Wednesday, March 27, 2013

KISS: Fallout: New Vegas

Keep ISimple, Stupid:
A concise analysis of Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout New Vegas should be the norm for games. It is not. It is the apex.

That's a rough statement to make. FO:NV is by no means perfect - it's hitched to the absolutely horrendous engine of Fallout 3, and there's certainly some holes and weaknesses in its writing. Personally, I could've done with a less clear split between the NCR and the Legion from a moral choice standpoint. But let me say first what Fallout New Vegas does extremely well that many games skimp on or even don't bother with.

Fallout New Vegas creates a detailed setting. Fallout New Vegas creates a plausible scenario. Fallout New Vegas allows the player to interact with the setting and scenario.

Three little things. Three little things that make all the difference.

Games are an interactive medium. It is their nature. It is why they are "games" and not "movies". Games tend to forget this, perhaps because it's harder to make a game interactive, or perhaps because they desire to emulate movies and gain some measure of their respectability. But games are games. Games are interactive. Games have a player, and the player does things. Do the things matter? It depends.

In Fallout New Vegas, the answer is "yes". In very simple ways, too, not big complex ones. Hell, I could probably make something akin to New Vegas just using the Neverwinter Nights module designer. There's factions whose opinion of you is influenced by your actions. There's quests. There's multiple story paths. The world is "functional" and "open", rather than being a super-scripted set of corridors. It's not super-unique programming, it's just normal design for an RPG.

But it's also one of the only games that's bothered to do it.

I can name maybe a few others off the top of my head. "Mercenaries" and "Way of the Samurai" are the main ones that spring to mind. Games where the traditional mission-based open-world setup is broken up by the possibility of having different allegiances and causing different things to happen. The possibility of gameplay having an effect on the way those allegiances turn. The idea of a game being actually interactive. The work put in to make the world feel "real" and "tangible" rather than being a playground or "video game level". Little things. Little things that make the player feel like they're doing something and not just being carted along a theme park ride.

Compare FO3 to FO:NV and you'll see that apart from the totally questionable handling of the setting and tone, the biggest difference is that FO3 is a single story with minor variations, and FO:NV is about a culminating event where the protagonist can be on one of many different sides. And that's it, really. FO:NV gives you a scenario and lets you approach it. FO3 drags you by the hand to a console with three buttons on it and demands you press one. It's almost grudging about it, too, like it wouldn't bother but it feels obligated to do it. And I'm not sure that's the kind of thing we should accept in an interactive medium, especially from a game that brands itself as a "roleplaying" game.

Frankly, that's all I have to say about that.


  1. Here, here! I believe the kerfluffle over the ending to Mass Effect 3 was because players were expecting something along the line of FO:NV, where their decisions led to different outcomes, but instead they were treated to what boils down as a console with three buttons.

    1. Naaaaah, you think so? :D

      Because its was one of many many many many factors, i tell you. Case in point:

      However, it is certainly true that, at first, they WANTED to make a branching narrative out of all your choices simply because, since its the last game and NO continuation will be made after that, they can just go will and branch so hard that there is NO way they are going to connect all those decisions for a sequel to be made after that. This was said by Armando Troisi in the presentation "Get Your Game Out Of My Movie". However, the Power Point version of it tell us more about how the branching feature was going to be handled than the video version itself:

      Armando apparently made it seem like this was the plan of Bioware all along. So, even after he no longer worked on BW after ME3 began production, people were under the impression that there is NO way they are going to shift gears after something as elaborated as that, right?... right?

      Also, not to be nitpicky or anything, but Deus Ex ALSO ended in 3 colored mutually exclusive endings. The only difference is that the game build up the possible repercussions that those choices will do to the world. Here is a conversation with Helios and Denton debating:

    2. Deus Ex's lackluster endings are made up for the more natural choices that the player can make along the course of the game. Not ENTIRELY, of course, but still: more than usual. And at least DX1's ending wasn't as, uh, wholly blatant as Human Revolution's.

  2. After reading about the awesome things you can get to program for Software and Videogames in this trope page:

    I am still scratching my head as for why, if we can pull that kind of stunts, something as a branching narrative is so... alien, so distant, so impossible to do?!topic/archengeia/8CzM7TmzIs8

    I tried and failed to gather information as what technical problem could there be that developers are NOT trying this at all. Sure, we can easily dismiss everything as just laziness but that wont be a truly objective answer, isn't it? I mean, even Fallout 1 and 2 were like F:NV for fuck sake. I can't believe that such thing was abandoned for no apparent reason, specially with the "rise" of RPG games like Planescape Torment.

    Hell, even a 3rd Person RTS of 2000 named "Sacrifice" (by SHINY Entertaiment) did the branching narrative much better than Deus Ex on the same year.

    Is there any reason as for why developers don't do it? why do they act like this "branching" thing is a innovation when in reality is just re-discovering the wheel?

    Maybe that is what they are doing. They are so desperates in being the FIRST on everything that they have to pretend that 20+ years of gaming history didn't happen, so they can claim that they INVENTED IT first.

    Burn all the text and chariots with wheels so only WE can make them and pretend that its a new thing.

    1. My general theory is that branching is a brute-force method, which is to say that when "branching" happens in a game, it has to be done manually. Every possible scene has to be crafted by hand, rather than created by an engine or system. This is due to things like dialogue and voice acting being impossible to create "emergently". As such, many devs are simply not willing to put in that much effort. The difference for games like PS:T or FO:NV is not that they've created some gameplay trick, but instead that they chose to put in that extra effort and it shows.

    2. "This is due to things like dialogue and voice acting being impossible to creat"
      This is when realism become limitation, is it not? Well, don't get me wrong about my question there. What I mean is excessive and unnecessary replication of reality cold hurt much of your story, even for books and movies. People tend to forget that realism isn't the same as replication of reality, but rather, as you said in one of your older article, is to create beliavable enough fiction reality throughout versimillitude. Developer should stop hiring bad voice actor like Mark Meer. Planescape: Torment wouldn't possible to have deep dialogues within it if voice acting was more important than the content of the dialogue alone. Fallout: New Vegas, is as far as AAA title game could went into an apex of storytelling with current technology. Even then, it still minor compared what it predecessor offered.