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Old World Questions is a blog post written by Chris Avellone via the Obsidian Entertainment forums on January 6, 2012. It provides answers to a series of eight questions posed by forum user Rocky Justice.


See: Original post on forums.obsidian.net

Some Old World Questions from Rocky Justice (thanks, Rocky):

1. What is your official title? I know in the credits it says you're a writer, but I was wondering if there was a more specific title for your job. Also, how'd you get in to your line of work? Did you study writing in college, or was it something you discovered later on?

I'm Creative Director here at the studio - I'm involved with the design department, giving advice on best practices, design methodology, and helping to test and select new design candidates. I also set up designer expectations for each tier of designer as well ("here's what's expected of a Systems Sub-Lead, a Lead Designer," etc.), and also interface with the other owners and designers across the company. In addition, I attend design meetings, and actively participate in the game design process, which means I look at all the design documents, attend level reviews, reviewing scripts (usually narrative ones unless I'm scripting my characters), and I'm playing the builds and supplying feedback to the designers.

Depending on the project, I also contribute content, flesh out characters, and do things like create region designs and plot arcs for the DLCs. While the managerial aspects of the job are satisfying in their own way, the ability to point to something concrete at the end of the day and say, "I designed/wrote/scripted that," is gratifying and caters to my old gamemaster instincts.

I got into this line of work through my hobby - gamemastering pen-and-paper Superworld, Champions, D+D (N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God, Temple of Elemental Evil), and Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play led to me trying to get my adventures and articles published, and from there, I got a few enemies and adventure books published for Hero Games' Champions (Underworld Enemies, Dystopia, Asylum, Widows and Orphans). Once that happened, I asked my editor, Steve Peterson, if he could recommend anyplace with a steady paycheck ($50 every few months wasn't paying the bills), so he gave me a good recommendation to Interplay Entertainment in California. I was living in Virginia at the time, so I flew out for an interview, they liked me, and I started as a junior designer. Over the course of 10-15 years, I got promoted upwards until I hit Creative Director, but even in my role as Creative Director, I'll sometimes jump into specific positions on a project (Senior Designer, Level Designer, Creative Lead, or even Lead Designer).

I didn't formally go to school for writing (I studied Architecture and English), but I wrote a lot and gamemastered a lot in my spare time, and that ended up being the best teacher. College helped by exposing me to certain literary works I don't think I would have found on my own (or at least quickly), and the fact that William and Mary had some brutally efficient grammar professors to hammer the rules into your skull was a plus.

2. Do you just write the dialogue for the characters, or do you also get to help design the personalities and names of the NPCs? What aspects of the DLCs did you work on (like, the plot)? I know you're known for the DLCs, but are there any parts of the base game you did? Also, I saw in the credits that J.E. Sawyer did Honest Hearts, and you did the others. Why didn't you do Honest Hearts?

I do both, and I enjoy both. I love specific character narrative arcs, I like creating "emotional narrative moments" (the poor man's version of a visual vista using narrative and plot moments), and oddly enough, I like making backstories for inventory items and magic items (which I got to do a lot of back at Black Isle) - it's like telling micro-stories that help round out an item's purpose and place in the world.

In terms of workflow, sometimes I'll suggest a character or general set of characters to another designer ("hey, Travis, can you make a bunch of appliances like in Transmetropolitan to round out the Sink?" - then Travis Stout ran with them and made them his own), other times I'll design the full character and write the dialogue (Dead Money, the Think Tank). In Honest Hearts, Josh did both as well - Travis wrote Follows-Chalk and Waking Cloud, among others, and John Gonzalez (Creative Lead for New Vegas who worked on DLC2) took the Happy Trails Caravan and the well-received Survivalist journals, while Josh tackled Graham and Daniel (there were other characters as well).

As for the division of labor, if I recall, Josh wanted to do Honest Hearts, so he did (the theme/plot was all him), and that worked out well since we were leapfrogging DLC production at the time, so that allowed me to focus on DLC3 and then 4 while DLC2 was entering the homestretch.

3. I don't know if the creators of video games spend time thinking up their own ideas of what goes on in the game world when the player character isn't there, but I've been thinking a lot about Big MT and what is was like before the Courier, or even the other visitors' arrivals.

We do both, but usually when you have a project or a pitch, they focus your ideas. It helps if there's already a direction to take the ideas in, but like I suspect most designers do, I have hundreds of pages of ideas, quips, cool lines, character names lying around on my computer that I sift through whenever I get a breather to see if I can make use of them.

>> Have you ever thought about what Doctor 8's voice sounded like, or what his true personality is? I can infer from the Courier's friendly responses and the fact he carries a Meeting People magazine he is (or was) very social, but the other doctors say that they "like him better this way".

Dr.8's current state in the game is the way I envisioned him in the first place - 8 being abstract was largely the point (and not that anyone ever wants to hear developer reasons for things, but it also cut down on resources and localization, since his "voice" didn't need to be localized or translated, so it was a low-impact way to get another colorful character in the mix without taxing our limits), and I think it makes him more sympathetic to be voiceless - much like ED-E and Dogmeat and other silent companions who stick with you - you can impose your own voice and personality on the little bits they give you (Seth McCaughey, one of our animators on the DLC, did all the ED-E's animations for DLC4, just like he did with the Think Tank chassis, and that did more to create emotion than anything I can write - especially the animations when Borous in DLC3 breaks down at his own memories). I feel the critiques of the other Think Tank regarding 8 are probably unfair in their negativity, and if they disliked his previous personality and voice, it may be because he was less annoying and more practical than anyone else. It's a mystery.

How does Mobius remember that he wiped his own memory? Are the memories erased at the discretion of the wiper, or does the act of erasing not get erased? Also about Mobius, how does a Think Tank ingest chems like Mentats, which you have to chew?

Mobius is able to reflect back on a number of his own bizarre actions that on a surface level, he can't recall easily - for example, he claims he was tripping on Psycho when he sent the threats to the Think Tank, but when questioned and queried, the real underlying logic of what he did reveals itself to him. Also, like the Think Tank, Mobius isn't a reliable narrator and what he claims to have forgotten isn't always correct when he puts his mind to it and walks back down memory lane - it's just a matter of focusing him (the more you speak to him in DLC3, the more focused he gets). Plus, in terms of reliability, he's had -many- experiments that haven't had the results he thinks they've had.

As for drug ingestion, I always assumed he just plopped the Mentats directly into his biogel through a side compartment and let them dissolve like Alka-Seltzer.

What did/does Dr. Dala actually do research wise? And why does the Think Tank think "formography" is so repulsive? They all seem very sexually frustrated as it is, so why are they so against this indulgence?

I always saw Dala as a bizarre botanist, toxicologist, and physician/surgeon, but I left it vague because after a few hundred years, they gravitated all over the place, as evidenced by Dala's insane number of doctorates. As for "formography," the Think Tank believes that being a big brain in a tank is the highest form of evolution, since... well, it's what they are. How could that be anything more than the highest ladder of the evolutionary scale? The fact that ANYONE would be obsessed or achieve any sort of stimulation from regarding a PRIMITIVE human form is just repugnant. Bleh.

And imo, the only sexually frustrated members of the Think Tank is really Dala, 8 attends to himself. Somehow. Sonically.

Dr. 0 seems very incompetent with machines... but yet he managed to build Muggy, who while is a psychological disaster, is able to perform the task he was created to do. Is his lack of skill perhaps due to the memory erasing? I know that might sound like a pointless question, but he does seem very confident in the fact that he is a "zero" and is basically useless, and I was curious if this was a mere side effect of more recent events.

0 had his moments - if his greatest creation is a tiny janitor bot that can only collect dishes, that feels in-character to me. Especially considering how far he missed his original target by (figure out what makes Securitrons tick and make them better - whoops!).

And lastly, what is Dr. Klein's true purpose? All he seems to do now is be the main voice, and overall boss for the Think Tank. What was his line of study? And what did he do that made him take place as "leader"?

Klein served the role of the "stuffy Dean of a college." He's the head lab manager, who is the voice of authority and the threat - (he's one of the more sane members and ones able to act with some level of authority). If he wasn't there, I don't think the Think Tank would have much of a sense of menace, and that's Klein's story role - to be a big, stuffy, and potentially dangerous jerk. That was my sole goal with him - considering how bat**** crazy the others are, I needed someone with a slightly level head.