Inside the Vault: Alan Nanes

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Alan Nanes is featured for this edition of Inside the Vault. Al created my favorite download for Oblivion, Wizard’s Tower, and is responsible for many of the miscellaneous quests in Oblivion, including the memorable A Brush with Death, where the player is teleported into a painting.

What’s your job at Bethesda?

I’m a game designer. For the uninitiated, if you think of a game as a movie, a game designer would be a scriptwriter. We do the dialog, develop plotlines, perform game balance, and generally give all the other departments lots of headaches.

What projects have you worked on?

As a game designer I’ve worked on The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a few of the downloads for Oblivion, and Shivering Isles.

Which downloadable content did you work on? Talk a bit about what its like making downloadable content.

I designed the Wizard’s Tower and the Vile Lair for Oblivion. Downloadable content is actually pretty challenging to work on since the main game world isn’t allowed to depend on its existence and the fact that you have to make sure what you create is fresh and new. As an example, having an altar that cures evil players in Deepscorn Hollow is something I felt the game needed, but isn’t 100% necessary to complete the quests. I also enjoy placing plenty of goodies in my content like the Pentamagic Loop in the Wizard’s Tower and the Crimson Eviscerator in the Vile Lair as a special ‘thank you’ to the fans.

What do you like best about working as a designer? What is the worse part?

The best part about being a designer is that your ideas drive the game world. Even though we do have a Lead Designer (Emil in the case of Fallout 3) to guide us, they are always very open to fresh ideas. I’ve seen quests change 100% from their original design based on a great idea someone suddenly had in a meeting. Being able to have your ideas translate to something you can play in the game is the greatest feeling for a designer.

The worst part about being a designer is the opposite. Sometimes an idea you’ve come up with can feel great, but when it’s examined by your peers or by the Lead, they make you realize it doesn’t belong in the game or it’s too complex. When writing dialog and quest materials, it’s surprisingly easy to forget you’re writing for a game, not for a book. You need to be clear and concise, yet detailed enough so that the flavor of the game world isn’t compromised. Maintaining this balance is the most challenging aspect of my job.

How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?

I was hired to Bethesda through the QA department. I actually spent over a year there before I was moved into Design. QA is a great avenue through which you can obtain a foothold in a game studio. All you need to do is work well with your peers and show them you have a creative side. In my case, I would run pen & paper role playing games in the studio and word basically got around. Interaction and being around other people in your area of interest as well as promoting your own skills is a surefire way of becoming an artist, designer or programmer.

What have you drawn on for inspiration in developing Fallout 3?

It would be easy for me to say I immediately ran to my DVD collection and threw Road Warrior or Six-String Samurai in, but this isn’t the case. I decided to draw my inspiration from the original source: the old Fallout games themselves (specifically Fallout 1 & 2). I wanted to make sure I replayed them and understood what the original developers were trying to bring to the table. I hadn’t actually fired the games up in years, so it was great to rediscover them all over again.

This doesn’t mean that visuals from other movies or games never entered my mind. Films like Children of Men, Delicatessen, Escape from New York, 12 Monkeys and Soylent Green and games such as Bad Blood, Autoduel and Wasteland all provided interesting backdrops from which ideas began springing forth. Honestly though, Emil Pagliarulo himself was a great inspiration. His genuine love of the source material is evident in every write-up and synopsis he gives us.

What is your favorite type of game to play?

My favorite games to play are RPGs. I like experiencing the entire spectrum and playing whatever I’m in the mood for. I’ve spent quite a bit of time playing all sorts of them… from serious PC RPGs like Baldur’s Gate to action RPGs like Champions of Norrath. I’ve been playing these games for a very long time. I still fondly remember playing the SSI Gold Box AD&D games on my trusty Amiga 500. Ok, I also admit I’m a devoted World of Warcraft player. There, you happy now? 🙂

How long have you been playing Fallout?

I’ve been experiencing Fallout ever since the games were released. As I had mentioned before, there was definitely a gap of time where they were packed in boxes and sat idle, but were never forgotten. The day I heard we were going to be actually developing a Fallout title was the day I cracked those boxes open again.

One of the things I always admired about Fallout, especially the first one, was that choices really meant something. It wasn’t just disguised dialog that funneled you to the same plot point. They made a concerted effort to make the game change depending on how YOU wanted to play. Your actions shaped the world and yet you still remained in sight of your final goal (well all the while you had a blast doing it). I hope to bring this same feeling to Fallout 3.

What games are you looking forward?

Well, that would likely be a long (and varied) list so I will throw only a sampling at you. I’m looking forward to Bioshock, Stranglehold, Halo 3, Mass Effect, Grand Theft Auto IV, Beautiful Katamari, Assassin’s Creed, Crysis, Alan Wake, Uncharted:Drake’s Fortune, Hellgate: London, The Witcher and Left 4 Dead.

What would you say is the best game you’ve played in the last year?

The best game in the past year would have to be S.T.A.L.K.E.R. The atmosphere was right, the setting was creepy and the game had a decent mix of action and RPG elements without being overcome by tons of numbers. The game feels old school, but not visually dated. Games like this are a strong influence for me when I present my ideas at game system and Design meetings. And no, I didn’t finish it yet, but I am currently still enjoying it immensely.

Other than videogames, what are your interests?

I’m an avid boardgamer and cardgame fan. My cube at work is crammed full of the darned things and I try and get together with my friends and play when time permits. Some highlights of my collection are Ra, Shadows Over Camelot, Runebound, Zombies and Munchkin. As far as music goes, my iPod currently spins Slayer, Hypocrisy, Ministry, Iron Maiden, Gojira, Melvins and Morgion but my favorite will always be Godflesh & Jesu.

Bonus Round:

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

My dream game would be a serious Star Trek RPG complete with an entire universe to explore. Ask questions first and shoot later style! 🙂

Finally, time for a rant. Go.

HD-DVD and BluRay… can’t we just all get along?!

Reader Comments

  1. Yeah, Assassin’s Creed and Halo 3 are gonna be sweet.
    You people are super-trekkies; three games are ENOUGH!!!
    Alright, next Vault person has to be a programmer. Make it happen.

  2. If you see Brian Jackson, tell him Andy from CA says hello.

    Assassassin’s Crud and Big Ring Thing 3? Joy. Gimmie Mass Effect and Bioshock FTW though! (just my $.02)

  3. I gotta say it, the atmosphere and setting was what hooked me. The game had flaws, sure, but I try to look beyond that and experience the mood. I absolutely think that the abandoned ruins at Chernobyl is the creepiest, coolest setting for a game to date. Don’t think so? Do a web search for some real pictures of the place 🙂

  4. Agreed, a programmer would be awesome {for me}.
    Wow, looking at that photo, there are alot of game s behind him… {sees games}
    Is the Doom boardgame any good?
    Battlefield 2142… Our clan came together because of that, but we’ve stopped playing.
    I wonder whose decision it was to have level based combat in Oblivion..

  5. Hey S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was a good game. nothing special, but this year has been pretty poor for gaming imo (well except for fall and winter, but thats in the future).

  6. This doesn’t mean that visuals from other movies or games never entered my mind. Films like Children of Men, Delicatessen, Escape from New York, 12 Monkeys and Soylent Green

    Give the man a cigar!

    Does he have a nick on the forum?

  7. I agree with Alan, S.T.A.L.K.E.R was definitely one of the best games of the year – I just couldn’t stop playing till I got it finished.Atmosphere, mood…awesome.It is nice to see someone who’s not bashing it.And those movie inspirations – 12 Monkeys and Children of Men are helluva movies, glad to know you like those..

  8. @Briosa, he’s Slateman on the forums.

    As for an interview with a programmer, might I recommend the BGSF sweetheart, Ricardo “Socrates200x” Gonzales? 😉

  9. The last “Inside the Vault” person was a programmer…the very talented Brian Robb. Trying to spread it around to every dept.

  10. I’m fortunate that my brain has allowed me to retain many of the maps from Secret of the Silver Blades =)
    I know I still have my paper maps from Azure Bonds + Radiance

    Could the evolution of Fallout from turn-based to real-time combat be attributed to SSI’s adaptation in the same flavor as with Eye of the Beholder?