E3 2010: Feargus Urquhart Interview

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Almost exactly twenty-four hours after I chatted with Chris Avellone at Bethesda's E3 booth, I had the opportunity to sit down with Feargus Urquhart in between demonstrations of Dungeon Siege III at the Square Enix booth. To my surprise, the Obsidian Entertainment CEO was willing to answer just about everything I asked about - including their post-release plans for Alpha Protocol, the project they're working on in addition to New Vegas and DS3, what they might end up doing with the Icewind Dale assets they purchased years ago, and much more. Enjoy:


GB: So yesterday I checked out Fallout: New Vegas. That was the first time I've had some hands-on time with it, so it was a great way to kick off the show.

Feargus: Yeah, it's looking good. I'm hopeful. We get all weird because we worry whether it is what it needs to be. Is it good? Is it this, is it that? I think what's really lucky with that is that we're pretty much just fixing things right now. Which means that the whole team is fixing and making the game better right now instead of still trying to get stuff in. Which should give us a good amount of time to really make it cool.


GB: So at this point you're content complete?

Feargus: Yeah, exactly. Well, the VO isn't in yet because it's still getting recorded. There's a ridiculous number - 63,000 lines of it, which I think is the current count.


GB: So how did the collaboration with you and Bethesda come about? Did you approach them, or did they approach you?

Feargus: We've been talking to them for probably about five years or so. I've known Todd Vaughn, who is the V.P. for development at Bethesda because he used to be the editor in chief for one of the gaming magazines back in the late '˜90s. And he called me probably in about 2004 about doing games for them, and nothing synced up from what they were looking for and when we had free teams. But good comes out of bad sometimes, which is what happened with Fallout New Vegas, and we had a team available since another product we were working on was cancelled.

So we had a team, and they were looking to do something with Fallout and so it all worked out.



GB: Did you ever try to convince them that you should do an isometric turn-based Fallout after Fallout 3?

Feargus: [laughter]


GB: Was there ever a point where you said, "Can we mix it up a little bit?" Or did they request that you keep things in first-person perspective and similar in vein to their Fallout 3?

Feargus: Right. I think in this case, it was about doing a Fallout game within their Fallout universe. And their Fallout universe is first-person or third-person if you're playing that way. And so there was never really any kind of talk about doing something different.

I'm always a big believer that you can create great sequels within a technology base or world base with a role-playing game. Because just like going from Baldur's Gate to Baldur's Gate II. It's a lot of the same assets, technology and design involved. What really matters is the story and the quests. And so it just seemed to make sense to do Fallout: New Vegas based on Fallout 3.



GB: So moving on to Alpha Protocol, what are your feelings on its reception? We really liked it at GameBanshee, thanks to its strong story, excellent dialogue system, reputation system, item upgrades and modifications, and the types of elements that we love about RPGs. Do you think that maybe the action-loving crowd sort of missed the point of the game, simply because they went into it thinking it was going to be "just another third-person shooter"?

Feargus: Yeah, Alpha Protocol delivered on the character story, and all the RPG stuff. And, everyone I've talked to and all the reviews that I've read, unless someone was being completely dismissive for whatever reason they felt that way. If they were being dismissive, then we've got the sense that it was just fun to write their review that way and make fun of the game. But, I'm not going to name names, but... [laughter] ultimately, I think we hit it on the RPG stuff. The action elements were always a concern to a point, because it's something we had not done as a studio before. And, It was really action-focused in most areas. I think in some ways we maybe got into a "no man's land". It was trying to be too much an action game or it was trying to be so much of an action game that we didn't hit all the features an action gamers' wants to see at the level they want to see them.

I'll use cover as an example. Let's say we didn't have cover. There probably would have been some reviews that remarked about us not having cover, but then we wouldn't have had a cover system that frustrated some people. You see what I mean? Maybe action gamers would have liked it less because there's no cover system, but then we wouldn't necessarily have been showing a flaw in the game if the cover system wasn't there.

In some ways we're pretty aware of what our game is good at, what it's bad at, and things like that. I think what we also feel is that there's more we could have done, but it just wasn't in the cards.



GB: It's frustrating for me to read some of what's said in the reviews because nobody talks about the brilliance that can be found in some of the Moscow missions, or the character interactions, or how every major character in the game can be spared or killed, or the depth of the perk system. It's frustrating to me - it's got to be doubly frustrating for you.

Feargus: I was talking to a reviewer that came up to me yesterday and he told me the same thing. He was saying, "I like the game. I really like the game." He acknowledged there are flaws and things like that, but he was saying to me without saying to me that a lot of the reviews he felt were too shallow. They didn't take into account what the game did well.

But what I thought was very interesting about the reviews is that one review will completely hammer us on something and then we have another review that loves that system. Like the mini-games. Every modern game has mini-games, you know. And what's cool about our mini-games is that you don't necessarily have to do them. There are ways to get past them.

And then the RPG system also lets you upgrade skills to make them easier. One reviewer will have totally got that and explained it, and even pointed out that you don't need to do them. And then another review basically said it was the dumbest thing ever. They hate them. They're stupid. Why would anyone even do them. It's lame. With no other context whatsoever.



GB: Yeah, at the very least you can use EMPs to bypass some of the tougher ones. Some reviewers didn't seem to even explore those mechanics.

Feargus: Which is so odd, because the tutorial explains that to you. But it's interesting. I've never had a game which has received a couple of nineties and then I have a twenty. It's so bizarre.


GB: So have you been talking with Sega about doing a patch? Is there a chance of that?

Feargus: Yes. We talked with them about doing patches, and it's sort of in their court right now about how they want to handle it. We wanted to release something fairly quickly, based upon feedback and stuff that we were getting. I think they want to take a different approach they wanted to gather more information over a longer period of time and provide a patch then. So that's kind of where we're figuring it out right now.


GB: How about DLC? Is that an option?

Feargus: I don't know if they're talking about that at all yet and we're not working on any right now. We'd love to, but we're not.
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