Bethesda Acknowledges That Taking Fallout Online Is «Scary»

Fallout 76 will no doubt be a big change of pace for the series upon its November 14 release on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Trading out the traditional single-player experience for a shared-world multiplayer survival game, the upcoming prequel sets itself apart from its predecessors in a very clear way. Despite the larger scope and other players to interact with, Bethesda’s online game still focuses on offering a rich and detailed world to explore, with its fair share of strange events and oddities to uncover, but there’s no doubt that world-building has taken a backseat in the process.

There was a lot to unpack after our hands-on time with the game at a recent event, so we spent some time talking with Bethesda Softworks’ VP of Marketing Pete Hines about the game’s ongoing development. During this chat, we learned more about Fallout 76’s previous life as a potential multiplayer mode for Fallout 4, the initial worries the developers had in switching things up, and how the game will continue to evolve long after its release.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

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The original concept of Fallout 76 was based on the planned multiplayer mode for Fallout 4. Can you talk about what that original idea was, and how it evolved into what we have now?

Hines:Yeah, the original idea for 76 was born out of revisiting the concept that we get asked about often, which is multiplayer or co-op in our games. They ask every single time we release a game. Looking into that for Fallout 4, we decided that we had some ideas but it wouldn’t really work for what we’re doing for that game. It had to be its own separate game and its own separate thing. From a high level, it’s very much what you guys got to play today [in other games] , you can play with others, but you’re in a shared Fallout world with quests, a character system, and a number of survival aspects.

We have done some things differently, like there’s no NPCs in the game and you’re not having dialogue with a lot of different characters. But instead of that, you’re doing a lot more world exploration and emergent gameplay, finding notes and hollow-tapes from people who were in the world who have disappeared, and trying to figure out what was going on before and what they were like. But deep down, it’s still the same basic idea of a shared Fallout experience and how that works with others thrown in the mix.

To transform an offline, single-player experience into an online game, you’d inevitably have to alter or strip down some of its more familiar aspects. Was that something the developers had some worries about in the early goings of this game?

Yeah, absolutely. We knew going in, this is not just gonna be Fallout 4 with multiplayer. It’s inherently going to have to look and feel different in order to be the type of experience that works with many different players together. We’re not doing an MMO, not just doing a last-man-standing game—it’s still an RPG. It has elements of those kinds of things, but yeah, there’s inherent things that are different—but there’s also a lot of things that look and feel very familiar.

For instance, the tone, the vibe, look, and feel of the world can go a long way to give you a sense of familiarity to sort of wrap your head around things. It’s still a Fallout world, even though these things are different. But yeah, this is a really scary and different thing to be a part of. We are fully aware of that. We are making changes and making a different kind of game, but it’s one that we are excited to try and see what it can turn into.

There is a stronger sense of isolation when you’re alone since there are no NPCs to meet. But that all changes when you meet other players. Do you feel that the Fallout experience is heightened when you’re playing with others?

Absolutely. Look, the only way that anybody has previously shared their experiences with Fallout was essentially water cooler talk. Right? Coming in the next day to say, «Here’s what I did and then I did this, and then I had this quest and fought these super mutants and I thought I was gonna die.» You’re able to enhance those experiences when you’re playing with others. We’re all experiencing this together, and you’ve never been in a Fallout game and been able to yell to a friend and actually have them help you.

Those kinds of things are what Fallout 76 brings that the other ones simply couldn’t do. A shared, in the moment experience. You can’t get it any other way, and it’s why we wanted to try it out. Yes, it’s different. Yes, it’s a departure, and it’s new and scary. But it’s an opportunity to have people share experiences that they’ve always wanted but have never been able to before.

Another thing that’s interesting about 76 is that it’s the earliest Fallout game in the series. Despite this, we’re still seeing some familiar factions and enemies, which may conflict with what people already expect. Did you feel that a more loose approach with the timeline had to be taken in order to keep those familiar aspects of the game intact?

I don’t know if I would say loose, but I would say that our developers take things like lore and canon seriously, and if they’re going to do something they’re going to make sure that there’s a real reason for it. We have proven with the Elder Scrolls games, that in places where some things happened one way, that we’re willing to say, «Well lots of people will say things happened one way,» and the opposite or something else could entirely be true. So there’s no question that we’ve gone back to change things to fit what developers have wanted to do, and not be holden to something that somebody wrote 20 years ago.

But having said that, we don’t take it lightly to just go change whatever we want. There has to be a thought process; what is the rationale? Why would this logically work in this time? Why would there be super mutants, or the brotherhood of steel? How does that all fit and hold together? There’s absolutely reasons and explanations in Fallout 76 for how all that ties together.

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You’re also taking a bit of a different approach with the PC version, as it’ll be exclusive to Bethesda.net. Can you elaborate on why the game won’t be on Steam?

Mostly because of the kind of game it is. It’s an online, always-on game, and is a service. That was also based on our experiences with other online games as well. We felt that having a direct relationship with our customers was super important to us. And so doing it through Bethesda.net exclusively allows us to have that one-to-one relationship with customers, that quite honestly you don’t always have when you go through another third party where they might own the relationship with the customer in terms of being able to email them or to reach out directly and contact them.

So it simplifies things a little and we believe it’s going to help us deal with some issues and challenges that we’ve seen in the past. And again, it’s a new experience, like the game itself is and we’re going to see how it goes and how it works and what benefits it allows us to have in making sure that our customers have the best experience possible.

Mods have certainly taken off on Bethesda.net as well, which was particularly successful with the Creation Club integration in Fallout 4. Can you talk about how mods will play into Fallout 76, and how exactly they’ll work within the online space?

I don’t foresee a universe in which we allow players to come in [to Fallout 76’s public servers] with their own unique and different mods. If you want to run mods, they’ll have to be done on a private server. You’ll be deciding what sort of mods you’re including and running, and everyone playing on that server is playing with those mods. Those are a ways off, though. I imagine it’s going to be at least a year before we hit that point because it’s going to be a lot of work. But mods and private servers are definitely coming.

…our developers take things like lore and canon seriously, and if they’re going to do something they’re going to make sure that there’s a real reason for it.

Fallout 76 was revealed fairly recently, and we’re now already close to its release. It does however seem like the game struggles a bit with framerate and some other issues—which was due to it being an older build according to other devs we spoke with. Can you talk about some of the challenges that come from keeping the game so secret, while still prepping for its impending release?

Yeah, I mean honestly, we just got to art lock [all assets and environmental details set] a week or two ago. And until you get to art lock, you really can’t get deep into game optimization. We’ve done optimization paths on some parts of the world, but not all just yet. But the bigger thing for us was that we had tried to do earlier, we had different parts of the world that were in different places. And with games like ours, we tend to want to say, «Look, just go wherever you want and do whatever you want,» that’s what’s fun about these games.

Even though we know that the whole game wasn’t optimized, and we know that there’s parts of the game we haven’t gotten to yet, they were close enough that we were comfortable with letting people get their hands on it. And we felt that experience was really important. That folks, like yourself, not be tied to us and saying, «Well here’s the handful of locations you go to.» Because that’s not what’s fun about our games. It’s about going, «I wonder what’s that way? I’m gonna go that way and see what’s that way and see what’s over there.» «Well I’m going this way. I’ll see you later.» That’s always the experience that we wanted folks to be able to have.

As you said earlier, Fallout is really about your own personal experiences with the game. But now you can share it with others online. Do you have a favorite moment from your experiences with Fallout 76, that best sums up how you feel about it?

Yeah, I don’t have one particular moment that I have that’s better than all the others. A lot of it has just been finding surprises and exploring some random cabin that I found on a hill. And then for whatever reason looking inside of a dog house and noticing the side of the dog house had all of these complicated math formulas written on the side, and the back of it had a small periodic table. I’d be thinking to myself, «What was going on here? Who did this?» One of the few times I’ve played and grouped up with folks, we found one of the amusement parks and one of the carnival games was whack-a-mole.

And you can find those things. They’re called Commie Bashers cause it was whack the commies on the head instead of the moles, and we realized they were weapons and we all equipped Commie Bashers as a melee weapon and just cleared out the mutant park. It was completely ridiculous and silly, but it was just sort of fun being able to play with others and have a shared experience like that, that was just very different. Of course, I could have seen that on my own, but it wouldn’t have been as memorable as with the group. I think folks are really going to enjoy exploring and looking into all the different places where designers have put thought into who was in this world, and what they were doing and what they were leaving behind. There will be a lot of secrets and Easter eggs for people to find.

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