Fallout 3-An interview with Gavin Carter and Emil Pagliarulo

A load of game journalists were lucky enough to be given an invite to the studio belonging to one of the most important players in the RPG world right now-Bethesda. Being the publisher and developer for both Morrowind and Oblivion, they have shown they can pull their weight in the past. We caught up with a lead designer Emil Pagliarulo and lead producer Gavin Carter to see what light they could shed on their upcoming 3D take on the legendary Fallout franchise.

Prima: How do you approach developing a game, especially one with the infamy of Fallout, when none of your team was involved in the original development?

Gavin Carter: We treated a lot like we treat our own. We went back and played the old games, so played a lot of Fallout 1 and Fallout 2, to see what we wanted to bring over from those games, and to get our minds away from this medieval space [that of the Elder Scrolls games]. And we watched movies like Mad Max, read books like The Road, and started from square one.

Prima: And that wasn't a bit difficult bearing in mind the legacy you were entering?

Gavin Carter: I don't know if I'd say difficult. We spent a whole lot of time on it - we like to give ourselves that space. We've been thinking about it for over three years, so what you've seen came about gradually. It's not easy, but I wouldn't say it's tremendously difficult for us.

Prima: Emil, you previously worked for Looking Glass, right?

Emil Pagliarulo: Yes. I worked on Thief II, and designed the Life Of The Party level.

Prima: That's the best level in the game! Running across the rooftops!

Emil Pagliarulo: Thank you!

Prima: So how do you bring a Looking Glass background to a game like this?

Emil Pagliarulo: Looking Glass for me was very much my first time being thrown into the trenches. They have a tradition of really immersive first-person games. I watched the guys making System Shock - those are the kinds of games I identify with. I certainly honed [my] skills there. It's great for me to bring that here.

Prima: What about the moral dimension of Looking Glass games? Does that permeate into the Fallout development?

Emil Pagliarulo: It does. One of the mantras of the Thief games is a big grey area. Garrett is the ultimate anti-hero. That's really important you know. If you want to play like that, we want to support that. As Todd [Howard, executive producer] mentioned, we originally started supporting good, and supporting evil, and we realized how important neutral was, and how viable of a gameplay path it is, and how many great games like the original Thief supported that. That's really important to me.

Prima: With a background developing the Elder Scrolls games, but taking on an Interplay title, which legacy do you think Fallout 3 follows?

Emil Pagliarulo: Me personally, I really feel like we're making a game in the legacy of the Fallout games. It's so different than working with the Elder Scrolls stuff. It's first-person, and that's it. Actually it's interesting for me - it harkens back for me to some of the most enjoyable first-person games I've ever played, the Terminator games Bethesda made. Fallout 3 is Bethesda's triumphant return to gunplay games, after swords and sorcery for so long. For me it's about bringing back /that/ legacy.

Gavin Carter: I feel like when people see it's first-person they're going to say, "Oh, there's Oblivion. It's Oblivion with guns." But honestly there's not a single thing we didn't look at and think, how are we going to do this for Fallout? We stripped out our entire character system. It's all Fallout now, with specials and experience, it's not skill based. The whole questing system is Fallout. There are different paths to all the quests, you can lock yourself out of quests. It's not like Oblivion where you can say, "I've just started in the Fighter's Guild, but I'm the Grey Fox." There's nothing in the game that we haven't looked at as its own thing.

Prima: Do you feel like you owe Interplay anything?

Emil Pagliarulo: You can't. You can't proceed feeling that way. It's like, you also can't proceed feeling like you owe the fans of Fallout anything, you can't feel bad that you're not making a turn-based isometric game. When I first started I think did feel like that, and there was a period of coming to terms with it, and just saying, "I'm going to make the best game I can make, it is what it is, and we have the skills to make an excellent game, so that's what we're going to do."

Gavin Carter: Each of the older games had a different team on it. Fallout 1 and Fallout 2 had many different people working on them. We have a great deal of respect for those guys, but what we don't want to do is open up our entire design to someone outside the company who doesn't really get the culture here. For better or worse it's been ten years since the last game came out. We're very strict on authorial control. We don't want to bring someone in from outside and then only implement their ideas in a half-assed way. We have a vision for the game and we're taking it all the way through.

Prima: How do you go about beginning to create a new story for an established world?

Emil Pagliarulo: It's funny. Setting it in DC - it meant we knew what we needed to do. Originally we had it set on the West coast, but it just didn't work. Eventually I said, "Write what you know." So we have a location that doesn't appear all over the place in videogames. It's such a great place for a game. As for the story, I really like stories that are character-based, so how do those characters change throughout the game? So take the relationship with "my" father. He's my moral compass, a good guy, a noble character, so if I'm an evil bastard how does he react to me? If I blow up a town, what does he think?

Prima: It sounds like the role of Denton's brother in Deus Ex?

Emil Pagliarulo: Yeah, I'd not thought of that before. He is your moral compass too.

Prima: So how does that relationship affect the narrative?

Gavin Carter: We really wanted to simulate growing up in the vault. Your dad is like this warm, inviting guy. He's Liam Neeson! Who wouldn't want Liam Neeson as their dad, right? Then you wake up one day and he's up and left. He hasn't told you about it, you don't know what's going on. A lot of the game is about, what is his motivation? What is he working on, why did he leave? What happened to him? That's one of the central themes of the game.

Prima: Does that relationship impact on the moral dimensions of the game?

Gavin Carter: To an extent. A large part of the game is spent with him absent, so a lot of stuff happens outside of that relationship. We wanted the relationship as a central point of the plot, so we don't want you to be able to say, piss off your dad and ruin the plot. To have a narrative you have to have some parts that are more strict. We definitely want you to feel like he is a central character in your life. When he leaves it is the biggest climactic moment in your life. No one ever leaves the vault - it is entirely self-contained.

Prima: You've mentioned the good/neutral/evil options. Can you elaborate on that choice?

Gavin Carter: It was something we knew we needed - it was one of the key tenants of Fallout that we needed to do. Right at the top was, "choice and consequence in every quest line", as much as we possibly can. Every aspect of the game should have choice and consequence. Even choices like picking your character's stats. Those /don't change/ throughout the course of the game. You're stuck with your Special stats pretty much for the rest of the game. Every little bit from what equipment you pick up to whether you're going to shoot this guy in the head, is going to have that choice, and there are going to be consequences.

Prima: How does such freedom affect the game?

Gavin Carter: There's a lot more handling! We spend a lot of time talking about, "What if the player doesn't go where we want them? What if they stumble on this spot that we wanted for the end-game?" We have to handle that. We don't want to just lock them out and say, "You have to go down this path, that's the only way." We have to handle everything the player's going to do. We're experienced with that because we do it in Oblivion. But it doesn't have quite the same - well, it doesn't affect the game in the same way. A lot of our time has been spent planning for every single contingency that could possibly happen.

Prima: Fallout 3 shows a joy for violence, but that seems almost in conflict with the good/neutral/evil divide. If you choose to play good, do you play a less violent game, or is it righteous violence?

Emil Pagliarulo: You know, that's something else as a developer you also have to come to terms with. What does karma mean? In the real world, it's bad to kill anyone. You could argue to kill even the bad guys. In a videogame setting, it's good to kill the bad guys. So you can still get your jollies so long as you're killing the baddies. But it's tough - that's a place where a lot of the fans disagree - you end up handing out karma inconsistently. It's something we're still trying to balance.

Gavin Carter: What we can do is provide different avenues for the player. A big thing with the original Fallout is you could talk your way out of certain situations. You could got to the Master and talk him to death. We wanted to provide a lot of different avenues. You have to decide for yourself. Is shooting mutants something my character is going to do? In some ways we'll provide non-lethal combat options, but a big part of this game is the incredible level of violence. It's something people find a lot of fun, so it's not something we're going to back off from. The old Fallout had a slider for violence, you could turn it down if you wanted. We joked that on our options we were going to have one, but it would be taped in place at the max.

Prima: Do you find it's more difficult, or different, approaching development in a post-Hot Coffee/Jack Thompson infected world? Is moral ambiguity a lot harder to approach in this climate?

Gavin Carter: It's something I don't really worry about that much. It's probably going to be a Mature game, I don't see how it could possibly not be. It's not something where we're saying, "Let's go through the requirements for Mature and make sure we check all these boxes." It's nothing that we worry about. There is something we worry about regarding kids [The game features children, and it features guns, and it lets you make your choices. Whether they let you kill children is a decision they haven't made], and we could run into all sorts of problems there. It's something we need to think about, and find out, what's a good balance respecting what the game's about, and respecting the reality of the world today.

Emil Pagliarulo: The fact that we still haven't decided what to do with the kids is, you know... It's the world we live in, and you have to think carefully.

Prima: Presumably Bioshock is going to create a whole shitstorm of fuss when people don't understand the role and purpose of the children.

Gavin Carter: Yeah. There was an old screenshot for Fable when that first came out, where the guy had a sword through a kid's neck! That was a screenshot - I thought, oh my God, that's crazy! It's really something disconcerting, so you have to balance it. How important is it for the game? For Bioshock it's a central part of the game. The big choice is whether you're going to kill these little kids or not. Is that something we need to worry about so much in Fallout? I'm not sure it is.