Interview

Peter Hines grilled on Fallout 3

We sit down as launch nears

Fallout 3 is looming ever nearer; the world eager to find out what Bethesda will make of the old school RPG IP - updated for modern consoles and tastes in a new first-person incarnation that has proved controversial with hardcore series fans.

We sat down with Bethesda exec Peter Hines during last month's Games Convention event in Leipzig to find out more.

Hi there Peter, I hope you're enjoying the show. What's it like seeing people play the game for the first time? Peter Hines grilled on Fallout 3

We've had a chance now, between E3 and Leipzig, to let a lot of people play the game and get their hands on it. For the most part its been really positive. Folks who have seen the game progressing seem to like where its gone, and folks who've never seen it before, haven't play it previously, seem really impressed as well. I'm pretty pleased!

Who are you expecting to play the game? Will it be mainly new players, or will it be players who've had experience of the series previously?

I think it'll probably skew a lot towards newer players, just if you look at how many people bought or played Fallout before, versus what we're looking at sales-wise, the numbers don't add up, there's got to be a lot of new players. Either that or all the original Fallout players need to buy ten copies each!

I think it'll be a mix. Even on 360, or PS3, there are a lot of people who used to be PC players in the 90s - maybe still are - but maybe they now play consoles and they're likely to play Fallout on these platforms. Rather than PC... that's their new platform of choice now. Peter Hines grilled on Fallout 3

Could you have made Fallout purely on the PC? Is it viable for a game of this kind to be made just for the PC at present?

I guess we could have. I'm just not sure whether there will ever be a good enough to reason to only put it out on one format.

How has the game you thought you were going to make when you started work four years ago changed into the game we're now playing, today?

Its pretty close, honestly. A lot of it is that we try not to spend too long on the concept part of a development, and as much as possible getting stuff in the game. You can then play it to see how it feels. Things that sound like a good idea maybe aren't when you start playing it, things need to be done in a different way. Then there's things that you weren't sure whether they were going to work, need a tweak, then become terrific. There's a lot of that. You put your hands on it; play it. This doesn't work at all; this is great; we need to do this differently - there's a lot of that. Peter Hines grilled on Fallout 3

Are there any elements of the new release you're worried about?

Not really. I mean, even when we get to do something like this, when we let people do whatever they want rather than restricting them to one area - the number of things people have experienced; thousands of hands-on sessions. People have done all sorts of different things, we've got all kinds of positive feedback. People comparing experiences, doing things different ways, that's kind of the point of the game. You do things at your own pace, however you want.

What's the most interesting route through the game you've seen someone take so far?

I don't think there's anything really surprising. I've seen some folks that have got to places no one has got to, like found one of the other vaults and gone wandering around in there, or had every intention of going to do "X" then got side-tracked doing another thing and spent all their time in another area they got sucked into. Again, that's kind of the point of the game. You never really know what's over the next hill, or what's going to grab your attention for two hours. There's nothing "I can't believe they went and did that," though. Peter Hines grilled on Fallout 3

I like the way you further the plot through incidental dialogue, things you read, etc. How important is the aspect of the game's story-telling?

Hugely. Hugely important that you're able to get at information in a number of different ways, that you can talk to people. How you can talk to them. Some games, regardless of whether you're nice or nasty you get to the exact same point - but via different routes - I like the way in Fallout if you're mean then people won't ever tell you about things. They might not even give you the quest. However, if you're nice you get good karma, the game responds differently, based on your chosen path. The response you get feels appropriate for what you did. As opposed to that sense of things being a different flavour of the exact same thing.

Are there points in the story that players will always have to experience?

As with regards to the main quest, yeah, if you're going to play the main story people can go about things in different ways, and how quickly they move between parts of the story can vary. But the main quest does have the same major points along the way. You can change your approach. Things can vary in places. Outside of that its entirely up to the player, whether you do these other quests, visit these other places, is entirely up to you. Its what you want to do. Peter Hines grilled on Fallout 3

Which other games did you look at when designing Fallout 3?

I mean, mostly we looked at the first two Fallouts in terms of what parts of these games will we bring forward; capture and replicate. And how can we do that. But, we started in 2004, so there wasn't a tonne of similar games about. I mean, we get asked about games that are similar in style or approach. We get asked whether we were influenced by this or that, but we say "we were three years into the project when that came out", and we weren't stopping for anything at that point. Mostly, we're influenced by a lot of the stuff we've done before, books, movies... post-apocalyptic... the presentation of that tone; that vibe. But you know, we also draw a lot from our own experiences. What kind of game do we want to want to make, what kind of experience do we want to create.

The world is very detailed. How do you go about fleshing out a landscape as vast...

It takes four years! [Chuckles all round] Peter Hines grilled on Fallout 3

That's how you do it. Its daunting. That's why you don't see a lot of games like this, its something we've become adept at doing. We've been making these big open-ended games for years now. And so we have a method of going about it, using artists and level designers who know how to add the little touches, and subtle notes that are a nice of level detail. When you notice a certain thing in a certain area, it really takes the game to a difference level. You notice something that somebody clearly took the time to put there; that's really cool. Its really different.

Do you think the manner in which Fallout 3 blends elements of the FPS and RPG genres is something unique?

Oh no, we did this sort of thing in Oblivion. Its just it has a different feel when you're doing it in this kind of game. You have guns and so forth... you know, with Oblivion, we spent a lot of time on the combat system. Trying to make the action more fun, noting the stuff people spend a lot of time doing and trying to make that as fun as possible. You know Fallout is much the same - if you put a gun in someone's hand there's a certain expectation, people playing this game will try to run and shoot stuff because its fun... so we need to make that, on its own, really fun and interesting. If that's what you spend 30 seconds doing then its the best 30 second of the game for that moment. All the time we're working on this, making sure people enjoy doing it.

Liam Neeson plays the lead character's father... what's it like having a bit of star quality in your game?

We really feel like, that the right people in the right role really brings a quality to the performances... like Sean Bean in Oblivion as the Son the Emperor, and having Terence Stamp there. You know, having these guys in these roles really does bring... they're well known actors for a reason, and they're really good at acting, having somebody like Liam who has this presence as a father figure and does it so well. It does make that character more believable and interesting. There's a much better sense of personality, Malcom Macdowell has it too as the narrator; a presence; he's an iconic part of the series so we had to have him. I do find that using that talent does bring a presence we might otherwise not get.

What do the actors think of the game... do they play it?

Liam, I don't believe has played it, he was the one... we were like "it's Liam Neeson, are we going to be able to get Liam Neeson?" but for this particular role... you know, a father who leaves his only child behind, you've got no mother - your dad is your only role model - you're going to spend the first part of the game growing up with your son, then you're going to leave to go and do this other thing. I think he was compelled by the setting, and the role, and the approach. It sort of struck a chord with him. Hearing him talk about why he did the role... in terms of what they think of the game... I'll have to give him a chance to play it. None of our actors are real gamers... but maybe their kids are! So, we'll see what they think.

Which element of Fallout 3 are you perhaps most proud of?

Well... its tough. I'm happy with the whole package in terms of it being the great sandbox game we wanted it to be, where you can play wherever you want. You can approach things from so many different directions: sneaky, good, bad. Focus on combat, etc. All the different ways you can play the game.

But if there was one feature I really like, it's the VATS system. The way of doing a stat-based game, and doing guns, that can be easily pulled-off. The lead designer and director had this idea for really wanting to do gun combat in real-time, as well as another way that was a nod to the original Fallouts and how combat worked there, but still within the context of a first or third-person game. That didn't slow down the game too much, that was fun and balanced. How much time and effort the whole team put into that and how much fun it offers... that ends up being as great as we hoped it would be when we first started talking about it. Todd and Emmo would sort of leap around pantomiming how VATS would work. Going from that to how it now works is very satisfying. Its great to see people are taking to it, because it is a pretty different idea... it was a risk we took. We did something that was an unknown... will it be fun, will people like it, and it seems they do. Did a piece of Fallout 3 artwork end up on a terrorist website a few months back? What happened with that?

The gist of it, from what I recall (I was traveling); some intelligence group had found a piece of our concept art on a forum or website for some organisation linked to terrorism. This is where I'm not sure what happened... he said, she said... it alluded to the idea that perhaps the terrorists had come up with this graphical representation of what Washington DC might look like after an attack or something like that. People then started reporting on it. Our response was bemusement! Does anyone realise this is from a videogame? We weren't going to go out there and try to correct anyone... we'll let the geniuses figure that one out. We were like, its an alternate universe, its not ours, its a game. It did get sussed out. We just stayed out of it. That's not our job.

No such thing as bad publicity?

I guess!

Does Fallout 3 mark the beginning of a Fallout renaissance?

I hope so. Our desire is that people who loved or enjoyed the original games will find a lot to like, but that it will also open itself up to new audiences who didn't get to play it before. Hopefully it brings them in to become fans of the series as we are, we think its a great series, its why we went out to get it. Hopefully all these folks will find it really is the one that makes them like Fallout, and want another one, just like there are tonnes of folks who like Oblivion but never played The Elder Scrolls or even an RPG before. People might say "this is the one that brought me to the series, or role-playing"... I hope. All we can control is making sure we have the best game possible, and make sure that people know about it. Hopefully it will stick!

In general, do you think consoles are starting to increasingly get the kinds of games PC gamers have been enjoying for some time?

I think so...

BioShock, etc.

I mean even with Morrowinds in 2002, everyone thought we were crazy to create what had been a traditional PC, hardcore role-player on the Xbox. People thought console players wouldn't 'get it', there's this notion that console gamers are idiots who only know how to shoot stuff. You know, we ended up doing unbelievably well on the Xbox with Morrowind. It sold millions of copies. After that, we thought 'gamers are gamers', it's not like the people that own this system only have interest in a particular type of game. They're pretty smart and want different stuff. It was an eye-opener, and it made us realise all the platforms have an audience for our games.

Would you do a Wii or a DS game, perhaps?

Our thing is... if we can deliver the game we're making on a platform that will support it we will, so, we can't take this game as it exists and stick it on a Wii. It would be a completely different experience. But, if at some point we wanted to do a different version of this that would work on those platforms then maybe. But, for us, the team making this game, we're only interested in the platforms that will support what is there. In this case its these three.

Does the game have an ending?

It does! The main quest ends, you get an ending customised to your actions during key points in the game... if you want to keep playing there's lots of other stuff you can keep doing - if you reload a saved game and play without reaching the title's end. Likewise you can just start again and try new options.

Thanks for your time, Peter.

Thank you!

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