Inside the Vault: Brian Robb

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Another week, another Inside the Vault. Brian Robb is here to answer some forum questions. Before working here, Brian wrote some awesome mods for Morrowind that were more than mods, they added brand new features to the game. Amazing stuff.

1. What’s your job at Bethesda?

I’m a programmer. I’m responsible for a number of different systems in the game, but for Fallout 3 my biggest task is the Combat AI. I spend a lot of time running the game in slow motion from a floating camera, watching what the NPCs are doing and trying to make them intelligent and more natural.

2. What prior projects have you worked on?

I got my start right here, working on Oblivion. The majority of my time was spent writing the Save/Load system, but I worked on a number of other elements of the game as well. Prior to Oblivion, I was a member of the Morrowind mod community and created the Morrowind Enhanced series of mods.

3. What have you drawn on for inspiration in developing Fallout 3? Books, movies, music, etc would be fine, if you don’t want to name any games.

As a programmer I’m not involved in the world or art design, though I am happy to see elements and themes being incorporated into the game from sources I’ve enjoyed like Mad Max, The Road, and of course, the original Fallout games. For my own work, I’ve played back through my game library looking at combat to see what worked well for them and what didn’t. I think the most recent game I have that offered some pretty impressive combat AI was F.E.A.R.

4. How is the work-environment? Is it competitive or co-op? Do the different teams talk together?

It’s very cooperative. We work in a fairly open space, so it’s very easy to walk down a row or two and talk to whomever you need. We’re all big gamers here and we’re all focused on making the best game we can.

5. What is your favorite type of game to play (RTS,FPS,RPG etc)

I play a little bit of everything, though I tend to enjoy RPGs more than anything else. However, that doesn’t stop me from putting RPG/FPS hybrids like Deus Ex and the System Shock series high in my top 10. That particular sub-genre is one that I wish got a little more attention from game studios.

6. How long have you been playing Fallout, and how would you describe your feelings towards the franchise?

I first played Fallout about two or three years after it was released. On my very first playthrough, after about 5 minutes of playing I left Vault 13 and hit a random encounter on my way to Shady Sands. Much to my surprise, I was now the owner of a very shiny Alien Blaster. This led my character to specialize in Energy weapons early on and travel great distances in search of small energy cells. On my next playthrough with a similar character, solely by virtue of not experiencing that random encounter, the game and my character progressed in a completely different way. That is the most important aspect of Fallout to me, that not only can you replay the game with many different character types, even replaying with the same character will present different opportunities and experiences.

7. Considering that much of the game will probably be in a wild wasteland, do any of you spend much time hiking, camping, etc, and if so where?

Going hiking is one of my favorite weekend activities. There are a number of places in the area with good hiking like Sugarloaf, along the C&O canal, and Great Falls National Park. When I’ve got a little more time, the Shenandoah valley is just a few hours drive.

8. What’s the last game you bought? Did you like it?

Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition. It’s got a great atmosphere and a lot of nice ways to interact with the environment. Pushing heavy objects against the door and windows of a house, then running to the top floor to kick down ladders while shooting zombies in the head is a thrill.

9. What games are you looking forward to on the horizon?

The main game I’m looking forward to is Bioshock in the hope that it will continue the spirit of the System Shock series, since System Shock 2 ranks as my favorite game of all time. There’s a certain feeling you get when you’re walking down a claustrophobic hallway with nothing but a wrench, 3 pistols all on the verge of breaking, and 9 bullets left between them. I’ve yet to find a game that recaptures that experience, but I’ve got my fingers crossed on Bioshock.

10. Other than videogames, what are your interests? (Board games, reading, music, etc.)

Aside from the aforementioned hiking, kayaking is something I also enjoy greatly. The nearby Potomac river has a number of tiny islands and creeks that are fun to paddle around. When inside, I can enjoy a good novel by the likes of Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, or Philip K. Dick.

11. Have you played the VanBuren Alpha? If so, what were your feelings on it?

Haven’t played it. I’m not sure if any of the Van Buren devs have stated their feelings on the matter, but I know that I would feel a bit uncomfortable about the general public playing my unfinished work.

Bonus Round:

Pitch me your dream game in a sentence or less. Go.

Take System Shock and set it in an open-ended city. The player finds themselves walking desolate streets, devoid of life or death, looking for clues as to what has happened to the residents of the city. As time passes, the mutated former residents spread dynamically through the buildings and streets, forcing the player to cut them off and seal key accessways in order to gain enough time in order to figure out either how to put an end to the menace or simply how to escape.

Finally, time for a rant. Go.

Ads in games. Sure, we had ads back in the 20th century, but not in our games! Only on tv and radio…and in magazines…and movies. And at ball games, on buses, and milk cartons, and t-shirts, and bananas, and written on the sky. But not in games! No sirree.

All kidding aside, I think we’ve only seen the beginning of a dangerous trend. Judging by the sales numbers, my one-man boycott of Battlefield 2142 was not the success I had hoped. Actually, I wasn’t interested in the game anyway. But the point remains, to Joe Average Gamer, it appears the inclusion of ads was not a sufficient reason to skip BF2142 and play something else. I’m certain a number of other companies have seen that success and are interested in their own moneyhats, so I guess we can expect it to continue. I’m not looking forward to the day when an ad blocking program running in the background is required just so we can play a new game without being assaulted by advertising every other step.

Reader Comments

  1. I second the notion that in-game ads really suck! Fight Night and BF 2142 were the two games that annoyed me most recently. I’m not looking forward to the ad usage in Quake Wars.

  2. Ditto about in-game ads. I hate them. I won’t buy games with ads either. Especially now that most games have increased from $50 to $60, there’s no reason (other than greed) for developers to put ads in their games.

  3. I’m also on the BF2142 Ban wagon, although I REALLY enjoyed the gameplay. I won’t play anything that spams me.

    Advertisements pollute every aspect of our lives. I use games to relax and forget out that kind of aggressive marketing.

    We already paid $$$ for the game. Why do we have to pay for the advertisements as well?

    P.S. I loved using MWE. Thanks for the work.

  4. Wow, your experience playing fallout sounds perfect. I was too young to play the original fallouts but fallout 3 is a game I’m extremely exited about and i am even more exited about them now.

  5. Anyhow, wow, I just got into a nostalgic rant. I just wanted to say thanks for posting it. It’s a lot of really hard work and love that I was afraid nobody would ever get to tinker with.

    I forgot about this one, from anonymous

  6. “Ads in games. Sure, we had ads back in the 20th century, but not in our games! Only on tv and radio…and in magazines…and movies. And at ball games, on buses, and milk cartons, and t-shirts, and bananas, and written on the sky. But not in games! No sirree.”

    hahahaha!!! nice quote. oh and btw i agree.

    -bigjoe

  7. nice line from futurama, I realized what it was halfway through the sentence… that episode was on Sunday night, I believe. Funny, I thought Bethsoft programmers wouldn’t have enough time to watch cartoons. :P

  8. Seeing how your doing AI we would welcome your input on the Beth FO3 Forum – ‘Meet the dev’s’ thread is now 20 errr.. threads old and is – if anything – getting more popular.
    There have been various threads discussing AI and what people really hope and wish for – some posts, even just to say and we read your ideas would be much appreciated.
    And yes – nick in the forum would be interesting to know.

  9. “Funny, I thought Bethsoft programmers wouldn’t have enough time to watch cartoons. :P

    Don’t be silly, there’s always time for Futurama!

    My nick on the forums is aerelorn, though it’s been a long long time since I last posted. I do read pretty much all the non-flame threads I can find.

  10. It wasn’t just a one man boycott of 2142, well sort of not anyway. I played the demo, but unfortunately(being a fan of the other Battlefield series) I had already pre-ordered BF2142, BUT it’s still in the original wrapping unopened and unplayed sitting on my computer desk.

    I could rant about how the whole Battlefield series went down hill gradually from what it was in bf42 and bfV, but instead I’ll just say how much I am looking forward to fallout 3.

  11. Great interview and I’m really excited about FO3, it can’t get here fast enough!

    Also great to hear that you hate in game ads, I’ve returned two games because the ads detracted too much and told the store why. It’s funny returning a game to Best Buy and telling them the reason is their own annoying ads!