Todd Howard, the creative director at Fallout studio Bethesda, knows he is pushing his team to its limits. attempts to expand on its predecessor in almost every conceivable way, whilst throwing in weapon mods, an in-game level editor, a smartphone Pip-Boy, and a canine companion.
With just months away from the game’s release date of November 10, GameSpot sits down with Howard to discuss how he’s trying to hold together the biggest project of his career so far.
Since 2008 when Fallout 3 shipped, so much has changed in the RPG genre, and even in the games industry as a whole. What have you learned along the way?
Well, was so popular, and when you’re reaching that many people, you get to experience what people think about what’s important and what’s not important.
You can look at this game and see it as a sequel to , but for us it’s our next game after Skyrim. So the feedback we’re getting from Skyrim is helping inform Fallout 4, in terms of what worked and what didn’t work.
Well, things like the flow of the open world; the plusses and minuses of that. How do you tell a story? How do you add all these other things to make it open? Given that it’s open-world, what kind of stories could you tell best?
That’s the thought-space on it. So we looked into things like how you start the game, and decided that you start in the past, and you see it all destroyed, and you have that sense of personal loss.
So just when you step into that new world, you have already seen it differently.
I’m glad you mentioned that, because I was going to say that with Fallout 4 you’re trying to tell a more personal story. You give players a wife, a child, a pet companion, and you make them know what they have lost.
Absolutely, and we want the player to be in sync with the character. You’re new to this world, and you would rather things be the way they were.
Not wanting to stray too far into spoiler territory, but I’m guessing that your relationship with your wife will be a significant theme throughout the game.
I’m not going to say a word [laughs].
Okay, moving on, Fallout 4 attempts so many different things at once–it has a building editor, a mobile app, games for you Pip-Boy, a gun customisation tool, as well as the game itself–how on earth do you keep focus on all that?
That is the hardest part. We’re lucky, in that nowadays we’re not a very big studio–we’re just over 100 people. We have about eight more people than we did when making Skyrim. Relative to what we’re making, it’s a tiny studio.
But it’s also the same team; this is the group that did Fallout 3. This is the group that did Skyrim. We’re able to work with people that know our systems and design processes so well. We can complete each other’s sentences. So that’s how we get so much content, but absolutely, the hardest part is gluing it all together.
But I imagine that you, personally, are trying to make sure that everything is all fitting together.
Yeah, we’re probably doing too much. [Laughs] If the game sucks, the answer may have been we tried to do too much.
But you have had four years.
We have had a lot of time. And obviously we wouldn’t have been ready to show the game unless we were confident about it.
It’s just, when you actually want to do a good job with everything, that’s when it becomes a problem, because it’s just a massive hassle.
Yeah, I mean, take . That’s an idea we had a long time ago, and we felt like, let’s just try it. There were definitely points in development when we were thinking that maybe it wasn’t a good use of our time. We had to ask, how much of a distraction is it?
But once an idea gets in your head, it’s like, you just need to do it.
To see it now, as the number one app in the world, it’s like what?! Well that worked out. I mean, I don’t wanna drop stats, but even though we didn’t want to monetise it, it’s grossing more than Candy Crush right now.
That kind of talk will make your bosses turn heads and think, ‘Why are we bothering with all that console shit?’
I wanted to touch on games not made at Bethesda in recent years. Have any been an influence or inspiration?
Well, we play everything, so the inspirations are all over the place. Certainly, with the mobile game, influences were things like and .
XCOM is so good.
It’s so good.
In terms of the main Fallout 4 game, what inspirations do you have?
Well, in our games, we want to give you complete freedom. So, I think of the last few years, I think had succeeded the most at the same type of thing we try to do. I look at that game and think, “Wow, I just don’t know how they did this.”
That’s what we try to create, that sense of going anywhere and doing anything. GTA V does it so well. It puts you in its world and it makes you its director. It says yes to the player a lot, and that’s what we try to do. It’s just a phenomenal game.
I wanted to talk about the VATS system in Fallout 3. People loved it, but they also needed to rely on it, because the baseline first-person shooting was…
It was mehh…
It was a little… I’m being diplomatic here.
It was a little… I think we’re on the same page.
Have you made changes to it?
We started out with Fallout 4 knowing that, look, we can’t apologise for being a role-playing game. We have to build a first-person shooter, and it needs to be a really, really good one. We spent a lot of time on that.
So it seems like, you can use the VATS system, but if you prefer you can play Fallout 4 as though it was an FPS.
Yes, absolutely, although we want players to have the edge if they use the VATS system. If you’re building your character for VATS, it’s really powerful.
Just a point of clarification on the level editor, does that work in-game? Or is it a separate mode.
Yeah, it works in-game.
That sounds ridiculously hard to implement.
Um, yes, it is.
One final question then: Of all the aspects of Fallout 4 that you’re working on, which is the one you’re most proud of?
The world itself is always the most important thing to us. The big question: Is this fun to explore? Does it reward my curiosity? That is absolutely crucial.