It's that second project, inXile Entertainment's Wasteland 2, that has truly shaken veteran CRPG players out of their role-playing shooter slump. Promising a return to the tactical, turn-based combat we grew up with, a seven-character party system, an isometric viewpoint, deep moral dilemmas filled with choice and consequence, and the same post-nuclear wasteland we first fell in love with back in 1988, there isn't a single bullet point in the game's overview that even hints of publisher influence. And so, with my excitement in check, I hit up the one and only Brian Fargo to see if he'd be willing to discuss his team's goals for the game in a bit more detail. And, thankfully, he agreed:
GB: I suspect that a vast majority of our audience understands what you're setting out to accomplish with Wasteland 2, but for those who are just stumbling upon the project, what can you tell us about your primary goals for the game? What specific feature set does the game absolutely have to have at release, in your mind, and why should fans of old-school RPGs be excited?
Brian: The hallmark of a great RPG is when the player can navigate the world the way they want to and not have it dictated by someone else's morality or confined due to graphic budgets. Much of that was lost as RPGs made their way to console or had graphical demands that were so high that the developer was making more linear narrative games. There was also quite a bit of fun in creating a party based game and having NPCs join up with you that have both hidden talents and annoying habits. We also want to get people back to using their brain to solve combat issues and not make them rely on a controller. The gamers have been making this request quite loudly for years.
GB: You've stated that you were ready to shelve the idea of a Wasteland 2 prior to Double Fine's Kickstarter success, despite the fact that inXile already has a year's worth of work clocked in on the game. How liberating is it to finally see an avenue that could make this thing become a reality?
Brian: It's pretty unbelievable and indeed exciting. I just gave a keynote address at GDC China last year and remarked how sad it was that this style of game appeared dead. And it wasn't a month ago that I took all my Wasteland documents that I had been working on for years and filed them away for what I thought was good. It was always shocking to me that publishers had ZERO interest in bringing back this kind of game.
GB: There are quite a few differences between Wasteland and Fallout, but due to the fact that the latter was a spiritual successor of the former, they oftentimes get construed as near-identical post-apocalyptic games. Do you think it's important to retain the Wasteland identity in the sequel and perhaps even try to push the game further away from the Fallout formula to ensure its uniqueness?
Brian: I think there might be varying opinions on what the formulas were for each and how they might be different. Wasteland excelled at many things like tactical combat, interesting situations that did not have clear cut correct solutions and it continued to surprise you along the way. Not only with those elements not be lost they will be expanded upon. We have the advantage of hindsight now since we can clearly see what things people reacted well to. We were flying blind while we made the first game. Fallout excelled in many of the same things but it really shined in tone and style. We need to make sure that we have an interesting art style and vibe. If there is any feeling that you have seen something a hundred times before you lose interest pretty quickly.
GB: You've mentioned previously that you're shooting for a top-down perspective for Wasteland 2 to keep asset costs to a minimum. Can you elaborate on what you mean by "top-down"? Will there be a mixture of multiple perspectives, depending on whether the player is exploring, in combat, or in dialogue?
Brian: I hesitate to give too much definitive information on this only because I don't know what our final budget will be and I need more fan input. Clearly we are going top down and that it is likely to be isometric in nature. Some game engines have you bake the assets first which can give a better look while others have you render on the fly and give more latitude with camera work, and we are looking at several options here. I would imagine we will offer some different perspectives when it comes to dialogue but again it is a bit early for me to guarantee anything yet. We will nail down all of this soon but it is critical we make the hardcore happy with this title. I'd rather make a smaller dedicated fan base ecstatic than worry too much about the larger audience.
GB: How do you envision the turn-based combat system working, exactly? Aside from the original Wasteland, are there any earlier games that you feel did turn-based right, and you might look to for inspiration?
Brian: Again I hesitate to mention other games right now for fear of overreaction to what the final decision will be. But, obviously Fallout 1/2 did some great things with turn based combat so we certainly have that reference point. And we have been getting a fair amount of feedback from the boards that people liked the way Fallout Tactics handled aspects of combat. They didn't like the game in its entirety but they seemed to respond to the depth of the systems.