I pulled Bethesda VP Pete Hines and Fallout 3 lead artist Istvan Pely aside to talk about the game, its design, and their reaction to Oblivion comparisons.
Shack: As far as the DLC goes, what type of content should we expect?
Pete Hines: The type is really--we want stuff that's going to be several hours. Not just like a one-off thing, but something like where you can download it and play it for X number of hours. It'll be similar to what we did with Knights of the Nine in Oblivion, where it's like whole new quest lines, new stuff, that kind of thing.
We want to do stuff like that, where it's adding hours of tangible stuff to the experience. And it plugs into your existing game, so whether you're starting a new game, or you're playing for 40 hours, you can go off and play this.
Shack: Will development of that begin immediately after launch?
Pete Hines: It's always flexible. We stopped doing content a pretty good ways before we finished the game in terms of adding new stuff. So we already have folks starting to look into what [the DLC] might be.
Shack: After playing for an hour, the thing that struck me about the game was how well you nailed the desolation of the wasteland, while still making it an interesting place to explore.
Istvan Pely: Yeah, that was something we focused on a lot. It's a wasteland, but we want to have enough density, and points of interest, clutter, trash in the destroyed world. So at first glance it's barren, it's empty looking, but pretty soon after exploration you'll find every ruined house has something to poke your nose into, there's a raider camp set up over by this school--there's a lot of density.
We just kind of iterated, went over the wasteland with our team of world artists, saying, "Okay, here's a first past, let's go back over, add some more interesting clutter, and try to make it as interesting as possible."
Shack: Do you expect people to stick pretty close to the main quests, or are you seeing people just immediately going off to explore?
Istvan Pely: It's really up to how you want to play it. Personally I like to go off on my own and just explore, just find stuff. The wasteland--you can go any direction you want. Or you can just stay very close to the quests, hit as many quests as you want. It's very easy to sort of switch your focus. Like, you're following a quest for a while, then something looks cool over there. Then two hours later, you go back to the quest.
Pete Hines: One of the things we really discovered on Oblivion is that having a really well-structured and easy to get back to main quest makes it much more liberating for the player to go do what they want, because they always know they can find their way back.
You know, we did a game like Morrowind where that wasn't necessarily the case. People are more afraid to leave the trail, because it's like, "Shit, I don't know if I can find my way back."
Whereas in Oblivion, and definitely in Fallout, the experience where you go off for two hours or three hours or five hours, you always know you can get right back to what you were doing.
Shack: Sometimes it takes a long time before you find any enemies. I assume you guys have carefully balanced their placement so that it feels just right?
Istvan Pely: Yeah, and we try to find the right balance, so that it feels like I'm not running into something every minute, but it doesn't take long before I come across something.
And our encounters, there are some very creative encounters. You may come across a hit squad going after some guy, or a melee fight going on that has nothing to do with you--you can just watch them, let them kill eachother, help one side or the other. There's a lot of neat little things to discover there that are unpredictable. It's not always going to be, "Oh, Radscorpion coming at me." There's some of that, but there's a lot more to it.
Pete Hines: I think the Super-Duper Mart is probably one of the best examples of that. In front of the Super-Duper Mart is just this complete, every time you come around the corner you have no idea what's gonna be going on. Sometimes there's a robot fighting some stuff, or a Radscorpion attacking some guy. It's so great every time you go see it--it's one of those watercooler things.
Istvan Pely: Sometimes you get there and everybody's dead. [laughs]
Shack: Are you guys getting sick of the comparisons to Oblivion? Like, "It's Oblivion, but with guns"?
Istvan Pely: It's two-sided, you know. It's a compliment, and at the same time we set out to make a very different game. We did not start with the design of Oblivion and decide how we were going to change it to make Fallout. We started with, "How is this going to be Fallout?" But we built on experiences we learned with Oblivion. So obviously it's a similar kind of open world--there's experiences with how to make that work, how to keep it exciting, so we applied our lessons learned. It works both ways for us.
Pete Hines: I think the thing that makes it most annoying is that it's said in a tone that's sort of like, that's the best that we could do. For guys like Istvan who have spent literally four years making this game, it really sells short how much time and effort they've put into making this a Fallout game that is true to Fallout. As opposed to just the bare minimum we could do, let's just re-skin all of our creatures to look sort of post-nuclear and just be done with it.
So much more time and effort went into it by the designers and the artists. That's really the only thing that gets me. We love Oblivion, we made it, of course we're proud of it. But just to say that that's all we did, the least amount of effort, really sells short the four years we've put into making this game.
Shack: And it's not like you can't tell a different story with the same engine. But the phrase does imply a minimum amount of work.
Pete Hines: It's just not what we do. And mostly, you look in our genre, and all the franchises we played growing up, and how many of them are dead and gone, because that's all they did. They just iterated, "We're gonna do the same thing as last time, tell you a different story, a little bit of new art." And they're not in existence anymore. We feel like we've gotta keep reinventing every time, or we're gonna die and get stale like everybody else.
Shack: So you guys aren't going to be revealing much of the main story before the game's release. Is that an effort to keep fans unspoiled?
Istvan Pely: Exactly. There are a lot of twists and turns. It just ruins the surprises for people.
Pete Hines: People ask me all the time, "What's your favorite moment of the game?" Well, the top three are all things in the main quest. But part of it is that.
One of the things we found on our previous titles, with Morrowind, we gave away a lot of our best moments in that game with the previews, and then they went to play the game finally and there were no big surprises because they had spoiled it all for themselves.
With Oblivion we took that approach that, you know what, it wasn't that we aren't going to let you see Oblivion because it's so amazing and unbelievable. It's just that we don't want to spoil everything about the game before it comes out. There's gotta be something that when you're playing you're seeing it for the first time.
You can see Fallout 3 for the first time on October 28, when the game is released on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.