Chris Avellone on Fallout: New Vegas Interview

Codex of RPG Elucidation has published the first part of an interview with Chris Avellone on Fallout: New Vegas, in which the Obsidian co-founder and CCO talks about the design constraints and principles the development team of Fallout: New Vegas adhered to during development, with particular attention to the content cut during development. Here's an excerpt:

Some people would say that locations like New Vegas casinos and McCarran Airport were weak points of the design: they were too big and too empty with almost no quests. However, thinking about the way to improve the design of those locations, I, for one, could not come up with anything worthy enough to mention. What do you think about New Vegas casinos design and what is the way to create a good large location?

There's a few things you do with a seemingly large, empty location - take Fallout New Vegas: Old World Blues, which takes place inside a giant self-contained crater surrounded by pylons that shock you unconscious when you leave.* Okaaaaay, so you have this big bowl, you don't have much resources to create new models or new locations, so you have to sit down and examine the experience you can make.

Here's how you fill it up, in detail, especially when you have next to no resources to generate content:

Open your tool box and lay out the tools you do have. If you can't make new assets, scavenge assets and play around with them in new ways. Recognize that there is a wealth of props and geometry that has been created for F3, the F3 DLC, and for New Vegas itself. Examine each piece of content (and we did) as to how we could use it to make new adventure areas. Even things like file cabinets, silos, and even areas used in the main game can be placed, twisted, given a new context, and made into an interesting explorable space.

So this may seem obvious: Don't make large open spaces. A plain stretching off into infinity is the player's equivalent of hell. A big bowl is a big bowl. So instead, break it up, both visually and with sub-levels whenever possible. Use pipes, trees, stairs, fencing, buildings to break up the space and break up the encounters even a seemingly empty space bisected with props is more interesting on the eye than a stretch of open ground. And as a side note, occluding geometry (for example, solid fencing) helps with level design because it limits how many polygons are on screen at any one time. Breaking the player's line of sight with something interesting for them to process and navigate around rather is far preferable than seeing a stretch of open ground with nothing between them and a destination far, far in the distance.

Add system elements to empty space. Crafting elements, crafting benches, loot containers, locked doors, landmines, safes these are easy to place and give a wide range of system challenges for the player (you could make almost any stretch of ground or cul-de-sac in New Vegas interesting by putting a crafting plant/loot plant there). As an example, dropping a brand new crafting recipe in an area can suddenly spark the player to view the location's item placement differently and go scavenging for certain items for the new recipe he's found items he previously would have ignored.

Make spectrums of encounters as well fights are easy to place, for example, and it's surprisingly easy to give them variety in the engine with naming, stat adjustments, weapon switching (give them fire, give them rockets, and changing the name of an enemy can even help tell the story of a location), and by combining two enemy types in a new way (have a robot escort healing the bad guys you're fighting as it's carrying out its pre-war programming).

Aside from systems and encounters, you can also include navigation puzzles and exploration puzzles, hidden items, puzzles to navigate the environment, etc. I tend to call these "non-quests" that still drive the player to complete them without a journal entry. To explain, "formal" quests require a lot of time investment to special case, they usually require voice over, and there's simpler ways to communicate objectives and the Fallout equivalent of dungeon crawling without creating a whole town in a location. (Wait, I see smoke. from what looks like a camp on that ridge how the hell do I get up there?)

Lastly: Delete it or find a way to take that dead space and make it an non-traversable, cool vista (a lot of the vistas in Lonesome Road). If you really are just adding filler, you should just cut it, imo. A bigger game isn't a better game.

*Although the pylons do teleport you back to your new HQ, so they can be used as fast travel if you want, I requested that much. I didn't want them solely to be obstacles if you could make use of them.

Thanks, RPGWatch.