Fallout 3 is a game that many, many people have been praying for since the nineties. In Leipzig last week, we were given another chance to see the very first demo of Bethesda's interpretation of this beloved universe (for details, see John Walker's preview), and it was no less impressive the second time around - gorgeous, violent and extremely faithful to the series' legacy, it was a personal game of the show by a long, long way. At the end, people clapped, and we're talking Europeans here, not our considerably more effervescent American counterparts. Pete Hines, Bethesda's VP of Public Relations, was kind enough to sit down for a chat afterwards about the difficulties of working with such a revered franchise, and Bethesda's approach to the challenge.
Eurogamer: First things first: why did you wait so long before deciding to finally unveil Fallout 3?
Pete Hines: Well, first of all you've got to understand that back in 2004, we sort of had to let everyone know that we had acquired the rights [to the Fallout license], and that's very different than saying we're actually making the game. When we announced Oblivion, we'd had it in development for a long time and nobody knew about it, so we could say "here's Oblivion, here's what it looks like". Here, we sort of said "We've got this license and we're going to start working on it," but we didn't have anything to say or show. We really like to wait until we get to a point where we feel like we can give folks a good sense of what we're doing, and not just talk about it, because you can talk about anything; if we'd just said "Yeah, we're going to do this VATS [Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System] thing," then people would have been like "Well how does that work?" It's tough to explain - it's much easier to go "Look, THAT's how it works".
It's really important for us to be able to do proof of concept stuff - here's how it's going to play, here's what it's going to look like, here's all that stuff - as opposed to just talking about it. And things change for us. Things will change all the way through development, but they really change during the early part, where you're still ripping things out and sticking stuff in - we wanted to get through that stagee before we showed it.
Eurogamer: Do you think developers are a bit too keen to show their games before they're ready?
Pete Hines: Certainly. We feel like slightly over a year [before release] is about right for us. Certainly with Fallout, we felt like it was time, and we had the game at a point where we could show folks and they'd get it - everyone kept asking us about it, so we thought "Why don't we go ahead and let everybody see what it's like, and then they'll know?". Three years out [from release] would have been a bit far, but now all everyone has to do is get through this holiday, and then we can start warming up - it'll be practically here!
Eurogamer: Why exactly did you decide to take up the challenge of a Fallout game in the first place? Was there a really a burning desire to work with the franchise?
Pete Hines: That's honestly how it happened. It was just us sitting around talking about doing something else besides the Elder Scrolls, something RPG-ish, and wondering, what could we do? We had discussions and agreed collectively - seeing as nobody's doing anything with it, if we could get Fallout, we would love to do a Fallout game, because it's both very different from Elder Scrolls and something that a bunch of us really loved as a game and thought we could do well as a franchise. We were sitting there thinking we wanted to play another Fallout game, and if nobody else was going to make one then we might as well do it ourselves. So we did; we went up to our president and our senior management and said, look, can you guys make this happen? And they knew some folks at Interplay and had conversations and worked out how to get it. We're very excited and honoured to be carrying on this franchise.
Eurogamer: What is it about the games that you at Bethesda so loved? What made you want to work with Fallout?
Pete Hines: It's any number of things. If you had to boil it down to one thing, it's definitely the overall theme and tone and setting of Fallout. It was so different and unique from anything else that anyone was doing back then, or really that anybody's done since then. It had this great 1950s vibe and sensibility, but set in a post-nuclear world where things were blown to hell and people were doing anything to survive - but they still cared about their hairstyles. It just that dark comedy and humour. Also, it was a really violent game, and it's nice to be able to do something that is a complete break from the Elder Scrolls. We can't do another fantasy game, because then it's just going to be too similar to Oblivion. [Fallout 3] is going to have some visual similarities to it because it's first person, but beyond that it's a very different game; it's EXP based, not skill based, it's post-nuclear not fantasy, it's guns not swords, so it's just a chance for us to do something very different.
Eurogamer: It does seem to work very similarly to the original game...
Pete Hines: That was certainly out intention. There are some things that we felt were most important to get right, which were the theme and the tone of the games, the setting, and the characters - the really memorable characters, good dialogue, and good story. So those were the things we really tried to focus on. Obviously the combat system is different, not being turn-based, and the perspective is different, but we really felt like there were some things that we could change and still keep Fallout for what Fallout was, some things we felt that we could do differently and bring our own interpretation, our own ideas, to the series.
Eurogamer: How are you handling the challenge of player progression? Obviously, as this is a Fallout game, you can't just go everywhere and do everything like in Oblivion.
Pete Hines: Actually the biggest challenge with Fallout (and the reason that the Achievements are going to have to work very differently) is that we do a lot of locking off of stuff to the player. In Oblivion you can be any kind of character you want, but there are different paths that are more focused towards good or evil or neutral; for instance, if you want to be an evil guy, you go play the Dark Brotherhood and do all that stuff. It's not like 'Oh, well, I'm going to be really evil and do the Fighter's Guild,' because the Fighters Guild are kind of good guys helping people out. It's not like every quest has lots of different ways you can solve it in Oblivion, so it's not like any of those things lock one another out. It's not like you play the Dark Brotherhood and then you can't join the Fighter's Guild. You can do everything, it's just the order in which you do them that can change.
Fallout is very different. There are much fewer quests, and every quest has a number of different ways to complete it, and based on how you do that quest you can open up or lock off things, based on your choices, that will no longer be available or will only be available based on what you've done. We actually monitor your karma as you go through the game based on the choices you're making, and whether you're good, evil or sort of in the grey area, you actually have different gameplay; so for example, what characters accompany you differs based on where your karma is. You also get titles, so like Scourge of the Wasteland if you're this really evil bastard and blew up Megaton [a town near the beginning of the game which you can choose to detonate, or not], and so we'll have some stuff that will be pegged towards how you're playing the game. You'll actually have to replay the game if you want to unlock all the Achievements, you'll have to take another other path where there's other stuff to unlock. Nothing's set in stone, of course, but that's the general idea that we have; it's not going to be just one playthrough to get it all.
Eurogamer: How long do you think we're talking for a playthrough?
Pete Hines: It's about 20 hours main quest, 20 hours side quests and a yet-to-be-determined number of hours for sort of miscellaneous freeform gameplay. There's things that we no longer call formal quests any more, random stuff to do out in the world - Fedex missions on the like where you're picking things up and dropping them off, and random "dungeons" to explore (Pete makes quotemarks around the word 'dungeons' with his fingers, which, according to our extensive knowledge of young-person culture, suggests he's using the term loosely), so there's lots of hours of gameplay there as well. We're talking about a really huge world, with tonnes of things to do, but yeah, compared to Oblivion, it's smaller.
Actually Fallout 3 is probably much more freeform than Oblivion - I mean there's 9 to 12 different endings, it's not going to be the same for anyone. What you do, all those different choices you make, is going to ultimately determine how your game progresses and ends
Eurogamer: Where exactly does Fallout 3 fit into the Fallout timeline, again?
Pete Hines: It's 30 years after Fallout 2, and about 200 years after war. So it's true to the Fallout canon and the overall story of the universe, but it does not specifically follow the storyline.
Eurogamer: Speaking of which, did you ever consider remaking the original?
Pete Hines: No. There's a lot of folks that think we're borderline suicidal for attempting to make another game as it is, but going back and trying to make the first one... yeah, that would definitely be pitchforks and swarming the gates. We'll let those games sit in everyone's memory, benefit from that nostalgia, and stand on their own; I don't think they need to be redone, they're great games on their own. You know, we've taken the same approach to the Elder Scrolls stuff. People are like 'Oh, you know what? You should bring Arena back and put it on Xbox Live Arcade!', and we're like, you know what, it was what it was, great for 1994, but we're not about to go back and redo all our stuff. We prefer to move forwards.
Eurogamer: So how have the infamous Fallout fans reacted so far to what you've shown of the game?
Pete Hines: Well, the fan community is actually rather large so it depends what segment we're talking about [laughs]. Obviously we're fans - that was, like I said, the impetus to go in and get it in the first place. You know, I think if you're really interested in playing another Fallout game in that sort of world, then hopefully you'll give it a chance, but there is a segment of our fanbase - I say 'our', I mean the Fallout fanbase - that has basically decided back in 1994 that we're doing it all wrong and that they're going to hate our game whatever we do. I mean if you have made up your mind and said 'Here's my specific list of things that my game must have', and we're not meeting your list, then you're probably not going to like the game. But you know, we're OK with it, we're used to it by now - the Elder Scrolls fanbase is a very global and very large community that has very strong opinions about what they want, so we appreciate that folks are very passionate about certain franchises, certain series. They like what they like and that's what they want. But for everybody else who doesn't fall into that category, who are willing to judge with their own eyes and figure out whether or not they like what it is we're doing, it's been really good.
Eurogamer: Why do you think that people are so obsessive about Fallout?
Pete Hines: More than anything, it was really different. If I had to guess, I'd say that a big part of the draw was the darkness of it. It was pretty... brutal isn't the right word, but it was pretty dark in contrast to everything else out there - I mean, it had a dipswitch in the settings allowing you to turn the violence up. I think that's a big part of it, it was so much more adult and mature than everything else in terms of its content. A lot of folks are still very loyal to that, to that kind of experience, and very much want to play another one.
Eurogamer: So do you see Fallout as a continuing franchise for Bethedsa?
Pete Hines: Absolutely. We didn't go acquire the rights just to make one game. We fully intend for this to be a success, and as long as we don't fuck it up and we make a good game, we think it will be.
Fallout 3 isn't out until next Autumn (which feels like about seventy-three years away), but we'll apparently get something playable in the new year - although Pete informs us that this is the last we'll see of Fallout 3 for a good few months. In the meantime you can read up on the game so far in Eurogamer's preview, and perhaps hand-fashion a countdown clock to help pass the time.