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To celebrate 15 years in business, the editors of the UK-based magazine GamesTM decided to do what they do best and talk about video games. With the one and only Chris Avellone no less. Over the course of the interview, the veteran developer opens up about his proudest achievements, his thoughts on team milestones, and his respect for competent producers. The interview also goes over the benefits of freelancing, the emergence of crowdfunding and VR, and the challenges the games industry may be facing in the near future. A few sample paragraphs:
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY HAS BEEN YOUR PROUDEST PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT SINCE 2002?
I’ve enjoyed all the games I’ve worked on for different reasons, but was (and am) grateful for the chance to work with a number of game designers I admire both in and out of the freelancing world.
Also, the chance to be able to contribute (sometimes more than once) to some of my favorite franchises: Fallout (both Van Buren continuing work and New Vegas), Wasteland 2 and 3, System Shock, and others yet to be announced and even franchises I didn’t even know I would enjoy (Star Wars). The last one was a big surprise, and taught me to be more open to new franchise opportunities – maybe there’s a nice mix of your design aesthetic and the franchise to create something interesting where the two intersect.
ARE THERE ANY TEAM MILESTONES THAT YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED THAT YOU’RE EQUALLY PROUD OF?
May be an abrupt answer, but no, not really, but it’s more of a perspective failing on my part. I’m proud of products, certain design elements, or even new pipelines, but sometimes meeting a milestone isn’t always the same thing as being happy with the result.
It’s not unusual – game developers tend to see the flaws and the “what could have been” in their work. For things decided above you or are out of your hands doesn’t help because then you ask, “could I have pushed harder and/or stepped on toes if need be?” And you really never stop asking yourself those questions.
In the past, we’ve labored under many milestones that didn’t quite have the full results we wanted, but I’m not sure the added time or resources would have helped, it’s more a flaw of the model and how much control you have over your own time and resources – and sometimes what seems right for a milestone decided 9 months ago isn’t true after 9 months – game development can change too much, especially internally. If you add external factors to that (a product due date moves up), then it gets even more complicated, and it becomes a game of catch-up.
For example, (quoting an Obsidian mktg rep here, Eric Neigher and the CEO concerning Metacritic), it’s been said Fallout: New Vegas was overscoped and then had to be continually cut back. I don’t know if I agree with that 100%, but there’s truth in that there were certainly systems, minigames, and side content that could have been easily dropped without an impact on quality or player expectation. I believe if this had been done, it would have given additional time to address fixes that might have achieved in 85% in Metacritic review scores, get the Metacritic contract bonus (although the rise in quality is more important), and that would have helped prevent the subsequent layoffs.
The end result upon release, however (again, quoting) is the title is described as “buggy as hell,” which can do tremendous damage to a company’s reputation… especially when you have to ask customers not to return the product until the patch is up. When those things happen, it’s hard to pat yourself on the back and say, “well, at least it was done on time.”
Also, meeting milestones in that fashion don’t really help the product – my experience is even if you make the date, not only does it damage your company’s reputation, it also means you’ll have to spend more and more time after the milestone is over fixing the issues that didn’t get properly addressed in the last milestone. Most of the New Vegas core team and DLC team had to spend many months after the core game’s release fixing the core game’s issues and performance problems, and that detracted from the other projects in development and the DLC work as well – although at the time, that was absolutely the right decision, those fixes had to be done. Overall, the takeaways are – meeting the milestone is one thing, but is there any features we may need to drop or remove now to prevent trouble later on? While some people may complain about a smaller game or less features, not many complain about quality of the remaining features – and if they aren’t features the public was even expecting in the first place, sometimes that’s an easy decision – leave that material for DLC or a sequel.
I’ve been more proud of milestone where we realized a feature is better off left on the shelf (ex: vehicle combat/chase scenes in Alpha Protocol) and then you save time in the long run by not even trying to squeeze it in.
WHAT WAS THE BEST GAME YOU PLAYED THAT WAS RELEASED IN THE LAST 15 YEARS AND WHY?
I’ll make the caveat I don’t play nearly the number of games I should, but Witcher III and the expansions were incredible – CD Projekt did an amazing job on it.