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Brian Fargo Talks Wasteland 2, “Abysmal” Publisher Treatment and Having Fun Again

firefly2003firefly2003 Member UncommonPosts: 2,527






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.








MF: There seem to be two halves of the gaming universe. Old guys like me who grew up on Fallout. I remember pouring over decisions and redoing combat, just because an NPC died. I loved that dog too much to let him go. The other half, though, are much younger. Their first introduction to the universe was Fallout 3 and New Vegas. How are they going to be able to relate to this game having no real frame of reference for these classic, wonderful RPGs?

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.


  • firefly2003firefly2003 Member UncommonPosts: 2,527






    MF: How many publishers did you pitch Wasteland 2 to before going the Kickstarter route?

    BF: Every major one. I was turned down by everybody.

    MF: What kind of reactions did they give you? I’m assuming that the first pitch video, which was unbelievably funny, wasn’t so far off the mark.

    BF: Every single one of those things in that pitch video happened. The only thing that I elaborated on was the Farmville request, because that was done via Facebook, rather than on the phone. But it’s true. I would be waiting for people to call me back to give me a response, and they would send me Farmville requests all day long, but they couldn’t return a phone call. It was beautiful. I would go into meetings and say, “Look, guys. I know you have probably never heard of Wasteland.” I made the assumption that they didn’t know. I explained, “Before there was a Fallout, there was a Wasteland. I tried to make a sequel all these years, couldn’t do it, so I made Fallout instead. Now, I’ve got the guy who co-wrote Fallout and the guy who co-wrote Wasteland, I’m the producer of both so, Wasteland 2!” It was like there was no reaction in the room.

    There was one guy who couldn’t stop texting in the middle of the meeting and I’m sitting there with Jason Anderson (game artist and designer that worked on Fallout and Fallout 2) and I was outraged. Other times they would send in these junior guys that were maybe 19 years old, never had heard of Interplay, hadn’t heard of anything. Then there were people who I’d get a room, they would jump up and down, act excited and three weeks later would tell me they were going in another direction. I would ask why they passed, so I wouldn’t bring them the same kind of project again, but they could never tell me why they passed. I really, honest to god, put the file away. Two weeks before Kickstarter I said, “I give. I don’t know what to do.” And, then, Kickstarter happened. I was the keynote at GDC Shanghai last year. It was just about roleplaying games, specifically a lot about Bard’s Tale and Wasteland. I had just given the speech talking about how we never get to do those games anymore.

    MF: The new Bard’s Tale is still sitting on my shelf. I love that game.

    BF: Well, the hard core aren’t too fond of it, but it definitely has its fans. Here’s how I explain that game. I had just left Interplay, I was kinda in a funny mood and I was playing other people’s roleplaying games. They were sending me to kill rats in a cellar and I was like, “Are you kidding me? They’re still doing this stuff?” So, I was fed up and Bard’s Tale was my parody of it. So, I set out to do a light RPG that was a parody. For that effort, I think I deserve an A. For the hard core, they wanted an absolute Bard’s Tale sequel, so for them, it was an F. In my defense, I accomplished what I set out to do. Just like with this Wasteland game, this is what we’re going out to do: old-school RPG, deep cause and effect, dialog, exploration, etc. We’re now going to execute that. I understand why people weren’t happy with Bard’s Tale, but if you look at iTunes, it’s one of the highest rated RPGs out there. So, people like it, but if you were expecting a hardcore RPG, you wouldn’t have liked it.

    MF: You said you were inspired to use Kickstarter to because of Double Fine’s success.

    BF: Absolutely. It never would have occurred to me if they hadn’t put up the large numbers that they did. Most of the previous projects were $50,000 – $100,000. I couldn’t do any kind of Wasteland sequel that lived up to its name in any way shape or form for that amount. I couldn’t even do it for $400,000 like (Tim Schafer) was trying to do. I basically needed to put up $1M. It was scary, because I knew I was asking for more than anyone had ever asked for, but I also knew that if it was any less, I couldn’t do. There was no point in asking for less.

    MF: One of the things I’ve noticed is that there is a difference in that Double Fine started with Kickstarter, but you were pretty vocal that this was the last chance for Wasteland 2. Even though the language is a little bit different, what I’ve noticed is that, at some level, there seems to be a bit of defiance in developers that decide to use the movement. They were very political and, even more recently, Tim Schafer has come out and said that there is a place for everybody. You’ve said the same thing. Is tension between developers and publishers, especially around creative issues, normal?

    BF: There is more tension than you can believe. You would not believe the stories you hear about how developers are treated by publishers these days. It is abysmal.

    MF: Why don’t we hear more about it…?

    BF: Because they are afraid to talk, because they’ll never get another contract if they do. That’s why. You cannot believe… it’s awful. It’s really bad. You should try to dig in and get some stories out there. Look at the most recent one with those poor guys at Obsidian. They did Fallout: New Vegas, the ship date got moved up and, who does the QA on a project? The publisher is always in charge of QA. When a project goes out buggy, it’s not the developer. The developer never says, “I refuse to fix the bug,” or, “I don’t know how.” They never do that. It’s the publisher that does the QA, so if a product goes out buggy, it’s not the developer’s fault. So, (Fallout: New Vegas) goes out buggy and they didn’t do the QA, their ship date got moved up and they missed their metacritic rating by one point. Did they get a bonus? No. Do you think that’s fair? I tried to get some of my publisher friends, who I used to make a lot of money for, to donate. Do you think they donated? No. Their employees did.

    MF: What seems to be bubbling under the surface is this ‘us vs. them’ tension.

    BF: It’s there. It’s not all publishers. I haven’t worked with all publishers, so I can’t speak for them all, but I’ve had enough of my own horrible stories. I have friends who are big developers and we sit around telling stories. The smartest people I meet are the developers; their business acumen. They’re not the ones who control the checks, though.

    MF: You mentioned Obsidian. Have you spoken with them?

    BF: I talk to them all the time.

    MF: Would you consider working with them, especially given their current troubles… maybe reform the Black Isle Voltron?

    BF: They are still working on projects. It’s not like they are going away. I have a lot of love for those guys.

    MF: What about the people from Interplay? Honestly, us old guys would love to see Black Isle reborn in some form.

    BF: Well, if this project works, it will give me a platform for doing things again. I haven’t had an engine… or I’ve had an engine with no gas. If this continues to work, and certainly we’re off to a great start—this game has got to be great—if I deliver that, I think there would be a chance to build it up again. Nothing would make me happier.

    MF: Assuming that Wasteland 2 is as much a critical success as it is a crowd-funding success, and a publisher or two or three come knocking, would you consider working with one in the future?

    BF: I don’t know why I would need to. Kickstarter and Steam allow me to bypass publishers and bypass retail. I think the world is going to go toward creative people carving out a direct relationship with their fans, and they are going to find a way to do business in their niche. It could be someone that makes model train simulators with their 10,000 fans or RPGs with millions of fans.

    MF: Do you think that developers that choose to go the Kickstarter route might have trouble, whether its due to tasting creative freedom or otherwise, going back to work for in a publisher environment after finding success with crowd-funding.

    BF: Oh, yeah. Of course. I stopped pitching publishers a long time ago. I finally just gave up because it got so frustrating. So we started other digital initiatives. We did Impossible Quiz and Bard’s Tale on iTunes. We’ve been building our own little digital business, but that’s smaller. Selling things at $1.99 or $4.99… I can sit home and make money, but it’s not building a business. Kickstarter allows me to make product that I can sell for $15 or $20, and that’s a business I can build upon. For the guys that go out and find some Kickstarter success and start making money on their own, yeah, it’s going to be hard for them to work in that kind of organization. People keep talking about how it’s the end of publishers, but that’s kind of an overstatement. We’re not going to Kickstart $100M productions. I think a lot of the really good talent is going to see people, like ourselves, doing smaller projects and having fun again. They are going to want a taste of that.







    MF: In my past life, I was a fundraiser. I saw how Kickstarter shook up that industry by changing the way small groups were able to access funding that the tax code and traditional fundraising thinking had previously been a barrier to. Now seeing it bleed over into the gaming industry, has been fantastic.

    BF: That’s why I came up with Kicking it Forward, because I want to perpetuate what is happening.

    MF: And you’ve got your first project signed up, right?

    BF: We have 9 so far! There are actually probably more. If you go to the Kicking it Forward website, there’s more. We’re working on an easier way to verify so that we can get people signed up easier.

    MF: Have you talked to Tim Schafer about joining in?

    BF: I’ve emailed him. He thought it sounded cool, but he was on the road. I’m sure he’ll focus on it when he can. He was the first guy I tried to get a hold of. It’s crazy for both of us right now.

    MF: I hope it’s been a good kind of crazy.

    BF: The past two weeks have been the high water mark of my career.

    MF: You had originally listed the project at $900,000 and were ready to kick in the last $100,000 to make it an even $1M. Breathing a sigh of relief?

    BF: I wanted to do the project no matter what. If I had needed to, I would have been glad to. I’m not taking a salary from it, either. When you do a project at $1M or even, now $1.5M, you’ve got the very small indies looking at that and asking why we need that much.  Then you have the larger companies wondering how we can do it for so little.

    MF: Does working with the publisher inflate the budget?

    BF: In my experience, yes.

    MF: About how much?

    BF: At least 25%. In some cases, 35%, because sometimes they insist on taking over functions like doing all the casting and audio recording, where they would spend way more than what we would, if it was our money. I mean, it is our money, because it’s advances, but they insist on taking it over. They can trump the cost up. When we did all of our directing, for all of our games, every project I had ever done, including Bard’s Tale with Cary Elwes, we directed the talent.  We knew the material, so we could give them the context for each line. Well, the publishers would allow us to visit the studio, but we weren’t allowed to speak directly with the people doing the recording. They send some very expensive voice director in, and he directs them. We don’t even get to handle it. So, if the audio doesn’t come out quite right, the developer gets the negative mark, yet they aren’t the ones who get to be in charge of it. They aren’t allowed to.  They aren’t allowed in the room.

    MF: I think that there is this misconception among gamers that developers handle quality assurance and always have control over things like voice acting.

    BF: If a product ships with bugs, somebody knew about them. So, if they aren’t getting fixed, I don’t think it’s because a developer refused to fix them. From my last project, I wasn’t allowed to do the cinematics. And what’s the first thing you see?

    MF: The opening movie.

    BF: Right… and I didn’t get to do it. There is so much that the publishers do that the developers get negatively affected by. As a developer, it’s frustrating. The developers don’t want to say anything because they know if they did the publishers aren’t going to want to do business with them. I think there is a direct correlation between the developers that have the power to kick (publishers) out of their office. Blizzard doesn’t have to put up with that. Epic doesn’t have to put up with that. Why do their products keep coming out one good one after another? Because they don’t have to listen to that.

    MF: One more question… you’re the guy who made Angry Birds right?

    BF:  <laugh> If I made Angry Birds, would I be doing this f’n interview?

    MF: <laugh> I hope so, though probably for a completely different reason. Seriously, though, any words of wisdom for other developers for working with publishers or seeking crowd funding?

    BF: <laugh> Those are two entirely different subjects…

    MF:  Then I’ve got two final questions for you… advice for working with publishers?

    BF: That one runs the gamut. There are small publishers and the big ones. The truth is, if we’re talking about the big publishers, if you were to graduate from college today and say, “I’m going to get into the game business and go do AAA games,” how many contracts would you be chasing out of the entire universe? If you think about it, how many products does Activision go to externally for AAA games these days? 1? THQ? 2? It’s not a lot. I would encourage anyone to find their niche market, their audience and start a relationship.

    We did Fantastic Contraption and we sold 80,000 units at $10 each, direct to consumer. It’s probably one of the biggest indie hits. Go out to Steam and see some of the games out there. For a guy to sell 20,000 units at $10, it’s probably going to be more money than working on a multi-million dollar project for a big publisher, because it’s so hard to recoup and get out of the hole. As far as people thinking about going to Kickstarter, find where there is a hole in the market. If I had pitched another Call of Duty project, I probably wouldn’t have gotten funded. You have to think, “what is the need we are filling?” in order to have a chance.

    MF: Brian, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. Best of luck with finishing out the Kickstarter and the development of Wasteland 2.

    You can visit the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter page and the Kicking it Forward website for more information.

    [If you don't understand the Angry Birds joke, head on over to the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter page and watch the pitch video. I'd like to thank Dave Oshry and Jensen Walker for their prep assistance on this interview.]


  • firefly2003firefly2003 Member UncommonPosts: 2,527

    Suprised noone has started any discussion about this I thought it was a great read and some insight behind the scenes in the gaming industry and what a nightmare it is now to try to make a game yourself would play and other gamers, now its all driven by metrics and the suits.

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