This week’s Inside the Vault is about Gavin Carter, our lead producer on Fallout 3. Gavin is responsible for one of my favorite Elder Scrolls quests – Tribunal’s A Star is Born, which involved the player acting in a play. We tried to reprise the concept of the “play” quest for Oblivion, but unfortunately, it ended up on the cutting room floor. Gavin has been involved with Fallout 3’s development from the very start, and he will be responsible for getting it to the finish line, as well (No pressure, Gav).
This will be our last Inside the Vault for 2007. I believe these interviews are a great way to learn more about the passionate, fascinating people working here at the studio. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about them as much as I have.
What’s your job at Bethesda?
I’m the lead producer on Fallout 3. The easiest way to describe it is to think of it as more or less “Head of Communications” for Fallout as far as the development team goes. My job involves working with our department producers and leads to communicate task requirements, schedules, and ongoing status updates to the team, along with making sure everyone has everything they need to do their job efficiently.
What other games have you worked on?
I worked on Morrowind and Tribunal as an intern, then came on full-time shortly after Oblivion got off the ground. I’ve been working on Fallout 3 since day one of the project, and it became my sole concern pretty much the day Oblivion went gold.
What was the best part about working as a producer? The worst part?
The best part is, more than any other discipline, production lets you see game development from every angle available. On any given day, I might be hounding a programmer to fix a nasty physics bug, going over new creature textures with artists, listening to a brand new track that from our composer, interviewing a potential new hire, discussing some interface element in a meeting with programmers, artists, and designers together, or any of dozens of other things. You can get your hands into a lot of tasty pies.
The worst part is that as producer, it’s your job to keep all of those various areas together and working in step with each other. In a loose sense, a producer has the sum responsibility of everyone they manage. So when you’re working towards big deadlines, the pressure can start to build exponentially as you try to manage and communicate the hundreds or thousands of data points that are constantly changing under you each and every moment of the day.
How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
Back in my high school and college days, I was a good old-fashioned internet fanboy and I worked on fansites for several different games. I was a Daggerfall fan, so when I saw the Morrowind announcement, I started working on a site for it the very same day. Destination: Morrowind became one of the top sites for Morrowind news, and through it and the official forums I got to know some people on the team in an informal manner.
In college, I was looking for work over the summer when I saw Bethesda had posted an ad for a marketing intern. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was a foot in the door, so I set about badgering Pete for more information. In fact, I guess I badgered him so much that he talked to Todd about it. Todd was looking for interns to help out with the game itself, so things just kind of came together and I was offered an intern position for the summer, actually working on Morrowind. I guess they liked me, since they asked me back the next summer to work on Tribunal.
As college was coming to an end, I dropped Todd an email, asking if they’d consider bringing me on full-time. His response was “Thanks… But we’re full!” Doh! So I spent a few months living with my parents and interviewing for web development gigs. I was probably within days of taking a soul-sucking job as an ASP.NET programmer for some horrible direct marketing firm when I got “The Call” from Todd saying they were looking to add an associate producer. Haven’t looked back since.
As for breaking into the industry, there’s no silver bullet other than simply to be really good at what you do. Of course, you have to start somewhere. The first step is always be a consummate gamer. Play everything, and know what you like and why. Few things will deflate an interview faster than someone saying that they don’t really play games in their spare time. For producers, the best advice is to learn as much about the process of making games as possible. You can’t schedule programmers without a basic understanding of coding, and you can’t schedule artists without an understanding of Max and Photoshop. Finally, if you’re interviewing for a company, please make sure you have at least passing familiarity with the games that they make. I can understand if you don’t have intimate knowledge of every detail, but don’t sit down and ask “So what kind of game was The Morrowind Scrolls anyway?”
What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?
Karnov! I poured some serious hours into that fire-breathing Russian. Seriously though, this is a tough question because there are so many games that I enjoyed tremendously over the years. The ones that I remember playing the life out of are games like Final Fantasy 2 and 3 (the American numbers), Cybernator, the Might and Magic Xeen and Heroes games, Master of Orion 2, the first two Quest for Glory games, and Pool of Radiance. The games that influenced how I think about making games run more along the lines of Ultima 4-7, Wing Commander 1 and 2, Baldur’s Gate 2, X-Com, Blade Runner, and a couple little-known cultish games called Fallout and Wasteland.
What games are you looking forward to?
There’s a whole slate of post-apocalyptic games coming up that I’m looking forward to. Gearbox’s Borderlands sounds very ambitious and I like the focus on co-op. I’m excited to see what id does with their game, Rage, as well. The tech looks great, and the words “post-apocalyptic racing game” get my nerd engine firing on all cylinders. Mostly I like surprises â€“ the Katamaris, the Witchers, the Bioshocks. The games that just kind of come from nowhere and catch fire. I am also keeping my fingers crossed for more Peggle. Lots and lots more Peggle, please!
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
Usually my cat putting her blasted paws in my face. She’s got a major sense of entitlement about that whole breakfast thing. Beyond that, I get up every weekday at 6AM and hit the gym. There’s little I hate more than getting up earlier than absolutely necessary, especially during the winter. But I find that spending a couple hours there wakes me up, keeps me in shape, and I feel like any day that starts under a couple hundred pounds on a squat rack can only get better from there.
Worst job you’ve ever had?
Working on a roller coaster at an amusement park was pretty bad. Not just because of standing up all day long in the heat or mandatory public restroom cleaning duty, but mostly just the random awfulness that occurred each and every day. For instance, having a kid projectile vomit all over me, getting supremely cursed out in front of everyone in line by a mother whose child came off the ride crying, and having to ask a gentlemen in line if he might consider, you know, wearing pants. A close second would be doing tech-support for a small-town ISP. Particularly the time when I accidentally deleted some woman’s entire email archive, including tens of thousands of dollars in grant applications.
Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Most of my hobbies outside work revolve around being a huge mediaphile. I love consuming books, dvds, TV shows, music, anime (the good ones, at least), and lots of games. I love to travel, especially for treks and camping in exotic places. I did a four-day trek to Machu Picchu in Peru, and I would love to climb Kilimanjaro next. I also want to start playing guitar again. I played for a few years when I was younger, but gradually gave it up. There’s a broken but beautiful Ibanez Talman guitar sitting at home, and I’ve just been too cheap and lazy to get it fixed up. I imagine it silently weeping each time I reach for my Guitar Hero controller.