Posted by BuckGB at 5:37 pm on 11.23.2011 (2 years ago)
Our understanding is that Courier's Stash and Gun Runners' Arsenal are the final two add-ons to be released for Fallout: New Vegas. Is that correct?
Courier's Stash and Gun Runners' Arsenal are the last two DLCs in the series, yes. Gotta say, it's sad putting up the chairs and turning off the lights - still, with New Vegas and the DLC run we got to work on Fallout one more time, which is more than we could have hoped for a few years back.
We're grateful for the opportunity, and on the bright side, the Ultimate Edition is coming out early next year, so if people want to do a second run-through with all the new DLC toys and locations, it'll all be in one package.
I do want to warn folks who haven't played the DLCs because they're waiting for the Ultimate Edition, there are a lot of spoilers to follow, so you may want to stop reading now if you don't want the new content revealed until you have a chance to experience it.
Each of the DLCs you've released takes a different approach in both gameplay and setting. What steps did you take to ensure that each one retained a consistent feel with New Vegas, as well as Fallout in general?
We recognized each DLC had to set itself apart, but still fit in the universe. There were a few steps we took, some resource-dependent, others more design-dependent:
- We set up narrative and visual hooks in the Mojave that would tie to the DLCs, whether players recognized them (the Canyon Wreckage was pretty obvious) or only in retrospect (Sierra Madre billboards and posters, Burned Man graffiti and dialogues).
- With respect to the narrative, we made sure we laid the foundation for Ulysses with Nash in Primm to establish the mystery for Lonesome Road, there were plenty of references to the Burned Man in Honest Hearts in the loading screens and in character dialogue that Josh Sawyer (NV Project Director) took care to place in, and I fleshed out the Elijah hooks with Veronica in coordination with Eric Fenstermaker and sat in on Felicia Day's voice recording session for her backstory with Elijah to make sure it connected to Dead Money (although we had to mask the references in the GECK so it didn't spoil what was to come). Eric also helped by setting up evidence of Elijah's path with the bomb collar victims in the Mojave as well.
- Old World Blues was the anomaly, it took everything in the Mojave I thought was odd and tried to give a logical underpinning for it (Cazadores, Nightstalkers), so in essence, Old World Blues was a way of pulling back the curtain and see additional support structure for creatures and events in the Mojave.
- One element of consistency that was resource-dependent was using the existing architecture that had been established both in Fallout 3 and New Vegas, both terrain and actual buildings. We did make an effort to try and use these architectural building blocks in new ways (Lonesome Road being the best example). Seeing consistent architectural styles and props go a long way to making you feel like you're sharing the same space as the Mojave even if other elements of the DLC are new (atmospheric changes such as rain, toxic clouds, dust storms, and so on).
- I do believe because some of us had worked with Fallout for so long, that helped maintain consistency as well. Scotty Everts, who built all the maps for Fallout 1, for example, has been constructing the world of Fallout for a good chunk of his design career, so having his eyes on the New Vegas and DLC terrain was a plus as well.
In past games, you've often put aspects of yourself in the characters and story. Were any characters or themes in the DLCs driven by your own personal perspective?
I try not to put traits of myself or anyone I know into the characters - feel free to chastise me on the forums or shout at me in conferences if you ever get the vibe that I am. I don't feel personality cannibalism is appropriate unless (1) it's a comment about how an outside perspective might feel about the franchise and the world it's in and (2) it's a logical question someone in that world would ask. Even those approaches put you in danger of breaking the 4th wall, so you have to be careful - it can still feel "off" to someone who encounters the character in the game because they can get hints that there's some other subtext going on, and it distracts from the gameplay.
The only time I was conscious of it was the discussions about religion with Kaelyn the Dove in Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer. In terms of franchise perspectives, Kreia in Knights of the Old Republic II isn't shy about breaking down her/my perspectives on the Force. Lastly, with regards to the DLCs, I believe Ulysses is correct, a new framework of civilization is the only solution for the Mojave and the Legion and NCR are self-destructive institutions (the Legion is more a slow burn than NCR is) and both should be cleansed with fire. Also, in Dead Money, Elijah's not only frustrated with human nature but he also makes several pointed comments about hand-holding in RPGs, which may be voicing my views on the matter, since I can get a little grumpy about it.
You explored different themes with each DLC. What themes would you say were the most important in these add-ons, and do you feel that Fallout's story traditions suit focusing on such themes?
Lonesome Road was purposely built around the final image at the end of Fallout 1 - the Vault Dweller walking off into a lonely future. The idea of a protagonist whose home is lost to him, walking off into the wilderness after helping to nurture and protect a place that ultimately exiles him (or where he simply no longer belongs) is one of the hallmarks of Fallout. The sense of abandonment and the lone wanderer connection was important in Lonesome Road, except you're not walking into a lonely future, you're walking into your character's past and seeing what it's done in the present. Ulysses hints that it's possible the player left the West and left NCR because he didn't belong, and that's why he walked the road to the Mojave - but that's Ulysses' perspective, and the motivations for your character are your own.
I think Old World Blues and Lonesome Road had two themes that strongly hooked into Fallout, and have always been there. The theme of Old World Blues was always "the optimistic atomic future of what might have been," and the idea that all of these technological marvels could have saved the world if they had simply had a better guiding hand - it's not the technology to blame, it's the thought behind it.
Dead Money was more of a survivalist horror experience, and the theme of greed and human nature was an experiment that I felt fit with the adventure arc, so I went with it. I did feel that Fallout could use some more struggle-for-survival elements, and that was part of it as well - in short, I wanted miracle items like Stimpaks to feel amazing again rather than cause players to shrug.
One of Dead Money's most unique features was the Sierra Madre itself, a resort and casino that was transformed into a deadly and dreary place. Has juxtaposition of old-world decadence and the darker side of life been a design or narrative goal of yours throughout the DLCs?
Depends on gameplay experience we're shooting for. Joe Sanabria, our art director for the DLCs, worked closely with the level builders so design and art reinforced each other and the DLC theme. We started with what we wanted the player to feel in the DLCs... in Dead Money, for example, we were specifically targeting isolation, terror, obscuring the player's view, claustrophobia, and the theme of greed - whether reflected in the decaying casino, the companion personalities, or the graffiti.
Crafting self-contained stories within the scope of four downloadable add-ons to an already massive game was quite ambitious, but it also must have presented you with certain limitations. Dead Money, in particular, was based around a myth that "everyone's heard about", yet it had never before been mentioned in a Fallout game. Is integrating a self-contained storyline into the larger Fallout lore a challenge for you, and is it a conscious decision to bring in new ideas rather than working within the world that's already been established?
It's a combination of both. With the narrative structure of the DLCs, we made an effort not only to introduce new gameplay spaces, but also links to the Mojave and the larger world as well. For example, regarding the narrative hooks in New Vegas, some overt, some subtle:
- We seeded the world with Sierra Madre posters and graffiti.
- Nash mentions the Courier who didn't take the job, establishing the mystery there.
- I worked with Eric Fenstermaker (who wrote Veronica) to make sure Elijah's history was fleshed out and explained, as well as integrating the defeat at Helios One into the Brotherhood of Steel backstories.
- Eric also set up the bomb collar hints in the Mojave that suggested Elijah's path.
- The Burned Man is mentioned extensively throughout New Vegas (even in loading screen text), all the way until the final confrontation with Lanius. Knowing the Burned Man's history is a weapon you can use to cause the Legate to turn back (as long as you don't use the word "retreat").
- Cass off-handedly mentions the Divide during her speech.
Some of these narrative hooks we did in reverse, and I feel they worked well, here's two:
- We decided that the ghoul singer in Dead Money would be great if he was actually Dean Domino from the Vegas show posters (idea courtesy of Travis Stout).
- The Cazador connection and Nightstalker connection - where the hell are these things coming from? How did they come to be? Who would mess with tarantula hawk wasp DNA and blend coyotes and rattlesnakes? Can we explain it?
- Where did all the plants in the Mojave come from?
A lot of the DLCs also refer back to events in the Mojave (Vault 22 refugees in Honest Hearts, resulting in Spore Carriers), Cazador and Nightstalker research labs in Old World Blues, etc.
We didn't just limit it to Vegas, however, we went back pretty far for some of our reference hooks: When doing God/Dog in Dead Money, I wanted to reach as far back as Fallout 1 with more explicit references to the Master, and show how that history is causing repercussions in the player's present.
In conclusion, we made sure that every DLC at least had narrative hooks that players who had played/were playing New Vegas would pause and remember the connection. Then we took care to make sure there were narrative connections across all the DLCs as well to reinforce the "things that came before" and how all these signature characters' paths changed the Mojave and the DLC space.
Each of the DLCs has brought its fair share of gameplay elements to New Vegas, but Dead Money stands out among them as being particularly unique. Was the survival horror scenario of Dead Money something you'd wanted to include in a previous Fallout game, and did it have any other inspirations? Do you have any interest in exploring those horror themes in another setting or in a future Fallout story?
I never wanted to do survival horror for Fallout before Dead Money, although when I played the Dunwich Building in F3, I thought that location was scary as shit. Plus, there are parts of Fallout that should be scary, untamed, and isolated... you're in a wasteland, and sometimes the monsters come for you, other times, they're lurking in toxic-cloud-laced-towns-filled-with-survivors-trapped-in-hazard-suits. After doing Dead Money, I'm not particularly driven to do another horror adventure similar to it in the future, I just wanted to experiment with the idea.
I do want to touch on the survival bit, though, since that was important to me. Fallout's gotten pretty civilized as the years have gone on, and what would once be a magical find (Stimpak) is something that's somehow become commonplace. When doing Dead Money, I wanted to restore value to the Pre-War items that players seemed to take for granted... if you find a Stimpak in Dead Money, I wanted the players to be thrilled to find it, not add it to the hundred you currently have in your inventory. Buffouts, Super Stims, and Repair Kits I wanted to be precious and feel precious - and also make crafting and scavenging more important as well.
I also wanted enemies that changed your combat tactics. While demo'ing FNV, the number of headshots people do can number in the hundreds, so the hope was by designing new brands of enemies we could make the players vary their tactics a bit (Ghost People and Holograms). In future DLCs, we simply provided them with weapons that had the potential to change tactics drastically and then let the players use them if they wanted (Flare Gun and Flash Bangs had specific effects, especially against Deathclaws and Tunnelers in Lonesome Road).
If you wanted to read the rest of the inspirations and Dead Money breakdowns, I did a more thorough breakdown of the Dead Money Survival/Horror design elements here: http://forums.obsidian.net/index.php?automodule=blog&blogid=1&showentry=144
Honest Hearts saw the long-awaited Burned Man, hinted both in Van Buren and New Vegas, come to fruition as a strong character. Do you feel it's difficult to live up to the expectations of fans when they've had so much time to build them?
Yep. When a named character is hinted at, players can fill in the blanks, and whatever they imagine will likely be better than anything we can come up with because it's personal to their experience and their specific playstyle. Regardless, you do want to have build-up to major characters, and you do want to get players excited about meeting them, and Joshua Graham succeeded. I like what Josh did with the take on the character - it would have been easy to make him a cliché, and he's far from it.
There are a lot of challenges to character building, from the character model itself to meeting the expectations of encountering a mythological character - and meeting a mythological character is likely to defy people's expectations by its nature, especially if the character has enough questions surrounding them that the player has filled in blanks that are more personal and relevant to them.
Again, anything players can imagine as cool is usually going to be better than what we try to guess would be cool for them. On the other hand, like was done with Graham, it's also a perfect opportunity to do a surprise twist on people's expectations.
Old World Blues reveled much more heavily in the retro-50s themes that have generally been in Fallout's background, not foreground. Were there any specific inspirations you looked to for this, or any homages?
I went back and dissected the Fallouts, the Fallout discard pile, old loading screen images (esp. Lobotomites that had been shown in old loading screens), homages to other games that Fallout ran with, and then poured it all into the Big Mountain crater.
I also watched a lot of 50s movies. A LOT. As part of the level scrums, we would also watch outtakes from popular 1950s sci-fi cinema to get the exaggerated “Science!” feel - and I watched a lot on my own as well. Part of theme was a world where a great many inventions were atomic and anything nuclear promised amazing things for the future. Usually with an exclamation mark.
As part of the research, pre-production, and production phases, we devoured a host of 50s science fiction films including Brain from the Planet Arous, Things to Come!, Forbidden Planet, When Worlds Collide, the Deadly Mantis, Tarantula, the Mole People (we ended putting the Mole People in Lonesome Road as Tunnelers), the Monolith Monsters, and more.
There’s also a little Wizard of Oz thrown in for good measure, which is reinforced in the operations you get in Big MT and also in the conversations with some of the characters in the DLC.
While Old World Blues followed a serious theme, it offered a lot of light-hearted and over-the-top moments. How did you arrive at your decision to deliver it in a less serious manner? Do you feel that the humor counter-balances the darker narrative elements of the story?
If you watch enough 50s sci-fi movies and see scientific propaganda from that time, you have to laugh/cringe (Did people really believe hiding under desks would protect them from a nuclear blast? Did they believe that detonating warheads near inhabited islands wouldn't cause consequences?). Forbidden Planet made me laugh. The Deadly Mantis made me laugh. Tarantula made me laugh. So I figured playing up to that crazy ATOMIC sci-fi feel was appropriate, and the team had a lot of fun with it as well.
The humor does counter the more serious elements, but after Dead Money and Lonesome Road (which we knew was going to be dark), having a change in tone to go along with the change in terrain and "feel" of the DLC was important. Presenting darkness upon darkness upon darkness without any variation I don't feel makes for a convincing quadrology, and the same applies to level design - people get really excited when they see vegetation in a Fallout game, or something other than desert, and the same thing is true for narration. You need to mix the emotional experiences.
Also, if we had focused solely on the dark aspects of Old World Blues and the tragedy of all this amazing shit going to waste, I didn't feel like stomping all over the player's emotions like that. They're there to have fun, let them have fun, and there was a conscious effort to make sure the humor was delivered in the context of the Fallout universe and had an underlying logic.
Check back soon for the second half!