Obsidian reflects on Fallout: New Vegas

GDC Online 2010: Obsidian Entertainment writers reveal the months of preparation required before any one of the game's 60,000 lines of dialogue could be put to paper.

Who was there: Obsidian Entertainment's storytellers came out in force, as Fallout: New Vegas lead creative designer and lead writer John Gonzalez delivered the main presentation and senior designer Eric Fenstermaker and game designer Travis Stout assisted with the question-and-answer session.

Obsidian's writers found "much cooler" inspiration from real life than from postapocalyptic fiction.

What they talked about: Gonzalez started by recounting February 12, 2009, the day Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart told him he would be the creative lead on the next Fallout, a revelation that had him thinking, "Holy ****" in both the excited and terrified ways. Obsidian's origin (it sprang from original Fallout developer Black Isle Studios) had been one of Gonzalez's big reasons for trying to get a job at the company, and he compared getting Fallout: New Vegas to God throwing down the Bible and telling him to write a new chapter.

The first question Gonzalez had was where to start. He started by playing through the first two Fallout games and diving back into Fallout 3 with a game guide to familiarize himself with all the side quests. Then it was time to research filmic inspirations from both the postapocalyptic and Las Vegas parts, from Six-String Samurai to Casino.

There was a list of required reading as well, including books like Cormac McCarthy's The Road. However, Gonzalez said it was the nonfiction books he read that provided the best inspiration. Books like The Green Felt Jungle and the Time/Life series on the Old West provided Gonzalez with ideas about the enduring traits that needed to be reflected in New Vegas. Just as the original Fallout games played with a futuristic retro world of 1950s America, so too does New Vegas play with the Las Vegas of the same era. Gonzalez said that he spent roughly four months heavily researching but that it was an ongoing effort throughout production.

Next he looked at the key parts of the game: the city of New Vegas, the series' open-world exploration, and the reactivity of the world. The first two elements convinced Gonzalez that he would have to part with authorial control, instead just creating a world of interesting people that the player carves a unique path through. The developers also wanted to let players go about their gaming however they wanted, killing everybody or nobody as they saw fit. That made quests tricky, as they couldn't be sure gamers would let non-player characters live long enough to give them a quest. (However, there is one NPC that players can't kill, though Gonzalez said it was handled in a way that makes sense to the player within the story.)

With all the research conducted and the goals set, Gonzalez set about creating the story brief, an overview of the game's events and characters that gets heavily commented on by other members of the team. Those comments in hand, it was time to revise the story, creating pockets of side quest content, drawing out recurring themes. Gonzalez said it's best not to settle on themes too early. While some are obvious (New Vegas would doubtlessly deal with greed), others may seem right but wind up not fitting on further reflection. For example, Gonzalez said he stayed away from the theme of luck.

"New Vegas isn't about luck," Gonzalez said. "It's about having a rigged game."

Gonzalez also stressed the need to define dialogue standards and create a style guide for everything in the game, from capitalization to the use of ellipses. As an example, he brought up a slide with five different spellings of the word "Stimpak" (none of which were correct). While it's very boring to deal with at first, Gonzalez also noted that a parachute is boring when one has to pack it. But when the time calls for it, it can be a saving grace just the same.

Quote/Takeaway: "It's very difficult to survive the apocalypse, but if you prepare well and have the right equipment, I think it can be done."--Gonzalez, explaining the importance of everything that happens before a writer starts writing.

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90 comments
rexprimoris
rexprimoris

List of bodily functions/activities, in order of greatest priority, post-release of 'Fallout: New Vegas": 1. Breathe; 2. Play "Fallout: New Vegas"; 3. Go to the bathroom when absolutely necessary; 4. Eat/drink when absolutely necessary; 5. Sleep when absolutely necessary; 6. Re-emerge into social contact with fellow humans after numbers 1-5 have been fulfilled to some extent. 6. Sexual gratification.

Col-Struckin
Col-Struckin

Good thing about Obsidian in this one is that they are very passionate about it because they did make the first 2 fallout games. So they must be very excited to make this one, I would be!

KrazzyDJ
KrazzyDJ

@ImmortalityX Couldn't agree with you more. They're the most important passion in my life !!!

syafiqjabar
syafiqjabar

@ jewell21 Your comment gets thumbs downed until hidden? WTF?! Who are these people?

AJAM1
AJAM1

its going to be great...I can feel it now

FoeCrusher
FoeCrusher

Going to have to isolate myself for a few days...uplug the phone lose the GF's phone number...Take a vacation day or two....Must not be disturbed.

hyttenhoof
hyttenhoof

@cerberuspledge no but i really ought to.

Cerberuspledge
Cerberuspledge

@hyttenhof: Me too. I don't have any problem with Bugs usually though its always preferable too have as few as possible of them. My comments were regarding Jinohs. BTW: Ever tried the community patches with G3. They are really good and make it completly playable.

rigas47
rigas47

You all should have payed corsairs 3/Age of pirates upon its release now thats a technical issue.

hyttenhoof
hyttenhoof

@Cerberuspledge bugs have never made or broken a game experience for me, maybe with the exception of gothic 3, but i don't think that's it. neither back in the days of BG or today.

Jackc8
Jackc8

I'd be far more interested in hearing what they've got to say about the technical aspects of the game - will it be a glitch fest, will the framerate descent into crud? Will they release DLC with corrupted files? Considering Obsidian's recent releases, and the technical problems with the last Fallout game (even though it was by a different development team) - I'll definitely be waiting until after this thing comes out before deciding whether to buy it now or wait until it gets below $20.

Jinroh_basic
Jinroh_basic

And they redeemed themselves with Planescape Torment and Icewind Dale 2. plus, Fallout 2 was far less problematic than any of the Obsidian products. remember the massive memory leak in NWN2? i shudder to think about it. but hey, it's not my money you'll be spending so i couldn't care less if you enjoy the state of denial. i gave Obsidian 3 chances and that's 3 too many, so excuse me for having zero faith in them. i welcome them to prove me wrong, but of course, i hardly think that's likely.

Cerberuspledge
Cerberuspledge

PST and IWD2 also had a rather big amount of bugs. In contrast more than AP actually. Your right about NWN2 though. The focus there was wrong in the beginning which lead to what it is. Though the Lead guy there left long ago. (Before finishing it) Also gave you the same chances to Troika? Because if we are talking about the buggiest developer since 2000 they take the cake by far. Yet, they're hailed as one of the best rpg developers of the last ten years. Why oh why.

Cerberuspledge
Cerberuspledge

Yeah, a anonymus comment vs two Ex employees (One a sound designer the other Lead designer of Rome) who have given their name and one contractor who says that the company was an excellent client http://www.squareenixmusic.com/features/insight/alphaprotocol.shtml http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3308998&userid=19836 http://dericktsai.blogspot.com/2009/09/work-gamestoryboardsanimatics.html But no, anonymus stupid internet comment takes the cake in terms of authecity. "sarcasm"

Jinroh_basic
Jinroh_basic

or you can check out the famous joystiq comment by a Obsidian dev and find out the other side of the story. i'm not telling you whom to trust and what to like. meaning no disrespect, but Obsidian does NOT deserve the measure of respect it's getting - and this is coming from a Black Isle fan. it is obvious that the studio has serious managerial issues and that invariably reflects on the technical aspects of its products. which is why ALL obsidian games released so far are broken from the get go. especially NWN2, which a poster somewhere below hailed as fantastic but was in fact one of the biggest technical disasters of the decade upon release.

Cerberuspledge
Cerberuspledge

Also it wasn't in development for 4 years. In fact a large part of it had to be redesigned in 2008. Edit: I don't say Obsidian hadn't internal problems regarding the game. I'm saying most of it could have been avoided. Edit2: You know what said Lead Developer does now? Founded a company and now releases total indie games apart form any major publisher per download. Yes.

Cerberuspledge
Cerberuspledge

@Jinroh Yep. Not to mention they had to redesign most of it when the original Lead Designer left. Also I kinda trust Ex designers. Both of them also talked about the problems that happened during development internal and they weren't all sucked up to Obsidian. Designers laid off WERE the reason for most off the problems. And it WAS for budgetary reasons. And just to say. SEGA released a patch made by Obsidian that fixes most of the problems (including severe Checkpoint problems) and released it WITHOUT README. WITHOUT AN INSTALLATION EXE, WITHOUT adjusting it to the different versions of the game.exe (it works only with the US Version) and WITHOUT declaring that somewhere so most peoples Game was broken and didn't even start anymore And ALL these things is the PUBLISHERS job especially when the PUBLISHER SEGA releases the PATCH himself and do not forget said Patch was in THEIR QA. (Not to mention again, Patch works perfectly on the US Version. Which means Obsidian did their job) Yeah, I just see how holy SEGA is.

Jinroh_basic
Jinroh_basic

@ Cerberuspledge and you bought that, hook, line and sinker? wow..... the game was delayed not once, not twice, but three times, and had a development circle of 4-5 years, MUCH longer than most major titles - all of which better than AP. Sega LET these fools mess around. had the studio been competent in terms of planning and resource managing, none of this fiasco would've happened. but what did they do when they screwed up in spite of all the time they had? "it's not our fault", and people actually believe that. wow. i'm sorry to see Sega get effed up for having faith in an incompetent bunch of fools, who somehow managed to rally the mass to shift the blame back to the victim. these Japs were actually being generous. I would certainly have sued Obsidian out of business if i were Sega.

InExcelsis
InExcelsis

Can't wait for this game to come out.

Cerberuspledge
Cerberuspledge

@Mass Effect Fans: I really like Mass Effect. I do. But apart from building a great universe. Story and charachters isn't that enthralling, coherent or deep. It's more of a really good Sci-Fi B-Movie which it seems a big hommage too. Not to mention if you break it down Hanar/Elcor (which have sadly only a very little role) are VERY unique. But all the other races Quarian/Krogan and companions can be pointed down to fantasy/sci-fi archetypes like Space-Orcs. It's still great in what it does and in terms of video game writing its good.

Cerberuspledge
Cerberuspledge

@Morphine AP's problem wasn't the manager. The only indication we have of that is a stupid comment of an anonymus user. Yet two ex Obsidian employees (Alex Brandon/Patrick) already commented on this and said that this was complete untrue. No, AP suffered most from SEGA. Both in Budget and other things. Which also lead to an rocky internal development and layoffs of people in lead positions during development.

firehawk998
firehawk998

If Obsidian gives us this sidequest in New Vegas where you are a part of 11 man team who has to rob several casinos in the vegas strip. Then I along with thousands of gamers will very happy. OCT 19 damn I cant wait that long.

shaddix55
shaddix55

When is Elder Scrolls V coming ?

Khalathwyr
Khalathwyr

I have to say I much preferred Fallout 1 & 2 over Fallout 3. Knowing that some of the people at Obsidian had a hand in making 1 & 2 has given me cause to give New Vegas a try. I'm not saying Bethesda doesn't make good games, it's just that I prefer my Fallout with that old school touch.

TheBlackKnight3
TheBlackKnight3

Obsidian: The poor man's Bioware. If they can pull off Fallout New Vegas, they could be going places and hopefully get a franchise of their own.

stabby_mcgee
stabby_mcgee

Obsidian is really good with humor, especially dark humor. Hopefully there's a lot of that in New Vegas.

Hellbishop
Hellbishop

The creative process is scarier then a balancing act on a circus tight rope with lions of roaring experiance waiting below.

Dynamo11
Dynamo11

This is going to be a GotY contender for me. Taking everything Fallout 3 was and adding that missing something just makes it a perfect game.

wis3boi
wis3boi

The oly parts that make me want to shy away from NV is the lackluster environment (so it seems, looks like the lighting engine was removed in some pics the way the colors look) and the fact that all the epic mods I got for FO3 will have to be ported over to NV, like my custom made leather armor and dozens of weapons

mrklorox
mrklorox

No matter how much I disliked 3, I'm much looking forward to New Vegas. Hopefully it fills the Fallout sized gap that 3 refused to.

Jedilink109
Jedilink109

I would LOOOOOVE to get this new Fallout right as it comes out but I don't have the money. Besides, I haven't even finished 3 yet. Not to mention I have tons of other games I gotta finish along with college too. I'll certainly play this but despite how much I want it now, I think I'll wait for the Game Of The Year edition....because you KNOW they're going to do one of those. Haha.

iol1
iol1

I liked Fallout 3 quite a bit. I do think Bethesda missed the mark a little bit when it comes to capturing the feel of the Fallout universe, though. I also thought there were some aspects that lacked depth, like the story, the RPG mechanics, and a few other minor things. NV looks to be building on what Bethesda did right and improving on the things they didn't. I'm looking forward to this one. If Obsidian does a good job I hope that Bethesda will keep them on as content creators for Fallout 4. It seems like Obsidian does really well with content but possibly need help with engine tech and things of that nature, while Bethesda could use some help with the content. Maybe they'd make a good team...? @fLaMbOaStiN - Obsidian has nothing to do with the Fallout MMO. That's Interplay. Black Isle used to be part of Interplay, but they were disbanded when Interplay was bought out by Titus (who ruined the company, IMO). I also thought Alpha Protocol got a bum rap. It had some problems, but some of the things it was trying to do with its branching story and RPG mechanics were really cool. It could have been much better, but even with all its problems I thought it was a fun game. It's too bad they won't have a chance to redeem themselves with a sequel.

MERGATROYDER
MERGATROYDER

Other games I would rather own and Play then this. Fallout 3 wasn't for me, but it will appeal to many and thus, bring more gamers. More gamers = more money = better games down the line.

Savvy30039
Savvy30039

Making interesting and complex characters has always been a strong point for Obsidian. You could write a book on dissecting the motivations and philosophies of Kreia alone.

AmnesiaHaze
AmnesiaHaze

im more excited for FO-NV than GT5 and that means a lot

SoNin360
SoNin360

Sounds like some good effort, hope the dialogue makes sense all the time unlike it did in fallout 3 at times. Fallout 3 is one of my favorite games, but I see so many things that could have been better, and I just hope that new Vegas does make those improvements.

Barighm
Barighm

I don't trust Obsidian. Sorry, but their track record is muddy. I'll still rent the game, but I'm not going to dive head first into the water the way I did with Fallout 3.

digitalheadbutt
digitalheadbutt

@deathstream "Obsidian will have no problems stepping into Bethesda's shoes when it comes to telling the Fallout story." Considering that Obsidian is composed of a lot of ex-Black Isle folks and the Black Isle is the orginator of the Fallout series I feel way better about Obsidian taking back Fallout. Fallout 3 didn't deliver for me, at all. It didn't have the humor or sense of adventure that the previous 2 Fallout games had. The DC wasteland was very bland to me and the sandbox elements diluted the narative way too much. I think the water chip time limit on the first Fallout was an excellent tool to keep teh players on task. I never felt any sense of urgency or threat from anything in Fallout 3, just overwhelming sense that my maters didnt matter. I know Fallout 3 did very well commercially but as a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre and Fallout in particular, Fallout 3 was a huge let down. Here to hoping that the the clunky Oblivion engine doesn't ruin another Fallout game for me. And here' hoping that Obsidian's streak of meerly decent games get broken.

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

AP sucked because it was supervised by an immature manager. He thought of himself as a some kind of gamedev messiah. So all the awkwardness is not a bug, it was supposed to be a "genious features" and all. KOTOR2 suffered because the intended development cycle was stretched to march, but Lucas Arts demanded that the game was to be released by Christmas. NWN2 was not rushed and was supervised by a known and experienced developer. You can easily see the outcome. As far as I know, ZeniMax inc doesn't hurry Obsidian guys. And I know for sure that the producers, supervisors and leads are all pretty awesome. That makes me think that FONV is gonna be a huge hit a lot like NWN2 was.

Tokinblckgie
Tokinblckgie

@fLaMbOaStiN Depends on if you're talking about ME1 or ME2. ME1 was about as in depth and unique a story as you'll find from the characters, to the alien races, to the history of their universe, to the overall plot which was one of the most original and amazing ones I've seen in gaming or otherwise. ME2 however was mostly flash and very little substance. If that's what he was referring to then I'd have to agree. Still, it soundslike he never really played ME1 and just drew conclusions from the far too generic ME2 plot.

VarietyMage
VarietyMage

Hope it won't melt video cards like Civ 5 does. ;)

Bangerman15
Bangerman15

idk about u guys but im getting the version with 2901785339571 hours of user made dlc to play and runs at 60 fps ;)

bowlingotter
bowlingotter

My only gripe with Fallout 3 was the largely forgettable story. It made up for it by being utterly HUGE. If FONV is Fallout 3 with an engaging story (which Obsidian's involvement might produce), this is going to be one hell of a game.

deathstream
deathstream

Alpha Protocol was far better than it was given credit for being. Almost every complaint that can be leveled against it also applies to Mass Effect. The difference is that MS gave Bioware the extra $ to finish the polish job on ME, while Sega gave up on AP. AP was solid and fun, with rough edges, but was their first effort building a game from scratch with just an engine to worth with. It just felt like AP 2 would have been epic. Obsidian will have no problems stepping into Bethesda's shoes when it comes to telling the Fallout story. Will the game be buggy and unstable? Probably, because it uses Bethesda's buggy, unstable engine that caused so much frustration in Oblivion and Fallout 3. Will people give Obsidian hell for the same bugs and instability that they overlooked in Bethesda's games? Probably. I just hope that when they release DLC for New Vegas, the radio doesn't give away the original game's ending if you have the DLC installed. Yeah, that happened in Fallout 3, even though people like to pretend like it didn't. Anyway, can't wait for this one. Top choice in a month filled with seriously killer games.

MehowPwned
MehowPwned

Me love obisdian long time! I hope they will make the best version on PC once more :D and a very good version on xbox

New-Vegas-Fan
New-Vegas-Fan

I cannot wait for New Vegas !! But as i gets closer i have some doubts, like, what will it play best on, ps3/360? You know there will be bugs 'cos Obsidian are allways rushed to pump out their games (usually not their own fault:() In the end up, i know i will buy this on the first day, and love it dearly and shut myself in and sink another good 300 hours into a fallout game lol Oh bliss :D

cyborg100000
cyborg100000

If this is good I love Obsidian long time.