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Another Bad Good Idea

It sometimes astonishes me how certain game design decisions make it off an office whiteboard and into real, live games played by people. Like, do the designers realize how bad the idea is at the time, but think it’s the least bad idea of their available options? Or do they simply not think it through?

Exhibit A:

In a video posted to the official Fallout Twitter account, Jeff Gardiner, project lead for Fallout 76, was asked: “How do sneak perks and detection work in Fallout 76?”

Gardiner responded:

“As soon as you crouch, which engages our stealth mode, the dot [AKA your character marker] will very quickly fade away, so other players won’t be able to find you.”

There is still some confusion about this mechanism on Reddit, considering that there are two “dots” to which this can refer: the pip on the compass ribbon, or your character’s dot on the map (which is currently set to display everyone’s position all the time). Regardless, I have seen some celebration going on from people who believe the above is “the answer” to what they were worried about occurring in Fallout 76, e.g. being hunted down by griefers.

Let me explain what will happen in practice: you will be hunted down by griefers while hindering your own gameplay the entire time.

If Fallout 76 launches with the ability to see everyone on the paper map (as it is currently), the people doing the player-hunting will have perfect information regarding your location and direction of travel. “But you’ll be able to see them too, and then know to hide.” Nope. The only time you’ll know they’re coming is if you are running around with the map out, obscuring your view of the game world and otherwise not engaging with it. Not to mention that knowing your target is in a certain area is more than enough to go on for hunting purposes, so the griefer can check that you’re exploring some ruins, and then sneak that direction to intercept.

Suppose you do happen to notice their dot moving towards you… what then? You crouch, they crouch, and the both of you perform a crabwalking game of cat and mouse. Sounds fun. Maybe you just hide in a bathroom, map out, and wait to either surprise them or hope that they go away. Meanwhile, mobs are going to be respawning and attacking you because, you know, you were in the middle of PvE before xXxDethClawz69xXx came to pay you a visit.

Suppose Bethesda removes the map markers for players upon release, and thus this dot is really the compass ribbon. For one thing, that’s a lot better, as it would prevent people from starting to hunt you from across the map. However, we are once again in a situation where you are encouraged – under the threat of player killing – to be Sneaking around 24/7. Except it won’t work as much for you because, again, you are trying to engage in normal PvE and your hypothetical opponent is not. Remember, VATS is real-time, so taking out a sprinting Feral Ghoul while crouched is not going to be easy without an alpha-strike; there are going to be moments when you are map visible.

That there are mechanisms in place to prevent one particular player from killing you over and over is nice, but irrelevant. I prefer to not be killed, even if it “only” costs me a bit of time. Thus, the optimal method of gameplay will be to Sneak all the time, crawling around the floor at 50% speed. That is kinda how I play most Fallout games anyway, but only when I’m actively trying to get Sneak Attack Criticals. I’m not looking forward to doing that as a matter of course, every minute of every play session, while checking the map every 5 seconds.

Like I mentioned before, I get it. There are some emergent stories lost when you become immune to the pointless aggression of other people. There will be the thrill of scavenging in a warehouse while crouched, and see an oblivious stranger appear down the hallway. Or perhaps the triumph of a griefer getting killed, as was shown in the Fallout 76 video. Hell, if there are Bottlecap Mines and other traps, maybe you look forward to seeing people try and fail to take you out.

But there are definitely gameplay costs involved, and I’m not sure how much consideration was given beyond “wouldn’t it be cool if Sneak worked on players?” Presumably people appear on the map because otherwise it would be difficult to find others in such a large game space, right? Well, the game space might be large, but the density likely isn’t, so key resources are likely to draw players to specific locations out of convenience. Then you have the fact that a dangerous (PvE) world is going to involve the firing of a lot of bullets, which other players could hear.

Ultimately, we’ll see how it shakes out in the Beta. And perhaps that is what Bethesda is looking forward to as well. But I remain surprised how often incredibly flawed ideas persist almost all the way until release. Then again, working at my IRL job, I can sometimes see how it happens too.

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Stage 76: Acceptance

Well, I certainly feel better now.

Essentially, almost all of my concerns surrounding Fallout 76 have been addressed in several follow-up interviews with Todd Howard and others. There is something to be said about the failure of BGS’s marketing department that there needed to be three days’ worth of interviews and a 40-minute documentary to explain what kind of game the studio is even putting out, but whatever. It’s a Bethesda game, so if we can successfully log into it and the game not immediately explode, things are going well.

Here are the videos I have watched lately:

The summation? The griefing potential in Fallout 76 is limited.

You do not lose any items when you die, and you can choose were to respawn afterwards. When you log off, your base disappears with you. Anything you build can be repaired if destroyed. You can pack up and move your base pretty much at any time, and potentially save the layout as a blueprint for easy re-setup. Nukes do destroy everything in the area (for a time), and they also drop a endgame zone with high-level monsters in the blast radius, but there is apparently enough time for you to pack up and scoot out of the area. Plus, with the nukes, there are actual high-value areas (monster-spawning zones) for which the nukes are intended to destroy. Ergo, for every pack of sadists collecting launch codes for trolling potential, there will also be a group of PvE players interested in grinding loot and otherwise competing to Do The Right Thing.

Oh, and there will be areas (including the beginning area) in which no player bases can be built, specifically to avoid scenarios where you cannot find/complete a quest.

There are still some areas of mild concern – presently all players are visible on the map all the time – but honestly? I’m good now. People may indeed track you down and murder you from afar. There are systems in place already, apparently, to prevent them from being able to continue harassing you thereafter. And… I kinda get it. If other people were impossible to attack, griefers would just find another way to grief. But this way, there is a little bit of drama. Would you implicitly trust every person you ran into after the apocalypse? Maybe if you needed to supplies, or felt contact was inevitable. So now, there will be stories.

I will still, of course, be rolling on a PvE server if those are available.

Fallout76_Order

Speaking of, I already pre-ordered. That’s not something I do but Amazon offers 20% off preorders, and more crucially, preordering grants access to the beta. Member of Press©, and all that, right?

So we’ll see how things go soon.

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]

Fallout: Survive

The big news is that Bethesda teased the next Fallout entry: Fallout 76.

People were understandably confused by the naming convention. “What happened to Fallouts 5-75?” The mirth turned to trepidation when Jason Schreier from Kotaku tweeted:

Well, as of this afternoon, Jason tightened the thumbscrews further with this article:

When Bethesda announced Fallout 76 with a teaser trailer this morning, promising more information at E3, it was easy to assume that the new game would be a traditional single-player role-playing game. But Fallout 76 is in fact an online survival RPG that’s heavily inspired by games like DayZ and Rust, according to three people familiar with the project.

Jaw… dropped.

This could be a total disaster. An unmitigated, unrelenting disaster.

…or this could be the best thing of all time. Either/or.

No, but seriously, it’s difficult to assess the firestorm going on in my head right now. Am I disappointed that we’re not seeing a straight-up Fallout 5 right now? Sure. But take a moment and remember back to Fallout 4 and Fallout 3 (and New Vegas for that matter) and ask yourself: how important was the main story, really? Conversely, what were the best parts of this series for you?

For me, it was precisely the post-apocalyptic exploration bits that I love; the mini-vignettes in the form of skeletons or computer logs; the hoarding of thousands of pounds of tin cans and bottle caps; looking at my map, seeing the quest marker, and decidedly going in the opposite direction. While there were never many traditional survival elements to the Fallouts – baring the New Vegas option, which did not change much mechanically – the game setting just had a certain… je ne sais quoi which led me to ransacking every ramshackle shack in the wasteland, in spite of it being totally unnecessarily. Fallout 4’s base-building components were… well, also unnecessary, but at least gave those thousands of pieces of debris a purpose.

So, in short, my body is ready for this.

In fact, I have never been more ready. The only reason why I don’t own Metal Gear: Survive or Conan: Exiles is because they haven’t been bundled/deeply discounted yet. I only uninstalled ARK because it takes up 100+ GB on my limited SSD. I only stopped playing 7 Days to Die because I didn’t want to burn all of my interest until at least patch A17 is released (which is apparently in July). I don’t really advertise it, but my own personal dream game elevator pitch is “Fallout 3 meets Silent Hill – post-apoc psychological survival FPS.”

Now, it’s entirely possible that the devs won’t be able to thread all the needles:

Originally prototyped as a multiplayer version of Fallout 4 with the goal of envisioning what an online Fallout game might look like, Fallout 76 has evolved quite a bit over the past few years, those sources said. It will have quests and a story, like any other game from Bethesda Game Studios, a developer known for meaty RPGs like Skyrim. It will also feature base-building—just like 2015’s Fallout 4—and other survival-based and multiplayer mechanics, according to those sources. One source cautioned that the gameplay is rapidly changing, like it does in many online “service” games, but that’s the core outline.

How exactly does one have both survival multiplayer and quests? Is this going to be a stripped-down The Elder Scrolls Online? Jason mentioned in the comments that “Yeah I’ve also heard people who know the game make comparisons to Ark, fwiw,” so I could imagine it being… well, ARK with quests. But are they going to all be radiant quests ala Skyrim? Can people kill the quest-givers? Can you create your own private (single-player) servers? Will there be modding available?

Details will emerge in the next few weeks, for sure. In the meantime, I’m loving it. Even if Fallout 76 is a total disaster, it has solidified in me the understanding of something I wasn’t quite able to express. Namely, that I want a Fallout ARK. The RPG elements and VATS and such are traditional features that help define the narrative a bit, but I don’t view them as essential anymore. And maybe they never were. I just love that setting, and that gameplay loop of exploring the wasteland.

War never changes, but perhaps our appreciation of it can.