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Well, That Was Quick

Welp, Bethesda will be sending out canvas bags eventually:

We are finalizing manufacturing plans for replacement canvas bags for the Fallout 76: Power Armor Edition. If you purchased the CE, please visit https://beth.games/2QDropM and submit a ticket by Jan. 31, 2019. We’ll arrange to send you a replacement as soon as the bags are ready.

There is an interesting paragraph in the VentureBeat article of the same news:

In multiple messages to consumers, Bethesda explained that it made the change due to cost and a shortage of canvas material. Cotton, which makes up most canvas, is the subject of import taxes in the trade war between the United States and China. It’s possible those tariffs, which went into effect in July, pushed up the per-unit cost of the canvas bags.

As VentureBeat notes in the very next paragraph, and everyone in /r/fallout notes half a dozen times each thread, this doesn’t mean Bethesda didn’t fuck up. As with most things, it’s not so much about the crime, but about the cover-up. Canvas too expensive? Fine. Alert the buyers, give them the opportunity for a refund, continue on with life. Not enough canvas can be sourced before the release date? Sounds fishy, but keep in mind that the Power Armor edition was shipped late even with the nylon replacement, which indicates that this probably wasn’t the nefarious plan from the start. In any case, alert the buyers that they will get nylon now, and that canvas bags will be coming later.

What you shouldn’t do is what Bethesda did. Which was this:

ThisIsFine

Because, absent any further communication, what it appears to be is that some suits at Bethesda chose nylon because it was cheaper, didn’t tell anyone because they didn’t care/thought no one would notice, thought $5 in cash shop currency would suffice to shut people up, and then got real scared when they realized that although my Big Mac might not look like the picture, McDonalds can actually get sued if the beef patties were replaced with chicken.

If I were them, I’d ask Todd Howard to put out a short mea culpa regarding the communication failure, and then move on with life. Otherwise, we’re on to the next two panels:

ThisIsFine2

Or maybe Bethesda does nothing more. The meme will last longer, but again, everyone will be buying Elder Scrolls 6 regardless of whatever happens with Fallout 76. I was browsing some of the reaction to the canvas bag replacements, and someone leveled this “threat“:

Oh man, it did cost them a shit ton. I sure as hell won’t support them monetarily anytime soon, and I hope many people won’t as well.

Do what you want cause a pirate is free

You are a pirate!

That moment when people desperately want to boycott your games but they just can’t stop themselves from playing them. Viva la revolución! Or something.

CanvasGate

In today’s Two Minutes of Hate, we’re once again getting very angry on other peoples’ behalf for something we find them stupid for buying in the first place:

FO76_Canvas

In short, the $200 Power Armor edition of Fallout 76 is advertised as containing, among other things, a canvas bag. But the bag that arrived was actually nylon instead. When someone wrote into Bethesda support to complain, they were greeted with the meme-worthy:

We’re sorry that you aren’t happy with the bag. The bag shown in the media was a prototype and too expensive to make.

We aren’t planning on doing anything about it.

An actual Bethesda PR went on to clarify:

Thanks for tagging us in this post. We’re not sure if you’ve seen this make the rounds on various areas of the internet, yet, but we’ve made an official statement about this issue and included it below:

“The Bethesda Store’s Support member is a temporary contract employee and not directly employed by Bethesda or Bethesda Game Studios. We apologize to the customer who took the time to reach out. The support response was incorrect and not in accordance with our conduct policy. Unfortunately, due to unavailability of materials, we had to switch to a nylon carrying case in the Fallout 76: Power Armor Edition. We hope this doesn’t prevent anyone from enjoying what we feel is one of our best collector’s editions.”

Many people are hammering on this response as well, for essentially restating the first message while throwing the other employee under the bus. After all, is there much of a difference between “unavailability of materials” and “too expensive to make”?

Well… yeah, actually. Enough canvas might not have been available in order to reach the distribution date, whereas enough nylon would have been. Sometimes you can throw money at a problem and make it go away, and sometimes you can’t. Or maybe it truly was a $1 vs $5 decision and they scrapped the plans for canvas based on that alone.

Speaking of $5, Bethesda put a little extra squirt of acetone on the PR fire by offering 500 Atoms to anyone who purchased the Collector’s Edition of the game. It’s difficult to imagine this amount not having been selected due to $5 being the actual value of the canvas bag in question. In any case, the gesture itself only inflamed the nonplayerbase further, who then took to the streets of /r/fallout to advise others to not accept the Atoms, lest they forgo their potential class-action lawsuit payouts.

I was originally planning on making a joke about how my food never looks like the pictures on the menu, but this older article on false advertisements is making me think people might have a case. The ad says canvas, it wasn’t canvas, case closed. I’m no expert in bird law though.

That said, I get it. If I were a nonplayer of Fallout 76, I’d be bored enough to be outraged too. As an actual player of a game that has become a punchline however… well, shit. It’s tough defending an otherwise fantastic game (IMO) that’s going to get better with each patch when the company behind it can’t seem to stop embodying (hilarious in the abstract) metaphors of their own products. “We were promised canvas, but the game we got was nylon.” Shit literally writes itself.

Ultimately, Bethesda will be fine. “I’m not going to buy Elder Scrolls 6 at release based on Fallout 76!” “Bethesda’s reputation is ruined forever!” Yeah you are, and no it’s not. Skyrim sold 30 million copies since 2011. Fallout 4, which was widely panned before and after release, sold 12 million copies the first day. This doesn’t mean that Fallout 76 is safe from being dropped, but as controversies go, this will be forgotten (and forgiven) the moment we get another 5-second video clip of some mountains overlaid with monks singing. Or by Christmas. Either/or.

I just hope that, you know, there continues to be Fallout 76 patches until then.

Fallout 76 is a Survival Game

Seeing as I’m a cynical bastard most of the time, it’s fascinating experiencing the frothing internet rage from the other side of the glass for once. “Don’t buy Fallout 76!” “This game feels like an alpha!” “The micro-transactions are ridiculous!” “It’s a glitchy, buggy mess!” Cool story, bros. Imma be over here being totally absorbed in my hunt for Aluminum and Adhesives for 5-6 hours a day.

Hey, I’ve been there IRL.

I mean, is this what it feels like to really enjoy something and then encounter someone who doesn’t, for reasons that seem so disconnected from your personal experience so as to seem divorced from reality? Politics is one thing, but somehow this seems even more extreme.

Let me break it down for you: Fallout 76 is a Survival game. I do not just mean Fallout 76 has hunger and thirst meters, I mean the games you must compare it to are other Survival games. Games like:

  • ARK
  • The Forest
  • Metal Gear Survive
  • RUST
  • State of Decay (1 and 2)
  • Subnautica
  • The Long Dark
  • 7 Days to Die
  • Conan: Exiles
  • No Man’s Sky

Fallout 76 does indeed come up short against some of those. Subnautica is much prettier, for instance. You can’t dig into bedrock and build your own personal bunker like in 7 Days to Die. But the complaints about lack of story, or the emptiness of the world, etc, suddenly become quite silly when you start asking where the NPCs are in, say, ARK. Fallout 76 is better than State of Decay in every category (story, gameplay, basebuilding, etc). Conan: Exiles lets you have slave NPCs at your base, but they aren’t materially different than some turrets most of the time.

Granted, some of these are $30 games and not $60, but still.

Totally stealing this player’s base design.

If you want to be mad at Bethesda for not making Fallout 5 happen in 2018, then… okay. I don’t think that was ever in the cards even if Fallout 76 didn’t exist, but maybe. It’s like being mad at Blizzard for the Mobile Diablo fiasco – that was a mismanagement of expectations, and likely had zero impact on the work of Diablo 4, which is inevitably coming.

Having said that, I begrudge no one for waiting 6+ months for the (ahem) fallout to settle before taking a second look. Fallout 76 is absolutely a game that will be in better shape a few patches from now. Stash size will be bigger, bugs/crashes will be reduced, some of the quests will actually be completable, there might be more of an endgame, Workshops might be worth something, and so on. No Man’s Sky was a huge letdown on release, but look at it now, within the context of survival games. If I still had space on my SSD, I might have booted NMS up again with this latest patch.

If I were not spending every waking moment playing and enjoying (!!!) Fallout 76, that is.

Impressions: Fallout 76 (Beta)

I managed to put a solid five hours of play into the Fallout 76 Beta last night.

My overall impression is that the game is fun, despite the frustrations. Whether the game will continue being fun for any particular length of time is another matter entirely.

Let’s start with the basics. The game is gorgeous. Prior Fallout titles judiciously used green/brown wasteland scenery and only populated certain pockets with relatively normal plant life. Here in West Virginia though, you start out in a vibrant, Autumnal wilderness. The music has also been surprisingly good. In fact, I pretty much have left the Pip-Boy radio off through my entire playthrough. One, because it was unnecessary, and two, because everyone around you can hear it.

Speaking of other people, well, they exist. I did not run into any griefers during my playthrough, nor did anyone stream rap music or racial slurs. Conversations were cordial, and mostly focused on pointing people towards where the good loot was located. As reported pretty much everywhere, there is no text chat – everything is open mic.

That said, people are also distracting. Listening to one of the dozens of holotapes strewn across the landscape is hard when XxSephirothxX is chatting about (and demonstrating) how the cars can be punched until they explode in a huge fireball. You can always listen to the holotapes later, but they are often context sensitive to where you found them.

The economy of the game takes a significant shift in thinking. Within about ten minutes of starting, I came across a few ruined buildings with about five Scorched (burnt ghouls that can use guns). I killed four but actually died to the last one, which appeared to be an elite of some kind (had a crown near his level indicator). I respawned, walked back down, picked up my bag of dropped junk, killed the elite, and started looting. The elite was somehow carrying half a dozen pipe rifles. Jackpot, right?

Not really.

There are vendor robots and kiosks in various locations, but the vendor rate appears to be 10% or less. As in, if the item says it’s value is 30 caps, you get 3 caps at best. Fast traveling about four inches on the map costs 7 caps. Moving your CAMP costs 5 caps. Blueprints are 120 caps.

The vast majority of the time, you are much better off scrapping… well, everything. Collect a bunch of weapon, Junk, and other sundries, find a workbench of any kind (thankfully) and break them down for parts like scrap metal, screws, and the worth-its-weight-in-gold aluminum. Breaking down weapons gives you a chance to acquire modding blueprints and the like as well. Then take those bits and pieces and upgrade, repair, and otherwise craft the gear you want.

This feels like more of a sea change in practice than it might come across in text. Damn near everything drops weapons… which I guess normally happens in Fallout games. But now you need to hoard stuff and collect all the things so you can scrap it, because crafting is now a huge component to the game at every level. Settlements in Fallout 4 might have been whatever to you, but your CAMP is basically the only home you’ll ever have. Weapons and armor wear down and break at inopportune times, and even if they don’t, you need this stuff to upgrade your existing stock.

Having said all of the above, there are some somewhat serious concerns.

For one thing, the inventory management of Fallout 76 is hardcore. Now, it’s a typical Fallout game insofar as weight is basically the only driving concern… but it’s a big one. A lot of people on Reddit found out early that your Stash (shared inventory) has a weight limit of 400 lbs of stuff. This might seem like a lot or a little, but the bottom line is that you can easily reach this cap in less than 10 hours of playing. Hell, if you come across some early Power Armor, that’s nearly 100 lbs right there. Junk has weight, scrap has weight, weapons that you can’t use yet – yes there are minimum level restrictions on weapons – have weight. All of this adds up quickly, and I have no idea what exactly the plan is for when you aren’t level 7 and have a full Stash. Throw everything out? Only loot 1-2 key resources? I’m hoping that this weight limit is a Beta thing.

Another issue is that this game is very much a console port. Again. Pressing Esc brings up your map. Then you have to press Z to open the settings/options menu. What? Fallout has never had a particularly good UI scheme, but I found it largely impossible to tell what blueprints I had just acquired from scrapping a gun. For example, I unlocked “Ivory Handle” but did not see it as an option when modifying any of my guns. Maybe it was an ivory handle to a knife? No idea. You have to dig into the Pip-Boy to find out what the disease you just picked up does. Again, this is par for the course for Fallout games, but this is also a no-pause, no safe place survival game.

Don’t get me started on the CAMP screen when trying to build shit. Let’s just say that Z and C are involved to navigate around. It’s not intuitive at all.

There is no Beta tonight, but there will be some extra time this weekend. I plan on playing as much as possible. The game is a lot of fun, despite my grumblings. But like I said at the beginning, it’s hard to tell for how long. At some point, there will be a transition from “loot all the things” to “can’t loot all the things” to “don’t care about looting things.” It’s tough to forecast how quickly that transition will occur, but I can already see it on the horizon.

When it comes, I suppose that’s when we’ll see the griefers really come out of the woodwork.

I Don’t Know What I Expected

I am well acquainted with buggy Bethesda releases. When I bought Fallout: New Vegas on release day, there was a DirectX (I think) bug that made the game unplayable for two weeks. Well, unless you downloaded a fan patch that resolved the issue within a few hours. But it took Bethesda two weeks to push out an official patch to fix things.

So I was ready for Fallout 76 to be a clown fiesta.

What I wasn’t ready for was Bethesda’s own launcher to immediately delete the preloaded game.

05e

The amusing part is that I saw it happen almost in real-time. I was playing Stardew Valley, saw that it was about 7:30pm, and decided to go ahead and try to log in. What I saw was the Bethesda launcher halfway through downloading the 48 GB game… again. I had already preloaded everything the weekend before, so I thought this odd. Was it re-verifying the files? I opened up the Fallout 76 folder and, nope, there’s already 48 GB worth of files there. So I canceled the download. Then the Fallout 76 folder disappeared.

This was not an isolated incident.

In browsing Reddit threads and looking for answers, it was suggested people download a program that can find and restore deleted items. So I did so. Sure enough, it found all the deleted files. “Great, let me hit Restore!” As it turns out, this program can restore files… but not in their original folder structure. I basically had a new folder on my desktop filled with 48 GB of loose files. I found that if I turned the program back on, I could see the folder structure of the original files. So all I had to do with manually create and name dozens of folders, move the files into them, and hope for the best.

Yeah, fuck all that. Imma go play Stardew Valley instead.

aa0

The preload debacle is just the tip of the iceberg, by the way. It’s my own fault, but I also hadn’t realized that “Beta” meant “explicit Beta schedules,” as in you can only play during certain windows. Bethesda is apparently extending tonight’s beta due to yesterday’s shitshow, but there is still limited time to play test the game.

On top of that, there is the usual nonsense like how disabling V-sync gives you in-engine speed hacks, there is no Push-to-Talk button on PC so everyone has a hot mic all the time, lack of basic PC options for keybindings and graphical settings, and so on. That’s the sort of thing we come to expect from Bethesda, but we still buy their games. I mean, we do so because ultimately the games are precisely fun enough to eventually overlook this bullshit, but come on. Where is the competition?

I dunno. I was mad about it for a while, but deep down I’m really just mad at myself for allowing myself to believe that, maybe, this time, a Bethesda game won’t be a total shitshow right from the start. Do any of those project managers or coders over there feel embarrassed over this shit? Or are they too busy rolling around in piles of cash to care?

These thoughts occupied my mind for about five minutes, before turning to figure out whether I had, in fact, planted any Blueberries this season. If I hadn’t I needed to get on that shit because otherwise I might not be able to unlock the Greenhouse on my farm before the first winter. Priorities, man.

It’s Beginning…

Fallout76

Oh snap

I’ve been reading the Beta previews on various sites, and am fully aware of the mixed reviews.

Nevertheless, as a member of the Press© it is my solemn duty to soldier on so you don’t have to. And not because I’m an irrational Fallout fanboy willing to settle for damn near anything post-apocalypse.

Fall(ing)out

First up, everything that Jason Schreier from Kotaku reported was true: Fallout 76 is an online survival RPG. Second, my Concern Meter has been dialed to 11 since the E3 presentation.

As I said before, I am all onboard with a Fallout survival game. Exploring the wasteland and looting all the things consists of about 80% of my gameplay in this series, and I am currently on an extreme survival game kick the likes of which I have not experienced since my high school JRPG days. All of that sounds fantastic to me.

What was considerably less fantastic was this bit:

Bethesda Game Studios, the award-winning creators of Skyrim and Fallout 4, welcome you to Fallout 76, the online prequel where every surviving human is a real person. Work together – or not – to survive. Under the threat of nuclear annihilation, you’ll experience the largest, most dynamic world ever created in the legendary Fallout universe.

That is direct from Bethesda marketing material, and you can hear Todd Howard say it several times during the E3 presentation. Oh, and here is Todd with the final nails to finish that RPG coffin:

“You cannot [play offline]. Even if you are playing by yourself doing quests, you will see other players.”

There are no NPCs. […] There are still robots and terminals and holotapes.”

“We want a little drama there [with PvP/griefers] without it ruining your game.”

Sometimes I wonder whether any of these people have ever played a videogame before.

So there it is. Apparently there will be private servers at some point in the future, complete with modding capabilities. Considering that would likely compete with their own (presumed) microtransactions, I won’t be holding my breath. I haven’t actually heard anything about microtransactions, for the record, so maybe they will surprise us by keeping things honest. Howard did admit that the modding scene is always where their games end up in the long term.

In the Reddit thread where I found the interview clip above, there was this amusing exchange:

So what do you do then?

Do quests and build stuff with friends.

Quests from who? Doing what? With no NPC’s who’s going to give a quest, or at least one that’s meaningful. How am I supposed to give a fuck about the quests if theres no reason in behind them

It’s a fair question, especially if someone has never played a survival game before. The answer: it doesn’t matter. ARK has no NPCs or quests and I racked up 136 hours playing by myself on a local server. For reference, my /played time on Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4 are 128 and 96 hours, respectfully. Granted, the quality of those gameplay hours differs significantly – I can recall specific quests and epic moments from the Fallout games in a way I couldn’t describe cutting down the thousandth tree for wood in ARK – but the point is that entertainment can occur without there being a reason for it.

Plus, you know… Minecraft. That is a thing that people do.

Based just what we know today and random musings, here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Basically Fallout ARK minus the taming
    • Ghouls/robots/etc = dinosaurs
    • No human NPCs
  • Overseer quest is extended tutorial to get you to visit all six maps
    • Each zone unlocks specific progression crafting stations/items
    • Overseer is a robot/AI and possibly the Navi to your Link
  • All quests are passive, e.g. go here, find this, activate X, defend Y
    • No direct quest giver NPC, no factions
    • World boss spawns, and public group quests are frequent
    • Radiant-esque quests via Note Board or similar
    • Might find magazines/notes that lead to mini-dungeons
  • The six zones are not contiguous; fast travel at the edges/specific locations
  • Looting/scavenging is a big deal for building supplies, main motivator for exploring
  • CAMP system will reduce base griefing a little bit
    • Pack up your base before logging off; crops (etc) probably won’t grow though
    • Unable to spam buildings across the map to block locations
    • A ton of people setting up hostile turret bases near newbie areas though
  • XP and levels and Perks and Skills, like normal Fallout
  • “Jobs” in the trailer correspond to group-based roles (scout, tank, etc)
  • Always “dozens” of players per map, per server
  • Expect a lot of activity near best resource spawn locations
  • Nukes aren’t necessarily for griefing – they create endgame locations
    • Getting codes to unlock nukes is its own mini-progression
    • Extra hard enemies/bosses spawn in nuked area
    • Some kind of endgame resource spawns only there
    • Radiation requires loot/crafting grind just to survive brief trips inside
  • No private servers at launch
    • “Progression follows you” means getting OP on private, then griefing public
    • Or farming Power Armor quickly, then handing it to your friends
    • Alternatively, allow private servers but character cannot migrate

Most of that is idle speculation, but we can come back to it once more details have been released.

[Edit: Updated Youtube link, since first interview was taken down]

Speaking of TCGs…

…hey, Scrolls is apparently still a thing. You know, the card game from Mojang, aka the company that made Minecraft, that was sued by Bethesda due to “Scrolls” being too close to that part of the name no one uses when talking about Bethesda games. Although I suppose with The Elder Scrolls Online coming out, that could conceivably change.

The open beta for Scrolls starts June 3rd. Poking around on the site reveals that the game proper will cost $20, and while there is a RMT currency (“Shards”), according to Mojang (emphasis added):

Shards are now enabled

  • Shards are completely optional. We’re never going to force you to spend in order to progress
  • Every item can also be bought for in-game Gold
  • A limited selection of items can be purchased using Shards
  • You can now buy Shards – our secondary currency – with real-life cash
  • Shards and Gold only have an in-game value
  • You can’t cash out

In other words, it does not appear as though cash shop currency is required to purchase the equivalent of booster packs. In fact, aside from the cards themselves, I’m starting to wonder how like a TCG this game is even supposed to be. Scrolls isn’t being marketed as a F2P game for starters, so it’s possible that its constructed in a fashion that allows reasonable card progression just from play, e.g. it’s a normal damn game that doesn’t require goddamn graphing calculators to plot entertainment per dollar ratios. We’ll see how that all shakes out.

It is kind of amusing, how often things release is apparently independent cycles. Deep Impact came out just months before Armageddon. Dante’s Peak came out two months before Volcano. And now we have Hex, Scrolls, and Hearthstone all either releasing or hitting Open Beta in 2013. I would count Cardhunter among them, but the stingy bastards have yet to give me a Beta invite.

The nerve.