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Thread: J.E. Sawyer on fleshing out locations and characters

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    Battle Kitty Tagaziel's Avatar
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    J.E. Sawyer on fleshing out locations and characters

    J.E. Sawyer strikes again on his Formspring, with a video response, seventeen minutes long, describing the methods he used to flesh out the locations and characters in Fallout: New Vegas:



    A transcript of the entire video is available in this post.

    Link: J.E. Sawyer's Formspring response

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    I should set a custom title It Wandered In From the Wastes

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    Awesome. I love hearing about the development processes different developers take.

    I had figured that Vault 34 was supposed to be "The Glow: Part 2" (didn't expect the survivors though, that twist sucked). It's good to know that they intended it to be confusing and a pain because it definitely is.

    Vault 22 was not as good (and I don't remember it being really pretty), probably because spore plants are a lame enemy, caves are among most boring places to fight, and the cave textures used in F:NV and F3 suck.

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    Transcript (WALL OF TEXT INCOMING):

    Someone asked how we came up with ideas for locations and characters in Fallout: New Vegas.

    It's a great question and I thought this as an opportunity to make a video response, instead of just a typed response.

    So, in Fallout: New Vegas it's sort of a mix between stuff I developed as project director and lead designer and then stuff all the other designers came up with. For each region of the game (the map of Fallout: New Vegas was divided into, let's say, two dozen or so?, different regions) and those regions would be A1, A2, A3, A4, A5 and then B1-2-3-4-5 and that would sort of go on.

    Actually, I think it did wind up around two dozen.

    And so, there were each of these regions, and we had, based on Fallout 3, plotted out a density, a target density, and that target density was based off of when we sort of looked at the mass of Fallout 3 and how many things were in each area. We said 'OK, this is like how far things are apart from each other, this is how far you can see a landmark from another location.'

    So we planned out the density of the world. As far as what was in the locations and the ideas for them, there are a couple of ways of going about this. Sometimes people just have ideas, for 'I want to have an area like this, I want to have,...', like the casino ideas, those were pretty much John Gonzalez, who was our creative lead on Fallout: New Vegas, and he was really into researching all the Rat Pack era Vegas stuff, thought that stuff was really cool, so he did a bunch of research and he came with those ideas for that stuff and then the other designers on the team gave feedback on ways they'd like to interpret those casinos, or those families, or things they wanted to change and stuff like that, but it was started with John and then we all gave feedback and then other designers would go buck wild on it.

    Other times, when I already, especially with wilderness areas, the bigger wilderness areas, is, I would look at what was actually there in the real world. If you don't know this, Fallout: New Vegas used, we used US Geological Survey data as the foundation (scaled way down, it's not 1:1, you can't really walk from California to Vegas in thirty minutes). We used that map and scaled it down, but I would actually look at what is in this location in the real world, and if there was something we could base a location from Fallout.

    For example, Helios One. There is a for real (I don't know if it's currently active), but there's a solar array there. It's not actually like Helios One. Helios One is based off of (I want to say Californian) Solar One, which is in Barstow, but it's based off of that pattern, where they all surround it and reflect on the solar tower. I thought it looked pretty cool and that it'd be a great landmark, that you could see that from way far away. Great, that's a great landmark, especially in a first person game, that's all about exploration, having a big landmark is very important.

    That was very striking. I saw that while I was driving off to Barstow and then I thought that 'Oh wow, there's also a place like that off of the... whatever, the freaking... freeway going on outside the Colorado River, let's put something there that's like that. And so, that sort of generated the idea of … maybe there's like a super-laser-weapon inside of it, that can be a big, cool moment in the game, and also that Novac, that area just south of there (that was actually one of our first areas), and the idea for that location, it was similar.

    We wanted to have a big landmark, that was really obvious and cool looking. So, I really loved the Cabazon Dinosaurs and so I'm like 'Cool, that's weird desert.' Weird desert things were something we talked about early in development, as being a kind of a neat thing. There are so many weird things out in the desert in the American Southwest, and, you know, we got the giant thermometer and we also have the dinosaurs at Cabazon, so we combined those. You have the dinosaur, the T-Rex with the huge thermometer and that became Novac. So, you see this huge dinosaur and you kind of got to go and see what the hell that is, 'cause that's so weird. And then, you know, the balcon sniper up there, 'cause that's just cool.

    (GARRAaaaa!)

    So, there were ideas like that. Also, Quarry Junction. There's, um, a quarry there. There's just a quarry there and the idea of having a bunch of draglines, those big machines that stick out over the edge of the quarry, those look really prominent, and I thought 'Hey, if a player looks over these hills and sees these big draglines, they might be like “Oh, what's over there?” and go take a look.' Black Mountain, there are actually a bunch of satellite arrays up in that part, south of Las Vegas proper and, yeah, a huge satellite array, you see a bunch of satellite dishes, 'What the hell is going on up there?'

    So, in a lot of cases it was like: Look at what's there, see if that sparks an idea for a physical landmark that can be turned into something really cool. In other cases (I know I'm taking a lot of time, just deal with it!), sometimes I would have a general idea for a location.

    So, Vault 22, I think I only said 'Reeeeeeeeaaaaally?' to Justin Farrel, who wanted being the designer for [it], 'I want Vault 22 to be a plant Vault, I want it to look really pretty, scary, but also kind of beautiful inside, and very different from other Vaults.' I think I gave him a little bit more direction than that, but everything else in there, he designed it, he scripted that whole thing, I just had a basic idea.

    Vault 34. Actually, the basic idea came from, I think, Avellone. I think actually Avellone actually wrote in the Bible a long time ago that Vault 34 is one in which everyone has a gun, and I thought 'Let's have that Vault in here.' Ok, we just had to pick where we wanted to put it and then what we want to do with it. I think Sydney Wolfram and I worked out (I know people will hate us for it, but just suck it up), wanted it to be kind of like the Glow, in a lot of ways. In the sense that the Glow was an area that you had a constant low level of radiation and a constant sense of unease being in the place. I wanted it to be, in some ways I did want it to be kind of confusing.

    You learn in New Vegas to heavily rely on your compass to tell you where enemies are, and Vault 34 kind of screws that up. Because the levels are stacked and creatures are all on top of each other, it's really hard to sort out, if they're above you or below you, lot of doors that open and close, totally intentional monster closets, it's the only place in the game where we have monster closets so just deal with it.

    And you get a bunch of cool stuff at the end. It was also supposed to evoke a kind of Sierra Army Depot feeling, when you actually manage to get to the bottom of that thing and you're like 'YEAAAAAAH!' and you roll out with 'OH, MINIGUNS!' and all this other stuff. It was supposed to feel like 'Oh my god, I got down to the bottom of this and I can haul all this stuff out, awesome.' And it's a struggle just to haul it out without getting irradiated.

    Vault 11. I think I just told Eric Fentermaker, I said 'I think it would be neat, if one of these places had a lottery, like Shirley Jackson's lottery, feel to it, where you, someone whoever is the Overseer, you don't want to be the Overseer, because you wind up getting killed or something.' It was pretty blah, but then, you know, the designer, Eric, took it in and did a really awesome thing.

    That's pretty much how a lot of places got designed, I mean, there are specifics that go into every place, but usually it started with something really high level from me and then the designer would just go buck wild. We'd all get feedback, you know, if we thought 'Uh, cool idea man' [sarcastic], if we thought the idea was getting weird or something, or if they thought my ideas were just crap, they'd tell me (usually, I hope).

    Characters. Specifically, the stuff I was responsible for in New Vegas was the companions. That was pretty much it. Sometimes I would suggest certain characters in the region design constraints, like some of the NCR officers, like high ranking dudes at McCarran, and some other places, like Crocker, maybe I said 'Yeah, there's a guy, he has to be here,' or like the King: I said he has to be a god. But Jesse Farrel really made that dude what he was, all the cool dialogue and all that stuff.

    The companions. We looked at it: what are either the factions that haven't been explored recently, like Followers of the Apocalypse, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to have Arcade in there, 'cause I always found that group was really neat, but you don't really hear a whole lot about them after Fallout 1 (and you don't get a companion from them).

    Supermutants, I think are cool, but for every faction that I thought were pretty well represented, I thought 'How can we explore a different aspect of that faction?' So, Veronica is a Scribe who is punchy. She's a punchy Scribe. When you think of Paladin, of Star Paladin Cross, she's real bossy, she's real Brotherhood of Steely, in a very, sort of, that is what you think when you think about the Brotherhood of Steel. Veronica, she wasn't made as an inversion of like 'THIS AIN'T YOUR DADDY'S BROTHERHOOD OF STEEL,' but she's supposed to show a different aspect of them, kind of partially an outsider and also 'I'm a Scribe and I go around and punch people, and I wear a hoodie and all the other goofy stuff.'

    Lily is showing some kind of terrible side effects of what it means to be a Nightkin, 'cause you encounter people like Davison or Keene, who are crazy and a have a lot of in Tabitha, they have a lot of personality issues that are a result of them being Nightkin, but you don't have to go through with them, whereas with Lily, you get some insight into who, it's not fun and jokes to be schizophrenic, it's actually kind of a big problem. That hopefully helps you sympathize with some of the Nightkin that are around Jacobstown.

    (Trying to think of some others.)

    ED-E. I like, I always liked Eyebots. I liked both the original Floating Eye robots from Fallout, like those little dudes with the little... [gesture], those guys with the thin heads (pew, pew). Then I liked Bethesda's, those little radio guys that would fly around the Wasteland. But they're always so wimpy, so I thought 'WHAT IF, stuff that happens in Broken Steel allowed, you know, there was something going down there, where there's a Duraframe model that you didn't just shoot a BB gun at and he explodes into million pieces, and then he goes through an incredible journey and he could be this little, kind of cute guy (I do think that Eyebots are cute). That's something that I think Avellone and all the people that worked on Lonesome Road really built upon, like they really made ED-E (cause there's a lot of Lonesome Road stuff about ED-E) feel like really emotive and a lot of people would, actually, have felt a lot of strong bond with ED-E as a character. That was really cool.

    (Trying to think if there's any other big stuff, but yeah you usually just...)

    Cass. I thought it would be neat to see the child of John Cassidy. I really liked Cassidy as an NPC in Fallout 2 and I thought he was a really interesting, he's just a regular guy like us, but he's a hardass. He's this hardass, but he has problems, in some ways he's a regular guy. Cass, Rose of Sharon Cassidy, is also kind of a regular woman, who is, she's running a caravan business, but it stinks and people suck around her. She's not a perfect person by any means, but she's pretty loyal and tough. So, hey, cool character and I thought it would be neat, if Avellone wrote that character. So, there you go!

    Sometimes, it really is, if I think a writer will excel with a certain sort of character, then sometimes I...

    Actually, I worked with John on the Survivalist, and I thought because John, I read some notes, stories that John has written previously, and I thought 'Maybe John would like to write the Survialist log.' I thought people would enjoy reading something like that. Thankfully, it turned out really awesome! So, John Gonzalez, way to go.

    That's a lot of rambling. (weird, nondescript noise, like a bird, except after doing coke)

    Hopefully, that gives you some insight into the process of how that worked on New Vegas. It really is different on each project and even on the DLCs. Each DLC was not necessarily like other DLCs, or like New Vegas. It's different on South Park, it's going to be different on Project Eternity, it is already different on Project Eternity, it's a sort of mix of people who contribute and the balance of stuff changes, but inspiration comes from a lot of places. Usually, the bottom line is, does it accomplish the goals we want it to accomplish? If we make a location: is it really striking? Is the landmark, if not recognizable, something you latch on to, you say ' I want to see what else is there?'

    Another good example would be: a lot of people go to the Mojave Outpost, and so we put that huge metal sculpture of the Rangers shaking hands, so that you'd see it and go 'Are these fifteen hundred foot tall sculptures of Rangers shaking hands?' You have to be able to see something in it that intrigues you to pull you towards it. Whatever goals you want to accomplish in the area, you have to make sure the design supports that. Sometimes, the initial idea that I might have doesn't accomplish that and people are 'Dude, that sounds stinky as hell, let's do something else.'

    Hopefully, I listen to them. Whatever idea it is, just focus on accomplishing the goal. Hopefully, when we're working well together, that's what we all work towards. The process varies a bit, but that's the basic gist.

    Hope that helps.

  4. #4
    But best title ever! Vault Fossil
    WorstUsernameEver's Avatar
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    Thanks for the transcription Tagz!
    YOU WANT DEAL?

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    I should set a custom title It Wandered In From the Wastes

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    Transcription appreciated ''

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    Modder A Smooth-Skin

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    The more I read about the design of New Vegas, the more I appreciate the game. Great update and big thanks for the transcript

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