Exclusive interview: Brian Fargo talks Wasteland 2

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By now, you've probably heard a Wasteland 2 project is in the works.  After nearly a quarter of a century's wait, a sequel to Interplay's post-apocalytpic PC RPG is being created, thanks to tremendous fan support for the Kickstarter project. As of right now, over $1 million has been pledged, but remember, the more that gets raised, the more features they'll get!

For those unfamiliar, Wasteland is an old-school, top-down RPG from the 1980s.  As such, it was the first RPG to allow players to split parties for tactical considerations, to face players with moral choices, and to make them deal with the consequences of their actions.  In short, it was groundbreaking, and now Brian Fargo is back, and looking to recapture the feeling of a game "made during the golden era of computer games when creativity was king."

We recently had the pleasure of talking to Wasteland creator and Interplay founder Brian Fargo, who is also known for his work on Fallout, Baldur's Gate, and Bard's Tale.

GameZone: We want to congratulate you on the support you received, and you reached your goal within 48 hours which is a pretty tremendous feat, what do you think that says about the fan support for Wasteland 2?

Brian Fargo: I guess it proves that after all these years there was this incredible sense of demand that just wasn't being serviced by publishers. I would travel around doing press tours for other games and in every territory in the world; Germany, France, UK, Singapore, Korea, Japan, China, every single territory said to me, 'What about Wasteland, what about Bard's Tale?' I would relay that back to the publishers and it got me nowhere obviously. I knew it was there but there was no way for me to bridge the gap between knowing it and making it happen. Since digital distribution and fan funding came together, it [Wasteland 2] would probably never happen.

GZ: We watched your Kickstarter video which was not only informative but humorous, how similar was that to the actual process of trying to get backing for Wasteland 2 before Kickstarter?

Brian Fargo: Every single comedy bit in that Kickstarter was taken from real meetings. I had people that have never heard of Interplay, or Publishers that were excited about the product who then subsequently never called me back but sent me Facebook game requests for the games they were playing. I told myself 'This guy won't return my calls, but he wants all this stuff from me on Facebook!' And even the red boots, we were in a meeting and they sent some junior guy who wanted to sit there for an hour and talk about the color and height of the boots! So this was all drawn from reality. I kid you not.

GZ: So in the Kickstarter, you were saying you were planning for six months of pre-development and 12 months of development, how far along would you say the game is now?

Brian Fargo: We were working on a lot of the storyline, and the character development and individual plot scenes, but to that extent, that work's been done. There's still a tremendous amount of work that still needs to get done. It's funny because when you talk about the $1 million you've got one group of people saying 'Wow, how can you do it for so cheap?' but then others saying 'I know an indie that made a game for 30 grand, why does it cost so much?' For making a full scale RPG, it really isn't that much, you have to become super proficient. One of the things that saves us money is not doing cut-scenes. Those are incredibly expensive and time consuming and frankly, the hardcore crowd doesn't care that much about them, so that saves us a tremendous amount of time. Really it comes down to having a template for having the perfect map, and then we send that out to six or seven designer, and they will all jump on creating their areas and then we collate it, bring it together, and then we'll be feeding this stuff out to the beta testers throughout to make sure the sensibilities that we promised, were hitting all those right notes. I feel more confident in building this product than I have pretty much any other, because of the fact that the fans were involved in the beginning on the front end to test our sensibilities and clearly they like what they've been hearing, and then we're going to deliver it to them. It's like if we say, 'We're going to have gritty writing', it's one thing to say it, but then have fans look at it and say 'This is horrible writing!' that we'll then have to tweak, so the process is really well organized.

GZ: Right when you talk about fan feedback, my mind goes to Notch and Mojang with Minecraft with how personal they are with their fanbase, are you hoping to replicate something similar to that?

Brian Fargo: We're going to obsess over it. We already have the fan boards set up. I'll give you an example, people are saying 'What if you make it past your goal, and make it to 1.75 million, 2 million?' and in the old days, I'd say we might do this, we might do that, but now we can go to the fans, and ask them what they would like. More special effects, more audio, bigger content, an iOS version, and I let the fans vote and that way we can figure out what we can provide.

GZ: So what we read is that it's going to be a top-down, turn-based RPG very much like Fallout 1 and 2. How will it differ from those games, and will there be some modern conventions, or more of a classic gameplay experience?

Brian Fargo: I think it's going to be a nice hybrid experience between Wasteland and Fallout 1 and 2, along with quite a few graphical updates, but with that said, we're going to experiment with a couple different things, throw it out to the forums, and say what do you guys think about this and that, and adjust accordingly. Overall, yes, it's more of a party based game, much more than Fallout was, focusing much more on the group, rather than the individual.

GZ: Wasteland 2 is a direct sequel to Wasteland. Will fans that aren't familiar with the first one be able to jump right into it?

Brian Fargo: If you've never played the first Wasteland, it's OK, you'll jump right in. If you have played the first game however, there will just be some familiarity and nostalgia that makes it more interesting. We got some great characters from Wasteland that fans might remember, so when they make their appearance in Wasteland 2, the old community will love it, and the new community won't need to know they appeared in the previous game.

GZ: How would you pitch Wasteland 2 to players that never heard of Wasteland, what can they expect, and why should everyone play this?

Brian Fargo: If you go back to Wizardry, Bard's Tale days and other classic role playing games, you control a party of characters. The part of the fun is the mix right? If it was a medieval setting, it was the Thief, the Warrior, a Spellcaster and you find your right combination, mixing and matching combinations, that's a lot of fun, and there is a lot of tactics you can do with that, and bringing that kind of game, is fun. On top of that, some of the role playing games today have become fairly pretentious, and ours is not, ours is 'you play it the way you want' and so we don't set any kind of morality on anything you do and there is no clear cut way to handle things. And often when you try to do things right, you end up getting yourself in a situation going from bad to worse, and we just put you in these uncomfortable situations where you just couldn't help it. NPC's that join your group have a mind of their own, so you have some control over them, but if they want to steal from you, or empty a clip, or maybe they have a vendetta against bikers and open fire when you didn't want them to, then you have to deal with the consequences. All these kinds of dynamics are interesting, and what made Wasteland fun was the system, making the story and experience work, but it's what happens within the rules that makes it interesting. If NPC's go through all the clips which are really hard to find, you find yourself screaming at them, and you can't get that kind of emotional reaction from the writing, you get it from the system.

GZ: We're actually big fans of open sandbox games, where NPC's do their own thing.

Brian Fargo: Exactly, instead of preaching what you should do, or leave map markers- or one of the things, the Guardian Citadel in Wasteland, if you wanted to make your way over early in the game, go for it, but these guys would destroy you. But eventually you'd work your way up and when you finally got your way in, it was a great feeling!

GZ: If Wasteland 2 becomes a commercial success and appeals to the mass market, would that mean Wasteland 3 could be a reality?

Brian Fargo: If we do a great job with this game, and the fans love it, and they want more, I'd love to do more. We're back in my wheelhouse now, we love making role-playing games. Even at Interplay, to my detriment at times, I held on to that core gamer value even when things were changing. When things were spinning out and becoming console, we were delivering Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Torment, Sacrifice, MDK, I mean we were delivering one stellar PC game after another in the late 90's, while the console business was taking off, so having this opportunity now to go back to doing role-playing games is a dream.

GZ: Speaking of consoles, you mentioned if the funding reaches higher amounts, you would be looking to a possible iOS support, what about a release on XBLA and PSN?

Brian Fargo: I don't know, we haven't given a lot of thought to that. We'd like to keep it to a mouse and keyboard or screen driven, so I haven't though about a controller. We need to make sure we deliver on this title on the PC, they way that they want, so I hesitate to think about those versions.

GZ: You still have more than 30 days left on Kickstarter, do you have anything you want to add?

Brian Fargo: Viva la resistance! It's been the most amazing week of my life!

From our brief conversation with Brian, I immediately got a sense for the type of developer he is - the kind that won't stop until he delivers a product that he is not only 100% proud of, but one that fully satisfies the needs of fans, gamers, and RPG enthusiasts.

Be sure to check out the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter page, if you would like to donate towards the development of Wastelands 2 and support Brian Fargo and the rest of the inXile team.

Charmander
Mike Splechta GameZone's Editor-in-Chief, retro game enthusiast, savior of kittens. Follow me @Michael_GZ
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