Interview: Josh Sawyer Talks Fallout: New Vegas

Dan Webb
Obsidian's much anticipated Fallout spin-off, Fallout: New Vegas, is only a handful of months away from its general release now - after all, it is June already... oh my, where does time go!? With the title already confirmed to be playable for show attendees later on this month at the industry's most lavish trade show, E3, we caught up with Project Director, Josh Sawyer, to talk about all things New Vegas where we left no stone unturned. Yes, no stone. Having seen the title in France at Bethesda's Gamers' Day recently, we had many burning questions. Yes, many.

It seems that Obsidian have a knack for taking on sequels from other developers and putting their own spin on them, resulting in some great experiences. Why do you think that works?

Many Obsidian developers have been creating RPGs for over a decade, going all the way back to Black Isle. We're used to using other developers' technology to create RPGs, so it's easy for us to adapt to another company's content development pipeline. We generally try to focus on incrementally improving the game play and providing Obsidian-style content.

Is it something that you think should happen more often in the industry? Obviously, you guys have proved it’s possible to make successful games out of it.

If you have access to solid technology and a good working relationship with the tech's developer, go for it.  Working on an established tech platform saves a lot of time.

So we have a new setting, new story, new everything in Fallout: New Vegas. Can you tell us a bit more why you chose “New Vegas” and how the wastelands in your title will differ to Fallout 3’s?

In many ways, Las Vegas is the opposite of Washington D.C.  When many people think of Washington D.C., they think of traditional American virtues and the history of our young country.  It's full of the enduring monuments of our nation.  In contrast, Las Vegas is a city that appeals to contemporary American vices.  It continually re-invents itself, destroying landmarks and creating new ones every few years.

The Mojave Wasteland itself is also quite different from the Capital Wasteland.  The Mojave Wasteland in the game did not suffer as badly as the Capital Wasteland when the bombs were dropped. It has bright blue skies, sprawling warm deserts, Joshua trees, tumbleweeds.  All the good stuff.

The wastelands in Fallout 3 were a pain to travel sometimes, especially when you were travelling to a new place for the first time, can we expect anything to help us get there quicker? A penny farthing... or a skateboard for example? Maybe a jet-pack.. okay, no... but something else?

Nope.  We believe that the initial journey is part of the fun of the game. If you could skip that, it would detract from exploration tremendously.

Are there any nods to Fallout 3 in New Vegas, crossovers maybe where fans will go “holy crap, I remember that from Fallout 3!?”

There are a few small references here and there, but New Vegas is its own story.

From what we’ve seen so far, the engine looks untouched from a visual standpoint. Is there anything you’re trying to do to make New Vegas a better visual package from Fallout 3 or is it more of the “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mantra? I see we have blue skies now!

We did not want to delve too deeply into the rendering technology because of the relatively short development cycle. One element that we have changed is how the level of detail system works for distant objects. Specifically, they can now support material shaders, including emissives. We also implemented an "imposter" system that allows us to more convincingly represent distant buildings and effects. This was important for us because light pollution from casinos is such an important element of seeing Vegas from the desert.

Is there anything you’ve taken out the engine for the simple reason it didn’t work? Or is it Fallout 3’s engine in its entirety and then some?

There are some behind-the-scenes formulae used for weapon condition that we changed to help normalize the progression of weapons, but for the most part we've just tried to build on the engine.

Obviously one of the biggest game changers in New Vegas is the new reputation system. Can you tell us a little bit how it will work and what it will bring to the experience?

Each community and organization in Fallout: New Vegas has its own reputation tracker for the player.  As people in the community or organization take note of good or bad things the player does, the player gains positive or negative reputation.  Based on that reputation, people in the community will treat you differently.  

In some cases, you may receive some benefits or suffer some penalties for the reputation you build with a group.  It's also possible to have a mixed reputation, which has its own consequences.  Certain characters, especially misfits in a group, tend to treat the player better if he or she has built up a mixed reputation.

The weapon customisation system is new as well we assume, can you tell us a little about that and what sort of advantages players will be able to take from this? Can we expect to be making a number of wacky contraptions?

We've tried to avoid wacky contraptions for the most part.  In the Fallout universe, the western portion of the United States is a lot more industrialized and generally "with it" than the east.  As a result, most of the mods are of the traditional variety.

We have a large number of traditional firearms in the game and there are a lot of mods for those weapons: extended magazines for pistols, larger ammunition drums for submachine guns, custom high-speed actions for lever action rifles, silencers, suppressors, and so on.  We also have mods for energy weapons and explosives, like focus optics for the laser rifle (increases damage), and the "Little Boy" kit for the Fat Man, which drastically reduces its weight.

You’ve also spiced up the melee system with the alternate attacks, an example of which is the “Fore!” move for the golf club. Can we expect to see some artistic license taken with these? If you had to pick one, what would be your favourite?

The special melee attacks are all meant to be a bit exaggerated and fantastic in nature to set them apart from the standard moves.  My favorite move is probably Mauler, used by sledges and super sledges.  It's a really tremendous swing and does a lot of damage.

There seems to be any number of new partner characters this time around. Have you placed added emphasis on this aspect? Ultimately, do you think that maybe co-op in a game like Fallout could work in the future? It seems like with these partnerships, that co-op is the next evolution. If so, do you think co-op in an RPG could work? Or is it all about the single player experience?

Co-op certainly can work in RPGs, but I think one of the main staples of the Fallout experience is that it is primarily driven by the player's character. While companions have also always been part of the experience, their presence is purely optional. It's only in the spin-off games (Brotherhood of Steel, Tactics) that multiplayer has been a focus.

What else have you added to New Vegas gameplay wise that will add to the experience, other than the reputation system and the weapon customisation?

A ton of stuff, honestly.  We've changed the SPECIAL system so the ability scores have more impact on your character.  As an example, weapons now have Strength requirements.  If you don't meet the weapon's requirements, your aim will suffer (for firearms) or it will attack more slowly (if a melee or unarmed weapon).  Strength also affects how far you can throw weapons like grenades.  On the more "cerebral" side of things, Charisma affects a statistic called Nerve that is applied to companions as a combat bonus.

We created a new crafting interface for the game that is quite extensive.  Initially it was only going to apply to the Survival skill, but we expanded it to use a variety of skills at different locations.  Crafting ranges from cooking raw meat into steak at a campfire to hand loading custom ammunition from spent shell casings at a reloading bench.  I think people will really enjoy it.

Can you tell us a bit about hardcore mode and how insane it’s going to be... Is it really that hardcore?
I don't think it's really about being insanely difficult as much as it is about adding some more tactical and strategic elements to the core gameplay.  Healing over time makes a significant difference in how combat feels, since a last-second stimpak probably isn't going to save you if you get in over your head.  The other changes, namely weighted ammunition and the new survival elements such as dehydration, require the player to manage their inventory more carefully.
If you thought Fallout 3 was difficult, you will probably find Hardcore Mode to be appropriately-named.  For me, Hardcore Mode is just the way I play the game. I'm sure that PC modders will very quickly add even more levels of challenge on top of Hardcore Mode as well.

We understand that a few of the guys at the studio also worked on Van Buren – the could have been Fallout 3 game – what came of that in the end? Have you taken anything across from that development in to this one?

Like most cancelled projects, the assets and documents went on a drive somewhere and collected dust in the "could have been" vault.  We have carried some of the ideas from Van Buren into New Vegas.  Primarily, the use of Caesar's Legion as a looming threat in the region, though it is much more present in New Vegas than it was in Van Buren.  Most of the other similarities lie in bringing back regional power players from previous games: the New California Republic, Gun Runners, Crimson Caravan, Followers of the Apocalypse, and so on.

Fallout 3 was a very well supported game post-release, some say the best supported console video game quite possibly ever (I say that by the way), are there any plans in place for the same to happen with New Vegas? The engine has proved it’s robust enough to do that.

We know that Fallout 3's DLC packages were very popular, but it's too early to talk about that for Fallout: New Vegas.

And Fallout: New Vegas is penned for a fall release. Are you on schedule to hit that? Have you pinpointed a month yet?

We are still on track for fall of 2010.
  • sweet!!! cant wait for this game
  • Awesome! I'm playing through Fallout 3 at the moment so I'm definately getting this. Looks great!
  • Nice Interview, good questions which helped clear up some of my fears, not that they were going to stop me buying this!!
  • i can't anticipate this game enough, i really hope they do as much dlc or even more as they did in fallout 3, that would be fantastic
  • I really wanted Fallout 3 then i buy it,and i get kinda disappointed with the 3rd person gameplay...But it was a really good game...Im just not sure bout this one...Hope they change it up...
  • I need some of those Michael Jackson sleep drugs to knock me out for four months so I can wake up on release day.
  • Definetely gonna buy it the day that come out ;)
  • Might have to re-buy Fallout 3 to get back in the mood for this :) Loved Fallout 3, hope this is the same.
  • I am just to fecking excited about this game! Everything I read about it just makes me want it more!!!
  • Looks like New Vegas is shaping up to be a much better game then Fallout 3 ever was.
  • what's with the ahoy on every title?
  • Can't friggin wait! @7 don't do it didn't you see that southpark where cartman freezes himself for the wii? 
  • Josh sawyer are you kidding me ??? any lost fan would be like 0.o
  • @12 Today is ahoy day!
  • Im sooo excited!! This game's gonna be awsome.I already preordered my collecters edition.I hope that there will be DLC though.
  • @15 ahoy day? anyway that crafting stuff sounds nice.
  • @#17 - Yes, ahoy day... ahoy!
  • fallout 3 was crap... cue abuse, ahoy!!!
  • Fallout 3 was one of the best games I've played. Hopefully Fallout: New Vegas will live up to its name. I'm questionable about the plot though.
  • Didn't ask the really important question. Will it be a buggy pile of code like Fallout 3 was? Can't even use quick save on the PC version, it corrupts the save files!
  • This is going to be amazing. Loved the interview. Got my new gamertag ready ;)
  • IVE missed Fallout soo much cant wait for this game to come out ! nothing has to change just new story = win for me!!!!
  • I'm hoping that since their not changing the engine we'll still be able to use the GECK to create mods for the PC version
  • cant wait for it!
  • Hope this game is much more polished than Alpha Protocol.
  • @6 you know it could be either third or first person, don't you?
  • fallout 3 was amazing n its DLC's except 4 mothership zeta. i was good in its own right but didnt fit the fallout 3 storyline or the enviroment. cant wait 4 new vegas and its (hopfully) DLC's
  • I still need to get the cheevos for fallout 3,, i played it on pc see :( does anyone know of any packages to get the game and all dlc?
  • Great interview for what looks like another top notch game this year, after Fallout 3 pretty much being close to perfect Im nervous and excited for Vegas, I hope they can top it, colour me excited :)
  • Bah, I would have had just one question: Did you fix the freezing issue from Fallout 3?
  • im fuckin preorderin the collectors edition
  • @29 i'm fairly sure the game of the year edition comes with everything
  • I really wish that the PC version was GFWL then I would get that one and use the GECK. But alas i shall have to get it on my xbox ...
  • it will be hard to topp falout 3, :/ but this can pull it off. we have to w8 and see a guss
  • Fallout 3 GotY, drop greatly in price, like less than $20 USD. Then I can finish up the DLC, and then New Vegas will have the privilege of me taking the time to grace it with my presence.
  • @33 i didnt realise there was a GOTY edition, and i call myself a gamer *lowers head in shame* but thanks :)
  • Fallout 3 GOTY is not less than 20 dollars, where did you hear that 36? @34 I KNOW!!! I bought Fallout 3 on both PC and 360 due to double achievements, and I love the GECK, but disappointing that they have removed LIVE from New Vegas, there has been petitions on the bethesda forums requesting GFWL. It would mean a double purchase for me. and Hardcore mode is going to be cake. On the pc version of Fallout 3, I had mods that did all of those effects added in New Vegas, and more! Can't wait for more Fallout.
  • How about the Limited Edition for the EU? Still haven't seen it anywhere. =/
  • dont think ima like it if theres a hardcore achievement. and weighted ammo and strength requirements sound like pains in the tucas.
  • Obsidian are toss, they should have been shut down by now. As for the game, its essentially a tie-in in an attempt to squeeze a different dimension from the same colourless universe using the same game engine. As for Fallout itself, Elder Scrolls IV dicked on Fallout 3. I am not stoked for this. Bitchin'!
  • @38 I believe he was telling it to drop below $20 so he could buy it, not saying that was already the current price.
  • @27 yeh but thats like saying you could either stare at or motorboat sophie reade's breasts. One is infinitely better to do than the other and is the way it's meant to be done. the other... yeh, sure, if you're some kind of masochist who gets pleasure out of the difficulty of controlling yourself ;)
  • Pretty awesome, I'm looking forward to this game.
  • Fallout 3 was a decent PC game I'll probably pick this one up on 360 looks a lot more appealing.
  • I always meant to play FO3 but never did. Now, I might just jump on this one instead. From what I've heard, HC mode sounds really cool.
  • I'll hold off a good 2-3 months before renting or buying this since Obsidian is making it.Every game franchise that they have worked on has been bug ridden piles of unplayable trash. Alpha protocol being the only game they have made that I haven't tried so I can't comment on it.However Kotor 2,NWN 2 and it's 2 expansions all were unplayable for weeks until they decided to patch it.So I unfortunately have low expectations.Shame too as I loved Fallout 3.
  • Not buying this. At least not directly maybe used that way they're not getting my cash from me. Obsidian really pissed me off by making New Vegas not for GFWL. I prefer RPG's on PC because we can mod and have fun which is why the huge deciding factor for my 50 bucks was the fact that it had achievements which was huge IMO. Now I'm going to have to settle on the xbox version. *sigh*
  • wooo fallout
  • cant wait for this game. fall is a long ways away
  • Love how hardcore sounds, more realistic rather than just using weaker weapons and enemies with more health. Can't wait!
  • I REALLY am looking foward to this
  • I loved F3, this is gonna amaze a lot of people..
  • Im really looking forward to the hardcore mode! :)
  • @41 If you genuinely think Oblivion was better than Fallout there's something wrong with you dude...
  • @40 not to burst your bubble but there is an achievement for Hardcore Mode. I read it on the Wiki Fallout Vault, so far it's the only known achievement. Definitely playing New Vegas on Hardcore Mode, it'll just be like playing the originals again. I loved Fallout 3, probably my favorite game of all time and my favorite game series. I think Fallout: New Vegas is going to be better than Fallout 3 only because most of the original creators of Fallout are making it, but I'll have to play it first before I can say for certain. Can't wait for October!! Just my opinion.
  • This is already my favorite game ever made. Used to be Fallout 3 but I feel this will improve upon what was flawed before. I can't wait for this to be the only game I buy for like a three month period at least...
  • I
  • dlc would be awesome, but please no aliens!
  • Can we pretend that airplanes In the night sky Are like shooting stars I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now) I wish that Jesus would travel and time and bring me back this game. I WANT IT
  • gonna be a busy fall with this and Halo
  • OMG i actually love Fallout, can't wait for this
  • Sick Obsidian is one of my fav developers, working on one of my fav series? Suhweet.
  • I really can't wait for this, loved Fallout 3
  • Loved Fallout 3. This interview actually made me apprehensive about weighted ammunition and punishing the player for choosing a less-than-ideal skill set.
  • awesome... i think il love, and yet love to hate hardcore mode, its got alot of the ideas iv been thinking of, and wondering why others hadnt tought of, like the dehydration and custom ammo clips...
  • I have put near 2000 hours into Fallout 3, and still find things I haven't seen before. Just recently built my character up to max special and skills, so I am ready for a new Fallout! Fallout 3 is the greatest game on the 360 and Obsidian better not ruin that.
  • I can't get enough of rpgs (Mass Effect, DragonAge, ElderScrolls) Fallout 3 was one that a REALLY liked and obsidian look like they have done a good job so far. I faith in them after they did a good job with KOTOR II - and yes you may remind me of alpha protocol but meh, i'm still looking foward to it.
  • this games is goin to be awsome
  • Can't wait for this game loved fallout 3 this will be awesome!
  • Can't wait for New Vegas. Fallout 3 was such a great a game. One of the games that made me happy to 100% it. Anyways Obsidian makes great RPG's so no reason to be worried the game will be great.
  • Cant wait although I hope multiple play throughs can be avoided, I know people like to play for hours but realistically like to go all out on one character and explore everything with one save. Just my way on RPGs. LOVE IT!!!!
  • @6, lol, there is a button to switch between third and first person.
  • They are For sure Going to Make a DLC for L.A., San Fransico, and Maybe Texas. I have A feeling That they Are going To make L.A. most Def
  • Anything that has the words "Fallout" in it is an instance purchase.
  • I hope people will utilize the hardcore setting to further immerse themselves into the Fallout distopia, I know I can't wait.
  • I wish it could come out sooner XD Nothing released so far for this game looks bad to me, I can't wait till it gets here!
  • bethesda is the only gaming company that has produced games that make me WANT to 1000 them.... im looking forward to new vegas!
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