June was a big month for big-budget video game trailers. It brought us new glimpses of Call of Duty WWII, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and Far Cry 5, sucking away the oxygen from hundreds of smaller projects.
The Frontier, an ambitious and far-reaching expansion for Fallout: New Vegas, was one such venture. Developed by fans of Bethesda and Obsidian Entertainment’s 2010 open-world RPG, its trailer caught the attention of the Fallout fan community and the gaming press by promising vehicle combat, new locations, and original quests. It’s being made by a core team of 20-30 modders and is currently being prepared for a late 2017/early 2018 release.
The main question, perhaps, is why — but we'll come to that. In terms of what it does, The Frontier follows Fallout: New Vegas’s Courier as they travel northward to the snowy wastelands of the frontier of Portland, Oregon. Here players will encounter the exiled NCR and the Snowblind Legion — two factions that appeared in New Vegas — alongside discovering the area’s history and other survivors. This time around they’ll also have to shield themselves from the freezing climate, using gear and armour they scavenge from the environment to stay warm. It all sounds promising and, it has to be said, pretty hardcore.
To get more information on where this is all coming from, I reached out to Andrew Lee, project leader on The Frontier, who's better known online by the rather winning handle of MaybeNextTime. I ask where this mod's origins lie, how long they've been working on it, and what inspires them to do it.
“I started drawing up the idea of The Frontier about a year before actual production began, so around 2013,” says Lee. “The official production started on May 2014. Macintroll started building the world space, then I began to write some of the background and dialogue. Soon after, Devilwishs182 started working his magic and scripting the quests. For about three years straight, we continued to grind and work on The Frontier.”
“New Vegas is my favourite Fallout. I just loved the setting and the story. Also, the NCR/Legion conflict appealed more so to me than the Brotherhood of Steel(BoS)/Enclave or BoS/Institute/Minutemen/Railroad conflicts from Fallout 3/Fallout 4. Fallout 4 did a lot of improvements in gameplay and graphics but, personally, I believe it took a step back in terms of the story and dialogue.”
Because all the members of The Frontier team are volunteers, donations have been vital in keeping the project alive over the last few years. On the topic of funding Lee says: “We sometimes threw in some of our own money to buy some custom assets. The community has also supported The Frontier through donations. Every donation went into The Frontier itself. We haven’t used a single penny for ourselves."
“We really want The Frontier to be unique and professionally made as possible. If we ever have leftover donations or future donations post-Frontier release, we plan on donating the money to some sort of charity.”
Support isn't just about donations in cash either. The reason this mod looks so impressive is the number of individuals who have helped develop The Frontier, which now exceeds 100 — a remarkable figure when you consider the project’s humble beginnings. With so many people from across the globe working on the expansion, I ask Lee how smoothly everything runs.
“There’s good production every day. I usually encourage modders to use their creativity and don’t force them to work on something that doesn’t interest them. Surprisingly, this method has worked out pretty well and I saw some amazing content developed by modders. I really try hard to give the modders on The Frontier, as much freedom as possible. That way it should help keep their interest and production up.”
Besides the snowy environments and the new quests, vehicle combat is perhaps the biggest addition to the game. Players will be able to drive tanks, as well as vertibirds — something that fans of the series have long been clamouring for, and thus one of the main features to be shown off in the trailer released during E3.
The decision to release this trailer at this particular time, however, struck me as brave to the point of foolhardy. It would have been easy to get lost among all the other announcements coming out of E3, though fortunately the risk paid off with the trailer garnering far more attention than any of their previous updates and announcement videos.
“I knew in advance that Bethesda was not going to announce any Fallout or Elder Scrolls related news, other than the VR stuff," says Lee. "I told my team before E3 that I was going to release our trailer video because I knew a lot of Fallout/The Elder Scrolls fans would be disappointed with Bethesda's E3. In fact, I didn’t bother staying up to watch Bethesda’s E3."
“Despite being on a 10-year-old engine, I was strongly confident in my team’s work. I knew a lot of interest would revolve around our unconventional content that’s never been seen before.”
Yet the reaction to the trailer wasn’t all positive. Some of the Fallout community voiced a familiar concern for long-term fans of the series, which is whether the content of the mod would be too action-oriented.
“I did see a lot of comments on our trailer videos on how this looks too action-y or Call of Duty-like,” Lee says. “I admit most of these scenes were taken from various parts of the main quest. Our main quest does involve a bit of action but also a lot of exploration.
“We also have side quests built like the traditional New Vegas style quests; a tonne of dialogue and multiple impactful choices to make. The entire Frontier experience will bring you a bit of everything. From vehicular assaults, to low gravity on space fight on Archimedes II to crazy drug trippy moments and multiple quite hilarious dialogues.”
Quite hilarious? Sign us up! The Frontier shows the creativity and ingenuity in Bethesda’s modding community, and is proof of the attachment many still feel to Fallout: New Vegas. Bethesda seems content to keep re-releasing Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim onto new platforms for the foreseeable future so, while new entries will eventually arrive, in the meantime seriously-ambitious mod projects such as The Frontier are the only way for fans to find something new and exciting in these fantastical worlds.
I finish up by asking how Lee intends to celebrate once the mod is finally released.
“I’m not sure, honestly. As weird as it sounds, I probably would have to get up and go to work. Just another day in the office… I probably won’t ever be working on a mod this big ever again. This is my first, and last, rodeo.”