Following the massive success of Double Fine's Kickstarter project, several small to mid-sized developers started talking about crowdfunding projects of their own, as a way to launch novel ideas or - like Double Fine - fund a game in a genre that publishers find less than appealing, like point-and-click adventures or old-school RPGs. One of these developers was InXile, owners of the Wasteland license, and we sent some questions to CEO Brian Fargo about his plans for the crowdfunded Wasteland project.
Wasteland Kickstarter Project Interview with Brian Fargo
By Brother None
InXile seems to really be diving headfirst into this Kickstarter idea. Take us through the process of the past few and next few weeks in InXile's plans.
Indulge me on a little backdrop for this project first. As you know I have been wanting to make a sequel to Wasteland for nearly 20 years so it seems that it is long overdue and an overnight possibility all at once. We were a small developer when we made the Bard's Tale series and Wasteland but despite their success we just were not making very much money. I had a vision of hiring talented people in their respective areas to work as a team rather than rely on the talents of just a few people. It is quite an obvious idea now but the early RPG's were typically made by just a few people so we tended to get dry writing or little focus on setting moods with art and music. We became a publisher and EA kept those rights so I assembled a team to create Fallout. Fallout had so many ties to Wasteland and did a beautiful job of setting the mood and keeping the tactics interesting. Once we nailed the central vision down that team took Fallout to absolute creative heights.
The whole industry was quite surprised to see Double Fine raise such a substantial amount of money for an Indie project and I'm sure every developer in the world started to think about it. Before I could even speak to my guys I started to have fans pinging me on doing another Wasteland. I dared to get a little excited and think this game might fit the build for a Kickstarter type project. We had already put quite a bit of effort into the story and character design when Jason Anderson was aboard so I wasn't starting from ground zero.
Does a Wasteland project being an RPG create any problems since RPGs are generally more complex and expensive to make, or does it being a hardcore RPG make it more similar in budget and niche appeal to DoubleFine's Adventure project?
There is no question that RPG's are on the more difficult side of the scale to create on a tight budget. It isn't a real RPG if it doesn't have deep cause and effect and true re-playability and that means you create more assets than a player will see in a normal session. We do have the advantage of this being a top down game which saves tremendously on the art creation which in turn allows us to script out numerous outcomes without the concern of creating graphics for every possible situation. Artists can spend months on a single 3D model in a 1st person game and that would make a lower budget title impossible. We also have the advantage of knowing the base mechanics from the first game which saves trial and error but the real key will be in the pre-production. We need to design out every locale, conversation, item and NPC before we start coding... and I mean EVERY detail. This way the game is ensured to be deep and production is kept efficient and focused. We will also use that time to solicit feedback from key hardcore players such as yourself to question us hard on the design decisions. Changes are free at the writing stage so ideas can be changed and incorporated without fear of making the budget become impossible. Also the original Wasteland team was pretty small so efficiency was key then also.
When Jason D Anderson was working for InXile a few years back, was he working on a Wasteland project? Can you tell us a little about that project, and are you planning to still use parts of that design?
Jason was working with me to create a new Wasteland and pitch it to publishers and I was quite surprised at how little interest there was. Here we had the co-creator of Fallout working with the lead designer of Wasteland (Mike Stackpole) and the guy who helped produce them both all on the heels of a massive success with Fallout 3. Publishers just had no interest in a party based RPG and they felt like they would need to go up against the production costs of Bioware which are in the tens of millions of dollars. It was frustrating for both of us as we had fans on one side pinging us constantly for a new Wasteland but we just had no way to finance it. Jason did a fantastic job on the design and story material so you can bet we fully plan on using it in this game. I'm fortunate to have had Jason spend close to a year on design materials. We really had a great time envisioning what it could be and I'm excited that it might finally become a reality.. but of course that is about to be up to the public's support.
Bard's Tale had to be separated from the originals setting-wise due to license problems. Do similar problems exist for Wasteland, or do you own it completely? Do you plan to build on any loose threads from the first game, or would it be set apart in time and/or space, like St. Andre's unused ideas for a Wasteland sequel set in Mexico?
You will be pleased to know that we don't have continuity issues with a new Wasteland for a number of reasons. People who had a great time with Wasteland will step quite comfortably into the new world and feel at home... exploding mutants like blood sausages of course. My plan is to incorporate parts of the old Wasteland to interact with some old locales and characters but also introduce some of the totally new concepts that Jason came up with. It needs the right combination of nostalgia and newness to shine and we have much of that content created. I really look forward to creating atmosphere with music and sound on this one. Good audio can set the tone in really powerful ways and Fallout is a great example of mood done well.
Michael Stackpole already joined the team, are there plans to involve Ken St. Andre in any role?
I am still filling out the team so anything is possible. I have a few other exciting additions I am chasing down that I need to get done first but I will be speaking with Ken soon....
Will the SM&PE RPG rules (updated or not) be considered for use again, in case the new framework is similar enough to support it, or will you go for a new ruleset?
We still need to spend some design time on what things we want different and which the same. This is a perfect question that we will throw out to the fans on the Wasteland boards to solicit feedback. We would be crazy to not solicit input from the fans all along the way for this project. The mechanisms for communication with the fan base is SO much different than it used to be. Games are being democratized with fan funding, fan input and direct to consumer distribution. These elements have really just come together in a meaningful fashion over the last few years.
Do you have any solid plans on what kind of engine to use, proprietary or otherwise, 2D or 3D?
We need to spend a bit more time investigating which engine we would use but it's unlikely to be an engine of our own. We need as much of the budget as possible to be spent on assets and design and not technology. Clearly this will be a top down game for the reasons I stated above. I would also like people to know that I am not personally going to take any salary from the money raised through Kickstarter. Those monies will be spent on only the team itself and any outside contractors we need to make the game.
Any ideas as to what platforms you could be releasing on?
Clearly we need to focus on the PC based on the audience and kind of game that it is. We have had a lot of request for tablet and Iphone so we will consider that based on the money that is raised but the most important thing is that we don't make any production tradeoffs in the design and implementation of Wasteland. We know what the fans want on this game and we are going to deliver. Gamers still rule this industry just like they did when Wasteland came out.
It's been years since the old Wasteland so no one is expecting a carbon copy. What would you say are elements in design or setting from the original that absolutely must make it back in, and what elements would you say are most likely to change?
Party and turn based combat is an absolute critical requirement for me. I like finding the right mix of Desert Rangers combined with NPC's and I enjoy the tactics that come from that dynamic. Players will spend more time doing combat than most anything in an RPG so it needs to be deep and rewarding. The skill based system is another must have to me as it opens up the world to be explored in ways that the player wants to do. You can have someone picklock the door, use demolitions on it, sneak over the back wall or try and let a rocket loose to blow the door off. A good RPG always offers many options for the player to move forward and with some of their choices may open or close off entire areas. I think the 3rd element is the way NPC's had a mind of their own within combat or game mechanics. The best storytelling often comes from the moments that happen from within the system. Almost everyone remembers when Angela Deth would empty an entire Uzi clip into a rat and completely waste hard earned ammo.
Things that will have big changes will be the use of audio and how you communicate and receive missions from the Desert Rangers HQ. I won't go into detail yet but we have some innovative ideas that will make that whole aspect of the game become more entertaining and meaningful. We also plan to dial up the things that NPC's can do or cause affect the party. We will have some NPC's that you will love in combat but be looking forward to snuffing out once you get the chance. We will also have a more cohesive story thanks to all the efforts that Jason and Mike have already put in. We have learned a lot more about storytelling than we did back in the day.