved in an engine that more closely resembles Oblivion than the original Fallout? Does the presence of this new title on Xbox 360 and PS3 reflect the swing towards action rather than RPG?
You know, I think there's somewhat of a misconception concerning the original Fallout, and the type of gameplay it offered. Fallout wasn't a turn-based strategy game... it wasn't a turn-based RPG for that matter. It was real-time RPG with turn-based combat. So capturing the spirit of Fallout really has nothing to do with where you put your camera. It has nothing to do with your engine. It has everything to do with the way you approach the setting, the characters, the ironic humor, that sort of thing.
Now, talking about combat specifically, that's when the original Fallout switched to turn-based mode. In recognition of that - of the player's wish to think and act tactically - we have V.A.T.S., the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. Using this system, you can pause the action and make important tactical decisions. So in this regard, it's sort of the best of both worlds: you have the excitement of a real-time game, but at the push of a button you can pause the action, take a breath, survey the situation, and then resolve combat using your character's skills.
As for a perceived swing toward action, I honestly don't think the platform has anything to do with it. Bethesda's games - even going as far back as Arena on the PC - have always had a strong action component. Oblivion is a pretty fast-paced game, by traditional RPG standards. I mean, that's one of the things that sets Bethesda's games apart all others. And there's a reason for that - those are the games we like to play. So, you know, it's only natural those are the games we prefer to make. And our previous successes have shown us that we're not alone - there are multitudes of gamers out there who enjoy more action-oriented RPGs.
The comparisons between Fallout 3 and Oblivion are easily made - will there be a similarly vast landscape to explore, stuffed full of NPC's and little incidental dungeons? Can we wander the land as carefree as a sociopathic, heavily armed cloud again? How scalable is the setting of the nuked cities.
You certainly just described the hallmark of any Bethesda RPG - a large, freeform world filled with NPCs to interact with, "dungeons" to visit (in Fallout 3, these run the gamut from old subway stations to entire ruined towns), plenty of NPCs to interact with, and the ability to be as good, bad, or morally ambiguous as you'd like.
Tell us more about the combat mechanic that mixes FPS and RPG. The Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System has been compared to the mechanic in Knights of the Old Republic. How does this work, and will the gameplay be able to play to both the FPS bullet monkey and the RPG stat worm?
With V.A.T.S., you can pause the game at any time, assess the situation tactically, and target opponents and their limbs, weapons, etc. You queue up moves, and when you leave V.A.T.S., you see your actions played out in a sort of cinematic third-person mode. We always wanted V.A.T.S. to feel like the evolution of the "Aimed Shot" in Fallout, and we love how far the system has come (and continues to improve) throughout the course of development.
Interestingly, what we've found playtesting the system is that V.A.T.S. sort of has this dual role: it's the skill-based targeting mode, but because of the third-person playback stuff, it's also very much a "my character is a complete badass" mode. Using your character's skills to get take out an opponent's arm is awesome; but then seeing your character unload on the guy, watching his arm explode in third-person... oh man. So the tactical and the visceral really do complement each other very nicely.
You can definitely play the game without ever going into V.A.T.S., and if you do, the combat is pretty similar to other first/third-person RPGs, like Deus Ex, or stat-based action games like No One Lives Forever. It's definitely not a straight first-person shooter; your character's skills are going to determine your effectiveness in combat, even outside of V.A.T.S. Personally - and I know this sentiment is echoed by most people at the Bethesda offices - I can't get enough of V.A.T.S. I love the non-pressured feel, the playback stuff, everything.
Player's actions will result in a change in their Karma, which will define how NPC's react to you. This has been pretty clumsily implemented in some titles - how is Fallout 3 enlightened?
For us, it's a matter of making sure all different karma paths are meaningful and viable. Being good, being evil, being somewhere in the middle - all of those offer unique positives and negatives. The fact that we're fully supporting that gray middle ground is really important to us. Fallout is not back and white, and the decisions you make aren't always black or white. You can be the sinner or the saint, sure, but we're also allowing you to be something in between, which I think is rare in the RPG genre. It's one of the things that defined the original Fallout, and we aim to uphold that tradition.
Fallout wouldn't be the same without stomping around the cursed earth with a posse under your command. What is the system for henchmen? How many of the cannon fodder will we have in our thrall, and how useful are they?
There's been some misinformation concerning this issue, even after E3, so allow me to clear the air. Like the original Fallout, Fallout 3 is not a party-based game. You control your own character. It's about you finding Dad, and discovering what's going on in the Wasteland. That said, like the other games you can have some help along the way. You can recruit different NPCs, depending on you karma. You can give them some instructions and orders, determine their combat equipment, that sort of thing, and then they act autonomously. It's like it worked in the original Fallout, and the NPCs are similar to NPCs in Oblivion, although we've expanded on that system pretty significantly for Fallout 3.