Chris Avellone Fallout Interview, Part Two

The second part of Chris Avellone’s interview with Fallout fansite SugarBomber is now live, and while I’m sure the additional jabs at his former company Obsidian Entertainment will make the rounds, there is some interesting insight on the man’s design processes and his work on the series that I’d like to highlight this time around:

SB: Now onto New Vegas. Since you designed New Reno in Fallout 2, how did you and the other developers go about differentiating New Vegas from it? And what influence did you take from it (New Reno)?

CA: I don’t know if there were any conversations on differentiating New Vegas from New Reno, the level designers for the city might know (I don’t know if they played Fallout 2). BTW, New Reno wasn’t solely mine, I inherited the design from the Troika guys before they left Black Isle, so I had that template to build on (the crime families, the Enclave, jet production, etc.) The worst parts of New Reno you can blame me for, don’t blame the Troika guys. 😉

Looking back the only thing I regret in New Reno is that I should have cut out one of the crime families (four was too many with everything else that was going on) and made Myron more systemically valuable to the party (his combat build and crafting abilities weren’t helpful). Cassidy ended up being a better companion for systemic considerations, even with his heart condition. I did a post about companion design based on this learning experience a while back on the Obsidian forums, but I don’t know if it’s still up there (Obsidian locked me out of my profile after my departure, and they’ve refused to delete my account). The companion system design principles are not being used in recent Obsidian titles, so it may have been removed.

SB: I’m currently helping to write a Fallout 4 quest mod called “Realm of Dusk” (basically Fallout meets the Twilight Zone, check it out here!). I have one full length main quest written and it’s about 20 pages long. What is the process you go through when writing a quest, and how long does it usually take?

CA: That’s a good question, and it depends on the game and the genre (which sounds obvious), but let’s use Fallout as the template. When working on Fallout 2, we’d either create or get a bullet-point list of quests (very brief), a list of all story ties that needed to be in the area to make other areas work, and then told to “go.” It wasn’t well organized (and a lot of area and quests also had to change hands for a variety of reasons – I inherited what remained of Vault City when one of our lead designers/studio head couldn’t make time for it) so we had to wrangle most of it ourselves.

I found the easiest way to manage it was to focus on each NPC quest giver, start with the origin NPC or quest trigger, establish the pacing points (and when to cut them off if a gameplay loop starts going on too long), make sure that each Fallout archetype brought something to the quest (or was at least considered for the completed quest – combat, stealth, talking, and psychological and factions as well – bad karma, good karma, slaver, etc.). So 20 pages for a quest wouldn’t be unheard of… well, as long as it includes dialogue. If it doesn’t include dialogue, then I’d strongly suggest making your quest design no longer than a page or two, stick to bullet-points, and get it implemented as fast as possible to start testing it out and see how it plays.

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