Project Spotlight: Fallout New California

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Fallout New California is a massive mod project for Fallout New Vegas. After 5 years in the making, the team has announced its release date and - if all goes well - come 23rd October, we will all be able to enjoy a brand new story with 12 endings and over 16,000 lines of dialogue.

Today we are joined by the project lead Thaiauxn to talk about this massive endeavour.


To start off, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got started with modding in the first place?

I am Brandan Lee, I run Radian Helix Media, a group of visual artists primarily for film, but I'm aiming to get into games full time.

I started making mods back in the 90s, starting with Total Annihilation and Mech Warrior 2's community editing programs. I also made some map packs for StarCraft and other games. Then I got into RPG Maker XP for a while.

I made and edited maps for the mod Battlezone II: Forgotten Enemies as a kid, and that was the first time I saw a mod team make a full campaign for a game. That was all during Highschool or before. But that total conversion told me that a mod like FNC was possible.

Eventually I picked up the GECK for Fallout 3 in 2010, learned a little bit of how it works, then later in 2012 came back and started New California. I’ve been juggling the mod, which more or less took over all my free time the past 4-5 years, and work as a remote VFX artist ever since.


Fallout New California has garnered much attention: PC Gamer, Polygon, and Eurogamer have written articles on it, and your latest trailer has over 400,000 views on YouTube. For those who are yet unaware, how would you describe New California and can you give us some insights into the story - without spoiling anything, of course?

New California is an all new campaign built in the New Vegas engine. It takes place 20 years before Fallout New Vegas in 2260, just decades after the events in Fallout 2 while the New California Republic is expanding eastward, before meeting the Legion and before Bitter Springs, right at the end of the Enclave and Brotherhood wars.


You start out an adopted resident of Vault 18, and after some early quests you end up in the wasteland dealing with the aftermath of the NCR's ravenous expansion, corrupt Mob politicians, a Raider Alliance full of those fleeing the NCR pacification wave, and many others. Then the mod ends in New Vegas in one of 12 ways.


New California is set up as a prequel to Fallout New Vegas with brand new locations and a massive, branched story. What was it that inspired you to make a prequel to New Vegas, rather than, let’s say, a sequel or a completely independent story?

Originally it was a unique and independent story. But after Project Brazil came out, which as basically our demo/prototype, a lot of people wanted a way to tie it into New Vegas, so that is now an option in our main campaign.

FNC ties events from Fallout 1 and 2 into Fallout 3 and New Vegas in a lore friendly way that to me as a fan of the originals and the new games feels really good. It’s just a snapshot of events in one valley called The Pass, but all the loose threads come together right there that send them back to the Bethesda era from the Black Isle era. 


Ian, Nick, Carl, Nino, and Andre from 6 Finger Discount provided voice roles for the project.

Other than a new story and adventure, are there any big changes to, let’s say, the core gameplay of the base game? Will we have new gear and toys to play with?

There’s so much gear and new stuff it’s incalculable. But that wasn’t the focus of FNC. All new gameplay features are story based as opposed to making global gameplay changes. If you want global gameplay changes you can use our recommended mods.

But the way we handle SPECIAL stats and SKILLS is much different. We treat your SPECIAL stats as ubiquitous elements of your personal character, in how you interact with other characters and the world. So your personality as a charming charismatic or a more aggressive strongman, a clever intelligent genius or a total idiot, etc. Those both flavor the responses you get to things you can say, ad open and close doors in conversation, letting you access unique paths you may not have available.

Skills like speech then become about giving a legitimate SPEECH, like to an audience, which you have five opportunities to use in the mod, the success or failure of which determines how the crowd reacts to your leadership. Repair and science and barter then become more about, “yes, I can do this,” or, “no, I need another way to accomplish this.”

That’s unique in almost all games I’ve played and I plan to improve on it again in the future. 


You set out to create Fallout New California 5 years ago. Can you tell us a bit about what motivated you to jump into this grand undertaking?

I wanted to learn how to make games. I needed something creative that could showcase my talents and abilities that I could do largely on my own with some friends on the internet. I realized after several years of film-making that the crowd of people I was establishing myself in was not healthy, and while it had the facade of progress, there was no genuine opportunity for advancement. They were just using you and planning to keep you stuck while talking up those pseudo-opportunities. So I moved back to my hometown a couple times to avoid taking on too much debt and doing work there; and the only thing I could think of was to start modding again.

 

Modding took all the voice talent I knew, all the technical art skills I had amassed, and my storytelling and put it into one place.  It was the best way to make something from nothing but what I had at hand, for free. And since the assets were already in New Vegas we could use that as a much much better starting place than making an engine from scratch or building all the mechanics into Unity or Unreal or Godot.


For such a massive project you, obviously, need a team, voice actors, artists etc. How many people would you say are in your “core” team and what was the “recruiting” process like?

I consider the core team the ones doing the work in the GECK. So that means me and Rick are the two core team members on FNC doing all the heavy lifting day to day.

Rick handles all version control and our key architecture, where I am the content producer doing the technical and creative art. We then do all our own QA in our respective fields, all our own social media, leadership, and our community management.

We then have a little community of friends and collaborators who work outside the GECK producing music and editing audio, and we collaborate with other large mod projects and the rare donation of a pre-made community asset from Nexus or Turbosquid. We also share a lot with the Frontier and TTW teams, the Niftools community, and my home theater and film community here in Tucson, Arizona: Full credit list of Fallout New California contributors. 

I recruited by inviting people onto the team and forming a community around it.


Five years of development is a long time for a mod project. It reminds me of Enderal - a game based on Skyrim’s engine that took a staggering 8 years to develop. What would you say were the main struggles, trials, and tribulations during all these years, and what made you guys persevere?

I spent about 5 days working for Enderal on their english voice acting. I took four of our actors from New California and recorded them for Enderal, and sent them in. Sure AI is legendary. I still keep in touch with Johannes and Nik from time to time on Facebook, they’re awesome.

The biggest struggle was just capturing and retaining people. No one here is getting paid and very little of the mod was paid for, so it’s literally fueled 100% by sweat and determination. People think sweat and determination are “free,” but they cost biological energy. That’s genuine physical and emotional stress.

 

There is no feeling worse in the world than working so hard on something you love that doesn’t pay you. But in the end, it is what you make of it. So just staying determined and not tapping out -- that’s the hardest part of everything in life. But all the good things in life come to you when you accept that responsibility and never quit. Everything is locked on the other side of that resistance, so you just keep going and be thankful for the ones who stick it out with you along the way.


How do you organise the workflow and what did you learn about managing such a big project over the years?

A core design document and daily communication with Rick and our Team via email or Discord. Rick and I know what we are doing in the document. That is our blueprint.

I wrote the story as a narrative first in a 1-4 paragraph synopsis at the top of every document, then Rick or I broke down every planned stage of the document, then finally spent the rest of the document writing the names of conditions and dialogue topics, then finally writing the entire game’s branch dialogue start to finish.

We then translate all that into the engine by importing the dialogue in the form of those TopicIDs and script together the topics with quest stages, conditions, and variables. Rick assigns all the actual code that the game then uses to fire AI packages, events, and quest handling and fills in creative details as they appear, or bounces them to me to make more content.

 

Then I would go through and establish all the level designs as a rough blockout, using greyboxes or temp vanilla assets to build the worldspace.

Over the next 5 years as Rick scripted the main quest, I got it all voiced, I was making 3D art and keeping myself busy doing level art and character stuff, inventing new tasks for myself and roping in anyone willing to help, like Jamilla Humphrey and Jack wong who helped with a lot of our animated resources and vfx, or Pablo Cortina and Martin Purvis who did some writing and musical scores.

Editing all the dialogue was the hardest part for me. It was greuling. 16,825 lines. Mark Hickman’s editing was invaluable, he did probably a good 25-30% of the voice editing, supplemented on a per-character basis by Quinn, Dustin, and Scott. But the rest was me, and I also handled virtually all casting, scheduling, recording, and data handling by myself.

Rick and I could organize the narrative easily, but the rest of the production absolutely needed more team leads to manage the coordination of the art and administration. That was all jazz. We made it up as we went.


In one of our past interviews we spoke to TheModernStoryTeller - a modder turned indie developer. Do you and/or your team have any plans of maybe branching out into game development in the future as well?

Yep. I have design documents for 3 more games:

Project Morganshir - A Survival Tactical RPG set on the ruins of a massive alien megastructure, somewhere between Rimworld and Don’t Starve.

Project JINN - a Hand to Hand Melee RPG with the narrative dialogue of Fallout and the gameplay of Bungie’s Oni, set in a cyberpunk post-apocalyptic dystopian subterranean city.

Project Shadow Star - a First Person Starship Simulator set in a complex political universe packed with character and lore, with ship to ship combat like if Mothership Zeta were more like Mechwarrior meets Fallout.



I hope to start the first one right after FNC releases. Unless a studio hires me, then I’ll go work in AAA for a few years, ship a title or two, then start my studio back up and make my games with more of a history shipping games for profit to make these three.

Which is a good 15-20 years of work right there.


Do you have any advice for modders out there who want to accomplish what you have accomplished?

If you’re going to do this and you’re serious, you need to remember two things: Never ask anyone to do something you would not or cannot do yourself. Because you will probably be the one who ends up doing it. And: remember to take burnout into consideration, because you will get exhausted, you will want to stop, you will hit roadblocks, and life will come to get you. Balance this with your daily exercise and diet, stay in contact with your social life, and make paying work a priority first.

You eventually have to just accept that it will take as long as it will take, and not try to force your team to go faster. It’ll get done when it gets done and there’s nothing you can do to expedite that except do it yourself or cut/redesign content.

The sooner you accept that the better.


Is there anything else you would like to say to the community about Fallout New California, or in general?

Support your community of indie developers and modders.  The era of publishers is dead. You are the producers now. Pay for things you want to exist. Don’t pay for things you want to abort. Accept the risks and responsibilities therein. Simple as that. Welcome to the 21st Century.

Hope you enjoy New California this October.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thanks a lot to Thaiauxn for taking the time to talk to us, and we are all looking forward to Fallout New California! As always: If there's an author or mod project you'd like to know more about, send your suggestions to BigBizkit or Pickysaurus. 

74 comments

  1. Cavalier753
    Cavalier753
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    I remember first picking up Project: Brazil years ago on a whim. It looked like a neat little mod with great aspirations for the future, and I would come to check the mod page and the author's progress every week, if not every day. I grew pretty attached to the characters and I was extremely excited to continue on into the second chapter. Reading this makes me incredibly happy and satisfied that I and many others will finally be able to sink our teeth into it.

    Thank you for your hard work and perseverance, Thaiauxn. Extremely grateful for the upcoming opportunity, and congratulations on this long-awaited success.
  2. ikuroami
    ikuroami
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    "There is no feeling worse in the world than working so hard on something you love that doesn’t pay you."
    If you really love doing something, even if it's difficult sometimes, it doesn't have to get you paid, it's just nice if it does.
    I really hope that was just bad wording on your part because that's a pretty miserable and glassy outlook.
    1. Cavalier753
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      People need to eat. We need shelter. For these things, it takes money. Doing things without monetary incentive jeopardizes these basic requirements for living. If you've never been homeless before, then you can't understand how painful just trying to find basic amenities is. His viewpoint isn't miserable; it's realistic.

      The world would be great if we could all do whatever we want, money be damned. But that's not the world we live in.
  3. Royalty27
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    Not long now. I'm anticipating this mod more than any AAA or independent game.Somehow mod makers know how to make there mods better than the developers of the original game.
    1. Thaiauxn
      Thaiauxn
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      I really proud you're looking frward to us more than a AAA or Indie, we did a great job putting this together and the effort really shows in the final product. The effort from everybody was justified. I just got back from playtesting and recording the last dialogue and I think I'm finally satisfied.

      We definitely can't outpace the AAA budget devs tho. :p That's subjective, sure, but that's up to you guys to decide, and I'm not sure it's accurate to say modders do it better, so much as, modders do it differently. :) If it's better or not, that's up to you. We just have a different sense of what is important.
    2. Planescaped
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      Fallout New California is a godsend after learning that we'd be getting Fallout Fortnite Survival Evolved 76: Macrotransaction edition instead of a New Vegas-esque spinoff...
  4. ShojoDagger
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    I think it looks cool (even though I haven't gotten around to installing & playing NV yet) but one thing I am wondering is: What about "dumb dialogue"? I mean the dialogue for low INT characters, that is.
    In FO1&2 I liked the stupid character dialogue, it showed an attention to detail on the devs part, although far from "perfect" -- most of the options were just "Ur", "wubba gubba" & other nonsensical phrases. (the bit with Torr in FO2 was brilliant, however.)
    I was quite disappointed in FO3, that there was no difference at all in dialogue for stupid characters, as after playing FO1&2 I expected there to be a continuation of that in FO3. The closest it came was basically that one robot in the school that thinks you are a "special needs child". And even that's only if you actually choose the one dialogue option. I mean really, if I have 1 INT I shouldn't be able to carry on the same level of conversation as an average INT character, or at least I should have difficulty doing so. (having speech checks for "normal" dialogue options seems an obvious way of doing that, Bethesda has no excuses for not having low INT options, except laziness)

    I understand that NV does return "stupid" dialogue to the game, (and better, script-wise, than FO1&2, no more "ur wubba gubba" nonsense) but low INT still doesn't seem to make much difference, gameplay-wise, as it did in FO1&2.

    Basically I just would like to know what to expect in that area: Did the modders follow the NV base game? Ignore low INT altogether (ala FO3)?
    Or maybe, hopefully, they might've taken the "stupid path" up to 11?
    i.e. have some different, unique ways to solve some quests, locked out of some quests, gain special "stupid" quests, better/unique interactions with other "stupid" characters (ala Torr), along with a few funny "stupid" dialogue scripts. *crosses fingers*

    Again, just wondering what to expect.
    Even if they went FO3 style for "non-stupid low INT" characterization, it isn't a deal breaker to me, I just want to prevent disappointment by having accurate expectations.
    1. Thaiauxn
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      We have I think, 3 or 4 low INT options in the mod, and they're mostly jokes, or, to check if you are truly playing a character not smart enough to figure your way out of a simple problem. :p Which happens, especially in the Enclave plot where intelligence wasn't a prerequisite for membership. :p To hilarious effect from Bragg.
  5. Dea9877
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    Great looking mod! I hope to download and play it after the release date.
  6. fullveganalchemist
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    This has not a whole lot to do with the article specifically but the excitement for this kind of thing. This is a sheer example of community drive software development. "Support your community of indie developers and modders. The era of publishers is dead. You are the producers now. Pay for things you want to exist. Don’t pay for things you want to abort. Accept the risks and responsibilities therein. Simple as that. Welcome to the 21st Century." Seems like a sentiment of supporting free as in freedom software (which can cost monetarily to support the dev). So it would seem that people in support of this kind of mentality would be in favor of GNU/Linux operating systems but it isn't the case so far. With Valve's new Proton - Play on Linux support hopefully more people will make the switch. It's been said by many people that the only reason they still put up with Windows is for gaming. But that time is over, I truly believe it's the year of GNU/Linux. "Simple as that. Welcome to the 21st Century."
    1. ShadowOfGodless
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      Abolishing internet software ownership laws won't happen in theory, but it just might in practice. Think about it, people are(usually unjustly) starting to hate corporations and "Big Tech" companies, eventually people will start replacing these programs with freeware. I mean, why photoshop when you can gimp? Why FO4 when you can create a new game with that engine, etc. It's happening on a microscale with people replacing stuff, as previously mentioned, why won't it happen on a macro scale? I don't care to fact check this, but isn't android open source? That's a huge example of widely used software on the market actually being free to use!
  7. maximizers
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    Not going to lie, the fifteen year plan kinda made me cringe. >_>
    1. PraetorianMakarov
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      Its good to have plans. They're not necessarily going to turn out the way they could, but its good to have them in place.
    2. CaedesAposis
      CaedesAposis
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      That plan is gonna be what sinks them. Bethesda is going to claim that they are attempting to monetize New California by using their unofficial Fallout work to hype funding for w/e next project they touch... shame.
    3. Thaiauxn
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      Ppbbtt. No.

      And the plan is a very generic ideal, not a literal "this is what I will do and how I will do it." Even in the words under the image it's obvious I'm thinking 15-20 years for all these, and the costs will have to adjust for what comes up, not what I wish they could be. But without an aspiration and a general plan, nothing, absolutely nothing, ever gets done.
    4. maximizers
      maximizers
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      'I'm making a mod that hasn't released yet. It's hyped to no end but I don't know if it's be recieved positively yet.'
      'All the same, I already plan to make another six games after this and turn my one free mod into a multi-million dollar company.'

      I mean, C'mon... >_<
    5. Thurss
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      talks about cringe, but uses emoji/emoticon/whatever you name it.
  8. GraeWooff
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    Sounds like this is gonna be super-legit! Huge fan of Fallout 3 & New Vegas. Great 3rd person gameplay!

    Fallout 4... not so much, because they completely BROKE 3rd person game mechanics. It's all out of whack. Not to mention the horrible waste of time that is "settlement building". And then Beth announced "76". My ears perked up, I mean they named it after the year I was born!... until I saw the trailer, and then it was announced to be multiplayer. Really Bethesda? Just one intentional foul-up after another. Not the direction your real fans want to go, I can assure you.

    Hopefully New California will just be more of the good (FO3 / FNV type) stuff, and none of the new fluff crap.

    Thank you Thaiauxn and your team for all y'all's hard work. I'm sure it will pay off (pardon the pun) in the end. Heck, I may even contribute financially to this project if I like it even slightly more than Fallout 4. The thing is... from what you've stated so far, I'm positive that I will like it MUCH more than Fallout 4.

    Cheers!
    1. MiisterA
      MiisterA
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      Is it snowing? Oww no, it's actually salt, salt everywhere :o
    2. MiisterA
      MiisterA
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    3. MiisterA
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      Did you actually try to get to know about the specifics of Fallout 76 before judging it?
      Or maybe you're just like all those other folks that always expect something negative when it's different.
      Just go watch the Quakecon, or the NoClip documentary about the conception of the game and get your facts right before thinking "yeah this is Fortnite battle royale Fallout edition".
  9. slavosh3k
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    I wait ! good work !
  10. ElChacalDeLaTrompeta
    ElChacalDeLaTrompeta
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    new vegas is dead
    1. GODimitri
      GODimitri
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      nope
    2. vancehays2
      vancehays2
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      no way man just look at the mod pages
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