It is easily one of the most anticipated games of the year. But there's no denying that the anticipation for Bethesda's post-apocalyptic action-adventure game Fallout 3 has as much to do with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the 2006 action/adventure fantasy game Bethesda made before Fallout 3, as it does to do with the original Fallout and Fallout 2 (which Bethesda didn't make, Black Isle Studios did). Especially since Bethesda's changed the aerial perspective of the original Fallout games to a ground-level choice between first- and third-person that's similar to The Elder Scrolls games. But is Fallout 3 just Oblivion with nuked mutants? We spoke to Pete Hines, the game's project manager and Bethesda's VP of PR and marketing, to get the low-down on what we can anticipate when the game is released on Oct. 7.
Crispy Gamer: For those unfamiliar with the series, what are the Fallout games and how does Fallout 3 fit into with the series?
Pete Hines: Fallout is a role-playing series set after a nuclear war between the United States and China in 2077. But the world of Fallout is different from ours in that the time splits off after World War II and the future they realized was the "tomorrowland" they pictured back then: everyone happy, smiling, driving nuclear-powered cars, robots for maids, etc. Then it all gets blown up in a nuclear war, and that's the world you enter and experience in Fallout. The first two games in the series were set on the West Coast.Fallout 3 is set on the East Coast.
Crispy Gamer: Now you guys didn't make the first two. But before you started working on this game, did you go back and play the first two again?
Hines: Many of us had played the games originally, but we did go back and play them again. We also went through all the source and reference materials we had from those games. Lore and canon are very important to us, and we wanted to be sure we fully understood the things that were in place before we started working on what we were going to do. The first two games, particularly the first one, were notable because they did things, for that day and age, that nobody else was doing and they had so many things going for them. We drew from and wanted to preserve a lot of aspects of the original games in Fallout 3.
Crispy Gamer: How does the story in Fallout 3 connect to the one in Fallout 2?
Hines: It doesn't directly connect to the story in Fallout 2. It's part of the some overall storyline, but we wanted to take a look at what was going on in the nation's capital. Who's in charge? Is anybody trying to get the country going again? That kind of thing.
Crispy Gamer: What are some of the post-apocalyptic novels, movies and other things that influenced the story?
Hines: All of them. Literally, every post-apoc thing out there affected the game in some way. Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is certainly one to which I'd refer folks if they haven't read it. An amazing book from a great author.
Crispy Gamer: What about the gameplay -- what new stuff have you added or changed this time around?
Hines: Much of the basic gameplay systems and character systems are still there: SPECIALs, skills, perks, XP-based leveling up, etc. We've spent a lot of time working on the quests, characters, and dialogue in the game to have it match up with the tone of the original games. It's still a "go where you want, do what you want" game, which is, of course, what we like making. But the game is played in first- or third-person, rather than the isometric view of the originals. The combat is also different; it's a mix of real-time and this new paused mode, called VATS, where you spend action points queuing up attacks and then watch it play out using a special camera system. Our goal was to capture as much of the originals as possible while still trying some new things we think will add to the experience.
Crispy Gamer: How much of the decision to give this game both a first- and third-person perspective was influenced by the success, creative and commercial, of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion?
Hines: It was certainly a factor, but we simply felt it was the best way to immerse the player in this universe. You aren't looking at your character from sixty feet up and from the top of buildings. You're down on the streets, right there in the midst of it all. We felt it was a much more powerful way to connect to the world you've been thrust into.
Crispy Gamer: Can you switch perspectives in the middle of the game, and if so, is there an advantage to doing so? Like is combat easier in first-person but getting around easier in third-person?
Hines: You can switch at any time and it's really more about your playing style. Some folks simply prefer one way over the other. The camera in third-person can be moved around, zoomed in and out, so you can tweak it to get the perspective you most enjoy.
Crispy Gamer: Do you have a personal preference between first- and third-person perspective, at least for this game?
Hines: First. Just feels much more immersive seeing the world through my character's eyes.
Crispy Gamer: In a way, the game seems like it's going to be a first- or third-person shooter but with deep RPG elements. Am I wrong?
Hines: It is a deep RPG with shooter elements. How to handle combat doesn't define the game. Just because you're holding a gun and shooting at things doesn't make it a shooter, although some people are going to see it that way, which is okay. If you decide to play the game because it looks like a fun shooter, we don't mind. Whatever reasons you have for giving it a try, we hope there is enough compelling gameplay to make you want to keep playing. You may not buy it because of the quests or dialogue, but if you play the game and end up really enjoying the game for those things, where's the harm in that?
Ultimately, what makes Fallout 3 somewhat unique is that the game is all about what your character can do, which is decided by you. What you want to be good at, what kinds of things you want to do. Those choices will affect your overall experience and how you decide to play the game, but there's nothing wrong with getting in a big fight with some Super Mutants and having a great time running around blowing things up. Many really good RPGs have quite a bit of combat to them, so we might as well make that as fun as it can be.
Crispy Gamer: So on the action/adventure scale, where does Fallout 3 fall, and why did you decide to work it that way?
Hines: It's whatever you make of it. If you want to spend all of your time talking to people and trying to avoid combat, go right ahead. If you want to run around like a psycho blowing things up and killing things, you can do that, too. We don't try to tell the player what to do, we just give them lots of options and let them decide how they want to have fun.
Crispy Gamer: Besides Oblivion and the previous Fallout games, what other games would you consider to be big influences on the gameplay of Fallout 3?
Hines: We find we are the sum total of all our experiences. Whether it's a sports game, or a shooter, or a puzzle game, you can always find things you like in other games to inspire you. The way they handle inventory or interfaces or what the sky looks like in their game -- you never know where you might get a good idea.
Crispy Gamer: Over time, your guns in the game will wear out and ultimately become less accurate. First off, how quickly will that happen? Am I going to have to buy a new gun after every battle?
Hines: All weapons in the game degrade over time. Many are beat up when you first find them. You either have to repair them yourself using your Repair skill, or find people who can repair it for you. It's not an immediate thing, but as you use a weapon you can see it start to degrade at what feels like the right level. So you have to find more of that weapon to repair it yourself, or pay someone to do it. If you have to do it after every battle, you're probably wasting a lot of ammo and are a terrible shot. It doesn't happen that fast.
Crispy Gamer: You can also combine old weapons into new ones, and to even make weapons out of ordinary household items. How difficult will it be to do this? Am I going to need an advanced degree in mechanics?
Hines: It's based on your skills, ability to find a schematic for one of these unique weapons, and all the parts it requires. If you stink at Small Guns, you aren't going to be able to create the unique Small Guns weapon.
Crispy Gamer: So have you figured out how many possible weapons there are in the game?
Hines: Over 50 at last count.
Crispy Gamer: You guys have talked before about how people can play as good guys, bad guys, or some combination. How exactly does this work? Do you run into situations where you can pull the left trigger to help someone or pull the right trigger to hurt them, or is it less obvious than that?
Hines: It's handled on a situation-by-situation basis. How you choose to solve problems and quests, whether you help people or hurt them or take advantage of them. We make it so the player knows what kind of choices they're making and the consequences/results of those choices are appropriate and satisfying to them.
Crispy Gamer: Do these choices have any real consequences, though? Like if you play as a dick the whole time, will certain areas be closed off to you, but if you're nice, then you get to sleep with the blue alien lady?
Hines: To some extent that may happen, but it's mostly about what happens in each specific instance.
Crispy Gamer: Speaking of which, will your game have any PG-13 love scenes that Fox News can misconstrue as XXX?
Hines: No, not interested.
Crispy Gamer: One thing you are bringing back from a previous games is your faithful pooch Dogmeat.
Hines: Yeah, we liked the idea of Dogmeat in the original games, and the whole "A Boy and His Dog" thing. You and your mutt, wandering the wasteland, trying to survive.
Crispy Gamer: How much control do you have over Dogmeat? Can he do any tricks?
Hines: He can go find things for you, like weapons and food. He'll help you fight in combat if you let him. He's a faithful companion to you to the end. Provided you don't get him killed, that is.
Crispy Gamer: Does the game have any co-op options?
Hines: It's a single-player game only. It's about you and what you're going to do to survive in this post-nuclear wasteland.
Crispy Gamer: So what do you think Fallout 3 does better than Oblivion?
Hines: Guns. Much better in Fallout 3.
Crispy Gamer: And what, if anything, do you think Oblivion does better than Fallout 3?
Hines: They're really very different games. We'll let folks like you guys debate the merits of those things. We're just trying to make the best game we can every time out.
Crispy Gamer: One of the things people loved about Oblivion were the graphics. How do you think Fallout 3 compares to Oblivion, visually?
Hines: We probably draw twice as many things on the screen on Fallout 3 than we did on Oblivion. The amount of detail we've added is pretty substantial. Obviously they're very different visually: One was a very bright, colorful fantasy world and one is a dark, destroyed post-nuclear world, but I think both are very impactful in their own way.
Crispy Gamer: Do you think Fallout 3 might look better than Oblivion, in part anyway, because it's easier to do realistic ruined buildings and garbage piles than it is to do realistic-looking trees and other living things?
Hines: Well, given that we had the benefit of making Oblivion and all the tricks we learned along the way to do things better in Fallout 3, it's probably not a fair comparison.
Crispy Gamer: There are times when the art direction of Fallout 3 reminds me a lot of the art direction in BioShock, especially in the iconography and mechanical designs. Timing-wise, when did you start to finalize the look of the game in relation to when images from BioShock first appeared?
Hines: We've been working on Fallout 3 since 2004. I'm pretty sure we were fairly far along doing our own thing before we saw anything on BioShock, but I honestly don't know. We had reams of Fallout stuff to look at for reference, so we really didn't need to look at anybody else's game for what Fallout 3 needed to be.
Crispy Gamer: Did you ever consider changing the look for Fallout 3 because of BioShock, or did seeing the reaction to BioShock's graphics make you think you'd made the right choice?
Hines: We tend to focus on what we're doing and not worry about everyone else. They're very different games, both in what they offer and how they look. BioShock was a wonderful game, I loved playing it, but there's no point while playing one that I ever think it looks like the other.
Crispy Gamer: Did that game's success ever prompt anyone to suggest changing the name of your game to FallOut 3?
Hines: No. We always intended to make another game in the true spirit of the series. We're not afraid to say we're doing another game in the series and not just some spin-off or a Fallout game with a subtitle.
Crispy Gamer: Like Oblivion, Fallout 3 boasts some big-name actors, most notably Liam Neesom. How did you get him in the game?
Hines: We asked, he took a look at the game and the story and the role, and said he'd like to do it.
Crispy Gamer: Why did you think he'd be good for the role of your father?
Hines: He's just the perfect fit for that role in the game, the presence he brings. Turns out he's a very, very good actor and he brought that to the game and his role in every way possible.
Crispy Gamer: Do you think that he might've been more open to doing your game because of the people you'd gotten for Oblivion, or do you think it was something else?
Hines: I'm not sure he knew what Oblivion was.
Crispy Gamer: This, of course, isn't the first time someone famous has done a voice in a Fallout game: Tony Shalhoub, Ron Perlman and Richard Dean Anderson were all in the original, while Michael Dorn and Dwight Schultz were in Fallout 2. Do you think that gamers now expect, or even demand, that there be a big-name actor in a game like yours, or do you think that gamers don't really care, but other people think it's a selling point so you have to do it?
Hines: We do it where it makes sense and we think it makes the game better. I think people expect a certain level of quality and effort from us, and if voice talent is part of that, it's ok with me.
Crispy Gamer: Finally, in a 2006 interview with TheEscapistMagazine.com, Leonard Boyarsky, who worked on the original Fallout games, said that Interplay's decision to sell the rights to Fallout "?felt as if our ex-wife had sold our children that she had legal custody of," though he did qualify this statement by admitting to be "possessive" of the franchise. How do you think he, and other people who worked on the original games, will feel about Fallout 3?
Hines: You'll have to ask them. I can certainly understand that the people who created Fallout would feel strongly about it. But we saw a franchise we loved sitting there not being used, not being worked on, and it was something we really wanted to work on, so we did. We hope the folks that worked on the first two will play Fallout 3 and like it and find a lot in there that stays true to what they created, just like we hope people who played and liked the first two games will like this one as well.