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Unmasking the Gamers: Jason Bergman

Willooi August 19, 2011 User blog:Willooi
Jason Bergman

The Fallout-related interviews in Unmasking the Gamers continues, with this edition featuring Bethesda's Jason Bergman. Jason was kind enough to explain his role at Bethesda during the production of Fallout: New Vegas and its DLCs, his interests and family (and Superman), as well as giving us some little hints into the content and reasons for the delay of Lonesome Road. As always, the full interview can be found on my blog, or on Gamasutra.

[On his role at Bethesda]

I'm a producer, which means I do a lot of stuff, and it changes a lot on a daily basis. My one-line summary of my job is that it's my job to make sure a game comes out on time and doesn't suck.

As for day-to-day, I work with Obsidian on concepts and general direction for the game and/or DLC and then make sure they stay on-track over time. I manage all the submissions to Microsoft, Sony and Valve (for 360, PS3 and PC respectively), I act as the go-between for our internal development team and Obsidian, I pay the bills, I manage the VO recording, I schedule all the patches and DLC releases, I work closely with our QA department…I could go on and on. The nice thing about being a producer is that days are rarely boring.

[His PR work during the promotion of New Vegas]

My experience is somewhat different from a lot of developers, since I worked in PR earlier in my career and was a journalist before that. I remember vividly what it was like to be on the other side of the microphone, and that certainly helps. I also remember at the start of my PR days having to promote games that were…let’s just say not so great. But it was my job to go out there and sell them, and sell them I did, despite a sometimes very hostile audience. By contrast, being asked to talk about a game like Fallout: New Vegas is an absolute joy, so no, I don’t really get nervous.

When you have a game like New Vegas, which built upon the goodwill from Fallout 3, you can just show the game, or tell people the details they want to know and they’ll be happy. I didn’t find myself having to really push very, very hard to sell the game to people. And it was great dealing with fans.

[How the collaboration between Bethesda and Obsidian to make New Vegas came about]

I started here at Bethesda after the game was already signed and just getting off the ground, but my understanding is that we had been friendly with Feargus Urquhart and his team at Obsidian, and were really just looking for the right project to work on together. With the team at Bethesda Game Studios working on Skyrim after Fallout 3, this just made sense as the right project at the right time. It sort of fell into place as a natural thing.

[On working with Bethesda and Obidian devs]

They're all great, in their own unique ways, and all extremely talented. Todd Howard has a very unique ability to get to the core of what makes a game fun and excise out the fat that bogs down a lot of games (particularly RPGs). Joshua Sawyer is a particularly skilled at the fine art of weapon balancing. He's also worldly and well educated, and you can see some of that come through in the New Vegas characters he took charge of (like Arcade Gannon and Chief Hanlon). I know he hates it when I point this out, but Chris Avellone is the greatest writer the gaming industry has ever known. Bar none.

[On the delay of Lonesome Road (and the resulting - well - fallout from it]

Releasing DLC is a somewhat complicated process, in which the publisher, developer and first parties (Microsoft, Sony or Valve, depending on the platform) all have to work together. I can't really go into detail on what happened to Lonesome Road, but as I said, it had nothing to do with the game itself.

It was really unfortunate that we had to delay Lonesome Road's release. And it was personally painful, because I had been so adamant on the forums that it was going to come out in August. And even worse, my post about how it was coming out in August was picked up as a news item on some fan sites just days before we had to delay it (even though I had actually posted it weeks prior to that). So to someone reading those sites, one day I'm assuring the fans, then later in the same week I'm out there saying it's not happening. Some of the comments about me weren't very nice after that, and I don't blame those fans who want to pin it on me personally. But it happens, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

After that bit of hubris, I absolutely refuse to even remotely suggest the month, week or year that Lonesome Road will be coming out. Our marketing team will announce the release date, but I won't even hint at when that announcement, a trailer or our other FNV-related bits of news will be coming. It just seems like tempting fate.

[On DLCs, plus a few hints at things to come =) ]

The goal with the DLC was to create four totally unique expanded experiences for the game, and in that regard I think they’ve all been really successful. One of the big complaints people have with expansions is that they're too similar to the base game, so it's really to Obsidian's credit that they have created such interesting and different add-ons. I also find it interesting to read which ones are people's favorites, because they are all so different from each other, from a gameplay and storytelling standpoint.

Personally, I enjoy them all. I think Honest Hearts has the best environment, Lonesome Road the best weapons, Dead Money the most intense gameplay, and Old World Blues the best characters. And the perks and weapons all carry over to the main game (not to mention the increased level cap), which is cool. Also, there's a decision in Lonesome Road that affects part of the Mojave wasteland when you’re done with the quest. That's really fun to play with.

[His own favourite games and moments]

The first would be Chris Avellone's Planescape: Torment, which is my favorite RPG of all time (well, one of three, the other two being the original Fallout and Morrowind). The scene at the end, where you finally get an answer to the question, "what can change the nature of a man?" to me, that's the single greatest scene in any RPG, ever. Ever. I have never been more tied to my keyboard, reading line after line of dialog (and to be clear, there’s a ton of freaking dialog in that game). After all I had been through with the Nameless One, I just found that scene to be riveting, profound and just mind-blowing.

Like I said before, Chris Avellone is a genius. He's a snappy dresser, too.

My single favorite quest in any RPG would be the end of the Thieves Guild quest line in Oblivion. That final quest where you have to sneak in and steal an Elder Scroll was just the coolest thing ever. The mechanics of it weren't revolutionary, but as a huge fan of the series, I remember being utterly amazed that I was actually doing it. It just oozed creativity, with the blind monks, jumping through the fireplace and all of that. Great stuff.

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