GameObserver interview with Bethesda Softworks
GameObserver.com recently asked Ashley Cheng, Production Director at Bethesda Softworks, a few questions about their Gamebryo engine and Fallout 3.
With Bethesda Softworks consistently releasing blockbuster games and expansions in the last few years, one thing has remained a constant: the Gamebryo engine. Love it or hate it, it has been the foundation of what fans of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout 3 have come to love.
GameObserver.com has had a chance to ask Ashley Cheng, production director at the studio, a few questions about the engine and how it affected the development of their recent smash hit, Fallout 3.
GameObserver: Tell us a bit about yourself? What projects have you taken part in so far at Bethesda?
Ashley Cheng: My name is Ashley Cheng and I’m the production director of the studio. I started back in 2001 and have worked on Morrowind, Oblivion and most recently Fallout 3. I am responsible for the overall schedule, making sure everyone is completing their work to a high quality and overseeing test cycles. I’m also responsible for voice recording and casting, localization and our relationships with outside entities like Microsoft and Sony.
GameObserver: After Oblivion, what made you guys decide to reuse the Gamebryo engine for Fallout 3?
Ashley Cheng: Gamebryo allowed us to get up and running very quickly with Morrowind. Since then, we’ve taken this core technology and added new features on top of it. We’ve actually had the guys at Gamebryo come to us, and ask if we would be interested in a particular shader or feature, only to turn them down and say, sorry, but we’ve already written our own version. With each new project, we scope how much time we have and decide which systems to upgrade. A major reason many projects are delayed or never ship is because the developers decide to start from scratch. Games these days cost way too much for that kind of reboot. For most programmers, it’s easier to write new code than to read old code -- it takes a lot of discipline to selectively upgrade parts of your technology and to maintain others.
GameObserver: How does the Gamebryo engine differ from other engines, like Unreal, given the types of games you tend to make?
Ashley Cheng: We’ve been building on top of Gamebryo for the past 8 years. There is no replacement for the learning and iteration that goes into building technology for that long. An engine is simply a tool. Anybody can use a paint brush and paper – it’s how you use it to create your art. It is the same with game engines.
We are very particular with our needs and they are mostly related to our editor. Our editor is powerful, allowing our content folks to quickly create quests, conversations, cities, dungeons, landscape, etc... you name it -- we do it faster than anybody else in the industry. No one can match us when it comes to vast, open-ended beautiful worlds full of NPCs, quests and dialogue.
GameObserver: Are you planning on changing or updating the engine in future projects, and if so, what changes are we to see in future games from a technical point of view.
Ashley Cheng: Absolutely. While we would never start from scratch completely, we often redesign and upgrade systems between projects. The important thing is to properly scope your time, resources and priorities before you start the work. We also spend a lot of time in preproduction, trying new things out -- this is one of the most important phases of our development.
GameObserver: What limits did you have while using Gamebryo and what do you wish the engine was capable of doing in the future?
Ashley Cheng: We’re pretty happy with Gamebryo -- because of all the years we’ve had iterating and updating our technology, we’re at the point now that we decide our own destiny. We definitely evaluate new stuff coming in future versions of Gamebryo and are always looking at what the best options are.
GameObserver: What inspirations did you guy use (movies, books) to make the Fallout 3 world look the way it did?
Ashley Cheng: The main inspiration was the original games, primarily the first Fallout. The Craig Mullins concepts definitely helped set the tone for our artists as they started to create the actual art. Much of the team has also read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a fantastic book.
GameObserver: What tools or techniques did your team use to remap on a smaller scale the Washington DC area (I heard it was pretty accurate)?
Ashley Cheng: We used maps of the DC area, and while it may have felt accurate, we did take a lot of liberties in the interest of gameplay. We moved landmarks around a bit, condensed distances. We tried to capture the general spirit of where everything is in the area, so that it would feel like DC.
GameObserver: One of the biggest complaints about Fallout 3 was that it resembles Oblivion too much. What made your team decide to make it play like The Elder Scrolls game? Was it a marketing decision (to attract Oblivion fans) or a technical decision (easier to use the same tools and programming techniques)?
Ashley Cheng: Well, we mostly made a Fallout game that we ourselves want to play. We also wanted to leverage our strengths as a studio, and one of our biggest strengths is making big, open ended worlds ripe for exploration. So whether we’re making an Elder Scrolls or Fallout title (or any other title for that matter), you can be assured there will be a huge open ended world for you to explore. You aren’t going to get a Final Fantasy style RPG from us because we’re not interested in making RPGs that way (though we do LOVE playing Final Fantasy).
GameObserver: Was that sterile, perfect “Leave it to Beaver” look of the “Tranquility Lane” mission intended to disgust players with its purity and perfection?
Ashley Cheng: Tranquility Lane is one of my favorite quests in the game. It was meant as an homage to those old classic TV shows, and to illustrate what we felt they thought the “ideal” life would be. Or at least what Dr. Braun thought it would be like.
GameObserver: There have been three Fallout 3 expansion packs for the PC and Xbox 360, while things have been rather quiet for the PS3. This has led some PS3 owners to believe “Bethesda Softworks hates the PS3.” How often do you burn PS3 effigies up there at Bethesda and will you ever release an expansion for Sony’s flagship? Maybe something exclusive? Oblivion, if memory serves me right, also went through the same drought but you eventually did release extra content for the PS3.
Ashley Cheng: The PS3 is a pretty amazing console that doesn’t get the props it deserves in the industry. Turns out we’ve announced that we’re doing downloadable content for PS3 so it’s coming. We’re also including them with Fallout 3 Game of the Year for PS3, coming out for this holiday season. So PS3 fans will get to see and play everything.
GameObserver: A few months ago rumors started of a possible Fallout movie when Pete Hines commented on Bethesda Softworks’s willingness to allow such an endeavor, especially if Ridley Scott or Quentin Tarantino were to take on the project. Do you have anything new or juicy on that topic?
Ashley Cheng: I think a Fallout movie would be awesome. And that’s all I got. I don’t know anything more than you do.