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In a hotel conference room, Bethesda's Pete Hines recently demoed the latest version of the Fallout 3. He trudged through a collapsed building, firing a machine gun at ambling, radiated mutants. The gore made me wince a little, with blood gurgling from zombie limbs. Earlier, he shot the head off another enemy, and blood arced straight out of the neck, as if it was trying to reach the brain one last time.

Only minutes earlier, he'd shown me how the player's character grows up in an underground bunker, with those moments acting partly as tutorial and partly as a character creator. Your father, for example, stays hidden in the shadows after your birth until he checks out how the infant will look grown up. Players use a medical gadget to see (read: design) their appearance, then he emerges with roughly similar, paternal features.

We've covered the game a few times before, so in addition to my general impressions, I talked with Hines about some recently revealed features.

The number of Fallout endings has been a talking point. "We're up to over 500 now," Hines noted. I asked further about what that means. "That's the big thing. 'What does it mean?' It's not 500 completely different things that happen at the end of the game." Fallout 3 follows the spirit of the prior two games by mixing together a slurry of possible cut-scenes and story elements.

"For folks who played the original games, this isn't news. It's what the original Fallouts did, where you know, did you do this or did you do this? And which one of those you did plays that part of the cut scene."

As Hines moved around dark corners, he showed off the system that lets gamers choose to play as a real-time or turn-based shooter. Basically, you hit a button to activate turn-based mode, pausing the scene, and queuing up specific attacks to enemies. After running out of your attack slots -- these are based on the firing rate and clip size of a weapon -- the action plays out in a brief movie-like sequence. Other times, he lobbed grenades around corners in real time, giggling once when a random zombie arm flung back across our field of view.

Above ground, he showed off some of the Washington D.C. landmarks, saying that the city makes up about a fourth of the game. Fallout 3's entire area is smaller than Oblivion, but Hines says it's denser, with more to do and less traveling.


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I asked if downloadable content would follow in that game's path. Hines answered, "[Downloadable expansions are] certainly something -- given the popularity of the ones we did for Oblivion -- that we'll be looking into. Until we get through the content creation part on the [full] game, it's all theoretical."

He showed off a few voiced characters, including your father played by Liam Neeson, but most of the dialogue was still placeholder. Bethesda is working on finishing the rest of the game before the company can go back and add final lines, but Hines expects more than Oblivion, with roughly 50 to 60 different character voices.

As far as the total time of recorded lines, he worked me through the math, saying, "I don't know how many hours it is, but I bet it's a lot. 'Cause we're talking about having like three sound studios running 24 hours-a-day for the better part of a month just to get through everything we've got to record, then process and output. There's a lot ... more voice actors than we used [in Oblivion.]"

At the end of the hour-long demo, I especially learned that Fallout 3 will take days and weeks to ease into. From wry touches at the beginning -- the A button calls out "Da-da" -- to a helpful dog that understands your commands to bring back food and useful items, Fallout is full of depth. I'm looking forward to seeing the game's other layers with its worldwide, simultaneous release for 360, PC, and PS3 in Fall, 2008.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.