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

Article Index

Chris Avellone has been instrumental in crafting many of our favorite role-playing games, with his most recent labour of love being Fallout: New Vegas and its four story-driven DLC packs. When Chris agreed to do a post-mortem interview about the game and its many add-ons, Thomas, Eric, Simone, and I all rounded up a bevy of questions and sent them off. The end result is an interview so massive that we had to split it into two parts - the first half was posted last week, while the second half is ready for your perusal below:

Both Old World Blues and Honest Hearts took on an open world framework, while Dead Money and Lonesome Road were much more structured experiences. Does that significantly alter storytelling, or the themes you explore? Do you find one easier than the other to tackle?

It depends on the theme. With Lonesome Road, Damnation Alley was the inspiration, so the linear feel was intentional. The level design complements this - the player is traveling to a specific destination, and we didn't want much to disrupt the forward momentum or sense of being on a journey. With Old World Blues, it was more open-world roaming at your leisure.

Neither one is particularly easier than the other, I'd argue, so we start with the feeling we want the player to have in the DLC and then use the level design and systems to heighten it.

Lonesome Road hits the player with major consequences to choices that the player never actually participated in prior to the DLC's beginning. Do you think this would have worked better if the player had actually partaken in the events that he or she is being held accountable for, even if only in a tutorial?

There were a lot of ways we could have structured the DLC, granted. We certainly did have the resources to represent the NCR and the West (DLC4 was limited to 3 voice actors), and while I wouldn't have done a tutorial that physically put the player in the past, there might have been other hooks we could have done with more resources. Still, I'm satisfied with what we did construct, and it hit the goals we set out to do.

You've mentioned Zelazny's Damnation Alley as a source of inspiration for Lonesome Road. That story took place decades after the apocalypse, and indeed Lonesome Road is the most recently apocalyptic area ever seen in a Fallout game. Was this intentional after the post-post-apocalyptic atmosphere of New Vegas? Is this a direction you've been wanting to take for some time?

My only intention was I wanted the player to feel like they were traveling the road to The End. The proper "The End" feel for any Fallout game lies in seeing the wreckage of the world before, all its architecture twisted and cracked and flooded with invisible fires, radiation, and seeing the grave of the world that was. Your road started here, it leads back there, and at the end, you get to see what your journey meant to someone else - and hopefully, decide what it means to you. There are countless ripples that stem from the Divide. Without it, you never would have found the Sierra Madre, encountered Christine, Elijah, and Ulysses, seen Big MT, and more. From one simple act, countless others were born.

Lastly, I wanted to nuke the Fallout world to reset things. NCR's getting a bit big, and it's making things too civilized. Lonesome Road was a way of resetting the culture clock.

Confirm once again, if you will, that the courier did not suffer from either partial or total amnesia.

The player does not have amnesia. The idea was that the package the player delivered was a standard fetch quest in New Vegas, one you might forget about - but the people you deliver it to don't. There are a 100+ quests in the Mojave... people would be hard-pressed to remember them all 3-5 years later, and the package that went to the Divide was one of them. Again, all we knew about the player is (1) he had once been a courier, (2) he had travelled in the West and the Long 15, (3) based on the start of FNV, it's true that the Courier could have delivered any manner of incredibly dangerous pieces of technology without understanding the forces they could unleash. What could be a simple delivery for you could spell the end of a town, community, or city - or reshape the boundaries of the wasteland.

At the conclusion of Lonesome Road, a lot of things in the courier's past are still kept pretty vague. Was this done to ensure that there wasn't too much history outside of the player's control? Would you say that Lonesome Road tells us more of the courier's story, or more of the story as told through Ulysses' idiosyncracies?

Ulysses does refer to what the player would have done to the Mojave if Benny hadn't intervened - in some respects, Benny's intervention frees the player from a certain ignorance they might have had with a seemingly-innocuous delivery quest to Vegas.

So in essence, Lonesome Road is a story of what could have happened if the player completed their journey, made the delivery, none the wiser for how that would affect the balance of power in Vegas and the Mojave.

Like you, many of us come from a PnP RPG background. When looking at Ulysses, we immediately think "GM's character", one of those heroes/anti-heroes the players can keep bumping into, that actually has agency unlike most other NPCs. Is that the idea?

Ulysses is a nemesis - a foil and a sounding board, yes. Also, for want of a better definition, he's designed to ego-stroke the player - he's clearly one of the legendary figures in the DLC, and the fact that he's so focused on your player character to the absence of almost everything else in the world is intended to make the player feel important, feel cool, and get the sense that they matter.

Many of the things that Ulysses says throughout the DLCs are intended to reinforce how capable the player is ("[Elijah's] Gone to the Sierra Madre. Someone tougher, stronger's going to kill him if the Madre doesn't." = Indirect compliment to you.) People on the forums got excited once they realized that someone was specifically looking for their player, and seeing a legendary figure consider their Courier important enough to follow to the ends of the earth makes the player's journey all the stronger, in my opinion.

Other than that, Ulysses is like any level 50 player character I would expect - he's been around, seen a lot, and can put a lot of the Fallout world in perspective, just like Elijah, Dr. Mobius, House, and Caesar. He's not my character, he's a character designed to make your player stronger, and be a challenging adversary to test yourself against (whether violent or not).