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Chris Avellone

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Everything posted by Chris Avellone

  1. Another question from Rafal Adamek: Can people who are not a programmers can be a part of a game industry? I read on your blog about good schools to start with and everything. But what about different people? Let
  2. With Dead Money coming out for the PC and PS3 this week, I got into a discussion about how I feel about its reception and some of the design decisions. In short, my feelings concern the context of the specific design elements. Some folks understand the "why" of the challenge elements even if they don't agree with them, which is fine, as long as they get why we did it the way we did - and that may not be apparent. So: If you play the adventure and want to dig deeper into the reasons behind the content and challenges, read on (although play first and form your own opinions). Slight spoilers apply (although most was in trailers and interviews already). Most of this is general enough that you may be able to read safely - a lot of this concerns the overall design decisions made in the DLC, it's more a general treatment than a series of details. First off, Dead Money is a short story in the Fallout universe, pulp fiction style: it's a dime-store comic book (issue one in a limited series), an adventure story, a casino heist with a post-holocaust spin. It's never intended to have the length of a regular product, and being able to do a "game short story" is something that was fun to work on... usually we work on multi-year products, so doing a one with limited scope in a short time frame was gratifying in many respects. How do you create a game-equivalent ($10 vs dime store) paperback adventure? How long should it be, how should you present it? As it says at the outset, Dead Money's a brutal, vicious adventure that puts the player in a bad situation, and it was designed to scare the hell out of Fallout players - although it didn't, in my opinion. The Survival and tension aspects ended up trumping that, which is fine, since survival's a subset of fear in my book. We didn't set out to make Dead Money a Survival experience - we set out to make a Horror game that put Survival second. In terms of horror, I don't feel we succeeded, although it was a conscious effort to try and shake things up a bit with the enemies you faced to scare the player, definitely. The enemies are not only tough (which is easy to do with numbers, so I don't feel that's a real challenge), but also intended to be unpredictable when they fall, so you couldn't always count on shooting an enemy until they fall as being a guarantee that you're safe. The original hope was that the enemies couldn't simply be headshotted continuously - this is a selfish reason, as I get tired of watching people play like that non-stop (it doesn't feel like they're experimenting with limb-targeting tactics, despite the array of weapons), although the non-headshotting tactical diversion didn't turn out that way (it's just as easy to decapitate a head as a limb with the right blasts). So why did we choose survival? Well, the question of Survival sums up questions I've had about Fallout as its timeline advances... the post-wasteland's gotten more civilized as the decades since the nuclear war have gone on, and when I was scripting Dead Money's layout, one thing that kept coming up was that I missed the desperate "Road Warrior" feeling when I hit the wastes. I miss being in a situation where I'm scrounging for every last bullet, water's precious, and I have to fight tooth and nail for any edge I can get. That goes double for the environment, I want it to be terrifying and be something you're constantly fighting against, Vault 34-style. I confess, there's been times I wish someone would drop more nuclear warheads on the Fallout world if only to bring parts of it back to its roots, so I wanted to create an area in the Wasteland that felt just as desperate as you'd expect a post-holocaust environment to be. So the Sierra Madre and its surrounding Villa were designed as a reminder that some sections of the wastes are still scary, hazardous places where few can tread and survive, and while NCR may tame parts of the Mojave, there are other parts they can never hope to settle and claim as their own, and that's just the way I want it. Regardless, we were shooting for a Horror experience with Dead Money. As for what we tried to do with Horror, to make the game scary, we tried to do two things - one, have enemies you couldn't headshot and required a different approach (holograms, toxic cloud), and worse, they could headshot you if you weren't careful (bomb collars + radios). My experience with most horror games is that the enemies become scarier when you can't kill the adversaries (which most role-players will try and do if the enemy has any number of hit points or any measurable way to hurt them, no matter how small). So what am I happy about, even if the final result ended up veering from the intention, is watching YouTube playthrough videos where folks (1) start panicking when they hear beeping (exactly the experience we wanted), and (2) seeing players take a step back, figure out the puzzle, and then study the environment to solve it (again, what we wanted). As for Horror: Things get scarier and tense when you can't escape, no one's coming to help you, and your resources are limited, and Dead Money was built around this. Watching the YouTube playthrough footage where players started re-appreciating chems and Stimpaks made me happy - these things are miracles of medicine, and they should be viewed as such and appreciated for that in the world of Fallout. One issue I've always had with Fallout is it's really easy to amass a lot of chems and stims, so much so you lose the sense of wonder and relief when you get these items, and I feel situations like in Dead Money can give you a new appreciation for food, crafting (we put a higher priority on crafting and supplies to make crafting worth more in the DLC), unconventional water sources, and the joy at finding an otherwise common chem in the Mojave takes on a new level of preciousness when you're in hostile territory. One YouTube video showed someone finding Buffout - and to hear them say, "thank god" and hear genuine appreciation for finding something so rare is exactly the kind of value I want people to attach to these items... usually people seem to care less when they find Buffout, but it all depends on the environment context. I want players to attach value to them again rather than, "oh, more Buffout." It's BUFFOUT. It's a STIMPAK. Your character should be OVERJOYED to find these things, each and every time. We also wanted to maximize the real estate. We couldn't build a whole other world for a DLC, so we paid more attention to what we put in it and increased the gameplay density. We did a serious, quantified exploration and loot pass, included challenges that required paying attention to your surroundings (hazards above and below, hidden cache markers to encourage targeted exploration and navigation, second story adventure areas, and even putting crafting items on walls) - artists spend a lot of time fleshing out rooms and environments, and we wanted to include challenges and rewards for folks who carefully hunted through the environment - and were rewarded for their efforts. In short, make them pay attention to their surroundings. Dead Money's story: Narratives in games should be entertaining first, and also have a theme when possible. I wanted to make sure that despite the Survival elements and the adventure story elements, there's still something larger being told beneath the DLC's surface for people who care to delve into it. There's a thematic spine that we built the characters and the Sierra Madre which most folks appreciated, and our lead level designer put the finishing touch on (thanks, Charlie, that was brilliant). I feel when your adversary sums up his frustration with the human condition, and you get to see the results of what the bomb collars do to four (five?) individuals who would normally butcher/devour/assassinate/con each other, that's the point... but it's reflected in the design as well, notably their Perks. The idea was always intended that if you talk to them and study their abilities, you see how they can help you survive much easier as long as you cooperate and choose the right companion for the right time... a level of cooperation that would be impossible if your lives weren't wired to each other. And when Elijah snarls about that exact issue, I wanted players to realize that as much as they may hate him, he's got a point... in this situation. There's a few other things I'm happy with and always wanted to do, and I'm glad DLC allows for experimentation with this. Having an opening narration movie per location is something I've wanted ever since running Van Buren pen and paper games at Black Isle (and thanks to Bethesda for being on board with that), reactive end slides per DLC, having a "join the bad guy Fallout 1 style end movie" (which I missed ever since joining the Master's Army in Fallout 1, so we put it in DLC1 to allow the player to join Elijah), and being able to hook into some of the backstories in previous Fallouts as well as Mojave hooks (Veronica's relationship with her mentor, who Dean Domino really was, and Dog/God's ties back to the origins of the Nightkin and how some folks have exploited that in the present). A few last minor things that make me happy that doing a DLC gave a chance to experiment with - I got to finally try to write a Torment "they communicate everything via text" character for a modern-day role-playing game with Christine to see how that would be received (mixed reaction, some people thought we were lazy or cheap, and they're partly right, even if that wasn't the intention - voice acting is expensive, and if we can get more story with less voiced words, I'm fine with that). Wouldn't have gone over so well in a larger game, I suspect, so glad the DLC allowed for it. So while I have mixed feelings about the DLC, I'm pretty happy with it, and I like the fact the way DLCs are structured allows for some degree of experimentation. And the price of admission and the amount of gameplay Dead Money provides (including explorers, there's a lot to find even in supposedly confined world spaces), I'm more than happy with it in the end, as difficult as it can be at times for even veteran players. I always figured if folks had played F3 and FNV for 100+ or more hours total, they may be ready for the stakes to be raised. I also like the fact that the DLCs can have continuity, they don't need to exist in isolation. If I had to picture the DLC series, it would be it's a limited series in the Fallout universe, spiraling to its final conclusion that brings everything back to the start, so Dead Money sets a nice pattern for future FNV DLCs, especially layout and narrative-wise, which folks have picked up on - and many thanks to them. The Courier's adventures aren't over yet.
  3. Quick question from RafaƂ Adamek: I have a question: what types of characters do you prefer? Do you like to create a mass of different episodic persons who can gave you quest, have some background story but are not related to the main hero and don
  4. Minor addition to the writing question list. Also how is it like to write without having any idea how the character will sound? When writing, most designers envision how the character sounds as they're writing - when the time comes for auditions, they provide a series of sample lines, a picture of the character in-game, breakdowns of the age, brief history, etc., and then the casting agency will run through auditions looking for someone who can deliver the lines as envisioned. I was happy with the auditions Blindlight delivered for New Vegas, and I thought the companion actors they brought into the studio for the characters I wrote, while not big names, did a great job - a lot of it is in how Blindlight handles the auditions, and so much of a character is in the delivery, that if you can get the casting right, it just makes the process go more smoothly. If you're fortunate and the schedule works in your favor, you can also request a specific voice actor. This depends on timing and cost, and as a general rule, the more famous an actor is, the less flexible the time in the studio and less availability for pick-ups (the equivalent of Voice-Over bugfixing if a level quest changes, a character's line is missing, or we need to add a line to fix a missing sequence). Other times, you're told who the voice actor is first, which is rare for me. When that happens, you watch everything you can featuring that actor and try to write to the actor's strengths. As an example, for Fallout: New Vegas, John Gonzalez studied John Doman's acting when writing and Eric Fenstermaker did research on Felicia Day to get the tone of the characters that played to the strength of the actors.
  5. 2 More: How do you choose who writes each (major) character in a game, also who's allowed to do any writing? Depends, sometimes it's just necessity (you have the most bandwidth, so you do X person, or you're already doing the main city where the character resides, so it's best if you write Y antagonist), other times we're able to purposely assign folks with skill sets to characters (which Josh did on Fallout New Vegas). For Fallout New Vegas, Josh broke down the companion personalities and assigned them to designer he felt showed strengths in those character backgrounds - for example, understanding of certain psychological conditions, or (in my case) because I'd written the father of one of the companions, or because the person has a fluid storytelling style (Travis Stout, which is only one of his strengths), which makes him great for characters with campfire stories to share. What if a programmer/artists/whatever suddenly really wanted to do some writing, would he/she have a chance, even if minor? If there was room in the schedule, sure. We'd probably ask they do a minor character first to get a feel for their writing, since it's more than just writing - it's the scripting and editor knowledge as well. In my experience, however, it is very difficult to break out of a role, and even designers that are jack of all trades usually take on one specific role per project because that's all there's time for. That's true across all departments. I have found developers that knock their own writing are actually much better than they realize, however, and all they need is to be told that to make them more confident about stepping up.
  6. From a multi-part question on Twitter. How do Project Directors and/or Lead Designers get selected? To clarify the hierarchy at our studio, a Project Director isn't necessarily a designer, and at Obsidian, a Project Director is above all other disciplines except Feargus, who is all-powerful, even if he might debate that. At the moment, we have four project directors - one from design (Josh Sawyer), another from design (me), one from programming (Rich Taylor), and one from art (Zane Lyon). In the past, Project Directors have been from production (Feargus on DS3, Chris Parker on AP), and sometimes the Project Director on a project is instead the Lead Producer (Kevin Saunders on Mask of the Betrayer). Project Directors are selected based on their ability to hold or create the vision for a project, motivate and inspire the team, and their ability to focus the game to the vision and the game pillars. Any individual on a team who has demonstrated these qualities at a senior level as they've risen through the ranks in their discipline (usually to lead status) is considered a candidate for Project Director. Rich Taylor, for example, consistently demonstrated strengths as a lead programmer, and also demonstrated good judgment and decisions on how to go about making the game he was leading (Mask of the Betrayer, Storm of Zehir, and now Dungeon Siege). Lead Designers are selected for much the same reason - they're usually senior designers who've shown the same strengths in upholding the game vision, ability to motivate and lead a team, and can manage effectively. Like other lead roles, Lead Designers are not necessarily chosen for their design ability, and they may not be the best designer in their discipline, they simply need to understand the design pipelines, understand the toolset and its breakdowns, and how to manage a team - this is because leads spend more time managing the designers in their discipline than doing actual core design work. If they excel in design, as Josh does, then that's a bonus. More answers on this topic to follow.
  7. An application would not automatically get rejected, since we don't have any open positions, it would be placed in the queue for when a position does open up and it would be evaluated then. It can't hurt to ask again every 6 months to check the current status of design positions, and to submit a resume and a portfolio, follow the steps in How to Apply: Obsidian - How to Apply Designers only need to send a resume and a cover letter, not a portfolio - if we like the resume, we'll ask you to take a test focused on the design needs of the project you're applying for. Hope this helps. Chris
  8. Anyone who's curious about Fallout: New Vegas and Dungeon Siege III, we have three events lined up at Comic-Con if you want to check them out. Thursday 7.22.10 1:00-2:00 Video Game Comics: The Next Big Thing
  9. There cannot be two skies.

    And if there were, it would be confusing. Poor Dak'kon.

  10. I have no idea if this works.

  11. I am indeed, yet I have nothing to say, so I remain silent.

  12. Some questions from forum goers/emailers: TheJokester Do you have any recommendations on what schools would be good to go to for game development? The Guildhall's pretty solid (a few of our designers on Fallout New Vegas were hired from there). They usually have strong portfolios based on classwork they've done, which they can usually use for quick submission in designer tests, too. If you end up going to any gaming school, just make sure they put you in group projects, as no game developer works alone, so the team experience is important. I've mentioned this before, you don't need school - more often than not, it's what you do outside of school and the results you get on your own that really end up giving you the experience you need for the gaming industry. For example, working on mods, making your own Neverwinter modules, doing Oblivion/Fallout mods, writing for magazines, compilations, web sites, mod communities, characters for mods, comics, game strategy guides, etc. The important thing is that you do something and have results of your efforts to show others. Finally, having something folks can play rather than just documentation of what they can play is preferred. If your submission shows you've built it and played it and others can play it, that makes your submission stand out. And same question, for art schools. I polled some of the designers here at work, and the following schools they endorsed were: Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida (one of the artists on AP and our unannounced titles went there, and I believe the founder of Massive Black, whose company did F3/FNV concept art went there). One of the school's strength is in 3D animation and illustration. If you're in the SF area, our interface artist on FNV recommended the Academy of Art in SF, and he strongly recommends the computer art program there, and he has friends that teach in Art Institute of California in SF and recommends the program there as well. One of our environment artists on FNV recommended the Rio Hondo Community College and she went to Cal State Fullerton, and she thinks it has a pretty strong Animation/Art program. One of our animators on FNV, however, says **** it and just make sure you develop a good portfolio, regardless of the school. Some other general stuff: I have an idea for an FNV game system or perk, and it's X. If you have an idea, my suggestion is to post it on the forum for discussion and send us a link - while our opinion is great, having the opinion of 20+ folks to it may help refine the suggestion and get more feedback on it. This applies to song suggestions as well, but those are okay to send at any time. How do you set up technical constraints for dialogues for your titles? We're actually giving a talk at GDC Austin (it's on the Narrative/Writing track - the actual name of the conference is GDC Online now, I believe) on the dialogue standards we set up individually for our titles - the standards depend on the genre (D+D is different than Star Wars which is different than Alpha Protocol which is different than New Vegas which is... well, you get the idea). The standards encompass the amount of text on screen, formatting for skill placement, how to set up item description text, quest logs, quest log entries, clarifying objective text, amount of voice-acted dialogue players should see on screen, how the game mechanics of the dialogue and the dialogue systems work and how they should be paced (alignment shifts, reputation shifts, Light Side/Dark Side gains and how to communicate that to the player), and more. With any luck, John Gonzalez (our story lead and creative lead for New Vegas) and George Ziets (Mask of the Betrayer story crafter and designer) will be joining me up there. Hopefully, we can talk about our unannounced title then and the work George has been doing on it, even if he's modest about it as always. For any aspiring narrative designers, Austin GDC's a great place to meet narrative designers in the industry, too, highly recommended. Obsidian should be at Comic-Con, too, although more on that in a bit. Your Messenger Inbox has been full for years and I want to send you a message. Send any emails to CAvellone@obsidian.net - that account never fills up, much to our IT department's chagrin. I've tried clearing out the Forum Messenger Inbox in the past, but history has shown I can't keep up with the flow, especially across multiple email accounts and still stay sane. So when possible if you have something you want to ask or is really urgent, drop me a line at that email address and I'll do what I can to help you. The only thing I'd ask is understand that we're working hard on Fallout New Vegas, so it might be a while before I can respond to you if your email has a lot of questions. Regardless, I will try. Chris
  13. Questions from Davide Scalzo: 1) What do you think about the concept of emergent narrative? 1. I think the concept of emergent narrative is stronger than any enforced narrative. I think a blend can work well (and it's what I prefer whenever possible), but I think the stories players create on their own from interesting system mechanics and AI behavior has more weight and meaning than anything a designer tries to do. My favorite example is that no enforced narrative can really trump the story of planting dynamite on victims in Fallout, superstimming people to death, or how a character's 3rd level dwarven fighter with 5 hit points trained 20 orcs into a narrow, funneled corridor and killed them all one by one with a ball-peen hammer, Oldboy-style. The player makes stories like that happen, and those are the stories I hear players talk about most in relation to games, computer game or pen-and-paper games, not necessarily their reaction to specific cued story events or anything the designer or GM tried to force on them. Note that realization came pretty quickly on in my GMing days, and it's another lesson I learned from pen-and-paper games which still holds true in computer games. The amount of glee the Fallout PNP players had when they did a critical hit against one of the major NPC adversaries early on in the campaign was another reminder - and a reminder to myself to let the gaming session chips fall where they may. Generally, I don't like to make major characters in games sacred and invulnerable unless I absolutely have to. 2) Do you think is something already out there or it is still and embryo? 2. It's already out there, and was present in Oblivion and other open-world style games and even in many MMOs, where player raiding stories are generally more involved than the actual pacing of the raid itself. It's been around for almost as long as gaming has been around, in my opinion. 3) How do you think will influence the game-play in the next (let's say) 10 years? 3. I think it will always be a certain open-world game "type" for the next few years, and it may evolve into something greater afterward. 4) How do you think will influence the emotional side of the games? 4. I think when done properly, it can add to the sense of wonder and exploration, and if done poorly or if mechanics in the game are difficult to pull off or don't give proper feedback (stealth, planting explosives, poison and drug effects on self and others) then it only adds to the frustration.
  14. Translation from PCAction.de, although I'd argue Google does a more amusing job than my original text. Please introduce yourself (full name, age, company, position): I'm Christopher Frederic Avellone (you want the full name, you got it, even the embarassing middle name that my Mom picked from some French emperor which I've never understood). My job? Creative Director at Obsidian Entertainment, which means I review and do a lot of design. I'm almost at the 4 decade mark (minus 2 years), I still feel young at heart. Please share some interesting moments of your career (e.g. games your worked on or companies you worked for etc.): I helped train police officers and FBI agents in Quantico, VA in a fake town called "Hogan's Alley" where they built an entire three block radius as a training ground for criminal scenarios - each day we'd go in, be given a cast sheet and a schedule (you're a kidnapper today, and you need to be in the pool hall by 3pm). I've written for pen-and-paper role playing games, and I've worked on a lot of computer role-playing games, especially Dungeons and Dragons (Torment, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights 2), Fallout (Fallout 2, Van Buren, Fallout New Vegas), and I was also Lead Designer on Torment, Van Buren (stage 1, Josh Sawyer took over for Stage 2 after I left to help found Obsidian), Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, and most recently, Alpha Protocol. My high school guidance counselor neglected to mention game development as a career option, and I am somewhat irritated by this because as a career, it's GREAT. Some funny/curious/entertaining facts about your life (e.g. you would kill for an ice cream/you
  15. Polygamer went live with an interview I did for them a while ago (Polygamer Interview), and here's the English translation for those who don't know much beyond their high school French... like me. 1] At Polygamer we ask ourselves many things about videogames, for example why it
  16. Game design... One game design question from Nicole Swimley: How do you go about getting ideas into a cohesive format? And what methods do you use to start narrowing down what makes for a better design? - Write one sentence about your game, tell it to someone you trust, then study their expressions to see if they get the hook. Repeat this to various people until you have a good sampling. Ideally, any game you do should be cool enough to explain why it's cool and fun in one sentence. If not, you may need to rethink the game... or the sentence. - Even better, draw a sketch about your game and gameplay and show it to someone - if that immediately communicates why the game is fun, that's good. The reason I say sketch of the game is because I would play Psychonauts or Deathspank solely by looking at a character concept shot. Shallow, I know. - After the steps above, choose 3 things about your game that you want to be the coolest things about it, and choose the priority of those cool things (1st, 2nd, and 3rd or A, B, and C priority). Do not choose more than 3. Arguably, I wouldn't recommend choosing more than one cool thing for your first outing - keep it manageable (see below). - Once you have the coolest of the three ideas, do what you can to prototype that element first. Keep design documentation to a minimum until you get something working on screen, and the sooner, the better. (Doing design documentation, formulas, stat charts, etc. and even the story usually ends up being worthless once a sampling of the mechanisms and content are actually in the game - it's more important to get the basics in and be able to easily iterate on it). Also, don't have the tweakable numbers or the gameplay solely in the hands of programming, make sure they can expose the mechanics and values to you so you can play around with them. This is not to cut programming out of the loop, it's done so you don't have to bother them every single time you want to adjust the sword swing speed by a a few milliseconds. - If you can't program or don't know enough about a toolset engine to do it yourself, grab a programmer who's excited about your idea. Then bring them cookies to help you out, if need be. Game pitches... Also, got a lot of questions concerning game pitches recently, and here's my first pass of thoughts on doing a game proposal pitch: - Again, if you can't make your game idea sound cool to your friends in a single sentence, consider re-evaluating your idea. - Make sure you specify all the target platforms in your pitch document. - Any publisher is going to want to know how long the project is going to take, who's on this project, who your team is - so if you don't have a team, budget, or time table, it's time to assemble all of these. - Whenever possible, having a prototype your target publisher or developer can play - or you can demo - is worth far more than just a written pitch. - Having an idea for a game is worth far less than the strength to implement it. No game company is at a loss for game ideas, they're usually more interested in people who can make it happen. - If this is your first game, don't put in every single cool feature you can think of (for example, I'd shy away from an adventure game with RTS elements and a full heroic RPG dungeon crawl mode). My suggestion is break down each of the systems of your game and do a smaller game based solely around that, polish the hell out of that game mechanic, then do a second game that proves the next mechanic out (possibly adding what you learned about the first system to that), and so on. A lot of successful games on the market have a number of systems that have been iterated on heavily until they're polished. - Concept art is worth more than a text description. When in doubt, show visuals or screenshots of gameplay rather than describing it with words. - Reviewers at publishers get a lot of pitches, so keep your pitch brief, no more than 3-5 pages (5 pages is pushing it). - Learn to use Excel, you'll need it for budgets and spreadsheets showing your man month cost. And you'll need to provide that at some point, even if it's just for yourself. - Not sure who to contact? Sign up on LinkedIn.com, look for Business Development guys, drop them a line (don't send the idea), and ask for advice. If they don't get back to you, you wouldn't want to work for that company anyway. - Start with companies you like. - If that doesn't work, look for companies that are in the same game space (social games, for example) but don't look for ones that do games close to the one you're thinking of - look for ones that have a hole in their game portfolio that your product would be perfect for. - Don't send unsolicited pitches to Obsidian. It's not because we hate you, it's because we can't review them legally. - Make sure your pitches are submitted electronically - don't do a physical pitch, the pitch usually needs to be emailed around to a bunch of folks. - Watch out for fonts in your docs and make sure the fonts you're using are common ones that the recipient is likely to have on their system (or else submit the pitch as a pdf). Nothing looks worse than a pitch that's missing the unique font that you used to assemble it. - Lastly, make sure you're legally protected before you send in a pitch - if you're not sure how to do this, contact your IGDA chapter or look up the lawyers or other legal speakers for the current year's GDC and drop them a line. There's usually a panel every year at GDC focusing on law in the game industry, and the speakers are putting themselves out there so you can ask them questions, and potentially hire them down the road. Good luck! Chris
  17. A question from Chris Norris: Greetings, Mr. Avellone I saw your lecture at Framework 09 and was deeply inspired. I am currently studying to be an animator, but writing and design speak to me more than art or animation does. I was hoping I could ask you a few short questions? 1) I've looked at transferring to a games design degree and they teach classes such as physics, programming (LUA, C++) -and- manage to pack one or two art classes in there as well. I am wondering if these classes are actually necessary. As a designer, do you find yourself needing to know physics and programming? They seem somewhat irrelevant and the course structure as well seems schizophrenic with all the different subjects they pack in. 2) I admit I smiled when I heard you ran possible scenarios for BIS games with your development staff. I have to agree that that is an excellent way to gauge a written scenario and receive quick feedback. However, do you think it a faux pas if one mentions one does gamemastering during a job interview for a design position? What do you think are helpful things one should say during such an interview? Thank you very much for your time! Chris Nonis PS - Very much looking forward to Alpha Protocol. 1. No, it's not mandatory, but it does help to understand scripting, physics, and programming. Same with art. Any designer who can script their own AI tactics simulator to test squad behavior, automate testing routines for balancing alien enemy one-on-one fights, or can hop into 3D Max and block out their concept for how they want the boss fight scaffolding to be set up, is going to have an advantage over any designer who can't. Ideally, you want to be constantly working to broaden your knowledge base across all departments, both for ease of communication and to see ways of accomplishing your designs that you may not have realized. Being able to speak in the language of another department's toolset or editor can get your ideas across quicker as well. 2. No, it's not a faux pas to bring up gamemastering, as long as you have concrete materials you developed for the sessions that are applicable to the position, and they can be presented in design document format. For example, when running dual campaigns at Black Isle, I wrote a lot of explicit direction for cut scenes, mapped out Denver, mapped out scavenger camps, detailed out all the stats and voice direction for 30+ salvagers, did all the quest lines, dungeons, boss critter stats, weapon charts, and loot tables for the city, and trust me, that stuff is pretty damn relevant in most RPGs out there. A lot it made it into design documentation as well, some of which is already out on the net. Ferret Baudoin also did gamemastering for scenarios that took place in Neverwinter Nights 2 while we were at Obsidian for the NWN2 original campaign, and that was a lot of fun. I will say it's much more relevant to actually have done design in a computer game mod or module for NWN1 or NWN2, however (whenever possible, you want to make a submission that someone can load up and play), so if you have time and the choice, do it from the computer game development angle, not the pen and paper game angle. Note that if I got someone in an interview and they said they did gamemastering, it's not the kiss of death, far from it. I would have a number of questions, however - first off would be the system they use, what house rules they made and why, how do they incorporate PC backgrounds and traits into the campaign, how long they've been running the campaign (and if it fragmented, how often and why), and finally, what the player turnover rate is in the campaign (there are GMs who run a lot of campaigns, but the best sign of being a good entertainer is how long people stuck with the campaign because they were enjoying themselves). Hope that helps. Chris
  18. Some minor tips for interviewing... or deciding where to interview. First off, know what you want to do. If you're not sure if you want to be a programmer or a designer, choose one and focus on that until you (1) realize you hate it, or (2) discover you love it. More than that, if you decide to be a certain discipline - art, programming, design, or production, research the field enough to know what sub-set of that discipline you want to pursue. For example, for design, knowing whether you want to pursue technical design, systems design, narrative design, etc. is important when seeking out a job in the industry. Second, don't use a recruiter. Please. Spend an extra hour and check the game companies in your area, then apply to them on your own - if given the choice between candidates, we're less likely to go with the candidate sent via a recruiter because they have the recruiter's fee on top of the normal salary that we have budgeted for the position. If you absolutely must use a recruiter, try to do enough research to choose one wisely - there's certain recruiters that know the business, others that don't know the difference between production and design candidates, nor do they know the first thing about how to place a programming candidate. Popular recruiting agencies don't mean much if the recruiter you're assigned to is a junior or is new to the industry. Third, good samples and a good cover letter can overcome work experience. You may not get hired as a senior, but if you have a good set of samples and a passionate, well-written cover letter, that's sometimes enough to land a junior position. Fourth, even if studios don't list a position, don't be afraid to apply anyway. They may be 2 weeks from posting their ad for a position when your resume suddenly pops into their inbox. Chris
  19. Alex Nistor: Concerning Fallout 3 , I really was curious to hear your more in-depth opinion about it. So you said you had a similiar opinion on it to Sawyer, but what was missing from that, in my opinion, was a breakdown of your pro's and Con's for Fallout 3. Considering Bethesda made it in a similiar style to Oblivion, I just wanted to know specifically, how was the transition? And like I said in the above comment, what did you like and not like. :: Floodgates open :: It's a testament to the game that for every thing that initially bothered me, there was a solution or a tool to counterbalance it. For example, I was exploring Hubris Comics, dropped my Power Fist so I could haul some extra loot, then came back and couldn't find it on the floor. Pissed. And then I remembered Dogmeat has the dialogue option to go "fetch" existing weapons in the environment and bring them back - so I asked him to go hunt down the Power Fist for me, and he found it in 5 seconds. Awesome. The game had enough options and tools at my disposal to insure I was having fun no matter what the challenges, so I can't ask for much more. So here's the list: The negatives: Dogmeat's breathing if you don't adjust the sound sliders. The tiny model house in Minefield not containing anything special. Anyone armed with a flamer can kick my melee-specialized ass, and thus, can kiss my ass. It was confusing to find one's way around Megaton, although it had beautiful set pieces and I got used to it. I played with a 4 ST character and regretted it, but it made me appreciate the ST boost from alcohol more (1st time I've ever considered alcohol a viable drug in any game system, ever) and also made me appreciate Buffouts. I suck at the Science minigame, which is a horrible confession for an English major. Thought Hubris Comics should have had more Grognak issues, although I really liked the fan mail and the text adventure game in there. Didn't like not being able to kill Amata or Andy the Robot at the outset because I hated them both. I didn't like that the first potential companion was a bad karma companion and expensive, but then the twin goals of being an **** and scrounging up a thousand caps became bait and a challenge in trying to get him - when I got Jericho, I felt like I'd earned him as a companion. I think Repair became too valuable as a skill, but it's better than the special case it was in Fallout 1 and 2, so I'd rather that than it remain a broken skill (like Doctor in F2). Maybe because I'm approaching it from the development end, I didn't care, but I think the level cap turned a number of people off, as did not being able to play after and continue the game until Broken Steel came out. Some of the locations I think broke the 4th wall (Dunwich, which I actually enjoyed playing, just not the premise). So that said... Likes: Opening immersion and re-introducing you into the Fallout world. Fallout 1 and 2 had consistently broken or special case skills that were rectified in F3 (for example, Repair - and Doctor vs. First Aid in Fallout 2 became broken without a time limit, so Medicine was clearly an improvement). Fast Travel. Felt my skills mattered in general. The kitchen bell XP sound. I love radiation more in F3, it makes me pay close attention to the environment, I loved the Grognak text adventure game, I loved the Gutsy and Robobrain combat barkstrings, I liked the usage of the radio and the reactivity to the player's actions - that seemed an elegant way of reinforcing your actions in the world as well as introducing a bad guy you couldn't immediately shoot in the face, I liked a lot of the moments in the game, including suddenly being surrounded by the creepy Andale residents after entering the basement in town, I never thought a neighborhood filled with land mines would be a good adventure locale and I ate my words, loved the juxtaposition of real world mundane locations and their change into dungeons (Campgrounds, Springvale School, Super Duper Mart). Liked tracking down radio transmission signals for rewards. This is the first game I've ever played where I was excited to see barricades.* Nerd Rage surprised me as a Perk - chose it by default at one level only so I could drop grenades on myself to increase my carrying capacity and found it surprisingly useful at saving my ass when I walked into an ambush. The Pitt DLC, especially the opening vista crossing the bridge, is incredible. Liked the lockpick minigame. The Arlington Cemetery actually hit me pretty hard, and as a location it really drove home the futility of war to me - just seeing all those graves with Washington DC stretching out behind it made me feel really bad. Loved firing my combat shotgun into a bus with 5 ghouls trapped on the Dupont Circle freeway below and watching the whole screen erupt in fire. Consistently being rewarded for exploring the environment - there was always at least three things to see on the horizon that you wanted to go check out. I didn't think I would like Liberty Prime, but the Iron Giant aspect worked for me and made me do a 180. I liked the Brotherhood camping out at the Pentagon. The sign inside the portable bomb shelters made me smile. I liked the Time Bandits aspects of Mothership Zeta. Seeing Dogmeat on fire, and being so tough that he didn't even care that he was on fire. Liked playing as a Psycho-using alcoholic and murdering caravan folks for things I didn't even need. Thought beer was valuable as a ST enhancer to carry loot. Liked the Well-Rested Perk. Shiskebab rocks - tap and burn. * Yes, barricades. I have never had anything but hate for barricades until this game. They block my progress. **** barricades. But in F3, they are filled with the equivalent of RPG candy - containers are usually embedded in the wreckage, which was a great way to turn something hated into a gaming loot opportunity.
  20. Next question about game writing is from Jonas... WARNING: This blog is a spoiler, so if you haven't played Knights of the Old Republic II you may want to stop reading here. Hey Chris, I'll try to keep this short out of respect for your time. I just found myself with a deep desire to know how much background material you tend to write for an average companion NPC in the party-based games you've worked on. I'm trying to get a feel for how much background material I should aim to write in my own work. I realise the proper answer is "as much as your game calls for", but I'd just like some sort of milestone to compare my own characters to. If you need me to narrow it down, I'm one of those Torment fanboys; how many pages of background material (give or take) did you write for the companions in that game? If you've found that there's a significant difference between the amount of work you do on characters in certain games or settings, I would be very interested to hear that as well. Answer: Attached is the amount of background material we wrote for Kreia on Knights of the Old Republic II, if this gives you an indicator. My advice: A lot of what you imagine a character to be is simply not going to make it when the rubber hits the road and you start scripting that character in the game engine and in conversations - it's only then they truly find their voice and their theme, so I try not to get bogged down with too much backstory. Anything more than a page or two I find is probably enough to get started and go from there. For example, some of the events in the first draft of what we intended for Kreia ended up not surviving once we were designing full force and discovered there were other more interesting things we could do with the character rather than what we initially thought. But hey, that's part of the design process. Note that a lot of the "backstory" for Kreia also involves concrete details for what a voice actor needs to know - since it's becoming a staple in the industry that every character is voice-acted, a lot of that stuff we need to write out for the studio (and for our own reference). Also, one thing I've found often can bog people down is they want to keep exploring the abstracts about a character, when I think sometimes the best thing to do is charge in, start swinging, and find a voice and attitude for the character. There's even times when I write a sample short story for how the player specifically encounters that character and see if that helps me to get rolling on themes and the spine of the character (I'm doing this on our current project, and it's a new approach). One other thing (I know, I know, can I ever shut up?) that is helpful is also (if the CNPC is going to interject into conversations, like K1, K2, NWN2, etc.) and other designers may be writing dialogue, include a list of key words and situations that the CNPC is likely to "pipe up" and say something because it's true to their character - for example, with Kreia, mention of Sion and Nihilus, mention of Jedi or Sith philosophy, etc. If I can find our interjection charts, I'll post that in a future blog.
  21. I get a lot of questions from folks regarding narrative design and getting into the industry (especially after the Trzynasty Schron interview). When possible, I'll be posting the answers here as well in case anyone else has the same questions (or wants to comment or add to any of these answers). To start it off, here's the 1st of 3 questions from Joey Do you feel that video game writing, and video game story creation differ from other forms of creative writing? If so, how? Yes, especially for RPGs, because reactivity usually requires you to tell the "story" out of sequence - and usually you have to tell several stories at once depending on how many branches you provide. In general, though, it's better to approach it from the game mechanics standpoint and let what the player can do in the game tell a story. Fallout's good about this - some of the best "stories" I got from Fallout 1 and 2, for example, were ones where Stealth and Combat options spoke for themselves in reactivity and quest solutions. And a lot of child pickpockets got blown up from ticking dynamite that somehow got planted on them - or through accidental repeated injections of Super Stimpaks. In short, the game "story" can end up being less important than the player's experience in the game, whether they are actual story events are not. It's hard to compete with a story about how a player's 3rd level dwarven fighter survived a bum-rush of 20 orcs in a narrow corridor armed only with a ball-peen hammer and smashed through them Oldboy-style with only 2 hit points to spare... and it's guaranteed to generate more passion from the player than perhaps your most tragic character with his heart-rending story to tell. It's something you just have to accept, and even better, provide opportunities for. Give the player room to breathe. Creative writing also carries with it the danger of subjecting the player to the story - TV, film, novels, short stories, and comics demand a more passive absorption by the reader/viewer than video games should, in my opinion - like System Shock 2, BioShock, etc. you want to give the players the freedom to move around the game world and interact with it without being forced to watch cut-scenes or be paralyzed in place to watch events play out, you need to allow for the player to interact with the experience. One could argue Breen's broadcasts in Half-Life 2 and the recordings in BioShock are technically passive absorption experiences, but they allow the player to interact with the environment and control their field of view while they're taking place - you aren't forced to absorb them. Also, one other important factor in game writing is details - you have to be specific in game writing, especially in organizing and scripting NPC knowledge. You need to be able to track quest states, how much an NPC knows about you, about a quest line, and about the world at any one time. You have to know what happened to X NPC at Y time and if it affects Z quest. Can you have done Z before talking to X? What if the player kills X and then stumbles across Z? Etc, etc. The other two questions in a future blog.
  22. IGN Alpha Protocol Motivation Blog Enjoy. Or not. Depending on your motivation.
  23. Found this in the backroom, although the disk was probably still lodged inside the C64. Love the credits page. And even found my old school handmade Wasteland Vegas map. The Scorpitron is clearly indicated in... uh... faded pencil. Along with everything else. Happy holidays, all!
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