inXile wrangles a post-apocalyptic beast with Wasteland 3
Wasteland 3's crowdfunding campaign raised three-million dollars in one month. It's safe to say inXile felt the weight of player expectation when prepping to develop their latest entry. No sweat—they had been through the apocalypse twice before. David Rogers, Lead Designer at inXile, summed it up: "It's not like we were building a new genre … We're not making Katamari Damacy ... We were building a turn-based strategy game … We know that can be fun, it's just a matter of execution." Before they dared freeze hell, the team needed to refine their game.
Punching up the apocalypse
Wasteland 3's meticulous tweaking came courtesy of iteration. Getting the core gameplay out quickly meant inXile could distill the good parts through QA testing and feedback from alphas released to backers. Rogers even recorded some play sessions like a stream, calling out design notes like, "Holy crap +70% evasion?! That's nonsense!" as he played through levels. The team picked over the skeleton of Wasteland 3, scrutinizing every morsel: music queues, combat stats, dialogue, player choices, and more. They made the changes that felt appropriate and then did it all over again.
inXile knew they had to innovate while remaining true to Wasteland 3's heritage. Tone, mood, player choice, and reactive gameplay are core to the series. They're why fans have been drawn back for 30 years and counting. After nailing these "non-negotiables" to a metaphorical post, the team went scavenging for innovation opportunities. They overhauled the graphics. They modernized the combat system. Now players could complete multiple actions in one turn rather than "ping-ponging" with the AI. The game was balanced so that every weapon had its place in the right situation.
"You need to consolidate and condense and potentially lose features that weren't adding value … It's kind of like it's a sauce you reduce it down to its finest elements." - Dave Rogers, Lead Designer, inXile Entertainment
More importantly, inXile questioned every decision they made In Wasteland 2. The team recognized the superlative features present in games today. Do players really need to customize their pet? Is it necessary to have 75 options for shoes?
Don't miss the desolate forest for the flaming trees
Data and playtesting were the twin Geiger counters that allowed inXile to sidestep rads upon rads of analysis paralysis. "We definitely try to not overdesign on paper. You really have to fight that urge and get people just worrying about the user experience," Rogers explained. If you focus too hard on one corner of the world, overall player experience can suffer. Tim Campbell, Game Director on Wasteland 3, loves data. "We are hungry for information, for data, for insights, for anything that we can get our hands on that helps us understand how players play this game." To get that data, the game first had to exist in some basic form.
inXile knows their game carries a lot of expectations, but they're also confident it's the best it can be. Because they've played it—over and over and over again. Their rusted highway marker reads "Fun times ahead." That's the power of iteration, baby!
Playtesting and iteration let you mine for joy anywhere—even in post-apocalyptic Colorado. Want to work rapid prototyping into your own dev plan? You can get builds out faster and iterate quicker using Azure's scalable infrastructure.
Check out the full Microsoft Game Stack for additional game dev solutions.