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Obsidian Entertainment studio tour


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Fallout: New Vegas was once Fallout: Sin City and had three playable races
Would have been super ghoul.
 
 
Did you know Obsidian originally wanted three playable races in Fallout: New Vegas? This is the part literally crossed out - struck through and coloured red - on the Fallout 3.5 treatment Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart showed me at the studio.
 
"Originally we had this idea where the player would be able to choose between three races: human, ghoul and super mutant," he said. "It was just the engine...
 
"It really had to do with how all the weapons and armour worked. Trying to have them all work with ghouls and super mutants was just going to be - [bethesda] felt like it was going to be a nightmare. It wasn't like they said no but it was a very strongly worded, 'We would really suggest that you not try to do that.'"
 
Obsidian and Bethesda began talking about Fallout in 2008/2009, when Aliens: Crucible and Alpha Protocol were both still alive. Aliens: Crucible would soon get the chop. "[bethesda] was still pitching it internally so it was literally just an idea at the time," said Urquhart. "We knew from the start it was not going to be Fallout 4 - that was the internal team's."
 
"It was always intended to be essentially a gigantic expansion," added Obsidian co-owner Chris Parker.
 
"It was meant to be not the sequel," continued Urquhart. "It was meant to be an offshoot project. But we were actually worried about that, about people thinking of it as just a big expansion." Obsidian considered it to be more like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City or GTA: San Andreas, which were Grand Theft Auto 3 offshoots but full games in their own right.
 
Understandably, given the studio's deep roots in Black Isle - the original creator of Fallout - excitement for the project was sky high. "I didn't leave Black Isle because I wanted to make another Fallout," said Urquhart. "I love making Fallout. I was lead designer on Fallout 2. I'm not in any way instrumental in the creation of the SPECIAL system but I absolutely participated in the creation of it."
 
As Bethesda Game Studios had dibs on the East Coast of America, Obsidian took the West. "Someone threw up New Reno as one of the crazy things we did and then we saw Vegas and," shrugged Urquhart, "we just went with it. From there it was like the '50s had the Rat Pack, then someone threw out the idea there was the scene in Goodfellas where you get taken out into the desert and whacked and thrown into a grave, and it it all kind of turned that way."
 
Bethesda didn't need much convincing, given the history of Obsidian/Black Isle, so only a short proposal was written. "We put together a very short pitch, probably three pages," he said. "The first time we pitched it we pitched it as Fallout: Sin City. Very quickly it got changed to Fallout: Vegas and then became Fallout: New Vegas."
 
Obsidian's Fallout: New Vegas would go on to become, without a doubt, the studio's most famous game, of that Parker and Urquhart are unanimous. Fallout: New Vegas is also considered by many to be a better game than Bethesda's own Fallout 3.
 
But months after release, Fallout: New Vegas would be remembered for something else: coming agonisingly close to - but not reaching - the 85 per cent Metacritic mark Bethesda stipulated for Obsidian's bonus. The game scored 84.
 
"It was so much after - it all came out the day after we had laid everybody off for Stormlands [the cancelled Xbox One exclusive]," said Urquhart. "That was the day."
 
"And what can you say?" added Parker. "You can't get mad at somebody for a contract you signed. We signed a contract, it had very clear terms in it. 'Oh we were really close...' We didn't hit it."
 
"Also," said Urquhart, "we didn't put those terms in there. [bethesda] added that bonus - we didn't ask for the bonus. We just pretty much ignored it. As an independent developer, any of those Metacritic-type bonuses you just ignore.
 
"You don't control testing, you don't control promotion, you don't control when the game ships. There are a whole lot of things you don't control. That is in no way - and it's really important for me to say this - an excuse.
 
"It is more when publishers try to change financial terms based upon things like Metacritic scores we say, 'Look you have as much of an effect over those...' You could ship the same game in the same way with two different publishers and the Metacritic would be different."
 
But, he concluded, "It was in the contract, it was what it said. We didn't put it in there and we signed it. I wasn't crying over it by any stretch of the imagination."
 
Disclaimer: Travel and accommodation for this trip was provided by Paradox Interactive.
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You read this and then you remember how every other guy on the internet wanted to turn this metacritic thing into a big Obsidian vs. Beyhesda fight, even though there weren't really any signs about it around.

"only when you no-life you can exist forever, because what does not live cannot die."

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Inside Obsidian: How RPG's greatest survivors kept the lights on
"They say the path to Hell is paved with good intentions."
 
Over the years, I've come to know what to expect from Obsidian, or so I thought. Obsidian makes RPGs, beautiful, intriguing, sometimes slightly shonky RPGs with great writing and vivid characters and just a lingering trace of thriftiness. They make games where the concepts, where the soul, trumps the budget.
 
And then they made Armored Warfare.
 
I've been worried about Obsidian, since then. Worried about a studio that can seem like a double-A developer in a triple-A world. Why was it making a free-to-play World of Tanks game when anyone who knew the studio would much rather a new Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic instead? Were publishers not interested in Obsidian any more? Over the last few months I worried that Obsidian was drifting away. And then this August I visit the studio and it starts to make more sense.
 
I learn what Armored Warfare, the studio's longest-running and most lucrative partnership, was really all about. (It is hard to know what tense to use when talking about Armored Warfare, to be honest: the game is out, but Obsidian's work on the project is over, and the studio has handed control over to Mail.ru.) Why tanks? Why Obsidian? Sure there was somedesire to make a World of Tanks-inspired game, but more importantly this was an attempt to retain a size and level of craft that prospective publishers would be impressed by.
 
"What publishers look at a lot is whether you still have the ability to make triple-A assets," Feargus Urquhart, studio co-owner and CEO, tells me. "Can you work on these new consoles?" He can say Obsidian can, "but it's just words". "I can't show a pretty level working on Xbox One.
 
"One of the things we recognised with Armored Warfare - because the goal of Mail.ru at the time was to make a triple-A game that could transition to console - was this would let us make triple-A-looking tanks and triple-A-looking levels, and we would keep and potentially even grow that competency at the studio.
 
"Let's say Bethesda called and said, 'Hey we want you to make Fallout: New Vegas 2,' then we would still have the people here who can make these big open-world things."
 
He thinks for a moment. "I still want to make big RPGs," he says.
 
"Most of the gaming I do on my PlayStation 4 tends to be the big releases," co-owner Chris Parker adds. We are sat in Urquart's office - surprisingly small and unspectacular considering he is the boss. And a little bit messy. (Maybe that's the point.) "Those are the games that I play, those are the games that I love, those are the games that I want to make and compete with. Given a choice I want to go spend all the money on a big budget title and make something that's unbelievable."
 
Armored Warfare paid off. Now the contract is over - "very much a joint decision desired by both parties" according to Urquhart - publishers are interested in Obsidian as a result. Those tanks did their job. "Some publishers like Sega are getting back into looking at doing games, and Microsoft is looking - they've had to do some restructuring and they're starting to look again at doing it. It's cyclical, we just hit a long down-cycle.
 
"I just got off the phone with a publisher who wants us to do something," he adds, meaning that morning before I arrived. "But this one was just a not good timing, not good things that they want us to do and it doesn't fit very well."
 
Obsidian had a different surprise offer back in March that nearly went all the way. "We went to a meeting with this group and they presented us with this idea and we were like, 'Whoa, okay...' They said, 'We want to move this along pretty quickly.'" Obsidian worked up a pitch and the conversation turned to budget and then bam, all of a sudden the deal fell through. "Something happened and the timing for them was now bad," Urquhart shrugs. But he's used to it, it happens all the time.
 
Nevertheless Obsidian is working on something. Something big - something to keep the bulk of the 175-person studio busy. "There's a new project," Urquhart says cagily. "Yes" it has a publisher but he won't tell me who it is, nor if Obsidian has worked with the publisher before. "That's too easy!" he says. Then after careful consideration he continues: "We're making a big RPG - and it's not Fallout!" Whether or not it's a new IP we'll apparently see.
 
Over the course of a four-hour interview I realise I had Obsidian wrong. I expected a company where imagination ruled the roost over getting things done on time - dream big! finish the game later. But what I discover is a surprisingly pragmatic company run and founded largely by producers - people who bring projects back down to earth.
 
"Our intention is always it's less that is better," Chris Parker tells me. "What we would like to do is make a very minimal amount of stuff and make it really really good and add to that later. That is a much smarter choice than it wind up being scrappy at the end."
 
Wait what? Isn't that exactly what Obsidian games have been accused of in the past - of being scrappy? Feargus Urquhart shrugs: "They say the path to Hell is paved with good intentions."
 
Maybe some of it is down to genre. "What we've had to learn - we're better at it but we're still learning - is it's really easy to make RPGs big. It's like, 'Oh just one more quest,' 'Oh just one more class,' 'Oh just one more monster.' Every game is like that but RPGs just seem to grow and grow and grow, and we have, traditionally, done a poor job understanding that scope and managing it well."
 
As an independent, it's also been harder for Obsidian to get extensions than it generally is for internal studios at publishers. "We sign a contract and we must hit that number and it is the end of the earth if we [don't]," says Urquhart. "We've had to sign away royalties, we've had to sign away ownership of IPs…" He pauses again. "Whereas internal studios, it's just another month - they're already paying the people, it's already in the budget these people are going to be paid."
 
That said, Obsidian has had offers of acquisition from publishers - "a lot", according to Urquhart. "It's not like we're 'indie for life'," he says, "not like we bleed indie blood. We were an internal studio [black Isle] for a publisher for a long time and we were successful."
 
"If the right opportunity came up," adds Parker, "it's certainly something that we would do."
 
It would certainly be an easier life with malleable deadlines and someone else absorbing responsibility for people's livelihoods. Plus, Urquhart wouldn't have to go out on the road all the time and do "his little horse and pony show" as Chris Parker so brilliantly puts it. But the deals have never been right. "We just didn't think the offers were commensurate to what we're worth and then what we would get to do," Urquhart says.
 
"The great thing about being independent is we can work on Star Wars and South Park at the same time, where an internal studio couldn't. I can wake up in the morning and say, 'Hey we're going to try and pitch Star Wars for the ninth time.'
 
And there's something deeper, too. "The industry needs independent studios like us," he adds, "because we're going to make games differently. It's like the ecology of game development: there needs to be triple-A indie developers who can be looking at things the big publishers don't look at at."
 
14 years on, Obsidian is still here. Through thick and thin, cancellations and layoffs - even talks of possible closure - Obsidian has survived. They may not look it but the two people before me, for all their fluffy and casual demeanour, are battle-hardened veterans, although Feargus Urquhart wheeling out another quote - "If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it" - from women's baseball team film A League of Their Own, ruins the image somewhat.
 
There's no reason why if Obsidian has weathered the storm for so long it cannot now hope to enjoy some sunshine. Whether it will beam from the big new RPG I do not know but I'm happy to wait and see. Because whatever comes will be nothing less than interesting. Obsidian games always are.
 
Disclaimer: Travel and accommodation for this trip was provided by Paradox Interactive.
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Funny that the Snow White game wasn't dark enough for Disney and Obsidian's version was too light hearted but apparently there was more to it than that. In ways it seems like some of it, as far as companions being keys and such, was carried over to Stick of Truth. If there was too much of that I could see it being a problem as even small bits of it alters the flow of gameplay.

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Nah, coverage ended. Still not sure what all of this was about

 

Marketing for Tyranny. Paradox bought ad time on all of those sites for Tyranny and then flew in few journalists to talk about anything they want just as long as they publish those articles during Paradox's ad campaign.

Hate the living, love the dead.

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Don't really see why it couldn't just be that PoE console and Bastard's Wound both released around the time of the articles- and flying people somewhere + accommodation is not all that expensive since even if the Eurogamer guy was based in Europe most of the others weren't. They wouldn't be staying a week at the Ritz after flying in on a specially recommissioned Concorde while drinking Moet & Chandon '62 out of a complimentary diamond encrusted bust of Atton Rand. Far more likely they'd fly economy and stay at the Holiday Inn for a few days. And yes, there's certainly Deadfire to consider as we can only assume that Paradox is keen to publish that, so ongoing promotion and goodwill is a good investment.

 

 

 

 

I thought one of the pieces mentioned that there was going to be another update coming this week with news of their latest project? Am I making that up?

 

 

They had one and it didn't really reveal anything.

 

 

Yeah, the article Infinitron posted at the top of the page (on 25pp at least) is the follow up Eurogamer article and has basically no info on the new project. The author did at least clarify on twitter that there wouldn't be much new info when people started getting excited about it. Given the way the final paragraph is written it's pretty clearly the last one in Eurogamer's series, at least.

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Is there no new Obsidian piece anymore?

I know, right? The walk down memory lane has been so incredible for me. I've absolutely loved these articles and been pouring over and savoring every word. The article on the death of Black Isle choked me up real bad. Back then, Sawyer used to actually post on the Black Isle forums, and I still vividly remember checking that forum multiple times a day between my grad school classes and working on my research to see if he'd posted anything at all on the prospective BG3 and IwD2. And then came the announcement that BG3 had been canceled. It was so devastating.

 

And then there was that long train of all those amazing individuals leaving Black Isle. When Feargus quit Black Isle, my brain told me this was the beginning of the end, but my heart still clung to a shred of hope. When Sawyer finally quit, that was when all hope ended. But then again, the lesson of Obsidian is never give up hope. :)

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Yeah, developers don't post on forums anymore, because anything they say, no matter what, will be picked up and turned into a twitter news story by some folks. People then either get overexcited, or it creates a huge negative backlash... Management usually doesn't want that to happen.

 

Reminds me of the time where everything Notch said somewhere, it was turned into a pointless news article. Urg.

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"only when you no-life you can exist forever, because what does not live cannot die."

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http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-09-21-the-fallout-3-we-never-got-to-play

 

The Fallout 3 we never got to play

 

Here's A Thing.

 

In October of 2008, Bethesda Game Studios released Fallout 3 and in doing so, changed the series forever. Gone were the 2D sprites, isometric camera and turn-based combat of the original games in favour of something the studio believed could appeal better to a larger, more mainstream audience. And well, the nearly five million units shipped during the game's launch week suggest they were probably right on that front, but still, there remains a substantial number of fans that to this day lament the loss of classic Fallout.

 

Which is why in today's Here's A Thing we're going to take a look back at the Fallout 3 we never got to play. Often referred to as the Van Buren project, named for the eighth President of the United States, this game was in development at Black Isle Studios during the early 2000s, but was eventually canceled due to financial difficulties within Black Isle's parent company, Interplay Entertainment.

 

I'd like to extend a huge thank you to the game's two lead designers, Chris Avellone and Josh Sawyer for talking me through their work, in detail, all these years later. Avellone, in particular, was able to send me a bunch of early design notes which we'll be showcasing here.

 

1.jpg

Like this concept art from Chris Applehans!

 

So yes, that's where we'll start, with Chris Avellone. He'd previously been a designer on Fallout 2 before going on to lead development on Planescape: Torment and then work on Icewind Dale 1 & 2, as well as Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance.

 

All of that in the space of four or five years, by the way. Yeah, he really doesn't mess around.

 

In fact, he was even busier than that. Because in between work on those massive RPGs, Avellone was also plotting another project. He was getting ready to return to the wasteland.

 

Although Interplay didn't have the resources to commit to a new Fallout game just yet, at some point later down the line, he was told, it would. And so eager to be ready for that moment, Avellone began to work on its design.

 

But as a solo effort, there was only so much he could do. How was he meant to properly prototype a game without a team to work with? He couldn't.

 

And so he did what only an RPG designer could in that scenario. He set up an out-of-hours pen & paper game and recruited people from the studio to play through his vision for Fallout 3, but as a tabletop experience.

 

2.jpg

Avellone with one of the several binders that document his work on Fallout 3.

 

This isn't unique to Avellone, I'm told. James Ohlen, the Creative Director for Baldur's Gate is said to have taken plenty of inspiration from his D&D campaigns for some of the companion characters used in that series.

 

I asked Avellone how much of the design for Fallout 3 was rooted in this pen & paper game he was running.

 

"Oh just about everything," said Avellone. "For each area, I'd write a module about it, including the art design documentation, reference art for the characters, reference arts for the key vistas and locations. So basically, every section of the pen & paper game the players went through ended up becoming an area design document."

 

If you like that anecdote, you're about to like it a whole lot more. You see, he wasn't running just a single game. No, he needed more playtesting than that. There were actually two separate games running simultaneously. And it turned out these two sessions weren't actually all that separate. Unbeknownst to the players, at least, to begin with, the two parties existed in the same universe and their actions would be referenced, albeit subtly at first, in each other's play sessions.

 

This tied into Avellone's narrative plan for Fallout 3 which was going to feature an antagonist leading a rival party who the player would then run into throughout the course of the game.

 

And on a practical level, having this many players involved in the game meant they were bringing lots of different character archetypes into his world. Avellone would then need to accommodate for their different playstyles when designing quests and different locations.

 

Denver_4.jpg

Straight from Avellone's Pen & Paper design docs.

 

Although Fallout doesn't rely on distinct classes like many RPGs, Avellone recognised that players still tended to approach situations in one of three ways: relying on either combat, stealth or the speech skill. It was that last approach he felt could use some work in particular.

 

"The one thing that's always kind of bothered me about Fallout," said Avellone. "Is that there's been a trend, and this is going to sound really specific, of using the speech skill as an instawin. I see the speech skill, so I'm not even going to think about it, I'm just going to choose it because that's going to allow me to get the optimum result from this conversation.

 

"What I prefer is the mechanics we were going to do for Van Buren. We were going to give you more information about the person you were talking to, the longer you talked about them. Then you'd get to choose dialogue options that manipulate them a certain way. So for example, it may not be a bad thing to make someone hostile because you know based on speaking with this person, getting a sense of their psychology, what they're going to do when they get mad. That might be to your advantage. So seeing the red hostile response may not be a bad thing and a Speech character may want to guide a character towards that and provoke a certain result."

 

There was other types of playstyle he wanted to accommodate for, on top of this. Inspired by a book called Lucifer's Hammer in which a character manages to take advantage of some advanced scientific knowledge that had been preserved from a time before the apocalypse, Avellone thought it might be fun to explore the idea of how a scientist with access to equipment and knowledge that pre-dated the nuclear war might be able to thrive in the wasteland.

 

4.jpg

You could decide exactly what kind of criminal your character had been beforehand.

 

He designed a number of locations and questlines that catered for this kind of character type, including the Boulder Science Dome, a huge research facility that was also home to a community of scientists that had put themselves into a cold sleep stasis before the nukes were dropped.

 

The first of these scientists to wake, a genius by the name of Presper would be the party leader antagonist we mentioned earlier. In Avellone's initial outline for the game's story, Presper monitored the player's actions throughout the game and then decided whether or not to cleanse the entire world of human life before waking his fellow scientists based on your decisions. No pressure.

 

The player themselves was known as The Prisoner, as you'd begin the game escaping what you believe to be a prison in the American Southwest. Interestingly, during the character creation stage, you can decide whether or not your character was rightly convicted. If you decided that you had, in fact, been a criminal you could then select which crime you'd committed: were you a brahmin rustler? A chem user? Or a cannibal? Depending on your selection this would then impact your starting stats.

 

Oh here's another thing you could select too: your character's race. The Fallout 3 we never played would have given us the option to play as either a human, a ghoul or a super mutant.

 

"Yeah and each of them had their own communities and specific quests over the course of the game," explained Avellone. "Their own special traits, perks, and limitations that they could choose. Yeah, the fact that you could play something beyond a human was definitely one of the goals of the game."

 

He also had plans to reinvent the Pip-Boy in Fallout 3, allowing players to monitor the Pip-Boys worn by the other prisoners that escaped alongside you, meaning you could then do things like reading their quest logs to see where they are and what they're up to.

 

And more than that, your Pip-Boy would become useful in different kinds of situations as you played through the game.

 

5.jpg

The Pip-Boy, but not how you know it.

 

"You'd start getting mods and add-ons and discovering new functionality if you're placed in dangerous situations," said Avellone. "Like, if you're trapped in a building and a fire broke out - this is a really small example - your Pip-Boy would suddenly wake up, let you know where all the fire exits were and where the sprinkler system was. And then suddenly you could use that functionality in any building you went into.

 

"So the more you explored and the more you got exposed to certain situations, the more your interface would grow and expand. We sort of wanted the interface to feel like another dungeon you were exploring over the course of the game."

 

Now Chris Avellone actually resigned from his position at Black Isle Studios before Fallout 3 was canceled, as he went to co-found Obsidian Entertainment.

 

Josh Sawyer steps in as the new lead designer and by now there's a full team in place who had been using Avellone's pen & paper design documentation as a starting point for their work.

 

Sawyer, it's worth knowing, had previously been the lead on another canceled project called The Black Hound, which had eventually become Baldur's Gate III: The Black Hound despite Sawyer's protests that his story had very little to do with that series.

 

Anyway, the advantage of coming off that project is that Sawyer and the team now had access to a new 3D Game Engine. In fact, if you've seen the leaked Van Buren tech demo from 2007, this is meant to be a reasonably accurate reflection of what the game looked like by the time it too was canceled come the end of 2003.

 

"I think time has made the public more aware that the development process is pretty clumsy and clunky at times and that stuff doesn't look good until the very end. But actually, I will say the Van Buren leaked demo is about as good as the game ever looked."

 

When I spoke to him Sawyer was eager to point out that although the series was making its jump to 3D graphics, it was important to the team that it still felt like Fallout. This meant small touches, like for example, when you entered a building it wouldn't load a brand new level, but rather have the roof become transparent as in Fallout 1 & 2.

 

The shift from 2D sprites to 3D character models also meant features like a piecemeal armour system could be introduced, The player could equip different bits and pieces of gear and this was then properly displayed in-game. The power armour, I'm told, was a bit of a nightmare to get right.

 

Interestingly, Sawyer cited games retailers as the driving force behind two of the game's design decisions. First up, there was pressure to drop the turn-based combat entirely and replace it with a real-time system, thanks to the success of games like the Diablo franchise.

 

"That really disappointed me," said Sawyer. "Because I really wanted to make a turn-based game. I still want to make a turn-based game after all this time. So I said: Tactics had a turn-based game and real-time with puase, so could we have something like that? And in my mind, I was just going to focus almost all of my effort on making sure the turn-based combat felt as good as it could."

 

And they also wanted the game to have a multiplayer element too.

 

"At that point in time, there was much more pressure - again from retailers - to have co-op multiplayer in everything. I always thought it was a big waste of time because I knew the actual stats of people who played. Even in the Infinity Engine games, you'll find people that say I love playing co-op multiplayer! You're one in a million people. Most people didn't really play it for very long and it was huge amount of work."

 

By the time the tech demo you're watching was created, Sawyer said the game was realistically more than a year away from completion. Unfortunately, it never made it to that point as Interplay faced major financial struggles and laid off the entire staff of Black Isle Studios on the 8th December, 2003.

 

Now this is the second time we've properly delved into a canceled game on Here's A Thing after looking at Human Head's Prey 2 earlier this year. But this story does have a slightly different ending. One that's perhaps more uplifting.

 

Because if you've played 2010's Fallout: New Vegas, the Fallout game published once again by Bethesda, but developed this time by Obsidian Entertainment with Josh Sawyer as the game director and Chris Avellone as a writer and director for the DLC, then you will have experienced to some extent the legacy of this Fallout 3 that never was.

 

Set once again in the American Southwest, there's a whole host of ideas and locations big and small that made their way into New Vegas. The Hoover Dam was pulled straight out of Avellone's pen & paper game, although back then it was actually more of a community rather than something to be fought over.

 

The The Big Mountain Research and Development Center from Old World Blues? That's largely based on the Boulder Dome.

 

Caesar's Legion, the Burned Man, they were there although envisioned somewhat differently.

 

And that whole side quest with the Nightkin suffering psychological damage because of their Stealth Boys? Yeah that's from the pen & paper session too, as was Elijah, the primary antagonist of Dead Money, although he'd originally been a companion.

 

Speaking of companions, here's an especially cool one. Josh Sawyer was one of the players in Avellone's tabletop campaigns, in fact, he played two different characters. They would become Arcade Gannon and Jean-Baptiste Cutting.

 

Maybe I should have renamed this piece, now that I think about it. This is the story of the Fallout 3 we never played, but then, sort of did, years later. That's not quite as catchy, but it does a better job of describing what happened here. And that's a great thought. Game cancellations can be incredibly rough. Pulling a project often has massive implications on people's lives and sometimes result in years worth of work vanishing overnight. It's cool to hear that in this case, at least, the ideas lived on. The game may never have hit shelves, but part of the vision behind it did.

 

Also Fallout: New Vegas is fantastic. So, there's that too.

Edited by Infinitron
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