Forging the Steel
Jeff Browne, Lead Level Designer
Alan Nanes, Lead Designer
Once an author puts the last piece of punctuation on the final sentence of his creation, the story is traditionally over. However, with our latest downloadable content project, we were determined to break with this tradition by taking the ending of Fallout 3 beyond that epic moment in the purifier and beginning a new chapter in the saga of the Dweller from Vault 101. We had to revisit old locations and characters, change plot elements and yet still keep the tone and consistency accurate while at the same time provide an entertaining and rewarding experience for the player. It was a challenge we were determined to meet head-on, and the result is “Broken Steel.”
Beyond the mere fact that we were continuing Fallout 3’s story, we were given the task to raise the level cap from 20 to 30. Many issues stood in our way: balancing past level 20, providing new creatures and new NPC’s to challenge the post-level 20 players, creating new weapons and armor, handling the experience points, and generating new freeform quests to name a few. We knew going into this project that many questions had to be answered and that a lot of work had to be done.
In Fallout 3, a lot of time and energy was put into balancing the game’s encounters. The game was designed and balanced for a level cap of 20. After level 20, well, we had nothing. We also tried very hard to have visual distinctions between two creatures of the same faction. For instance, a Super Mutant Behemoth is visually different than a Super Mutant Master, which is visually different than a Super Mutant Brute. A player in a battle between two Super Mutants should be able to quickly assess the threat and make decisions based on the visual differences of the creatures.
If we were to increase the level cap to 30, we first needed to figure out which factions we wanted to support the new cap. Super Mutants were one creature we knew we had to support. The decision was made to keep the Super Mutant Behemoth at the top, so we needed to fill the gap between the Behemoth and the Super Mutant Master. Thus was born the Super Mutant Overlord - a creature much stronger than a Super Mutant Master and one that is beginning to take on the shape and form of a Behemoth. Its posture is beginning to show signs of the Behemoth with its large, thick neck and slightly forward head. Given enough time, the Overlord would eventually grow to become a Behemoth.
To fill the gap for the Feral Ghouls we added the Feral Ghoul Reaver, which wears worn out armor, has special effects emitting from its body, and a new ranged attack, making it visually distinct from the normal Feral Ghouls as well as the Glowing One.
For the Rad Scorpion, we made the Albino Rad Scorpion - a formidable foe that roams the Wasteland, dealing out great amounts of damage, and is much more resistant to attacks than the Giant Rad Scorpion.
For the Enclave, we introduced a new elite fire-based ranged soldier who not only wears new fire-resistant armor, but also wields a new and powerful weapon, the Incinerator. The Incinerator is a powerful ranged fire attack that ignites its victims upon impact.
While working on extending the level cap to 30, creating new creatures, armor, weapons, perks, etc., we also began to work on several Water Quests separate from the DLC’s Main Quest. With these Water Quests we wanted to explore the consequences of the player starting the purifier, and whether or not he spiked it with FEV. A drastic state change in the world was beyond the scope of the project, so we tried to show the whole in the parts, by focusing on a few key personalities and locations struggling with the difficulties of mounting a massive humanitarian effort in the harsh realities of the Wasteland. Various difficulties posed by various interests taking advantage of the water supply are presented, and the player can get involved in classic Fallout fashion, setting things right through altruistic action, or milking the situation for his personal gain through extortion and blackmail.
With the team working on all of the above, we also began to work on extending the storyline of the Main Quest after the purifier is turned on. We needed to tell a compelling story about life in the Wasteland with the addition of clean (or FEV spiked) water. This alone is challenging to do especially with schedule constraints of DLC. Many questions needed to be addressed: When should the DLC begin? A day later? Weeks? Months? Did the player spike the water with FEV? If so, how does that affect the world? Will people know the player spiked the water? What happens to some of the main characters in Fallout 3? Are they still around? Did the player destroy Raven Rock? If not, is it still around? Is the new story going to use existing environments? Are new environments needed? What does the Purifier look like turned on? How is the new water distributed, if at all, and by whom? Where’s Prime and what is he doing? What happened with the Enclave? Have they left DC? After several brainstorming sessions, we answered all of these questions and many more. We then looked at our schedule constraints and determined if we could do everything we wanted. Once we nailed down what we could finish and polish in the time given to us, production began on Broken Steel. (Be sure to check out Jeff Gardiner’s dev diary, “Creating Downloadable Content”, to gain insight on how the different production phases work and how we come up with downloadable content.)
From a Level and Quest Design perspective, our main goal for the story was to shift the focus entirely on the player and let him determine how the story ends. We didn’t want you escorting anyone nor fighting alongside any group for the majority of the DLC. It was mainly to be a solo experience and we made sure the player had access to everything his character had in the main game, including followers (unlike Operation Anchorage and The Pitt). We wanted to use existing locations in Fallout 3 as much as possible to keep the story associated with the Capital Wasteland and also wanted to create new environments for the player to explore. But we needed to make sure the new locations fit with the theme of the Capital Wasteland and didn’t feel tacked on. For example, part of the quest takes the player to Old Olney in the Capital Wasteland. We’ve added new gameplay to the exterior of Old Olney, used existing interior spaces of Old Olney, and also created new interiors for Old Olney.
Another big goal of ours was to make the climb to level 30 a difficult one. The new creatures are much more difficult than their closest counterparts and it will take a lot of resources and smart tactical decisions to take them down. If you face two or more of these new creatures in a single encounter, be prepared for a difficult fight. Those playing on the Hard or Very Hard difficulty setting may soon find themselves dropping it down a notch or two.
After reading this, we're certain it’s obvious that this DLC didn’t just set out to “raise the level cap” by the haphazard inclusion of a few creatures, weapons and changing some numbers. What we’ve given to the Fallout 3 fans is a robust expansion bristling with content: 10 additional levels to explore, several new creatures, some new weapons and armor, new items, new locations in the Wasteland, new side quests and a worthy continuation of Fallout 3’s epic Main Quest. Overall, we are pleased with the outcome of Broken Steel. A lot of hard work and long hours were put in by the team that worked on this downloadable content. And as you walk your way through and experience all these new things we’ve provided, we hope we’ve done our job by putting a smile on your face.