What's Old is New Again
Chris Avellone, Creative Director at Obsidian Entertainment
Returning to a franchise like Fallout isn't easy. It's not where you left it. Once you track it down and cripple it in the leg so it can't get away, then you have dissect it. No matter how familiar you are with innards of the franchise, it is hard work to carve out and shape a small slice of a world that's been ruined by war.
Coming back to a franchise like Fallout means a ton of research and catching up - both in the game world and due to player expectations. It was made easier with Fallout 3's release. Bethesda had the enormous task of introducing the next generation into the world some of us were already familiar with. They did it in a way that immersed the player in what the life of a Vault Dweller would be like. In particular, I really liked what they did with The Pitt DLC, where you experienced life in the ruined city of Pittsburgh on the bottom rung of the Vault ladder, and again as a slave, then as a soldier. Ultimately, the way they united the older aspects of Fallout and placed it within new settings was handled in a way that immersed me into the world and encouraged me to explore it.
As hard as building a new world can be, it's an equally hard task to figure out what elements to draw from the past that you want to resurrect in the present. In many respects, it's a challenge that one of the leading figures in New Vegas is still dealing with. And, the pluses and negatives of this should be apparent when you travel to the city of New Vegas. Maybe not all at once, but over time... it'll sink in.
There are issues with domesticating tribals and forcing them into one view of the world, there are issues with treating a wonder of the old world as nothing more than a bloody battleground, there are issues with propping old flags from Rome and California without a clear understanding of what those flags represent, and the long-range perspectives of many characters you'll encounter in the world have strong opinions about what's going on in the present, all born from the elements above. The question of the Old World making itself heard in the present - in the Mojave - is a core theme in Fallout: New Vegas, and whether overt or not, we hope it sinks in with the player as well.
It translates into our work day as well -- we live with that every day working on Fallout. Obsidian's worked on a number of franchises over the years, and it's part of the training as a designer that you have to boil down a franchise into not only its game mechanic elements, but the more abstract aspects of what makes a franchise what it is and how to represent it in-game. It's not only the 1950s-view-of-the-future-then-drop-bombs-on-it feel of Fallout, the dark humor, the SPECIAL system, Vaults, Ron Perlman's narration and end slides... Fallout's also about being able to design for choices, about a world where all the options you use to build your character are viable and carry reactivity, where the simplest of actions can make the rounds and be mentioned by people you meet – you'll see that in the reputation system, and the consequences of your actions in the Mojave wasteland.
It's also a testament to Josh Sawyer as project director that he went back through the Fallout games and analyzed what mechanics and hooks that could be incorporated into New Vegas. Traits, certain weapons, caravan companies, character descendants, familiar faces, creatures from the West Coast, the remnants of older factions... seeing them all play out in New Vegas has been a fascinating process, and seeing these older elements in a new light in the Mojave Wasteland has been great to watch and experience.
There are new elements as well – new skills, new ways to use those skills (even in conversations with others, which has been especially gratifying to both find in-game and to write), new perks, new weapons, new ways to use those weapons, locations, crafting, and much more. One of the new aspects I'm proudest about is how the team approached the narrative. Bethesda has a long history of successful open world games, and we've learned a lot about open world design on the project. What Josh Sawyer and John Gonzalez, our Creative Lead, have done is they've taken the traditional idea of stories in our game, and made the critical path open world as well. There are a variety of ways that can take you to the end, you decide what you believe and who you'll stand with (even if it's no one at all except yourself), and the consequences of your allegiances are clear... even if the choices you make along the way may not always be.
Obsidian has a number of people who worked on Fallout in the past, and a number who didn't. That's worked out well, and the old has blended with the new in that way as well. We developed an iteration of Fallout (notably Fallout 2) at Black Isle, and had hopes for developing future iterations, and it was painful to see that lost. I had boxes upon boxes filled with Fallout material, maps, and ideas that would never be realized in a game world - it's difficult to let go of a world that you enjoy doing design work for, one that you've invested many years into.
To have the chance to come back to Fallout when you thought it was closed off to you was something that surprised all of us. The opportunity to work with Fallout: New Vegas is not just something I've been grateful and happy to be a part of, it was something the future held in store that exceeded all my expectations.
We hope you enjoy experiencing what's new in New Vegas as much we enjoyed developing it, and for my generation of gamers, we hope you see the history of Fallout 1 and 2 reflected in the title and appreciate the nods you see to the world some of us thought we'd left behind.