As part of an ongoing personal blog project of mine, Chris Avellone, still busy with Fallout: New Vegas DLC production, was kind enough to take some time out to discuss his role at Obsidian and in F:NV, his background, character design, as well as the work that goes into RPG creation.
Here's a snippet:
[What he's up to at the moment]
Still working hard here at Obsidian, wrapping up the last bits of Fallout New Vegas DLC, Lonesome Road. We had the last narrative tasks and voice-acting session last week (Note: end of May), it went well, and now it's a matter of doing more run-throughs of DLC4 to get a feel for the pacing and polish what we can. It's been a long road from New Vegas to the end of the DLCs, and now when I go home, I'm not sure what to do with myself - on NV and the DLCs, it was easy, I just didn't go home.
[His favourite writing or design achievements in his career]
I like the influence system (although not its first iteration in KOTOR II) as a way of making players pay more attention to a companion's philosophy and outlook rather than just Karma, although I prefer the individual NPC influence meters in Alpha Protocol as a more realistic and true-to-the-world feel for how others judge you based on your actions, not some internal player character moral barometer.
As for other experiments: The idea of disparate personalities being forced to cooperate under pressure when they normally would kill each other is something I've always liked. We used this in Fallout New Vegas, Dead Money, and it was an experiment I wanted to try ever since the Planescape days (although in Planescape, the idea would be that a group of hated enemies all had tattoos that prevented them from harming each other and straying too far from each other, and they had to cooperate to escape... sort of like the movie, Cube). Since Planescape wasn't an option, I switched it to a collar in Dead Money and went from there.
As far as characters, I've loved all the characters I've written for different reasons. I loved writing Rose of Sharon Cassidy (FNV, although Rachel Roswell voice-acted her and took her to a new level), Dean Domino and Christine from Dead Money (who shows up in more than one of the Fallout DLCs). For Christine, it was fun to figure out how to "write" a mute character, and the fact she switches voices over the DLCs is kind of interesting as well. I also have a lot of love for Ulysses in Fallout, only because I like the idea of someone hunting my player for reasons of his own, and then hearing the reasons why... and realizing how important even the smallest of my actions are for the people of the wasteland - living or dead.
[On the importance of fleshing out character creation via a pen & paper format]
It's extremely important because it gives you immediate feedback from your players as to how they perceive the character you've made - is the character valuable? A threat? A worthy adversary? And it's quick to judge why they're lacking based on player comments, expression, and grumbles/excitement.
On the reverse end, it also let me see what character builds from a gamemaster standpoint the game needs to account for. In the Fallout pen-and-paper games, we had to account for doctor/medical specialists, combat monsters, sharpshooters, scientists, Nightkin, ghoul mechanics, pacifistic thieves, and more... and all of them had to be covered in each adventure with a role to play and an important contribution to make in the scenario. It was a good test as a gamemaster to stay true to Fallout to make sure all the character builds were being covered and felt valuable in the gameplay context.
[On writing characters]
Sure ...Cassidy is a bigot... at first. When the Chosen One confront[s] him on it in his dialogue, he apologizes, backs off, and when you ask him about it again, he does a change now that he knows you and respects you, so you have to tip your hat to the man's willingness to change based on what life's shown him. And it's even better because you're the one who caused him to re-evaluate his perspective, so from a player standpoint, that's a double win.
I've never despised any character I've written - there's usually always something about them that I find respectable. The Legate's pragmatic in Fallout New Vegas and his violent appetites border on poetry which I like - even Leland from Alpha Protocol, there's pragmatic things I respect about his approach to the world climate and I call it out during the game's narrative - and he calls it out if Thorton (the player) shows the same attitudes in carrying out his missions.
[The Courier's clean slate design, and what will become of him/her...]
I feel you should let the player write their own history. When we set up Lonesome Road, we only knew 3-4 things for certain about the player character, and in my opinion, that’s enough to build an epic adventure around. More on that to come...or it’ll come to the player, one way or the other.