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Chris Avellone and Josh Sawyer on Van Buren at Eurogamer

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Chris Avellone and Josh Sawyer on Van Buren at Eurogamer

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Thu 21 September 2017, 18:47:54

Tags: Black Isle Studios; Chris Avellone; Fallout 3 (Van Buren); Interplay; Josh Sawyer

In what may be a leftover from the recent Obsidian media campaign, the folks at Eurogamer have made the cancelled Fallout 3 by Interplay, commonly known as Van Buren, the topic of the latest episode of their "Here's A Thing" weekly video series. They've brought on Chris Avellone and Josh Sawyer to talk about the game's development - mainly the former, who also gave them access to some of its design documents. The video is 13 minutes long, but you don't really have to watch it, since the accompanying article helpfully includes a full transcript. I'll post an excerpt from that along with the video:

Although Fallout doesn't rely on distinct classes like many RPGs, Avellone recognised that players still tended to approach situations in one of three ways: relying on either combat, stealth or the speech skill. It was that last approach he felt could use some work in particular.

"The one thing that's always kind of bothered me about Fallout," said Avellone. "Is that there's been a trend, and this is going to sound really specific, of using the speech skill as an instawin. I see the speech skill, so I'm not even going to think about it, I'm just going to choose it because that's going to allow me to get the optimum result from this conversation.

"What I prefer is the mechanics we were going to do for Van Buren. We were going to give you more information about the person you were talking to, the longer you talked about them. Then you'd get to choose dialogue options that manipulate them a certain way. So for example, it may not be a bad thing to make someone hostile because you know based on speaking with this person, getting a sense of their psychology, what they're going to do when they get mad. That might be to your advantage. So seeing the red hostile response may not be a bad thing and a Speech character may want to guide a character towards that and provoke a certain result."

There was other types of playstyle he wanted to accommodate for, on top of this. Inspired by a book called Lucifer's Hammer in which a character manages to take advantage of some advanced scientific knowledge that had been preserved from a time before the apocalypse, Avellone thought it might be fun to explore the idea of how a scientist with access to equipment and knowledge that pre-dated the nuclear war might be able to thrive in the wasteland.

He designed a number of locations and questlines that catered for this kind of character type, including the Boulder Science Dome, a huge research facility that was also home to a community of scientists that had put themselves into a cold sleep stasis before the nukes were dropped.

The first of these scientists to wake, a genius by the name of Presper would be the party leader antagonist we mentioned earlier. In Avellone's initial outline for the game's story, Presper monitored the player's actions throughout the game and then decided whether or not to cleanse the entire world of human life before waking his fellow scientists based on your decisions. No pressure.

The player themselves was known as The Prisoner, as you'd begin the game escaping what you believe to be a prison in the American Southwest. Interestingly, during the character creation stage, you can decide whether or not your character was rightly convicted. If you decided that you had, in fact, been a criminal you could then select which crime you'd committed: were you a brahmin rustler? A chem user? Or a cannibal? Depending on your selection this would then impact your starting stats.

Oh here's another thing you could select too: your character's race. The Fallout 3 we never played would have given us the option to play as either a human, a ghoul or a super mutant.

"Yeah and each of them had their own communities and specific quests over the course of the game," explained Avellone. "Their own special traits, perks, and limitations that they could choose. Yeah, the fact that you could play something beyond a human was definitely one of the goals of the game."

He also had plans to reinvent the Pip-Boy in Fallout 3, allowing players to monitor the Pip-Boys worn by the other prisoners that escaped alongside you, meaning you could then do things like reading their quest logs to see where they are and what they're up to.

And more than that, your Pip-Boy would become useful in different kinds of situations as you played through the game.

You'd start getting mods and add-ons and discovering new functionality if you're placed in dangerous situations," said Avellone. "Like, if you're trapped in a building and a fire broke out - this is a really small example - your Pip-Boy would suddenly wake up, let you know where all the fire exits were and where the sprinkler system was. And then suddenly you could use that functionality in any building you went into.

"So the more you explored and the more you got exposed to certain situations, the more your interface would grow and expand. We sort of wanted the interface to feel like another dungeon you were exploring over the course of the game."

The episode ends with the obligatory explanation of how various Van Buren elements were reimagined in Fallout: New Vegas. What has gone unmentioned in general is the possibility that the multiple party concept from the Van Buren tabletop roleplaying game might be an inspiration for the multiplayer in inXile's Wasteland 3 - a curious absence given that they even went to the trouble of trademarking "Van Buren". Chris Avellone is apparently helping out with the game in some capacity, but we've heard nothing official. Maybe it's a reveal they're saving for later.

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