Wasteland 2 isn't coming out when we thought it was coming out. That's probably the greatest tragedy of modern times, maybe of recorded human history. But the reasoning behind it is actually far more interesting than inXile's original blog post let on. Yes, yes, polishing up the rusted over cessparadise is a big part of the developer's reasoning, but even once it's feature complete, creative effort will continue right up to the last second on one key portion of the game: choice and reactivity. Think less Mass Effect, more Witcher 2 with a hint of Deus Ex. And maybe even more than that.
“We're really hanging our hat on reactivity," inXile CEO Brian Fargo told RPS during a recent studio visit. "Reactivity and choice. The scope and scale of the game, and the reactivity part is an absolute part of [the delay]. The levels are all fundamentally in, and all we’re doing is sitting around all day saying, 'What about this? What about this? What about that?' We watch people playing the game, and they come up with a clever way to do something, we want to accommodate that. That's why with role-playing games, we can do difficult puzzles. It's not like an adventure game where you hit a stop and you're just done. I can level up and get around something. Brute force it. Blow it up. Find another route.”
“We want to make those changes all the way to the last second. Some of that requires dialogue. I think that's why you've seen some role-playing games become more cinematic. They've got to lock and load the audio five or six months before it's done. So you can't make changes like that. For us, we'll be making those changes until the last second.”
But just how far-reaching can differences between different playthroughs be? Well, you know how Witcher 2 received 427 Nobel Peace Prizes for its billion-headed hydra of a second act? Think that, but in many, many, many more locations.
“We aren't shy about shutting off entire levels of gameplay," said project lead Chris Keenan. "We really wanted to make that happen.”
“We have so many sequences," added inXile president Matt Findley. "About half the game, most people will never see. We're not afraid at all to create content that's off the critical path or can be closed off permanently.”
Quite the contrary, actually. Fargo and co are embracing their newfound ability to create with one hand and destroy with the other. Unlike many developers who want to wrestle control away from your hands so they can [Aladdin music] show you the world, the entire point of Wasteland 2 is that you're in the driver's seat.
“On the biggest level," Fargo continued, "there will be areas that will be completely different. Gone, destroyed. There's not one just like it to make up for it. It's just gone.”
“And we show the reactivity," Keenan said. "If you go to one area, you start to hear radio calls from the other. They're getting taken over, and if you try to veer back, you see the destruction from that, and they're in a completely different state. For instance, if you're too late to a call, maybe robots took it out. If you go there, you're gonna see carnage. Piles of dead bodies. No robots left to kill because they've moved on.”
The fact that Kickstarter chipped in nearly three times the game's original budget hasn't hurt, either. In fact, it's enabled Fargo and co's "risky" behaviors in multiple ways, allowing for a rather massive boost in scope and ensuring that the game's already paid for. Sales are just an (admittedly very nice) bonus.
"We over-funded," Fargo boasted, beaming. "I don’t make any money from this. Me, I want to make a game that people talk about the way they do Fallout and Wasteland, 10 or 20 years from now. I’m only focused on that and what I have to do to make sure it hits all the points I know work for the game."
He then fast-balled further examples. What if, for instance, you disobey Ranger orders to the point of becoming a liability? You become a pariah. Your own organization turns on you, hunts you. The entire game changes. And then, of course, there's the extra-colossal, radiation-mutated elephant in the room: you can kill anyone, anytime. And sometimes - for example, if a party member won't stop selling your stuff for booze money - you might have to.
"Remember: you can shoot or kill anybody in the whole game," Fargo interjected. "That in itself [is huge]. If someone joins your party, you can kick them out, kill them, whatever you want. There's whole sequences you're not gonna see later because you offed the guy. We just deal with it. There's no replacement – no NPC that joins you and acts just like him functionally. He's out. You're just not gonna see it.”
It's an approach that's definitely ambitious, to say the least. One that could even outstrip the games it's most indebted to - the Fallouts and Wasteland
s of yore - in some ways. Of course, it's all just talk until we have proof in our starving claws, but inXile's message is clear: no illusions. Just a world that's crumbling, and you can either duct-tape it back together or help knock it down. Or you can just do your own thing and leave no one happy. At the end of the day, it's your call.
“It's not real reactivity unless we do that stuff. Otherwise it's just a magician's trick. You're getting the same thing. It's not that. It's a virtual impossibility for two people to have the exact same experience of the game.”
"I’ve felt the pressure of this since the beginning and I’ve just pulled out all the stops to make sure that it’s hit every single point that anybody’s going to want to see in these classic games. But not to let myself get locked in the past. I’m not trying to re-create what it’s like to be in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s."
I recently got the chance to see oodles (and even a few kaboodles) of Wasteland 2, so look forward to hearing more about it all week. Expect impressions tomorrow, and a smattering of other details and interviews in the days to come. Also maybe a little Torment, and a Very Important Discussion of spiders in games.