Brian Fargo Interview - Nostalgia and Innovation

While I personally dispute the notion that nostalgia is the main driving force behind people's enjoyment of older games, this interview with inXile's Brian Fargo offers some neat insights into inXile's current design philosophy that prompts the studio to “push the art form forward.” It uses Wasteland 2 and The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep as examples, while also mentioning Fargo's blockchain-fuelled digital storefront Robot Cache. An excerpt:

"We can't rely on nostalgia to sell," Fargo said. "And nostalgia is a two-edged sword. Because a lot of people's emotional attachment to the incredible experiences they had playing these games to begin with, were are at a moment in time that can never be recreated.

"It was like, 'I was in a dorm room with all my friends staying up all night and I didn't have a care in the world.' That feeling of playing that game? I could never recreate it, because maybe you got bills to pay, kids to feed, and you don't have that same light-heartedness."

As an example, Fargo said he had recently spoken with a fan who played one of his earlier games in a foreign language, with his grandmother at his side the entire time translating every part of the game for him.

"I can't recreate that. But when they think back, you're always worried they'll go, 'I don't think the new game's as good.' Well, you're not playing it with your grandmother. So there's that part of it you always have to be cognizant of. You can't reproduce that."

That acknowledgement can be seen in Fargo's approach to his latest revival, The Bard's Tale IV. While it's a follow-up to a trilogy of PC role-playing games he created for Electronic Arts in the '80s, Fargo said it's not trying to present a time capsule of what a fourth Bard's Tale game would have been.

"I jokingly call it Bard's Tale 20, because a true Bard's Tale IV would have looked very different in 1995. So what would have happened if Bard's Tale had kept going and going and going? This is what we'd have today. Because you don't want to literally come out with a product as if it were 1995. That's just not smart. So we tried to take the best parts of the essence of Bard's Tale, keep them, but give them a new perspective."

Fargo believes a truly faithful recreation of the original experiences could rely on nostalgia to carry it "for about two seconds" before players would get frustrated and fed up with it.

"There's a group of people that if I did a straight-up Bard's Tale that looked like it was from 1995, they'd love it," Fargo said. "But I would go out of business. So I need to make that core group happy. I'm going to give them their characters, their spells, give them a lot of the locations. We need to build out the world and make it deeper, give them all the stuff they enjoy, but also make it so that somebody's who's not heard of it can watch somebody play it on Twitch and go, 'That looks like a lot of fun. I don't know what The Bard's Tale is, but that looks good.'"