Thomas Beekers (aka Brother None) before working for inXile was known as an administrator of No Mutants Allowed, the cult Fallout-themed fansite. Now Thomas is an associate producer for inXile Entertainment, currently working on Torment: Tides of Numenera and The Bard’s Tale IV. We asked him about how he got into gaming industry, what does he think about recent gaming trends and about Fallout series of course!
RPGNuke: Hi, Thomas! For a start, I’d like to talk about your career. Tell me, how did you get into game industry, became a part of inXile team, what was your first position there and what are you doing now? Was it like a dream coming true for you?
Thomas: I got in by sheer coincidence. I was wrapping up my Master Thesis in Russian & Eastern European Studies in Leiden University, while at the same time being kind of a volunteer community person for Brian while they were working on Wasteland 2. With my college days wrapping up, I approached Brian and asked if we could expand what I’m doing and turn it into a full-time job, and he said «sure!», and that was the whole of it. I started as a line producer, with a focus on community management, PR and support. My title now is associate producer, and as a producer in a small company you still do a bit of everything, but right now I’m spending pretty much all my time as a designer on Torment, doing the design, implementation and writing of the game’s items and miscellaneous other things.
It was not a long-time dream for me to work in this industry, I didn’t think it particularly appealing, but inXile has been a pleasure to work for, and I really enjoy working alongside my colleagues crafting the kind of games I love playing.
How do you like working with industry veterans? You grew up playing their games, right? Do you already feel an equal among equals or still a cabin boy on a ship full of sea dogs?
It’s been great to meet and work with many people who made my favorite games for sure. Our company structure and the type of people that work here means you’re never made to feel like the cabin boy, it’s an open environment where great ideas can come from anyone, but at the same time I’ve had a lot to learn from the various people I’ve worked with directly, and that’s been an awesome experience. Two years in now, there’s really only more to learn, but with more responsibilities I’m working elbow to elbow with some outright brilliant folks.
It’s no secret that inXile is tightly cooperated with Monte Cook, creator of Numenera, but how does TToN affect PnP Numenera and vice versa? Were there any cases when you (or him) suggested some new interesting mechanic or crazy setting idea?
We will be publishing a Torment sourcebook for Numenera that’ll expand upon the PnP setting based on the work we’re doing. But of course Torment has also been taking a lot of the great ideas from different Numenera books straight into our game. Writing one scenario I dug deeply into the bestiary for strange creatures, or working on items the Sir Arthour’s Guide to the Numenera has been a great resource. Monte is very open to new ideas, and I think it’s been a great cooperation especially because guys like Colin McComb, Adam Heine and George Ziets really understand the essence of the setting and truly love it, which means we’re all working in the same direction.
Crowdfunding became a powerful push and a unique variant of financing for video game developers; for example, it played a significant role in inXile’s development in recent years. Some gamers saw this as the coming of new era, though there are many people, who find this phenomenon as a fraud, they are pissed off by releases being delayed, they believe they do not get what was promised etc. What is your personal opinion about crowdfunding? Are there any changes if you compare the situation when Kickstarter «exploded» and the situation now? How would you evaluate already released games financed by crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding has unquestionably been a blessing. No method of creating anything as complex as a video game will ever be perfect, but what shouldn’t be underestimated is how much crowdfunding supports the creation of games that otherwise could not be made. The video game industry has had a booming indie scene and a large AAA scene, but it’s the mid-tier games that are niche but still need a budget to make — like Wasteland 2 — which simply could not grow as a marketspace without crowdfunding. I’m a big believer, and backed over a hundred projects myself on Kickstarter alone.
Video game crowdfunding was a sudden big boom so it is kind of inevitable it would settle down a bit. A lot of this is just the healthy evolution of a market space, consumers become more careful and thoughtful, and for the overall health of the concept that’s really just a great development. Critical consumers are always best for long-term viability and the quality of the average products (and campaigns).
An adjacent topic — the so-called «RPG renaissance». It’s foolish to deny that lots of RPG releases are pouring in abundance recently, it’s even hard to find time to play all of these games. Or maybe you think otherwise? Do you have any favorites among modern RPGs, are there any releases you look forward to? Are there any franchises from the past you would like to be resurrected?
It is hard — if not impossible — to find the time to play all these new RPGs. But isn’t that great in its own way? If you asked me 10 years ago, after the cancellation of Van Buren, what I thought of the future of turn-based, reactivity-focused, hardcore RPGs, I would’ve said «it's dead». And now look where we are, there’s too many for me to play! That’s the best kind of problem to have, and I hope it stays that way for a long time.
I have not really had time to fully appreciate all the titles that have come out over the last two years. Of the ones I managed to put some healthy time into and I did not work on, my favorites are probably Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin and Harebrained’s new Shadowrun RPGs.
There’s a lot I’d like to see resurrected, but I’m perhaps more excited to see this RPG renaissance lead to fresh franchises that bring new setting or gameplay concepts with them.
Another controversial trend in game industry — early access. There are people loving this concept, there are the ones who hate it. Based on inXile experience — is this a good idea? Does it really benefit the developers (in addition to replenishment of working capital), does it help to make the game better? Do you buy/play early access games?
Based on our experience, it is a good idea for the right project. I don’t necessarily think the format fits everyone or every type of project, it does require the right attitude of the developer: you need to have a solid, high-quality core vision for the game, and you have to be able to take divergent feedback and understand what fits your vision and what doesn’t, what truly makes the game better. But I also think opening up this process to a wide audience leads to getting ideas and improvements that would otherwise not occur to you — 20 brains simply can’t conceive all the possibilities that’ll occur to thousands.
Judging by Wasteland 2 Director’s Cut press-release inXile aims at console market. A reasonable step, Резонный шаг, the main thing is — do not overdo it (we all remember the unenviable fate of Interplay). How do you assess the prospects? Will there be enough console gamers, who is interested in playing the games of such a «PC-oriented» genre? Do you own any consoles? How do you see their future? There is an opinion that later on there will be no consoles like devices; there will be some cloud game services from Sony, Microsoft etc. What do you think?
The Director’s Cut was a good opportunity to implement some things to Wasteland 2 we always wanted to, give it a quality graphics overhaul and also port it to a new engine, and release this to consoles. I think it’s interesting that this genre does not really exist on consoles yet, and with WL2DC and D: OS Enhanced Edition I’m curious to see how the console reception goes — early signs are positive, looking at reviews.
No, I do not own any consoles, unless you count my old Sega Megadrive (with blast processing!) I couldn’t guess at the future of consoles, really.
«Apocalypse World» PnP game made a splash in RPG community. Mostly because of its free gameplay approach. Most of CRPGs are closer to GURPS when every action is accompanied by a dice roll. What do you prefer: a more loose approach or a strict dice control?
I haven’t played Apocalypse World, my days of PnP are mostly behind me. Its approach to rules that do not slow down the game sounds somewhat similar to Numenera’s philosophy. My preference goes slightly to dice, but honestly I don’t think it’s all that important: what matter is you know and understand what you’re doing and you do it well, whichever approach you take.
As long as you are not only a member of inXile, but also an NMA administrator I just can’t miss the opportunity to discuss Fallout series. How do you like the innovations offered by Fallout 4? I must say that changing the fundamental concept of constant wasteland wandering was a bit unexpected.
To be honest I have not been following Fallout 4 that closely, though I did sit in on their gameplay video while I was at gamescom. It looks like a game that fits in Bethesda’s formula, and they execute that formula very well, any changes they make will generally fit within Bethesda’s overall direction, they have a very good understanding of what they want to do.
By the way, the holy wars about what to be considered a «true» Fallout still do not cease. The main dispute points are — «isometric vs. first-person» and «atmosphere of devastation and decline (Fallout 1, 3) vs. crazy adventure with lots of humor and easter eggs (Fallout 2, New Vegas)». What do you prefer?
I have a general preference for top-down and turn-based in my RPGs, and personally in the olden days always argued for Fallout over Fallout 2. I’m someone who has a large belief in verisimilitude in the execution of setting and story in a game, and for that a strong consistency of the setting is necessary. I also have a soft spot for tightly focused, shorter games, which Fallout was more than any of the others. I can’t tell you which is the «true» one, although since Fallout was first it’ll always be the truest one in a way, but more people have now played Fallout 3 and New Vegas than the older titles, so for them that’s what defines the franchise. There’s plenty of options in the market for everyone, though, and as we discussed before, that’s been the miracle of crowdfunding.