The Bard's Tale Q&A: Brian Fargo keeps a straight face

Did we say straight face? Brian Fargo does everything but in this interview. For laughs, he even throws in two Cary Elwes-inspired outtakes from the game. Read the Q&A, see the video, and then decide if Fargo still has the touch.

Really, what's not to like about Brian Fargo? He places humor on a pedestal, respects the classic games, and rarely tucks his shirt in. If he weren't so SoCal, he might even be called a mensch.

His current project is InXile Entertainment, a two-year old company he started shortly after relinquishing control of Interplay, the studio he founded in 1983. InXile's first game, The Bard's Tale, is based on the classic Fargo-told tale that surfaced for the Commodore 64 and Apple II in 1985. After just a few updates, the franchise disappeared from the computer game landscape for over a decade. But a new version of the game was released to gamers today.

Does Fargo still have the touch? Is he as funny as he thinks he is? Was The Bard's Tale worth bringing back?

We asked Fargo to spend a few of the quiet moments leading up to the game's release in some serious and not-so-serious conversation. Not only did he respond with honesty, but he also he loaded the dice in his favor, gracing us with two choice outtakes from the making of the game--but kids, don't try this at home. It takes the mad genius of a Brian Fargo and the slapstick wit of a Cary Elwes to pull off what you see in the accompanying video clip.

GameSpot:Brian, can you give us a brief postmortem on The Bard's Tale? Was there any sort of "getting back to your roots" feeling that came from the scale of game production at InXile? Or was it just business as usual?

Brian Fargo: Honestly, the strangest thing was to be sitting down doing design work and feeling like somehow I was not really working. I had this urge to call someone, e-mail someone, read reports, or work on some other pure business function. What I really enjoyed was being able to make sure my ideas stuck. Too often at Interplay I could see what needed to be done on a game but I was not there on a daily basis to make sure it happened.

GS: What grade do you give yourself on the project? Are you pleased with the final game?

BF: I could not be happier with the final product we created. I'm probably more pleased with this game than any I have worked on in my career. The game is incredibly rich with charm and personality. I don't think I could have made this game 10 years ago, since I didn't have enough real-world experience under my belt to draw upon.

We created a game that excels in several areas. The first are the traditional RPG areas like combat and inventory management, because the new game makes serious strides over its predecessors. It also breaks entirely new ground across all genres in the area of humor, because in our game it's pervasive, while in other games it's an afterthought, if it's there at all.

GS: Besides being the first game InXile has developed, The Bard's Tale is also the first game it is publishing. What was the greatest challenge you faced as a startup publisher?

BF: Probably the biggest challenge was determining what our official company drink would be. It was a toss-up between tequila and Jägermeister (tequila won). After that it was the smaller things like finding the millions of dollars to make the game and getting talented people to leave their high-paying jobs for a pipe dream.

GS: The Bard's Tale: Brian Fargo. The Bard's Tale: Brian Fargo. The Bard's Tale: Brian Fargo.What else do you have up your sleeve? And when do we see it?

BF: You would have to sign the 25-page confidentiality agreement first.

GS: Which leads me to the following rephrasing of the question: What's next on the InXile agenda?

BF: We are considering the obvious--a sequel to The Bard's Tale--since there is still so much we'd like to do in terms of gameplay and story elements. We need to do a really excellent multiplayer RPG mixed in with our strong narrative style. And the next-generation machines are awesome, so graphically we have all sorts of ideas. We're also considering a different game altogether, but it's too early to talk specifically about that.

GS: Have you dropped down to a skeleton staff now that production is over?

BF: We only dropped a bit, since our team was quite small to begin with--we contracted out many of the tasks. Everyone is busy working on either the PC version or artwork and design for future titles.

GS: Are you having any next-gen system thoughts?

BF: Well, since development times are roughly two years, I think that a next-gen machine is the obvious choice for us. If we do a sequel, I hope those crazy peripherals are available like microphones and drums. I would love for the Bard to need to sing or dance. Imagine making the player drink beer and then have to sing and dance in key.

GS: Not necessarily a trick question: Are you ever going to design a first-person shooter?

BF: Well, technically I did do first-person shooters. I was executive producer on Redneck Rampage and Kingpin. I think you will see that the RPGs I do have a much more immersive feel as we move toward next-generation machines. But it's doubtful that I would do a straight-up shooter.

GS: OK, are you ever going to design any game other than a role-playing game?

BF: The other category of game I absolutely love are RTS games. I wouldn't mind taking a stab at that genre someday. Oh, and a bass-fishing game would be excellent to do. To take a sport as wild and fast-paced as bass fishing and bring it to video games is a dream. I've already got a title--Bass Ackwards.

GS: Why did you decide to depart from the more standard RPG model used by the original The Bard's Tale?

BF: Can you imagine if the most creative thing I did was to take a 10-year-old game and do nothing but make it into another old-school first-person PC game with generic good vs. evil storylines? I've been playing these games for years and felt it was time to push the category in terms of personality and human emotion. The first The Bard's Tale succeeded because it offered something new to the category. A new generation of The Bard's Tale had to do the same.

GS: Do you worry that RPG fans will be turned off by the fact you can play only as one character, the Bard?

BF: Well, if one takes this game at face value and just plays it without preconceived notions of what is enjoyable, there will be few complaints. Although you don't control a created party of characters, you do control a summoned group. It feels like a party-based game as the Bard learns new spells. The nice thing about summoning is that you find yourself trying endless combinations to find out what works best for each level.

GS: The tone of the new The Bard's Tale is much more humor-oriented than the original. Did you ever worry that might rub more-serious RPG fans the wrong way?

BF: If the humor were done poorly it might, but I think interesting dialogue and situations are always more interesting that the contrived and generic ones that I see in most games. I had a chance recently to show the game in front of 2,000 store managers from Gamestop last month, and they absolutely loved the humor. And this group was mostly hardcore gamers. They totally got what we were trying to do. What was important was to deliver a real RPG that was long (40 hours), had replayability, and offered all the level increases, stats, and so on that people expect. The humor is a bonus.

GS: You said you wanted to give Elwes' Bard "as much personality as possible." Does that mean he will be like Tommy Vercetti in Vice City, constantly cracking jokes in the midst of the action?

BF: The humor goes far beyond some jokes being cracked in the middle of the action, although that does happen occasionally. Personality covers the gamut of interface, plot situations, naming conventions, voice direction, music, and so on. We wanted the voice of the Bard to be from someone who could really convey his personality, and Cary was the perfect choice.

GS: Other than graphics, how do you think the RPG genre has evolved since the original The Bard's Tale was released?

BF: Well, some of the biggest changes have been on better character and world emphasis vs. pure gameplay and rules mechanics. RPGs in many ways have gotten much easier, as you can save your game anywhere, and the early levels are not as hard as before. In the good old days, if your characters survived the first three levels, it was a quite an accomplishment. In fact, it seemed like the first three levels were the hardest in the game. Audio has also changed the dynamic a lot, since we had little audio due to storage space. Multiple solutions to obstacles are more prevalent. And the cleavage seems to have gotten bigger over the years.

GS: Thanks, Brian.

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