Master of the Game

By Mary Medland
Fallout 3

Fallout 1. Fallout 2. Fallout 3. In the gaming world, few titles command the same respect for their excitement, difficulty, and artistry.

Istvan Pely, ’96, the lead artist on Fallout 3, was a relative latecomer to gaming culture.

“I didn’t really get interested until one day my dad brought home an old Apple IIe when I was around 18,” he said. “The technology was fairly primitive, but some simple adventure games, such as Dragon World and Wrath of Denethenor, got their hooks into me, and I was soon trying to figure out how they were made. I was really drawn to games as a storytelling medium, as well as an interesting challenge in the visual arts.”

At Loyola, Pely started pursuing a computer science major and began programming his own games. Always artistic, he soon realized that computer science was a bit too technical for him. Creating games, on the other hand, was a nice way to mesh technology and art. “I talked to the people in the computer and art departments and created a dual major,” he said. “My parents had always encouraged me to pursue art, and the faculty at Loyola was wonderful.”

While an undergraduate, Pely worked with Bill Glover in the technology services department. “Bill was a multimedia consultant,” said Pely. “I worked for him doing multimedia projects that provided exposure for new software for making interactive graphical presentations, a natural step toward games. Bill was really great and very much gave me a lot of freedom to experiment.”

Pely and a couple friends developed their first game, an adventure game called Majestic. “We managed to get the game published, which was a very big deal that really helped jumpstart my career. Then, while I was still at Loyola, I created a sequel, Syn-Factor, which was published by the same company.”

In 1998 Pely joined Bethesda Softworks, a game developer founded in the early 1980s. “We create a lot of fantasy-based role-playing games,” Pely said. “We bought the license for Fallout 1 and Fallout 2, which are really well-known among the hardcore gamers. These are more like science fiction games—think of Mad Max, Waterworld and other post-apocalyptic movies. Role-playing games allow gamers to be anyone and to do anything.”

As lead artist on Fallout 3, Pely was responsible for the game’s overall visual style, interface graphics, environments, and any characters or creatures featured. On a day-to-day basis, he provided feedback and direction to the artists to ensure that each asset in the game was in line with the overall vision for the title. “This mostly means lots of meetings,” said Pely, “although I try to make as much art as I can to stay as hands-on as possible.”

Working at Bethesda Softworks led to an unexpected plus for Pely: he met his wife Hiu-Lai Chong, a character artist for Fallout 3.

Pely’s biggest challenge as a top game artist? “This industry is very competitive and every year the stakes are raised,” Pely said. “Everything gets so sophisticated so quickly. We are always working on improving our technology and pushing the envelope. We are always trying to make things more polished and have more fidelity with the graphics. The level of sophistication almost reaches the quality of the film industry.”

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