With the Gun Runners' Arsenal coming out shortly, JE Sawyer was able to take some time to answer some interview questions. Here are some Fallout-related quotes. As always, he constantly updates his Formspring account so check that out too if you haven't already been - real wealth of info there.
[His role at Obsidian, and a few of his interests]
I'm a project director at Obsidian and I've been in the game industry for about twelve years, most of that as a designer. Project directors are the "lead of leads", on the team, the individuals who define the high-level goals and scope of the project and help keep things focused on quality and consistency. Though technically part of the production staff, project directors have a somewhat adversarial relationship with the project's lead producer (in the case of Fallout: New Vegas, Larry Liberty). The project director defines the direction, but the lead producer tracks resources and effectively "writes the checks", serving as a voice of sanity for scope and scheduling.
My game development interests are primarily in finding ways to give the player more meaningful choices in how they build and use their characters and in how they can influence the story. I'm also a fervent, possibly fanatical, advocate of strong core mechanics. "Good for an RPG" is an insult, and no player or developer should settle for that level of quality. Outside of video games, my interests are varied but shallow. I enjoy bicycling, motorcycle touring, firearms, languages, music, history, and a bunch of other things I never feel I explore in enough depth.
Van Buren was not as political as New Vegas, mostly because the political theatre was west of where the "Prisoner's" story was happening. The religious conflict in New Canaan was restricted to that area, and was mostly an internal conflict rather than one with external pressure.
As for what I wanted to bring to the series, personally, I was initially interested in adjusting mechanics, making gameplay more enjoyable, and making as many player builds viable and rewarding as was practical. At the beginning of the project, I was just the lead system designer. It was only later, after Chris Avellone left Black Isle, that I took over as the game's lead designer. The majority of the story content had already been developed by Chris. I was mostly re-arranging the content into something I thought our shrinking team could get done.
[On religion in Honest Hearts]
I wanted to involve the player in a conflict between two well-meaning, genuinely religious characters. Religion is not dealt with much in video games, or designers deal with it as a joke or through proxies. That's fine if it's part of a broad spectrum of approaches, but the spectrum of religious portrayals in video games isn't that broad.
Religion in the wake of an apocalypse seemed like an under-explored topic, so I figured I'd make it more prominent in Honest Hearts. Religion is a way of understanding the universe and one's place in it. There are three major characters struggling for redemption in the story: Joshua Graham, Daniel, and The Survivalist (Salt-Upon-Wounds, also, but he's more of a minor figure). Each character has his own internal conflict and baggage to deal with and each character is looking for some sort of redemption for what they perceive as past failures. It is often their inability to recognize and accept their motivations that prevents them from making progress. Many players seem to empathize with one of the characters over the other two and derive their own way of dealing with the current problem based on that character's approach.
As for me, personally, I believe there are no gods and live my life accordingly.
[His design goals, and whether games can be educational]
I think all methods of communication can be didactic, but I prefer provoking players to start an internal dialogue rather than presenting a "correct" world view or opinion. It's one of the reasons I think RPGs have the potential to be so compelling. When you read a book or watch a film -- or even when you play most games -- characters take action and make decisions within the context of a story and the singular narrative the creators have defined. You have the ability to judge those actions as a passive viewer, but that's much different from being asked to actually make the choice yourself.
Ultimately, I want people to be able to relate the problems they face and the choices they make in games to the real world. Some people view games as pure escapism. I am not interested in making games that promote the individual's retreat from the world. I want to make games that create worlds parallel to our own, that make players compare and contrast the things they experience in games with what is happening all around us every day.
I have a cat, Sesame. My girlfriend also has a cat, Suki. Sesame was the kitten of a stray who wandered into my girlfriend’s cousin’s home and immediately gave birth. She apparently likes really gross smells, and seems to relish burrowing into my sweaty jerseys like catnip. Suki is an odd-eyed cat and probably the brattiest cat I have ever known. When she is not being a brat, she is very sweet.
I like dogs, but I don’t like the idea of owning a dog in the city. They need more attention and interaction than I can afford given my work schedule. I used to live in an apartment complex where many of the residents owned dogs, but most of them were cooped up all day long. They howled almost incessantly and seemed miserable. I don’t want to put an animal through that.