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RPG Codex Interview: Leonard Boyarsky on joining Obsidian, Fallout & Bloodlines cut content and more

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RPG Codex Interview: Leonard Boyarsky on joining Obsidian, Fallout & Bloodlines cut content and more

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 30 September 2016, 20:43:07

Tags: Fallout; Fallout 2; Journey to the Center of Arcanum; Leonard Boyarsky; Obsidian Entertainment; Troika Games; Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

[by Jedi Master Radek]

After my interview with Feargus Urquhart at Krakow's Digital Dragons conference, I asked him if I could get an interview with a famous new Obsidian employee: Leonard Boyarsky. Feargus kindly agreed, but noted that there was probably not much he could talk about now because he had just started working on a new project. I decided to go through with it anyway, gathering a list of questions from the Codex community and sending it out. A few weeks later, I received Leonard's replies. The whole thing was handled by Mikey Dowling, Obsidian's excellent social media manager. I am very thankful to Leonard, Feargus and Mikey for enabling this to happen.

So here you have it, the first interview with Leonard Boyarsky after his move to Obsidian.

Why did you leave Blizzard?

I really, really, really, really, really wanted to return to making single player RPGs.​

What do you think are the largest differences between working with a small company (relatively speaking) like Black Isle or Troika and a leviathan like Blizzard?

For a large company, Blizzard has done a great job of keeping a smaller company feel. However, at the end of the day, they are a huge company with the some of the biggest, most successful franchises in the world. Therefore, there are, by necessity, considerations and levels of decision making that don't need to exist at a small company like Obsidian.​

Since you and Tim are back together now, has there been any contact with Jason Anderson? Are you still friends? Any pipe dreams of getting back together?

We’re still friends with Jason, we get together for a Troika lunch a few times a year.

So, of course, I would love to work with him again someday, but it wouldn’t be as simple as us just picking up where we left off. When we worked on Fallout and started Troika, Jason, Tim and I all had our own specific skills which complemented each other's well. But it's been over ten years, we've all had vastly different experiences, and our areas of expertise have shifted and grown (hopefully), so it wouldn't just be a matter of us getting back together and sliding into our old roles, we'd have to figure out the balance again.​

What's your dream game that you'd like to make? And when are we getting Bloodlines 2 or Arcanum 2? What Troika game would you like to make a sequel to the most?

I'm happy to say that I'm currently working on my dream game. As far as sequels, it's Arcanum 2, hands down. I'd much rather work on IPs of my own creation. That doesn't mean I wouldn't work on Bloodlines 2 if given the opportunity, but if I had a choice between them it's an easy call to make.​

If you, Tim and Jason were to make Fallout from scratch now (pretending it never happened), with all the experience you've accumulated since the 90s, how different do you suppose it would be from what it was?

One of the reasons we made it 2d and isometric in the first place was because I wanted a certain level of detail in the art, and the tech just wasn't up to doing that in full 3d. We considered first person for half a minute, but I shut that down purely from an art standpoint. Assuming we still wanted it to be turn based (my focus has always been the art and storytelling, I'm not a system designer), I would want first or third person exploration with the camera zooming out to a more tactical viewpoint for combat. I am still envious that we weren't the ones who got to make a Fallout game where you explored the wasteland from first person.​

Do you think there's too much focus on balancing everything to perfection in modern games?

I have no idea what you possibly could be referring to.​

Has your time at Blizzard broadened your horizons on what a modern video game can achieve? If so, can we expect to see a different approach in your current and future projects compared to your time at Troika?

I wouldn't say it 'broadened my horizons', but I did see a lot of how Blizzard develops their games - some of it extremely useful, some of it completely inapplicable to the single RPG genre.​

Back in 2002, right after the RPG Codex was founded, you wrote an editorial on how the biggest challenge in RPG development was 'making an in-depth RPG that sells'. Allow me to quote from it:

The hardest thing to accomplish when creating an RPG is to make an in-depth RPG that sells. Now I know all you purists out there think that what's important is the quality of the game and not how much it sells, but try finding a new contract when your last game sells less than 400,000 units. The ultimate challenge for an RPG developer is to find some kind of hook that will convince the marketing dept at your prospective publisher that this really isn't a "hardcore RPG" they're going to have to sell, it's an action RPG! (My skin is already crawling.) So not only do you, as an RPG designer, have to create a compelling RPG (which is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult genres to do right) you also have to find a way to sell it as something else - or, at the very least, an RPG hybrid of some sort. But never state it's a hardcore RPG to the marketing people - it tends to give them seizures.

Now, after years working at Blizzard and seeing the market change radically (Steam, indies, Kickstarter, etc), do you believe that's still the case?

I hope not.​

Since the collapse of Troika, have there been any games with an art style that appealed to you as an artist? If so, what are they?

· Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite - felt very akin to the FO/Arcanum aesthetic to me in a lot of ways, and I obviously have a lot of love for both the retro and steampunk genres.

· Dishonored - great job of stylization over photorealism, making their characters and world realistic and painterly at the same time (something we tried and failed to do with our characters in Vampire), plus an interestingly different take on a steampunk type world.

· Wolfenstein New Order - Hmmm... I'm sensing a trend here... loved the feel of their world.

These are all beautiful games in their own right, but they're also all very original and different, which is usually a huge part of whether a game's art appeals to me or not.

That new Cuphead game looks awesome, as well, even though I'm not much into side scrollers.​


Being both an artist and a narrative designer, how difficult is it for you to combine meaningful gameplay mechanics with an artistic vision? In which of your games do you believe you achieved both in the most successful way?

I work with the system/gameplay guys to hash out how the gameplay will reflect the art and story and vice-versa. It's no more difficult than any of the myriad other problems we face in game development - as long as you're working with gameplay designers who have the same goals. There needs to be give and take on both sides, but what you both need to agree on and aim for is a unified vision for what the game is, and, in a perfect world, that's a blend of the gameplay and artistic (including story) demands. As for which of my games worked best at this, I can't really judge that, I'm too close to them. There are things about each that worked great, and some that... didn't.​

Bloodlines Cut Content

Was one ending slot reserved for a Sabbat expansion or something similar?

I don't believe so, but I couldn't say for sure.​

Was the Cabbie intended to be Caine before White Wolf changed it in the Gehenna book?

Well, we had our version internally, but it's WW's IP, so they get to decide what is canon. I'd like to think that everyone is free to make their own decision about whether it was Caine or not. I personally believe it was Tim Cain, but that's just me.​

Did you include the cut assets because you planned to do expansions later on?

Nope, just never deleted them.​

Was Jack inside the container on the Dane or did he enter the ship near LA?

I'm not sure what you're asking. At some point before it docked in LA, he came onto the Dane and did his thing, I didn't think that was a question we left hanging. Or am I missing something?​

Who was writing the emails "from a friend" to the Bloodlines player?

See the Caine question above.​

What maps were cut from the game besides the library one?

I think that was the only one that was actually made that was cut, we had plans for other ones, but I can't remember any specifics. There were some cool maps that were made for MP that I don't think were reused in any way in the game, but that was more than ten years ago, so I wouldn't trust my memory on some of those types of details. It was... a very stressful time, let's just say.​

Fallout Cut Content and Early Concepts

Did you ever think about making the game playable after becoming a Mutant or it was always supposed to be the end after the Vault 13 assault cutscene?

Nope. We joked about it, but it wouldn't have been feasible, even if we had actually wanted to do it.​

There was a cut location called The Irvine Utopia. It was supposed to be a city run by robots who controlled the human inhabitants with an iron fist. They upheld strict rules, but the city was in a pristine pre-war state. It also had Brian Fargo's car and the skeletons of Black Isle employees. What questlines and interactions were going to be implemented there? Was it cut due to time constraints or was the tone too silly?

I only remembered that we had talked about this, Tim filled me in on the details he remembered: There were lasers defending the place that you had to turn off to get the pass card of a specific Interplay employee for some quest reason, and, at the end of the game, after the credits, an NPC would steal Brian's car because you had disabled Interplay's security system. Irvine was still perfect, naturally, because Irvine has a mandate that it shall be perfect in perpetuity (you'd have to know Irvine to get why that was funny to us). This was in the early, early stages of planning the game when we were throwing around a lot of silly joke ideas. Though it obviously would have clashed with our eventual tone, I believe this was cut long before it ever was an issue. It never made it past the stage of just being a funny joke to us.​

Fallout was planned to be the first of a series of GURPS games. While you were developing it, what other games in this series were you thinking of making?

Never even talked about it.​

In the promotional poster for Fallout included above, the Mutants are hairy, have different faces and look more agile. Why was this design changed? Were there any other big changes to the design during the game's development process?

I have no idea where that picture came from, or why it has hairy mutants. We had nothing to do with it, and it was never part of anything we (the team) were doing for the game. Jason and I did all the official advertisements, and this wasn't one of them.​

How did the early drafts of the intro and outro movies look like? How did they change and why?

We had no early draft of the intro designed, and the outro was always supposed to be some sort of hero's welcome for saving the vault and defeating the master. When we started planning the intro, Jason and I designed pretty much what you see, with things like the guy being shot being added during development - but overall, we designed it very quickly and executed on that design. For the second part, Tim wrote the narration and we put together the images underneath it, that was about all the design that went into that one. The visual of the waterchip just evolved into a visual joke while I was modeling it - I thought it would be funny to be showing the simplest, most basic motherboard type thing while the overseer was describing something so complex they couldn't hack together a workaround. That was how a lot of the design went on those things - we'd just come up with something we thought was funny while we were filling in the details. A specific detail I've never seen anybody mention is that the schematic behind the waterchip is actually for a Moog synthesizer. I've told the story of the ending before, but, in essence, it just occurred to me and Jason when we actually sat down to do the thing that #1, we had no idea how to make a 'celebratory scene' impactful, and #2, there was no way that their xenophobia would ever let them allow the player back in the vault.​

Early drafts of Fallout 2 included the Master's Army mobile fortress as a location. Could you tell us more about it and its impact on the game's plot and lore? Do you know why it was cut?

It wasn't the Master's, it was the BoS mobile command center. They created/ran the lobotomite army that was an early threat to the player. The 'Fallout #2' comic cover loading screen was an illustration of a scene we had envisioned where the player was being overcome by lobotomites when a desert ranger showed up to (hopefully) help.

It came from the first draft of the FO2 story: The BoS and Vault 13's overseer's descendant (and a small group of elite leaders) had made a secret alliance to exchange tech for weapons, safety, etc, and you had to expose or stop them. It was decided that it wasn't strong enough, so we scrapped it and came up with the version that actually was made.

I was really happy that there were lobotomites in Old World Blues, incidentally.​

What's your opinion on how the Vaults were changed from safe havens for humanity in Fallout to sites for wacky experiments in Fallout 2?

We (Jason, Tim and I) were the ones who came up with that idea when we were designing the story for FO2, and we liked how they added another layer to the dichotomy between the reality the government was selling the people through propaganda and reality itself. So we obviously approved of it as an idea. The ones we designed all had a dark edge to them, as if they could conceivably be twisted psychological experiments. The wacky ones came after we had left...​

How did the early draft for Fallout 2's story and locations look like before you left Black Isle? How was it changed for the final game? What direction were you planning to steer the story and the world?

You have to remember that this was twenty years ago, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think, overall, it stayed pretty close to our original design. There was a lot of work that had to be done to fill in the blanks when we left, but they followed much of what we had laid out. Except they added talking death claws. If we had stayed, I guarantee there would have never been talking, intelligent death claws.

An idea which may or may not have ever actually made it in (and may have been their genesis) was that you could find a death claw egg and hatch it, and the death claw would become a follower. The joke was that, in order to not have everyone freak out when you walked into town, you could put a cloak on him - which would have effectively made him look like a slightly larger version of a normal NPC in a cloak (with a hidden face). When combat started, he would throw off the cloak and inexplicably grow to his correct size. This was suggested as a way we could do it without adding animations for him (we could just use NPC anims), and as a way to not add reactions for walking into town with him. However, you need to keep in mind that a lot of ideas started out silly, just to make us laugh, and we would evolve them into their darker versions as we went. I have no idea how the death claw follower would have played out had we stayed. But he wouldn't have spoken.

It was supposed to be very haunting and mysterious when you showed up to Vault 13 - the legends of your tribe told of many who tried to get in and failed, and you show up and the door is open and the whole vault is empty.​


What can you tell us about your plans for gameplay mechanics and story in Troika's cancelled post-apocalyptic cRPG? Do you still have the tech demo? If so, could you share it?

We only had gotten as far as that demo. It was an engine test to show what a new post apoc game might look like, most of the models (except for the player) were just cobbled together to give an initial feel. Not much thought had been given to it beyond that.​

A year ago, a design pitch for Journey to the Centre of Arcanum was discovered. What was your vision for the game? Tim said there were many concepts for it at the time.

The only idea we were committed to was a First Person RPG set in the World of Arcanum, based around a Jules Verne type adventure, with a bit of mocking the Victorian colonial attitudes, etc. thrown in for fun. Everything else was just initial brainstorming and trying to come up with the right buzzwords and phrases to get a publisher to fund it.

I thought the magic/tech metal could have been an interesting evolution to the world of Arcanum, as long as it was rare and became something that could, in the right hands, give one faction or the other immense power. As long as it was more of a macguffin, and didn’t upend the whole world, I think it could have worked well. One version of that idea that prompted Tim's extreme dislike had an ending with a whole bunch of the metal being found (or taken) by the player at the end of the game, giving them the power to decide who ruled Arcanum (which totally contradicts everything I just said about it being a macguffin, of course). So I would have had to convince Tim it was a good idea in whatever form it took, or we would have gone with something else, or evolved the idea somehow. That's generally how these things go, you start throwing out basic, general ideas and revise, edit, discard as necessary until you get something you're happy with.​

Do you have any unpublished concept art, drafts or design documents for Fallout or any of the Troika games in your vault? Even if they're not as good as the ones that were released, it would be beyond amazing to see them!

Maybe we'll release them at some point...​

Thank you for your time.

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