Interview with Brian Fargo

It seems like only yesterday when inXile, following hot on the heels of adventure game studio Double Fine, raised roughly a gagillion dollars* in the pursuit of funding for Wasteland 2.

*$2,933,252 actually, but who’s counting?

Brian Fargo, founder of inXile (and the guy responsible, directly or indirectly, for a surprisingly large number of the most important wRPGs ever brought to market) has been pretty vocal about his reasons for going with a Kickstarter campaign. If there was ever any doubt that publishers no longer want to greenlight turn-based RPGs, Fargo banished it with his acerbic Kickstarter video. He had two options: let go of ever making Wasteland 2, or go indie.

So now we’re in the unique position of having a high-profile veteran game designer eschewing publishers and joining the ranks of the indies (for one game, at least). Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I promptly emailed Fargo with a few burning questions I had about his approach to designing Wasteland 2. Hit the jump for the interview!

For those of us who’ve been hiding in a fallout shelter since February: what is Wasteland 2?

Wasteland 2 is the sequel to the godfather of post apocalyptic RPGs and the inspiration for Fallout. The first game was a party based RPG with an open sandbox type world that had tremendous world depth and plenty of moral dilemmas. It was a game that allowed you to play the way you want and didn’t try to act pretentious. And it is time for a sequel.

First, some background: where did you get the idea for the original Wasteland?

My two favorite things back in the day was Dungeons and Dragons and The Road Warrior. I had just come off the success of Bard’s Tale with that satisfied my D&D scratch so next I wanted to do something in the post apocalyptic setting. I put a great team together on the writing side and used a skills based system that was influenced by an old paper and pen RPG called Mercenaries Spies and Private Eyes. I really like the way skills were used and saw it as a new way to open options up.

Why did you select the post-apocalypse as a setting?

As I mentioned earlier I was always a fan of the genre in general. I found it interesting to have our current world thrown back to the dark ages of sorts but laced with some technology. I also was drawn to the bleak and violent nature of it. Mankind reverts quickly without law and order and that is a world set up for drama.

Have you given any thought to porting the original Wasteland to run on modern systems? I have a hunch that it would sell quite well on or Steam, especially with so many people anticipating the sequel.

Well I don’t have those rights so it isn’t something I control. Maybe someday…

One of the things that was so revolutionary about the original Wasteland was its almost GURPS-like adherence to skill-based characters and challenges. As a developer myself, I find it very challenging to balance a game with both character creation and more than a handful of distinct skills. Inevitably, some are going to be more useful than others; and if you’re not careful, there’s a real risk of players creating characters ill-suited to navigating most of the game’s scenarios. How do you deal with this? Do you deliberately try to balance the game’s skills, or do you permit imbalance in the name of role-playing?

Part of the solution is that we need to make sure to create the depth so that all the skills do get used and allow success. Obviously some skills are going to be used more than others and I think those are quite obvious. No doubt the Medic skill will be used more often than say Toaster Repair or Rocket Science. However it is a party based game so there will be a natural balancing that comes about unless you give all 4 characters the exact same skills. But that said we also reward people who pick some obscure skills to reward them for the tradeoff. But the reward may not come easy… you may have to discover it.

You may have  heard the uproar over the latest trailer for Hitman: Absolution. Of course, Wasteland beat them to punch on that whole killer nun thing by decades. Do you intend to keep the goofy, off-kilter elements of Wasteland’s setting intact in the sequel?

I think the best humor comes in the middle of intense situations so you can expect some irreverence. But don’t confuse the sprinkling of those elements with the fact that it will be an intense and bleak world with a lot of violence and combat. It is all about the ratio. Most importantly the game needs to have personality and charm and the off-kilter moments are just one aspect of that.

A substantial number of people excited about Wasteland 2 are actually more familiar with Fallout (available on than they are the original Wasteland (not currently available anywhere). There are some pretty clear differences between the two games, though: aside from the goofier tone, Wasteland has menu-based combat and a non-isometric perspective. Where these games differ, are you planning to adopt some of Fallout’s innovations, or are you hoping to create something much closer to the original Wasteland? What are your primary considerations in deciding?

Clearly things have changed since the first game and we are not trying to create a Apple II experience. What we like is the depth, cause and effect, the setting, the skills based system, Desert Rangers, modern weaponry etc. about Wasteland. We are going to allow the user to set the camera in different places so you can choose if you want a more top down view vs. a more isometric one. The menu systems themselves will also be customizable. But what makes this project innovative is really more about the communication with the fans and making sure we are in sync. We just put a long vision document out which went into great detail of what we think is important to the game as per the original and what the gamers have wanted. This transparency of development is something we relish doing and a major shift in thinking. I can’t imagine making a game any other way at this point.

Thanks for your time, Brian.

Wasteland 2 is currently in development for Windows, Mac and Linux. For more on what is planned for the game, check out the recently released vision document.

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