Eurogamer: You've gone for a very traditional dialogue system. Did you consider trying something new?
Pete Hines: It's old school. After a certain point, when you're taking on a project of this magnitude, you've got to pick your battles, and you can't pick them all because you just end up trying to be everything and not being anything. Dialogue wasn't a battle we wanted to pick. It is a bit old-school, but it works well for what we're trying to do, and there were other things that were more important for us to spend time and energy on, like trying to incorporate VATS into a real world combat system and still incorporate the stats and not unbalance the game. That's a big undertaking, and spending time from a development standpoint on the actual dialogue and the camera angle it's being presented on - we just don't have unlimited monkeys and typewriters.
You just have to put everything up on the list and decide this is the stuff that's most important for the kind of experience that we want.
Eurogamer: Were you tempted to make the Karma system a little more morally ambiguous?
Pete Hines: One of the things we really tried to avoid is surprising the player with whether they've been good or bad. We wanted to be clear to you that you're making a conscious choice to be one or the other. I've played games where I made a choice and I thought I was being the nice guy, and then it's, "Wait, wait, why is he upset?" We didn't want it to be a surprise. Sometimes it's a surprise in terms of how a person reacts if you are being a jerk, but it's not a surprise as to whether you're good or bad.
Eurogamer: Is this true for the choices in the wider game, and making sure people know what they're giving up when they make a crucial decision?
Pete Hines: There aren't many decisions where you're locking off a whole part of the game. We're trying to remove the surprises, which includes having parts of the game that are suddenly unavailable, completely unbeknownst to you. "If you told me when I picked this dialogue option I wouldn't get to do any of that, then I wouldn't have picked it in the first place!" That's a bad experience. We don't have to tell you when you blow up Megaton early in the game that all of those people are going away: it's a very obvious situation and if you really are evil enough to do it because you want to know what happens then that's okay. You can live with the consequences because you knew what you were doing when you pressed the button.
Eurogamer: In terms of combat, are you worried that VATS is so much more powerful than real-time combat that it could unbalance the game?
Pete Hines: Not if it's fun. It's about giving the player the choice on how to play the game. We don't want VATS to be so overpowered that people are saying, "I finished the game in five hours because of VATS." It is balanced. We do have people who play the game heavily using VATS making sure those numbers and stats line up with the experience we're trying to provide and you can't just blow through everything.
Eurogamer: Talking of balance, with a game as wide as this, how do you balance the main narrative and the side-quests?
Pete Hines: It's just always been our approach to make big, open, go-where-you-want games. This is just another version of that. We like to try to do big epic scope, big world stuff. But I think with Fallout it's adjusted differently to how it was with Oblivion, because Oblivion had so much extra content.
Fallout doesn't have quite the same amount - it's not eight cities filled with guilds and all that stuff. It's more sparse, there's fewer locations, fewer people. You have a smaller scope of stuff, with more ways to do it, and as part of the overall, the main quest is much more or a presence than it was in Oblivion, because you don't have two hundred hours of stuff - you have seventy or eighty hours, which is still a stupid amount, but it's not in the same proportion.
I think the main story's going to be a lot stronger, and a lot more people are going to want to play it this time around.
Fallout 3 is due out on PS3, 360 and PC this October.