Nov 142010
 

As usual, I have more written down than I can put into a review or even a coherent essay. So here’s a new occasional feature where I dump my game notes onto the blog. There’s no structure to this, just a series of thoughts I had as I was playing.

The Mojave Wasteland had a lot of walls, and there wasn’t much effort to disguise them. Two areas felt particularly odd. One was around Fort McCarran, which is a walled encampment backed up against the walls of the strip, next to a walled refugee camp and a fenced-in farm area. The abundance of right angles made the whole thing feel rather over-designed and unnatural. Searchlight Airport was even worse, mostly because it had nothing to do. It was just a huge, ruined airport where all the reinforced concrete had failed, but the enormous chain-link fence surrounding its vast, blank surface was completely pristine. This layout punished the player for attempting to explore the area, and structurally was at odds with the fiction. It was an ugly and stupid way to try to block off that end of the map. At the very least, some part of the airport should have been explorable or interesting.

The economics of Vegas in this setting don’t make a lot of sense, and the game doesn’t do much to help explain them. Apparently the city makes its living off tourism, but the roads to get there are damn near impassable, unpatrolled, and notably devoid of tourists. It would have been interesting to see some, as travel hardly seems like a leisure activity in the post-apocalypse. Everybody likes to take a vacation, but would you really go from California to Vegas if you had to walk there? Once you arrive, the high barrier to entering the Strip from Freeside is ridiculous, especially since House insisted on making sure poor soldiers could go to his casinos. Economically, it doesn’t make any sense to encourage the people who made the hard journey from California to go to the Atomic Wrangler, and it’s totally at odds with House’s behavior otherwise. A lot of the setting sort of has to be taken on faith, because it doesn’t hold up to serious consideration, even on its own terms.

Here’s something that all the luxurious hotel suites on the Strip had in common: a lack of windows. No matter how prominent windows were on the outside of the buildings, the actual rooms were close, and frequently dark. I know the engine had tools for handling transparency because the top levels of the Lucky 38 had glorious windows, but even some dirty, translucent panels would have been more sensible than the blank walls we got. As I recall, Fallout 3‘s Tenpenny Tower had a similar problem, but at least in that case there was a nice exterior balcony. It was a really strange characteristic of the hotel and living spaces, and once I noticed it this never stopped gnawing at me.

My action Fallout‘s response
Killed a Powder Ganger Hooray! He was a bad man! Good karma!
Looted valuable weapons and ammo from his corpse That don’t matter to Jesus.
Accidentally picked up his empty soda bottle Stealing is wrong! You’re a bad person! Negative karma!

Worst morality system ever.

I started a second playthrough to see how it felt to play the hardcore mode. When you’re first offered the option, the game “recommends” playing in casual mode, but it should have been the other way. Hardcore mode is a lot more interesting and doesn’t pose all that much of an additional management burden unless you’re being really careless. It also places real emphasis on skills (especially Barter and Survival) that the casual player might see as less valuable. Unfortunately, the most useful perk you can get in hardcore mode (Pack Rat) requires a substantial investment in the Barter skill, which I wasn’t willing to make.

The various kinds of crafting are neat, but with all the different ammo types your inventory gets seriously cluttered. Obsidian were probably stuck with the Pip-Boy system they had, but a revision with more sorting options for the inventory and notes is something it desperately needs. Also, a single screen with RAD, H2O, FOD, and SLP on it would have made much more sense than the individual screens for these things, especially since those screens are so data-poor. It was probably easier to just clone the RAD page than to make a new interface, but the next game in the series (which definitely should have hardcore mode available) should alter the Pip-Boy to make its menus a bit easier to navigate.

I would have really liked to be able to see recipes before I was standing at a campfire realizing I was short one piece of surgical tubing. Some of these recipes make you carry a lot of weight, and some of those crafting locations are a bit inconvenient, especially in hardcore mode where fast-travel has real consequences.

The Medicine skill is still useless, and in hardcore mode it’s even more useless, because stimpaks don’t have a huge advantage over food. I think a thorough revamp of the skill system might be a good thing to do for the next installment. Not that anyone cares, but I would do away with the Energy Weapons / Guns distinction and have different skills for weapon sizes: Pistols and SMGs, Rifles and Shotguns, and Heavy Weapons. I’d condense Speech and Barter into a single skill, since there’s not much of a distinction. Replace Medicine, Science, and Repair with Biology (healing and chem effectiveness, extra damage to living things), Electronics (hacking, energy weapon repair, extra robot damage), and Machines (lockpicking, all weapon repair, extra robot damage). Adjust the old “Science” checks as necessary.

On my second playthrough I had a much greater appreciation for the sly irony of Chris Haversam’s story. He left Vault 34 because he thought working on the reactor was turning him into a ghoul. I had forgotten all about him by the time I reached Vault 34 itself, so it took until my second playthrough to realize that by leaving when he did, he avoided the reactor accident that turned everyone else in his vault into a ghoul.

I also noticed some hanging plot threads more clearly, too. The Burned Man was really built up, but it was a story that went nowhere. There was also a lot of development about the player character’s identity in the early portion of the game that I’d forgotten about already because the game forgot it, too. You hear something really mysterious about your name being recognized in Primm, and there’s some graffiti apparently directed at you in the Canyon Wreckage, but you never hear any more about this. I suspect a DLC pack featuring New Reno will provide some answers.

How refreshing to actually be able to argue somebody out of the ignorant position of “We must bury this knowledge so that a disaster like this will never recur.” Vault 22 was a moderately interesting place, but this little bit of dialogue turned it into one of my favorites. In fact, my silver-tongued character was able to argue pretty much anyone out of anything, including talking down the final boss. That’s a real set of alternatives, not like Fallout 3 where too many plotlines had to be resolved with a gun.

However, this level of freedom meant that any non-negotiable points felt like more serious limitations than they really were. Mr. House’s refusal to accept anything other than the murder of the Brotherhood, for instance, pushed me off his questline entirely in my first playthrough, where I ended up being an honorary Brotherhood member.

Huzzah! Gay characters! I was pleasantly surprised by how much extra dialogue I got with the Confirmed Bachelor perk. I think it might have even been more than I’ve seen so far with my second, “Black Widow” character.

It seems like the Boomers will inherit the wastes, because they’re the only group who have enough children to replenish their numbers. Outside of Nellis Air Force base I think I saw less than a dozen kids in the whole game. I can understand how the invulnerable children would pose problems, but the absence of young ones just ended up seeming absurd. Having kids in controlled locations was a decent answer, but I think it might have been better not to have children at all, to make them invisible because they don’t really matter to the story.

Also, how can you have a group of people called “Boomers” and not call their children “Baby Boomers”? C’mon Obsidian, you’re killing me!

This year, I’ve played two games with better lock-picking mechanics than Fallout, and one of them was even made by Obsidian (the other was the otherwise execrable Mafia II). This is one thing that definitely needs to go. I prefer Fallout‘s hacking to the eye-straining approach used by Alpha Protocol, though.

The quest bugs were demoralizing, but the issue that really drove me insane while I was playing was the goddamn crazy hands. There’s some line of code that causes the player character’s hands to reposition themselves for no apparent reason, often off the screen entirely. You can’t use the Pip-Boy when this happens (because it shows up where your arms are). I never found a fool-proof way to fix this, although changing my stance (from crouching to standing or vice versa) sometimes shook it loose. Other times, the hands would just keep shifting around for minutes straight, then calm back down. It drove me nuts.

Addenda:

My favorite weapon in the game is “This Machine”, which I take to be a Woody Guthrie reference. Keep in mind that the term “fascists” originates from the Roman authority symbol known as a fasces.

My favorite crash of the game came at the end of my hardcore playthrough, when the game froze up completely after telling me what happened to Novac.

  4 Responses to “Game notes – Falllout: New Vegas”

  1. As I pointed out in my review the lack of windows in structures, the mysterious overabundance of walls, invisible and otherwise, and the dearth of NPCs; is mostly attributable to memory limitations. The PS3 only has 256 megabytes of system memory, after all.

  2. Oh, the memory is almost certainly responsible for the lack of transparent windows, although I think they could have jiggered things so that the visible sights didn't include any of the memory-chewing NPCs. I just wonder why they didn't use some of the translucent windows (like those in Jacobstown and the House Resort at Camp Golf).

  3. I had quite a lot of interesting checks on my medecine skill level throughout the story. With my character having very low Survival skill, it proved a valuable choice to invest in this skill for healing.
    Great points though.

  4. I noticed a lot of "Medicine" checks too, but they rarely represented interesting choke points. In a lot of cases you could just jury-rig something rather than actually using the skill (notably in the quests at camp Forlorn Hope). At other times you could use a science check rather than a medicine check, and since science also allowed you to hack terminals I chose to boost that instead.

    Curiously enough, I actually used stimpaks much more in my normal playthrough than in my hardcore one. Due to the frailty of my allies, I put much more effort into managing the combat encounters the second time through. Except for a few hairy moments involving cazadores, I never needed the (slightly) faster healing. Because eating opened up inventory space and helped out on the H2O and FOD meters, I almost always did that instead once I got some breathing space.

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