PCGamesN on Fallout: New Vegas

Surprising no one who was following their recent chronological coverage of Fallout games, PCGamesN has published a number of Fallout: New Vegas-related articles. Four, to be precise. The articles talk about the making of New Vegas and the game's scrappy setting, call New Vegas the most adventurous Fallout game, and praise Come Fly With Me as New Vegas' best side quest. Here's an excerpt from the first article, and you can take it from there:

Obsidian are some of the best in the business at this stuff - making a place feel alive, that it has a history. Every person and location in that world feels lived in, despite the fact that almost everything there died in nuclear fire. Every house tells a story. That environmental storytelling works with the emergent stories to sear New Vegas into your mind as a series of memories. Take Malcolm Holmes, that bottlecap-obsessed resident of Obsidian’s post-apocalyptic wasteland - when you meet him, he tells you he has retired from the bottlecap collecting business. Yet, if you react to him tapping you on the shoulder by taking him out (you brute!), you will find six star bottlecaps on his corpse. He was lying to you, but you’d never know it if you didn’t kill him or pick his pocket. That knowledge doesn’t change anything - it simply adds flavour to the story of one minor character. Little things like that make NPCs feel like they have a past, that they harbour secrets, and that their sole purpose isn’t to sprint across a map in order to ruin your cutscene. In turn, it helps to sell the idea that the world is not reliant on you, that life continues when you are not around.

“One of the things about that game is it would have been a lot different if it was PC only,” Everts recalls of the world design. “We had a lot of plans early on. Like, ‘Here’s where the water is stored, here’s where the farms are, here’s where the government is centralised’. We had it all planned out - it wasn’t just a bunch of random stuff. Then we had the whole thing of how the factions interact with each other. Even ‘How does the water get here?’ Because that’s important - those are the things a lot of people don’t think about.

“We could have gone further with that. We had to simplify, so we had less stuff that would bog down the game engine. I was more happy with the DLC because by that time we knew what would work and what wouldn’t. It was also focused, laser sharp, so we could spend more time on it. The wasteland, I would have laid it out differently - it would have been more separate zones I think, put a big wall around the whole thing and you just see the big tower and it’s a bunch of little zones. We would have had fewer performance issues. We did break it up a bit, but from my point of view it was a performance-related game and we had to fix things.”

In fact, it was in making sure the game worked on console that led to Freeside and the suburbs around Vegas being broken up into its own zone. It just would not have run otherwise. Unfortunately, it is simply a fact of modern game creation that: developers go into a project with hundreds of ideas in their head, but have to scale things back in order to make it, you know, work. Additionally, some things might sound like a good idea, only to turn out awful when implemented. These typical design problems were exacerbated for New Vegas’s team because of the tight 18-month window they had to ship the game.

“If you choose to make one aspect of the game more complicated, then it helps to roll back on other stuff,” Sawyer explains. “For example, one thing that would’ve been smart of me to cut are disguises in New Vegas. Faction outfits, which were cool but very time consuming. In retrospect, they’re really cool, I really like them, but they’re buggy as hell and they took a long time. Any developer who is like ‘Hey, we’re going to do this thing in the game that’s very complicated and reactive’, the best way of managing the risk for that would be to look at other things that are potentially complicated and reduce the complexity of them. It’s triage.”

There is an old game developer saying that goes ‘a game is never finished, it just ships’, and that was certainly the case for New Vegas. So much so that Sawyer felt compelled to carry on working on it after the launch, using his personal time to build one of the game’s most popular mods, JSawyer's mod. Sawyer says the desire to build the mod, which adds a host of balance tweaks and cut content, came from personal taste. He played the first Fallout in college and ended up working at Black Isle just after Fallout 2 shipped, in the hope of creating a traditional sequel, hardcore difficulty and all. Of course, that never happened, and he did not get to touch the series until Bethesda approached Obsidian for New Vegas.

“We had enough to do during the project that I wasn’t wanting to make the team indulge my whims for personal taste,” Sawyer laughs. “There were also certain things technically, from a patching perspective, that were either technically impossible for us to do - due to how the DLCs and the base game interacted - or they were just prohibitively expensive, because patching on consoles was a costly process. So after everything was wrapped up and everything was done, I was like ‘Ah, you know what?’ I downloaded the game at home to see how it actually plays and just kind of tuned it the way I wanted to tune it, then there were some bugs we couldn’t fix for technical reasons. So I fixed them, cleaned things up, then fell into a bunch of other stuff, like there’s a bunch of unused, unique armour, so I started filling that stuff out. Tuning is a never-ending process, but in New Vegas there was a particular disconnect [with the] style of game overall because I had come into Black Isle wanting to make Fallout 3, which in my mind would have been a much more difficult game.”