Post Nuclear Living in Fallout 3

From the creators of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion comes what may be one of the best post-apocalyptic role-playing games ever – Fallout 3. Due to hit stores next year, Fallout 3 will breathe life back into the once amazing franchise about a post nuclear world where humans must not only fight monstrous creatures but toxic infections and radiation as well.

PSU.com brings you an inside look into the world of Fallout 3 through our interview with Pete Hines. Enjoy!

PSU: Unlike Oblivion where gamers jump into a first time story, Fallout 3 is a game with a storyline that reaches back to two other games. How will the experience be for a gamer that’s never played any previous Fallout game vs. a gamer that’s played them all? Will there be any benefits or disadvantages?

Actually, Fallout and The Elder Scrolls are very similar in that respect. Both have a deep storyline and backstory that runs through the series, but each game sort of stands on its own. Our approach is always that we want you to be able to play and enjoy the game without having played the originals, but if you have played the original there are lots of references to characters, lore, and things that may have taken place in previous games that veterans of the series will recognize. This is true for both The Elder Scrolls and the Fallout series, with Fallout 3.

PSU: Bethesda has been known in the past with games such as Morrowind and Oblivion to feature a nice smooth musical score that highlights the atmosphere of the game. How is Bethesda handling that with Fallout 3?

I would say that our intent is to have Fallout 3’s soundtrack do that again with music that reflects the gameplay and surroundings, while also staying true to the type of music the rest of the series has used. In addition to the original soundtrack, we also have the licensed music we’re using, which features music from the period before the war. So lot’s of 40’s and 50’s music featuring groups like The Ink Spots, who were featured in the first two Fallout games.

PSU: The art direction in Fallout 3 definitely succeeds in capturing the visual spirit of its predecessors. How did Bethesda initially capture these visuals and place them into a next-gen 3D world? Were there any compromises made in terms of what to add or how expansive the world could be? In addition, was there anything Bethesda thinks it did differently than any previous titles in terms of the current world’s visual layout?

Obviously we spent a lot of time looking at the games themselves, but also the concept art for those games. We have a lot of the original materials from the first two games so we can look at not only how they looked in the original games, but also what the developers were going for when they came up with the idea. We spent a ton of time churning out a lot of concept art and going through multiple iterations to get the look and feel of things right. That includes all of the iconic elements from the series – the PipBoy, Vault Suit, and so on – to little things like the chairs and computers that appeared in the Vault in the first game.

PSU: Apparently, Fallout 3 will definitely have much fewer NPC’s than Oblivion (1,500+ NPC’s). Was there any sort of a sacrifice with this approach? If so, does Bethesda feel this sacrifice made the gameplay more revolutionary in terms of its complexity, or much simpler?

Well, logically it makes sense that a game set in the capital province of an empire at the height of its rule (Cyrodiil in Oblivion) is going to be much more populated than a post-nuclear wasteland (Capital Wasteland in Fallout 3). So part of it is just going with what feels right. How many people would there be in this world, where would they be located, what would they be doing? However many NPCs we need to do that right, that’s how many we’ll include. At the same time, having that many fewer NPCs does allow us to spend a lot more time on each NPC and give them a lot more depth. What they’re doing, their dialog, etc.

PSU: Players who simply want more control in battles can apparently utilize the Vault-Tech Assisted Targeting System (VATS). Now, while the general idea is simple, how will such a system work with groups of enemies if any?

Well, the idea is that VATS gives you the ability to pause time at any point during combat, regardless of whether you have action points to spend or not. Action points determine what actions you can perform in VATS as each attack will use a certain number of points based on the type of weapon you’re using. So you can hit the button when you get attacked just to get a sense of what you’re up against. Is it one enemy or five? Are they easy to handle or really tough? Is there good cover somewhere you should take advantage of? A choke point you want to force them through to get to you? VATS gives you a chance to assess your situation while the game is paused so you can make good decisions.

So if you’re fighting a group you give yourself a chance to figure that out, and then you can start fighting. You can target enemies that are closer to you to try to slow their approach, or blind or cripple one that may have a particularly dangerous weapon, or queue up an attack on several different creatures and pull it off much more quickly than you could in real-time.

PSU: How does the melee system in Fallout 3 exactly work? How will the VATS system focus its efforts with the melee system?

The goal is to balance the game so that you never have to fire a gun if that’s not the kind of character you are role-playing. So you can use different types of melee weapons in close range and use VATS to target body parts just like you can with a gun. How “exactly” it works is one of many things we are working on at the moment and it continues to get changed and refined until we feel like we have it “just right.”

PSU: We just have to ask this….what does the "corpses eaten" statistic on the Pip Boy (a statistics indicator)?

You’ll have to wait to find out. We aren’t talking about that yet. 🙂

PSU: In terms of development, we have to ask you guys an important question. There have been claims by certain developers stating that the A.I. program in general for the PlayStation 3 platform is weaker than it is compared to the Xbox 360. Now, we all know everyone at Bethesda are the kings of NPC’s and A.I. Has the PlayStation 3 helped Bethesda to program for A.I. easier than other consoles at all? In addition, does Bethesda find that the A.I. potential and A.I. in general on the PS3 has far less potential or greater potential than its competitors?

I assume that your question is more about memory allocation for certain systems, rather than an actual AI package. We use our own system for AI and whether or not it works on any platform is really up to us, not up to the console. In general I would say, for us, it’s about the same across platforms. In general, the PS3 and Xbox 360 are equivalent machines in terms of what they can do; they just go about accomplishing it in different ways in terms of threading, memory management, etc. There are certain things that one console may do “better” or “easier” than the other, but I think you only need to look at Oblivion to see that the game is equivalent on all three platforms in terms of what it can do technically. There aren’t any features that are trimmed down for one platform vs. the other. It’s the same game. That’s our goal again on Fallout 3.

PSU: How does Bethesda feel Fallout 3 truly differentiates itself compared to The Elder Scrolls IV other than in terms of storyline? Does Bethesda feel it’s a step in a different direction? Or a step in a more advanced direction?

Absolutely. There are some similarities in terms of being big, open-ended RPGs. But beyond that, they’re very different. Completely different character systems, dialog system, setting, tone, etc. Having the experience of working on one very large RPG certainly helps when you’re making another.

PSU: How does the Enclave fit into the bigger storyline of Fallout 3? Can you please divulge us some juicy details?

Another area we aren’t ready to go into yet.

PSU: Around how many weapons are planned for Fallout 3 and what kind of customization will be possible?

There are different types of weapons, and each group has a variety of different weapons within that type. So there are a variety of small guns, melee weapons, etc. A number of them are back from the previous games, along with some new ones. For each type of weapon there is also one weapon you can create using parts that you find. You have to find the plans for the weapon and then all the parts in order to make the weapon.

PSU: What platform is lead for development? Are you finding one easier than the other?

We usually use the Xbox 360 as our lead platform because it has some very good tools for providing feedback we need in managing things like memory allocation, load times, framerate, etc. But we develop each platform simultaneously and ultimately the game has to run and be tweaked to run on each platform as well as possible.

PSU: How much power usage (CPU, SPU, RSX) would the dev team say Fallout 3 is currently utilizing from the PlayStation 3?

At this stage of the process we are still putting everything into the game so things like that will fluctuate as more things go in, get optimized, etc. At this stage, I don’t know if we know what those numbers will be when it’s all said and done.

PSU: When will Fallout 3 ship for the PlayStation 3 platform?

It’ll be out in Fall 2008.

PSU: Last but not least, though rather premature to develop yet for you guys, are there any thoughts—even faintly—of looking ahead to develop The Elder Scrolls V?

We never stop thinking about what we want to do next, but right now our focus is on Fallout 3 and that’s all we’re talking about. We’ll let folks know when we’re ready to talk about another Elder Scrolls game.

We’d like to thank Pete once again for the interview -be sure to stay tuned to PSU.com for more coverage on Fallout 3.