Fallout 3 Interview (PC)

As part of Strategy Informer’s hands-on with Fallout 3, we were also lucky enough to get some alone time with none other then Pete Hines, Project Manager for the game. Sitting in a rather plush hotel room in the centre of London, Hines was interviewed by myself along with two others representing other sites. Here’s what he had to say about Fallout, Oblivion, and everything in-between:

(Please note, that the questions here are comprised of questions asked by both myself, and the other journalists present during the interview. Some of the material may appear on other sites as a result.)

Strategy Informer: Were you not tempted to do a game maybe more mainstream, less RPG, less Oblivion to make it more accessible?

Pete Hines: No, not necessarily, we certainly spent a lot of time on things like combat and how does it feel to be playing the game with the gun in your hand in first person and third person because... You know, let’s be honest, you do spend a lot of time, or at least most people spend a lot of time running around shooting stuff or getting in to combat of some kind, whether its Elder Scrolls or Fallout. So we did want that part of the experience to be very good. I think it’s probably fair to say that we don’t feel compelled to beat people over the head with the letters RPG and to insist that they acknowledge they are playing a role playing game. With Oblivion and with Fallout we like to have it be such that if you are hardcore and you want to get in to power gaming and the numbers and how you’re levelling up, what you’re putting skills in, what perks your picking and really sort of power game that... you totally can and if you want to spend most your time doing dialogue or whatever the hell it is, you can.

At the same time it’s a game that is designed to allow you to do whatever you want, which is, you know, from my standpoint is fairly hardcore because most games don’t. Most games, if they want to treat you like an infant, they’ll just simply tell you what you have to do next and once you do that thing, then they’ll give you the next thing you have to do. I think that’s a much more simple way of playing the game. There are a lot of games that take that and take it to the tenth degree and make it an incredible experience. For us, we’re doing something different, a sandbox game, go wherever you want, do whatever you want and so I think it can be both. I think it can be accessible but still be very open and sort of hardcore in terms of how you’re going to play the game and all the different options you have... How you can finish this quest, how you can talk to this guy. I think you can do both, make it accessible and still be true to what it’s about.

Strategy Informer: Would it be fair to label Fallout 3, “Oblivion with guns”? It seems as if the dialogue seems to be the same, the wide open spaces and there are a lot of similarities.

Pete Hines: Well, from the standpoint of both Fallout and Oblivion are kind of “go wherever you want” kind of games, so certainly from an engine point of standpoint, we designed it to be something where we wanted to give you big vistas and really sort of impress upon you the level of destruction as well all the possibilities. All of these places you can see, you can walk to in real time and go explore.

You know, the dialogue is exactly like the dialogue from Fallout so it may feel similar to Oblivion and I guess in terms of how it’s structured, but it’s sort of exactly the way Fallout presented its dialogue; You know what it is you want to say, how people respond back, trying to do a lot more with the dialogue in terms of choices of how you talk to people, the ability to unlock certain options in dialogue based on having a higher speech skill or having certain attributes that allow you to unlock a certain dialogue option that you usually wouldn’t be able to get, different perks, you know when you levelled up you may have noticed “The Ladykiller” or if you’re playing as a girl, it’s called “Black Widow” where you pick that perk, then talking to certain people you get a dialogue option that you wouldn’t normally have gotten. All of that is very different ad unique to Fallout in terms of giving the player options they wouldn’t normally have gotten because of the type of character they are playing with; you get to say this because of who you are.

To answer your question, I don’t discount that folks are going to call it that, it’s based off the same engine, it’s still doing big epic vistas, but I think Oblivion was a really good game, my only hesitance with that phrase is that it doesn’t take in to account how much effort we put in to making this a very true Fallout experience with characters, dialogue and setting and all that stuff to make it very different and true to what the series is about. I think we’ll certainly get that and I don’t think that’s ever going to go away but I think it probably sells the game a bit short.

Strategy Informer: Obviously the Fallout franchise was owned by Interplay, but when you bought the IP you decided to start from scratch. Why did you decide to do that?

Pete Hines: Well, because first of all it was done by a completely different team of people, so to take a project that one group of people had done, started and gotten to whatever level was at, and then hand it over to another group of people and say “here, you finish this”... that’s not really how we envisioned it. We envisioned taking over ownership of this franchise and treating it as if it’s our own because you know, it is and then developing it like we did with Elder Scrolls which is, we’re going to spend a lot of time, a number of years, 3, 4 years putting a lot of work in to making this thing as good as it can possibly be. Just to say you have to take this work someone else has done and just clean it up and finish what they had started... That’s not something we even considered for a millisecond. That’s somebody else’s work, they didn’t get a chance to finish it which is a shame but, we’re going to make the game that the people here feel passionately about and think they can make the best game possible with, as opposed to being saddled with finishing someone else’s idea.

Strategy Informer: Why did Bethesda decide to take on the Fallout franchise?

Pete Hines: We had been talking for a while, possibly since Morrowind in 2002, doing something else besides the Elder Scrolls, probably before that, but really started seriously looking at what else are we going to do. At some point after Morrowind and before 2004, whenever it is that we picked up the Fallout franchise, we had gone to senior management and said “look, you know, if you really want to know the truth, what we’d love to make is Fallout... Nobody is doing anything with it, do you think you could go see if you could get it” and some folks (our bosses), knew some folks at Interplay and got it for us. We felt like it was a good fit for the kind of things we liked to do; create any kind of character you want, do whatever you want, but it was also very different in the terms of the kind of game that it was; the setting and that creatively, we could move away from doing a classic fantasy kind of thing with the Elder Scrolls and do something very different in post apocalyptic where it had some similarities but were also very different. At that point, 2004, we had started on Oblivion already but were about to get in to roughly 7 plus years of making Elder Scrolls and sometimes you don’t mind a little break creatively, do something else.

Strategy Informer: The engine is obviously one you’ve used before, is this an engine you’ll use again or is this the last time?

Pete Hines: Oh I don’t know, I think given all the work and time we’ve put in to it, I doubt we would just walk away from it. You know, at this point, it has been heavily customised and modified by our own programmers for years now, so, and I think all the things we’ve been able to do from Oblivion to Fallout in terms of just the amount of detail on the screen, that we’re able to put on there and the speed at which it runs and the new things we’ve done... You know, every time we do another game, whatever we do next after Fallout 3, we always take stock of where we’re at currently and what we stuff we want to blow up and what stuff we want to do this with, so I’m sure we’ll probably do that again. I don’t know if we’d say “ok, scrap it, throw everything away we’ve done and let’s start over again” I don’t know if we’d do that or not.

Strategy Informer: I guess it’s an engine that looks like it doesn’t need to be scrapped at this point.

Pete Hines: Well yeah and because it’s not an off-the-shelf thing, it’s not like its Unreal this, or this version of whatever other engine... It’s our own custom built thing where basically, our programmers have done all the work for updating every particular faucet with the possible exception of a few things, for example we love having physics and we use it extensively, you know, never going to blow a path in physics, but that’s us using a middleware solution... As far as the core rendering engine and all that other tech, that’s all us and I would imagine, you know, it would be a part of that eval process we do of “hey listen, we have a new solution for doing this and we should do it and take this risk and do it this other way”, or “I have all these other ideas to make it better”.

Strategy Informer: The dialogue system, do in-game decisions affect the environment and the world you live it or will it just really shape the storyline?

Pete Hines: The decisions you make affect how people think about you based on what you do. Even just in talking to folks, not even having to kill somebody and you walk up to them... The Sheriff for example, you walk up to him and if you’re really rude, he sort of goes down one path and if you’re nice, he’ll go down another and people may come to you for help. If you’re very nice, they’ll reach out to you and ask you for help and ask you to help them with a quest and if you’re a real jerk they may be like “screw you, I don’t need your help anyway”.

Strategy Informer: So it pays to be nice?

Pete Hines: Well, it’s up to you. It that’s the kind of character you’re playing and some snotty kid comes running up to you and asks for help and you tell them to “piss off” then that’s the kind of character you’re playing and you didn’t want to do that quest anyway. I would assume, you didn’t want to do that quest anyway if you were being a jerk. If you wanted to do every quest but you wanted to be as mean to people as possible, that’s probably not going to work out for you because people are going to react on the way that you’re treating them and the more of a jerk you are to them, the less likely they are going to provide you with information or offer you a quest or have anything to do with you.

Strategy Informer: Going back to the original Fallout games, they had a very Isometric view of the game world. Why did you decide to make the player-view more like Oblivion, was it because you had done it like that before?

Pete Hines: I’m that the fact that we had done our last game like that played some part, but at the same time we also felt like if you’re really going create this believable world that you’re going to put a person in and expect them to sort of suspend belief, then there’s no better way to do that then first person, where you’re really down in the world. When you’re walking down the ruined streets of a blown-up D.C. you’re not just looking down at somebody walking down the streets, you are that guy and all that destruction is everywhere around you, and it makes it come to life in a way that you can’t do any other way and so that was probably the biggest thing for us: it was the kind of experience we were trying to provide, and how to best get that across to the public. I mean we do it in the Eldar Scrolls. We could do any perspective we want but there’s nothing quite as immersive as seeing the world through your character’s eyes.

Strategy Informer: Has there been a release date given for North America or Europe yet?

Pete Hines: Fall 2008. We haven’t given out anything other then Fall 2008 anywhere.

Strategy Informer: Do you know when you’ll be in a position to give us more of a concrete release date?

Pete Hines: I don’t know the day that I’ll be able to tell you, but it’s coming soon…because it needs to be because Fall isn’t that far away. It appears to be coming to London quicker then other places but I would say….within the next little bit… Which is a nicely undefined period of time. We will have a date for PC, 360 and PS3.

Strategy Informer: Is the intention for all of the various versions to come out at the same time?

Pete Hines: Yes.

Strategy Informer: With regards to the PS3 version, obviously we’ve seen a 360 build on trial here today, how is it coming along?

Pete Hines: It’s coming along. I mean we’re getting down to the final strokes on all three versions. The goal is to have all three of them be the same game, the same kind of performance on all three platforms.

Strategy Informer: Graphically how is (The PS3 version) measuring up? Will you not be able to notice a difference?

Pete Hines: That’s the goal, that you can’t tell the difference.

Strategy Informer: What about Trophies? Is that something you are considering?

Pete Hines: I don’t know. I can’t tell you for sure whether or not we’ll have them or not.

Strategy Informer: How are the Achievements shaping up for the 360 version?

Pete Hines: The Achievements? They are mostly complete although we still like to mess with that stuff sometimes in late stages, in terms of “yeah it’s taking a little too long to get this one”, which is why we didn’t want anybody looking at them, because then we wouldn’t want you guys putting something out that we then changed… But yeah, they’re largely in there and there’s some really good ones in there… some ones that I rather enjoy.

Strategy Informer: Time consuming ones?

Pete Hines: I actually think that the achievements that we had in Oblivion were really good in terms of being the ‘cookie crumbs down the path’ that you always felt that you were just this far from getting another one, which is what I really liked about it. Fallout is a bit different, because we don’t have all these guilds to progress you along, to give you achievements for each one. We do a number of different things. First of all it’s impossible… No, it is. It’s gotta be. It’s impossible to get them all on one play through, it would take you multiple times to get them all.

Strategy Informer: So are there ‘Moral’ choices?

Pete Hines: Some of them are for ‘Karma’, and different levels of Karma you can get so, there are achievements for certain ranks of good or evil or neutral karma. So, I think it’s impossible to move up and down each of those, although somebody I’m sure will figure out the exact order of good and evil things to do to get you up and down all three. But yeah, it’s a thing where you’re going to have to play through the game more then once in a different way. But there are also achievements for doing cool stuff out in the world. Blowing people’s pants up and things like that.

Strategy Informer: Talking about the game world, obviously it’s massive, you can do anything you want, go anywhere you please. Do you think there’s a danger you went too far?

Pete Hines: Did we go too far? (laughs) I don’t know…

Strategy Informer: Well during the play-through, I noticed that there wasn’t much around. Obviously this is a post apocalyptic setting, but the world was pretty barren. Apart from the main story, you’ve got no real direction, no incentive to go one way or the other.

Pete Hines: Well, a couple of things. First of all, we sort of take a risk in having you guys go out into the world without having experienced the first thirty to forty-five minutes where you get everything explained to you. If you pay attention to your compass, and where it’s trying to direct you to unknown locations out in the world. You actually come across a lot of that stuff, it’s just that it’s fairly easy to just walk past it without even trying. In Oblivion it’s a little easier because it’s like, there’s a mountain and then there’s a cave in the side of the mountain.

Whereas in Fallout it’s not always quite as ‘beat-you-over-the-head’ obvious, but I do think it is a combination of using your compass to recognise when you’re walking past lots of things you can see and do. Also, we’re preventing you guys from doing anything in the main quest, which is pretty prohibitive in that we use the main quest to send you out to parts of the world, which intentionally run you past a lot of other things to do. So when we keep you from doing that we keep you from going right past all this stuff that we lead you to in the main quest.

So we might take you out to this part of the map knowing that you’re going to come across all this stuff here. And then we know that you’re probably going to go over here, and then go to this point of the map. So we’re kind of smart about using the map as a setting for different parts of the main quest, and how you’re going to get there and what you’re going to cover along the way. But take Megaton for example, there’s like a good 5,6,7,8 hours worth of quest stuff available too you just like that. One lady’s putting together a survival guide, another lady wants you to go to another town. Next thing you know you’ve been playing the game for a long time.

Strategy Informer: Obviously Oblivion was very well received, and enjoys a very high Metacritic scoring. This game is coming out soon so I guess you guys could make a decent call about whether or not you think that it will improve on your Metacritic average?

Pete Hines: I do have my opinions on that, but I will keep them to myself. I don’t have any doubts that on the whole, and I think this is a belief universally shared by the team that Fallout is a better game. But we’re also not oblivious to the fact that we have a lot of extra baggage that we’re carrying, being the guys picking up this franchise, that are re-imagining this series from 10 years ago, and that there is something that comes along with that. We’re very well aware of what we’re up against. But I have no doubts in my mind that, at its core, and for everything it provides that Fallout is a better game then Oblivion was. For sure.

Strategy Informer: You talk about the hardcore PC gamers who have played the first two, but this is also coming out on Xbox and Playstation, so for a lot of people this will be their first experience with Fallout. Do you think that at the end of the day it matters about those people? The ones who obsess about the first two games?

Pete Hines: Ultimately, I think it’s up to everybody to make up their own mind about whether or not Fallout is a game they want to play, and whether it’s a game worth playing, and how good or not it is. There’s no one source in this world for “I determine the Fallout-ness of any game in this universe”, nobody gets to do that, everybody has to decide for themselves and even just sitting here I’ve had people say “I have a fan who is a hardcore Fallout fan, and he says what he remembers most about Fallout is X”, and whatever he says ends up being slightly different or completely different to somebody else. Everybody takes something different from every experience. Our thing is we’re going to try to make the best possible fallout game that we can, we believe that it is a game where if you loved the original games, you’ll see lots of things here that will remind you those previous Fallout’s. If you’ve never played Fallout, there’s a lot here to make you become a big fan of this universe.

But we just get to make the game, we don’t get to make that call on how good or not good it is. We just focus on what we’re doing and then guys like you will decide if we were right or not.

There you have it folks, straight from the horses mouth. Check back soon for our impressions on Fallout 3, and how it’s shaping up so far.


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By Kres (SI Elite) on Aug 04, 2008
Great stuff, great interview Joe. I've enjoyed reading it. And thanks to Pete Hines for the interview time. As for Fallout, well I am one of the obsessed people, I've enjoyed thoroughly Fallout 1, Fallout 2 and Fallout Tactics, and I will play Fallout 3 one way or the other. I'm certain that Pete Hines team will do the job right. Awaiting for the RD...
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Aug 04, 2008
Looking fantastic. Thanks for the interview, most thorough I\'ve read yet. Now just have to get it to Australia in a Diplomatic Pouch or something.
By JamieSI (SI Core) on Aug 05, 2008
This ones coming to Australia, but as a watered down version I believe.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Aug 06, 2008
Well, it will be interesting to see how this one turns out. I guess since it is on its way to consoles it will receive a smashing 99%!!!!!!!... on GameSpot ;)\n\nI\'m one of the original gamers who actually would have prefered to see the isometric gaming continue and I do fear that this will be Oblivion with guns much because as they point out that they based things on the Oblivion game, and that had a consolly feeling that really really bugged me at least.\n\nI hope soo much I\'m wrong and that this is a great game. Time will tell.