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Orin Tresnjak/Inside the Vault

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

An interview with Orin Tresnjak, part of the Inside the Vault series on the Bethesda Blog.



Who are you?

I'm Orin Tresnjak, I'm a graphics programmer here and an honest-to-god Fallout fan (1 and 2, anyway).

I really wish we could tell you all about what we're doing with Fallout 3. It's very cool and we're all excited about it. All in good time.

Instead, my favorite color is blue, I'm not married (unless you count my new car <3), I don't have any pets (unless you count my roommate--hi, Ian!), and I feel like the ogre who's totally about to bash that glass-armor-wearing wimp's head in. Rraraggghhgh.

What's your job at Bethesda?

I'm one of the graphics programmers.

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

I got hired here just out of college about 2/3 into the development of Oblivion. So that's the only other commercial game I've worked on so far.

How is the work environment?

Excellent. Lots of fun and eccentric people.

Were you completely happy with Oblivion?

I've certainly spent a lot of time playing it outside of work. It's a really fun game-- I think certain hardcore RPGers tend to lose sight of the overall achievement that it represents because it violates some tenet or other of what they consider RPGs must be. Personally, I'm tired of hearing people squabble about that kind of nonsense--over all these silly, limiting acronyms we've come up with to pigeonhole our games. A game's a game, and some are different from others, and we should enjoy them for what they successfully accomplish, not for what they don't attempt.

By that metric, there are certainly some things about Oblivion that could use improvement, but overall I'm incredibly happy to have my name on it. And I have spent quite a lot of time playing it outside work, trying out different characters.

'Do you like turn based combat?

Depends on the game. One of my favorite games of all time was the old D&D CRPG Dark Sun: Shattered Lands, which had a very nice turn-based combat system. And of course I highly enjoyed both original Fallouts. (I've never been a fan of top-down games with realtime combat, personally--Baldur's Gate, Fallout: Tactics, and the like never really grabbed me.)

I'm hearing a lot of horror-stories about US-based companies. Is it true that a "normal" working day is 12 hours? o.O

Well, I can't speak for other companies, but here a "normal" working day is 8 hours. There was a bit of a crunch for Oblivion, but it wasn't 12-hour-days bad.

Do you ever get an urge to tar and feather the PR-department?

Are you kidding? Pete and Co. work some freakin' magic up there.

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

I run an occasional D&D Dark Sun game. (Grant plays a pterran and MSFD plays a Thri-Kreen. ) I also highly, highly enjoy the old Avalon Hill RPG Tales from the Floating Vagabond, if anyone's heard of that.

What would you guys think of an actual computer implementation of a turn based table top game?

I think that could be interesting if done well, but I'm not sure if it would have the same appeal as the real thing. After all, a huge amount of the satisfaction of a game like Warhammer is the physicality of it; the first time I went into battle with a fully painted army arrayed before me was quite a nice feeling (even though jg93 kicked my ass ). Having 3D rendered versions of the figures just isn't the same as holding them in your hands.

Dawn of War replaces that satisfaction with the frantic urgency of a real-time game, but it keeps the mood and style of 40K alive. Honestly, I think I prefer that to a straight port of the tabletop game. You'd just lose so much.

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

Probably the first Super Mario Bros. And hell yeah, who wouldn't want to make a Mario game?

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

That's a weird question. Well, I have lots of Russian friends, and I studied Russian for three years in high school. So, uh, I guess Russian people are pretty cool?

Favorite brand of instant Thai noodles?

I don't know what it's called, but there's this kind that you can get at Grand Mart that's really good. It comes in a plastic bowl, with packets of oil, chili, vegetables, and seasoning. Even includes a fork. Excellent stuff.

Have you played any Troika game, for instance, Arcanum or Bloodlines, did you enjoy them?

Arcanum has been on my to-play list forever. I love steampunk settings. Bloodlines...meh. Not a fan at all of White Wolf stuff.

Are you guys Spaceballs fans?

Oh, my God. It's Mega Maid.

Favorite cartoon character?

Bender! A close second is Butters.

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

Chicken hearts, when I lived in Brazil as a kid. Delicious.

Will you come out of the sandbox to post in other threads, when you are finally allowed to talk about Fallout 3?

If we have time, sure.

What are your favorite webcomic?
Questionable Content, Dinosaur Comics, Diesel Sweeties, Perry Bible Fellowship, Penny Arcade, xkcd. I also have a soft spot for Dilbert, although it hasn't been really funny in a long time.

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

No one thing really stands out as especially funny. A lot of the best ones have been moments in pen-and-paper RPGs I was running or playing in, though.

What is your favorite video game ever made?

Out of this World (also known as Another World). A quirky, highly stylized little platformer from the early 90s, where you play a scientist trapped on an alien world. It was wonderful because there was no dialogue whatever; it just told its story through images and forced you to figure out what to do as you went along.

What is your favorite genre for video games?

I could never choose just one. I've never cared much for sports games, but beyond that I've dipped my toe pretty much everywhere.

Can I have a dollar?


What do you guys think of Mark Morgan's music in Fallout 1 and 2? Do you believe the soundtracks were important in capturing the feel of Fallout?

Honestly, I don't even remember the music from either Fallout game (aside from the classic songs), and I played the first two games a lot. It made no impression on me at all. (Before anyone says anything about that, allow me to reiterate that I am a programmer, not someone who has any influence on music decisions. )

Which compiler do you prefer? Why?

Meh. Any reasonably compliant compiler is fine with me.

C or C++?

Personally, I prefer C++. Or C#, when I'm in the mood for something a little more civilized.

Your take on XNA?
Haven't had a chance to mess with it myself, but it seems extremely promising for hobby and low-budget game production. Not expecting it to take over the standard C++/DirectX for commercial game development in the near future though.

DX10 look easier? Doesn't let you at the hardware as much as you'd like?

Easier? Not particularly. More powerful? HELL yes. Geometry shaders alone are a revolutionary feature.

Mountain Dew, Pepsi, or Coke?

Diet Pepsi, in absolutely enormous quantities.

Code comments- Absolutely necessary, good for comic relief, or "Only the weak need comments!"?

Necessary, but only for things that actually need explanation. I don't really need to see a line "k++" commented with // increment k.

Multi-core development, next greatest thing or sure-fire way to a migrane?

I wouldn't call it the next greatest thing (that's DX10, silly). Migraine-inducing, yes.

What did you like the most about the Fallout series?

The freeform exploration, the dark but humorous atmosphere, the retro-futuristic style. The entertaining death animations are also of course a favorite, and I did enjoy the combat system.

What did you dislike alot about Fallout?

The UI. Man, and people complain about the Oblivion interface. Fallout 1 and 2 had the worst interface ever. Seriously, who had the bright idea that the inventory screen would only display three things at once?

Wait, what? I just opened my inventory ingame, and I get six plus weapons and armor, plus stats and resistances. Oh wait, maybe you mean the Barter screen?

My bad. Maybe it was the looting screen? Anyway, I found the UI really clunky.

Anyway, you'll get no argument from me about the Oblivion UI needing some improvement.

One of the things I liked about the fallout GUI was that the look extended the world. Actual HP counter? Check. Odd bits of blue pressure tape? Check. Buttons? Check.
Somehow, despite taking up a lot of the screen, the Fallout interface seems so much more at home in the world.

Oh, agreed absolutely. The art aspect of the UI was fantastic, really looked like it belonged in that world. I just found myself wishing more often than not that some actual usability testing had gone into it.

What is your opinion on Online Multiplayer?

Fun but not the only fun thing. Sometimes I like to play games alone, and of course single-player games let you do things that you can't really do in persistent online worlds (like have the player have some measurable, permanent effect on the environment).

Do you play any online MMO ?

World of Warcraft sometimes. I played LOTR online briefly but got bored of it pretty fast.

Which was your favorite movie in 2007?

Children of Men. Powerful, moving film (and has a bit of a post-apocalyptic theme to it too, although very different from Fallout).

And about which movie whose havent been released yet are you excited about?

The Simpsons Movie! Aside from that, I try not to get too excited about upcoming films, since I'm usually disappointed. Rather, I tend to make my moviegoing decisions on what's getting good buzz after people have actually seen it.

What do you think of giving gamers choices in the way they see and interact with the game? Is it too much work to be worth the hassle?

I think it's usually more work that worth it. If you're giving the player two ways to play the game, then you practically have two different games you have to develop, test, polish, support. And you better make sure they're both equally functional--how many people use the third-person mode in Oblivion much, after all?

If its too hard to polish two systems, then do you think its a good idea to polish one, and implement the other in the editor so that the fans can polish it if they choose?

We're getting a bit out of my area of expertise here, but I will say that exposing something in the editor in a useful way requires development time too, so it's not necessarily the solution to all ills that some people seem to think.

How important do you think a game's modding community is, is it so important that it means extra development time might be taken t make the game more easily changed by end users?

Well, it depends a lot on the game, but obviously, looking at the mod community for Elder Scrolls games, it's pretty clear that good mod capability can really extend the life of a game. Some of my early experiences messing with game creation involved Bard's Tale Construction Set and Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures. (I really do miss those, FRUA especially; game content creation has become so complex that you don't really see tools that simple and easy-to-use anymore.)

What is you opinion about modding in general do you like that people are messing with your lovely game or does your heart sink when you see someone ruining what you have helped create?

I love seeing new mods, although I only actually play with them myself unless they're really, really good. Thankfully, there's an abundance of really, really good mod content to be found.

Oh, also if they're really funny. We frequently pass around funny youtube videos of crazy Oblivion mods in the office. (The spell someone made that drops a rock on the enemy's head was my favorite.)

How important is it for programmers to understand the needs of the artists when creating a game or tools to make the game with?

Vital, obviously! They drive the look of the game and we need to give them the tools to do that. I'd say about 1/3 to 1/2 of my work as a graphics programmer comes directly from requests from art-land. (Sometimes as simple as, "hey, make a shader that looks like this concept art!")

Do you have any brand loyalties when it comes to hardware or do you just buy what is the best for your budget at the time?

I buy whatever has the best combination of performance and capabilities for my needs. Usually, since I'm a graphics geek, that means the most powerful new video card and whatever reasonably decent CPU I can get for the price. I've fluctuated between ATI and NVIDIA over the years--right now I'm on my third NVIDIA card in a row, though.

What do you have on your desk? Do you have any figurines or maskots? Books?

Let's see. A computer, two monitors, TV, xbox kit with two controllers, Warhammer Fantasy rulebook, bottle of water, book on 3D math, two Love Hina figurines (shush), two nerf guns, some Magic cards, two lego technic sets (the enzo ferrari and a generic motorcycle), legal pad filled with graphics scribblings, telephone, DVD of "Enter the Dragon," Japanese textbook. And about 12 more programming books and a copy of World of Warcraft on the shelf above.

Do you have a dresscode?

HELL no.

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

B.A. in English and B.S. in Computer Science from UM. The computer science degree is obviously useful (and UM College Park has an excellent department!). The English degree, well, it was fun and makes me a more well-rounded person.

Favorite quotes?

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Do you own/drive a car? Or do you prefer public transportation? If you do own a car then what kind of car?

An arctic blue Acura TSX. That said, if I'm going downtown, I'll usually just take the metro. DC is hellish to drive around in.

Other than Fallout and TES, what kind of game would you like to work on sometime in the future? What genre etc.

Most of my dream game ideas are either for big, open-ended games, or for little platform action games. I'm loving working on the first type; hopefully sometime in my career I'll get to dabble in the second too.

Do you take a great deal of pride in working on this project? since some of you were fans of the original series, do you take a lot of pride & care in working on something that you've enjoyed.

Well, yeah, I mean it's every gamer's dream, isn't it? Making the sequel to one of your favorite games, how awesome is that?

I would like to know where you each grew up. Are any of you from a rural area and if so how you like city life that you now are part of?

I've always lived in big urban centers or their nearby suburban areas. Both the city and the suburbs have advantages, but I generally prefer living in a city--it's nice to feel near everything and to be able to walk everywhere. Right now I live in Bethesda, which is a pretty decent compromise--very urbanized DC suburb. Lovely place. (The company is actually in Rockville, oddly enough--a bit further north.)

Have any of you been to my great state of Alaska and if not would you like to visit.

Nope, but I'd love to, at some point.

Any veterans? If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Nope, and what a tough choice! There are so many interesting cities in the world, I'd like to live in lots of them for a few years each. It's what I get for growing up as a diplomat brat.

And last but not least, do you drink coffee and what kind?

Nope, I stick to vast quantities of diet soda for my caffeine fix.

How about my hardware question? What are you guys working on generaly? Are they normal beeffed PC-s or wat? Do you use generic graphic cards or maybe those for rendering movie special effects...sort of thing... Vista? XP?

Just normal PCs.

Anyway, in light of my rant about traffic, how much commute do you guys/gals have to do everyday for work? Do you guys/gals enjoy the traffic?

10-15 minutes. Against traffic, so usually I get to drive fast. No complaints.

If you could be driving whatever you liked - provided that it travels on land and could be licensed for road use - what would it be?

I'm pretty happy with my TSX. If I had to move up a little, I'd probably go for an Infiniti G35 coupe. They're so beautiful, with an engine that sounds like a lion roaring. Moving outside of the realm of cars I can more or less afford...maybe an Aston Martin Vanquish.

My speed record is only 100. I'm too much of a wimp to try to see how close to the 160mph maximum on my speedometer I can get.

What do you wear at work?

I always wear pants--and that's a guarantee!

Where do you buy most of your clothes?
Banana Republic, or sometimes Old Navy when I'm broke. I have really drab tastes in clothing.

What is your ambition or greatest goal in life?

Well it used to be "make video games"...still working on figuring out a new one.

That surname sounds just like a Croat... or something similar... origins?

Good guess!

Were you born in the States or you moved there?

Born in Washington DC. My dad's actually American so I am a bit of a mongrel. But I lived with my mother and grandmother most of my life, so I understand the language perfectly and can speak it decently (if a little brokenly).

And yeah, I go by my mother's surname instead of my father's. Weird, eh?

Are any of you developers not a TV-watcher? Or nearly so?

Me, absolutely. Between my roommates and I we have 3 TVs, but we don't even have any kind of cable or other television service. We just use them to watch movies and play video games.