With my five-hour play session with Bethesda’s Fallout 3 fresh in my mind, I sat down with Lead Producer Todd Howard and Lead Designer Emil Pagliarulo to pick their brains about what I’d just seen. We printed some highlights in the September issue of PC Gamer, but Todd and Emil had more to say than we had pages to print on. This is the full, uncut interview.
PC Gamer: What was the inspiration for the Family quest?
Emil: That whole thing is loosely based on the Dracula myth, like the names Arafu and Aresti , but that quest specifically was from wanting to have a quest that was very grey.
Todd: You assumed they were evil.
Emil: And they are, but once you start talking to them you realize that they’ve bought into the whole vampire mythos. It’s not a fantasy thing, it’s just like, they’re misfits even in this society, and radiation has gifted them with basically the Night Person trait. So I really wanted to have a unique quest based on that, and allow players to explore different options. You talked your way through it.
PCG: I went in there thinking these guys are going to start shooting, and almost went in shooting myself. How do you convince the player not to go in shooting?
Emil: You don’t. That was basically one of our mandates: let the player do what they want. But that’s why it’s really helpful to have the compass tick marks, where hostile guys turn red, and the curser turns red, so you’ll know beforehand who’s going to shoot you, so it’s a lot easier to go into a situation and not go in shooting. But we assume that the player is going to. You could have completed the whole thing if you’d gone in shooting. That’s all covered, so it’s up to the player.
PCG: Does it depress you at all that a lot of people are just going to shoot through it and not experience all of that dialogue?
Todd: Our hope is that they’ll talk to each other and go “How’d you do it?”
Emil: But that’s a legitimate thing. It’s a tough sort of hurdle to get over, design-wise, to get over. You have to realize that it’s possible that people aren’t going to see the stuff you do, and that’s ok if that’s the way the player wants to do it?
PCG: Are there any ways to get through that quest besides shooting or talking like I did?
Emil: When you go in talking, the main thing is how you get to [the son], and you did it with the Lady Killer perk, but there are a lot of ways to get through there.
PCG: Do you have a rule for a bare-minimum number of ways to solve a quest?
Todd: No, we just do whatever comes naturally. We made a list initially showing the paths, so that we weren’t doing an overabundance of stealth paths versus other skills so that there was a good matrix, but if something fit in one we did it, and if it didn’t fit…
Emil: But as the game grew, just like we ended up making the game bigger, putting more stuff in, I think the quests themselves started to expand. We realized during playthroughs, you know what, there’s no talking path through this quest, or there’s no stealth path, so we went back and added that in. There are fewer quests and fewer NPCs, but probably just as much dialogue as Oblivion, just in all the variations.
Todd: It’s like when you were doing the bomb quest, and you were asking “Can I do this this way?” And so through testing we asked the same things, like “What if I kill Lucas Sims?” And ok, you have to go to the son. That kind of stuff.
Emil: We wanted to cover as many of those bases as we could.
PCG: So you tried to make it so that even if you take a few people out of the equation, the quest is still solvable?
Todd: As much as possible. It’s not always the case. You might kill someone and it will tell you “You can’t finish this quest anymore, this person has died.” Pretty much 99.9 percent of people in the game can be killed.
Emil: Yeah, even the quest-givers. They give you a quest, you blow their head off, that’s your decision. It’s simply more fun for the player where you might close off branches of the quest, but other branches are still open.
Todd: And the other answer to that question is that we don’t want players to have the expectation that they’ll be able to do every quest any style. Pretty much, Super-Duper Mart, there’s no way to talk your way through that. We get the question a lot, “Is there a non-violent path through the whole game?” No. I mean, you might be able to, I guess, but it’s not a goal.
Emil: I guess technically, because there’s a Stealth Boy, and because there’s a Protectron [security robot] in the back room of that Super-Duper Mart, if you could sneak in there and hack that computer, you could activate that Protectron, he’ll go and he’ll kick the s*** out of all of those raiders.
Todd: There are probably too many for him to kill every single one of them.
Emil: But enough to whittle them down so that science-boy could definitely get through there.
PCG: On average, how many ways would you say there are to solve each quest?
Emil: Probably three. Combat, stealth, talk…
Todd: Stealth science talk… there’s usually a combat option of some kind, and then a “other than combat.”
Emil: And “other than combat” has a lot of permutations, so it’s hard to tell. I mean, I could kill half the guys and then do some speech.
PCG: Which skills did you eliminate and which did you add, and why?
Todd: We had throwing in there for a while, but we rolled that into explosives. That was the only one in our initial design that we got rid of, so Explosives was grenades and mines. It just felt better as a skill. The other obvious thing we did was combine First Aid and Medicine into just Medicine, other than that it’s pretty much the same.
PCG: So there aren’t thrown weapons like rocks or spears?
Emil: No, just different kinds of grenades.