98: From Black Isle to Bethesda

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"In the meantime, Interplay announced they are working on a massively multiplayer version of Fallout. Aware that the company was deep in debt to a wide array of business partners, Fallout's fanbase despaired further. Would a half-assed MMOG further disenchant RPG players who had already endured Tactics and Brotherhood of Steel? Had the apocalypse finally turned grim - for good? Apparently not."

Michael Zenke tests the fallout of Fallout.

From Black Isle to Bethesda

Great article.

I completely missed both Fallout and Fallout 2 back when they were originally released, so I'm hastily working my way through the pair before the new game is released. I know a lot of people have been really skeptical with regards to what Bethesda will do with Fallout 3, but I really think anything to revive this franchise is better than nothing at this point. More importantly, and in fairness to Bethesda's pedigree, it's highly unlikely that Fallout 3 won't be a brilliant and engrossing game worthy of the mantle.

I thought Wasteland was a computer game? Was there a tabletop game as well?

It's somewhat depressing to see the misinformation present in the article.

Black Isle Studios were not responsbible for the development of Baldur's Gate. While the Escapist article doesn't outright state this, it presents itself oblivious to the fact that the title was developed by Bioware and given assorted assistance by Black Isle Studios and Interplay, the game's publishers. The only Baldur's Gate title fully responsible for Black Isle Studios was Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 2 - a console action title which shed many of its PC counterparts' role-playing drappings.

Also, when the author refers to Fallout as Wasteland's successor he mentions the latter was a tabletop game. Interesting, since the only game titled Wasteland which Fallout is considered by many to be a successor of - or to carry much inspiration from it - is Interplay's own Wasteland videogame, released for a number of platforms.

I also question the assertion that sandbox titles were a rarity back in 1997. The author is quick to mention Morrowind but doesn't seem to know that kind of "open-ended design" was no different than that of Daggerfall and Arena's, Morrowind's predecessors. Amazingly, Ultima VII also seems to have been forgotten.

For a usually in-depth online publication that - as far as I can remember - usually tries to cover all angles of a given story, it's also missing the most relevant concerns held by Fallout fans. In fact, I barely noticed any - after the ill exposed origins of Fallout, it mostly looks at Bethesda as some saviour of the series and basically outlines all the information that's been available ever since the license was acquired by the developers of The Elder Scrolls. The latter isn't particularly useful considering every trickle of news concerning the game's development has hit most mainstream videogame news sites, and the former simply treats the Fallout fanbase as a silent one.

In the end, I'm not sure this article could be considered great or informative in the least.
It reads like a press release at best, and poor journalism at worst.

That was the most badly researched article I've read here so far.

Amount of factual errors and arrogance found in the ability to write an article so ignorant and illiterate is astonishing. Perhaps this article foretells what will become of Escapist? Please, either remove this article and publish an apology, or edit it, and most importantly, do not let this person to publish another article on your site.

First, I'd like to welcome those of you who are new to The Escapist Forum. We always enjoy hearing from our readers, even when what we hear is not necessarily pleasing. I hope you all will stick around and continue to read and comment - even when we don't happen to be writing about Fallout that week.

As to inaccuracies in Michael Zenke's story, there are two that we've decided needed to be addressed, and we have addressed them. The first is the matter of Todd Howard's inadvertent promotion to CEO of Bethesda. Todd is actually the Executive Producer at that company, and the title of CEO was attributed to him in error. Mr. Hines of the same company alerted us to this error this morning, as it had regrettably slipped past the editors of The Escapist. We've since corrected it.

The second error we've addressed was the mis-representation of Wasteland as a pen & paper roleplaying game. As you all know, and a few of you have pointed out, it was actually a computer game. We knew it, too, but jumbled the text of the article in editing, introducing the error by mistake. These things happen. We publish over 200 stories each year, five features, the same number of editorials and more than twice that number of news stories each week - roughly the equivalent amount of content produced in one week as most periodicals produce in one month. This is not to excuse mistakes, but to explain them. Mea culpa.

As to the remainder of the various issues which have been taken with this story, I believe a number of folks are confusing opinion with fact. Fallout is a heavily influential game, and its fans some of the most passionate - and vocal - in the business. We appreciate that people have strong opinions about these games and the companies involved with them, and to be honest so do we. And so does the author. Feel free to disagree with them, but doing so does not constitute an error on either his or your part. Disagreement is fine, and wonderful and I hope we all continue to debate such things as the prevalence of sand-box gaming. But these are not factual errors.

In any case, we appreciate being called on our mistakes, and as I'm confident, since we're human, we will continue to make them from time to time, I hope that you will stick around to continue to call us on them. That is, after all, part of the process.

Cheers,

-R

Well, there are some other mistakes:

- Fallout was created by Interplay and not by Black Isle. BIS only developed FO2.
- Bethesda isn't located in Bethesda but in Rockville, Maryland

And I wouldn't call Fallout a sandbox game, but thats just my opinion. ;)

@Russ Pitts:

I'd like to thank you for your input on the article and the flaws in it brought up by readers. It's nice to see the mistakes were noticed although to be honest, I'm not sure those two alone would put a damper on the situation: in our age, misinformation spreads much faster in a medium such as the internet than actual information - and certain passages of the article don't seem to fight against it. (in fact, they seem to have been influenced by it). Many general gaming forums, for instance, are rife with people who claim Bioware developed Black Isle's Planescape: Torment for the simple reason the former licensed the Infinity Engine to the latter. How much more of an inconsistent posession of facts, I wonder, will the unaddressed flaws of the article will help create?

In a time where one of the most (in my humble opinion) underrated computer role-playing game series is set for a revival, I believe a clear and well researched article would be of great value to both Fallout newcomers and nostalgic fans, along with those wanting to know more about the genre's roots. Unfortunately, I'm not sure even the suggested corrections will be of value to any group since the remaining inconsistencies still seem (from my perspective), somewhat revealing of a lack of general knowledge of both Fallout lore and videogame history - something which, unfortunately, seem increasingly built on interpretations rather than facts.

AM.

I consider myself a Fallout fan. Played 1, 2 and Tactics several times. That being said, and with no intentiones whatsoever of starting a flame war, most of the fans of this game remind me of the Tolkien fans who could not enjoy the movies because "Faramir never took the hobbits to Osgiliath!"... really sorry that you couldn't enjoy Tactis because it wasn't Fallout 3.

So the article has a couple of mistakes. Big deal. Cheer up, an RPG master is working on Fallout 3, the game NO ONE ever thought was going to get made EVER. Yeah, there's the risk that it will blow, that it won't be 100% Fallout... who's not going to enjoy it if it is just 75% Fallout and 25% of something else?? Who's not going to enjoy if they make it 3rd person?? Well, probably some Fallout fans. The rest of us will.

Now there's something any budding journalist can aspire to - a readership that doesn't care about crass misrepresentation of the facts and will even actively try to divert attention away from them!

If only I had known of this a few years ago, my line of work could have been entirely different...

Not so crass from my point of view

Apparently so, or you wouldn't think them to be so inconsequential.

Look, if the guy confused Wasteland to be tabletop instead of videogame, and said that sandbox games were a rarity (but you say they weren't because there were 4 or 5 of them, which for some people could make them a rarity) is not that important for me. And they apologized for the mistakes in the article already.

I understand if it is that important for you however, I have a comparable degree of fanatism for, say, movies based on Philip Dick books. I KNOW they are going to suck... however I enjoyed Minority Report to a certain degree.

Isn't it specious to invoke fanaticism over a simple post that does nothing other than point out a number of factual errors in an article? In fact, fanaticism over what? At what point does my post veer into obsession over the subject matter, disregarding opposing opinions in an attempt to defend my point of view? I don't belong to some internet clique simply because I make a post about, among other things, Fallout. I addressed some noticeable flaws in the article, simple as that.

In fairness to TWP, there's a pretty rabid fan base for Fallout, and one specific community likes nothing better than to correct people on all things Fallout, down to a nitpicky level. It's easy to confuse a situation like this with one like that. Factual errors within the issue aside, let's play nice.

Reboot thread:

Fallout's gone through a roller coaster ride, and now Bethesda is in a position to make or break the franchise. Discuss.

Fairness? I'm not sure how fair it is to assume that when someone is not speaking exclusively of Fallout they are somehow eligible to be placed in the same glittering gems of hatred circus. And it's not like a similar article wouldn't draw the same kind of attention from other fanbases - the reaction of many Final Fantasy fans over SquareEnix's insistence in churning out Final Fantasy VII subproducts has been spectacularly obsessive (even moreso than your average rabid Fallout fan).

But, benefit of the doubt and all that jazz.

Bethesda's major skill seems to be at making very detailed, very open worlds. Having played Fallout and its sequel only a little, I can't say for sure how well the Fallout kind of detail and openness compare to the Elder Scrolls kind. One thing's for certain: it will be quite different.

Fallout fans are going to hate that.

The question in my mind is whether Bethesda can write dialogue -- or hire someone to write dialogue -- that's up to Fallout's standards of wit. I mean, I enjoy Oblivion, but dialogue isn't exactly its biggest strength.

I have no doubt Fallout 3 will be an excellent game. It will not, however, be Van Buren, and although this is likely to generate tens more new user accounts here at The Forum, I don't believe it should be.

Ten years have gone by. So much has changed in games and technology that if Bethesda did make Van Buren, it would be widely panned, and even the folks who claim to want nothing more than Fallout 2 with new dialogue would be disappointed. See: Supreme Commander for an example of the dangers of living in the past.

I'm glad a company as respectable and competent as Bethesda is holding the keys, and I'm looking forward to what they put out. But I'm also trying very hard to remember to not judge it based on past efforts of other people. This is their game now. Or, in the words of the new American Idol, this is their now.

I'll just say that the Fallout brand could have fallen into far worse hands than Bethesda. It's not hard to imagine a parallel history where a publisher with the Fallout brand just licensed development to a low-cost offshore development shop and pushed out a B game to try to milk the brand cow.

Bethesda may not make the game that Interplay/Black Isle would have made, but they will at least make a good game.

Oh my, I don't like it to be called a (Fallout-) fanatic. While I am a longtime fan I haven't spend the last decade at No Mutants Allowed, in fact I have never posted there. I also don't think that this thread is the right place to discuss if Bethesda is able to develop a worthy sequel to Fallout 1/2 or not. This seems to be some kind of distraction (started here by Russ Pitts) from the real problem - the quality of the article.

I think nowadays game journalism is in a terrible state, independent and critical work is hard to find. Than The Escapist appeared and offered well written and interesting articles I enjoyed to read. But now I'm a bit sceptical if I can trust The Escapist any longer. This poorly researched article (even the title is inappropriate - it should be called "from Interplay to Bethesda") rather seems to be part of the beginning advertising campaign for Fallout 3 than an example for independent game journalism. I am disappointed - by the article, but even more by the reaction to the criticism.

Amasius, we never like to disappoint any reader. We treasure our reputation and we hold ourselves to a higher standard of journalism. To the extent that we have disappointed you, we have failed.

That said, I do think you are being unduly harsh in a few of your criticisms. It's ok to bloody our nose, but please don't kick us in the nuts.

This poorly researched article (even the title is inappropriate - it should be called "from Interplay to Bethesda")

I believe the thinking was that Black Isle was the first licensee of Interplay, while Bethesda was the latest. Hence, From Black Isle to Bethesda. We could also have called it From Interplay to Bethesda, but that doesn't make our choice of title inappropriate or wrong, I don't think.

I also don't think that this thread is the right place to discuss if Bethesda is able to develop a worthy sequel to Fallout 1/2 or not. This seems to be some kind of distraction (started here by Russ Pitts) from the real problem - the quality of the article.

Well, this thread was auto-generated when we published the article. The first post was by someone telling us "great article". You're free to focus on flaws you see, but there's no conspiracy to "distract" you from what the thread is "supposed" to be about. It's just a thread. I feel like you're calling us out for... responding...?

Far from try to ignore and distract everyone from the issue, Russ hunted down our resident research manager, had her confirm the mistakes, then updated the published article to include the corrections. The average magazine or website - like the New York Times - just publishes a two sentence "correction" a week later. We went live and fixed the bug, then came and made a mea culpa.

So, again, I'm sorry you were disappointed with the article, but I also think you're being a little harsh, particularly when you start to question our independence and suggest we're just running advertising.

I believe the thinking was that Black Isle was the first licensee of Interplay, while Bethesda was the latest. Hence, From Black Isle to Bethesda. We could also have called it From Interplay to Bethesda, but that doesn't make our choice of title inappropriate or wrong, I don't think.

Lets take a look at the article:
"Black Isle was forced to go it alone, creating their own rule system, "SPECIAL ."
This shows that Mr. Zenke thinks wrongly that Fallout and its rule system was created by Black Isle. Well, Fallout was released in 1997 and Black Isle was founded as a division of Interplay in 1998. He isn't writing about licensees but obviously about developers.

Well, this thread was auto-generated when we published the article. The first post was by someone telling us "great article". You're free to focus on flaws you see, but there's no conspiracy to "distract" you from what the thread is "supposed" to be about. It's just a thread. I feel like you're calling us out for... responding...?

Of course this is just an autogenerated thread and it is often unpredictable which direction such a thread takes but after some unspecific praise and criticism Russ Pitts answers with

As to inaccuracies in Michael Zenke's story, there are two that we've decided needed to be addressed, and we have addressed them.

Than he called the Fallout fans "some of the most passionate - and vocal - in the business". Maybe I'm just to suspicious, but I have the impression that he is implying "and irrational".
After his post (and even before) some other mistakes in the article were pointed out and instead to adress them he only assured his trust in Bethesda. The quality of Fallout 3 shouldn't be his concern; the quality of the article however should be.

Far from try to ignore and distract everyone from the issue, Russ hunted down our resident research manager, had her confirm the mistakes, then updated the published article to include the corrections.

Uh, you are aware that there are still some factual errors in the article?

- Black Isle hasn't developed the Baldur's Gate series
- Black Isle hasn't developed the first Fallout
- Bethesda isn't located anymore in Bethesda

So, again, I'm sorry you were disappointed with the article, but I also think you're being a little harsh, particularly when you start to question our independence and suggest we're just running advertising.

Well, my suspicion was raised when Russ Pitts mentioned Mr. (Pete) Hines in his response. Mr. Hines is well known to be a quite a magician when it comes to advertising campaigns and to create hype for their new games. But you could gain my trust back with a critical analysis of game marketing exemplified at Pete Hines' work for Bethesda. That should be a very interesting article and could be written by Russ Pitts who showed in his I'm evil. Confessions of an Online Guerilla Marketer article that he knows something about the subject.

Amasius:

As to inaccuracies in Michael Zenke's story, there are two that we've decided needed to be addressed, and we have addressed them.

Than he called the Fallout fans "some of the most passionate - and vocal - in the business". Maybe I'm just to suspicious, but I have the impression that he is implying "and irrational".

This strikes me as paranoid.

A valid question might be why isn't Michael Zenke on the board defending his article? Why are Pitts and Archon, apologizing and making excuses for him? It was his article and his research. A simple apology on his part and a correction of the errors in the article is all that is necessary. Then the forum can move on to talking about how great Fallout was (very great) and what we think Bethesda can do with the IP (cautious optimism).

Isn't Michael Zenke a Slashdot editor? It'd explain the mysterious silence.

(I won't be getting into discussion about poor quality of article. For people who don't know Fallout well mistakes like this aren't quite important. And for Fallout fans it might be annoying but whatever - so short article wouldn't have any informative vaule anyways.)

@Archon

It's not hard to imagine a parallel history where a publisher with the Fallout brand just licensed development to a low-cost offshore development shop and pushed out a B game to try to milk the brand cow.

I think that you've got it totally wrong. Fallout is just too big brand to be sold to any smaller company. So it was obvious that Interplay will be holding their rights until someone really BIG comes by and buys them - because it was last chance of revival for them [as you all probably know - cause it was already in escapist headlines - now they are developing fallout mmo for bethesda].
So since Interplay went dead we were at least sure that now we will have to see Fallout 3 or this would be definite end. (Because selling title out to small company wouldn't gave them money they were looking for at the time.)
And as Bethesda have bought the rights to Fallout they won't be looking for small developers, because they themselves want to push on with big title, and other products in the franchise would be only distraction.

Maybe I don't get their RPG style, maybe I didn't play the game long enough to appreciate what they do, but so far my experience with Bethesda has been less than enjoyable.

I played about 6 hours of Morrowind I couldn't force myself through another minute. It was like an MMO with no multiplayer. I know thats only a few hours to play such a large game, but I don't remember enjoying any part of it. The animations were terrible. I found no joy in killing the smallest vermain because it took so long to get one or two hits.

Maybe I'm missing something that made the game, and other games like it, great, but I have no iterest in their games as of right now.

Blaxton:
Maybe I don't get their RPG style, maybe I didn't play the game long enough to appreciate what they do, but so far my experience with Bethesda has been less than enjoyable.

I just don't get The Elder Scrolls series either. Bethesda puts so much effort into a formula that encourages massive amounts of mediocrity, in my opinion.

Echolocating:
I just don't get The Elder Scrolls series either. Bethesda puts so much effort into a formula that encourages massive amounts of mediocrity, in my opinion.

I have two fortune cookies here. One says you'll be deemed a Fallout fanboy by other posters for not falling in love with Bethesda's dazzling array of design mediocrity pampered by awards and high scores, and the other says you'll be deemed a Fallout fanboy by other posters for not falling in love with Bethesda's dazzling array of design mediocrity pampered by awards and high scores.

Which do you think you'll get? :D

@Automatic Meat, Echolocating: Man I really wish fallout fanboys wouldn't keep posting ;)

All kidding aside, I have had trouble getting into Morrowind myself, if you lasted 6 hours blaxton you gave it more of an effort than I was willing to. I did and do enjoy Oblivion, but for all the reasons that other people seem not to. I love wandering around in the world aimlessly making potions and selling them. I don't really care for the voice acting - the stor - or some other aspects of it. I still find it to be wonderfully addictive when I set goals for myself like "own all the property" buy statues and clothe them with all the different armor types and so on. (The statues are a mod)

Fallout's story is not amazing. It's that they take such a horrible event, and find humor in the apocalypse that makes it so intriguing. If Bethesda manages to continue the style, without being referential they will probably win my vote. I worry that the game will go for too much interaction, too big of a world, and too much to do in it. Thats not what makes fallout great, it's not about having 1000s of NPCs to converse with. It's that the NPC's you do converse with are all memorable, even comical in their own way. Oblivions characters lack charm, and as best I can tell, so do all of Bethesda's.

I am not impugning the quality of their games, just the quality of their characters. Bethesda would do well to hire a competent character writer to work with their stories, to give characters back story, and then hire someone capable of voicing them.

Automatic Meat:

Which do you think you'll get? :D

I'll take both! Mmmm... cookies. ;-)

I haven't played any Fallout games actually.

-----

I agree with you, Tom... quality over quantity, man.

Whatever happens to the next installment of Fallout, I just pray that the game doesn't punish me for picking a lock, jumping, or talking to someone (or performing one of a billion other mundane actions) and then magically level the world around me.

By the way, I like to complain... oh, crap!!! Damn it all! My complaining skill just went up... oh, great. I just leveled up and now I can't leave the house because the neighborhood cats have been replaced with 10-foot tall demons that bleed hate.

All kidding aside, I have had trouble getting into Morrowind myself, if you lasted 6 hours blaxton you gave it more of an effort than I was willing to. I did and do enjoy Oblivion, but for all the reasons that other people seem not to. I love wandering around in the world aimlessly making potions and selling them. I don't really care for the voice acting - the stor - or some other aspects of it. I still find it to be wonderfully addictive when I set goals for myself like "own all the property" buy statues and clothe them with all the different armor types and so on.

But this only describes problem we will have with BethSoft approach to Fallout. Morrowind was game with great main quest (if you were only willing to read), compelling world, own setting and style. But Bethesda failed in trying to combine story-driven game with TES openes ('do whatever you want').
So they changed approach but they changed it for worse: if people can't get into story driven game, which has to be so text-heavy, let's just leave it.
And they did so.
Oblivion plot design and dialogue writing was mostly terrible. Industry veterans like Emil Pagiarulo who worked on Dark Brotherhood saved some parts, but with general approach to make game simpler all the TES lore had to get dumbed down.
Same might go with Fallout. I'm not worried that they CAN'T copy (but still - in creative way) atmosphere from first two titles, and all feeling of something, umm, DEEP in all aspects of game. I'm worried that they will presume that they don't have to do that. Because action-driven Oblivion was selling better than Morrowind. Crap.

Echolocating:
Whatever happens to the next installment of Fallout, I just pray that the game doesn't punish me for picking a lock, jumping, or talking to someone (or performing one of a billion other mundane actions) and then magically level the world around me.

By the way, I like to complain... oh, crap!!! Damn it all! My complaining skill just went up... oh, great. I just leveled up and now I can't leave the house because the neighborhood cats have been replaced with 10-foot tall demons that bleed hate.

Exactly xD
That's the main reason I stopped playing Oblivion.
That and the huge, dead, empty world and the totally botched rpg system.
Learning by doing... run up against a wall for half an hour...
Oblivion and Morrowind are the only two rpg games I know of where I have to be cautious how I level up and how fast.

I hope they stick with the SPECIAL system in fallout 3.

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