Fallout: New Vegas and DLC Post-mortem Interview, Part Two

29 Nov 2011

We know that Ulysses is meant to mirror the player, but he seems to have a lot of similarities to Elijah from Dead Money, and those DLCs are book-ended by two mentally damaged antagonists that are incapable of letting go of their obsessions, while Elijah also mirrors Joshua Graham as an erudite former legionnaire. Were these similarities intentional to help tie the DLCs together thematically?

The goal was to make epic adversaries - I do think a player's strength is comparable to the strength of their adversary - there's nothing epic about killing a weak adversary, so Elijah and Ulysses are designed to be epic-level foes. I didn't intend Elijah to be more than what he meant to be - a Fallout-style sociopathic Merlin who's tired of human nature looting, pillaging, and rummaging through his Mojave Pre-War toy box.

Ulysses isn't intended to mirror the player, he was just intended to act as a nemesis - and while he's been wounded, he's not crazy. Both the NCR and the Legion are embodying two political principals that have shown to fail the world in the past, and are currently failing the world as they exist - the fact they even exist is a testament that history is repeating, and it's the wrong lessons. Best thing? Take them out now, give room for a new idea. The idea and the power wouldn't have occurred to Ulysses without the player's intervention.

Unfortunately, Ulysses latched on to some distant imagery of what the Divide/America might have been, so he doesn't have all the facts. Still...

From what we understand, you headed up all of the story-based DLC except for Honest Hearts, which fell under the watchful eye of J.E. Sawyer. Did the two of you work together to ensure that the add-ons meshed well, or was J.E. given free reign when working on the DLC? And because Joshua Graham originated in Van Buren (which J.E. was lead designer on), would you say that he's different in any measurable ways from the antagonists in the other DLC?

There's a different approach, and it depends on the stage of Van Buren you mean (Josh and I were lead designers on VB at different times). Originally, there was a character called the Burned Man (and Caesar's Legion) in both versions of VB. As far as the Burned Man goes, he was pretty messed up, and I think my version was more brutal than Josh's (not saying that's bad, but the Burned Man in VB1 carried a lot of baggage for a companion character, as indicated on the Vault wiki).

I’ve never taken them except from Fallout (again, because that pen and paper game was designed for the computer game)… but even then, in terms of groups and factions, Caesar’s Legion, the Hanged Man/Burned Man, and more, just went on to be taken by others and re-interpreted in different ways as the years went on. They’ve mutated over time, and they’re not anything like they were initially except in name.

Josh had free reign over Honest Hearts, much like he did in New Vegas, and I feel that giving Josh the authority to voice and carry out his designs as he sees fit gets the best results. His execution on ideas is solid.

When doing Honest Hearts, I did have a list of requests, and this was it:

- Maintain the same team hierarchy as the other DLCs. This didn't need to be expressly said, but we re-organized the team for the DLCs.

- Maintain the new pipelines we made for the DLC (we had new naming conventions and script conventions everyone was expected to follow, for example).

- In terms of narrative, here was the only things that were requested:

- Any conversation with Graham mentions that when he first heard a courier was coming to look for him or the Blackfoot [CFA: original name of tribals] tribe had captured a "courier," he should initially be surprised it was the player, as if he was expecting a different courier (Ulysses, although he won't describe him or name him). If asked to elaborate:

- Graham should mention that previous Caesars and generals sought to send agents West to look for new territory and to exterminate any threats to the Legion, although none ever returned, no matter how capable they were - there was one, however, that he thought might still be alive out there based on stories he'd heard, but he won't elaborate any further - but hey, if Graham managed to survive, maybe other cast-offs of the Legion survived out there as well when they were believed dead.

This can be spoken by anyone, Graham or otherwise.

- Graham/Random NPC should mention that Caesar was lucky that the NCR trade route from the "Divide" was wracked by storms, and that only left the chokepoint at the Mojave Outpost (and possibly the Blackfoot/New Canaan trade route) for the Legion to target in order to cut off supplies to the NCR West of the Colorado. Graham doesn't know what happened at the Divide, only that it was destroyed and it was fortunate it was for the Legion, as it helped hurt the trade routes to the NCR in the Mojave.

- Graham/Random NPC may make mention that only madmen would go to the Divide, the road there is a death trap and a road to the grave. If Graham says the lines, I'll want to incorporate it into the trailer for DLC4, if possible, so some drama in the delivery would be welcome. ;)

- A tribal or dead scout may make mention either verbally or in a note that many years ago, a courier did visit the outskirts of DLC2, and he wore a strange pattern on his back (Ulysses' coat with the Old World flag).

- Graham/Random NPC can mention that the only other stretch of territory West of the Mojave is the Big Empty, and that might as well be a wall to any living thing... no one's ever gone there and returned, just like the "Legend of the Sierra Madre." If the player has been to DLC1, would be nice if some reactivity bonus was given to this topic. Again, if Graham says this line, I'd like to use it for a trailer for DLC3, so drama would be welcome.

- Any other links between the DLCs you can think of - assuming Bethesda approves the next iteration, DLC3's going to be high-tech Wizard of Oz (and could have been the source of the mutated mountain lions), DLC4 is the final battle against Ulysses where he tries to kill the player - see below.

Because they're designed to simply introduce more equipment to the game, Courier's Stash and Gun Runners' Arsenal are a completely different animal in comparison to the game's first four DLCs. As a designer and a writer, what is your personal opinion on these types of add-ons? Do you feel that they complement other story-based add-ons well, or would you prefer to see them combined with a narrative of some kind?

Weapon and gear packs are great, and from what I observed, Josh took special pains to make sure each weapon had personality, character, and added more to the Mojave. It's an odd thing to say, but when Josh designs a weapon (either unique or not), you can feel that there's a story and purpose behind it, and it has an added plus because it's left to the player to make the connection - or in some instances, make a brand-new connection.

This is a philosophy of mine, but Josh's work exemplifies it in GRA: I strongly feel that one of the best ways to communicate narrative is through item design, especially gear the player can equip and use. Often, it does a better job of describing politics, economy of a region, trade focus, and even highlight major figures (good and evil) before you even meet them.

Are there any final comments you'd like to add about your experience developing the game's DLC? Perhaps there are a few interesting easter eggs you'd be willing to share?

I'd never done DLC before, and I prefer releasing four short adventure packs to a 2-3 year RPG title for a number of reasons:

- Quicker feedback and sense of accomplishment.

- Tighter team, scope, and focus. When you set out to make a 4-12 hour experience, it focuses your efforts.

- Smaller voice cast - I always prefer a smaller, deeper cast that allows more reactivity (Alpha Protocol) to a sprawling cast of more shallow characters, so the DLCs were good for that.

- The chance to experiment with brand-new themes and mechanics in each DLC - if there's an experiment you've always wanted to try, DLCs are a great stomping ground for it. If you want to experiment with tiny end slides for each region, a hallucinogenic boss battle with a mutant bear, flare guns, mute characters, opening slides, evil endings, a chattering base of talking appliances, and cutting out the player's brain, guess what? No big deal. Try it out in a tiny test bed and check out the audience reaction.

Lastly, the fact we knew we were going to be able to do 4 narrative DLCs (which is a rare in the game industry - you can never guarantee you're going to be able to do a sequel, which we've discovered with Alpha Protocol, Knights of the Old Republic 2, and even titles back at Black Isle). So once we knew we'd do 4, that allowed us to do foreshadowing across titles and create a larger narrative arc rather than a series of isolated adventures, and the DLCs were stronger for it.

As far as Easter eggs go, aside from the Wild Wasteland ones, there's a secret ending to Dead Money that allows you to side with the bad guy (like the Master in Fallout 1) which not many people found. Also, if you are playing a really stupid character with Dog's personality in DLC1 he'll tell you what it was like to be in the Master's army and life in the vault and cathedral in Fallout 1.

The designers had a lot of fun doing the Wild Wasteland encounters - we had special stages in the DLC production that allowed designers (and Bethesda's QA department) to suggest Wild Wasteland encounters, and they turned out to be a lot of fun to implement (the tiny Deathclaw, Spike, in Old World Blues, comes to mind).