Chris Avellone & Josh Sawyer

Short Bio: Obsidian has been around since 2004, and has created games such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Alpha Protocol. We're also currently working on Fallout: New Vegas, which features Josh Sawyer as Project Director and Chris Avellone, one of Obsidian's owners, as a Senior Designer.

Josh Sawyer Chris Avellone

Jim Cojones Describe in few words, what are the most important aspects of Fallout?

Josh Sawyer The central theme of Fallout, which I believe should be present in any/all Fallout games, is humanity's unending thirst for war. The motivations and the participants may change from story to story, but Fallout always comes back to it. Fallout is about retro-future. It isn't the 50s, and it isn't the future -- it's a twisted post-apocalyptic vision of the future as seen through the eyes of the 1950s. Finally, I think that Fallout's dark humor is central to its character. It's a difficult balance, but the blend of grim misery and hilarity is very important.

Chris Avellone The three-pronged quest resolution structure (combat/stealth/speech), the what-people-in-the-50s-envisioned-the-future ambiance (this includes the PipBoy depiction) as Josh said, the free-form environment that lets you wander the wasteland, and the high reactivity based on your character build (skills, stats, gender), your actions, and your appearance/items.

Jim Cojones History of Fallout started fifteen years ago, the game hit the shelves three years later. It is a lot of time for a computer game but it is still popular, it even still is being bought. When You had first seen the game, did You expect it could become such a classic?

Josh Sawyer I first played Fallout when I was in college. From the first few minutes in, I knew I was going to love it. It's such a unique setting and the game had so many new ideas in it that it immediately became one of my all-time favorites. When I first got into the game industry, I wanted nothing more than to work on a Fallout game.

Chris Avellone I don't think Interplay realized what it had, and I still kick myself to this day I didn't say "yes" when Tim Cain asked if I had time to work on it. Actually, I don't just kick myself, I also cry a little inside.

When Fallout hit shelves and it took off like an Apollo rocket (Apollo 11, not 13), it took a bunch of people at Interplay by surprise. All the hard work those guys put into the title paid off - to clarify, when you work on a title, or are aware of a project's history (and Fallout went through some rough times with the GURPS transition and had a lot of struggles from demo to completion, which I'm sure the team would agree with) sometimes you have no idea what a player will think while playing it, all you can think of is the road the project took to its release.

As for me, I knew it was different as soon as I discovered my Intelligence statistic affected my dialogue options, and that was only one of what I think were the "true RPG" moments I hit in that game. A lot of the game mechanic and plotline/character presentations that were done in Fallout I consider to be almost a game-based design document for how RPGs should be designed. We definitely leveraged a lot of those concepts for Torment and future titles.

Jim Cojones You were working on Fallout 2 (Chris) and on a cancelled project Van Buren (both of You). What was Your role during the games' production?

Josh Sawyer On Van Buren I was the lead technical designer. I was responsible for handling all of the mechanical elements of the game, including the SPECIAL system itself, combat, interfaces, item design, etc. After Chris Avellone left Black Isle, I took over as lead designer on the project. That only lasted for a short while, though.

Chris Avellone I'd been working on Van Buren for a few years on-and-off at Black Isle, but Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate III (canceled)class="nawias" drafted me at various points so I wasn't able to devote my time fully to F3. It didn't really expand the team beyond just myself until BG3 got canceled and we had an entire team to roll onto it. I got to work with Josh on it as Creative Lead, which was great (and now we get to do it again, except I work as a senior designer reporting to Josh). Josh and I had been playing a pen-and-paper version of the actual game for a while along with other potential team members to test out locations and new turn-based mechanics we thought might be cool for the title.

Jim Cojones Of all the work You have done on Fallout games, which part are you especially proud of?

Josh Sawyer I'll keep my pride in reserve until I actually ship a Fallout game that people enjoy.

Chris Avellone I will say that Fallout 3's theme is probably what I miss most. I think it was strong, and it rang true for the title. I don't think I've felt as strongly about a theme and tying it into game mechanics until Torment.

In terms of Fallout 2, I was happy with the design freedom in New Reno, although I admit the content needed an aesthetic pass (as could most of Fallout 2), and rightfully so - we didn't really have a cohesion lead on the project, and I think the project suffered because of it. Regardless, I do think New Reno allowed the player to do a lot of cool things, no matter what their specialization and I really like the amount of reactivity the location had based on your accomplishments in town and across the wasteland. I tip my hat to my programmer who worked with me on the location, Tom French (lead on recently-released Saboteur).

I'm also proud of the companions I scripted in Fallout 2 (Cassidy, Myron). Also, even though I was the third and final designer to inherit the skeleton of Vault City, I was pretty proud of the additional quests, the reactivity, selling your party members into slavery, being Captain of the Guard, the scouting mission of Gecko, and all the polish touches we had time to implement with the location. I love it when you come back as Captain of the Guard and force Stark to forgive Cassidy's bar debt, and I also like all the post-game events you can come back and do in Vault City and New Reno just for fun (I had to fight to allow that to remain in, and I'm glad I did).

Jim Cojones Despite the short development time of Fallout 2, the game was huge, much bigger than the predecessor, but amount of cut-content was also quite big. Which one of elements that didn't appear in the game did You miss most?

Chris Avellone The EPA. I posted the level specs in a Fallout Bible a while back, but I was looking forward to building out that location.

Oddly enough, the second thing I miss was the original cover that was planned for Fallout 2's box (not sure if Jason Anderson or Leonard Boyarsky did the art, but it looked great, and it mirrored the Fallout 1 cover and put a tribal twist on it that I thought was a nice connection).

Jim Cojones Making a sequel, or even a spin-off, to a successful game is always burdened with fans' expectations. Did You find dealing with them difficult while working on Falout 2/Van Buren? Does it feel different with New Vegas?

Josh Sawyer I didn't find dealing with fans difficult on Van Buren. Even among hardcore F1/F2 fans, there are a lot of divergent opinions. Fallout fans might swear more than D&D fans, but ultimately it's the same spectrum of discourse. Most of the people involved, even if they hate my guts and think my ideas are dumb, still want to have a conversation. All of those people are worth listening and talking to. For New Vegas, I won't know what it's like until we actually start talking about things. :) But obviously the overall "Fallout" fan base has grown and changed with the release of Fallout 3. A lot of the people involved with (especially Bethesda's) Fallout fan communities only have experience with Fallout 3. They don't know anything about NCR or Myron or playing chess with ZAX in the Glow or the ominous bell music in the Cathedral.

Chris Avellone Initially, yeah, but see the later answer to this.

Jim Cojones What's Your opinion on the third instalment of the series revived by Bethesda?

Josh Sawyer I had a lot of fun exploring the Capital Wasteland. I think they did a great job at providing content throughout the game (I think it took me about 90 hours to go through all 160+ locations + the first four DLCs). I also think that making the main plot arc more personal was an interesting approach since F1 (especially) and F2 tended to make the main plot a little more "background". You have Vault 13 and Arroyo, but once you leave them, your contact with anyone from that group is pretty limited. I think it's always difficult to establish a meaningful relationship with a central character right "out of the box", especially in an RPG where the player has the freedom to openly hate the central character's guts.

I have specific critiques of various mechanics in the game (surprise), but none of those problems made the overall experience negative.

Chris Avellone I don't have much to add to what Josh said. I enjoyed playing it, and I think the setting lends itself to open-world exploration and scavenging. That's always been a core Bethesda strength they've iterated on many times (and done well), and it shows in the product. Furthermore, I think there's a reason that people who normally shy away from RPGs leapt into Fallout 3 and had fun - it presents a world, and immerses you in it quickly.

Jim Cojones SPECIAL system has been evolving through years - while the differences between the rules in first two games were minor, every next game game of the franchise changed some things - f.e. to include new playable races or to allow playing in real time mode. Working on Van Buren, You wanted to make some major changes too. Could You remind what were the most important ones and explain the reasons for including them?

Josh Sawyer There were some relatively low-controversy changes like putting all of the skills on a universal starting scale and general tweaks to the attribute system, but the bigger changes had to do with what skills remained and what ones went away. For example, all "gun" skills (Small Guns, Big Guns, Energy Weapons) were rolled into a single Firearms skill. Doctor and First Aid were combined, etc.

My reasoning for combining skills was to balance usefulness across the board and (in the case of the Firearms skill) to reduce general skill list bloat. In retrospect, I also think that having a single Firearms skill would have alleviated the perceived content imbalance between the different weapon skills. I.e. it would be okay to have relatively few energy weapons and big guns if they all went into the general "firearms" pool with small guns making up the bulk of equipment used. Obviously it gives the Firearms-specializing player a lot of tools to work with, but you still can only use one weapon at a time.

The rest of the changes were less obvious, things like removing armor DR/leaving only DT, adjusting perks and traits, and similar tweaks. I tend to favor "strong/all DT, weak/no DR" damage ablation systems because they a) tend to produce results that "feel good" and b) are open-ended.

By "feel good", I mean that good armor makes low damage, high DPS/DPAP weapons seem worthless (because they are) and it makes high damage, low DPS/DPAP weapons feel awesome. Purely percentile reduction systems don't really do either. For this reason, strong DT systems also tend to promote tactical weapon switching based on enemies' armor (or lack thereof).

DR also essentially backs the armor system into a corner, content-wise. You really only have 100 points to play with unless you start introducing weapons that negate DR. The player/enemies are also typically gaining hit points while increasing the DR of their armor, so the damage that weapons have to do in order to threaten the player is enormous. For an example of this, the end of (especially) Fallout 2 tends to fall apart, balance wise, because a lot of battles are settled by double- or triple-damage armor piercing criticals.

Chris Avellone There were a number of story-specific game mechanics related to your roving adversaries (the other adventuring party) in the game, but that was mostly scripting reactivity and I don't know if it's necessarily a game mechanic. Initially, aside from the added perks, traits, and the mechanics Josh mentions, the plan was you could play as a supermutant or a ghoul as well (and we had sections of Van Buren devoted to those characters with their own level of reactivity). The additional race choices just seemed like a natural extension of the franchise. There was also some evaluation on the limitations of Doctor and First Aid, for example - Doctor had a balancing effect in Fallout 1 because you were under a strict time limit for the game, and using the Doctor skill was fundamentally different than using First Aid because of the time cost associated with it. In Fallout 2, that balance aspect wasn't corrected (no time limit), so we wanted to address that in Fallout 3 if possible. We also wanted to add crafting for Repair, Demolitions, and Science so you could make items, and furthermore, we wanted to change the three-prong quest solution to also include a fourth option: Science Boy (which really hit home after reading the book Lucifer's Hammer - there were instances in that book where knowing basic chemistry and science allowed you to pull off some stunts that were pretty damn helpful in a post-apocalyptic world).

Jim Cojones There are also two MMO mods for Fallout 2 - FOnline: The Life After and slightly different FOnline: 2238 that are in open beta phase. Have You been following any news on them or seen them in action?

Josh Sawyer The only one I have seen much of is FOnline: 2238. In a way, its Ultima Online-like griefer brutality seems to be pretty appropriate for the Fallout setting. At its core, Fallout is about humanity's limitless passion for snuffing the life out of people for any and every reason. Gangs of assholes stomping another player's brahmin for profit and amusement seems to be a lot more fitting than farming mobs of geckos.

Jim Cojones Chris, are there any chances you will join the team responsible for New Vegas after finishing Your work on Alpha Protocol?

Chris Avellone I'm all done with Alpha Protocol now, it's in good shape. While I work on almost all the projects at Obsidian in some capacity as a Creative Director, Fallout New Vegas is my current focus now. It's great to be working directly on one of my favorite franchises, and it's great to be working with Josh again - he's got great stuff planned, and I think players are going to have a lot of fun in New Vegas.

Jim Cojones Both of You are well known for very good contact with fans. Chris worked on greatly appreciated by the fanbase Fallout Bible, Josh helped with his advices for modders. What do You like about dealing with fans that You are willing to sacrifice Your free time for them?

Josh Sawyer I really want fans to understand how games are made. The more they understand about the process of making games, the more transparent our design (and logistical) decisions become. Game development is as much about practicality as it is about creativity.

Chris Avellone I try to take the time to answer questions, both sent to me directly and at conventions, both during and after presentations. So if you run into me there or want to drop me a line at, feel free to ask me whatever's on your mind. No one ever took the time to answer any of my questions when I was trying to get into the industry - now that I'm in game development, I'd like to correct that.

As for fans, they're gamers, and more importantly, are great sounding boards for what works and doesn't. A lot of the Fallout Bible was to test the waters for mechanics and plot ideas for Van Buren, whether it may have seemed that way or not, and it was definitely a learning experience. I still get positive fan mail on it, and while I definitely got hate mail while I was writing it (not anymore), but I'd still like to think people wanted to see the "extras" that weren't in the game.

Plus, if I'd played Fallout and wasn't on the development team, there's stuff I would have loved to see that it seemed a waste not to share that material with the fanbase (stats, concept pieces, design elements left on the cutting room floor, etc.). Couldn't let that stay locked up. And even if the fans want to burn you at the stake, they usually provide reasons for their venom that you can boil down to specific critiques once you remove the profanity. After a while, you just form a callous to it all and recognize they're passionate about the franchise. As long as they have something concrete to say and don't physically stalk you and you have to file a restraining order, it's all good. So vent away. We want to know.

One last thing - I will say it took the combined efforts of Josh, Scotty Everts, and Chris Jones (Fallout 1, lead programmer, now our tech director at Obsidian) to get the Fallout 2 editor out the door and into the hands of fans (and Scotty even put in the time to do documentation). Again, it would have been a shame to let that sit around when we could have gotten some Fallout mods from it to play while we were waiting for an official Fallout version ourselves.