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Fred Zeleny/Inside the Vault

Fred Zeleny > Inside the Vault
Icon vaulttec.png  Independent Fallout Wiki Source Texts - Developer Statements  Icon vaulttec.png

An interview with Fred Zeleny, part of the Inside the Vault series on the Bethesda Blog.



What's your favorite color?

Green, for me. It's a bit of a family color.

Do you have pets?

I've had more than I can easily count over the ages, from cats and dogs to rats and chickens. If you're raised in the country, you end up with a lot of animals around, and if you're of a writer-ish bent, you start naming them.

My favorite would have to be a big junkyard mutt we named "Hooligan". Every time I play Fallout, Dogmeat always reminds me of him - which makes it that much more personally painful when he inevitably gets caught in the crossfire. The wasteland is a hard place for man's best friend.

Are you married?

Not unless you count being married to my work.

Which of those two links would you rather use to describe how you earn your living? Link 1 / Link 2

Oh, definitely this one.

What's your job at Bethesda?

Quest designer, much like DoctorSpooky. I'm the newest addition to the design team.

What previous projects have you worked on at Bethesda and elsewhere?

Prior to this, I was a QA tester, hard at work in the bug mines all day. But before that, I've had a varied history of writing, teaching, programing, storytelling, and fine art - mostly around but not actually in the game industry itself. I like to think of all of that as having given me enough perspective to write well. After all, as Thoreau said, "How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live."

I'm not entirely comfy with the way that implies sitting down to write means you're done living, though. So let's get on to the next question.

What have you drawn on for inspiration in developing Fallout 3? Books, movies, music, etc would be fine, if you don't want to name any games.

There's a lot of ways to be inspired, so this would be a pretty long list. In terms of more general inspiration on my writing, I've been a long fan of Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett. They have good ways of providing interesting insights into familiar ideas, satirizing the real world in fictional settings, and simultaneously being light-hearted and very intense.

Obviously, there are more genre-specific items a-plenty that are inspirations to varying degrees - ranging from books like A Canticle for Leibowitz to old '50s television shows like Donna Reed to the original Wasteland, which I used to play as a kid with my dad on our Commodore 128. More generally, I'm most interested in things when they mash-up two contrasting elements to form a unique creation. As a result, I've enjoyed all sorts of genre-blends with varying degrees of relevance to the genre, from to Six-String Samurai to Deadlands: Hell on Earth. But there's nothing exactly like Fallout, of course!

On a personal note, I grew up at the end of the cold war, not too far away from what would be pretty strategic bombing locations, and my family all knew that if the bombs dropped, there was no amount of ducking and covering that'd save us. Instead, we planned that if The Big One came, we'd all climb onto the roof so we could at least enjoy the fireworks before the end.

There's a certain part of me that always thought that would be fun - in a grotesque, horrific way, of course. And it's the same part of me that enjoys the idea of wandering the wastes and seeing humanity try to rebuild afterwards, along with all of the missteps and troubles that make humans, well, human. And that's just one of the reasons I love Fallout to an unreasonable degree.

What was (or is) your favorite sci-fi television show?

I don't think I could pick a favorite. Serenity would definitely be up there (there's that blending of multiple genres, again), as would Battlestar Gallactica, both for the ways they focus on the personal stories of characters, rather than spending all of their time on the wow-factor of "Hey, look! We're so very science-fiction-y!" And while it's debatable that it's SF, and it's had a pretty lousy first half of this season, I really enjoy the intrigues and complexity of Lost. But I can see how a lot of people have been turned off by its hesitance to reveal its secrets and the start of this season.

What is your favorite (good or hilariously bad) zombie movie?

There are so many grand ones from which to choose! I could go for the tongue-in-cheek comedy of Shaun of the Dead, the strong adherence to the genre's foundations of Dawn of the Dead - either one; one defined the genre, the other revitalized it for a new audience - or I could go with the obscure but quite interesting art-film/love-story/zombie-movie called Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore, in the original Itallian). Again, like I said, I'm a sucker for the blending of multiple genres.

Do any of you play PnP RPGs? As a players or as a DM?

I've been playing them for almost two decades, now, ranging from classic D&D to hardcore wargaming to much more free-form storytelling and live-action roleplaying. I'm usually a player, because then I can focus on a single character's story in as much detail as I'd like - I don't like the stress of handling six fussy players on the fly. But when I have creative players and time to write up a variety of possibilities ahead of time.

Websites of choice?

I'm definitely an information-addict, so I've got about 50 different RSS feeds I occasionally follow, from local and world politics to game news to music to crafting blogs to humor sites and webcomics. And I've definitely had fun at SA and YTMND, although I've never contributed to either.

Faint-hearted or not?

Oh, I'd say I'm an optimist. I can be mighty cynical and grotesque at times, and everyone has their moments of despair, but overall, I make a strong effort to meet new people, see new sights, and generally find the good in life.

That said, I'm pretty sure I'd have a much, much more grim and stoic outlook if I lived in a post-apocalyptic setting. A smile is like water - refreshing and envigorating, but it dries up fast under the wasteland sun.

Bender or Zoidberg?

That's just cruel, making a person choose only one of them. And without even the gloriously surreal stupidity of Frye!

Feelings towards guns?

For myself, I've gone to the range a few times and I've fired a couple smaller hunting rifles at a friend's cabin, but I wouldn't qualify myself as a gun expert. I know enough to understand proper handling and basic firing skills, but not much more. For me, it's enough to know the basics, and to know when I need to ask an expert.

Of course, balancing that out is the fact that I'm a first degree black belt in shotokan karate and used to teach it. Granted, I'm many years out of practice, but the mental training stays with you forever. Getting back into practice and formally studying a few other styles is also on my far-too-long list of things to do when I have time.

Regardless of either, I'd rather talk my way out of a fight than see it progress to violence.

Any system shock 2 fans in the house?

Oh, absolutely. It's rare that I find a game so exciting and scary that I'm afraid to progress further, but so engaging that I find myself forced to do so anyway. It's an absolute masterpiece of its genre(s), and even of the videogame medium as a whole.

What's the last game you bought? did you like it?

Personally, I've got really eclectic tastes in videogames I'll examine, and even though my heart belongs to RPGs with good stories, I also play games ranging from hardcore empire-builders to puzzle games to action games. I'm often on the go, so I spend a lot of time with my DS, and I recently enjoyed Puzzle Quest on it. But other than that, I also bought Lord of the Rings Online (which is surprisingly deep and well developed for an MMO), am contemplating Paper Mario on Wii, and I absolutely need to get around to getting the Sam & Max episodic games, because I've been a fan of Steve Purcell's dog-and-rabbit pair since they were in comics.

Meanwhile, I've got a stack of games sitting next to my computer and consoles that I still need to get around to really delving into.

What games are you looking forward to on the horizon?

Bioshock's absolutely at the top of my list, and I'm very curious about Two Worlds and (to a lesser extent) Mass Effect. Considering how much time I spend at work, I worry I won't have the opportunity to really devour them the way I'd like, but it doesn't make me less excited.

In other areas, I'm curious about Odin Sphere, because it's been too long since I had a good 2D beat-em-up-RPG-adventure hybrid - the days of playing Guardian Heroes on my friend's Saturn are long gone. And somewhere, deep in my heart, I long for another sequel to be made in the Jet Set Radio series, although that's pretty unlikely.

Other than videogames, what are your interests? (Board games, reading, music, etc)
Quite a few, to be honest.

Every Thursday, I get together with friends and play a heap of board games, from quick ones like The Big Idea to longer ones like Arkham Horror. I love a good tabletop RPG, but I'm very picky about who I'll play with. I used to run and play in live-action roleplaying games (Changeling, with the Camarilla), complete with a silly costume, but it's been a long while since those days. I've got a pretty wide-ranging library of art books, pencil and paper RPGs, comics, and other assorted collections. Musically, I listen to everything, but find myself most often drawn to good mash-ups. I go out to clubs when I can arrange a trip with friends, and organize parties when I can't convince people to go out. I give massages so well that for a while, I considered getting licensed and making it my career. I go on hikes whenever possible, either out into the wilds or just through town, looking out for whatever interesting encounters I can find. I visit my family, play with my pets, and tend to a few plants that have been spawning in my family's gardens for longer than I've been alive. I study the philosophies behind different martial arts, and consider their applicability to modern day life. I talk with friends around the world, write in a couple journals, draw in charcoal, animate on the computer, and fiddle around in Flash. When I lived up in Pittsburgh, I organized and led a 31-artist public art project on the city's buses, and I still have a soft spot for riding public transit and starting odd conversations with other passengers. I collect the caps from each water bottle I drink at work, and make little sculptures out of them. I'm really fascinated by Alternate Reality Games, and especially by the work of Jane McGonigal, and if I had more time, I'd be delving deeply into her latest ARG, "World Without Oil".

In fact, there are a lot of things I'd do if I had more time. But making videogames is well worth it.

[On playing Fallout: BoS] How many showers did it take just to feel unclean after that?

As another person who bought it before reading any reviews just because of the Fallout name, I'll answer for him:

I don't know if I'll ever feel fully clean again. I so wanted it to be good, because it had been so very long since a good Fallout game. Nowadays, I keep the disc around solely to focus all of my hatred and scorn into it. But I try not to actually touch it, lest its fundamental badness rub off on me.

Hrm. Maybe next time I go to the shooting range...

What was the first video game you've played? If you could, would you make a sequel for it?

I think my first was on the Coleco-Vision, although I can't recall for sure which one it was. It was either Smurfs or Mr. Do. I'm going to say it was Mr. Do, because I don't really want to admit to having played the Smurfs videogame as much as I did back then.

And frankly, I think Mr. Do already had plenty of sequels. I'll let him stick with his castle and his roller-coaster. If I had to make a sequel for one of those old, old games, I'd probably most get a kick out of a sequel to Adventure, on the Atari.

Actually, it looks like someone else just made one. Oh man, I should see if my old Atari 2600 is still working.

And another one, more personal: what do you think of Russia? FO had many cold-war influences, you know

I assume you're asking more about the cold war, rather than Russia per se. Because, as I'm sure people here have already pointed out, the cold war enemy in Fallout was China, not Russia. For Russia itself, I can't speak from personal experience about it as a place to visit, having never been there. I'd like to go some day - there's a masochistic part of me that really wants to hike in Siberia, even if it does mean I'd freeze into a cartoon block of ice.

I lived through the end of the cold war, but being the kid of pretty open-minded hippies, I was never raised thinking the USSSR was some sort of pure evil menacing the world. But I certainly saw people around me who thought that, and I occasionally run into older folks who still spit invective about "the red menace."

Much more of my experience with cold-war influences were after the fact, with dark satires of the attitudes and fears of the time, ranging from Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 to Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove to West End Games' Paranoia. After having grown up exploring those sorts of authoritarian dystopias ("dystopiae"?), I was pretty well primed for Fallout to come along and offer a different take on that sort of satire - juxtaposing the time period's shiny, idealized vision of the future with the gritty, horrific, and all-too likely reality they were hurtling towards. The one we had been hurtling towards.

Does its cold war influence mean Fallout is outdated, in today's world? Obviously, I don't think so. Although so much of the imagery is classic '50s Americana, the concepts are timeless. Its popularity outside of America shows that. If I didn't know how big a following it has outside of the US, I would have assumed the Americana imagery would have been jarring for people who didn't grow up steeped in the culture it was satirizing. But obviously, that's not the case.

Any of you guys into what would be considered "hardcore" tabletop wargames like: SL/ASL, World in flames, any version of third reich, Empires in Arms and so on
To be honest, I've never made it through any of those, as my eyes start to glaze over when I deal with tabletop wargames that have dozens and dozens of chips and tiny pieces. After a certain point, the bookkeeping and tabulation gets much more complicated than the game itself, and I begin to be frustrated by all of the work it takes to play. For that sort of thing, I'll gladly go to computer games and let the processor do all the bookkeeping for me.

The closest I've come to that is playing through Bloodbowl leagues, Necromunda campaigns, the occasional session of Hero Quest (or occasionally Warhammer Quest). The fact that your team/gang/character evolves and grows over time is addictive to me. Also, I have a deep and abiding love for Fantasy Flight Games' Arkham Horror -- I know it's not a strategy game in the standard sense, but it's got almost enough pieces and cards and tokens to feel like one at times.

They're hardly "hardcore", I know, but I have fun with them. I keep meaning to get into the slightly-harder-core Warmachine or Hordes, but I can never decide what faction I want to play. Spooky, you vile tempter, getting me addicted to even more games!

Have you visited &/or toured any nuclear missile silos, nuclear powerplants, or military bases/bunkers of any sort?

I've toured a power plant or two, and I've spent time on military bases, I haven't been in silos or bunkers personally. But I've also trekked through plenty of wild landscapes, old steam tunnels, abandoned buildings, and decrepit steel mills that have slowly been overrun by squatters and animals. Y'know, the sort of sites one might find in a post-apocalyptic area.

Who are (or were) your favorite male and female sci-fi actors?

Well, there are a lot of damned fine actors and actresses who've done SF roles but aren't exclusively limited to SF. For example, Patrick Stewart is a hell of an actor, but Jean-Luc was only one role he's played.

That said, I think I'd have to go with Nathan Fillion, who played Mal in Firefly and Serenity. I admit, I am (was) a sucker for the show, and it killed me that it died before its time. So maybe it's my love for the show talking, there. Perhaps once I have breakfast, I'll think of another actor or actress.

Favorite cartoon character?

Are we talking all animated cartoons, or just "classic" cartoons (eg, not anime)?

If we're just sticking with the "classics", I'm torn between Bugs Bunny and Wiley Coyote - both for their creativity and wit, one for using them successfully, and the other for his determination.

If we're opening the field up to anime as well... That gets a lot harder to choose. I'll have to get back to you on that one, since I'll have to compare and contrast characters from my collection.

What would you consider to be the most exotic food (or species: e.g. roast iguana) that you have tried?

I've had barbecued alligator, although it wasn't as good as when I ate emu.

I noticed that everytime someone mentions a 'table top game', it turns out to be a minis game like Confrontation, W40k, Necromunda... don't you guys play any other type of games? Lke Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Caylus or Settlers Of Catan?

I still consider Catan to be one of the greatest board games ever made, and from the look of the number of expansions it's had, I think a lot of the world agrees. On my latest birthday, my mother made a batch of Catan gingerbread cookies in the shapes of the pieces, cards, and counters, and they were very, very popular around the office. It's very hard to play Catan when you keep eating all of your resource cards.

Did any of the devs play any of the palladium games? We spent many of nights playing rifts. I remember when fallout first came out, I bought it because it reminded me of rifts.

I played Palladium Fantasy, Rifts, a brief few sessions of Nightbane, and more TMNT than I should really admit to. It was fun enough back when I was pulling all-night gaming sessions with high-school friends, and I remember them fondly. But looking back with a designer's critical eye, the amount of power creep over the books really bugs me - especially in Rifts. It seemed like every time an expansion book came out, it was full of OCCs and RCCs that made all of the previous books obsolete. And when a juicer or a glitterboy suddenly isn't powerful enough for the party, then there's a serious problem.

Obviously, Rifts is mighty far from the Fallout setting - the only real connection is that both worlds are pretty badly ruined. But there's no '50s cold-war stylings, and there's way more freaky things from other planets and dimensions mixing up the scene and themes. TMNT's After The Bomb could be a closer fit, if it had the retro stylings and the mutants weren't all animal-based, and so forth. But I can see how enjoying either of those could lead someone into checking out Fallout for the first time.

That said, as with any PnP RPG, the real enjoyment depends mostly on the people around the table. A good group can make any system fun, and a bad group can ruin even the best system.

How do you feel about the negative comments and predictions taken by some of the Fallout community? Has it affected your opinions in anyway? What do you feel towards such pointless and nonconstructive comments?

Well, that last question was a bit leading, wasn't it? But I think I get your gist.

I used to dread the idea of posting on the forum, because I had heard (and seen) so many horror stories on various fan fora - not even just on games, but on all sorts of topics across the internet. But having had the chance to talk to folks on this list, and getting to recognize some of you as individuals, it's been a lot more pleasing and rewarding than I had expected. A lot of you have provided valuable insights and perspectives on what you most loved about the game, and I really enjoy the discussions - even if I can't talk about anything particularly juicy, yet.

As for the "nonconstructive comments", I can entirely understand the anticipation and anxiety that a lot of Fallout fans have about us working with the franchise they've loved for a decade. Hell, even I occasionally feel anxiety about being able to live up to what I consider two classics in the medium - any creator does, to some degree. And considering how badly the loyal fans have been burned in the past, I can understand the bitter distrust of anyone else with it - you can only get screwed over so much before you get mean. Add that to the long, long wait since a game worth the name came out, and you have to expect a certain degree of frustration and nastiness.

So there are a lot of negative comments that I don't really mind - in a lot of cases, I chalk them up to worried but well-intentioned people blowing off steam and venting frustration. And that's no problem, because I know how they feel, and I don't begrudge anyone the occasional complaint. Especially not when they're intelligent and reasonable. I'd much rather hear a well-reasoned, harsh critique of my work from someone who respectfully disagrees with my choices than receive vapid fawning and bootlicking from someone who only likes my work because I've got a fancy logo next to my name. At least the critique can lead to better work in the future.

The only thing that bothers me - and this happens on all over the internet, not just here - is when someone goes way out of their way to find something "bad" about an otherwise fine piece, and uses that smaller imperfection to tar the whole piece as being terrible. That's the sort of thing that can be frustrating to any creative type who's pouring their heart into their work, and that just hurts the final piece. And we all want the final piece to be the best it can be - even when we don't all agree on exactly how it should be.

What are your favorite webcomics?

I read a lot of them, but the only ones I slavishly follow Girl Genius and Order of the Stick. I like Penny Arcade, but at least as much of that is for the writing of the news posts as for the fine comic itself. I also consistently read and enjoy 8-Bit Theater, Perry Bible Fellowship, Dresden Codak, Diesel Sweeties, and VG Cats.

Tell us about the most funniest moment in your life (wierd, i know but really revelant IMO)

I like to think I haven't hit the funniest moment in my life, yet. Considering the weird situations I get myself into, I have every confidence that the funniest moments of my life will also be my last. Hey, if you've got to go...

So far, the times I've laughed most uproariously generally involve a handful of friends, a few hard ciders, and a tabletop game that's mostly just an excuse to get together and bull(poop). And for most of them, you kind of had to be there.

What system do you think models combat the best?

As in, most realistically? I'd have to go with GURPS (at least, when using the hard, realistic rules), but the downside of that sort of realism comes at the price of combat being a real pain to actually play through. Detailing actions for every second gets real old, real fast.

Same as above but replace best with most fun

"Fun" is one of those terms that means different things to different people. I've had great fun in combat in Toon, White Wolf's Storyteller/WoD system, Amber, Feng Shui. For me, a lot of the fun of a good game comes from the people involved, and those systems have very loose rules sets that really let a GM and players describe things outside of hard and fast rules. And that means people inclined to have fun can be very fun.

For a good balance between the poles of "strict realism/mechanics dependent" and "very simplified/storytelling dependent", I generally like to go with the d20 system, or some modified variant of it, like Mutants & Masterminds. It's not strictly realistic, of course, but it's reliable, internally consistent, and still leaves open space for players and DMs to add descriptive flair to the mechanical effects.

Which system do you think gives the greatest scope for Roleplaying?

Again, a lot of people have very specific definitions of "roleplaying". For me, it's being able to tell and develop a story as I like within the game world, ideally with the ability to make major impacts on it, modulo my skill and luck in the game itself, even if that means how I make use of my character's skill and luck. This may or may not coincide with the capital letter definition you're using.

With that definition, I find that the best environment for roleplaying is a live-action game, because it really immerses a player in the character - you move, speak, dress, and think like your character constantly for the entire game. Also, the high player-to-storyteller ratio in LARPs generally means that good players are encouraged to create plotlines and drama to entertain and engage other players as additional storylines auxiliary to the central plots brought in by the storytellers. And when you've got about 20 people creating their own stories and intertwining with stories others are creating, you can end up with an amazing experience that no one GM could have created on their own.

It can lead to difficulty when your character is very different from your real self, but that's what rule mechanics and group imagination is for. The real problem is that I'm generally dissatisfied with most of the live-action rules (and some of the larger organizations), so the best I find in this area are small troupe live-action games with home-brewed rules. It's been a while since I found a group I enjoyed playing with.

Roleplaying an extention of your self only with new abilitys/ Roleplaying a character that is nothing like you in real life, which is most fun for you?

In the innumerable characters I've played, I find I most enjoy when I play something that builds upon an aspect of myself that I don't feel I've explored much - sort of like "roleplaying a character that's like a version of you that's not much like you as you are". As I grow into the character, I find myself exploring new perspectives and gaining new (real-world!) skills and insights into my own life from my characters.

This happens fastest for me in live-action games, because I'm so immersed in the experience, but it's happened with characters from all sorts of systems. These have included a pathetic love-sick swashbuckler, a steely neo-tribal urban shaman, a rambunctious and good-natured barbarian, a deeply deranged and frighteningly perceptive child, a world-wandering martial philosopher, and a slick-talking metropolitan with an eye for adventure. All very different, and each one gave me a new way of looking at the world that's helped on occasion.

Systems with Merits/flaws, they help define your PC or do they strightjacket your Roleplaying?

Much like D&D's alignment system, it depends on your group. Some GMs will be very strict and force you to stay in line with a mechanic, while others will let you have more leeway as long as you're still following the spirit of the game. As game mechanics, I'm fine with them, although they can be abused.

Homebrew worlds or predefined when playing?

Homebrew worlds or predefined when GMing?

I like well-developed and tested mechanics systems, so I end up going with pre-published rules. But for the setting, I like a place that's been generally defined so the players can all understand the universal things, but so the GM can fill in the details they want.

Most Unique system?

Most unique? That's a hotly contested title in the field of imagination. I'll go with Deadlands (all three flavors taken as a whole), because it's one of my favorite of the more unique systems. Also, any system that uses poker hands for magic spells has got to have something going for it.

Four pages of indepth character background or ad-libing all the way?

When I begin a character, I go with little more than a concept. Over the course of a couple sessions, I get a feel for how they play and occasionally ad-lib a few concepts for them. But as it firms up in my mind, I end up writing a ridiculous amount of concept story for them.

How do you distinguish between people that just are very out-spoken and want this or that for X number and reasons and the people who really cares about the game?

For me, the first and foremost thing that gets my attention is respect. A person who respectfully disagrees with what we've done and makes their arguments with reason and without hyperbole or name-calling will always get my respect in return, even if I disagree with their arguments. I generally end up reading and considering their argument, discussing the matter with them (when I can talk about it, of course), and maybe coming to an agreement in the middle, or at least an understanding.

People who don't show respect (calling people names, using hyperbole, making prejudged assumptions, trying to start fights, etc) tend to get their arguments ignored. In fact, the nastier they are, the faster they get tuned out. This happens even if their points are very valid - hell, it happens even if I agree with them entirely. Of course, this isn't limited to me and people on fora. I find that most people do this, in most situations. It's all part of human communication.

That said, I've been pleased with how respectful a lot of people have been on these "meet the dev" threads. And there have been times already when I've had ideas inspired by some of the conversations with people on here. One of those brainstorms is the reason why I had to stop answering and put my nose to the grindstone a couple days ago, to make sure I wrote everything down while it was still buzzing in my brain.

So, yes, in that way, some of the fans on the board have had an influence on my work. It's not necessarily the "loud, vocal minority," but it is a "respectful, reasonable minority," if that makes any sense.

How do you work when creating a new character, what do you start with and how do you improve said character?

Well, every writer has their own methods for coming up with a character. For myself, ever since I was writing in school, I've found it helps to start on the conceptual level, usually based on what I want for the setting/story/themes and then build out details from there. At this stage, they've very rough archetypes, but it's still important to stay away from characters that are all-joke or all-serious or the like. The line between archetype and cliche is thin, but very important.

After I've got a general sense of who they'll need to be, I'll brainstorm a few concrete examples, often using a mish-mash of real-life people I know and traits I've observed, modified for the setting - mostly because I know a pretty wild variety of folks. I end up delving into details I like and throwing away details that detract, and playing with all sorts of connections to the world around them. Like real people, not everything about them fits with their overarching concept, and there's always one or two unexpected touches. Those are the sorts of imperfections that make characters seem more realistic, I find.

Before long, my original concept and my fleshed-out details meet in the middle, and I've got someone I feel is a pretty interesting character. I've got this character living in my head, and I find it's easy to fall into their voice and attitude - I blame that pseudo-schizophrenia that comes from having played RPGs all one's life. At this point, I just write a ridiculous amount for the character, and it's just like Gene Fowler said: "Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."

But as I'm writing the first draft of their dialogue and so forth, more and more ideas occur to me. I may realize that the character being put in situation X may be very amusing, or how devastated they'd be if event Y happened, or how well person Z would act as a dramatic foil to highlight both of their characters. So I go about seeing how I can work those in without it feeling forced or detracting from the overall experience.

And before long - POW! - a character is born!

Do you ever get a perverse urge to drop very vague hints about upcoming games into the forum and watch the chaos ensue?

Back around April, my evil alter ego really wanted to spread a false rumor that the Fallout movie rights would be sold to Uwe Boll, but that was just too terrible and disgusting to think about, even as a joke. After an epic battle on the roof of the building, I banished my nefarious doppelganger to a place beyond time and space. Now he never writes, and it gets kind of lonely.

What are some of your favourite backgrounds/worlds when it comes to gaming?

For tabletop gaming, I go for the weird hybrid worlds: Deadlands (all flavors), Eberron, and so forth. I wouldn't say they're "the best" settings or anything, but I enjoy them quite a bit.

What is your favourite Discworld book and why? Also, who is your favourite Discworld character?

I bounce between Weatherwax and Vimes for my favorite characters, both for the very tight line they walk between light and dark - in a way, they're very similar characters, and I'd love to see Pratchett write a book where the two interact to a larger degree. As such, I tend to re-read most of the books featuring them, re-reading about two every year. I'm also very fond of Death, especially in Reaper Man.

I also think his Tiffany Aiching books are quite excellent, and I would have loved to have grown up with them. As it is, I'm enjoying pretending to be a grown up with them, so that's almost as good!

If they actually invite me to interview for a QA Tester position and I get hired, how often can I take smoke breaks? And a follow-up: does anyone, be honest, make it out of the dungeons(testing) and into the slave pits(development)?

For smoke breaks, you get banished to a place beyond time and space, but at least you get to hang out with my exiled evil alter ego. He tells some pretty good stories, but he's always trying to bum cigs from you. Oh, and to corrupt your mortal soul. But the cigs thing is what really gets on my nerves.

Also, I worked in QA before I moved up here. It can be done, and I recommend toiling in the QA pits as an excellent way to learn about the industry from the bottom-up. I don't think QA gets as much respect as it deserves in this industry, although we're pretty good, here.

What's your favorite alcoholic drink?

If it's a nice, formal event, I'll sip an Isle of Islay scotch whisky neat. If it's a more informal shindig, I'll stick with Honey Brown or Woodchuck Cider. If it's a rip-roaring band of miscreants looking for trouble, I'll go for straight Baccardi 151, because I take any excuse to breathe fire.

How about Oblivion then? Do you feel bad about it?

I'll add the same caveats that Socrates200X did. In fact, I've got even less position to judge the game, since I wasn't in the design staff in any way during any part of its creation. I'm hesitant to critique it, because I know how hard the work is, I know how dedicated to the work all of the developers are, and I know how often I take naps in my cube, leaving my kidneys very vulnerable to stabbing.

It's important to note that these are only my opinions as a dedicated player of the game with a designer's eye, rather than as someone who actually worked on it. But over my time as QA, I've played well over 2,000 hours of Oblivion, in much buggier and more incomplete states than the product that was shipped. And I still enjoy playing the final version.

Personally, I thought Oblivion was a big advance in RPGs of its day. It provides freedom of direction and play-style that hadn’t been seen in any RPG since the heydays of Fallout, System Shock, and other classics in the field. Its expansive size ensured that players who enjoyed it could lose themselves in it for days, weeks, and months and still discover new things. And the inclusion of the construction set meant that players were free to easily change elements of the game they didn’t like, and to create new experiences for others.

But it's important to point out is that nobody here thinks it's perfect. Like any finicky creative types, we're painfully aware of the flaws in the final piece. And, like any creative types, knowing about those flaws means we can focus on overcoming them in our next piece. That's one of the reasons I'm always working on writing more dialogue for characters and adding options to quests.

This awareness, coupled with more resources to work with – thanks to the commercial success of Oblivion – means we’re set to make our next work better than our previous. And that’s always the goal of any creator, isn’t it?

I also gotta ask you, did you happen to catch the movie adaption of The Hogfather?
I was very excited to see that it was being made, but not so excited to see that it wasn't being broadcast over here in the States. I'm hoping to buy a copy of it, but I'm thinking I'll wait until it's a little closer to the winter season. Besides, I've got plenty of stuff to read, watch, and do!

What kind of education do you devs have and has it in anyway helped you as a game developer?

As Megan just said, I went to CMU in Pittsburgh, where my illustrious path to adventure began as a "Bachelor of Humanities and the Arts." Effectively, I was a double major in Creative Writing and Fine Art, and when I went to college, my goal was to become a great comic book writer and artist. It wasn't long before I decided that games and interactive media were far, far more interesting for storytelling, and I spent almost as much time playing games with fine folks like GhostGirl and DrSpooky as I spent doing the tremendous amount of work that CMU piles onto all of its student-slaves.

Thankfully, I found extra time by forsaking sleep forever, a vow that lasted until exactly two days after my graduation. At that point, I collapsed in a heap and slept in my parent's basement for nearly three years, crushed by the realization that, even from a prestigious school, a degree in writing and art doesn't really get you much work. Perseverance and creativity landed me in jobs writing dialogue for artificial personalities, working at a bookstore, being a part-time animator, and other odd adventures, but those are tales for another time.

In the time when I was awake, I spent hours poring over books on animation, programming, and writing. I wrote and animated a 3-minute short retelling of the tale of Pygmalion & Galatea, programmed a few websites in Flash, and kept an increasingly surreal journal of whatever writing struck my fancy at the time. And I played a lot of games. And between all of that work, I taught myself almost as much as I had learned at CMU - although I didn't meet nearly as many new people.

The education from college was a good eye-opener, but all it really served to do was to show me how much more there was to learn on my own. That took dedication and hard work - which didn't come from going to college, but it did help me get through it. Ultimately, the biggest benefit I got from my time at college was the people I met - friends who provided me with experiences, inspirations, and perspectives that have helped me in every step of my life.

Which one is your favourite of the artworks/posters (including the first E3 poster) so far, and how come you like that particular piece?

Well, I'll go with the "Prepare for the Future" poster. But that's only because my main favorite isn't up yet.

Cheesy question: What's the story behind your username?

I've been signing my work "FZ!" for a long, long time, partially because they're my initials (I'm proud to share them with Frank Zappa) and partially because I'm generally excitable. Hanging around programmers and mathematicians at CMU, it was only a matter of time before someone pronounced my signature as "Fizzbang".

For fun, what was your favourite quest in Oblivion?

Jumping places I shouldn't have been able to reach. Then again, since I played Oblivion for 2,000+ hours as QA, I had to be entertained by little things like that, or I'd have lost my mind.

Are there any particular types of settings that you would like to see more in RPGs today? For example steam-punk, post-apoc, low-magic fantasy, present day stuff etc etc.

I have an inordinate love of steam-punk, mana-punk, gear-punk, and most any setting that could be described by adding "-punk" to the end of it. If there was a "neomythical-surrealism-punk" RPG, I may never stop playing it. Except to make more games, of course.

But really, any well-conceived setting that lends itself to the development of interesting stories will catch my attention. At the moment, I'm really enjoying the Lord of the Rings Online MMO in the spare moments between work - they did an excellent job of integrating the (fairly standard) MMO mechanics into the really rich lore of Tolkien's world.

Star Wars or Star Trek?

Firefly. Think of it as "star-western-punk".

I guess you guys already decided the order the concepts are released? Can you use your writer influence to get the Fallouty concepts moved up sooner?
That's all out of my hands, I'm afraid. I know it's hard after so long, but have just a little more patience.

Question: Where are you going to spend the apocalypse?

In the cold, unforgiving ground, providing nutrients for whatever life-form happens along after me.

Why did you join the Fallout 3 team, Because of dollars or because you were a fan?

I absolutely got into the industry (and this company in particular) because of love for the medium, and for Fallout in particular. In fact, I quit a higher-paying job as a Flash designer/programmer just to take a chance at getting hired here. For me, it's absolutely all about the love.

As far as the dollars go, I think people have a rather inflated image of how much game developers make. Obviously, there are a few really big names that have made a fortune, but it's not like we're riding on yachts or driving around in sports cars. In fact - to tie it back to a previous question - I'm still driving a beat-up, 10-year old Honda Accord with over a quarter-million miles on it because my uncle gave it to me for free.

Caps or Gold Coins?

When I got the collector's edition of Oblivion, it came with a replica golden septim coin, like in the game. It's a nice little keepsake, and it's got a substantial feel to it. But after playing a character up to level 30-something, I realized he was running around carrying nearly twenty thousand of those coins. That's gotta take a lot of strength, especially with all of the jumping I was doing.

So, I think I'd prefer a bottle-cap based currency. They're lighter, more colorful, and as they say, "Drink a Nuka Cola - get a free cap!

Do you find that understanding how games are put together increases your enjoyment of them or makes you notice the flaws more?

Having done time in the harsh and unforgiving Bug Mines of QA, I've developed a seventh sense for spotting game bugs. But it also means I've learned a lot about what sorts of things cause bugs, so I'm really impressed when a large or ambitious game has only a few bugs, rather than the thousands and tens of thousands that I know must have been found and removed.

What do you think is the most important thing for a man of your profession, game developers - education, natural talent, desire? Or something else?

Dedication. Education can show you what works, talent can give you a head start, and desire can make you take risks, but to actually put in the massive amount of work to make an idea into a real game takes long, lonely hours of work in front of a keyboard. Anyone can have a good idea, but not everyone has the dedication to make it real.

Is Polamalu a god?

Yes, he is. Although last season shows that I should have sacrificed a real chicken to him, rather than just eating a bucket of friend chicken while wearing my Polamalu jersey.

FLOWER, favorite FLOWER?

Well, it just about never flowers, but I've got a deep fondness for aloe. I've got an aloe on my desk that's a cutting from an aloe that's been in my family since before I was born. After all, my family's always had a green thumb.

What TV shows do you guys like to watch?

I don't watch many - that's time better spent playing games! But I do enjoy watching Lost, especially since it's back to being good. When Battlestar comes back, I'll be glad to add it back to my schedule, too.

I also enjoy catching random episodes of the Daily Show, Colbert Report, Scrubs, Futurama, and random Adult Swim or Cartoon Network shows, when possible.

I also wonder how Fizzy feels about the Steelers' chances in the 2007 season now that Tomlin/Arians are actually planning on utilizing not one but TWO tight ends in the red zone. I'm particularly excited about the addition of Daniel "Greater than Moorman" Sepulveda and his killer aussie roll. How do you feel about that pick? The season? J Peezy riding quietly into the night?
Honestly, my in-depth sports knowledge is pretty poor - I just get to know specific players, the character of general teams, and the sort of storyline that a team develops over a season. Spooky's the one I turn to when I want to understand the finer point of a particular play or the intricate politics of a pre-season signing.

Really, I somehow missed the standard sports upbringing that most folks had, and I only recently learned to appreciate football for the strategic and dramatic elements. As far as other sports go, I really only care about martial arts or the occasional fringe sort of sport. Speaking of which:

Do you agree that the Suns got screwed over in this years NBA playoffs?

Yeah. Things were already rough for them, and then they realized they were playing basketball instead of an entertaining sport. That's just gotta hurt.

What is the devs' favourite fictional weapon?

The Flying Guillotine. And none shall defeat me in its use!

Does anyone mind explaining what Softworks means?

A softwork is a hearty cave-mold that grows in lightless, static-charged caves and is indigenous to the eastern US seaboard. Although difficult to artificially cultivate, many attempt to farm it for its meaty texture, satisfying aftertaste, and wildly hallucinogenic properties when imbibed with caffeine.

Puritan settlers first discovered the massive yields of softworks near the colonial outpost of Beth's Day, and their population was ravaged by mass insanity as they added the cave-mold to their traditional diet of grain, eggs, and the early pre-cursor to Mountain Dew, known as Sap of the Cliffside. Those that survived and found their pants and frocks made sure to ban use of softworks - a law that was carried on when the United States was officially formed by the Illuminati's signing of the Declaration of Undependance at the Secret Constitutional Congress of 1772.

Over the years, smuggling of illicit softworks became a major criminal enterprise, and the Spanish-American War was fought primarily between US drug enforcement officials and the private army and alien technology of the softwork kingpin Antonio B'narlionth the Third, King of Spainland and Heir to the Fifth Galactic Throne. Ironically, it was during this war that humanity discovered another property of the softwork: application of a patch of softwork spores to the skin provides immunity to alien mind-control weapons. This discovery ensured the survival of the United States - and the world.

In recognition of the noble deeds of the humble softwork, governments of the world declared it to be an Honored Cavemold, and it has been adopted as the official cavemold of many nations. The United States was more subdued in its praise, and merely legalized its use, ushering in a new era of industrialized softwork farming.

The largest of these farms was founded on the first known softwork cave, on the site of old Beth's Day. Since then, the underground complex of "Bethesda Softworks" has been responsible for some of the highest quality softwork exports, custom-bred for a variety of leisure, entertainment, and alien-thwarting purposes.

Either that, or it's just another term for "software." I probably should have paid more attention to the orientation video.

Do you like to code to music or are you more of a quiet coder?

When I'm working with script or doing other mostly-numeric work, I listen to anything. But I have a lot of trouble writing dialogue when listening to anything with vocals. For that, I've got a separate playlist of non-vocal songs - chiptunes, techno, soundtracks, ambient, etc.

Constantly code small amounts or reel off 200 lines in the last hour?

I spend a lot of time mulling ideas over, writing down ideas, and then building on them and adding depth or trimming fat where I can. So I'll write a whole bunch at once, sit back a bit and think (maybe while posting here), and then go back and take a fresh look at what I've done to see what can be improved.

Actually, Warren Ellis just wrote a good description of this sort of writing technique on his production blog about the Castlevania movie.

Can you name the game that the phrase "War has never been so much fun" is from? (without the use of google or other searchy thing) tongue.gif

Cannon Fodder, by Sensible Software, which I used to play on my Amiga 500. I still remember being astounded by the fact that it was a videogame with an opening song that had voices and everything!

In fact, I still have a copy of that song on my iPod.

"Go up to your brother, shoot him with your gun. Dying in the sun, so much fun! War!"

For $100 What is the capitol of France? Is it A. Paris, B. France, C. Scotland or D. Calais?

Unless something very strange has happened recently, the capital of France is Paris, the City of Light. I haven't been there since I was baby, but I try not to be too wildly ignorant about the rest of the world, you know?

Arkham Horror or Shadows over Camelot?

Arkham Horror all the way. It's got so many ways to play and win that it's plenty rich enough without compromising the cooperative play with the "traitor" business that Shadows has.

Sadly, it's also a couple hours too long to play with most of the folks here after work, even on game night. Oh well.

What threads would you like to see started in the Fallout 3 forum? What subjects should we discuss to have a chance of actually saying something that gets noticed and can be useful for you guys?

Well, since most of the inspiration I get from these boards comes almost accidentally from all sorts of conversations, I'm just happy if you keep the general discussion going.

Personally, I really enjoy bouncing through the threads where people discuss the themes and concepts they most enjoyed in Fallout. Just as with the time I asked for the euro-input on the game, I really enjoy seeing other peoples' perspectives on why they enjoyed the game. And the more specific, the more useful I find it - we all know Fallout was a great game, but what made it great to you?

Was it the great characters? Which particular characters stick with you and why? Where there characters you despised and wished you didn't have to deal with, or were they characters you loved to hate? Did anyone seem so unrealistic that it interrupted your enjoyment of the game? Why?

Was it the tremendous freedom? What did you really enjoy doing when you were free to wander the wastes? Did you get frustrated that it was "too open" and feel it didn't provide enough prompting for how to proceed on the "main quest"? Did you get irritated by the time limit for finding the water chip? Why or why not? How would you have done it differently?

Was it the setting? What themes of the story and setting really stuck with you? Did you really enjoy the high-concepts of man's eternal inhumanity to man and the dark satire of the imagined idyllic future? Or did you just like that it was a setting with vulgarity, mutants, viciousness, and where you could blow off a dude's arm and torso with a minigun? Were you just glad it wasn't just another place with damned elves singing, "Good sir knight, hark at yonder fair maiden! Huzzah!"

So, yeah. I really enjoy popping through threads where that sort of discussion is going on. And, of course, I like answering random questions here. Thanks for that opportunity!

When are you guys most creative? Have any of you pulled an allnighter simply because you were so caught up in what you were doing that you forgot to eat and sleep?

Well, I'm actually a bit odd. I'm really energetic in the mornings, and really energetic in the late afternoons, but I have a beast of a time around the middle of the day - especially if I had any sort of sizable lunch. I've tried suggesting a siesta break, but no one else really seems to go for it.

But either way, I'm most creative when I have the opportunity to get up and move around. When I'm stuck on something, I'll often get up and pace, or even take a little walk around the building.

For the artists: What is the longest time you've spent on one art-piece? And what was it?

Well, I'm not working here as an artist, but I've certainly done a lot of art, usually in either charcoal, conte crayon, or digital manipulation. I think my longest single sitting while working on a piece has been somewhere in the 6 hour range when working on a self-portrait long ago - I tend to work in long bursts, followed by times when I take a break and reflect on the piece. Then I come back at it with fresh eyes a day or two later.

As far as the longest it's taken to make a single piece, I think I spent about 6 months taking my animated short from concept to final piece. But Fallout's definitely on track to blow that personal record out of the water.

You guys at Bethesda don't have windows? Do you guys work in the basement?

Let's just say we don't have to worry about glare on our monitors. The shining sky-eye, she cannot reach us deep in our dens.

What song best sums up your attitude toward life?

Well, I've got a lot of attitudes. Overall, I think I'd go with "Upright" by Pain!

But depending on my attitude of the moment, it can really change. Here are a few samples of things that capture the many attitudes of FZ!, as chosen by going through my most commonly played songs on my iPod.

"Evil Genius" -- Dr. Theopolis
"5 o' Clock" -- The Perceptionists
"Just Another Day" -- Oingo Boingo
"No One Lives Forever" -- Oingo Boingo
"The Next Big Thing" -- Electric Funstuff
"Stength of the World" -- Avenged Sevenfold
"Atomic" -- Blondie
"Beautiful World" -- Devo
"Gold and White are Drifting Into Blue" -- Seventh Dawn
"Brazil" -- Lee Press-On and the Nails
"Sway" -- Dean Martin & Julie London (Rip-Off Artist Remix)
"Lay All Your Love on Me" -- Information Society
"The Ballad of Barry Allen" -- Jim's Big Ego
"Guess (U Never Knew)" -- Rahzel
"Hard Rock Hallelujah" -- Lordi
"Girl Boy Song" -- Aphex Twin (yeah, it's an instrumental. It's got a style that resonates with me)

When is someone going to watch Brazil, by Terry Gilliam? It's the one game (er, with Them and a Boy and his Dog and a bunch of others...) the old time Fallout devs talk about when they want to show where their inspiration came from.
Oh, I've definitely seen it. In fact, I'm a big fan of all of Gilliam's work - I'd say Baron von Munchausen is my favorite film. And, yes, I've also seen Them and A Boy and His Dog.

Have you seen any of these mags for inspiration?

My uncle used to collect Amazing Tales magazines, and I studied a lot of those back in school - my writing degree included a "Science Fiction and Culture" class. So I'm familiar with the styles, if not those particular comics and covers.

What is it like working with so many new people around? Bethsoft has a lot of new blood now, so what's it like?

As far as I'm concerned, new folks are important for any creative company, if only because they can bring in a new sense of energy and new perspectives to keep a company fresh and creatively active.

But then again, I am some of that new blood, so I may be overstating my own importance a bit. As it is, I'm excited work with some of the "more experienced blood" here, so it goes both ways.

What can you tell us about your rad hair?
It followed pretty much the same complex thought process behind the Fallout Valentine. It goes a little like this:

Step 1) FZ! has a crazy idea.
Step 2) FZ! pursues said crazy idea.
Step 3) Comedy is achieved.
Step 4) Neo-Tokyo blows up.

If anime has taught me anything, it's that Neo-Tokyo always blows up.

What is your favorite giant robot ?

Dynaman, but only when piloted by five good-looking kids from all walks of life.

What is your favorite horrible monster?

My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Rundell. She used to speak of herself in the third person, saying things like, "Don't do that, or Mrs. Rundell will get very angry."

For half the year, I lived in constant terror of this terrifying "Mrs Rundell" creature, wondering where she lurked and why she was so deeply angered by a bunch of kids not putting away their crayons or not finishing their 'Nilla Wafers.

How would you describe, using ten (most likely abstract(yes, abstract words, like xylophone(you're not allowed to include xylophone(or another similar musical instrument)))) words, the perfect gaming experience that Fallout 3 will bring?

Sun-bleach'd capitol
Choices, corpses sprawl onwards
Apocalypse then

Did you ever eat (part of) a reptile?

If you answered yes to that, was the reptile still alive?

If you answered no to that, would you have prefered it if the reptile had been alive?
Yes, as I said in a previous answer: I've had barbecued alligator. It wasn't alive, but if it had been, then I'd have been duty-bound to wrestle it before taking a bite. And that wouldn't have gone very well for me, I'm sure.

Have you tried the New Bouncy Bubble Beverage?

If yes, is it an improvement over the original? If no, why would such an exemplary citizen like you not drink the New beverage of exemplary citizens?
(Substitute Bouncy Bubble Beverage for "Nuka Cola" and exemplary citizen for "Super Mutant" if you have no idea what the question is about.)

Yes, friend Computer, I have been sure to drink the New BBB, and I have found it to be every bit as delicious as Classic BBB - but in an even brighter packaging and more productivity-enhancing packaging!

If you were a Super Hero, what would be your SuperPower?

Incredible luck. But who am I kidding? That already is my superpower!

Plasma Rifle, Minigun, Combat Shotgun, Flamethrower or Gauss Rifle?

The spoken word. And really thick armor, to deal with everyone else who chose from that list.

What did you think of the response the latest concept art got? Also, where you surprised at how some people managed to find out this and this?

I figured it would be a welcome change to the landscape views, and that the more personal view and greater Fallout feel would be appreciated. Of course, I also knew that there would be some people who'd find things they hated about it, but that happens on every forum, you know? Overall, I'm happy most people seem to enjoy it as much as I do.

And I'm not at all surprised that the various references were found - I don't know the artist personally, but I do know that any good artist tries to use visual references in such a big piece, and such iconic style-images as those would be easy to find with a clever Google Image Search.

If you are a writer, what general advice would you give to a newbie writer?
Write. Constantly. Keep a journal. Keep two, if you can.

Write little short stories that pop into your head. Write essays about your thoughts on things you care about.

Read other people's works. Read things you really like and try to isolate exactly what you really like about their work. Read things you really hate and try to figure out how you'd write it differently. Read your own work, and figure out if you really like it or if you hate it.

Something a beloved drawing teacher said to me long ago: Always carry a sketchbook, because you never know when you'll get hit with an idea and want to put it down on paper. It's as true with writing as it is with drawing.

But, most important: Write. Constantly.