Portal:Van Buren

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Gehennae are horrible monsters found only in Burham Springs. They are slightly larger than humans and appear to be made of black tar and shiny oil. Vaguely human-shaped, their features are hard to analyze through the flames that constantly sputter across their bodies. Their eyes are bulbous glowing orange spheres that seem stuck into their ovoid heads.

The Gehennae are dangerous both for their fiery melee attacks and the toxic fumes they breathe onto enemies. When they die, they collapse into a disgusting pile of smoking black goo. Gehennae are fairly mindless monsters, usually attacking anyone they see who moves too quickly.

About Van Buren
Van Buren was the project name Black Isle Studios assigned to their version of Fallout 3. In 2003, the game was canceled and the Black Isle employees were laid off.

The game would have taken place in the year 2253 in the American Southwest. The Prisoner, the player character, awakens in a prison cell. Suddenly the floor rocks violently from an explosion and the player is knocked unconscious. When they awaken, they find their cell door open and a hole in the wall leading outside. Leaving the prison, the character is under attack by some unknown assailant. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, the player flees into the night to explore this new world.

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21 January 2014 by Veryblackraven (talk)
Chris Avellone 2009.jpg

RPGamer's Johnathan Stringer interviews Chris Avellone about his career and what games he would love to make. Naturally, a large part of the interview on Fallout series: Van Buren (and the respective PnP game), Fallout 3, and Fallout: New Vegas.

JS: Changing gears to the Fallout series, you were working on Van Buren which was to become Fallout 3.

CA: Ah yes, good ol' Van Buren!

JS: Yes, there is not really a lot known about this game, how far along were you in development?

CA: Well, I should start off by saying Van Buren went through two stages. One was a very long pre-production period where I was basically the only one working on it for about three to three and a half years. Then Baldur's Gate III was cancelled at Interplay, and the entire Baldur's Gate III team moved on to Van Buren. A few months later, I left Interplay, and Josh Sawyer took over the second iteration of Van Buren. So, for the first part of Van Buren, I was doing area design, pen & paper testing, and checking out mechanics like trying to figure out how ghouls would work as a player character race and super mutants and such. So yeah, there were a lot of mechanics development, a lot of storyline development, and area development. But in terms of actual gameplay aspect, I believe that the vertical slice/demo done proving out some of the basic navigation mechanics were as far as it went, and there were a lot of area design documents. But Van Buren hadn't gone much beyond that and would probably be more of a question for Josh.

JS: Van Buren looked to have an isometric view and gameplay style as was in the first two Fallouts, were you bitter at all about how that plan was cancelled and eventually turned into a 1st or 3rd person shooter RPG? And, though it was well received, do you think the series should have stayed in that same isometric view style?

CA: I am not bitter at all. Actually, Fallout 3 wasn't ever the reason Van Buren was cancelled. Van Buren was cancelled because management didn't feel it was a viable title compared to console titles, and Van Buren was going along the lines of just being a PC only title. Which, you know, had been the case for quite some time before they decided to cancel it. So, I am a little upset they reached that decision somewhat late, but my disappointment is geared towards Interplay's decision and not anything related to future Fallout installments.

I do think Bethesda had a huge challenge with Fallout 3 because they had to remind people what Fallout was, and they had to reintroduce people to the world, which I thought they did a really great job with it. I think, for example, you growing up as a vault dweller, and how they handled that, was a good introduction to the world. I liked their open world mechanics as I think exploration is a big part of the Fallout universe and Fallout 3 did a really great job of doing that. So yeah, I played Fallout 3 and really enjoyed it a lot, and I played the DLCs and enjoyed those, and am really happy to see where they take Fallout in the future.

JS: Well you must have liked Fallout 3 as you worked on the follow up Fallout: New Vegas. Were there some elements of Van Buren that found their way into New Vegas?

CA: Yes! There were so many that crept in. And oddly enough, a lot of it came out of the pen & paper sessions that we were running at Interplay. A lot of the personal conflicts the player characters were having in those sessions that I was game mastering actually ended up as plot lines in New Vegas. Like, the whole idea of the Stealth Boy technology can drive super-mutants and nightkin insane was something we had running in the pen & paper campaign. The Big Empty that we had for Oldworld Blues, that was also a part of Van Buren, although it was more like a military bootcamp in that version. We had the Hoover Dam, and it was set up like this whole floating city that had been built around the dam on one side, and that was moved into New Vegas, although it evolved into a different fashion. We just had a whole bunch of stuff from Van Buren that we brought over into New Vegas, though it just ended up changing design-wise over time, and evolving into cooler and better things.

Source: RPGamer via RPGWatch

21 March 2013 by Veryblackraven (talk)
Chris Avellone 2009.jpg

Aggrogamer posted an interview with Chris Avellone, mostly about the old days in Black Isle studios and old games like Fallout, Planescape: Torment and Van Buren.

Aggrogamer: After Interplay was acquired by Titus, Fargo leaving and Black Isle was shuttered due to financial troubles, what inspired you and your team to start a new studio rather than joining an existing already successful studio like BioWare? Also how did your team respond to this, did it take some convincing? Did any disagree and go to competitors?

Chris Avellone: "Independence" is the best answer. We were still local, we knew the kinds of games we wanted to do, and we wanted a chance to prove it. I doubt we all could have gotten jobs at BioWare (if any of us could've), and we'd always imagined Black Isle as a separate entity in any event — Feargus worked very hard to shield us from all the troubles taking place there in the last few years with Titus, although he was powerless to prevent what happened with Baldur's Gate 3 and he departed several months before Van Buren (Fallout 3) got canceled as well.

We didn't ask anyone to join us, they simply volunteered — and a lot of them volunteered. Speaking for myself, the moment Feargus walked into my office and said he had resigned, my response was "when do I quit?" That was true for a lot of people — Feargus, much like Fargo, had earned a lot of respect over the years, and the current company climate wasn't such that people were willing to remain without being able to work for those same bosses.


I loved working at Black Isle, I loved the Infinity Engine games (even with the increasing pressure to do them faster and faster), and I had put a lot of years into crafting an experience for Fallout 3. Still, after what happened with Baldur's Gate 3, it no longer seemed reasonable to expect that that project would be allowed to be carried to completion, and sure enough, it wasn't.


AG: As far as Fallout 3 (Van Buren) goes is there any chance the files will ever see the light of day like KOTOR2 or HL2 on Dreamcast; or even a legit release from Bethesda down the line someday?


CA: I don't believe those files will ever see the light of day, but I don't know. And it's not up to me anyway. Fallout belongs to Bethesda, I doubt they'd dig through those archives or if they even have all the files in order to share them with the public, and I doubt they'd even want to (I don't see what benefit it would be for them). I do know that a lot of Van Buren docs have ended up on the internet and from what I've seen; they're accurate from what I remember.

I do not believe that we'd ever see the Van Buren game made, which is fine. After all, a lot of the Van Buren stuff ended up mutating and finding a home in New Vegas in any event, so it did gain new life, even if it wasn't exactly the same as it was portrayed in Van Buren (things that showed up include: Hoover Dam, the brain-damaged Nightkin, which originated in one of our pen and paper campaigns at Interplay, Caesar's Legion, the Big Empty in Old World Blues). Also, there's nothing to say that some of the concepts (rival party, Prisoner's Dilemma) couldn't end up in some other game down the line. KOTOR 2 was different because the legacy info was still in the actual game and could be unearthed (we didn't strip those out, and while it wasn't the feeling of everyone at the studio, I'm glad we didn't strip them out).


AG: You and your team got to revisit Fallout again with New Vegas and it's add-ons, was this a something you and your team had to think about or was it just an instant yes?

Would you guys do another Fallout and do you think BethSoft would ever do an alternating dev cycle a-la Activision with Treyarch and IW doing CoD?

CA: Aside from getting the contract squared away, I believe everyone on at the studio was a "yes" on this. Fallout's one of the best RPG franchises to work on, and it was one we didn't think we'd get a chance to return to, and then… New Vegas came along.

We'd love to work on another Fallout, although that would depend on Bethesda. We certainly enjoyed working with them on New Vegas and we still have a lot of cool ideas and adventures we'd love to do for the Fallout universe.

Source: AggroGamer via rpg codex

9 July 2012 by GhostAvatar (talk)
Beyond boulder dome.jpg

Ever wanted to play more than the Van Buren tech demo? Well a team of modders have got together to create a Van Buren inspired mod for Fallout: New Vegas.

The mod has now been released as a beta version, and can be downloaded from [1]

24 June 2011 by Willooi (talk)

As part of an ongoing personal blog project of mine, Chris Avellone, still busy with Fallout: New Vegas DLC production, was kind enough to take some time out to discuss his role at Obsidian and in F:NV, his background, character design, as well as the work that goes into RPG creation.

Part 1 of the whole interview can be found either here or on Gamasutra.

Here's a snippet:

[What he's up to at the moment]

Still working hard here at Obsidian, wrapping up the last bits of Fallout New Vegas DLC, Lonesome Road. We had the last narrative tasks and voice-acting session last week (Note: end of May), it went well, and now it's a matter of doing more run-throughs of DLC4 to get a feel for the pacing and polish what we can. It's been a long road from New Vegas to the end of the DLCs, and now when I go home, I'm not sure what to do with myself - on NV and the DLCs, it was easy, I just didn't go home.

[His favourite writing or design achievements in his career]

I like the influence system (although not its first iteration in KOTOR II) as a way of making players pay more attention to a companion's philosophy and outlook rather than just Karma, although I prefer the individual NPC influence meters in Alpha Protocol as a more realistic and true-to-the-world feel for how others judge you based on your actions, not some internal player character moral barometer.

As for other experiments: The idea of disparate personalities being forced to cooperate under pressure when they normally would kill each other is something I've always liked. We used this in Fallout New Vegas, Dead Money, and it was an experiment I wanted to try ever since the Planescape days (although in Planescape, the idea would be that a group of hated enemies all had tattoos that prevented them from harming each other and straying too far from each other, and they had to cooperate to escape... sort of like the movie, Cube). Since Planescape wasn't an option, I switched it to a collar in Dead Money and went from there.

As far as characters, I've loved all the characters I've written for different reasons. I loved writing Rose of Sharon Cassidy (FNV, although Rachel Roswell voice-acted her and took her to a new level), Dean Domino and Christine from Dead Money (who shows up in more than one of the Fallout DLCs). For Christine, it was fun to figure out how to "write" a mute character, and the fact she switches voices over the DLCs is kind of interesting as well. I also have a lot of love for Ulysses in Fallout, only because I like the idea of someone hunting my player for reasons of his own, and then hearing the reasons why... and realizing how important even the smallest of my actions are for the people of the wasteland - living or dead.

[On the importance of fleshing out character creation via a pen & paper format]

It's extremely important because it gives you immediate feedback from your players as to how they perceive the character you've made - is the character valuable? A threat? A worthy adversary? And it's quick to judge why they're lacking based on player comments, expression, and grumbles/excitement.

On the reverse end, it also let me see what character builds from a gamemaster standpoint the game needs to account for. In the Fallout pen-and-paper games, we had to account for doctor/medical specialists, combat monsters, sharpshooters, scientists, Nightkin, ghoul mechanics, pacifistic thieves, and more... and all of them had to be covered in each adventure with a role to play and an important contribution to make in the scenario. It was a good test as a gamemaster to stay true to Fallout to make sure all the character builds were being covered and felt valuable in the gameplay context.

[On writing characters]

Sure ...Cassidy is a bigot... at first. When the Chosen One confront[s] him on it in his dialogue, he apologizes, backs off, and when you ask him about it again, he does a change now that he knows you and respects you, so you have to tip your hat to the man's willingness to change based on what life's shown him. And it's even better because you're the one who caused him to re-evaluate his perspective, so from a player standpoint, that's a double win.

I've never despised any character I've written - there's usually always something about them that I find respectable. The Legate's pragmatic in Fallout New Vegas and his violent appetites border on poetry which I like - even Leland from Alpha Protocol, there's pragmatic things I respect about his approach to the world climate and I call it out during the game's narrative - and he calls it out if Thorton (the player) shows the same attitudes in carrying out his missions.

[The Courier's clean slate design, and what will become of him/her...]

I feel you should let the player write their own history. When we set up Lonesome Road, we only knew 3-4 things for certain about the player character, and in my opinion, that’s enough to build an epic adventure around. More on that to come...or it’ll come to the player, one way or the other.
Source: Gamasutra

9 December 2010 by Ausir (talk)

Here's another roundup of developer posts from Bethesda forum, Something Awful forum and J.E. Sawyer's Formspring. Most are by Sawyer himself, but there's also a couple from Matt Grandstaff about patch status:

The patch and list of fixes:

As soon as the update is released (I don't have an exact ETA), we'll have details ready that cover what it fixes. When I have more to share, I'll let you guys know.
Matt Grandstaff

When will the patch be out?

To update, the patch/game update for PlayStation 3 could be going up as early as Midnight GMT tonight for Europe. When we have more details on North America, we'll let you know.

PC update could be up on Steam as early as tomorrow.

For players on Xbox 360, we should have more details soon. Right now, it's looking like next week. If we get updated details, we'll let you know.
Matt Grandstaff

And here are the ones by Josh himself:

Van Buren:

If you had the opportunity to actually make Van Buren, disregarding the public purely how you'd like to play it , would you opt for the original top down gameplay, something along the lines of New Vegas or another to best suit the game you wanted to make? Van Buren was conceived as a top-down 3D game and that's how I would personally like to play it.

Return to Sender:

Who had the brilliant idea of making 'Return to Sender' a quest with oh-so-many endings and incredibly brilliant writing an incredibly tedious and incredibly long FETCH QUEST? And what was his/her reasoning? I did. The ranger stations are located around interesting areas, so the primary gameplay enjoyment was intended to be derived from the exploration required to reach them. If you've already discovered all ranger stations and done everything around them (not likely), that's a problem. But then again, if you've already discovered the stations, you can fast travel to them.

Unstoppable characters vs. going by the book:

Do you agree with the sentiment that giving players the ability to create incredibly powerful, nigh unstoppable characters (MoTB) is less important than staying true to rulesets and rulebooks? (DnD)

I don't think either is especially virtuous. Rules exist to give the player a framework for playing the game. The goal is for the game to be fun. For most people, being unstoppable gets boring pretty quickly. RPGs often allow people to eventually reach that point, especially if min-maxing, but if it's near the end of the game, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

If a min-maxed character is capable of taking out end game opponents and challenges with ease, it's probably still a challenge for the non-min-maxer. As long as people are enjoying the game and feel rewarded for the character choices, I think it's fine.

Also, a lot of licensed rulesets are flawed or even outright terrible in their original forms. Staying slavishly devoted to an already bad ruleset when it gets translated into a completely different medium is a bad idea.


What are your thoughts on players "min-maxing" and using all kinds of tricks and maybe even exploits to create more or less game-breaking characters in RPG's? That's part of the game. It's the system designers' job to make that rewarding without resulting in severe imbalances between the min-maxers and more casual players. Completely removing the ability to min-max (or the power of min-maxing, which amounts to the same thing) can lead to the player's choices feeling unimportant, which I think is bad in games in general and especially in RPGs.

Gameplay vs. C&C:

What is more important in an RPG: real choices with real consequences, or engaging, fun gameplay? Engaging, fun game play should be the bare minimum expected in any game. If you're making an RPG, it should have that AND the ability to define/express a character's personality in a way that significantly changes the development of the story.

Explosives vs Lockpick:

You said that it would be hard to balance Explosives with Lockpick if you could blow up locks with Exlposives. Wouldn't explosives breaking stealth and having a high chance of destroying the contents of containers be enough for Lockpick to stay viable? This assumes you care about being detected. If this is the case, you probably wouldn't have specialized in a weapon group that, by its very nature, is extremely noisy. Also, "chance" for a stand-alone randomized check effectively leads to save-scumming and isn't a viable solution in my opinion.


whos the homo that insisted on being so heavy handed with the gay dialogue and references in the game? Alarm at the presence of homosexual dialogue topics is pretty interesting considering the majority of them only appear if you voluntarily take a perk that identifies your character as homosexual.

Confirmed Bachelor:

Confirmed Bachelor is considered a homosexual perk? Neither the name, the art nor the description gave any indication of that. Confirmed Bachelor is a euphemism for a gay man. The icon art shows Vault Boy giving a massage to a naked Vault Boy with a heart floating over his head. I'm amazed that people look at that and sincerely come away thinking, "Hey, looks like a couple of bros just having a good time and giving a friendly massage."

Who wrote Caesar and the Legate?

Caesar's divinity:

Do you think it's plausible that, even if his people are tribals, Caesar would have been able to keep them oblivious of the fact that he's just copying ancient Rome and not divinely inspired? Plenty of leaders have convinced thousands, if not millions, of people over history that they are, if not living gods, divinely chosen or appointed. There's nothing special about the people of the future.

Who wrote Boone and his quest?

Eric Fenstermaker wrote Boone's dialogue and implemented his companion quest.

Energy weapons:

Are you prepared to admit that you and the rest of the team behind New Vegas made a massive mistake in terms of the damage that energy weapons do? No, because some Energy Weapons do great damage. A lot of them don't do enough -- most importantly, the ones at the low end of the spectrum -- and that is fixed in the upcoming patch.

Companion leveling fixes:

The fix is to make everyone use leveled skills properly, so while Boone can eventually max out Guns, he won't start out with a 117 (for real) at fifth level. This also means that characters like Arcade can hit something larger than the broad side of a barn with appropriate weapons.
Veronica had a different problem, which is that she was set to not level with the player, but was always at 10th level. This means she started out very strong compared to most players (typically) but would eventually suffer in the late game when she had 10th level hit points compared to the player.

Missing DLC message:

The REPCONN Test Site "missing DLC" problem was caused by pre-placed ghouls falling out of the world (physics-wise) and having their invalid locations saved. When you try to load the save game, Havok doesn't know what to do with the invalid locations so it rejects them.

What repairs what with Jury Rigging?

It is by weapon skill (Guns, Energy Weapons, etc.) and animation stance within skill (2h automatic, 2h rifle, 1h pistol, etc.). That's it.

Retexture mods:

Arenovalis' retextures are awesome but the way some of you dudes are talking it's like F:NV's default weapons were modeled and textured by insane morons. I think our primary weapon artist, Mitch Ahlswede, did a great job, especially considering some of the crazy UV mapping he had to do in order to fit everything into our standardized texture sizes.
Yeah, console memory does dictate some of the standardized sizes. Especially when you have a ton of dudes running around with different weapons, having huge diffuse/normal maps on every one of them is really bad news. That said, having more texture space/memory to work with isn't going to make a bad artist good, so Arenovalis deserves all the credit he's getting.

Featured image
Van Buren concept art for a gasbot