The developing of Wasteland 2 will be half done soon, and we thoroughly continue watching over the game. The bellman of a promising RPG, which is being made with the help of players' financial support, is, of course, Brian Fargo, who has already given us a good many interviews. This time the project leader is answering some tricky questions about violence and studio's past failures. He is also talking about responsibility to the «sponsors», prospectivity of сrowdfunding and speaking about the first screenshot, which was strange looking, the role of Chris Avellone and about the other important things.
How did you come up with idea to turn to Kickstarter for funding your project? Have you thought about it before Tim Schafer and Double Fine's overwhelming success?
I honestly had not considered crowd funding until Tim Schafer went live. Almost simultaneously I had started thinking about Wasteland. I had some of my twitter followers also suggest it and within 24 hours I dropped everything I was doing and focused on rolling out a campaign to get Wasteland 2 funded.
Of course I was hoping to exceed it but I had to plan on not doing so. But it was a wonderful surprise to achieve 3 million and it was probably the best month of my life. The best part about raising the additional monies is that I could create a larger sequel than was originally planned. Every dime of that extra money goes straight into production (and some hard costs for finished goods.)
In our last interview, you were praising Kickstarter for giving developers freedom. You also mentioned that all of your upcoming titles are going to be sponsored via crowndfunding. It's almost a devs heaven, according to you. But there are different opinions among developers. For example, Oskar Burman, a head of Rovio Stockholm, recently stated that Kickstarter is turning developers into escort-service or circus animals ready to do anything for a certain amount of money. Will you disprove your colleague's statement? Taking in account that those who backed Wasteland 2 with $1000 can lobby for their own NPC, location or piece of equipment in the game. Is it appropriate to speak about freedom in the first place?
I simply don't have any negative feelings about it and having it crowd funded does not affect my product integrity at all. Having a bad producer or publisher funding your game is far more likely to make you behave like a circus monkey. You can end up spending 30–40% of your bandwidth trying to get paid or battling for the things that you know are important to the product vision. And we are fortunate to have an open dialogue with our backers as they are our core audience and will help to remind us of what is important. The trick with backer rewards is that you need to work them into the game seamlessly and we are doing that exact thing. If something breaks the fiction blatantly then we ask the backer to reconsider the name they have given us so the world sense isn’t muddied.
InXile Entertainment wasn't that lucky in the gamedev field after ressurection of The Bard's Tale. There was cancelled Hei$t, Hunted: The Demon's Forge that received not very favourable reviews. A lot of people are worrying about the fate of Wasteland 2. What went wrong with the previous projects? And why anything similar isn't going to happen this time?
Those were two excellent examples of me not being left alone to do it my way. The thing is that every producer of games has a different style and way to manage the process. I can assure you mine is quite different than the next one yet sometimes a publisher will try to force me into making decisions I disagree with. They will hold money over your head and you get stuck between game integrity and getting your people paid. The best developers have the clout to avoid such things. My games are far better when I am left alone to do it the way that works for me. I think the assets we have shown and the fast paced of development of Wasteland 2 should give most people some reassurance.
What are some major differences between development process of Wasteland 2 and your work on the original game with Alan Pavlish, Michael Stackpole and Ken Andre? And what are the similarities? Maybe atmosphere or your approach?
The tools are so much better and more varied today that it is hard to know where to start. In many ways the first game had to be hand built from scratch. It was like inventing a camera and making a movie at the same time. We made more progress in 90 days on Wasteland 2 than what took well over a year on the first one. The writing is much more difficult on the sequel as our audience is older and demands more nuance and content. Things have progressed quite a bit from back in the day. One medium size map for Wasteland 2 has more writing than the entirety of Wasteland including the paragraph book. I also have a far bigger writing staff on this version to have yet more content and pick up the slack for anyone who is slipping in delivery.
Is there a reason why you are not going to port the game on consoles or at least iOS, which is suitable to say the least for a tactical RPG? Aside from your nostalgic feelings for PC-gaming. Don't you think that by denying the right of players preferring consoles to see Wasteland 2 released on their favourite platform, you're probably acting not that different from a publishing companies that refuse to make a PC verison of some of their titles?
That is a very unique perspective but my reasons for not considering them for now is so that we are focused only to deliver on the core experience. I don't want my team to be worried about alternate platforms or memory footprints right now as that could compromise something. Publishers may not support PC due to economics but I am holding off considering console and tablet for quality considerations. They are not ruled out but I don't want to spend any time with us worrying about them right now. We must not forget that our 65,000 backers paid for PC, Mac and Linux versions.
As far as we recall, you wanted to release Wasteland 2 at the beginning of the 00's, when you acquired the rights on the franchise from Electronic Arts and founded InXile. What went wrong back then? And how different is your current project from the one you have initially planned?
I too wanted to see a sequel to Wasteland earlier but we were not in the position to finance such a project and no publisher was interested. I pitched every one and there wasn't even a second meeting on the subject. There is no doubt that the game we are working on now has much more in common with its predecessor and at the end of the day this was the best way the sequel could have been financed.
What is the role of Obsidian and Chris Avellone himself in the project? With no particular info on that matter it seems pretty much a marketing move.
Not at all… Chris is in our office almost every week discussing the systems of the game, the psychology of players and designing maps himself. The first two maps the players see in the game are both by Chris. In addition we discussed the different production techniques that Obsidian were doing as they have shipped several big RPGs recently. I would work with them again in a second.
John Alvarado said that you use Unity engine because it fits in the project's design requirements, development plan etc. That's pretty clear. But we also wanted to ask, have you considered using Unigine offered to you by a russian company at some point?
We did look seriously at Unigine but we didn't want to take risk with such a new engine and most importantly they did not have the asset store that Unity does. Choosing Unity went far beyond what the technical specs were.
Audience's reaction on the first published screenshot of Wasteland 2 was quite diverse. How much does this screenshot reflect what we're going to see after the game is released?
It was a calculated risk to show something so early on in the game but we made a promise to our backers to do so. I was very clear that this was pre-alpha and that we still had much to do. And more importantly the overall tone of the game is still coming about. The music, portraits and UI will all help set the look for which the backgrounds must match. It is a symbiotic process and this was just a quick snapshot of things. I think the main diversity at the shot was whether it was dark and moody enough. As the others elements come in I think you will see the tone come down but we also wanted to let users have some choice in the matter. We want to keep the open dialogue open so we can stay in the zone of what gamers expect.
It was really pleasant news for us that the designer and writer of Planescape: Torment and Fallout 2 Colin McComb is joining the team. This month you were planning to comlete the scenario on 90%. Is everything going according to plan? How do you evaluate Colin's work on your project? Do they get along well with Michael Stackpole? And how important is a good story for a tactical game?
Everything is pretty much on plan. we are going to all have an offsite in the 2nd week of November to review all of the scenarios which is within a week of when I wanted. The best part of having a diverse group of writers is that each one approaches their work differently. We then sit together and borrow the best ideas from each other and get a fresh set of eyes on each other's map. It is collaboration at its finest and everyone's ego is in check. A good story is paramount for an RPG is the most important point. The players do spend most of their time in combat so it better be interesting and make the player use their brain.
Chris Keenan said something about introducing hardcore difficulty level in Wasteland 2, similar to Diablo 2 and that the idea was well-recieved among developers. Can you tell us about this particular game mode? And why do you like the idea of making the game difficult? Isn't it a bit reactionary?
How can backer requests become reactionary? That is the whole basis for our communication. We are not going to jump through hoops for any random idea but if our gamers would like a feature that is easy to implement then why not? This feature was in consideration long before we announced it. This mode will add permadeath and does not allow you to save when you want. You won’t be able to reload battles because you didn’t like the outcome.
As far as we know, the game is getting at least a «Mature» rating. How is it reflected in the aesthetics of Wasteland 2? Are you letting player to shoot little kids in the game?
Certainly all of the writing in mature in that it deals with violence, drugs, prostitution, cannibals etc since that is how we envision a dark future. It isn't like we are trying to get a Mature rating but we are not pulling punches for the harshness of the universe. We are letting the players behave the way they want without putting rules around behavior so I'm sure there will be many dark scenarios.
What about the characters? Will players be able to customize them or are we going to choose from several pre-made characters with their own dispositions and preferrences? Are the conflicts within the team possible? Are NPCs going to react on different characters in different ways? Or are all those promised kilobytes of text going to be simple «you got the job, now go fight»?
Players will be able to create a character from scratch or choose a military occupational specialty (like corps of engineers) which will set the base stats and skills. But even then the player can continue to tweak the skills and attributes the way they want. There will be over 30 different skills that the player uses to customize themselves with. The ranger squad that the players creates are wholly under the control of the player. This is more classic role playing however the NPCs that join the party will not be under full control which means they waste ammo, steal from the party, open fire on people and potentially cause havoc for the rangers. Players won't always quite know what they are getting when someone joins up.
Andrée Wallin described The Desert Rangers as «bad guys» but it was quite a long time ago. Is the concept still the same? The storyline is going to revolve around Rangers' confrontation with ex-cons?
I would not describe the Desert Rangers as bad guys but as bad ass which is just another way of describing intimidating and tough. Ultimately the Rangers are supposed to be good guys that try and bring some law and order back to the land. Unfortunately things are not always as they seem and survival might require them to do not so nice a things.
What about the roleplaying system? Are we getting the classic strength, intellect, luck, agility, dexterity, charisma and other dozen and a half of characteristics? Or are you planning to upgrade the leveling mechanics of the original Wasteland? If you're not, chances are you might get in trouble with Bethesda that owns the rights on S.P. E.C.I. A.L system and, not to mention, just loves taking other companies to the court. Don't you apprehend such possibility?
We are improving on the original skill system from Wasteland. Much of that system was pulled from Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes and influenced the other popular RPG systems that are around today. It provides more than enough flexibility in what we are trying to achieve.
How does the lack of full-fledged voice acting impact the development? It is well known that a good voice acting can help to fully expose the characters' personalities and enhance the narrative. How are you going to compensate it?
We are able to make many more iterations late in development on this project due to us not having to worry about voice acting. Early in the project, we asked our fans what elements were most important if we were to beat our funding goal. More VO was one of the options and overwhelmingly, people said they wanted deeper gameplay. That’s where we will be spending our time and money. Wasteland isn’t about the developers creating personality for the rangers and forcing you to play them. You get to choose your own story for your characters. Just like the original, the new Wasteland has a very heavy narrative design. Text helps to fill out the deepness of the world.
How is Mark Morgan doing? In your opinion, how important is a good soundtrack for Wasteland 2?
Both myself and our backers are very pleased with the work that Mark is doing. Mark has a certain industrial sound that people are fond of yet he is mixing it up with new elements to make it unique. Music seems to be about the last thing people are concerned with for Wasteland 2.
So, Interplay and Black Isle are coming back to life. Have you received any offers to return to your lares and penates? What do you think, wouldn't it be great to gather the dream-team together once again and make another game with your old friends?
I feel like I am already working with my old friends at Black Isle already. We speak frequently and I gave them input on their Kickstarter pre launch to share my experiences. InXile and Obsidian are going to work hard to make Southern California the RPG hub again.
And back to Wasteland 2. Are we going to see any references to the original Wasteland or Fountain of Dreams in the game? Or maybe Fallout or Van Buren? Are we going to meet Faran Brygo in Wasteland 2? And will we hear the famous «Hey, you scumbags» again?
Of course there will be many references to the first Wasteland game since it is a direct sequel and takes place just 15 years after the first game ended. Players familiar with the material will re-visit some old locales, see what happened to some of the old NPCs and have some inside jokes. However, it is important to know that there is absolutely no requirement for having played the first game. And we have spent quite an amount of effort making sure the enemies smack talk you. You won't be disappointed.
Thanks a lot for the interview and good luck!
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