Van Buren contents
During a standoff in one raid on a small ranching community the ranchers called a truce and offered to pay the raiders "protection money" to keep them from raiding. The raiders agreed and that became the start of a successful relationship. As the raiders had few places to spend the money they ended up spending it on equipment, food, and liquor from the ranchers, and the two groups became intermingled over the next decade as disaffected rancher sons went to join the raiders and older raiders "retired" to start ranching. About 20 years later a sickness depleted their available number of younger people, so they took again to raiding other tribes for children and teens in order to replenish their numbers. Eventually this scope broadened into slaving for laborers as well as adoptees, and slaving for profit soon followed. Now they are slave-raiders with a fixed base, despised by all others near them for their predation.
About Van Buren
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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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.”
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.
Here's a snippet:
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.
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:
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.
And here are the ones by Josh himself:
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.
I think it's sad, honestly. In my opinion, gamers set the bar very low for good writing.
From a design standpoint, what's your favorite game?
I think it's still the 1992 PC CRPG Darklands. That might seem narrowly-focused, but I love MicroProse for making an RPG that almost seemed like it was designed by non-RPGers -- like traditional conventions about how skills, leveling, races, classes, alignment, health, armor, etc. were "supposed" to work in RPGs really didn't matter. Being set in 15th century Holy Roman Empire didn't hurt, especially since they filled the game with so many details like canonical hours and Medieval currency.
Have you ever played the STALKER games, if so, what do you think of them? Somewhat related to New Vegas.
I only played a few hours of the original STALKER before my system died (for unrelated reasons... I think). I really want to play the newer games because I feel the series has a much different, and very interesting, take on a post-apocalyptic environments and gameplay than other PA games.
Is PC gaming dying? Merely taking a break before it's big comeback? Just fine as it is?
I think the PC market is definitely changing, mostly due to the rapidly rising ease of piracy in North American and European markets. There are some titles that do very well on PC, but I've seen some of the piracy figures for high-profile titles and they are depressing. Console piracy has been huge for over a decade in many Asian countries, but in North America and most of Europe, it's still far behind PC piracy. Publishers are trying a lot of different DRM schemes to combat it, but I honestly I think they need to take a step back and figure out a different profit model (and possibly a different high-level design aesthetic) if the want to focus solely on PC gaming.
As a Project Director and Lead Designer for RPGs, obviously you have to deal with games that are heavy in story and narrative, while not sacrificing gameplay. In current generation games, how relevant and important do you believe cutscenes are?I think cutscenes are as relevant and important as developers and audiences make them. I believe that the library of top-selling games from the past few years shows that there's room for cutscene-heavy and cutscene-light game. Clearly Metal Gear Solid players don't mind cutscenes or they wouldn't keep buying games in the series. The Half-Life series is tremendously popular and it has scripted events, but virtually no "stop the gameplay" events.