Tim Cain Retrospective Interview

RPG Codex continues its recent string of retrospective interviews, this time presenting a sit-down with legendary RPG designer Tim Cain. Cain, who is most well known for contributing to the original Fallout back at Black Isle Studios, and later moving on to found Troika, the ill-fated studio responsible for Arcanum and Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, took the time to discuss a wide variety of topics, and provided his characteristic insight. Everything from the rough edges around Troika's games line-up, to his thoughts on Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are put under the microscope.

Here's a snippet or two:

As Leonard Boyarsky put it in a past interview, "being original is risky." Do you believe originality, and the fact it did not sell, was one of the reasons Troika was not able to survive? If you had to list the most serious problems that haunted Troika and eventually led to its demise, what would they be?

In saying (being original is risky), I think Leonard was referring to the fact that publishers looked for proven hits, either in big mainstream titles or in sequels to popular products. I don't think Troika closed because we were trying to be too original. We closed because we were not getting contract offers for products we wanted to make, so we voluntarily shut down while we were still in the black, financially. We could lay off employees with severance packages and extend their insurance for a few months, rather than just shut down with no notice and kick everyone out.

So then the question is, why didn't we get any offers we liked? Especially since all of our games turned a profit? From the publishers point of view, our previous games had sold to a niche audience, so they were unwilling to fund us to make either a new IP or a large mainstream game based on a licensed IP because their numbers showed that the profit was too small. In other words, they could spend that money at other developers where their rate of return was much higher. It makes total sense from a business point of view, but it's still sad for Troika and its employees.


You claimed to enjoy Fallout 3, and I'm going to assume you also enjoyed Fallout: New Vegas. From a design standpoint, how would you compare Fallout 3 and New Vegas? What did New Vegas do differently from Fallout 3, in your view?

I did enjoy both Fallout 3 and New Vegas. I know that surprised some of my fans, who wanted me to hate the games and rail against their design choices (which I have repeatedly pointed out were different than the ones I would have made), but there is no arguing that more people enjoy the modern versions of the franchise than the older ones.

If I were to compare the two games, I would say that Fallout New Vegas felt like it captured the humor and style of the Fallout universe better than Fallout 3, but I have to hand it to the FO3 designers for developing VATS, a cool twist on called shots for a real-time game. I also loved the set decoration FO3. There was so much destruction, yet obviously everything had been meticulously hand-placed. So much story was told entirely through art. I ended up naming these little art vignettes and creating side stories in my head about what had happened. There was "The Suicide", a dead guy in a bathtub with a shotgun, and I figured he just couldn't handle life after the bombs. There was "Eternal Love", a couple of skeletons in a bed in a hotel room, forever embracing each other. There was "My Last Mistake", the corpse in the temporary one-man fallout shelter which obviously didn't do its job of keeping out the heat and radiation. My favorite was "Desperate Gamble", where I found a feral ghoul in an underground shelter filled with lab supplies and lots of drugs... except for Rad-X. I imagined that a scientist found himself irradiated and desperately tried to synthesize some Rad-X to cure himself before he succumbed, but he was too slow. I did notice that whatever was left of his mind sure did seem to enjoy toilet plungers.
The interview is quite lengthy, so grab a drink if you plan on reading the full article.