Developer inXile blew RPG fans away with its isometric RPG sequel Wasteland 2 in 2014 and the series took a huge leap when it released for console a year post-PC launch with a Switch version following in 2018, broadening its fan base significantly. Since the release of the popular sequel, fans have been waiting patiently for a third instalment and, thankfully, the wait wasn't near as long as the wait between the original and its sequel. Later this year, we'll be experiencing the wastes once again and there's plenty of news hitting the franchise. We sat down with Interplay- and inXile founder Brian Fargo at E3 earlier this year to talk about what's coming to the Wasteland.
Wasteland 2 and now Wasteland 3 were both crowdfunded, to a certain degree. How did Microsoft stepping in alter the development of Wasteland 3 and if it did change substantially, would you say you still have full control over what you want to create?
"Absolute, total control. That was their [Microsofts] thing and they've kept that. They really want their Game Pass model and they want creators that they can trust. They [Microsoft] are like 'if we're going to give you money and resources, we're not going to have to worry, you're going to deliver' right? Kind of like a fire and forget type of deal. I'm in that category and so they trust me and I, in turn, trust my guys so we're a team. Now, I have a full band, like I keep using that analogy. I have a bass player, I have a vocalist, but I was missing parts because being in that middle ground, like me and Obsidian, we always knew we were missing parts. Getting a technical director, an art director and getting localisation houses, being able to do compatibility testing, user research and getting more time - that was like the elephant in the room, getting more time". Fargo explained, before continuing.
"For us, we don't need to be Blizzard or Rockstar where we need years and years, you know? But if it's like 'hey, here's another three or four months' that's huge, because, for us, it's like a film, right? After you make a movie, it'll go through editing and it can be in the editing room for six months to a year. You don't make a movie and put it out the next day. That can happen in games, or at least it can feel that way, so for them to say 'hey, it's okay, take another 90 or 120 days or whatever, it's no big deal' I mean that's a 10-point Metacritic swing for us. For me especially, I want to be able to play the game like 'okay, now I'm feeling it', now I can be like 'okay, is the pacing right, does something slightly annoy me here, does the onboarding feel wrong?', just really get into the nuance of the game and you don't really get that until you have to totality of the experience, you don't get that until the very end and usually you'll have the pressure to ship like the next day once you get that. Being able to have that extra time is really a gift and that's what they've given us".
Would you say that a weight was lifted off of your shoulders when the Microsoft deal happened? Not just financially, but I hear InXile got a lot of support?
"Big time. When you're running a studio, a mid-sized studio, there weren't a lot of us in that category. You know, we weren't part of a Triple A-group funded by Sony or that sort of thing, we were more part of the group of self-funded, you know, scrappy studios", Fargo said and laughed "and there weren't that many of those left, so you had this big focus on where everything is coming from, the next dollar that is, and the cost, so creatively and I mean I've told this story many times, where you're in a meeting and the guys are like 'okay, we're going to do this and we're gonna have to slip this out a couple of weeks', now for a company like Microsoft that's not a big deal but for me, I'm like 'okay, that just cost me 375.000 dollars, how am I going to make that up?'. You're constantly worried, you see a spreadsheet every day letting you know when you're going to die at the end of it and you're always looking six months out, eight months out, nine months out and you can't wait until six months to worry about it, you have to worry about it now because it takes that long to solve any problem that could happen nine months out. That worry is not very conducive to creativity so now if something moves two weeks I can still focus on the creative aspects of my job. So now, I've taken that 40% of the time I was spending fundraising and worrying about how I was going to pay for something coming up nine months from now and put 100% of that into creativity. Huge relief, absolutely. When we did the deal with Microsoft, it wasn't to make money for myself, it was like 'oh finally, now I know how we're going to be able to create these great products' and that's all I'm about".
Fargo seems more than happy with the Microsoft deal, with the deal giving the studio more time to refine its project and the resources to make it happen. This extra time and these extra resources seem to have come in handy as well, with plenty of additions regarding gameplay and customisation.
One thing that sets Wasteland 3 apart from its predecessors is obviously the cooperative play, can you tell us a bit about that aspect?
"Well we think nothing is more fun than griefing your friends, you know? It's very much of a 'join' mechanic, so it's not like some random stranger will jump into your game. The idea is set up as such that you can you and me can set out together, we go into the world and if there are six rangers, you can have three and I can have three or you can have two and I four and so forth and we go into the world. It's not a PvP experience, it's a storytelling experience" he explained.
"I can grief you and I can do things just for fun but I can also make people like you or not like you out in the world or do funny things but we go through it together. But, what's good about it is that you can go to sleep and I can keep going, completely changing the world. You'll come back like 'what did you do here?' and you can accept what I did to the world or you can say 'you know what? I'm going to back up to before you did all that because I'm not too happy with it'. But I do see that many people miss having a good co-op experience that they can go through together and from a storytelling perspective there's not a lot of those, it tends to be more action-oriented, so I think what we're doing is kind of unique there. I think people are going to dig it".
So obviously, a lot of us saw the trailer shown at E3 and it focused a lot on the humour. Would you say that that is the general tone of the game or is was it simply an over the top trailer to catch your eye?
"Yeah, it's actually pretty funny because the game is actually really dark and bleak and so that was our sarcastic trailer, right? Because if you watch the content itself, it wasn't funny but Scotchmo was drunk and reacting to what was like pretty dark stuff so the game is pretty dark. We have a twisted sense of humour that's a very dark sense of humour so more like Coen brothers kind of stuff. The world itself is more Chernobyl than anything, right? But it's got mixtures of lightness like the drunk. When you start this game, it's mayhem, it's swearing, it's people getting killed, it's murder. It's not light and funny, but there are moments. We just kind of had Scotchmo commenting on it, so it's not as funny as the trailer gives you the impression of".
One of our favourite moments in Wasteland 2 was the absolute switch in Vulture's Cry. You have to do specific things to let that out of her and if you don't she's just always that calm and composed woman, is that close to the tone here?
"Yes! She's screwing with you that whole time, and yeah, so you got that. That game was serious most of the time, it [Wasteland 3] is like that, it might even be a tad darker actually, ironically, than Wasteland 2. So we're not really leaning into humour too much but it's got its moments and it's fully voiced. The cinematic with Scotchmo which we saw in the trailer? That was all in-game footage that you saw too, so there's a whole cinematic conversation. We tend to make those as entertaining as possible since you don't really get that many cinematic conversations, I mean there are some crazy dudes. I don't know if you saw the movie The Salton Sea, there are dark and twisted conversations, you know? It's odd, you'll meet a guy with the most foul-mouthed parrot you've met in your life and you can piss off the parrot and then the parrot flies off somewhere, gets up on a radio station and just cusses you out through your radio system like you can't get away from him. It's just weird, but we love it".
So when on the topic of Scotchmo specifically, we obviously know him from before. Will we meet other characters we've come to love in Wasteland 3?
"You might, you might" Fargo said and laughed.
As for companions, would you say there's a larger scope of companions this time?
"Obviously they're fully voiced this time which they weren't before and do we have more or fewer characters than before?" said Fargo, leaning over to his team, "We have a big cast, and it's definitely not just a couple of companions. We have more fully realised companions and a large slate. They're also highly different from each other so you can pick ones who are more serious, you can pick ones who are more comical. One of the things we are leaning into also is seeing what happens when you use different combinations of companions, seeing their relationships. What we love doing in an RPG is seeing, so you'll go 'if I have this person and this person, these things happen' and you're immediately going to go 'how did they know I had these two characters with me' and of course we didn't and you'll think 'I can't believe they pulled that off'. That's the fun, right? The 'I can't believe that'. I mean, we have a lot of weird stuff, including musical numbers! That's all I'm gonna say!"
Talk to us about inventory management, have you tweaked that since Wasteland 2?
"Oh, we have indeed. I think we'll be revealing more on that later on, it's an ongoing thing. We want to give you a full party, lots of different characters, lots of different things to equip, characters with their own skills and abilities and we want to make that as easy as possible. We're constantly refining inventory so I'd say what we have now isn't even the final solution. You're going to see items on your character though. For example armor in Wasteland 2, you know you had outfits and everything but as you equipped armour it wouldn't change your character's appearance whereas in Wasteland 3 we have a lot more visual customisation, a lot more ways you can dress your character with armour that shows up and just more ways to customise your character".
Do you find creating an RPG like this for console? Because the genre is generally so PC-centered.
"Yeah, it's really just the UI that's the issue and I think we've done a pretty good job of finding a balance and you do share a common inventory which makes it easier. It's just a UI issue more than anything, and I think we've found the right balance in that".
Any new mechanics coming to Wasteland 3 you can share with us?
"Cars. We've got cars. You can go offensive or defensive, just using it as your little mobile home, travelling around the map. It starts off as a piece of junk and you upgrade it. You'll run into other vehicles as you're out there so that becomes a major component of the game. We haven't revealed too much about the world map, but it's safe to say that it's got itself a major overhaul and your vehicle is a big part of that. You can customise every part of your vehicle, like initially it's just a rusted bucket of bolts in the snow, like it's going to quit on you any second and you'll upgrade it over the course of the game as you apply your technology and scraps and eventually it just becomes this rolling death machine. You can, along the way, customise you know, turrets and guns and armour all sorts of parts of it, even the hood ornament. It's just a really big part of your player and party customisation".
Now, we know you've said that this would be your last game, are you still thinking of retiring?
"Well, I can happily say that Microsoft stopped those plans".
I can say that many, me included would have missed you in this creative space and I wish you good luck with the launch.
"Well thank you, I appreciate that. I'm having a lot more fun than I've had in a long time. I'm not going anywhere".
Wasteland 3 is set to release in Q4 of this year so we're closing in on the launch fast and with Fargo seeming incredibly happy with what the team has accomplished so far, we're excited as to what we'll be playing later this year.