Interview with Vince D. Weller

RPGNuke: How satisfied are you with the results of your first two games — The Age of Decadence and Dungeon Rats? Did the sales allow you to expand the staff? What is the composition of your team at the moment?

Vince: I didn’t expect much so I was pleasantly surprised. My best case scenario (i.e. miracle) was 50k copies, worst — 10−15k. AoD is a very unforgiving hardcore RPG made on a shoestring budget and a ‘dawn of 3D' engine. We took plenty of liberties with the established RPG conventions that were bound to rub many people the wrong way and limit an already small target audience. Despite all that we sold 100,000 copies to-date. While it’s a drop in the bucket for bigger studios, in the bottom-dwelling world it’s a success story.

We added another programmer and a 3D artist to spice things up.

Are there any studios/developers with whom you would like to work together on some future project? (This Question comes from acolytes of the Troika cult from our forum, who pray for your association with the apostle Avellone and cooperation with the saints of role-playing games from Obsidian).

It’s trendy to hire writers/designers with big names, either as Kickstarter stretch goals or as marketing boosters, but there’s a huge difference between Chris Avellone writing a character for a game and him actually working on a game and contributing in a meaningful way. We might be able to afford the former but obviously not the latter. So as much as I’d like to benefit from wisdom and experience of the industry’s veterans, I don’t see it as a viable option in our future.

By the way, you yourself can already be called a veteran of the industry, you have already been working in it more than an average developer and released a game, which has a cult following in narrow circles. Have you ever got a proposal from other developers to write a character for advertising?

I wouldn’t call someone with one released RPG a veteran. I was asked to write a couple of characters for an unreleased indie RPG but I’m too busy with the CSG at the moment (I expect this moment to last a couple of years) and had to decline.

How do you assess the situation in the role-playing genre at the moment? Are there any projects you are looking forward to?

Since I prefer games like Fallout and Arcanum, very little has changed (for me) and a Troika successor has yet to emerge from the ashes. What sells best determines what’s being produced and to sell «best» you have to court the casual, action, or multiplayer markets.

The next game on my list is Expeditions: Viking.

Interesting. What in particular attracts you in Expeditions: Viking? Did you ever play Expeditions: Conquistador?

I liked Conquistadors so I expect Vikings to be twice as good but I didn’t have a chance to play it yet.

Have you already played Tyranny? Did you like it? I bet that two main sources of inspiration for the developers of the game are The Age of Decadence and The Black Company by Glen Cook.

I haven’t played it yet so I have no opinion. While I’m curious to see how they handled choices and consequences, I’m not too fond of RTwP combat so the game is low on my list.

What game has had the most influence on you in general and which has pushed you forward to becoming a developer?

Fallout and Planescape: Torment. Both games offered more than simply killing your way through the game, which is what 95% of RPGs are all about.

Describe Vince D. Weller’s typical work day. Probably it’s not easy to work in a team scattered around the world. The difference between time zones is thing at the very least!

I sit in front of my computer all day, basking in the healing glow of the monitor. It’s an exciting and glamorous lifestyle, like being a rockstar only without the fame, drugs, or groupies. As for working with remote team members, it’s very easy. I hate group meetings since my corporate days so we don’t have any. Each person knows what he’s supposed to do; when there’s something to discuss, we discuss it. That’s all there’s to it.

The New World

Let’s talk about your new game. It promises to be visually richer, as it is developed on the basis of Unreal Engine 4. Are there any plans for cutscenes or the narration will be conducted only through dialogue means, as in The Age of Decadence?

Only through dialogues. Animating numerous cutscenes would require resources we don’t have. Apparently, Bioware doesn’t have them either.

What are your inspirations for creating The New World? Aside from Orphans of the Sky, obviously.

Assorted 50's sci-fi from Asimov’s Foundation to Van Vogt’s The Weapon Shops of Isher and Aldiss' Non-Stop.

According to your plan in one of the first updates, you should have approved the design of all gaming systems, locations, quests, etc. until the end of 2016. Did you manage to meet the deadline and was there anything that was almost necessarily planned to be included in the game, but as you were taking a deeper look at the concept you understood that it’s better to give it up?

More or less. It’s a «process» not a single task, so it’s harder to define. Basically it goes like this:

Step 1 — first draft, aka the general direction. For example, TB with guns can take many forms: Wasteland 2, Silent Storm, Jagged Alliance 2, Fallout, Shadowrun, XCOM, etc. So step 1 is defining how everything is supposed to work, creating a rough draft of the system. The rough draft is the starting point and can’t go into «production» because there will be too many changes.

It’s a big chunk of work that covers every aspect of the game: character system, combat, gadgets, implants, stealth, locations, factions, quests, reputation, etc. That’s what the update you quoted referred to and it was done in Oct 2016. However, it’s only step 1 out of god knows how many so it’s too early to celebrate and pat ourselves on the back.

Step 2 — developing these concepts further and changing a lot of things, which is an even bigger chunk of work with different deadlines. All systems, for example, should be done by the time our programmers are ready to implement them. The programmers are two months ahead of schedule, so the systems were a priority and were done in April.

Step 3 — put it all together in the first playable build and see what we have.

As for things planned and dropped, it’s too early because everything looks good and doable on paper. It’s when you put it together and observe the results, you see things that don’t work so well and have to be changed or removed.

There will be 12 potential party members in The New World. Even if we consider that we will not meet all of them during a single playthrough, it’s quite a lot. How much will they be integrated into the plot?

A lot compared to what and why?

Anyway, first and foremost, the party members are mortal and expendable, so you’ll need extra companions in case you start running out. You’ll get up to 3 out of 4 characters in the starting town (the Pit) to make sure you get all the help you need, the rest as you explore the ship. While they won’t be as one-dimensional as Dungeon Rats' companions, they won’t have tragic backstories, childhood issues, or personal quests of self-fulfillment. Their job is to watch your back, occasionally backstab you or to keep you in check, and affect your options.

Most party members will be «unlocked» via exploration and side quests, a couple will be provided by factions.

There are mutants planned to be among the party members. Will they have any abilities that are inaccessible to ordinary people?

No. Our mutants aren’t Fallout-like super soldiers but outcasts and that’s what we’re focusing on.

How will the faction reputation system work? Basically, in old games, if you were performing a task for a rival force, it would mean that all the NPCs in the location became «red» and started attacking you, which is pretty stupid and primitive. Will The New World use a different approach? Maybe they’ll send an assassin for you or try to punish you in some other way?

We’ll continue developing concepts we used in AoD. Working for a faction will slowly reduce your reputation with the rival factions, reducing your employment opportunities and eventually reaching a point demanding actions (attacking your base of operations, sending bounty hunters after you, etc).

In AoD we hesitated to go too far as such actions would mean instant death for non-combat characters but the party setup offers more flexibility when it comes to the «righteous infliction of retribution».

In one of the updates you wrote about new hit system in The New World. Can you give a detailed explanation about how it works.

Instead of rolling for passive and crits separately (like in AoD), we’ll go with a single roll and 4 outcomes:

  • Miss
  • Graze (half damage)
  • Hit
  • Critical Hit (damage X modifier, which is 1.25 (default) + feat bonus)

Basically, something like this:

  • 1−5 critical hit
  • 6−70 hit
  • 71−80 graze
  • 80−100 miss

By default CS range is 5 and Graze range is 10, but they can be modified by certain weapons and attacks. For example, a shotgun would have a much wider graze range than a pistol.

And finally, what you, as a person who have been persistently working on the game for ten years, can advise those of our readers who want to do their own project, but are afraid of something?

It’s better to try and fail than do nothing and regret it later. I didn’t set out to make a game back in 2004, I thought I’d try and see what happens. So my advice is don’t treat it as some grand Tolkienesque undertaking. Treat it as an *attempt*. Maybe you won’t get any further than toying with a character system in Excel. Maybe you’ll make a great game that many people would enjoy. There’s only one way to find out.