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Interview: Bethesda's Pete Hines

Kevin Kelly

Two years ago, our discussions with Bethesda were dominated by Fallout 3. Now, the publisher has four new titles in the pipeline: Fallout: New Vegas, Brink, Hunted: The Demon's Forge, and RAGE. Oh, and it also recently announced plans to dominate the world.

At a press event each of those four upcoming games, we spoke with company vice president Pete Hines about future plans and, of course, Fallout: New Vegas. Read on for the full interview.

It was not that long ago that we were talking to you guys about Fallout 3, and it sure seems like the company's been busy since then. Brink, Rage, Hunted, Fallout: New Vegas. Has Bethesda just slowly been ramping up to this? Is this part of an overall plan for the company?

Yes and yes. [laughing]


Obviously, the stuff that we're showing off here in Las Vegas is not things that we just started within the last few months. They're projects that have been going on for years. So certainly it was something where, over a period of time, you know, we have continued to look for external developers that we wanted to work with and projects that we really wanted to work on. So I think it's just been the process of staying with that and getting to a point now where we're getting a lineup that we feel is really impressive across the board. In general, even though we do have, I guess, maybe thematically a bit of crossover, we've got two games that are kind of post-apocalyptic and set in the west, but one is very much completely open-ended ... you know, lots of RPG stuff, create a character and do whatever you want, and one is kind of a shooter.

Plus, id are taking the shooter and doing a lot of things that they haven't ever really done before in terms of developing more story, more character, allowing the player to do more exploration, adding in this driving element, all of those things. So even though they may be similar thematically, I think they're very different types of games. So it has been a slow build from that that's a nice point to be at and one that we feel like we're positioned to now sustain both with the things that we've got, as well as a bunch of other things that are still unannounced and will be for a while. We've now gotten to a place where we've got a good mix of things and all of them are going to hit that quality bar that we're looking for.

E3 is coming up pretty soon. Should we be watching for any announcements from you or is this pretty much it?

Probably not. Just me, personally, both from my days, even though it seems eons ago where I used to attend E3 as a journo and now with my ten-plus years at Bethesda, I just don't think E3 is a great place to announce anything. It's just so much stuff going on that it tends to get lost, so I think we tend to try and go outside of that window for new announcements. I think we'll have a lot of new things to show. For example, all these games that we're talking about will have new stuff. We hope to be hands-on with the majority of them for the press, that kind of thing. But as far as new announcements, I think we would either do those kinds of things and maybe be more inclined to do them at events like QuakeCon. That's now kind of an event that we're working with id to make bigger and better. One of the ways you make it bigger and better is you take some of your stuff and do announcements there rather than doing them elsewhere. So I think it still remains to be seen, but I wouldn't expect any big announcements from us at E3, although it is only April and it's two months away.

You never know what's going to happen.

You never really know. Last year I thought for sure we were going to announce the id acquisition right around then and it wasn't announced till afterwards. I guess you never know for sure. But it's not probably in our plans, though.

No left-field announcement that the next Elder Scrolls is going to be a kid-friendly MMO on Facebook?

I think that's probably something that somebody completely made up on their own.

It sounds bizarre enough to me.

I've seen an awful lot of ridiculous rumors associated with that, so obviously I don't want to get into trying to comment on or validate other than to remark how ridiculous a rumor that is. There was another one like last week that was like, "Oh, they're doing a Fallout for the iPhone something or other." I mean it was so completely ridiculous and without any merits that it's just ... I think people now just make up stuff to see whether or not we'll dignify it with a response.

Yeah, but having said that, a Pip Boy on my iPhone would be pretty cool.


What are the target release dates for these four new games?

Brink is fall and Fallout: New Vegas is fall, Hunted is Q1 of next year and RAGE is next year ... just next year. We're not getting any more specific than that.

In your free time, what little you might have, do you tend to game much?

Oh, absolutely.

What have you been playing?

To your point, I was commenting to somebody the other day how ... I'm not sure if irony is the right word that I have my job in the video game industry which seems to prevent me from playing video games much. Let's see, I just finished BioShock 2. I'm playing God of War 3. I'm just about to start Mass Effect 2. I still, when I can, although it hasn't been very much lately, I still like to play Company of Heroes. At lunch, with one of the senior designers here, we're kind of Company of Heroes junkies and like jumping on and playing during our lunch break. Yeah, mostly that, and then a lot of stuff on my iPhone. Like you said, since I'm traveling a lot, I'm very much into portable gaming because I tend to be in airplanes and airports a lot and you can't take your 360 with you.

Time to get an iPad, I guess. Fallout 3 presented users with this gigantic world and a lot of options and things to do. Then you had a ton of DLC that came out for it. Are you guys worried at all that people are tired of that space or do you think that New Vegas is just a completely new game?

I think it's the latter. I think it's a new game. At the end of the day, we've sold a ton of downloadable content. But the truth of the matter is that a fair number of folks played Fallout 3, liked it, enjoyed it and moved on. That guy that played the game for 300 hours is not the norm. He's not uncommon, but he's not the norm. So for most folks, I think, you know, they play Fallout 3, they got out of it what they wanted, but Fallout: New Vegas is a new experience and offers up an awful lot of new stuff. And I think if you like Fallout 3, I'm not sure how you don't get excited about all the new features, the new content, the new location, all that stuff that Obsidian is bringing to the table. I think it's a compelling argument to play Fallout but not more Fallout 3 to do something that feels new and different.

People have criticized Fallout 3 for kind of failing as an FPS and Todd Howard said, "Oh, I can agree with that." Do you think the Obsidian guys have addressed some of those failings?

To an extent, although I don't think that they set out as an objective to, "We're going to fix this game and make it a better FPS." I think they just set out to say, based on conversations they had with a lot of the guys on the team here at Bethesda Game Studios. They can read reactions from fans and the press just as easily as anybody else. So I think they looked for places where they could improve the game – adding new options to melee weapons and VATS doesn't make it a better FPS, but it does make it a better and more fun game. So, you know, which features make it a better FPS and which ones make it a better game? I'm not sure, but I think all of them end up making it a better game and ultimately, I think at the end of the day, that's what most folks care about. There are certainly some things, if you played the game in real-time, first-person only that'll make your game more fun and more dramatic and so forth, but I think at the end of the day all of it just makes it a better game and that's the ultimate goal.

When Fallout 3 came out, you had a lot of those really great and well-produced videos that introduced people to a lot of the kitsch that was inherent to that world, and it brought you up to speed a little bit on the whole game. Are you guys planning marketing on that level with New Vegas or will it be scaled back? I don't think I've heard as much about New Vegas as I did at this similar time frame for Fallout 3.

Part of that is just because we started on Fallout 3 a lot earlier. We started 16, 18 months before launch because we felt like we needed that long to re-introduce Fallout to people who knew it, as well as to introduce it to people who had no idea what it was. Because, let's be honest, a lot of your folks that bought Fallout 3 didn't really know what Fallout 1 or 2 were. Some of them did, but the vast majority of folks did not. So we felt like we needed more time to explain to folks what Fallout was to get them excited about this, to help them understand what this game was. That isn't nearly as much of a challenge with Fallout: New Vegas. You don't have to spend as much time explaining to folks what's Fallout. You can spend a lot more time just focusing on what's Fallout: New Vegas? Why's it different? Why is it something you need to be looking forward to, as opposed to explaining, like, what's this '50s vibe and "I'm not sure I get the whole idea of Fallout being retro futuristic." All of that stuff has kind of been done.

So, yeah, I certainly think we'll do marketing at the same level, but it won't be exactly the same way. I certainly feel like we've done a fair amount of that already in the stuff that we want to do now. We want to feel similar but different. We don't want to just keep sort of re-hashing the same gags and the same ideas. I would say with some confidence that, come this October, you will definitely have to try to miss marketing for Fallout: New Vegas when it's all said and done. It's just, to your point, it sort of goes to your earlier question which is, do you have concerns about people knowing and, to paraphrase you, being tired of Fallout because of all that stuff. Well, that sort of goes to the fact that we are fairly well known out there at this point, so we're not coming from a place of having to get a lot of people's attention now. It's sort of like, just a different objective.

It's almost a generational gap for gamers. There are people who've never played those first games, probably even never heard of them.

There's a lot of them, and if you sort of just look at how many people played the PC version back then versus the millions upon millions of copies of Fallout 3 we sold, there's millions and millions of people who didn't play those first games.

Yeah, it's kind of staggering. Are you guys going to do anything to bridge that history gap or fill people in?

I think we're probably going to continue on the way we have, which is each game stands on its own. You don't have to have played the originals. I don't want you to have to play Fallout 3 to get Fallout: New Vegas. There will be little things that you may get that somebody else wouldn't get, but by and large we want each one to stand on its own. And we took a similar approach with the Elder Scrolls, right? We didn't assume you played Arena or Daggerfall if you went to play Oblivion. But we didn't spend a whole lot of time trying to educate you on what those previous games were about, either. We wanted Oblivion to stand on its own. There's plenty of information there for you to dive into if you want, but if you just want to play the game and experience it on its own, you totally could.

We feel like that served us pretty well and people didn't feel overwhelmed, like, "What, is there going to be a test on it?" Like, "What's with all this info? It's way more than I need." So we wanted to make sure we don't overdo it by trying to, "Oh, look at all this great stuff we've got." Like, you know what? If they really get into it, they'll find all that and educate it. We just want to focus on the game that we're making and I think we'll take the same approach on Fallout: New Vegas. We're going to tell you everything you need to know about experiencing and having fun with Fallout: New Vegas. If you played Fallout 3 and you play Fallout: New Vegas, you'll feel the continuity, you'll get some of the little hints and references in Vegas that may refer to the similar things in the world or things from past games because we love that kind of stuff. But you don't suddenly miss out on it, like, "I have no idea what's going on" because you don't know about 1 and 2. That's the difference.

You guys had a very successful tour with that Airstream trailer back when Fallout 3 launched. Are you guys going to have anything else, any kind of set piece to take to E3 or PAX to promote the game?

Yeah, we have some pretty cool ideas for some stuff we want to do that's big and iconic for E3 and QuakeCon and PAX. I don't think we'll say yet what it is, but something that certainly when you see it, you go, "Oh yeah. That's definitely Fallout: New Vegas."

One word: strippers.

[laughs] We'll have to wait and see.

Well, Pete, thank you.

You're very welcome.

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