Wasteland 3 Interview – Brian Fargo: We Want to Work on This Franchise for the Next Decade

Alessio Palumbo

Wasteland 3 wasn't demoed during last month's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, but we did get to sit down with inXile Entertainment founder Brian Fargo and Tim Campbell, Game Director on Wasteland 3.

Brace for a long read, but one that's brimming with details on Wasteland 3 and insight from their fresh experience as part of the Xbox Game Studios family.

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The game was recently delayed to Spring 2020, where it will launch on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It's going to be included on day one with the Xbox Game Pass subscription, too.

First of all, you've just announced that the game is now shipping in Spring 2020. How are you improving the game between this delay and the resources you've had since Microsoft acquired inXile?

Fargo: I can tell you that every developer in the world, if they can get more time, they'll take it. We've always wanted more resources to up our game, to have more animations, more visual payoff, just to bring the overall action variance up, have more time to spend in the iteration phase, increase our time to have localization. Across the board, there are all these things on the backend such as compatibility testing, user research labs, there's all this backend stuff that we don't normally get the time we do as a small company. They've given us the time to do all those things. So it's really the first time we've taken advantage of that to make the product better sort of across the board and all those different things. And in addition, we've brought on a bunch of top animators and artists, programmers, technical directors, and multiplayer experts. We just want to make the product better across the board.

Campbell: Yeah, the toughest part of game development is the last 10%. And that's really where Microsoft's involvement is helping us incredibly because we're able to take that last 10% and spend some more time on it and just squeeze an extra little bit of quality like a tonight and iterate for sure. And that's going to pay off in a lot of ways that I think our backers are going to really happy with. One of the most tangible examples of that is how a game like this is has a lot of dialogue, it has a lot of lines for conversations between the player and NPCs and we're now able to fully voiceover all of those lines. All of the conversations, all of the characters that you can talk to, all of the things that your party might say throughout the travels. All of that dialogue is voiced now with lip syncing and everything. And that's just one example out of many where this extra time is going to come back full circle in the quality of the product.

And the nice thing is that Wasteland 3 backers don't actually have to give up on playing the game this year. In order to get all that stuff we have two backer builds that will be going out before the end of 2019. We have a backer Alpha that will be going out to backers, I believe from the First Access tier, and that's in August of this year. That will be a very focused gameplay experience, we're looking for feedback on some specific things, so it will be kind of a constrained play experience. But we're looking for feedback on UI and how certain interactions are. And then we're going to follow that up in the Fall of this year a little bit later with the Backer beta that everybody who backed the game above the Correspondent tier will be able to play and that's where they'll be able to try out some of the bigger features like multiplayer or vehicles for the first time. I think what we've struck is a nice balance where backers will still be able to play the game and still be able to get a feel for it and get their feedback. But we're also able to take advantage of extra polish and iteration.

Multiplayer is one of the big new features for Wasteland 3. Can you talk about that a bit?

Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. That feature is one they're actually we're really excited about. It's a first for us with the Wasteland franchise, and it's something that I think is going to offer a new way to play the game. So we support two players co-op. Players can swap characters back and forth, split their party, progress through the game together. Depending on how they want to play, they can save and split up and progress the rest of the way through single player and potentially then join back up later on. It's kind of a very flexible way to play the game that will let people play single player and play multiplayer and kind of switch between the two when they want.

Can they somehow harm each other if they want to, going against the other player?

Campbell: No, we don't support direct PvP, it is a co-op experience. But we do look for ways where they can affect each other in the game world for sure.

Fargo: You can grief each other, maybe trigger an avalanche on your partner or something, but it's not meant to be PvP.

If I joined your game, could I make some decisions on your behalf?

Campbell: Yeah, because the game world is so reactive to player actions. It's not just dialogue choices, you could attack a faction, you could kill an important person, you could cause the game world to change in a way that I might not have wanted it to unfold. And that's kind of the neat thing, in co-op you can either play totally in sync with each other or you can be going about it your own way, and the other player is gonna have to live with the consequences.

Okay, does Wasteland 3 support just invite-based co-op or matchmaking too?

Campbell: Invite only.

Fargo: Also when we're playing together, you have your own instance of the game. I think it will save when you join an instance of the game. So if you come in and do all this crazy stuff, I have the opportunity to go: 'Okay, okay, I'm going to go this way and you play your own game, your own way'. Then if you and I are playing, you can go to bed and I can keep playing. And you get up in the morning and go 'Holy, what did you do?' Then you can continue to play or you can say 'I'm going to go back to this spot and just continue my way'.

I'm wondering though, when you have two players in the game, will each player get his/her own party?

Campbell: For balance reasons, we want to keep the two of them on the same NPC count. What happens is, in single player, you get a party of up to six characters and companions and everything. And when you play multiplayer, you can choose how to split that party between the players. So you're giving up control of the party between the two players, but not having, you know, double the number of characters. That's the sort of thing that would pose too many challenges for us balancing wise.

Yeah, that makes sense. I've noticed that destruction and physics in general seems to be much more detailed this time around.

Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. The nice thing is, that's an area we haven't explored much before. This is a new thing where the extra 10% that we're talking about, being able to iterate and polish, is enabling us to really kind of go to town with destruction. And we have ragdoll physics, we have kind of advanced shipping, we have barriers in combat that you can hide behind and get cover. And those are things that can actually get destroyed, leaving your characters exposed, vehicles can actually run over obstacles and crush them and knock things out of their way. So we've really, I think, done a lot of little things there that will add up to a really fun experience for players.

Another big new feature is the addition of player vehicles. How are these going to work?

Campbell: That's actually one of the areas in the game that I'm most excited about. You effectively dig your first one out of the snow. It's like this rusty baseline vehicle, and you can upgrade it throughout the course of the game, you find parts, you find technology, you're able to start kind of upgrading it. So it goes from kind of this clunker that's just barely hanging on to life all the way up to this rolling death machine with customizable turrets and upgradeable armor. We even go so far as to let you customize the hood ornament on the front of your vehicle. It's a really in-depth system and it's directly used in combat. It's how you traverse the roadmap, so you can drive around and do these different things and your vehicle's capabilities affect your party along the way.

What happens if it's destroyed?

Campbell: We have put systems in place there. Your vehicle can, in kind of a worst case scenario, get kind of hauled back to Ranger HQ as salvage and you can get it towed back there. There's not a bunch of rest stops and gas stations out there in the wasteland, these vehicles are kind of your shelter on wheels for surviving the nuclear winter out there, so you really don't want them to get destroyed. But we do have systems in there so that it's not game over when it gets destroyed and you can come back as a player.

Do you already have an idea of the average length of Wasteland 3?

Campbell: Yeah, we were aiming for 50 hours, which is about the same length as Wasteland 2. Now these things are, I'm just going to go on record with this, horribly tough to estimate. Because with a game where you can make so many different choices, you can go different ways to approach it. There are always shorter playstyles and there are always longer ways of playing the game. So we aim kind of in the middle, and then player experiences are going to vary shorter or longer from there. I know we targeted about the same length for Wasteland 2, I think it wound up being longer.

Fargo: Yeah, it's longer than that.

It may be a bit early to talk about this, but do you already have any plans for Wasteland 3 DLC in the future? 

Fargo: We have a full DLC plan, though I can't remember it off the top of my head.

Campbell: We want to really strongly support the game. We have a lot and not just in terms of patches and updates but new content as well, new levels, additional story, weapons and all sorts of things that will be rolling out.

We're releasing more concrete information about DLC plans later this year. But I can say one of the nice things going from an independent studio to a studio with the backing of Microsoft is that we're now actually able to plan much further ahead beyond the horizon in a way that independent studio that's going from project to project in order to just kind of keep everything going is not able to necessarily plan for. Before we might have not been sure about DLC plans or not been able to commit very far. And for this one, we're planning to support Wasteland 3 for a long time.

Fargo: We're hoping to work on this franchise for the next decade. This is our Fallout.

Right, especially now with Microsoft's resources... I remember you wanted to grow inXile, right?

Fargo: We've just hired a top animator, a new technical director, we've been adding on these people that we've been sorely missing for many years. We haven't really had a technical director and we haven't had enough animators around the company. The way I describe it, it's like a band, we knew we were missing a keyboardist and a bass player and we would make our music but we did it with what we could. But we've been missing some key roles that we've now been filling pretty quickly and you can really see the impact of what they're doing to our game, every day.

Campbell: We've been able to look at the game, not just that the trajectory it's on but where we really want it to be quality wise and then bring people in surgically to help with those different areas and that has made a huge difference to the team.

A lot of people fear that by giving up your independence to join a big company like Microsoft a studio could be losing some of its creative freedom. 

Campbell: I can say on the team level, the development side, we're ecstatic for the partnership with Microsoft, we are absolutely making the game that we want to make and we're making it better than we would have been able to by ourselves.

Fargo: Yeah, I think we're fortunate because Microsoft trusts us. I think that's always a concern when companies get bought, that's what they think. There's a natural sense of 'There goes the company now'. But really, they're like, we trust you. I mean, even when I start talking about what we want to do in the future, beyond that, I start describing in detail and they go 'We trust him'.

Microsoft just announced that Double Fine is joining Xbox Game Studios as well. I'm curious, did Tim Schafer talk to you about your experience as new additions to the family before accepting the deal?

Fargo: I haven't talked to him since February. Yeah, I knew what was happening. He did talk to me about the experience and what was it like. So indeed, he did.

It feels like all the bigger studios that used to do crowdfunding are now at Xbox Game Studios. Obsidian, Double Fine, you. And you're working together in a way, right?

Fargo: We're sharing with all the studios. I mean, we talked to the guys at The Coalition. If we're doing something that involves shooting, we'll pick up the phone and talk to them. If we want to do anything with water, you know, we'll talk to the guys doing Sea of Thieves and go 'Hey, just tell us about your water technology'. So that's what's great. I mean, everybody's like 'Kumbaya', everybody is sharing everything that they're up to, we're in constant communication, and we all want to help each other with our craft.

Wasteland 2 launched on the Nintendo Switch as well in September 2018. Any plans to bring this to the Switch, too, at some point?

Fargo: I'm not sure yet. I'm not sure if it can be done on the Switch. But we haven't thought about it. We're just hyper-focused on just getting this one done. We didn't plan to do the Nintendo Switch release of Wasteland 2 until much later. So maybe later. But yeah, maybe it's not impossible.

I got one last question. Wasteland 3 was crowdfunded on Fig, but for the next game, would you like to do something like a big third-person action RPG in one of your franchises? Or do you want to keep doing smaller, cRPG-like titles?

Fargo: I don't know. It's probably a little early to talk about what's next. But I think it's safe to say that our budgets will probably be increasing. But we have big things in the works, I can tell you that.

Good to know. Thank you for your time.

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