The Making of Fallout: New Vegas

The media coverage of Obsidian Entertainment and its titles continues with a pair of lengthy articles dedicated to Fallout: New Vegas. First, we have this Eurogamer interview with Feargus Urquhart and Chris Parker where we learn that the game was initially pitched as Fallout: Sin City, and that it was supposed to have playable ghouls and Super Mutants. An excerpt:

Did you know Obsidian originally wanted three playable races in Fallout: New Vegas? This is the part literally crossed out - struck through and coloured red - on the Fallout 3.5 treatment Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart showed me at the studio.

"Originally we had this idea where the player would be able to choose between three races: human, ghoul and super mutant," he said. "It was just the engine...

"It really had to do with how all the weapons and armour worked. Trying to have them all work with ghouls and super mutants was just going to be - [Bethesda] felt like it was going to be a nightmare. It wasn't like they said no but it was a very strongly worded, 'We would really suggest that you not try to do that.'"

Obsidian and Bethesda began talking about Fallout in 2008/2009, when Aliens: Crucible and Alpha Protocol were both still alive. Aliens: Crucible would soon get the chop. "[Bethesda] was still pitching it internally so it was literally just an idea at the time," said Urquhart. "We knew from the start it was not going to be Fallout 4 - that was the internal team's."

"It was always intended to be essentially a gigantic expansion," added Obsidian co-owner Chris Parker.

"It was meant to be not the sequel," continued Urquhart. "It was meant to be an offshoot project. But we were actually worried about that, about people thinking of it as just a big expansion." Obsidian considered it to be more like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City or GTA: San Andreas, which were Grand Theft Auto 3 offshoots but full games in their own right.

Understandably, given the studio's deep roots in Black Isle - the original creator of Fallout - excitement for the project was sky high. "I didn't leave Black Isle because I wanted to make another Fallout," said Urquhart. "I love making Fallout. I was lead designer on Fallout 2. I'm not in any way instrumental in the creation of the SPECIAL system but I absolutely participated in the creation of it."

As Bethesda Game Studios had dibs on the East Coast of America, Obsidian took the West. "Someone threw up New Reno as one of the crazy things we did and then we saw Vegas and," shrugged Urquhart, "we just went with it. From there it was like the '50s had the Rat Pack, then someone threw out the idea there was the scene in Goodfellas where you get taken out into the desert and whacked and thrown into a grave, and it it all kind of turned that way."

Bethesda didn't need much convincing, given the history of Obsidian/Black Isle, so only a short proposal was written. "We put together a very short pitch, probably three pages," he said. "The first time we pitched it we pitched it as Fallout: Sin City. Very quickly it got changed to Fallout: Vegas and then became Fallout: New Vegas."

And then, this 2 page USgamer article, sprinkled with quotes from Feargus Urquhart, Josh Sawyer, and Chris Avellone, takes a close look at how New Vegas came to be, Obsidian's approach to designing an open world game and its various factions, and all the characters and settlements that got cut from the game during development, which ultimately led to Caesar's Legion being way less nuanced than originally intended. A few paragraphs to get you started:

The NCR is a good example of what Fallout: New Vegas is aiming for. While they initially come off as the "good guys" in their fight to restore order and introduce democracy to the Wasteland, they are bogged down by beaurocracy and heavily influenced by psychos like Colonel Moore—a career soldier who is willing to do everything and anything to seize the Wasteland on behalf of the NCR.

Avellone doesn't necessarily consider the NCR sympathetic, but feels their qualities have some value in the world of Fallout. In his opinion, the companion Rose of Sharon Cassidy pretty much sums up NCR's bad side. Caught in the Caravan Wars precipitated by the NCR's expansion, Rose of Sharon Cassidy is a hard luck merchant who is perpetually bogged down in NCR paperwork.

"In many respects, NCR isn’t better than the Legion, and while the Legion has plenty of bad qualities, it's not cartoon bad: it's got some elements about it that NCR could stand to pay attention to," Avellone says. "I wanted the player to at least consider an alternate perspective even if they didn’t agree with it (it makes an antagonist more well-rounded)."

That brings us to the Legions. Ostensibly the villains, Caesar's Legion combines Mad Max with Roman cosplay, adding in a Klingon-like sense of honor for good measure. Originally conceived as a slaver faction for Black Isle's Van Buren, Sawyer took them and made them more of a Roman military society, using Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now as an inspiration.

"I think that [Chris Avellone] and I had talked at various points about really liking these kind of Colonel Kurtz characters, where they wind up in these circumstances where they just sort of descend into this really savage, cargo cult leadership role," Sawyer says. "And so this idea of a follower of the Apocalypse going off into the wilderness, and emerging on the other side as this sort of God king of the tribes of the wasteland? I thought that was a really cool idea."

Your first encounter with the Legion is most likely to take place in the burned out husk of Nipton, where the town's populace has been decapitated, enslaved, or simply crucified.

You're meant to be horrified, but this is where New Vegas begins to toy with your expectations a little bit, Urquhart says. "What I say is, 'I like turns.' I like it when you get exposed to something, and then over time, you start to question your first impression."

As it turns out, Nipton was a town of thieves that trapped innocent passersby, and the Legion was meting out their form of medieval justice. Later, if you decide to meet with Caesar, you find a charismatic and often brilliant man with his own vision for reforming the Mojave Wasteland.

Caesar, interestingly, has neutral karma, which Sawyer says isn't an oversight on his part. "My reasoning is that his morality is so alien to everyone else, that it's just hard to even put it on the same axis as other people, because he's just thinking about it in a completely different way."

Sawyer is not inclined to judge whether you're supposed to sympathize with Caesar or not. His only goal is to offer rich, multi-dimensional factions with their own virtues and flaws, and let players choose for themselves. One of the chief pleasures of Fallout: New Vegas—and perhaps one of the biggest reasons that it has endured to this point-is moving between the main factions, working with and against them, and eventually choosing who you want to side with for the Battle of the Hoover Dam... if you side with anyone at all.

"A very common thing that I see is people who are like, 'I support the NCR,' and then they get to Colonel Moore and a few other people, and they're like, 'What about Mr. House?,'" Sawyer says. "And then they get to Mr. House, and then he's destroying The Brotherhood, and they're like, 'Independent New Vegas, it is!' So the mechanics needed to be robust enough to handle this swaying of the player, and we needed to have mechanics in there that allow you to remove negative reputation."


Obsidian ultimately managed to push Fallout: New Vegas out in 18 months. It fit much of Obsidian's original vision; but as with every triple-A game, cuts had to be made.

The biggest casualty, Sawyer says, were the settlements east of the Colorado River. This area was meant to contain three Legion locations filled with quests and content, and would have ultimately had a very different vibe from New Vegas proper.

Sawyer regrets the cuts, "I think a lot of people have said, in addition to the Legion being just repulsive, they didn't have content to redeem them as a faction. Some people talk to Caesar, and they're like, 'Caesar is interesting. Crazy, but interesting. But the faction itself just seems like misogynistic psychos.' And there's nothing to really change that perception.