In addition to extending the franchise he inherited from Weaver, Howard and Bethesda are taking on another franchise, one with more baggage than a five-time divorcee: Fallout.
Originally created by Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky and Jason Anderson of Interplay, Fallout is an open-ended, comedic game set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. You're sent out of your bomb shelter by your community to find clean water. Once the shelter's giant lead doors slam shut behind you, the grim world of barter towns, bandits, PIPBoy 2000 and radioactive scorpions invite you into any number of adventures.
Praised by fans for its dry-as-a-bone, dark-as-night humor and the huge scope of the world, Fallout has been on a nigh-Biblical journey. The original game was the only one to have its creators' names on it, and each progressive version, from Fallout 2 to Brotherhood of Steel, has gotten progressively worse. Cain, Boyarsky and Anderson couldn't get the rights to the franchise from Interplay, and their work on a spiritual successor was cut short when their new company, Troika, went bankrupt. But Bethesda, with their deep pockets and street cred to match, was able to capitalize on Interplay's financial trouble in 2004 and acquired the Fallout license.
But even though Bethesda has the chops to make an open-ended RPG dripping with carve-your-own-path potential, history has proven that it's not easy capturing Fallout's humor and charm. Howard, a guy who's done a good job picking up on The Elder Scrolls' nuances, isn't too worried.
"Like I was talking about before, with sequels, you have to define the experience the first one had and stay true to it," he said. "I think the first Fallout's tone is brilliant, but then they start to drift in the sequel and subsequent games. When it comes to humor, I'm very anti 'jokes' in games. Most designers try too hard to tell a joke, and it just doesn't work. I think good humor for Fallout is dry, almost satirical. Like getting your leg blown off, blood starts spraying all over the place and you get the little [PIPBoy] interface image giving you the thumbs up - I find that funny. Horrible situations juxtaposed against cartoon mascots. But that's just me.
"We're headed in the right direction. I want us to be seen as the developers that keep that old school game experience at heart, but keeps pushing it forward, that tries new things. If you see 'Bethesda Game Studios' on the box, you know there are some crazy ideas in there. We won't always get it right, but we'll always keep trying."
Sounds like he's got it. And Bethesda, from their auspicious beginnings as the purveyors of the Son of the Morning Star to their franchise built on the backs of sports games, gets it, too.
Joe Blancato is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. He quotes Wayne's World and Dr. Strangelove more often than what can be considered normal.