Interview: Brian Fargo & Chris Keenan on Wasteland 3

Legendary developer inXile is taking the original post-apocalyptic RPG franchise in a radical new direction.

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Interview: Brian Fargo & Chris Keenan on Wasteland 3

After decades in the wilderness, the grand-daddy of all post-apocalyptic game franchises returned in 2014 when the Kickstarter sensation Wasteland 2 finally launched. A Director’s Cut soon followed, and inXile isn’t waiting another 25 years to bring us the next instalment – Wasteland 3 raked in over US$3 million in its Fig campaign this October. When we caught up with inXile founder Brian Fargo he was eager to tell us why the Desert Rangers were moving from the dusty Southwest to icy Colorado. 

“Visually, we wanted to do something that was different, than other post-apocalyptic games. Or even films. They’ve been for the most part focussed on the desert or urban areas, and not a lot on what those parts of the world would be like, in terms of nature taking over, merging with the cold. And also I think the cold is an interesting element from a gameplay perspective. Dealing with it almost like the way you deal with radiation in Wasteland 1 and 2. Also, NORAD is located [in Colorado], so it seemed like an obvious place to go, where our government goes in the case of a nuclear war. And then thirdly, we wanted to really focus on these factions we have here in the US, the Doomsday Preppers. Survivalists. 

“They’re very much of a mind that it’s all going to come to a head here pretty quick, and they’re stocking up on food and rations, and they’re ready for the end of days. And in this particular case, they were correct. And now it’s come, and these are the guys in charge of this area.” 

Producer Chris Keenan is also excited about the possibilities of this frosty new setting. “From a gameplay perspective, when we started talking about a variety of different locations, we kept riffing off of interesting things with snow. Thinking about fighting other guys on a frozen lake, and what sort of things can happen from that if potentially things break through, or explosives go off. Or guys hiding within snow, that have camouflage suits and are jumping out. It really opened up a lot of fun design possibilities for us.” 
Chris informed us that inXile will be building upon the code-base of Wasteland 2, and incorporating many fan-requested features. “When we were talking about the Director’s Cut, we took a lot of feedback. We didn’t have Perks or Quirks in the vanilla version, and we decided right off the bat: ‘That’s gotta be in there.’ Aimed shots was something that people were asking for. So we added those things. 

“One of the things from the Director’s Cut, moving forward, is we’re really looking into having a nice, fluid combat system. Turn-based combat, in itself, can get a little bit slow sometimes. And we really don’t want to have that wait time be on the player’s end. We want them to really act when they want to, to have that combat feel nice and quick and peppy.” 

Players also complained about their ranger squads feeling a little too independent. “They were a team, but they didn’t necessarily interact with each other a ton as far as combat goes. So we’re doing team-focussed abilities. You’ve got your tanky-type guy, maybe he’s your melee guy, he can turn himself into almost like a mobile shield. And provide some cover for some of the other guys.” 

The very first stretch goal reached unlocked the possibility of much greater customisation of character models. “People really miss not being able to see their armours. We had clothing elements that could change, but you couldn’t see your armours as you upgraded those. So those are going to be there, and then the ‘pieces of flair’ are accessories, that as you change your character, those things will all be visible as well, as you’re crafting your team.” 

Brian was particularly excited about the way banter will be handled in Wasteland 3, with the camera zooming in for a close-up view of the post-nuclear barbarians you’ll encounter. “When you played the original Fallouts, you would see those little animated clay heads. And isometric is great for tactics, but it’s not good for immersion and conversation. And so you’ll see from our pitch video when you bring that camera down, and you hear the guy talking, and you see him talking, that when it goes back up and you’re back in combat, you have a closer connection – it feels more real. And the dialogue has more meaning. To me, that’s a big upgrade, and taking us back to some of the original Fallout elements that people loved.” 

Players also asked for the chance to be way more evil, and they’re going to get it. “It really comes under the umbrella of reactivity, and choice and consequence, and giving the players more options. We don’t place morality on what people do. But we want to make sure the world reflects the morality of the choices they made. We like to roll things out to their natural and deep dark consequences whenever we can. 

“One of the things we liked about Wasteland 2 is there were multiple endings along the way. You didn’t have to play the game all the way to the ‘normal’ ending to win. Because what’s a ‘win’? It’s a narrative, right? You’re telling your own story. So we redefined what winning means. 

“In the case of Wasteland 2, you could take on the Ranger Base, and kill Vargas, and win as an asshole. Or, you could go to LA, and you could line up with the bad guy there. He makes you do some really nasty, amoral things before he trusts you. And that had a different ending. 

“We like that. We know the players like it. Those are big versions of what I just described, but there’ll also be smaller versions of it, because what I like about role-playing games is that it’s one of the few genres that can make you feel really bad.” 

There will definitely be a lighter side to Wasteland 3, though – the second stretch goal reached guaranteed that the game would have a talking AI limousine created to help Ronald Reagan defeat the communists. Brian assured us this wasn’t just a cheap Knight Rider reference. “Anything that inspires us from the 80s makes its way in there. But this is a Ronald Reagan, anti-commie talking car! This is no ordinary talking car.” 

Speaking of Reagan, there was originally going to be a faction inspired by this cowboy actor-cum-president in the last game. The Gippers were dropped from Wasteland 2, but they’ll finally appear in Wasteland 3 – though Chris stressed that the games comedy elements would not be overpowering. “Obviously, we’re telling a gritty story, and there were a lot of moments in Wasteland 2 that were dark, and we’re going to make more of a commitment to that in this one. It’s not going to be a campy adventure throughout.” 
Brian agreed. “For me, I’m more inspired by A Canticle For Leibowitz, or Swan Song, or The Stand, or The Road Warrior, or The Road. Being in a lawless society brings out the worst of mankind. And what does that mean, to throw everything up in the air and restart? And I think that’s an interesting premise. It’s a science fiction that doesn’t feel impossible. 

“Anything that inspires us from the 80s makes its way in there. But this is a Ronald Reagan, anti-commie talking car! This is no ordinary talking car.” 

“I think some other products have gone a different direction in terms of post-apoc, and I’m trying to re-orient us back to the roots of where this all came from.” 

There will be an optional co-op mode where buddies can help or hinder each other’s progress – for example, if you both do the side-mission to spike your rangers’ water supply with steroids they might start ODing. There will be Mad Max style vehicles to be used for offence and defence in combat, and there will be a huge visual overhaul, with the creators of the superb Stasis and Cayne techno-horror games brought on board to work their magic.  
“I think we very much speak to the fans of the original Fallout series. 1 and 2. The series has taken a very different approach in the last few years, in terms of action and monsters and things like that. I think ours is much more akin to what people loved about it. Which is, again, a very brutal, human-oriented, apocalypse for which cause and effect is very meaningful.” 

Given that Wasteland 2 ran a year late, it’s not entirely surprising that the projected release date for Wasteland 3 is Q4 2019. Brian told us that he tried to put plenty of buffer in there, in part to keep his investors happy. “Investors want a certain return, in a certain amount of time. I’d rather put a date out there that I might be able to beat, and not one that I’m going to be late on. We are going to kill ourselves to make sure we make that date.” 

For more details on Wasteland 3, visit inxile-entertainment.com

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