Obsidian’s Josh Sawyer on Fallout: New Vegas, the Van Buren legacy and learning from mods

“I’d always wanted to work on a Fallout game ever since I got in the industry,” Obsidian Entertainment’s project director Josh Sawyer admits at the start of our interview. Having worked at BlackIsle during the development of the canceled Fallout ‘Van Buren’ project and having his own shared of canceled projects in the past, Sawyer was rather ‘cautiously’ optimistic about starting on the standalone game Fallout: New Vegas. Now that the game is almost ready for final submission, Sawyer took the time at gamescom to talk with us about his work behind this newest addition to the Fallout franchise.

Having to cater to such a devoted community of fans, Swayer’s team took heed of the community’s feedback as much as they could. One of the first things the team unveiled when New Vegas was publicly announced, was its new hardcore mode. “This was made for a significant, but not humongous subset of Fallout 3 fans who wanted a higher level of challenge,” Sawyer says. “We noticed from the mods that people made and downloaded on the pc, that people wanted more challenge.” The mode lets the player only heal over time, requires the player to manage their basic survival needs and other weight adaptations.

“We thought of it as more of the Vice City of the Fallout franchise, with just a lot of improvements.”

A clean slate

Facing a devoted community who wondered how New Vegas was going to be positioned within the Fallout franchise, New Vegas was always planned to be a standalone project and not a sequel since the development started in February 2009. “We decided from the beginning that we wanted it to be a clean slate,” Sawyer explains. “We wanted you to start over at first level and sort of experience the changes we’ve made in our game in terms of the system, because we’ve changed so much about the game, how you advance and get perks. […] We thought of it as more of the Vice City of the Fallout franchise, where there’s a lot ofimprovements. Obviously it’s a huge new amount of content, but it’s not a really the next game in the overall progression of the sequels.”

Fallout: New Vegas

Remembering Black Isle

Having been at Black Isle while the Fallout Van Buren project was canceled and when the studio was closed down in 2003. With several Black Isle employees moving to Obsidian, Sawyer was able to confirm that some original concepts and ideas from the Van Buren still made it into New Vegas.

“Ultimately, my hope is that people who played the original games and know about Van Buren will be able to get a little bit extra out of it.”

“More ambiguity is a big thing for Black Isle and Obsidian, companions having their own quests, heavier companion dialogue, companion control and so on,” Sawyer says. Also a couple of organizations that were developed for the Van Buren projects will finally see the day of light in New Vegas, including The New California Republic and Caesar’s Legion. “We’re glad we’re able to flesh that out,” Sawyer admits. “Ultimately, my hope is that people who played the original games and know about Van Buren will be able to get a little bit extra out of it.”

Fallout: New Vegas

The value of game mods.

During the development of New Vegas, Sawyer’s team also noticed some useful game adaptations created by the Fallout 3 mod scene. Looking at the trends of what more hardcore players enjoyed in those mods, the New Vegas team took some of those ideas and implemented them in their own game. “Some modders just do brilliant work, period,” Sawyer admits.

“Some modders just do brilliant work, period.”

“A lot of modders are working against the limitations of the engine. They don’t have access to the source code and so have to basically make what they can with what they have.” The most important mods the team looked at were the ones that improved the player’s weapon modification, the healing process and the process of game difficulty. Nobody was hired directly from the Fallout 3 modding community as a result. However, an Oblivion modder called Jorge Salgado, known for his Oscuro overhaul of Oblivion was hired at the start of 2010 to work on New Vegas. “He brought along a lot of tricks that he had learned a long the way to the team, which was pretty cool,” Sawyer says.

Fallout: New Vegas is currently in development by Obsidian Entertainment and has been scheduled for release on October 19, 2010, in North America, and October 22, 2010, in Europe.

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