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Kickstarter has been the source of much energy and excitement for the video game industry over the past couple of months. What started with one bold, and surprising, move from Double Fine and Tim Schafer has spawned a number of high profile projects, including the oft-requested, hardcore RPG fan’s dream project, Wasteland 2. Now, more than two decades since the original released on PCs, gamers are finally going to get a chance to revisit the world that birthed the Fallout series. I had the opportunity to speak with the creator of the original Wasteland and “CEO/Leader in Exile” of inXile Entertainment, Brian Fargo, about Wasteland 2, his career and his perspective on the industry.
MF: Brian, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us.
BF: It’s my pleasure!
MF: There have been a lot of questions, and people are very interested, are we going to see any Fallout influence bleed back into the world of Wasteland 2?
BF: I got a similar question another way, when we put things into the game, it’s hard to say who inspired what. There are Wasteland things in Fallout. If I put something into Wasteland 2, am I taking for Fallout or am I taking from Wasteland? From a copyright perspective, we’re not going to take anything from Fallout that isn’t ours. That’s owned by Bethesda, so we need to be clear on that, but there are overarching elements. The way the religions work and some of the combat, there are going to be some similarities because one is the heritage and the other shares it.
MF: Do you think people who have never played Wasteland are expecting the game to be more like Fallout?
BF: The games are very similar. I think the things that drew people to Wasteland and Fallout are the similarities. It’s not like the top-down graphics are what grabbed people with Wasteland. There was this open sandbox world and we weren’t preaching to you as to how to behave, in terms of a morality perspective. The “correct” thing to do was never clear, and sometimes, there weren’t clear, correct things. There was also a lot of cause and effect and a lot of subtlety; layers and layers of gameplay in a post-apocalyptic world, with an interesting combat system.
Both of those games have the exact same things going for them. Really, it was the worlds that drew people in, without so much concern about “that one was top-down” and “this one is isometric.” Well, we’re probably more likely to be going with isometric, because, graphically, it looks more interesting. It’s all the things that the two games have in common that are going to be in Wasteland 2, except for the party system. Wasteland was more of a party-based game. You start off with your four main rangers, and you swapped NPCs in and out based on what particularly skills they had. All the things that people loved about those two games? Wasteland 2 will have all of those elements.
MF: In the interest of full disclosure, several of us here, including myself, have backed the project.
BF: Thank you! I’ve never had so much pressure to deliver in my life.
MF: That’s an interesting statement, and I want to talk more about it and publisher/developer relationships.
BF: I feel so much more connected now to the public. Normally, when you’re working for a publisher, you’re trying to get your own vision across, of course. You’re also jumping through hoops to make some guy or group happy, and it’s not necessarily what the fans want. It’s what we have to do in order to get paid. There’s a bit of a disconnect. Now, I’m on the front lines, looking eye to eye with the fans and they’re telling me, “Brian this is what we want. You better deliver.” I like the process better. It’s more personal and more intense.
MF: Along those lines, you’ve very recently mentioned that if the project hits $2M, there will be some social features. The fan reaction… well, there’s been a lot of confusion around that.
BF: Yeah. Yup. Right before you called I was working on a project update to give that a little more color. I’ve read all that. I think… I already know what they want at $2M. We have forums out there. It’s larger world and more content, more dialog, more audio, more NPC portraits. I’m going to do all that stuff! I… and I shouldn’t have done it… I threw out a fringe idea for discussion, because people keep asking, “what else are going to do?” I was focusing on the “what else.” “Social” is a four-letter word with extra letters. I understand.
People have been burned by a lot of these games that try to be “social.” So, I’m clarifying that. As much as it was like, “Whoa! Slow down, guys! We’re not getting away from this core RPG,” I still prefer this kind of communication. I prefer to know. You might go down a path… in the past, when I made all these other RPGs, I was flying by the seat of my pants, using my instincts as a gamer. Sometimes, you have to be careful. For me, this really helps close the loop, making sure that we’re working on the things that people want. The last thing that we want to do is go work on a feature only to find out that no one wants it. I don’t want to do it either, if no one wants it.
MF: The community does tend to react… strongly.
BF: They’ve been burned a lot, so I can understand why they get the way they do.
MF: It’s interesting, because one of the things you’ve mentioned directly is trying to avoid a “design by committee” situation that tends to happen in a publisher/developer relationship. How hard are you finding it to balance this large fan feedback with avoiding that situation.
BF: I get that comment a lot. At Interplay, what I always did was a vision document, from 2 – 10 pages long, explaining why the 10 or 15 reasons that this project should live, and what its focus and purpose is. So, if you say, “we’re going to have great character portraits,” show me some. If you say, “we’re going to have gritty writing,” then give me some examples. If you can’t give me an example, you probably can’t do it in a game. I always do these vision documents. Once that’s done, the project comes alive. Now, I’m basically doing the vision document with fan input, as opposed to with a publisher’s input or with internal people’s input. It’s all broad stroke stuff: larger world, more content, etc. They don’t care about voice acting, they care about more text because they want more cause and effect. That’s all cool, but once it’s set, that’s when we should do our job.
What we’re not going to do is run specific dialog by them or have them approve every single piece of art. Then it starts to become craziness. As far as the core tenets of the game, they should know what it is. They’re helping back this thing, and they deserve to know. It doesn’t bother me up until we have the vision document. At that point, “Now, let’s all agree that this is what we’re going to build. OK. See you soon.” Then we’re off and we go do our business. So, it’s not as scary as it sounds. People are afraid that we’re going to put in vampires just because one person wants them. No. It’s not going to be like that. That would be a road to disaster.
BF: The thing about this project being fan-funded is that I’m not worried about this new group of people and how they might get it. This is being made for people like yourself that grew up playing Wasteland, Fallout and Fallout 2. These new people, who have never played these games, I think they’re going to check it out and have a great time. I’m simply not going to worry about how I get these console guys to come over and like it, because there is no reason to. We all know the experience that we grew up with. We all loved it and we’ve all been wanting one, so that’s what I’m going to bring. It’s not a putdown on the console product, it’s just that I’m not going to worry about how to get them.
MF: It sounds like that might be one of the big differences between the publisher-funded model and the crowd-sourced funding model. You don’t have to be all things to all people.
BF: That’s right. That was one of the big things, and you’ll see it in my blog. This thing is pre-funded. I don’t need to use buzzwords to get people excited. I wasn’t saying the word “social” to sell someone. It was probably a poor choice of words given the connotation it has. These people want an old-school RPG and, damnit, that’s what we’re going to give.
MF: Now that you’ve got Ken St. Andre and Michael Stackpole involved in the project, what are you planning for the combat system. Will it be identical to the original Wasteland, or will there be some modifications to make things more contemporary where it makes sense.
BF: We’re going to use the original Wasteland as the base and build upon it. Everybody liked the skill-based system of the world. We’re definitely going to stay with that and add upon it. We’re going to use a lot of the basics of combat, but because this is graphical in nature and you’ll be able to see your guys on the map, as opposed to just reading about it, it opens up to be more tactical.
MF: One of the things that Wasteland did, possibly because it was way ahead of its time and due to space issues, was the text for players to read separately…
BF: … and copy protection, actually, but yeah. That’s how tight space was back then. We couldn’t even put in all the text we wanted to.
MF: Is there anything like that, even just as a nod to the original game that you’re planning on.
BF: We’re kicking the idea around, because that paragraph book was quite fun. Whether we will really make you read or not, though? Probably not in this digital world. Might we do a paragraph book? Maybe, as a nod.
MF: I’m an Infocom guy from way back, having to search the manual for the right word for copy protection was great. Even the idea that there might be a big, nice manual. That’s a lost art.
BF: We’re definitely doing that. At the $50 level, you get a big, nice manual. I remember one time I tweeted a picture of my collection of a lot of games I worked on and someone said, “Gosh, I miss having boxes that I could put up on the shelf.” I thought, “You’re right. That would be a perfect tier.” One of the things I should mention, since you mention Infocom, is that one of the things that roleplaying games have lost over the past decade, looking back at the classics that we and other people did, whether it was Baldur’s Gate or Torment or Fallout, is the literary aspect. That prose and the writing have been lost, as things have gone more graphical. It’s something that people responded to, and I’m not talking about having to read a book every time you step on a square. It was about having interesting conversations and dialog, and nice descriptions. I won’t say that no one has done it right, but I think there is a literary vibe to those.
MF: I understand that it was Konami that held the license to Wasteland. Were they planning on doing something with the property?
BF: I read that somewhere, and maybe they had it, didn’t use it and let it lapse, perhaps. All I know is that it had expired, which is when I stepped in and got it. I worked a deal with Electronic Arts so I could use the copyrighted material.
MF: Gotcha. So, they own the rights to the original game?
BF: Well, I should say that they have the rights. I don’t want to get into the semantics.
MF: Have they contacted you since you started the project?
BF: They knew about it advance and they said, “that’s cool,” and struck the deal with me. I can’t say anything bad about them.