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Back to the Wasteland: Interview with Fallout-inspired isometric RPG developers at Wireframe
Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sat 2 May 2020, 17:47:02Tags: ATOM RPG; ATOM Team; Brian Fargo; Broken Roads; Crafting Legends; Death Trash; Drop Bear Bytes; inXile Entertainment; Stygian Software; Underrail; Wasteland 3
An article published in the latest issue of Wireframe Magazine last week took a look at some of the games from the new wave of recent and upcoming Fallout-inspired post-apocalyptic isometric RPGs. The article covers Underrail, ATOM RPG, Broken Roads, Death Trash and of course Wasteland 3, including a few words from the developer of each. It was uploaded to the magazine's website yesterday. Here's an excerpt:
SPLITTING THE ATOM
Compared to Underrail, Atom Team’s ATOM RPG is somewhat closer to a typical Fallout experience, since it allows you to explore above ground in the ruins of a post-nuclear wasteland. But ATOM RPG nevertheless provides a unique perspective, since it takes place on the other side of the Iron Curtain in the mid-eighties. Small towns are full of tired-looking inhabitants, and the streets are lined with the once-proud relics of the Communist regime.
“We didn’t want it to be too Mad Max,” explains Anton Krasilnikov, the writer and designer on ATOM RPG. “We also thought [the setting] would be interesting. We all live in post-Soviet countries, so it’s much easier in a way to show.”
ATOM RPG began life as a high school project made by lead programmer Dmitriy Martynenko and 3D modeller Ivan Semenov. Inspired by their love of the original Fallout, the pair wanted to create a game in the same style, but ended up putting the project on hold when they realised the amount of time and resources it would require.
In 2015, the two returned to the idea with a renewed passion, and over the next year, recruited a number of other personnel to help them, off the back of a successful crowdfunding campaign.
“The idea from the start was actually to make it super-hardcore,” Krasilnikov states, referencing, among other things, the game’s skill checks. Similar to the original Fallout and other classic CRPGs, players in ATOM RPG are able to customise their characters prior to starting a new game by spending points on skills and characteristics.
They can also select two additional distinctions – these are character traits that will alter stats either permanently or during specific gameplay scenarios. “Most of the dialogue has a list of skill checks,” explains Krasilnikov. “For example, charisma governs how people will react to you. Will they answer your questions? Will they give you some additional information? Your intellect also gives you additional options in dialogue. But some of those options are actually hidden. That’s part of the appeal of classic RPGs, I think: your stats and your skills contribute to your character.”
ATOM RPG gives players room to approach different objectives how they like, but sometimes this has the potential to go a little too far. To illustrate the point, Krasilnikov tells me about the unintended result of putting cigarettes in the game.
“We created a system where you could give certain items to characters,” he recalls. “We were thinking you could give medbags to your followers or to certain other characters. But we didn’t [consider] that we’d added cigarettes into the game. Cigarettes give you a bonus in crafting, but they will lower your health minus one. What we didn’t expect was players would give cigarettes to NPCs to kill them.”
Moments like these capture what’s special about classic CRPGs. ATOM RPG players can have a totally different experience based on their decisions and how they use their tools. Uncovering these approaches is half the fun.
ATOM RPG isn’t the only game that creates a Fallout-style experience in a different country. The upcoming RPG Broken Roads drops players in the Australian outback, where they’ll encounter roaming gangs, mutated wildlife, and makeshift towns.
“The game starts in Western Australia, which, when you leave Perth and head inland, starts to get very low population density,” explains Craig Ritchie, the game’s director. “I’m down in Victoria, and I’m close to Little River where the first Mad Max was filmed. We haven’t really seen a lot of Australian culture explored in games, but it has this reputation of being a dangerous place where a lot of the animals are out to kill you. You can have a lot of fun playing with that.”
The studio behind the project, Drop Bear Bytes, is located in Torquay, Australia, and is staffed by ex-CCP, Riot, and Ubisoft employees. For Ritchie, it’s a passion project, having spent much of his life playing classic CRPGs and documenting their history in his long career as a freelance journalist.
“I’m privileged to have been able to talk to the people who made these games I was passionate about growing up,” says Ritchie. “Asking them about the mistakes they made, what they learned, and being able to take some of that on board. So it’s a combination of some pragmatic considerations, but also passion. If there was one thing I was going to make, it would be the style of game I’ve probably sunk the most hours in through my lifetime of games.”
Unsurprisingly, Fallout has had a massive impact on Broken Roads’ development, but it wasn’t the only influence; other inspirations include Wasteland, Roadwar 2000, and Joe Dever’s gamebook, Highway Holocaust.
This, in addition to Ritchie’s childhood in England, surrounded by eighties Cold War hysteria. Among the major deviations from the Fallout formula in Broken Roads is the introduction of the Moral Compass. This is another layer of characterisation that exists on top of conventional skill checks, which is divided into four categories: Machiavellian, nihilist, utilitarian, and existentialist.
“On top of skills, we also have the attitude of your character, and we have a range of options that relate to your character’s attitude,” explains Ritchie. “So we could have a skill check, where if you have +10 strength and you’re sufficiently nihilistic, then you could then do this [option]. We want your character’s attitude [to reflect] how they see themselves, and the kinds of things they’re willing to do.”