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Wasteland 2 interview: Fargo's wonderful apocalypse

Wasteland 2 has been a dream of InXile's Brian Fargo for over 20 years, and Kickstarter made it possible. VG247's Dave Cook speaks with Fargo about the game's development, combat & design.

It's becoming old-hat to put Kickstarter's crowd-funding potential on a pedestal, because that soap box is already starting to rot. It's not that the site's potential has waned - far from it - it's just that saying Kickstarter is a positive thing is like saying Half-Life 3 has taken a really long time to develop.

Most developers using Kickstarter have yet to launch their end product, and the drip-fed nature of screen teasers is good at keeping fans interested throughout development. It's inspiring actually, given how transparent studios are when using it to communicate with backers.

But we want more dammit, especially from Wasteland 2, which is a genuinely intriguing prospect from developer InXile Entertainment. Studio founder Brian Fargo was a designer on the 1988 original, and here he is 24 years later, finally realising his dream of a sequel.

What's interesting is just how pure Fargo and his team are keeping Wasteland 2's fundamentals. It doesn't pander to new trends, and is an old-school PC RPG through and through. Things like perma-death, deep combat mechanics and an unrelenting post-apocalyptic world are all ideal, especially if modern games make you a little bit sick in your own mouth.

So we decided to chat with the man himself. Fargo's enthusiasm for this pet project is admirable, and it's refreshing to see ambitious people in the industry seeing their wishes fulfilled. It's not all talk either, as Wasteland 2 is sounding incredible.

Don't take our word for it though, over to you Brian.

VG247: It's been a while since Wasteland 2 surpassed its funding goals. What stage of development are you at currently?

Brian Fargo: Right now, we are tracking really well on the development of Wasteland 2. By the end of October, we will be wrapping up all of the level designs. At that point, we're going to do a full script run-through to make sure there aren't any holes that were missed. We'll then continue on with full production.

In the mean time, we are also implementing many of the core systems into the game. We currently have prototypes of the overhead map, combat, attribute, skill systems as well as full party movement. We've started scripting and creating task lists of all tools we will need to deliver the experience we want.

Do you have a final plan for the scale of the overhead map?

The world is certainly much larger than we had originally anticipated. Our first design was set up when we were hoping to get $1,000,000 to make the game, but we ended up clearing more than $3 million.

”Success in the Wastelands is centred around creating and using a team that works well together based on the strategy you’re using. I might also add that many of the choices the player make might not be felt for many hours later. This is another way of making the decisions in Wasteland 2 permanent.”

There are currently over 15 main areas that the player can visit along with many smaller maps that they can explore. All of this content is highly re-playable as well. I feel very comfortable saying that no two people will experience the same story on a play-through. It is a very ambitious design from a cause and effect point of view.

How ingrained is the world? Will players need a deep understanding of the original Wasteland to get what's going on?

Wasteland 2 takes place 15 years after the original did, but players will still run into some familiar faces from the first game. One of our goals in development was to include some kickbacks to the original Wasteland, because we know that much of the Wasteland 2 community didn't play the first one but love old school post-apocalyptic RPGs.

What I really love about the characters - particularly the player's companions - is that they aren't always honest. Some will steal from the group, betray you and so on. How much of a say will players have when customising their group, and can companions suffer perma-death?

Well, when you start the game, you will create four rangers that you spec with the attributes and skills you want. Along the journey, you'll also run into many other companion NPCs that can join your party.

Each of these NPC's has a different personality and will have their advantages and disadvantages. Some might be incredibly annoying but have an useful skill that you might not want to live without. It's all about choices and trade-offs in Wasteland.

We will indeed have perma-death in the game. If you make a bad decision and get a party member killed, they won't come back. We committed to creating an old-school RPG experience and we are definitely looking to make this a hard core experience.

Once you've recruited a companion NPC into your party, you now control them in combat along with your other rangers. We have over 30 skills that can be acquired in the game and no one ranger will be able to be effective in all of them.

Success in the Wastelands is centred around creating and using a team that works well together based on the strategy you're using. I might also add that many of the choices the player make might not be felt for many hours later. This is another way of making the decisions in Wasteland 2 permanent as players have to live with the outcomes they create.

What interested me most about your combat mechanic is that the deep rules at play fall in line with old-school RPGs, while you've also attempted to keep battles quick. That's not an easy format to achieve.

We love the strategy of turn-based games but sometimes, they can be monotonous in combat. We've played and studied many of the popular turn-based games from the last 20 years including Fallout Tactics, Temple of Elemental Evil, X-com, Final Fantasy Tactics, Jagged Alliance, and many others.

One example of some "fat" we're attempting to trim is the wait time you have during the enemy turn. If multiple enemies are in the rotation to act before a players character is, they will all move and attack together. We also hate being forced into a fight with enemies that you can mop the floor with.

Slowing down the experience for an incredibly easy combat encounter doesn't really add anything to the game. You'll be able to resolve that combat encounter quickly without it dragging the game down.

I have to say that I really loved your combat screenshot - the one that shows four Rangers fighting a massive mutated scorpion. You really seem to be getting the most out of the Unity engine.

We are loving Unity. For this style of game, I can't imagine us using any other engine. There are so many positives that are allowing us to focus on gameplay and not technology. We've been very outspoken in our love of the Unity Asset Store.

We've currently purchased over 100 assets that range from engineering scripts to environment models. I can safely say that had we picked a different game engine, there is no way we'd be at the point in development that we are now.

"We are also including a mod kit shortly after the initial release. We feel that this type of game can be easily modded by the community to create tons of extra content that will live on after we’ve finished with it.”

As for the process, once we've set our core tenants and main systems in stone, we immediately kick off the level designs. Right now, we have over 10 writers and designers finishing up all of the maps.

During this period, engineering will be working on pipeline tests and creating tools that we need to have each discipline work effectively. Our team is pretty experienced and we all have ways that we enjoy working in our specific disciplines.

After that, it's about getting a single level up and running so that we can start scripting it to get a feel the scale of the world and get some initial cameras set up. We believe strongly that nothing can make up for iteration on a game, no matter how good the initial design.

Once we have a system implemented, we will evaluate it and shift priorities as needed to make sure it's supporting the overall game mechanics we want to put forward.

One mechanic that I particularly like is that you're giving players free reign over the game's UI, and there will be a ton of customisation in the game itself. Just how far can people tailor the experience to their liking?

Customization is huge in the original Wasteland and in RPGs in general. Obviously you can customize your abilities, but we also are allowing people to import their own character portraits if they'd like.

Taking a page from the customizable UI on games like World of Warcraft, the player will be able to modify the main HUD elements to place them where they'd like on their screen. We are also including a mod kit shortly after the initial release. We feel that this type of game can be easily modded by the community to create tons of extra content that will live on after we've finished with it.

It's clear, just by hearing you talk about the project, that you are really enthusiastic about the game, and it's no secret that you've wanted to make it for a long time.

I've wanted to do a Wasteland sequel since the moment the code was completed on the first one. We learned so much during the initial development that we wanted to put those lessons into motion. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the rights to do a sequel, so we made Fallout instead.

We played around with some ideas for Wasteland that made it more like a third person game but it never felt right. Ultimately, any time you moved the camera away from an isometric or top down view, the game felt too different from the original experience that was so popular.

One man who has been probably as steeping in old school RPGs as yourself is Obsidian's Chris Avellone, and he's also admirably enthusiastic about the genre and his own Kickstarter for Project Eternity. What does his involvement bring to the table?

We've been working very closely with Chris throughout development. He has been designing a few levels for the game and is involved in many of the overall story discussions. Chris has a very interesting and unique way of looking at RPG design and it's been a great collaboration to have him on board. Kickstarter has brought our two companies closer together than ever.

”Design will be complete at the end of October then we focus on full production and iteration. We’ll also have an early closed beta and will get feedback before the actual launch of the game.”

And it's brought you closer to your fans of course.

Yeah, we let our fans choose where the money goes. Once we broke the $900,000 mark early, we went to the community and asked them what they would like to see for the stretch goals. The linux community was incredibly vocal about wanting a linux port, so we included that on the list.

Much of our fan base was in unison in that they wanted more gameplay. It wasn't about adding voiceover or additional art, but they wanted a deeper richer experience. Since we are so interactive with our fans early in the process, we don't need to guess where we spend the money. They tell us what's important to them.

Gamers can be quite vocal however, and it seems that some developers shy away from listening to that feedback too much, because then you get into a situation where a studio is trying to make a game that pleases everyone - that's impossible. So how has feedback actively affected your thought process in Wasteland 2?

We started getting fan feedback before our Kickstarter went live, and one of the first things we did was set up Wasteland forums and begin to get feedback on our thoughts for the reward tiers. We were incredibly surprised to see that they overwhelmingly didn't want any unique skills as pledge rewards that affected gameplay.

Because of this feedback, we modified it to be a "unique and quirky skill" instead. I think much of the general feedback has been in line with what we had imagined to make. It's been great to read ideas on our forums that have sparked design conversations and ultimately made it into the production plan.

You're aiming to launch the game in October 2013. Would you say you're still on track to hit that window?

I think we are. Design will be complete at the end of October then we focus on full production and iteration. We'll also have an early closed beta and will get feedback before the actual launch of the game.

I guess finally, say I'm a staunch Fallout fan who hasn't heard of the original Wasteland. How would you convince me to check out Wasteland 2 at launch?

Most of the original fans of Fallout did not want it to become a first-person console game so we most definitely satisfy that crowd. I would also say that we are tackling issues that are more mature and the writing density is more in line with the first Fallout games.

Our moral dilemmas are far more present with less obvious conclusions as to how things play out. Players can win the game playing however they like but the writing does a great job of making the approach you took felt in the scenarios and events that unfold.

So there you have it. Are you excited about Wasteland 2? Let us know what you think below.

About the Author

Dave Cook avatar

Dave Cook


Living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Writing a game called Jettison and a book called Seventh Circle. Loves spicy food.

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