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"Player choice is everything" - Q&A with Fallout creator Brian Fargo

Fallout, Wasteland, The Bard’s Tale – these are some of the games created by Brian Fargo. It’s fair to say that he’s been around the games industry for a while, and he was the founder of legendary studio Interplay back in 1983, which worked with development studios like Blizzard, BioWare and Shiny Entertainment. Now, a founder of inXile Entertainment, Brian has turned his attention to two new RPGs, Torment: Tides of Numenera; and Wasteland 2; (a sequel to the game that inspired the original Fallout).

We recently caught up with Brian to talk about Wasteland and Torment – both of which have been crowd-funded using Kickstarter. In fact, Torment reached its $1 million Kickstarter goal faster than any game in history, proving that there's strong demand for the kind of RPGs Fargo is making. So why didn't inXile go through the traditional developer / publisher approach for the games? Why reach out to Kickstarter?

"Well, I think the very simple truth is that there was no way these games were going to get made otherwise," says Fargo. "My background is in role-playing games – they’re what I’ve always loved – Bard’s Tale, Wasteland, Fallout etc. And, although I never stopped trying to make them, whenever I spoke to publishers, I’d usually be told things like “We already have one of those” as if RPGs were some kind of fixed commodity and you could only ever have one in your portfolio. Big publishers look at things in that way; they say 'We have our sports game, our RPG, our first-person shooter etc'. With Wasteland specifically, I got the mark back in 2002, and I started putting the team together – I got one of the co-creators of the original Wasteland back, and one of the co-creators of Fallout – and I went out and pitched to publishers to see if I could get interest going, and we just got nowhere. We didn’t even get to the part of the meeting where they said 'Huh – sounds interesting. How much do you want?'."

There's little doubt that crowd-funding creates a level playing field for developers. If their game isn't interesting enough, people simply won't back it. Perhaps this democratisation of the process is why Fargo is so keen on it. "To me, there’s no question that we’re just at the beginning of it all," he says. "I read the other day that there are over 300 different crowd-funding sites, with Kickstarter certainly being the biggest, and if you add them all up they did around $2.5 billion worth of sales last year. Take inXile for example – let’s assume we do a great job with Wasteland 2, and everybody loves it – I can’t imagine that we’d have any difficulty funding something via Kickstarter again, if we deliver on what we’ve promised to do."

Delivering on promises is important to Fargo. With crowd-funding schemes like Kickstarter, players fund projects based on what they expect them to deliver. Deviate from that, and you risk angering the people who are bankrolling you. But what happens when you get into a Mass Effect 3 situation, where players expectations aren't met because the team wants to deliver choice - a vital component of RPGs. "Part of the problem there, as I understand it, is that they promoted the fact that your decisions could effect the ending," he says.

"So, you’re if you’re making a strong claim like that then you have to follow through with it. The general feeling is that they didn’t follow through with it other than you being able to choose a few different colours. I think that if you’ve committed to a principle then you need to deliver on that. However, if you as an author decided that you wanted to have an ending that goes one way or the other then that’s your prerogative. It all comes down to how you’ve communicated about what you’re going to do. So if I say that I’m going to do multiplayer, and it isn’t in the final game, then I don’t get to just say “Hey, I’m an artist. I don’t believe in multiplayer” because people might have bought your game on the understanding that there would be multiplayer."

He continues: "I can’t speak for why BioWare had issues. I think that perhaps companies like BioWare have a very different approach to making their games. They do a lot of audio and cinematics, and these tend to hem you in when it comes to changing things, especially towards the end of development. Some of my best work happens in those last 90 or so days, when we’re watching real human beings play our game and therefore getting a lot of input about what they’re doing and how we need to adjust. If you’re locked in with millions of dollars worth of audio and cinematics it makes change very difficult."

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13 comments

  • phoenixclaws - April 16, 2013 4:27 p.m.

    ▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀ ╔═══════╗ STATUS ╚═══════╝ $4,392,698 - pledged so far (KS + PayPal as of April 15) $4,500,000 - stretch goal (player stronghold, expanded reactivity/length/depth) ==> $107,302 to go! Detailed progress graph: http://is.gd/torment_graphs ╔═════════════════════╗ MISSED THE KICKSTARTER? ╚═════════════════════╝ You can still grab most reward tiers and add-ons via PayPal: https://torment.inxile-entertainment.com/store Until the end of the April, contributions still count towards the remaining stretch goal! ╔════════════════════════════════════╗ WANT TO UPGRADE YOUR KICKSTARTER PLEDGE? ╚════════════════════════════════════╝ The PayPal site also allows you to upgrade your kickstarter pledge to a higher tier! Simply scroll down to the "Reward Tier Upgrade" section and donate the difference. (Also consider getting some of the add-ons, if you haven't already.) ▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀
  • BladedFalcon - April 15, 2013 10:08 a.m.

    Well, he seems to have good insight in what's going on in the industry these days, but I'll wait and see if he can really deliver on his promise regarding choice. Because, as much as developers love to throw that word around, I don't think there has been any games that have given players genuine power when it comes to their choices, at least not in the past 15 years more. I love Mass Effect and The Walking Dead, but I think we can all agree that the choices there seldom amount to more than flavor consequences that never really alter the actual plot.
  • CitizenWolfie - April 16, 2013 6:19 a.m.

    I can't really speak for Mass Effect, but I believe the fact that most choices in The Walking Dead amounted to eventual death was actually more to do with highlighting that in that sort of world, the choices you make are inevitable - death is always around the corner but it's the person you become in your brief time that matters. Obviously Walking Dead is a very short game though and in something like Fallout for example, yes, choices should affect later outcomes.
  • BladedFalcon - April 16, 2013 7:48 a.m.

    Well, that they are able to fit narrative into is is a plus, but the blunt reality with all of the games that have come out in the last 2 generations is that they all stick to an overall plot arc and the choices you make are small branches that either change something small or peripheral, or nothing at all. And this applies to everything, from the first bioshock to infamous to fallout. And these games might offer a different ending, but that is pretty much just the last cutscene, the overall game was exactly the same no matter what you did. To me, true choice in games is something that publishers do not want to do anymore because it means creating massive chunk of games that players potentially could never see if they play the game only once. Take Contra: Hard Corps for example, which isn't even an RPG or a game highlighted for "choice" but in that game, you were presented with two choices during the first hours of the campaign, go chase a dude, or go back and stop an attack, and this choice coupled with another one would end up making the last 2 stages of the game branch out COMPLETELY, with both the stages, boss fights and story changing drastically. That's the kind of choice I wish I could see more often, but unfortunately doesn't exist anymore. Perhaps Kickstarter games like Fargo's might be able to bring that back, one can hope.
  • archaicgod - April 16, 2013 9:29 a.m.

    The Witcher 2 is likely the best example of what you'd like to see in the last few years.
  • BladedFalcon - April 16, 2013 10:18 a.m.

    Hmm, which makes it a shame that I haven't been able to play that game, but if it truly delivers on that aspect, then that's awesome ^^
  • KashelGladio - April 16, 2013 9:43 a.m.

    Witcher 2 =D
  • wesley-simmons - April 19, 2013 12:06 p.m.

    You are right about those two games not offering real choices, but I think Wasteland 2 will be different because of one huge, liberating decision; there's very little voice acting. Voice actors are paid by the number of lines they perform. So if you record 50,000 lines of dialogue, you're damned right that the player is going to hear all of them. To record dialogue for tons of choices that remove your opportunity to access other dialogue is a huge waste of resources. When you don't have voice acting, it's all just writing. Writing lines is much much cheaper and easier than recording voice. Hence, your lines are more disposable. The Wasteland 2 gameplay footage we've seen so far has shown that you can actually control the direction of the conversation by typing keywords to fish for responses from the other character. Seems like a much more open choice system to me.
  • BladedFalcon - April 19, 2013 6:12 p.m.

    Yeah, that's very true! and here's hoping it'll play out like that, i really wish for those kinds of games to come back, and even maybe offer MORE real choice ^^
  • Bloodstorm - April 15, 2013 9:58 a.m.

    I liked what I saw of Wasteland 2 a month or so back when they released some gameplay footage. Definitely looking forward to it.
  • Rhymenocerous - April 15, 2013 9:17 a.m.

    I hope some Publisher picks up on these projects and ports the new Wasteland over to consoles. I feel ignorant that I've never heard of Fargo, yet this is one of the best games industry interviews I've read in a while. He talks a lot of sense, and you get the feeling there's nobody breathing down his neck making sure he mentions some buzzword or doesn't say the wrong thing.
  • Bloodstorm - April 15, 2013 9:58 a.m.

    He can talk like this because he doesn't have to deal with a publisher.
  • CUFCfan616 - April 15, 2013 7:07 p.m.

    exactly. Valve did this when they said 'screw the publishers, we'll do this ourselves on Steam'. Was it perfect to begin with? No. Was it successful and able to give gamers what they wanted? Apart from wanting Half Life 3, yes, gamers have got what they wanted and that was from not having the pressure of a publisher with release dates coming up. Was Aliens: Colonial Marines terrible? Yes. Because the publisher got fed up with waiting. I feel a port by a third party to consoles wouldn't work though in the same way that EA botches Half Life 2 on the PS3. Let the developers do what they want and keep full creative control. Out of interest though, is there a time limit in what people can demand for putting money down on a game and how long before it comes out? I can imagine some people donating to a Kickstarter and then not seeing anything for 2 years and then thinking, 'what's the point'. These first games from Kickstarter need to be everything they promise as stated in the interview above otherwise gamers will give the control straight back to the publishers

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