Back To Black Isle: Fargo On Obsidian Joining Wasteland 2

By Alec Meer on April 2nd, 2012 at 8:00 pm.

Last week’s wonderful shock news was that Brian Fargo and his team at inXile hope to recruit Chris Avellone and his team at Obsidian to work with them on the successfully startkicked sandbox RPG Wasteland 2. If funding for Wasteland 2 can reach $2.1 million (it’s currently at $1.8m, with 14 days left to go), it means a sort of dream team of ex-Black Isle staff would be working on a game that consciously harkens back to that golden age of cRPGs. I had a quick chat with Brian Fargo about what the potential partnership actually means, his thoughts on the wildly successful crowdsourcing of the game to date, whether the hiring of Planescape brain Avellone means a more fixed rather than freeform RPG, how his Kicking It Forwards crowdsourcing reinvestment initiative is going, and how he’d love to out-Kickstart Doublefine.

RPS: You must be over the moon at the moment.

Fargo: I’ve been over the moon for two weeks.

RPS: Did you think it was all going to work out, or was there a moment of doubt?

Fargo: Well, when we first went out I was a little afraid because we were asking for more money than anybody had ever asked for before, and I was afraid it would be misconstrued as us trying to be greedy when in fact I knew that it would be the minimum amount of money to do the product justice.

RPS: Be honest, you’re wearing a hat made of gold right now. You went straight out and bought that.

Fargo: Is my camera on?

RPS: I can just tell. There’s a sort of reverberation in your voice that can only be made by a man wearing precious metal.

Fargo: (laughs)

RPS: I’m really glad it worked out. So we’ve just heard your news about Obisidan potentially joining the game’s development, which is pretty amazing.

Fargo: I’ve been working on it since the beginning. It’s not like that was easy for me to pull together but there was a desire for me…we’ve been wanting to work together for some time. There’s a mutual respect and of course when it comes to Fallout, that’s yet more people who helped work on that, so I’m super-happy to be working with them. And especially Chris [Avellone] in particular. He’s a real talent and he’s gonna help…

To me, I bring on all these people and they help to set the bar very high so that everybody follows. Even the concept artist you might have seen, Andrée Wallin, you get this super-talent involved and they get the bar up there and then everybody else follows.

RPS: You’ve got to hope there isn’t a weak link among all these super people, but it does sound like a hell of a team.

Fargo: It’s fantastic. And the thing about Chris [Avellone] is that he’s hyper-passionate about Wasteland. For him, it was one of the seminal products that got him into the industry, developed his love for roleplaying games, so I think it’s really kind of a dream for him too.

RPS: Yeah, especially because Obsidian had some bad news the other day. To walk into this is great, because they’re straight onto what they were talking about doing anyway.

Fargo: Yeah, this product is right in his wheelhouse.

RPS: I’m glad because he was talking about doing his own thing and I did think “two turn-based roleplaying games at the same time, doesn’t that increase the odds of one of them not coming to pass?”

Fargo: They may end up doing one later, but right now they’re in the middle of a big project that they have to do so the timing is such that I don’t think they were prepared to do something immediately, where I was. So just the timing worked out well.

RPS: Have you been kicking around ideas yet, or is that still a little way off?

Fargo: Just a little bit. Next week is when we’ll be kicking around ideas. We have to work out the business details first before they want to let Chris run around in our offices. Next week that will certainly be the case. We’ve talked a little bit about it but no great amount of detail yet. Chris has just been dying to announce it, so this is great.

RPS: Do you think it’s going to work naturally or might there be a clash, in that Wasteland is about player agency and freedom, while the game he’s most revered for, Planescape, is very much a fixed, set narrative?

Fargo: No, they won’t clash at all. What Chris brings is this wonderful density to his levels. So he’ll be involved with the overall, but he’ll also be given some sections in particular that he’ll be able to put his stamp on. It’s sort of like in science fiction novels where multiple authors get involved and do their own parts, all with their own style.

To me, it’s going to be cool because it’s going to give a greater sense of variety as you move around the world. But there’s no way on Earth this is not going to be a sandbox type game.

RPS: Who’s going to handle the story element? Are you going to do that in-house or are you going to pool it like those science fiction authors where it’s a completely collaborative thing?

Fargo: It’s going to be a little bit myself and Mike Stackpole making the world sense come together. So we’l be helping to coordinate the overarching story of it all, but the individual parts, that’s where we have different people, whether it’s Chris Avellone, or Liz Danforth, who are working on their areas.

Creatively, when you work on a product like this, you say “listen, we need this prison yard and just make sure at the end they walk out with an Uzi, OK, I don’t care what happens in there but just make sure they get an uzi at the end for the next part.” They say “great” and we turn them loose.

The most important that this adds, and what our players continue to want and ask for from us, is scope and scale. That’s what this is about. Every time the numbers go up, the game just gets a little bit bigger and a little more dense, and this helps ensure that.

RPS: Have you had any really crazy moments, in the middle of the night thinking “I wonder if we could make five million, what could we do then?” Sort of fantasy figures.

Fargo: (laughs) Dare to dream, right? I guess our fantasy number is if we end up getting over what Double Fine did, that would be…

I was looking back at the budget for the original Fallout. That was about three million dollars, and that included a lot of audio, a lot of cinematics and some publisher overhead. Also, the salary levels were different back then. To me, if we get to something like three million dollars that really starts to…I mean, we’re going to be able to make a great game as it is, it’s not like a problem, but it provides a little more leeway I guess in terms of not having to work 12 hour days.

RPS: How do the team sizes for this and Fallout compare? Have you got roughly the same headcount?

Fargo: We’re going to be contracting out more on this. There are better tools now than there were back then, so it allows us to have a lot of stuff that’s already built for us and to contract out more. And we’re a little smarter now too.

RPS: Kicking it Forward was a lovely little notion. Have you seen lots of takeup for it?

Fargo: Yeah, it’s slowly catching on. We have about thirteen different developers signed up for it. If you look at Kickstarter, it’s an unbelieveable thing to get your financing done this way. If you get your product done for the amount of money you get, as soon as you ship, day one, you’re going to go right into the profit, right?

That’s such a wonderful thing it seems like, why not pay it back by helping other people to get into the same position we’re in. I don’t know how anybody can say no to it, right? It’s not an unreasonable request, it’s a small amount, and it’s going to help us all if we stick together.

RPS: Yeah, it could potentially be make or break for a lot of things. We’ve been seeing a lot of projects that aren’t quite coming off, but 5% of other project’s cash going into them would probably solve it.

Fargo: Well, imagine if Notch, if Minecraft, had been done through Kickstater. He would be probably financing 3-4 million dollars’ worth of projects right now. It’d probably be enough to do all of them! Something that I found out later, is that the French film industry takes a piece of every movie ticket and puts it back into the film business. This is a less political way of doing it. It is an honor system, but for the most part the indie development community is made up of good, honest people on the whole.

RPS: Do you have a strategy for how you’re going to pick the projects you want to kick it forward into, or would you do a vote with the community.

Fargo: The way I see it working is that if somebody has a profit and wants to give part of it away, you give it away however you see fit. We’re not going to set up a committee or do anything complicated, you just decide where it goes. So if you’ve got $50,000 to give, then go do it.

And so, for me, if I’m personally handed out the money, I’ll probably sit with my guys and spend a little bit of diligence, look at projects, see what’s interesting, the people, getting some sense of whether they can deliver or not, that sort of thing. I would be caring most about giving the money to a group that can actually do it.

RPS: You’re at risk of becoming a sort of gaming godfather figure.

Fargo: (laughs) One of the interesting things about Kickstarter – I was looking at some statistical information – is that Kickstarter goes to a trough level and then starts to build back up toward the end. So some people have said “boy, things have really slowed down”, but apparently they all do at this point. I think this will help spike it back up again but we’re not concerned even though it’s ‘slowed down’. It’s still right where it needs to be.

RPS: There must be people who look and think “well, they’ve got enough, why bother funding now?” But if you can keep adding new goals to aim for, like this, there’s no reason it can’t just keep rolling.

Fargo: Well, for the last week people have been saying “Brian, we’d love to give you more but can you tell us what we’re going to get for it?” And I’ve been wanting to tell them about this so it’s been frustrating to just sit in silence because I didn’t want to just throw out something and come back two days later with something else. A lot of gamers have been waiting to hear what else they get when they hit some higher tiers and here is part of the answer.

RPS: Do you know how much of Obsidian would be working on it if it came to pass? Would it primarily just be Chris and a couple of guys, or would it be the whole team?

Fargo: There’s two parts of it. They have a lot of tools also over there that they’ve built over the years that are going to help save us some time. So there’s a tool component that takes their time – historical time – and then primarily it’s just Chris and maybe a couple of the guys, but it’s mainly from a design perspective. Pure writing/design.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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53 Comments »

  1. bladedsmoke says:

    Planescape: Torment was the gaming equivalent of Citizen Kane, and Fallout New Vegas was a supremely underrated gem of a game. Seeing that Chris Avellone is potentially involved with this project has greatly increased my anticipation for it.

    • MuscleHorse says:

      Is New Vegas that overlooked? I felt like the only thing that really held it back was Bethesda’s involvement. I’m guessing there’s no chance that they’d just let Obsidian do all the Fallouts for them from now on?

      • Brun says:

        General consensus seems to be that it was underrated mainly because it was so buggy at launch.

        • povu says:

          That seems to be the consensus made on every Obsidian game.

          Which is why this Wasteland 2 project where Obsidian does only what it does best (writing) is so exciting.

          • DiTH says:

            Bethesda also has their fair share of bugs at launch.Must be some of the tools they use.But seriously at least they fix a lot of them post launch.

            But i agree that Obsidian sticking to writing is a good thing.Also i would like to suggest to Brian to give an early alpha beta to the mod community for testing and some bug fixing :P Community is always faster than Developers.

          • Ironclad says:

            @Dith: Bug squashing and Q&A is done by the publisher, not the developer. Unfortunately Obsidian seems to have really shitty relationships with publishers.

          • Ragnar says:

            I played Fallout 3 at least 6 months after it came out, using the fan-made bug fix patch, and it was still the buggiest game I ever played. It would crash-to-desktop constantly, and I can’t think of a more severe bug. So even ignoring that QA is done by the publisher, and not the developer, I don’t see how Fallout New Vegas would be bug-free.

        • Turkey says:

          Didn’t stop it from selling like 5 million units.

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        I’m kind of like you. Setting aside the one-point on metacritic that prevented them from getting their bonus, it seems like it would be in the best interest of Bethesda to farm out content to Obsidian more often. Bethesda makes some decent tools, Obsidian makes some amazing product, they each get some prestige and a lot of money, and the players get good games. Everyone wins!

        • Jason Moyer says:

          They use Metacritic to dole out bonuses? Instead of something that actually makes sense like, I dunno, how much goddamn money the game made?

          • Phantoon says:

            People can’t be paid to buy games. But some review outfits will fire people if they don’t give good reviews of something paying for their adspace.

      • bladedsmoke says:

        It got quite good critical reviews. It was still underrated, though.

        Compare reviews of Mass Effect 3 to reviews of New Vegas, and you’ll see what I mean.

      • InternetBatman says:

        I’d argue that it’s underrated in comparison to games of a similar quality.

    • Ragnar says:

      Except that Planescape: Torment is a game I’d want to play again and again because it’s fun. Citizen Kane is one of those movies you watch once, marvel at it, and then have no desire to watch it a second time.

  2. Infinitron says:

    Torment is not a “fixed, set narrative”, it has plenty of freedom despite not being a pure sandbox world type of game.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      Well, the first trip through Sigil is pretty open, but it has long stretches of linearity and, more importantly, there’s a lot less focus on the nuts and bolts of roleplaying than there was in Wasteland.

      I love both styles, but I’m glad that they’re not trying to make this into one of the Infinity Engine games. If we have the quality of Avellone’s writing but the gameplay style of Wasteland, it’ll be a great combination.

      • bfandreas says:

        Yeah, but I think the focus/freedom balance in Torment hit the spot. I also enjoyed Bastion even though it was on rails. Never felt confined. But that’s of course the anathema to what Wasteland was..

        I often find myself completely lost in games that are too open. Stories are a great thing to participate in. As long as you don’t hire RA Salvatore that is. I loathe the convoluted mess he signed off in Amalur. Even though I ramped up 200hrs+(without the DLC) in that game. Go figure…

        Now where’s that Torment CD at?

        • MaXimillion says:

          Salvatore didn’t write the story for Amalur, he just handled the world building. Which he did quite well IMO, too bad the actual storytelling was quite sub-par.

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      ffordesoon says:

      Well, yes, but it’s still clearly an “authored” game, whereas the Interplay Fallouts and Wasteland are very much, “Here’s a goal, now decide how to accomplish it.”

    • Wizardry says:

      Yes it is. Planescape: Torment was a game in which the developers told you a story involving the protagonist you control.

      • Infinitron says:

        I object to the word “fixed”.
        “Set” is okay, perhaps.

  3. rawrty says:

    “But there’s no way on Earth this is not going to be a sandbox type game.”

    Ah, so great to hear that and props to RPS for asking the biggest question, for me at least, that I really wanted to have answered.

    • Brun says:

      Indeed. Sandbox games are my favorite type of games.

    • Wizardry says:

      Well, Wasteland was a sandbox game, whatever that means, so it was obvious that its Kickstarter funded sequel would be similar.

      • Brun says:

        It can be a difficult thing to describe, but a sandbox game typically refers to any game with an open world and a fixed, robust set of rules and mechanics which the player is free to experiment with and exploit to accomplish his goals. Sandbox games build in a lot of great things about gaming, the most obvious being exploration/freedom and multiple ways to achieve goals.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah, saw that one being mentioned up-front in the lead-in, and immediately thought of the previous and impending Wizardry comment threads. ;)

      Edit: And here he is!

  4. woodsey says:

    “Fargo: I’ve been over the moon for two weeks.”

    It always amuses me how snarky any sort of short reply seems when its written down.

    • Phantoon says:

      It didn’t come across as snarky to me at all.

      • Dizzard says:

        It didn’t seem snarky to me either. He’s happy, what’s wrong with that?

    • Caiman says:

      What amazes me is how many people find snark in just about anything that’s written down, and how many choose to interpret something in the worst possible way rather than the opposite. Reading some of the comments on the W2 kickstarter page, it seems Brian is in for a potentially unpleasant time with a small percentage of people.

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      equatorian says:

      That didn’t come across as snarky to me, either. I just see him having this slightly embarrassed slightly derpy REALLY HAPPY grandfather smile on, and it made me smile because it’s cute. Where’s the snark? Why would anyone snark? If it’s snark, the meaning of it should be like ‘duh, yeah, you just noticed?’ which doesn’t fit with the flow of the conversation at all.

      So I’m still not sure why that could be seen as snark.

    • sneetch says:

      I’m equal parts annoyed and amused that some people still don’t seem to realise that, usually, they’re the ones who put the snark into a statement not the author, or the person being quoted, a written piece like this is basically flat you can’t easily determine the mood or tone, so people read it in the tone or mood they want to read it in, getting around that is the whole reason emoticons were invented.

  5. pilouuuu says:

    A sandbox with great storytelling! Not a sandbox with no storytelling like Skyrim. I want to play this.

  6. Volrath says:

    The expectations I have about this project are immense.

  7. Dizzard says:

    I really like kicking it forward. It’s like the Justice League…except with indie developers.

  8. malkav11 says:

    The reason to keep funding a Kickstarter after the goals are reached? Simple: rewards. I like what people are trying to do in all 12 of the Kickstarters I have now backed (and yes, Double Fine got me rolling, so a lot of people on Kickstarter have them to thank for my patronage), but I’ve only backed one where I wasn’t really interested in any of the rewards (Greg Stolze’s latest short story ransom, Falling – he’s awesome, you should back his stuff), and that not for a great deal of money. (Though I did chip in $40 to his previous Kickstarter, but that got me physical signed copies of two of his novels, and ebook copies of both, and he generously gave me a free ebook copy of his short story collection as well, so the incentive was significantly higher.)

    I’ve seen quite a few Kickstarters that went way past any goals, even stretch goals, simply because people wanted to buy in on whatever was coming out of the project. iPod cases, games, whatever, and it was a better or more enticing (or exclusive) deal on Kickstarter than it would be later.

  9. Tacroy says:

    This interview reminded me to kick up my pledge to $100. I don’t really think the extra reward at the tier is quite worth that price, but if they’re adding Avellone to the team that’s totally worth doubling the pledge.

  10. Brahms says:

    Can someone sell this to me as someone who never played wasteland, any of the fallouts before F3 or a turn based game outside of Frozen Synapse. I like the look of the box art for Wasteland 1 but that’s about it. Is this sort of like the fallout setting but less “funny” ?

    Obviously I understand that the gameplay will be different from F3 in huge respects, but what’s it meant to be like? What sort of a game?

    • wodin says:

      You’ll be in for a treat and it will dawn on you that RPG’s going first person was a mistake.

      I suggest you pick up fallout 1 or 2 from Good old Games and give them a whirl. Don’t forget to go to No Mutants Allowed website and download the hi res mod.

      • Wizardry says:

        Why? CRPGs have been first person since around 1977. Wizardry and Might and Magic wouldn’t have been the same if they were top down.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      The shortest answer to this is that you should pick up Fallout 1 off GOG for about £4 and see how you feel about it.

      I’ve not played Wasteland myself, but I’m huge fan of the Interplay/Black Isle and early-Bioware games. That era’s style of games focussed much more heavily on roleplaying in the world than modern RPGs do, though Wizardry can probably explain about that better than I can. From what I understand of Wasteland, it’s very much about giving you a world where the story is player rather than writer led, so giving you parameters within which to have your adventure instead of scenerios where you come to a predetermined conclusion.
      Setting wise, the early Fallouts are much closer to New Vegas’ sense of humour, underplayed and despairing, as opposed to FO3 more cartoony comedy. Wasteland appears to be in a similar vein of dark humour.
      As for the turn based combat, if you’ve not played in that style before it’s very likely that you bounce off it initially as it requires a different thought process to real time. Not that it’s more ‘in-depth’ or clever, its just a different way of thinking. I really recommend FO2 for the best introduction to how turn-based rpg combat works, there’s probably a few here that would argue that there are better, but for ease of learning FO2 would be my recommendation. The only real issue I have with most turn-based RPGs is that as they rely exclusively on statistics and tactics most end-games are too easy. For example, FO2 where on my last game I beat the final boss in one shot. That’s a personal thing though, I like being challenged, though you could just as easily really like it as the character you’ve invested so much time with has become William Munny.

      Hope that helps somewhat.

      • Brahms says:

        I played through the entire Baldur’s Gate saga back in the day. Is it like that? But post apocalyptic?

        • ResonanceCascade says:

          A little bit, but it’s completely turn-based and all the combat plays out via text that describes what’s happening — almost like you’re playing D&D.

          Mechanically, you move around the world with the keyboard keys (though you can technically use a mouse, God help you). Visually, the game is a little behind something like Chip’s Challenge, and there is no music and very little sound. There is A LOT of text, including a whole paragraph book that corresponds to numbers in the game like a “choose your own adventure” novel.

          All that said, I find it a lot easier to play than a lot of comparable games from that era. The interface is relatively easy to understand, and anyone who’s played a tabletop RPG will get the mechanics almost instantly.

        • Havok9120 says:

          The Fallouts do have some (some) in common with BG, but Wasteland 1 does not. Since this is shaping up as a mix of the two, you really do just need to go grab the Fallouts, go to No Mutants Allowed for the Restoration Mods, and do your thing.

          I prefer FO2 because of the extra polish, characterization, and writing. Many people believe I should burn at the stake for that opinion. *shrug*

          Both are great games and they’re dirt cheap. Pick them up.

  11. Tom OBedlam says:

    Yeah the Avellone news put my pledge up to my maximum of $75.

  12. Viggo says:

    I love Obsidian/Chris Avellone, and couldn’t be more excited about them joining the set.

    Problem is, if you go look at the comments on Facebook from gaming websites as THEY post about this news, you’ve got every CoD, Gears of War, casual gamer and misinformed gamer talking about how bad a thing that is. The same deluded audience that made it so that no major publisher would accept Wasteland 2.

    All they know is how buggy New Vegas was at launch, without bothering to find out how much development time they had, or any details. “Same” thing with Alpha Protocol.

    They don’t even realize the work they’ll be doing, “Pure writing/design.” and tools. And this cesspool of casual gamers is where *the* money is at. It’s that gold vein every major publisher wants to hit and make their games more simple to appeal to it.

    It is a sad sight to behold, knowing what a (probable) major asset they could be to Wasteland 2.

    /rant

    • Volrath says:

      That’s just the point of this project isn’t it? Not catering to that specific CoD crowd? It’s a PC only game.

    • Infinitron says:

      Good riddance.

  13. k4el says:

    I can’t be the only one that looks at this and thinks that obsidian went out of business for a reason. I loved their devotion to really deep RPGS but dammit their games were buggy unpolished and rarely ready for release. I really hope this is a legacy they leave behind.

    Hearing this makes me a lot less interested in throwing money at a project that really has no form of accountability other than its own good intentions.

    • Ragnar says:

      “I can’t be the only one that looks at this and thinks that obsidian went out of business for a reason.”
      That reason seems to be poor relationships / contracts with publishers. Publishers control QA and release dates, not the developers. I remember a similar incident with Troika, who had a patch ready and waiting for ToEE, but weren’t allowed to publish it without Atari’s approval, and Atari didn’t approve it because they were contractually obligated to pay for patches.

      I guess you could say that Obsidian is guilty of poor planning and foresight, with them looking to add scope to their games rather than planning based on the assumption that their publisher will move the release date up at the last minute, and will skimp on QA.

    • Volrath says:

      “Obsidian went out of business for a reason”

      Did you come back from the future? I don’t like that timeline. Maybe we can still change it before it’s too late.

  14. Blackcompany says:

    I am pretty certain Fargo wants to use the DSIII engine for Wasteland 2. And why not? DSIII was pretty well bug free. Its Isometric. We know it handles projectile weapons just fine. And the graphics are crisp and rather good, actually.
    .
    I would love to see Wasteland 2 use this engine. Would doubtless save a ton of dev time for the game, which could then be spent on RPG aspects. And that is something else the engine handles well: dialogue and choice. As proven by DSIII.
    .
    So yeah…if they want to tap Obsidian resources, hell, that works for me. And if it brings Obsidian some coin to help them get back on their feet after the shaft Bethesda gave them, I am all for that, too.