Fallout: New Vegas director Josh Sawyer says his approach to RPG weapon balance is "mostly vibes-based": "the important thing is to see how things feel in practice"

Fallout: New Vegas
(Image credit: Obsidian Games)

Fallout: New Vegas director and RPG veteran Josh Sawyer has given a bit of insight into how he goes about balancing abilities and weapons in games before their launch, and it turns out that a lot of it is based on pure vibes. 

In a new YouTube video, Sawyer responds to a question received on his Tumblr blog in which he was asked what his approach is to ability and weapon balance before gaining feedback and data from players. He laughs, and admits: "It's mostly vibes-based.

"I don't really believe in spending a huge amount of time prior to people playing the game in a sort of 'simulation land,' because it doesn't really matter," he continues. Elaborating on this, Sawyer reveals that during the development of New Vegas, he'd created a spreadsheet listing all of the weapons by ammo type and base damage value, before using it to make some "relative comparisons to damage threshold values." By his own admission, it was a pretty basic spreadsheet, and it only ended up getting used for a couple of months. In fact, the last time he even opened it was March 2010, seven months before the release of the RPG.

"That's because ultimately, it's about the practical effect of it in the game," he says. "Once you actually have a framework, then I think most of that work should be done in-game. Depending on the volume of the abilities, the powers, et cetera that you have, maybe some sort of a heuristic [approach] or some sort of simulation would be a good way to get a general idea of where things land, but ultimately, I think you just play around with it."

Sawyer goes on to talk about how test levels – such as TestJoshWeapons, which can be found in New Vegas' files – can be handy, too. In the case of New Vegas, however, TestJoshWeapons was "only used for a few basic things," and in reality, most of Sawyer's testing took place within actual in-game locations. 

"I would run around in the area around Vault 3, and then go into Vault 3 and I would test the weapons against the enemies in that area. I would go to Quarry Junction, I would go to a few other places, and I would just play within the level, and to me that's really the important thing, is to see how those things feel in practice."

Of course, things can change once players get their hands on a game and can provide their own feedback. Mind you, Sawyer says that listening to feedback doesn't always mean acting on it, but that it should still be taken into account when developing further alterations. 

Josh Sawyer recently said that although New Vegas was criticized for playing similarly to Fallout 3, his actual inspiration was Fallout 1.

Catherine Lewis
News Writer

I'm one of GamesRadar+'s news writers, who works alongside the rest of the news team to deliver cool gaming stories that we love. After spending more hours than I can count filling The University of Sheffield's student newspaper with Pokemon and indie game content, and picking up a degree in Journalism Studies, I started my career at GAMINGbible where I worked as a journalist for over a year and a half. I then became TechRadar Gaming's news writer, where I sourced stories and wrote about all sorts of intriguing topics. In my spare time, you're sure to find me on my Nintendo Switch or PS5 playing through story-driven RPGs like Xenoblade Chronicles and Persona 5 Royal, nuzlocking old Pokemon games, or going for a Victory Royale in Fortnite.