Did you know Obsidian originally wanted three playable races in Fallout: New Vegas? This is the part literally crossed out – struck through and coloured red – on the Fallout 3.5 treatment Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart showed me at the studio.
“Originally we had this idea where the player would be able to choose between three races: human, ghoul and super mutant,” he said. “It was just the engine…
“It really had to do with how all the weapons and armour worked. Trying to have them all work with ghouls and super mutants was just going to be – [Bethesda] felt like it was going to be a nightmare. It wasn’t like they said no but it was a very strongly worded, ‘We would really suggest that you not try to do that.'”
Obsidian and Bethesda began talking about Fallout in 2008/2009, when Aliens: Crucible and Alpha Protocol were both still alive. Aliens: Crucible would soon get the chop. “[Bethesda] was still pitching it internally so it was literally just an idea at the time,” said Urquhart. “We knew from the start it was not going to be Fallout 4 – that was the internal team’s.”
“It was always intended to be essentially a gigantic expansion,” added Obsidian co-owner Chris Parker.
“It was meant to be not the sequel,” continued Urquhart. “It was meant to be an offshoot project. But we were actually worried about that, about people thinking of it as just a big expansion.” Obsidian considered it to be more like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City or GTA: San Andreas, which were Grand Theft Auto 3 offshoots but full games in their own right.
Understandably, given the studio’s deep roots in Black Isle – the original creator of Fallout – excitement for the project was sky high. “I didn’t leave Black Isle because I wanted to make another Fallout,” said Urquhart. “I love making Fallout. I was lead designer on Fallout 2. I’m not in any way instrumental in the creation of the SPECIAL system but I absolutely participated in the creation of it.”
As Bethesda Game Studios had dibs on the East Coast of America, Obsidian took the West. “Someone threw up New Reno as one of the crazy things we did and then we saw Vegas and,” shrugged Urquhart, “we just went with it. From there it was like the ’50s had the Rat Pack, then someone threw out the idea there was the scene in Goodfellas where you get taken out into the desert and whacked and thrown into a grave, and it it all kind of turned that way.”
Bethesda didn’t need much convincing, given the history of Obsidian/Black Isle, so only a short proposal was written. “We put together a very short pitch, probably three pages,” he said. “The first time we pitched it we pitched it as Fallout: Sin City. Very quickly it got changed to Fallout: Vegas and then became Fallout: New Vegas.”
Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas would go on to become, without a doubt, the studio’s most famous game, of that Parker and Urquhart are unanimous. Fallout: New Vegas is also considered by many to be a better game than Bethesda’s own Fallout 3.
But months after release, Fallout: New Vegas would be remembered for something else: coming agonisingly close to – but not reaching – the 85 per cent Metacritic mark Bethesda stipulated for Obsidian’s bonus. The game scored 84.
“It was so much after – it all came out the day after we had laid everybody off for Stormlands [the cancelled Xbox One exclusive],” said Urquhart. “That was the day.”
“And what can you say?” added Parker. “You can’t get mad at somebody for a contract you signed. We signed a contract, it had very clear terms in it. ‘Oh we were really close…’ We didn’t hit it.”
“Also,” said Urquhart, “we didn’t put those terms in there. [Bethesda] added that bonus – we didn’t ask for the bonus. We just pretty much ignored it. As an independent developer, any of those Metacritic-type bonuses you just ignore.
“You don’t control testing, you don’t control promotion, you don’t control when the game ships. There are a whole lot of things you don’t control. That is in no way – and it’s really important for me to say this – an excuse.
“It is more when publishers try to change financial terms based upon things like Metacritic scores we say, ‘Look you have as much of an effect over those…’ You could ship the same game in the same way with two different publishers and the Metacritic would be different.”
But, he concluded, “It was in the contract, it was what it said. We didn’t put it in there and we signed it. I wasn’t crying over it by any stretch of the imagination.”
Disclaimer: Travel and accommodation for this trip was provided by Paradox Interactive.