I have to hand it to Brian Fargo. Not only is his Wasteland 2 Kickstarter project filled with bullet points that you won't find in any modern publisher-backed title, but now he's hit us with the eye-opening announcement that he has reached an agreement with Obsidian Entertainment - particularly Chris Avellone - that would have them co-developing the game if it hits a $2.1 million milestone. That's prompted a huge influx of new funding, and as I type this the team only has a couple hundred thousand dollars to go (in 14 days) to make Obsidian's involvement a reality.
And so, with the assumption that the $2.1 million milestone would be reached and Chris would be bringing his design talents to the game, we fired off some questions to Mr. Avellone to find out more about the collaboration. Here we go:
GB: We've been following the tweets that you and Brian have posted over the last few weeks, but this announcement still comes as a surprise. How did this collaboration actually come about? Who approached who?
Chris: I think it’s a refreshing example of what happens when publishers aren’t involved. It’s something we couldn’t do without a lot of red tape in a publisher agreement (if at all), but when it’s just two developers chatting about something that would be cool... well, there you go. Brian asked, I wanted to do it, so we decided to make it happen.
I feel it's a sign of changing times, and this kind of flexibility is something Kickstarter allows for.
GB: Jason Anderson already spent a great deal of time working on Wasteland 2's storyline, and Brian Fargo has already made it pretty clear what the team's design goals are for the game. Assuming you'll reach the $2.1 million milestone, where does Obsidian Entertainment come in? Will you be tweaking existing story elements, adding more, or contributing in other areas?
Chris: It’s up to the design goals of the project. While Jason Anderson isn’t at inXile anymore, I have a lot of respect for Jason's story skills based on Fallout 1 and the story layouts for Fallout 2. I suspect I'd be doing area and narrative design, and fleshing out a piece of the wasteland, but we'll have to see what the needs of the project are.
Also, a game story is always a starting place - it provides an overarching vision for the game. If it’s anything like Obsidian’s narrative structure process, stories and areas get divided for individual designers to flesh out – it’s easy to say “Quartz is taken over by a gang that’s holding the mayor hostage,” or “New Reno is home to 4 mob bosses” but going from there is a long, fun design journey.
GB: What role will other team members at Obsidian play in Wasteland 2's development? Will Feargus, Tim Cain, J.E. Sawyer, and others be making contributions, as well? Would Obsidian's efforts go beyond story and design, in that you could potentially be contributing art assets and sound effects, or even helping with programming and bug fixing?
Chris: Currently, it’s just me, and I would potentially be assisting with narrative and area design, as well as conversation editor suggestions and structure. Ultimately, we won't know the final logistics for a short while longer, but we'll keep folks updated - right now, it's solely design content work, which is one of Obsidian's strengths.
GB: Could Obsidian's Onyx engine handle a top-down/isometric perspective and a turn-based combat system like inXile is shooting for with Wasteland 2? If so, have you talked to Brian about the possibility of licensing your Onyx engine, if only to make it easier for you and the rest of the team at Obsidian to contribute content at a faster pace?
Chris: Sure. To be clear, the Onyx engine isn't being used for Wasteland 2 - that said, there's information and structure components we can share based on how we've constructed RPG mechanics (notably conversation systems and editors, for example) that Brian has expressed interest in and we'd be happy to provide metrics and layout suggestions for. All of the programming and coding is in inXile's hands, however, as our programmers and tools programmers are focused on our other titles.
GB: You contributed heavily to Fallout: New Vegas and a majority of its DLC, worked as a designer on Fallout 2, and were in the lead designer position on the Black Isle iteration of Fallout 3, Van Buren. While Wasteland is undoubtedly a franchise that has much in common with the Fallout franchise, it also presents a slightly different take on the post-apocalyptic environment. Is there any worry on your part that content you contribute to Wasteland 2 might be considered too Fallout-like by fans who are familiar with both franchises?
Chris: Wasteland is far more freeing. There’s ideas and seeds that won’t work in the context of Fallout that will fit in the much wider umbrella of Wasteland, in a good way. There was a lot of variety in Wasteland 1 alone, and I’d like to see that upheld in WL2. Each location in WL1 had its own flavor, challenges, yet managed to keep a cohesive arc to draw the player in.