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

So, what can we expect from inXile's current duo of games? Torment has been billed as a spiritual follow-up to Planescape, although Fargo is keen to stress that it isn't a sequel. Try to think of the way the recent crop of BioShock games relate to System Shock. "I think the original Planescape was very different to a lot of games, and it ended in a very neat way," says Fargo. "We’ve had a lot of people say to us that they just don’t want a sequel to that game anyway. We’re technically nothing to do with Planescape – we don’t own the brand, we’re not using any copyrighted material, we have nothing to do with it. What we are trying to do is capture the spirit and vibe of Planescape, and make a very philosophical role-playing game. It has a much more literary vibe than most RPGs, it’s a game for people who love to read. And that’s different to Wasteland 2, which is for people who love to blow things up more. In fairness, there’s a lot of writing depth to Wasteland, so I don’t want to simplify it in that way.

Despite being very different games, Torment and Wasteland 2 share several unifying themes, the most significant of which is choice. "Player choice--or as we sometimes call it ‘reactivity’ - is everything," explains Fargo. "It’s what makes our narrative so different because, if you want a simple, linear story-telling device then you’d just read a book. It’s your ability to change the story, to say “I wonder what would happen if I did that;” which makes our games so intriguing and exciting. We want players to be excited about going back and replaying our games, thinking “Wow, I wonder what would have happened if I’d done this thing instead of that”. For all games that offer choice, I’ve always found that the journey - what you do along the way - is really the greatest reward.

The original Wasteland, which released back in 1988, is the game that eventually inspired the Fallout series. So it seems fitting that Chris Avelone, from Obsidian - creators of Fallout New Vegas - has been working with inXile on Wasteland 2. "He’s great to have as someone to run ideas by, and he’s even made some specific levels which we can hold up to other designers and say: “this is the kind of quality and vibe we’re expecting from the rest of the game”. So, that’s how he’s worked with us," says Fargo. "He has been living in the trenches of post-nuclear RPGs longer than anyone, so it’s great to get his input".

Fargo has been working in the games industry since 1982, and has worked with some of the biggest names and studios in the business. So he seemed a little stumped when we asked if there was anyone else he'd like to collaborate with. "That’s a great question. I would probably like to work with Sid Meier (who created Civilization and Pirates), because he’s so down in the trenches with games. He’s so good with the science of things, so I think I would learn a lot from him. I’d definitely put him right up there on my list". Excellent choice, especially as Civilization appears on our list of the 50 Most Important Games Ever.

In the 30 years since Fargo started making games, the industry has grown from bedroom enterprise to multi-billion dollar business. Recently, Square Enix announced their yearly financial results, and despite Hitman selling 3.5 million units and Tomb Raider shifting 4.5 million, the publisher described these sales as 'disappointing'. "I think that when those kind of numbers are considered a failure – because you’re doing in excess of $100 million at retail – you have to start looking at the way you’re doing things. I think that this business spends way too much time looking at GTA 5 and World of Warcraft; numbers, but I’ve always found that to be a waste of time. That would be a complete waste of time. And it wasn’t just 3 million units total, either, it was 3 million units in the first few weeks, so it isn’t as if those games have finished selling".

He continues: "To me, it’s like I’m starting a band and I say to my friends: “Let’s look at the Rolling Stones’ numbers”. So I don’t see how that can be considered a failure unless they’re using it to get some kind of extra PR or marketing. I know the products are solid – everybody loves the games. So you have to wonder: if you’ve made a great quality game that everybody loves, and you’ve done 2-3 million units in a few weeks, then unless that’s a success, then you really need to look at how you’re doing things".

One company that is taking a good, hard look at the way it makes games is EA. The SimCity and Mass Effect publisher has been in the news recently for being voted The Worst Company in America, according to the readers of Consumerist. "I think we all know that there are worse companies than EA - companies that are doing things to harm people and the environment etc – and I really don’t think EA deserve that title," he says. "I think it’s unfortunate, and I think it all started around that Mass Effect 3 ending last year. Everyone is pretty riled up against EA at the moment, and I think that the SimCity debacle fell on top of it at the wrong time. It seems like EA have some really bad things that happen to them just when the voting for the worst company is going on".

Fargo's relationship with EA goes back to 1985, when he made the original Bard's Tale for the then fledgling publisher. 28 years on, he's still making innovative games for the PC market; but does he have any plans to bring his latest games to current or next-generation consoles? After all, Torment won't release until 2015. "It’s certainly possible and technically feasible," he says. "However, we’ve gone to the crowd and they’ve given us money for a very specific purpose, which is to put our games on the PC, Mac and Linux. So that’s where we’re expending 100% of our efforts. We don’t spend any of our time wondering whether it can or can’t be done on consoles, because that isn’t our charter. Our charter is to deliver these first versions".

Expect the first of inXile's Kickstarter titles, Wasteland 2, later this year.

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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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