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Interview RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Tim Cain on Fallout, Troika and RPG Design

Crooked Bee

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Tags: Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura; Fallout; Interplay; Journey to the Center of Arcanum; Obsidian Entertainment; Retrospective Interview; Temple of Elemental Evil; Tim Cain; Troika Games

In this entry in the RPG Codex retrospective interview series, we are happy to offer you an interview with Timothy Cain. At Interplay and then at Troika Games, Tim Cain designed some of the RPG Codex' all-time favorite CRPGs: Fallout, Arcanum, and Temple of Elemental Evil. The interview deals with Tim's career and his thoughts on RPG design, and even includes a question on Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. We are grateful to Tim for taking time to answer our questions in detail. Have a snippet:

Troika's games, while arguably among the genre's most outstanding achievements, were notoriously rough at the time of release, often criticized for bugs and unfinished content. In retrospect, how do you explain this? Do you feel this kind of criticism can sometimes get unfair?

I don't think criticizing Troika games for being buggy was unfair. They were buggy, and I think there were two big reason why that was so. First, we tried putting a lot of features into these games. We really needed to learn how to edit, because we would spend a lot of man-hours putting a feature into a game that hardly any of the players would ultimately care about. For example, Arcanum had newspapers that reported on major incidents that were caused by the player, but I don't remember a single review mentioning that. We spent a lot of time getting that working, and those hours could have spent balancing real-time combat, or fixing the multiplayer code.

Second, we kept our team sizes small, both for budget and for management purposes. This meant we had less total man-hours to work with, and all of the late nights and weekends couldn't make up for the fact that we only had about a dozen people working on the Arcanum and Temple projects. Looking back, I am amazed our games were as feature-rich as they were, but I am not surprised they were as buggy as they were. We should have made some serious feature cuts early in their development.

Troika got characterized as “always blaming the publisher” when something was wrong and I think this was unfair. We would always own up to the parts of the development process in which we had made mistakes, but it seemed that if we ever said “we messed up this, and our publisher messed up that”, some people just heard the latter part of the comment and would start screaming “Troika is blaming the publishers again!”. It got frustrating after a while, especially when I saw people at Troika quoted out of context. But I did gain quite an insight into the American political system, which seems to deal with the same kind of illogical, sound bite oriented system of criticism of its political candidates. People hear what they want to hear, and often make up their minds before seeing, or even in spite of, any evidence to the contrary.

Temple of Elemental Evil featured what is to this day the best translation of D&D to the PC. Sadly, there only was one game using that engine. Were there any plans to keep using it for other games, or perhaps license it to other developers, in a manner similar to the Infinity and Gold Box engines?

Yes, we had great plans for that engine. For the sequel to The Temple of Elemental Evil, Troika proposed using the super-module GDQ: Queen of the Spiders, which consists of seven modules from the popular Giants and Drow series, plus the special Q-series module that completed the adventure. In fact, we were going to let the players bring their characters over from ToEE directly into the QoS, so they could simply continue playing with the same group of characters. Alternatively, we had suggested using the engine to create the long-awaited Baldur's Gate 3, and Obsidian had also expressed interest in licensing the engine to make D&D licensed games. Unfortunately, Atari never followed up on any of these proposals.

In his speech at the 2012 Unite Conference, Brian Fargo claimed the industry has "come full circle" since 1980s, shifting away from the console model dominant since the late 1990s and back towards "2 and 3 man teams" empowered by new tools, crowdfunding, and new distribution methods. Do you agree with this kind of picture? How would you describe the way the industry changed over the years that you have been active in it?

Small 2 and 3 man teams may be able to produce a few PC and console games, but mostly they are making smaller games that have much less complexity or player time investment than full-sized games, and those latter games still need a team to develop them. I am glad to see crowdfunding add an alternative to the publisher model for many developers, and digital distribution creates sales channels for smaller companies that can rival the older physical distribution of large publishers. In short, I think variety and options are good things, in the game industry as well as in games.

I am concerned about the mid-tier developer being crowded out of the market by these new methods. It seems that we are increasingly seeing two types of games, ones made by small independent developers and ones made by huge, publisher-owned teams. The mid-tier developer, which have teams of 30-60 people, are shrinking, and small teams of less than 10 people and large teams of over 100 people are becoming the norm. I am worried what this means for the types of games that will be available over the next few years. Will they be either small casual games that you play for a few hours and then move on, or gigantic behemoths that you devote months of gaming time to, possibly investing in DLC to stretch the gap between sequels? It's as if books are disappearing, to be replaced with short story collections and lengthy book series, or movies are being replaced with TV shows and movie franchises. Is there no middle ground any more? I don't know, and that worries me because some of the best games have come from such development, and it would be a shame if it was lost.​

The interview really covers a lot of ground, so I strongly recommend you read it in full.

Read the article in full: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Tim Cain on Fallout, Troika and RPG Design
 

Infinitron

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Interesting, he seems to imply that he does not view South Park as a "casual" RPG.
 

Luzur

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Yes, we had great plans for that engine. For the sequel to The Temple of Elemental Evil, Troika proposed using the super-module GDQ: Queen of the Spiders, which consists of seven modules from the popular Giants and Drow series, plus the special Q-series module that completed the adventure. In fact, we were going to let the players bring their characters over from ToEE directly into the QoS, so they could simply continue playing with the same group of characters. Alternatively, we had suggested using the engine to create the long-awaited Baldur's Gate 3, and Obsidian had also expressed interest in licensing the engine to make D&D licensed games. Unfortunately, Atari never followed up on any of these proposals.

fffuuu.jpg
 

felipepepe

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Yes, we had great plans for that engine. For the sequel to The Temple of Elemental Evil, Troika proposed using the super-module GDQ: Queen of the Spiders, which consists of seven modules from the popular Giants and Drow series, plus the special Q-series module that completed the adventure. In fact, we were going to let the players bring their characters over from ToEE directly into the QoS, so they could simply continue playing with the same group of characters. Alternatively, we had suggested using the engine to create the long-awaited Baldur's Gate 3, and Obsidian had also expressed interest in licensing the engine to make D&D licensed games. Unfortunately, Atari never followed up on any of these proposals.
I made that question, I wanted the truth... but I can't handle the truth!

tumblr_m7oowwqemN1r2ygl8.gif


Besides that, a very solid interview, one of the best I read here, good job Mrs. Bee! :salute:
 

hoverdog

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Probably the most common mistake is misunderstanding the nature of a video game and how it differs in fundamental ways from tabletop games, movies and books.. For example, for the longest time, CRPG's that were based on tabletop games kept the dice-rolling mechanic of character creation. While that works great for a tabletop game where your friends are making characters together, dice rolling is not a good way to make characters for a computer game. Since nothing stops the players from re-rolling (even if it means stopping the game and restarting it), they would usually start the game with over-powered characters.
:salute:

Unfortunately, Atari never followed up on any of these proposals.
fuck those losers.
 

Zed

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I am concerned about the mid-tier developer being crowded out of the market by these new methods. It seems that we are increasingly seeing two types of games, ones made by small independent developers and ones made by huge, publisher-owned teams. The mid-tier developer, which have teams of 30-60 people, are shrinking, and small teams of less than 10 people and large teams of over 100 people are becoming the norm. I am worried what this means for the types of games that will be available over the next few years. Will they be either small casual games that you play for a few hours and then move on, or gigantic behemoths that you devote months of gaming time to, possibly investing in DLC to stretch the gap between sequels? It's as if books are disappearing, to be replaced with short story collections and lengthy book series, or movies are being replaced with TV shows and movie franchises. Is there no middle ground any more? I don't know, and that worries me because some of the best games have come from such development, and it would be a shame if it was lost.
Much truth, much sadness :(
 
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Dammit, Kickstart something Tim! This man has the creative vision and know how. I'd be willing to bet with the right video and promo campaign he could raise close to what Wasteland 2 raised. Hell...I'd pay buku bucks if he just wanted to get the rights to the ToEE engine and use that.
 

The Great Deceiver

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I remember seeing the first ToEE screenshots and thinking "Damn, I'd love to play Arcanum 2 on that engine". At the time it seemed like a feasible idea.

Thanks for the interview, it was a good read.
 

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Great interview but I don't share his opinion on quite a few things (but I can understand where he's coming from).
 

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nice, it's good to see codex still does good interviews with interesting people. sad to hear about troika troubles... especially games based on TOEE's engine... damn.
 

Duckard

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No mention of tablets? :incline:

Great interview and very comprehensive answers. Seriously, though, I want Tim to make a game. He obviously has a good track record and hasn't embraced the decline like so many others.
 

Morkar Left

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Technically I imagine the ToeE engine is still up to date and you could create new games with it.
 

mvBarracuda

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Let's face it: Tim is a fucking legend.

I really enjoyed his answers, especially about the trend of Hollywoodization of AAA RPGs, turning them into cut scene festivals with very little player influence in between.
 

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Technically I imagine the ToeE engine is still up to date and you could create new games with it.
if motherfucking atari released its source code (which they won't, bastards), I'm sure Co8 would make a whole huge campaign. Look what they did without it. Not to mention a hopeful successor by Cain&co

ATARI!!!!!!!!11111111111 :x:x:x:x:x:x:x:x:x:x
 

asper

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This is maybe the best RPG Codex interview on the site, partly because Tim Cain is of course a legend and a master. Big thanks to him for answering so many in-depth questions. Excellent work, Bee.

We really needed to learn how to edit, because we would spend a lot of man-hours putting a feature into a game that hardly any of the players would ultimately care about. For example, Arcanum had newspapers that reported on major incidents that were caused by the player, but I don't remember a single review mentioning that.

I care! I cared!

This kind of depth is one of the reasons why those games are so exceptional..

Small nitpick:

So many people took over after Fallout 1, when they changed their minds about the IP and suddenly it was AAA game.

This sentence needs an "an". Sad sentence, by the way
 

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Too much flattery in this thread, not enough butthurt over Tim's positive experience of Fallout 3
 

Roguey

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I have to hand it to the FO3 designers for developing VATS, a cool twist on called shots for a real-time game.
:what: VATS is only tolerable because character animations are too herky-jerky to make aiming for limbs/weapons worthwhile normally. It's still a ridiculous power to which only you have access. Then again this is coming from a guy who thinks that armor that both reduces damage and makes you harder to hit is a good idea (considering it's used both in Fallout and Arcanum).
We should have made some serious feature cuts early in their development.
:yeah: Say no to unrealistic scope.
We closed because we were not getting contract offers for products we wanted to make, so we voluntarily shut down while we were still in the black, financially. We could lay off employees with severance packages and extend their insurance for a few months, rather than just shut down with no notice and kick everyone out.
Tim Cain, a superior man compared to Curt Schilling.
My goal was to recreate the Temple of Elemental Evil module in a 3.5 game engine, and at that, I think we succeeded. But I like I said, I wish we had created our own source material. The engine was so good, and I think we re-created the 3.5 rules and tabletop experience very faithfully. That was not the problem with that game. The storyline, characters and dialog that I wrote were simply not up to the level that Troika had set with Arcanum.
They weren't all that good in Arcanum either. The problem with ToEE is half its core gameplay, that being the thingies you're expected to fight. Knights of the Chalice has a storyline, characters, and dialog that are just as banal if not more so, and guess what, it was much more enjoyable to me than ToEE despite having fewer character building options.

I remember seeing the first ToEE screenshots and thinking "Damn, I'd love to play Arcanum 2 on that engine". At the time it seemed like a feasible idea.
Prerendered backgrounds wouldn't work with what Arcanum wants to accomplish imo.
 

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