It's been more than a year since Skyrim developer Bethesda Game Studios moved wholesale onto its "next major project", which we expect to be Fallout 4. The game was in pre-production while Skyrim DLC rolled out, and in April 2013 was declared ready for the team's "full attention".
Eyes were on a Spike Video Game Awards reveal in December, which was where Skyrim was revealed two years earlier, but the show came and went and only rumours of Fallout 4's setting - apparently Boston - emerged.
Naturally eyes then turned to 2014 and to the annual summer video game Mecca, E3. But now Bethesda has shot down rumours of a reveal there, too - company mouthpiece Pete Hines tweeting recently that "BGS will not be talking about its next game for a long time". Teasing may be another matter, however, as pictures of the entrance to Fallout's Vault 101 emerge from just-released shooter Wolfenstein: The New Order (via Reddit)."
Still, it brings to the surface the topic of what we'd like a new Fallout game to be. And who better to share their thoughts than Josh Sawyer, lead designer and project director of that other - and most recent - Fallout game, New Vegas.
"Ho! I don't know! My concerns are usually about a couple of things," he told me on Skype earlier this year (I've been saving the quotes for a rainy day).
"Fallout games are best when the choices are - and this applies to role-playing games in general, but Fallout is a more desperate world - more agonising. They feel more appropriate to the post-apocalyptic genre. So I hope that whatever twists and turns the story takes, it's more nuanced than a black-and-white choice."
Take the ending to Fallout 1, he said, warning of spoilers ahead.
(No really: there are Fallout 1 spoilers ahead.)
"Fallout games are best when the choices are ... more agonising"Josh Sawyer
You save the Vault but you can't live there. "That's a very bitter-sweet type of victory," he said. "Granted, that's not really a choice that you had to make, but that's the course that the story takes.
"Also, you see that in the Road Warrior [Mad Max] films; Max, even when he wins, just goes on being a wanderer. There's that kind of bitter-sweet victory in the difficult choices that people make. Regardless of what the setting is, I would hope that that is a big part of the storytelling of it."
The same thing extends to the mechanics he'd like to see in Fallout 4.
"A lot of stuff I did in New Vegas was to try and make choices feel more impactful and meaningful and to challenge the player," he said. "Some people want to go through the wasteland like a tourist, which is fine - they don't really want it to be super-difficult. They want it to be interesting and engaging, and they want to see a lot of neat stuff and go through a cool story. And that's cool.
"Personally I like things to be a little more challenging," he added, "and there's a segment of players that also want [that]. I don't have any doubt in this."
The final thing that springs to Josh Sawyer's mind is mod support - "one of the greatest things about [Bethesda's] technology".
(Incidentally, one thing that wasn't so great about Bethesda's technology was how New Vegas and Skyrim ran on PS3 hardware - something Josh Sawyer spoke publicly about, much to Bethesda's chagrin. 'Let's hope it works with PlayStation hardware this time around,' I joked. "Yeah," Sawyer chuckled, "I think they'll make sure it does.")
On PC, The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim is a very different game than on console because of mod support. "I hope Bethesda continues to make everything very mod friendly," he said. "How they've worked with the community is... the mod community for Bethesda's games is amazing. I hope they continue to support them because it's really cool."
Fallout: New Vegas came out in the autumn of 2010, two years after Fallout 3. It's outdated tech caused some frustrations, but otherwise it was superb. "Just like the scorched scenery that provides its epic backdrop, New Vegas is huge and sprawling, sometimes gaudy, even downright ugly at times - but always effortlessly, shamelessly entertaining," wrote Dan Whitehead in our review.
Today, Josh Sawyer leads development on Obsidian's popular Kickstarted role-playing game Pillars of Eternity, which is due out sometime this autumn.
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