Radiating Passion: Wasteland 2’s Design Document

Wasteland 2 is one of the fathers of the now adolescent Kickstarter revolution and, in keeping with early suggestions, it looks like this is one dad who’ll be comfortable having all the necessary talks with his kids. Very open he is.

“We are not afraid of the transparency of our process and thinking and intend to share it along the way.”

That said, today not only brings the superbly redesigned artwork above but also, as spotted by Blue, the release of a “vision document” that contains a huge amount of information about the principles that will drive development. Read it in the link back there or follow me to the irradiated underbelly where selected morsels roam.

There’s plenty of background on the world of Wasteland but it’s the design choices that are of most interest to me. First up is a shot fired at the RPGs of today.

RPGs haven’t kept pace with time – they’ve regressed and even worse, taken pride in less role-playing than before. Important elements have been lost over time, sacrificed to technology, art constraints, voice-over expenses, and multi-platform console constraints. Wasteland 2 has no such limitations, it brings these RPG elements back, takes them out of the attic, and makes them part of gameplay again.

One of the key elements that Wasteland 2 will concentrate on is full party control, not just in selection of abilities but in appearance and personality.

Will the wastes remember you and your team as diplomatic defenders of justice? As a group of intimidating, brutish thugs?

I became rather excited when I misread ‘brutish’ as ‘British’ but without recorded voices I’ll be able to read out all the dialogue in a series of exaggerated regional British accents anyway, so no harm done.

It’s going to look rubbish though, right? Just brown from here to the horizon, with the occasional bit of gray that, if you squint, looks a bit like a dilapidated building? Not so!

Wasteland also draws strength through its visual style. We don’t want continual stretches of barren, desolate, single-color landscapes – we want green, vibrant overgrowth crawling across the terrain and over buildings and skyscrapers, colorful patchwork signs and facades dotting the horizon, river-cut canyons, and other environmental lures intended to draw you forward.

And as you explore the world, you’ll see hints of what the world was like before as well. The world before the cataclysm was a society of towering skyscrapers of steel, concrete and glass. Styled after architecture of the 70’s and 80’s and 90’s their striking geometric forms cut into the blue skies.

Knowing that makes the update of the original boxart even more impressive.

There’s a great deal of emphasis on choices and customisation, including the promise of modding support and imported portraits among other things, but it’s the words “Game mechanics that tell the story” that make most excited. It’s something I’m used to banging the drum about in strategy games and simulations, something that the majority of my favourite games do so very well. It’s hard for me to recall a recent RPG that could make that claim though. If Wasteland 2 can really allow the systems to engineer narrative it could be everything I hoped for when all this excitement first started.

Of course, it’s all just words (and a few pieces of concept art) at the moment but they are rather splendid words.


  1. LionsPhil says:

    *Stands back and waits for Wizardry to read that “RPGs haven’t kept pace with time” paragraph*

    • Cooper says:

      It’s an odd choice of phrase; given the quote the goes on about “getting back” to how it used to be.

      I think the ‘not keeping pace with time’ remark is directed at a total lack of development of RPG mechanics. RPG haven’t evolved for a long time; mechanics ditched in favour of less roleplaying, less control.

      If Wasteland 2 is any attempt to evolve (build upon, improve, not ditch and regress) RPG mechanics in interesting ways that don’t ditch what’s great about them for accessibility / broadened market reaons, rather than a straight homage to the ways of the old, many will be happy I think.

      • RakeShark says:

        There’ll still be that loud and vocal core that’ll say the old ways were fine and mucking with them in any way, for good or ill, means everything will be horrible.

        But yeah, what comes right after the “RPGs haven’t kept pace with time” is far more important than the shock statement at the front.

      • gwathdring says:

        Indeed. I sincerely hope it was written from the perspective that computer RPG systems need to tread NEW ground not just be relieved of modern simplifications and given some interface upgrades.

        • Blackcompany says:

          What I don’t get – and Wizardry will verbally crucify me for this – is why we are still using the spreadsheet-in-the-background management system in an RPG. Consider:

          When D&D pioneered this amazing system it was completely necessary. A character extant only inside your imagination was represented on paper. Resources such as health and mana were tracked. Wounds and loss of health were also tracked here. The sheet offered you some tangible reference point to associate with your character and it worked well back then.

          Now, though…alas, now we have a character on the screen. Fully fleshed out (sometimes more so than is necessary, thank you mod scene) and easily recognizable as your character. So it seems to me we no longer need the spreadsheet.

          If my character in a game gets injured, should I not be able to see the injury? Something akin to the tears in the BAtsuit in Arkham City comes to mind. Should wounds on my legs not slow me down, or those on my arms not make swinging a weapon harder?

          Likewise, as my character grows stronger perhaps I could see more muscular development, notice faster walking and running speeds (Oblivion) or higher jumping (again, Oblivion.) As my character grows more intelligent, cool down time for spells are reduced and dialogue options increase. Practicing Stealthier mechanics could actually reduce my characters movement sounds while also slimming them back down from their former Conan-esque glory.

          And just as increasing “stats” could alter my character, so too could unlocking new abilities alter the game play. Amalur had this right. When you unlocked a new Perk for magic or weapons, you didn’t just get more damage. You got new stuff you could actually DO, right there on the screen. New moves to execute, cool spell effects. Stuff you could see. Not more numbers on a half hidden, poorly explained spreadsheet (as in Skyrim) but real, tangible, measurable additions to your game.

          I think its time to leave the spreadsheet behind us. Or hide it completely and let the player see changes, as opposed to reading about them on a stat sheet. Or a mode for each sort of player. One that shows, and a “hardcore” mode that hides stats and only offers auditory and visual queues.

          But for crying out loud, lets try something new and lets try it before we kill off every genre in which it would be useful to do so.

          • InternetBatman says:

            I think the problem here is that you’re confusing genre with progress. The stat-based rpgs are an entirely different genre that many people like, but just aren’t made anymore. You’re largely talking about improvements, which I would welcome, but for action RPGs. There’s no reason both can’t exist.

            They made a game where most of your stat changes were shown on your body. It’s called Fable. It’s so-so. Fallout New Vegas does all those injured limb things you were talking about. Also, Dungeons of Dredmore does both with the health. Your character gets torn up in combat but they still have a health bar. Why limit it to one or the other?

            This game was sold as a game in the stat-based pnp inspired genre, I believe would be ethically tantamount to fraud to alter it at this point.

            Most importantly, unlocking new abilities and loot drastically changed the gameplay of those old games. Ultima inspired (I believe) Arx Fatalis had each spell as a letter of a magical alphabet, so when you got a new one you could make new words and complicated spells. Everything from time stop to poison arrow. Feats in Baldur’s Gate and new spells drastically changed gameplay. Timestop, Shapeshift, Fireball, Lightning bolt, Cloak of Reflection, Wish, and Boots of Haste dramatically changed the nature of the game. For instance, you could summon a genie to summon a horde of rabbits that would be so thick it could block your enemies from touching your casters. And Arcanum probably changed the most out of any of the games I played. Each new piece of technology you learned how to make could significantly change the way you played. The Amalur idea was nothing new. The original Fallout and its sequel had perks that provided new moves, new dialog options, and strange bonuses.

            And those were all relatively new RPGs in the scheme of things. We haven’t even plumbed the depths of the old RPG backgrounds for newer game mechanics, so its hard to say that they should go forward when most people, including me, have no idea of the depth of game mechanics.

            Finally, if you’re looking for a game with an adventure mode that tracks all your injuries and they provide realistic challenges to combat, try Dwarf Fortress adventure mode. It has everything you could think of, just in an ASCII interface. All games have to compromise on something, and the statbook is a compromise that allows greater depth of combat.

          • mechtroid says:

            Until we get true virtual reality, hiding the spreadsheet is akin to removing the character’s sense of touch. HP bars make sense because we don’t feel the pain of the character. Those numbers are just a different way of expressing something we as the character would innately “know”.

            Imagine being a locksmith. You’ve spent years learning and refining your craft. You’re familiar with all the tools of the trade. A friend comes to you with a broken padlock, asking you to fabricate a key to open it. Looking at it, you realize holy shit, that’s a lockinater 850! You tell your friend that you don’t have the tools nor the experience to open that thing reliably, but you’ll give it a shot. As you’re shaping the teeth on the key, you peer inside and realize that the tumbler uses the same type of mechanism that some old lady’s antique doorknob has, and you can use a simple bump-shift with a softer metal to get the impression without engaging the dead latch.

            In a game, numbers replace those years of experience, and random rolls determine if you have the odd bits of experience to let you succeed where the outcome is unknown. Simple visual feedback is nowhere near detailed enough to replace a character’s familiarity with his body, mind, and experience.

          • Wizardry says:

            The problem with this is that fancy visual representations require unnecessary work from the player to translate into something workable in decision making. If your character is represented as a guy with some cuts on his legs, and the enemy is represented as this big guy with a large sword, but there are no numbers telling you your health and no numbers indicating how much damage the enemy is doing to you in each hit, how would you know how much punishment your character can take?

            How do you work out when your character is most likely to die, when they need to retreat, or when you need to get healed? It’s guess work. Or, alternatively, it’s something you “learn” form playing the game for a number of hours or days. Having to get used to the graphical representation of “damage” and “health” adds absolutely nothing at all to the mechanics of the game, and is merely an attempt to make information more obscured for the player in exchange for more “immersion”.

            And there are more issues too. Should damage be represented from a percentage of hit points left? So a character with 5 out of 10 hit points would have a similar look to a character with 50 out of 100 hit points? If so then this lack of precise information would impede your judgement when dealing with a multiple character party with each character differing in fragility. You see a big enemy whack your 100 hit point character with a big sword, only causing minor wounds to appear after each hit. You assume that the enemy is doing little damage, and so send your fragile thief in to help out, only for them to get destroyed in two hits.

            Making information harder to get at or harder to put into the context of the rules is something that makes no sense in RPGs. You can see this in games that tell you your health in words such as “good”, “slightly wounded”, “wounded”, “near death”, “dead” instead of numbers. What is slightly wounded? How fast will a character progress from slightly wounded to wounded? Why does near death last multiple hits? Just tell me the god damn percentage boundaries of each of these phrases!

        • Blackcompany says:

          Good points. And I fully agree that audible and visual feedback can and at times should exist alongside stat bars and character info sheets. Fallout, now I think on it and you point it out here, did this well. Also, the newly released Krater features injury and permadeath for teammates alongside stats. Eager to give that one a try.

          I would, though, like to see RPGs doing something new. Something different. Or maybe something old again, like more focus on the Role part. As in New Vegas, which did it pretty well. Its nice to see genres evolving over time and this is has grown more than a little stagnant.

    • Bhazor says:

      Oh Wizzzaaarrrddddryyyy! Come out and play-ay!!!

      • PodX140 says:

        I have this page pinned in chrome, just waiting for the inevitable wizardy comment. What’ll be the downfall of this one? Not enough attributes? Too linear? Lacking physical map making and dice requirement to play?

        • Solidstate89 says:

          It’ll fail because it’s not Ultima. That’ll be his reasoning. Just like it always is.

          • Wizardry says:

            Wasteland >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Ultima.

            I don’t know where you got the impression that Ultima was a hardcore RPG series from. There’s only three stats in most of the games.

        • Wizardry says:

          What are you on about? Wasteland is one of my favourite games of all time. I’m very much looking forward to this.

          • Xerian says:

            See now, Wizardry, it is quite rare that I do agree with you, but in this case I *VERY* much do. Wasteland was an AMAZING RPG for its time, and still is a good game. (Played it not long ago, dang I still like it.)
            It does bug me how the game predates me though.

    • BPSpike says:

      You do realize that phrase is actually something Wizardry MIGHT agree with, right?. Specially if it’s referring to cRPGs… and so far inXile wants to bring old school mechanics instead of devolving its genre into something far away from a turn-based tactical(remains to be seen with the actual game how tactical it will be in the end) RPG.
      Unless ya all are just poking fun at him, in which case I just failed to notice that.

  2. Blackcompany says:

    Looking forward to this. Be nice to see a colorful wasteland. Enslaved did that well in limited fashion. But this…expansive rpg, with colors, in a postvapocalyptic setting? Yes, please.

    • Wizardry says:

      Wasteland was a very colourful game. The deserts were a sharp yellow and the grass bright green. It was Fallout that ended up being browny grey throughout.

  3. JackDandy says:

    A great big smile formed on my face during the reading of this document.

    They truly, honestly “Get it”.

    If they manage to put it all into the game, they’ll have a winner on their hands.

    • jonfitt says:

      The proof is in the pudding though. I doubt (CoD aside) many designers start out intending to make a generic retread of existing games.

      I’ve read so many magazine previews over the years where the designers have all these cool ideas that in the end come out a mess, or non-existent.
      In the last 5-10 years we have seen less behind the curtain though as the PR people have moved in to control all pats of the “message”. But despite that I can guarantee you that the development teams on many games think they’re going to change the world, it’s just the PR wall that hides them so when you see a generic re-tread you can only assume that was the intention from the start.

      • jonfitt says:

        That sounded negative. I have high hopes for Wasteland, and am fully on-board. I wish them well in realising their vision and look forward to reaping the rewards.
        It’s going to be an interesting exercise with so much out in the open.

        • JackDandy says:

          Aye. What I’m really interested to see is how the absence of a traditional publisher will effect this game’s development.

        • TsunamiWombat says:

          To be fair, a decades worth of game fatigue will make you that bitter. But, Wasteland 2 is unique in that it’s not publisher funded, it’s crowd funded, so it and a variety of other games are going to the the first wave that demonstrates whether shit and apathy is a publisher induced ingredient or a result of developer fatigue.

  4. Tyshalle says:

    This might actually be the game that gets me excited about games again.

  5. Kestrel says:

    Sounds good. I could live without voice-overs at this point. Just thinking about Skyrim’s awful voicework (or from any Bethesda game ever) makes me cringe. Actually, I feel like they were making numerous deliberate jabs at Bethesda in this vision doc.

    • jonfitt says:

      Voice overs are a good example of an advancement in tech that hasn’t really helped games be better role playing games. It’s just meant that the dialogue trees of old are now read out. It’s the Choose Your Own Adventure book method that hasn’t fully taken advantage of what computers can do.
      A better advancement for RPG dialogue would be to have dialogue somehow be generated procedurally. We have AI to make NPCs walk, why don’t we have AI to make them talk?

    • RakeShark says:

      Skyrim was a marked improvement in voice quality though. Not by any means the best we could hope for, but they could have gone the PoP 2008 route and made everyone in a Nordic land sound like American yuppies. For it’s time and place, it was fresher than a wannabe-Statham marine.

      But I’ll also agree, not everything need a voice attached to it.

      • Kestrel says:

        It’s a mixed bag. Some Bethesda voiceovers are distinctly better than others. I’d prefer it done like the old Fallouts – reserve your good voice acting for when it’s needed and discard the others. Not everyone has to have a voice.

      • Toberoth says:

        There were plenty of completely incongruous American accents thrown in there though.

    • buzzmong says:

      I agree with Kestrel’s later point. VO work for plot centric and important characters, everyone else gets a text job, ala Fallout 1 and 2.

      It not only makes VO more interesting as it’s a big clue the character is important, but it also allows more developer freedom as text trees can be modified and tweaked right up until the game goes gold (and after in patches) with relative ease and no real cost, unlike VO work which is expensive and time consuming.

      • gladius2metal says:

        I few weeks ago I tried the morrobilivion mod and for me it was just strange (and felt wrong!) that not all NPCs are voiced. In games like Unreal World I don’t mind, but there are a lot of games where it shouldn’t be left out. Also Fallout 3 had Liam Neeson as voice actor… but I am not a native speaker, hence I don’t care too much about american accents at all, but I since I freak out if I have to endure a translated movie or game and also use my operating systems in English, I can assume that certain accents might be a bit disturbing to some “ears”.

      • lordfrikk says:

        It will be an interesting time when TTS (text-to-speech) advances enough to be used instead of a pre-recorded VO. Still too far away, though.

        • jrodman says:

          Well, text-to-speech conveying emotive content is probably going to require computer comprehension of natural langauge. Good luck with that one.

  6. Maritz says:

    My only worry is that it sounds like an awful lot of content to get in by, what was it, October 2013?

    • karthink says:

      No voiceovers, all text. (“We’re not afraid to use text”)

      That should help.

      • Maritz says:

        It’s more the complexity of the choices and consequences branching out that I was thinking about, but yeah, just text is good.

        Hell I usually stick subtitles on and skip through voiced games anyway.

        • Vorphalack says:

          One of the main reasons that dialogue trees have been pruned down was due to the obsession with full voice acting. The complexity of creating a genuinely branching dialogue tree isn’t whats been holding developers back, it’s more about paying for someone to voice every line you write. With that obstacle removed they can go nuts with the script.

          Personally I always liked the way BG2 handled the text. Key plot moments got voice acting, occasional dialogue lines with important NPCs or party members got voice work, and (almost) every NPC had a few voice lines associated with them. Just enough to bring the world to life, but not so much that it broke the bank, or imposed restrictions on the text.

          • Grargh says:

            This, so much. Additionaly, with complete voice-over all the writing has to be completed very early in development, limiting it even more.

          • InternetBatman says:

            I liked this method too. I could even go with some of the VO being pared back from Baldur’s gate. I seem to remember that Fallout had less vo, and that worked well for me.

          • malkav11 says:

            It hurts modding, too. Modders either have silent text that’s jarring when the original content is fully voiced, muddle through themselves (which is usually painful to listen to), or somehow have to come up with professional voice acting.

  7. Tom OBedlam says:

    This is going to be amazing.

  8. mrblick says:

    Are they planning on sticking to a top-down or isometric viewpoint or will this be yet another first person shooter cashing in on the name of a great game?

    • JackDandy says:

      It’s top-down. Haven’t you seen the kickstarter page?

    • Toberoth says:

      “We’re going back to the original and building from there. No first person shooter, we’re going top down so you get a tactical feel for the situation. And we’re not ditching the party play to turn it into some hack-and-slash bloodfest. It’s turn based, tactical, with a storyline that will be deeper and broader.”

  9. Bhazor says:

    It’s just Fallout 3 with trees.

    • fiddlesticks says:

      You say that as if it was a bad thing, it’s not. Trees are awesome. I wouldn’t mind being a tree myself. In fact, the world would be a better place if everyone was a tree.

      I forgot where I was going with that, but the point is I’m really looking forward to this game.

      • Vorphalack says:

        Ah, to be covered in bird poo and infested with squirrels……

      • Xerian says:

        Fallout? *BEING* a tree? Are we talking about Harold again?

    • Grargh says:

      There was that one weird place in Fallout 3 that had trees, somewhere way up north. And yeah, trees make everything more awesome, except maybe AssCreed.

  10. golem09 says:

    Isn’t this an isometric RPG?
    Why the hell is he talking about the sky?

  11. Cooper says:

    Noooo… In one fell swoop RPS anti-spam has destroyed the emergence of a new sentient being…

  12. Chandos says:

    “Will the wastes remember you and your team as diplomatic defenders of justice? As a group of intimidating, brutish thugs?”

    I first read that as “british thugs” and was slightly excited for a post-apocalyptic Guy Ritchie cross-over.

  13. dontnormally says:

    So the bosslevel will be on the Citadel Starstation.

  14. Xardas Kane says:

    Even though I like modern RPGs as well and don’t feel like they have regressed the way Fargo seems to think (although the actual role-playing in the table-top sense of the word has definitely taken a back seat in favour of a more direct story-driven approach) and I love modern-day RPG series like The Witcher or Mass Effect (yes, the ending sucked, I’m not going to dismiss the whole series just because the ending sucked, shoot me), I have been craving for something old-school for years, and Fargo sure as hell aims to deliver. Yes, it’s just words so far, but if this is the general direction they are taking, I might just end up in heaven somewhere around October 2013.

    And the people who are wondering if the game can actually be this big and have such a relatively short development cycle need to remember that Fallout 2 was released a single year after its predecessor.

  15. Discopanda says:

    I also misread brutish as British. And I’m not even Brutish! Er, British. I am not either of those things.

  16. abandonhope says:

    Wasteland 2 is going to be one of the most interesting releases of my lifetime. It’s not because I’m expecting something totally groundbreaking; it’s because I want to see whether my craving for a return to the days of yore, prior to when cRPGs skipped off the rails a little, is in fact genuine and not just wistful thinking. WL2 and Shadowrun Returns are exactly the games to settle this question for me.

    • Sardukar says:

      This. Very this. I’m betting on loving them, though, which is why I backed them both.

  17. Mattressi says:

    I regret not Kickstarting (Kickstartering?) this, now. It sounds absolutely amazing. Everything from losing the horrible, unrealistic barren wasteland look (I know, that’s ironic because the name), to finally making an RPG about ROLEPLAYING. Stats are great and help with character development, but real roleplaying in games is rare. I can’t wait until it’s released – I’ll definitely be getting this on day 1.