By now you've probably all conquered the all-conquering Fallout 3, Eurogamer readers' number one game of 2008 and one of our favourite RPGs set in a post-apocalyptic American city where Qui-Gon Jinn's your dad. But that's no reason to stop playing it - or at least Bethesda Softworks hopes so, because the developer is busy crafting three discrete bundles of downloadable content for Xbox Live and PC users as part of a Microsoft exclusivity arrangement.
The first of these, Operation: Anchorage, is due for release this month, with two others (The Pitt and Broken Steel) to follow in February and March respectively. Anchorage pops players in a "military simulation" within the world of Fallout 3 that replicates the Battle of Anchorage scenario from the game's back-story, with players heading a stealthy squad across a wintry Alaskan environment seeking to oust Chinese Communist invaders. It's got new toys, gamerpoints and all sorts, and is set to cost 800 Microsoft Points (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.60).
Although the official release date has yet to be set, Bethesda's clearly in the final stages, so when we were offered the chance to speak to Jeff Gardiner, lead producer on the DLC, to dig out some more details, we jumped as high as our irradiated legs would allow. Here's the result, along with three new screenshots of Operation: Anchorage.
Eurogamer: Jeff! Can you describe what we're seeing in our sexy new screenshots?
Jeff Gardiner: All three of these shots are taken inside the 'simulation.' One is a shot of the approach to a Chinese base. Another is a shot of a player, donning a winterised version of combat armor looking out over a lake. The third, and most sexy shot, is a "Chinese Stealth Suit". If worn, it will greatly increase the stealth rating of a PC while crouching. It makes for a quite interesting fight when equipped by enemies as well...
Eurogamer: Operation: Anchorage takes place in a simulation. Was that because you wanted to tell the story of Anchorage, or because it gave you the chance to experiment?
Jeff Gardiner: A bit of both, but mostly we were always intrigued by the Battle of Anchorage. It's a very compelling bit of Fallout lore, and we figured we could really do it justice.
Eurogamer: Given the military sim setting, would you say the balance in Anchorage swings more towards gameplay than storytelling? Or have you tried to remain consistent with the way the two are interwoven in the main game?
Jeff Gardiner: There definitely is a story here - the Brotherhood Outcasts are trying to acquire advanced military technology, and the only way to open the vault containing these relics is by completing a tactical simulation only the player can enter. The bulk of the gameplay in this DLC is gunplay and stealth, along with some 'team building exercises.'
Eurogamer: Having stripped out resources for Anchorage, how do you tackle the potential for players to feel weak again having become so empowered in the latter stages of the main game?
Jeff Gardiner: Since Operation: Anchorage can be entered at anytime, we've made sure that the player will feel challenge no matter what their level is in the main game. And, since it's a simulation, we've taken liberty to add some traditional game elements to it since it's justified in this context - health and ammo replenishing stations, for instance.
Eurogamer: Can you tell us anything more about the way the Strike Teams under the player's command work, or elaborate on any of the "exotic gadgets" mentioned last week?
Jeff Gardiner: The player will be able to choose, from a limited resource pool, what type of team members will accompany him or her on several missions within the simulations. These choices include different troop types like snipers or heavy weapons troops. They'll also be able to make tactical decisions on how to deploy these troops in certain situations. The Chinese Stealth Suit was what I was hinting at last week - it works similar to stealth boy every time you crouch!
Eurogamer: Did you have a sense of what you'd do with the DLC during development of Fallout 3? Or did you sit down at the end and go, "Right, what the hell are we doing?"
Jeff Gardiner: "What the hell are we doing?" is much closer to the mark. We opened up to ideas from the whole development team, and Operation: Anchorage is just one of several that rose to the top.
Eurogamer: Consumer reaction to premium DLC varies enormously, as you know. What sort of lessons learned with Oblivion were you able to apply here?
Jeff Gardiner: Well, we're not making more Horse Armour! In seriousness, we found that games want to enhance their existing experience without feeling ripped off. We're hoping to strike that balance with our new DLC.
Eurogamer: The 800 Microsoft Points price point is often challenged by gamers - look at the Gears 2 Combustible Map Pack, for instance - and you have some experience with pricing issues. How's the reaction been so far? Are you still comfortable with it?
Jeff Gardiner: We're offering several hours of unique gameplay - along with a bevy of armor and weaponry the player can use throughout the entire main game of Fallout 3. Reaction has been very positive.
Eurogamer: With G.E.C.K. (good name, by the way!) now out and about, will PC gamers be able to take advantage of the Op Anchorage and other DLC assets when they come out?
Jeff Gardiner: Yes, you can use content in the DLC to create new plugins and mods, but anyone who wants to use those plugins/mods will have to have bought the DLC and have it installed.
Eurogamer: You've said you'll raise the level cap with Broken Steel, the third pack. When Pete Hines spoke to us just after the launch, he said there were "no plans" to do that and you felt level 20 left you "plenty tough enough". What's changed? Also, how far will you be raising it?
Jeff Gardiner: Pete was talking about the level cap in the game as it was released. Level 20 is plenty tough. But we felt there's no harm in letting the player enjoy the game as long as they'd like, and so along with removing the game's "ending" with Broken Steel, we figure raising the level cap would allow them to do that. We plan on raising it to level 30 - but it will be a long, hard climb to get there!
Eurogamer: Will there be any differences between the DLC packs on Xbox 360 and PC?
Jeff Gardiner: No, the content is identical.
Eurogamer: Is the exclusive relationship with Microsoft timed? Will we see these bundles on PlayStation 3 eventually? And if not, will there be any other content for PS3?
Jeff Gardiner: We are doing this DLC exclusively for Xbox 360 and GFW.
Eurogamer: Can you give us any details on the new Achievements? Will it be another 250 gamerpoints' worth? (Is that still the DLC limit for extra gamerpoints?) Will it be split across the three packs?
Jeff Gardiner: We plan on including around 50 gamerpoints per pack.
Eurogamer: You released a patch before Christmas to deal with certain issues in the PS3 version, with PC and 360 updates to follow. What's left to fix, in your eyes, and how soon can we expect further news?
Jeff Gardiner: We are in the final stages of getting updates completed and released. We just want to be sure that they're available across all platforms and languages, as much as possible, and so there are a lot of them to get finalised and released. Won't be long now though.
Eurogamer: Finally, can you tell us anything else about The Pitt and Broken Steel?
Jeff Gardiner: The Pitt is a more 'Traditional' Fallout 3 quest - it's full of morally grey choices, shady NPCs, and features another city ravaged by time, neglect, nuclear waste and moral degradation.
Broken Steel not only extends the game to level 30, it alters the core ending. It allows the player to continue exploring the ashen Wasteland and see the fruits that are born, or that die, from their decisions. It will reprise several main characters, and conclude some of the story threads left dangling.
Eurogamer: And finally finally - our readers have named Fallout 3 their game of the year. Congrats! Anything you'd like to say to our excellent and intelligent readers to mark the occasion?
Jeff Gardiner: It's an honour and privilege to be able to work on a game such as Fallout 3. And it's an even greater honour to be admired by gamers who really know their stuff as being the best game of the year, so thank you.
Fallout 3 Operation: Anchorage - the first of three DLC instalments - is due out this month.