Pacing

Pacing is an incredibly important concept in game design. Pacing can be defined by the ability of a game to remain fun and novel for a player throughout the beginning, middle, and end of the gaming experience. In other words: for a game to end while you are still having fun. Otherwise perfect games can be destroyed by bad pacing, even if you had immense amount of fun while playing, simply because you often remember your final experiences with a game more than the first ones.

Pacing is also almost entirely subjective, often depends on variables outside of designers’ control, and is sometimes impossible to force.

I was thinking about pacing the other night as I was playing Fallout 4. I am basically at a point in the game where what I do doesn’t matter. I am level 46, I walk around in the highest-level Power Armor 24/7, I have 25,000+ caps, and have more than enough supplies to build whatever kind of Settlements I want, if I ever cared to do so.

There is nothing left to challenge me. This fact was rubbed in my face last night when I fell down into a basement area and a Legendary Alpha Deathclaw walked into the room, 10 ft away. I shot it with a Gauss Rifle around 3-4 times and it died, never having the opportunity to even attack. This is on Survival difficulty.

For all intents and purposes, I am done with the game. But the game isn’t done.

This is not Fallout 4’s fault, per se. RPGs are always tricky to balance, even when they are on rails, simply because grinding XP to out-level challenging content is a pretty standard, time-tested strategy. Add in an open world, and pacing pretty much goes out the window. Or, at least, there is an implicit expectation in open-world games that the player will supply their own pacing.

Unfortunately for me, I am utterly incapable of pacing myself.

At this point, what I should be doing is ignoring everything but the main story and plowing forward. And that is precisely what I keep intending to do. At the same time, I do not anticipate playing Fallout 4 again until after the first DLC get released, at a minimum. In such a scenario though, there is always the possibility that I put a game down and never pick it back up again. I would rather breeze through trivial encounters in order to experience interesting side quests than possibly never see them at all.

Of course, I would rather experience them in a challenging, tightly-paced manner even more.

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Posted on December 4, 2015, in Commentary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I blame model character levels for being a stupid mechanic in CRPGs.
    If the difficult stays unchanged then there is no point to levelling (except as a mechanic to force you to waste time for a bit until you are high enough to do the next part of the main story).
    If you gain 1% power relative to your opponent every hour (any less isn’t noticeable), then by the 50th hour the game will be trivial. Once you have been playing for that long you’ve effectively nerfed the difficulty into storybook mode.

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    • Well, one of the big “points” of leveling is simply having easily recognized and mentally/emotionally rewarding milestones. Leveling feels good, even if technically everything else levels up with you. It’s a psychological trick, but not really all that different than upgrading gear, unlocking new abilities, etc, in the scheme of things.

      Now that I think about it, the underlying problem may just be with scaling. At lower levels, it’s easy to increase the difficulty: more enemies, maybe grenades, and so on. Once those are no longer challenging… what else can they do? Making enemies stronger just ends up translating as them becoming bullet sponges, which is unsatisfying. Not only does a higher-level character have more talents/gear/etc to get out of tricky situations, the player themselves have more confidence in their understanding of the game mechanics. Even if the Legendary Deathclaw could one-shot me at level 46, it would never be scarier than it was at level 15, simply because I’ve fought a dozen of them already and know their attack patterns, weaknesses, and so on.

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  2. Bethesda type open world games are never done really, especially like Fallout where locations respawn and quests are repeatable. It’s pretty much on you to give it up whenever. I got tired of my first character at level 31 and started over with a different archetype. Even if the difficulty continued to scale, at some point it isn’t going to matter anymore when there is nothing else keeping you hooked. It’ll turn into an endless cycle of clearing out raider/mutant camps to get more ammo to clear out yet more of them.

    I guess it’s an open world problem? Especially with Bethesda games which give you enough loot to supply an army. These games are always best early on when you are scraping for ammo and forced to improvise.

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  3. There are console commands to change the health/damage of various mobs. A solution to difficulty could be tuning them a bit (in a sense deciding your own ideal difficulty) Also as far as I know certain mobs should scale with you, whereas other mobs are fixed levels. Was the deathclaw scaled to your level, or a lower level version.

    Last “fix”, except not really, is self implied restrictions. I am currently seeing how far I can get without using power armor. (First playthrough, so I presume i will try it at some point), primarily inspired by a blogpost (might have been yours tbh) that said it was a good choice to make early on whether or not to use power armor, as the power armor system essentially replaces the normal armor system if you really want it too.

    The problem with selfimposed restrictions is of cause that they feel like you are gimping yourself. Something I usually dont find fun. This specific selfnerf however feels a bit different cause it is also a way to get more fun from finding regular armor upgrades.

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    • Yeah, I recommended making a Power Armor decision early on back in my “Quick & Dirty” guide. I stuck with Power Armor during this play-through because I knew I wouldn’t ever use it again in any subsequent ones. Can’t pass up the chance to test out that Jetpack, right?

      One interesting difficulty “fix” I have heard from some people is simply increasing all damage by 3X… for everyone. The idea being that while it technically makes it easier for you to headshot everyone, it also forces you to approach direct conflict extremely carefully. It also changes the calculus for many different weapons – not much difference between a Gauss Rifle and a normal weapon at those damage levels, so choose the one feels better shooting, etc.

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  4. First of all, hello. I have been lurking here in the shadows ever since the “no flying in WoW ever incident” in may. Since then I have come to find that I agree with your rants, reasoning and reviews at least 99% of the time so I kept reading.

    I my self have so far at least “completed” fallout 4 once, I guess its what you call when you reach the point of the main story that it plays the ending video but leaves you in the world.
    I’m not sure whether this article of pacing is a rant or just a reflection(analysis of what is) tho, but I assume the later.
    And as you say I can imagine pacing isn’t really possible in such an open world game as this is but, did it differ anything from fallout 3 and new vegas? Im just slightly curious since I barely played fallout 3 and never at all with new vegas.

    I am however a much greater fan of the elder scrolls games since I like the more healthy looking environment with green lush forests and such and there just like here its as open and the pacing is on you. I actually usually call Fallout 4 “The greatest Skyrim mod I ever played” since its so obvious its basically a reuse of the game engine with different content.

    I my self have no issues with how challenging a game is tho, its the openness, freedom and the great views that interest me the most. Speaking of openness there is a thing bethesda does with fallout 4 they never did before with their games that I’m not sure if I like or not.
    There might be some [b]spoiler warning[/b] on the text following this but most should have discovered by now that three major factions in the game are critically tied into the main story. Meaning you can’t join them and play with them freely after you “completed” the game any more. This is something that made me just restart a new character right away instead of playing on to the point of Overpowered since its common for me to want to experience the story of all the different factions in the game. But it’s as you said in a previous article I do notice now in my second run that this game has much less freedom than it should. you can’t even choose to be evil in this game(there is no detonate megaton) from the start. This worries me and I fear the next elder scroll game might suffer the same, all for the sake of selling more copies to the simple minded linear thinking(?) masses. Meanwhile I remain hopeful and keep thinking that bethesda at least wouldn’t start sinking that low. :)

    Thanks for another great article, looking forward to more.

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    • Hey, thanks for sticking around.

      For the most part, yes, I had the same pacing issues with Fallout 3 and New Vegas. They were not as bad though, because each of those games had a level cap – once I reached it, there was literally zero point in killing anything else, and thus all my efforts immediately shifted to finishing the game. Technically, Fallout 4 just… continues. There remains a point to even the Radiant Quests (e.g. the infinite respawning quests), at least for a while, as they will let you have access to some of the perks you might not have been able to pick up.

      The other pacing issue with Fallout 4 is that this is the first Fallout game in which I had to look up how to continue the main story quest. The first thing I did in Fallout 3 was ignore everything and walk around for 40 hours, but here I can’t even tell what I’m supposed to do. I understand now that I have to continue with the faction quests, but it’s not especially clear why. The “find your father” quest in Fallout 3 is not especially narratively interesting, but you could at least see the end goal; same with New Vegas. Here? I dunno. Maybe I’ll see it more clearly once I “officially” end the game.

      Part of this is my “fault,” of course, for not pressing onward with the main story from the beginning. That said, all that really matters is how I feel at the end. Nobody is getting bonus points from me for allowing me the freedom to ruin the game for myself.

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