We talked with Brian Fargo about his 30 years in the industry, Interplay times, and of course upcoming Wasteland 2 …
We talked with Brian Fargo about his 30 years in the industry, Interplay times, and of course upcoming Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera.
It’s your 30th year in the industry, it’s also 30 years since you founded Interplay. Is it the right time to summarize all these years? Would you change something?
Brian Fargo: It’s has been quite a ride over the last 30 years… I founded Interplay in October 1983 with a contract from World Book Encyclopedia to make 3 educational games. There aren’t a lot of people left in the industry on the front lines like myself, and I chock that up to persistence, passion and some good fortune. It’s really been amazing to see this little hobby based business become the massive industry that it is today. It still blows my mind to see the graphic showcases at E3 each year, knowing the cost and disciplines needed to pull that off.
I’m not sure how I would change things, especially as my attitude is typically on a more forward looking basis. And I’m quite pleased to be where I am in my career right now. I am very fortunate to be working on games I am truly passionate about with the faith and trust of the fans. It doesn’t get much better.
You were one of the first developers taking the story and setting seriously, and trying to make games looked more like movies.
I think when we were all young, we had a certain envy about the way films could touch so many people and have such mass awareness. But I was more influenced by good storytelling in general, whether it came from a movie or a book and it all starts with clever writing. I was a huge movie fan when I was a kid, and I reads hundreds of books and thousands of comics. I’m very fortunate to be in a creative business making my own mark.
Why do you like post-apocalyptic setting so much?
I’m not sure why I have always been drawn to it, but it seems like most of my favorite comics, books and movies all had some kind of end of world type apocalypse take place. I remember reading “Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth” as a kid and my absolute favorite movies as a kid were “The Planet of the Apes” and “The Omega Man”. And of course later I became a HUGE fan of the Mad Max/Road Warrior series. In fact I spent quite a few times with the director George Miller and got very close at several times to make a game based on his series. With books I loved “Swan Song” by Robert McCammon and of course “The Stand” from Stephen King. I think the post-apocalyptic universes seem more plausible for the most part over straight up sci-fi, which makes it approachable as a subject.
Old good times at Interplay (fot. Brian Fargo)
In the mid-90 Interplay was home for biggest RPG franchises – Stonekeep, Baldur’s Gate, Planescape Torment, Fallout. Do you think it was a golden age for the computer RPGs?
I think you are about to see the golden age of RPGs come rushing back in the next few years, with what I’m seeing from Obsidian, CD Projekt and of course what we are working on. But most certainly there was a purity to the development of RPGs in the 90’s in which we were very attuned to our players. You could not make nearly the money on a game back then as you can today, and the budgets were a fraction of today’s big spends. The risk factors changed greatly as we left the 90’s and the pressure ramped up and created a lot of craziness. But I honestly see that purity and being in sync with the RPG players coming back full circle — in fact it is even stronger than ever.
I wonder if games published by Interplay fought with each other, since they were targeted for the same audience.
We did our best to have the RPGs have their own special sensibility such that the players could feel the difference but certainly you can argue that all RPGs compete with each other. On the surface you might think a Torment competed with Baldur’s Gate, but once you engaged into the product you would realize how different they were. And beyond that there is an element to timing involved with publishing games, that you try to keep the release dates from falling on top of each other.
What are your memories from cooperation with BioWare?
My memories of our work with Bioware was that it was very symbiotic with the Black Isle division. I was always impressed with the intellect and passion at Bioware, and I think Black Isle had a great role in helping shape those games, from scoring the music to helping with design. When we first licensed the rights to D&D, I remember being criticized for not thinking mass market enough, and it was a great pleasure to have that first Baldur’s Gate take off the way it did. Most people have forgotten that we kept the game in development past Christmas to make sure we had a robust product. And thankfully we did.
What happened after that? Interplay went public, Titus Interactive had major control of the company, your plan to switch to consoles failed – was there a way to avoid these events?
The answer to this question is a story in itself and too hard to summarize in a short answer, but the PC industry was not supporting our infrastructure and most every publisher had one big console success. We had hoped Shiny would deliver ours, but that was not in the making and we had outside investors who were pushing us for growth and a way to get their investment out. It was just a storm of bad things. The only way to have saved the company would have been to bring it down to its core business of PC and just have a handful of people to get it back on track. I had a plan to do so but my investors had other ideas and felt that they could do better. I no longer had control of the company so I flipped them the keys and wished them luck.
Was it hard for you to leave Interplay, or was it a chance for fresh start?
On one hand it was hard because being the CEO of Interplay defined me as a person and my role in the business, and suddenly that was over after 17 years. I loved the games and my people, but it was time to go, but I was also quite miserable as I got to spend almost no time on the games and all of my energy trying to pay down debt and fend off some pretty irrational stuff. One of my board members called it my character building years. It was pretty hellish at the end.
What is going to happen if Wasteland 2 won’t be successful? Is it going to have some impact on development of Torment: Tides of Numenara?
I’m not even going to entertain that thought, but Torment does not rely on the success of Wasteland. I think it is very important to understand that this process of working with the fans in an open environment makes it so much easier than in the past. Imagine back in the day we would work on a game and have almost zero feedback from the real buying public. We would have our paid QA department comment on it but that is not the same as releasing betas in the wild. We would have to take our best guess of when the game was right and ship it with our fingers crossed. I cannot imagine doing that now.
I’ve read that EA didn’t want to make Fountain of Dreams real sequel of Wasteland, and Meantime wasn’t a sequel either (and was eventually cancelled). Is it true that Fallout was meant to be Wasteland 2, but the rights were still in EA?
It is quite true that I pursued getting the Wasteland name from EA for many years and was denied. I finally gave up and decided to launch our own post-apocalyptic game which we called Fallout of course, and anyone who played both will notice the similarities and subtle overlaps. Fallout took many of the great sensibilities of Wasteland and pushed them to the next level and now quite ironically we are looking to push things still further with Wasteland 2.
What is you favorite element of Wasteland 2? How are you going do redefine the genre?
That is a tough question to answer, but we are trying hard to take the reactivity and mood to another level with Wasteland 2. One of the hardest things to do in making this game is creating tons of content that you know half the people won’t see unless they play the game again, and while painful creatively it makes for a more realistic world. You can have some simple NPC join you in the game and there will quite a few fantastic sequences attributed to him through the entire game that players would never see if they didn’t keep this seemingly unimportant figure. The writing is really first rate on the game and clearly comes from an adult perspective and experience. Layering on such a deep tactical combat experience over so much storyline combines elements that I have always wanted. And I have to say the radio chatter and its reactivity is going to bring the world to life in a strong way. We have a lot of pressure to deliver a classic.
Do you try to achieve in Torment: ToN the same quality of narration like in Planescape Torment? With book-like experience in dialogues and telling the story?
We know that one thing that people loved about PS:T was the focus on storytelling and using the conversation system to manage the world. Our crew of writers on T:TON are incredible, so people who love a literary vibe in an RPG will love it.
How modern video games can affect Torment experience? I mean checkpoints, lowered difficulty, radar, arrows showing where to go etc.
I think we have been very clear that the experiences we are creating have more in common with the old school games but take advantage of modern elements like configurable UI. The handholding aspects of some modern games are exactly what our backers don’t want to see, so people shouldn’t expect much help there. Discovery is a large part of the experience with these kinds of RPGs and too much sign posting can ruin that aspect.
Torment: Tides of Numenera
Which games (series) would you like to see on Kickstarter? Which one may get your money?
I have already backed 70+ projects and will continue to put money behind projects or people that I like. It’s super exciting seeing the games that are already in development thanks to Kickstarter and I can tell I have hundreds of hours of entertainment on the way.
How important is Kickstarter for the industry? Is it just a chance to revitalise some genres and series, or it’s something more?
I have always believed that the concept of crowd funding is so much bigger than just us and these few games that we are doing. It really is about putting the power and profits into the creator’s hands such that we can control our destinies and help others. Already you can see the effects of how the development community has come together in terms of promoting competitive games, sharing technology and even giving money to one another, this is not something you would normally see. The power of us sticking together will allow us to get some control back that has been lost. In addition you are seeing games get made like ours or Obsidian’s for example that would have never existed if not for crowd funding and that is a major item in itself.
What would you tell to your critics, saying that it’s been a long time since you’ve created decent game, and that your fundraisers succeeded only because of the sentiments?
Well certainly my experience with the publishers has not been very fruitful but I do my best when I am in control of my development. In fact I think the best creative work that is done in almost any entertainment industry is when someone has the power to make those critical sensibility decisions without needs for committees. But that said, our Bard’s Tale game is one of the highest user rated games on Google Play on Android and I feel quite good about the creativity and content we delivered on that. This wasn’t a game for core gamers, though, and I know some weren’t expecting that. I set out to make a light RPG parody and for that we accomplished the goal superbly. So now with Wasteland and Torment we have a goal of bringing back classic RPG gameplay and that is the sensibility we will deliver on, plus we have our secret weapon of the crowd. Every aspect of development is being vetted by the audience so there will not be some big surprise or disappointment at launch. The vision of the game and the first playable have been shared with hundreds of thousands of people and we are in sync.