Brian Fargo talks Wasteland 2 and the future of PC gaming

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Brian Fargo speak at GDC China 2011

Brian Fargo has been developing PC games for almost thirty years, and he's still going strong. As founder of Interplay Fargo launched game franchises like Wasteland, Fallout and Bard’s Tale; these days, as CEO of inXile Entertainment, Fargo is still developing games for PC. He recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of Wasteland 2, raising almost $3 million in the process.

Fargo recently took a break from his work to talk about the process and explain what role fans are playing in creating this much-anticipated sequel.

Game On: What were your goals heading into Wasteland 2?

Fargo: Our goals are pretty simple: we want to deliver the most important role-playing game that’s ever been made before. We have a lot of pressure on us and we love the pressure, but we want to deliver something special.

How are advances in technology impacting the new Wasteland game?

There are some radically different shifts in the way games are being made now versus even, say ten years ago, and one part of it is tools. We can do a lot more in a shorter period of time because of the tools that are available, but also the way that we are communicating with the fans of the game is a big part of how our game is being developed. That’s not necessarily a technology, but it’s a paradigm shift for how we solicit input from people and integrate that.

How has working with Obsidian Entertainment been with this game?

Early on, most of the Obsidian guys worked with me back in the old Interplay days at Black Isle Studios. We’ve been circling around ways to work with each other for many years, but there really wasn’t an opportunity with the way publishers and developers typically work. But with crowd-sourced funding we can do anything we want. We pick up the phone and make it happen.

So we have a mutual respect, and Obsidian is the primary on this one. There’s some technology and information sharing going on about what they’ve learned in building products and vice versa, but primarily we've been working with Chris Avellone, who was a big Wasteland fan as a kid. He was one of the co-creators of Fallout and so he wanted to be involved [with Wasteland 2.]

The original Wasteland game running on a DOS emulator.

We wanted him involved, so we found a way to to solicit his input and get him to create some of the maps for the game.

What role will fans who funded Wasteland 2 play as the game is developed?

Having the fans involved is the most different and important part of the whole project. We have a lot of pressure to deliver more than ever before, and it’s important that we make a great game; not just for ourselves, but also for the next round of people who want to do big Kickstarter projects. People are watching and keeping an eye on us, on Tim Schafer and on others. Even though I have more personal pressure than ever before, I feel confident because we’re vetting everything with the fans along the way.

We’re soliciting feedback from the backers, or the fans, on the priority of things, and I think if you listen to them you really get great information. We took it even one step further, which is we have a lot of people that are always wanting to be involved with the game and sending us writing samples, art samples, whatever. We formalized that process. We don’t have a huge staff, so we asked our fans to submit things to the Unity Store and we’ll go through it. This allows people that want to break into the business a chance to get their assets in the game.

The first couple of rounds of submissions that have come in have been fantastic stuff. It’s been great for us, and the creators can resell their work on [the Unity Store] and make money from it. We buy it from them. 

What’s the time frame and storyline for Wasteland 2?

The sequel to Wasteland takes place 15 years after the first game ended. The basic premise is that the world was, for the most part, destroyed by nuclear bombs. One part of society has regressed, while other parts have - through technology and exponential growth - become even more advanced than society was before the apocalypse.

The first public screenshot of Wasteland 2, which is currently in development.

So there are these conflicting pockets, but within that there’s a group of Army engineers that took refuge in a prison to escape the devastation. They survive, set up the Desert Rangers and tackle the job of bringing law and order back to this uncivilized world. That’s where you, as the players, take control of a group of Rangers going out there and dealing with the host of issues. It’s sort of a “Cops” on steroids in a strange, post-apocalyptic world.

How customizable will the Desert Rangers be in this game?

We’re really hanging our hat on the customizable nature of the rangers, so that starts with character creation right off the bat. Some role-playing games have gone a different way where you play a specific character and then you get to hear his dialect and how he speaks or reacts; this is a little bit different. While designing the game we don’t really know whether you’re creating a group of Russian women or what. The game is completely customizable in terms of your skills and your attributes and even the look of it. You can import portraits that you want to have represent your groups, and we even let you choose the pack of cigarettes you like to smoke.

What do you think about turn-based gameplay?

For deep role-playing games I think it’s a given that you need to do [turn-based combat] because combat’s the thing you do the most, and already these types of games require a lot of reading and a lot of thinking. I think the combat system should follow suit: turn-based combat has you worrying about things like distance, height, ammunition, inventory, skill systems, etc. You’re always using your brain, and I think that’s critical for a good role-playing game.

What are your thoughts on PC gaming today?

For years, PC gaming has been declared dead and going away. And strangely enough, here we are and it appears to be stronger than ever, especially from a creative perspective. I look at crowd-funding, I look at the slate of titles that are coming out in the next year to two and they are more innovative and creative than I have seen in a long time. That’s going to make you feel pretty good about the PC. It's really an open system, much more so than [home consoles] where it seems like we always see the same [kinds of games.]

You can’t compete with the crowd, so as the PC continues to remain open I think we’re going to continue to see more and more innovation there than anywhere else.

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