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[F76] Sidenote

File this under “It’s all starting to make sense” (from Wikipedia):

BattleCry Studios was founded on October 3, 2012, as subsidiary of ZeniMax Media, headed by Rich Vogel as its president.[1] Initially, BattleCry Studios was seeking employees with experience in microtransactions and free-to-play games.[2]

On May 28, 2014, BattleCry Studios announced their first game, BattleCry.[3] On September 10, 2015, it was reported that BattleCry Studios had laid off a “substantial portion” of their staff.[4] On October 7, 2015, the development on BattleCry was halted for the studio to work on different projects.[5] One of the studio’s first projects following the hold of BattleCry was the modification and restructuring of Bethesda’s Creation Engine (in conjunction with sister company id Software, utilizing netcode from Quake) to support multiplayer functionality in anticipation of then upcoming Fallout 76.[6]

When you follow the [2] link, you get an Engadget article from 2012 that states:

Bethesda may be known for its one-of-a-kind offline RPGs, but its new Battlecry Studios division is looking to ride the online free-to-play gravy train.

Eurogamer has sussed out a few details based on the firm’s job postings, which include a “monetization designer” and a platform lead position that requires experience with “design and implementation of microtransaction systems and services.”

The advertisements also suggest some sort of console release, as Bethesda notes that “console experience — preferably next generation (PS3, Xbox 360)” is preferred.

Battlecry is headed by former Star Wars: The Old Republic executive producer Rich Vogel.

While the hotbar-selling SWTOR is kind of a hilarious gotcha moment, Rich Vogel also did Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies back in the day. So… he either sold out or allowed his vision to become corrupted by publishers, although those are basically the same in the end.

Maybe we can argue about how much each Bethesda Studio contributed to the overall Fallout 76 package, but my money is that the corrosive, microtransaction design came from the studio headed by the guy who introduced the world to selling hotbars in an MMO. And, of course, Todd Howard… who is either an empty suit or willing participant in this nonsense.

Nuked Frog

Remember last month when we were wondering about whether Bethesda’s latest monetization strategies were a boiling frog scenario? Well, they just tossed the frog in the microwave and nuked it:

PRIVATE WORLDS, SCRAPBOXES & MORE COME TO FALLOUT 76 WITH FALLOUT 1ST
Ever since Fallout 76 launched, we have consistently worked to improve and evolve the experience based on your feedback. That’s why we’re excited to launch Fallout 1st, a premium membership that offers something players have been asking for since before launch: private worlds for you and select friends. In addition to this huge feature, Fallout 1st also includes a host of exclusive items and membership bonuses, all of which you can find detailed below. And the best part? Fallout 1st is available right now.

Yep, Fallout 76 now has a $13/month (or $100/year) subscription option.

F76_First

A bargain at… none of the price

Reddit is understandably losing its shit.

F76_Rage

That last post is a great tip, BTW

The subscription itself unlocks Private Worlds, e.g. your own personal game world that up to seven other friends can join, infinite Scrap storage, a tent to act as a mobile second base, a monthly stipend of Atoms (premium currency), and some lookalike NCR armor from New Vegas. And emotes or something.

While it came as a shock to most everyone, Bethesda did “prime the pump” last week though, when they flat-out said they’ll be selling utility in the Cash Shop going forward:

Our approach to [Atom Shop] items at launch was to keep them purely cosmetic. But after looking at all the data, it became clear that to consistently deliver content that keeps Fallout 76 fresh and exciting for all, we needed to rethink our approach to the Atomic Shop.

While we had many ideas on what to add to the Atomic Shop, one of the ways was the direct result of the community’s feedback. We heard from many of you who wanted items with some real utility. Starting in April, we began adding items such as Repair Kits, Scrap Kits, the Collectron Station, and a working Refrigerator. These have since become the most popular category in the Atomic Shop. We’re also still working on all the previously announced items and new cosmetic categories.

[…]

Of course, players can also buy Atoms, and we’re careful with everything we add to not upset the game’s balance. Our main objective is to avoid a situation where players can spend money to gain a competitive advantage or make the game worse for other players. Even more so, we want systems that allow players who do choose to buy Atoms to make the game better for others, not just themselves. With these principles in mind, we make careful decisions about the items we offer to keep it fair for everyone.

That was the same News post that stated the much-anticipated Wastelanders update – which will see the introduction of actual NPCs – was delayed into Q1 of next year to, and I quote with heavy emphasis, “make sure the work we’re doing hits our quality bar, and yours.” Er, yeah. Sure.

The tragedy is that I can see where Bethesda was coming from.

Private servers and the eventual modding piece that goes with it has indeed been one of the most requested features since before the game even launched. Now it’s here. Considering that Fallout 76 basically runs off of Amazon Web Services (AWS), it was never going to be a “use your own hardware to host” scenario. Which means a subscription. So they made one. And if you already have a subscription offering, why not throw in a few additional features to try and entice the people who don’t care about private servers? Hence all the ancillary stuff like the Tent, infinite Scrap box, etc.

Where the dick meets the car door though is the timing.

Imagine if Wastelanders was coming out next week. A huge, sprawling NPC horde that changed damn near every inch of the game world with new quests, factions, and activities. Imagine that it was… at least passably decent. In the midst of all this positive press, imagine Bethesda rolling out this subscription, letting you have your private Fallout experience with no one killing the NPCs or starting quests before you get there. Some of the outrage would still be there – Bethesda has claimed Stash space is limited for server stability reasons, but the Scrap Box can also exist in public servers – but Wastelanders itself could be pointed to as being “free DLC” as promised.

Alas, it was delayed and the suits decided to roll out Fallout 1st anyway.

To be clear, I have no interest in defending Bethesda per se. This subscription was rolled out despite the Wastelanders delay because whatever dipshit suit in charge didn’t want to lose the holiday cash. Hell, the subscription was rolled out despite the “private” servers themselves being already-looted empty servers, with no control over who on your friend list can join. Oh, and the Scrap box is eating scrap too, I guess?

To an extent, none of this matters. Not because “it’s Fallout 76,” but because whales in gaming are not an endangered species and each dollar they spend on shit like this is a vote you never get to make with a boycott. People were calling bullshit on these lines from Bethesda:

We heard from many of you who wanted items with some real utility. Starting in April, we began adding items such as Repair Kits, Scrap Kits, the Collection Station, and a working Refrigerator. These have since become the most popular category in the Atomic Shop.

…but are you really sure that it’s bullshit? Does it really surprise you that utility items were added and that people buy them by the thousands? Shit, a while back I was logging into Guild Wars 2 every day for a month hoping that Character Slots would go on sale in the Utility tab of the cash shop. I barely even play GW2! That was just for Character Slots too, and not any of their actual Utility items like daily resource nodes, special zones with crafting stations, and so on. Fallout 76 is no GW2 or Elder Scrolls Online though, so the hubris is especially galling despite the methods being identical.

My prediction? The subscription details will eventually change, private servers will actually be private, and mods will change how the whole system works on a fundamental level. People who still don’t like survival games will continue to not play Fallout 76 anyway, and yet they will still buy Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6 on release because self-control across a population that is 72% overweight/obese is clearly not a strong suit. And really, why wouldn’t you play games that give 40-400+ hours of fun just because another team in the studio keeps slamming their dick in a car door? 

Then again, maybe I have just been reheated one times too many.

FridgeGate

So here we are again: another Fallout 76 patch and another controversy. Unlike the previous patch in which a bug existed in the new raid that could delete all your character’s worn items, the focus of collective ire is on… a $7 fridge in the cash shop.

FO76_Fridge

There is also technically a robot that (slowly) collects junk for you too.

Reddit, of course, is having none of it. The fridge itself does not add to Stash space, but allows ~15 food items stored inside it spoil 50% more slowly. There is already a backpack item that you can earn via gameplay that has a fridge mod option (90% reduction) to slow spoilage of all food in your inventory, and there is a Perk under Luck that does likewise. Nevertheless, this is Pay 2 Fridge Win:

hypnotoaster01
What happened to no pay to win?

imprezobus
It lost

…or is it? There have been some counter-current threads poking fun at the absurdity. Many of those people have been accused of being (paid) shills, as if Bethesda had otherwise demonstrated the level of sophistication necessary to coordinate an effective PR campaign of any kind despite every possible evidence to the contrary.

Between the extremes are more sensible concerns. For example, the general idea that Pay for Convenience incentivizes inconvenient game design. Or how the mere existence of these items permanently close off design space, because anyone who bought one would get rightly pissed if there was a 90% freezer added to the game later. I would also include under “sensible concern” the question of why there wasn’t a trashy, rusted out fridge added as a sidequest reward that anyone can get while the pristine $7 version peacefully exists in the Atom Shop.

It is a fair question to ask why we’re bothering to talk about this at all. There is a general, background radiation-level of concern around microtransactions and cash shops, but the primary impetus to rage was the simple fact that Bethesda said the Atom Store would be cosmetic only.

Here are the tweets from Pete Hines:

PeterHinesTweet

Or did they?

There is another Reddit post that highlights the fact that the context around the above Tweet matters. Specifically, the now-deleted question was asking whether someone could buy a legendary minigun from the Atom Shop, and Pete Hines replied “No. Only cosmetic.” In other words, specifying that one cannot buy guns, but only cosmetic skins for guns.

The “cosmetic only” takedown continues in this extremely well-sourced post that essentially shows that Bethesda never gave any particular indication that cosmetics were the only thing slated to arrive in the Atom Shop. The stress was no competitive advantages and no P2W items. When people questioned the existence of Repair Kits – which allow you to repair gear instantly in the field – Bethesda responded with allowing different versions to be found in-game, and stated “If we find that Repair Kits do offer any sort of competitive advantage once they are available, we will make any changes necessary to ensure that advantage is removed.”

In fairness, there are some counter-arguments in that last link that show other contexts in which Bethesda employees have stated “cosmetic only.”

For myself, I find the entire argument complex and interesting.

First, I have a longstanding hatred of microtransactions and the erosion of Consumer Surplus that results. You see this in Fallout 76 with the fridge and the junk robot that could have been in-game quest rewards, but you also see it more broadly… everywhere. Guild Wars 2 is an egregious example of how the fashion endgame is essentially co-opted by the gemmed endgame. Sure, you can technically farm in-game gold to turn into gems to purchase new armor models, but why all those extra steps? Because shareholders.

On the other hand, a fridge and repair kits are about the most benign bullshit that I can imagine getting worked up about. Yeah, something something boiled frog, but Bethesda has been exceptionally communicative regarding fan feedback to changes. It doesn’t stop them from slamming their dick in a car door every patch, but I am not getting a nefarious vibe here. Last patch they added an in-game Atom Shop kiosk despite the fact that everyone has to click through an Atom Shop screen on game startup. After fan outrage, that in-game kiosk was removed with the very next patch.

Second, it’s fascinating from the “they lied!” angle. Let’s put aside the question of whether they really lied or misspoke or whatever. Are developers allowed to change their minds? Probably… not, right? A Tweet or interview from before the game was released saying one thing and a change in strategy (to get more money, mind) would rightfully be considered a Bait & Switch. There are X number of people who would not have purchased the game at all if they knew there was a possibility of P2W items down the road (not that these are P2W by any stretch).

On the other hand, Bethesda brought all this up in an April 2019 blog post:

We read tons of feedback and suggestions from the Fallout 76 community, and Repair Kits were a popular request that we wanted to get into players’ hands. We also felt we could try out something new with these, both in-game and in the Atomic Shop. As we look to the future, we’re exploring ways we can bring other community-driven ideas to the game as well, such as refrigerators for C.A.M.P.s, ammo and food converters, and even the ability to send scrap to your stash without having to head home. Repair Kits are our first attempt at a utility item like this, and we plan to make adjustments based on your feedback, so we hope you’ll share your thoughts with us when they go live later this month.

Five months ago, utility fridges were on the roadmap. At some point we are going to see “ammo and food converters” and chances are good that we are going to be here again, having the same conversation about P2W when they come out too. Probably still absent any sort of indication about what someone is winning for having paid.

I’m conflicted with the whole thing. Part of that is probably because I actually really enjoy the Fallout survival game experience, and hate seeing Bethesda snatch defeat from the jaws of victory every patch. Another part is a sort of reflexive “Fake News!” reaction when everyone piles on the game just because that’s the game we pile onto now. It used to be No Man’s Sky and now it’s Fallout 76 until something else comes along. I thought it was still Anthem’s turn, but whatever.

I would say none of this matters and go on my merry way playing the game, but that’s not how games work these days. Even though Fallout 76 is very much a solo survival game for me, its continued development hinges on cash shop purchases and the community reaction to them. Plus, you know, it’s a shame when artistic resources are spent on paywalled material when it could have been integrated in gameplay instead.

So, Bethesda, for god’s sake man, be careful with that car door.

Do Nothing, Save Money

It’s amazing the value of doing nothing.

Recent Steam sale? Bought nothing. There are like 30 items on my wishlist, but none of them are particularly… buyable? For example, I have Sekiro on there but A) it’s a newer game that won’t see a deep discount, and more importantly B) I have no means of playing. I’m actually coming up on the end of my 4-week baby probationary period (i.e. paternity leave), but that just means a new reality of daily babysitting and the same lack of any ability to do much of anything after work still.

Recent Amazon Prime Day? Well, I did buy some house stuff because I’m a bleeding heart liberal that nevertheless enjoys next-day delivery of… let me check… 100 ft extension cords, razors, fish food, and USB chargers. More importantly though, I did not buy that PS4 Pro $300 bundle despite the fact that I was actually browsing Amazon right when it went up.

If I’m honest, it was less willpower and more dithering. “Surely I would play it! Totally different scenario from the PS3 I have hooked up next to the monitor I’m currently typing on.” “If I’m buying a console for no reason, why not a Switch instead? There are fewer Playstation exclusives I’m interested in, plus it’s portable when watching the baby!” “Yeah… but Final Fantasy 7: Remake.”

“…aaaaaaand it’s gone.jpeg.” “Success baby.jpeg.”

I have talked in the past about my digital hoarding predilections, insofar as it is more centered around avoiding paying MSRP. A good deal on a game that I want to play eventually is very enticing, because when the mood strikes, it strikes hard and turns any other game into ash in my mouth. This used to be a big problem.

Now? I have accepted my fate. I play phone games and browse Reddit for nine hours, then maybe play something equally mindless, like Fallout 76 or now Graveyard Keeper when off baby duty. Could I jump back into Divinity: Original Sin 2? Not really. I mean, I could play it, but I’d probably be interrupted every 30 minutes or so, and only have about two total hours in any case. When that becomes your gaming time horizon, your tastes shift.

I am hoping that things will eventually settle down. My child doesn’t sleep through the night, or even in a crib for longer than 15 minutes yet. I think babies are supposed to though? I have no idea. All I do know is that sometimes doing nothing is the correct answer, which just so happens to correspond to my existence at the moment.

Christ, I just want to sleep. And play videogames.

76% Fallout

SynCaine has his 30-minute impression of Fallout 76 up and, spoilers, he’s not impressed:

If you ever wondered what a Fallout game would be like if you removed all the story, all the reasons why you might play and care, F76 is the answer. It’s the same gameplay, the same systems, basically the same world, just empty of reasons to care.

While I am sure that is intended to be a damning indictment of Fallout 76’s failure… it really isn’t, IMO. The overwhelming vast majority of any Fallout gameplay is, well, gameplay. Specifically, it is wandering around, collecting junk, killing Super Mutants and Ghouls, experiencing environmental storytelling, and otherwise exploring the post-apocalypse wasteland. You know, all of the fun bits that occur inbetween questing. So when SynCaine says something like:

In Fallout 3, you also start in a vault, but as a child surrounded by other humans, including your family. Shortly after leaving the vault, you had to a fairly large settlement of humans that gets you rolling.

…I had a puzzled expression on my face. When I emerged from the Vault 101 for the first time – still in the top 5 videogame experiences in my entire life, by the way – I must have gotten turned around because Megaton was not where I went next. Instead, I explored some burnt-out buildings, fought some raiders, collected a bunch of junk, and basically hit up a bunch non-story locations.

I was not trying to avoid whatever the main story quest was supposed to be, but I wasn’t particularly bothered in speeding towards it. And while it was interesting finally getting to Megaton and having to make those moral decisions regarding the sheriff and the nuclear bomb in the middle of town and all the rest… that wasn’t everything that Fallout is. Shit, some of the best narratives in the entire series do not involve NPCs either, e.g. Father in the Cave.

Is there anything approaching Father in the Cave level so far in Fallout 76? Nope. Of course, there really hasn’t been anything of that level even in the main story quests for any Fallout game. Were you really that enmeshed with finding your father, finding your son, or deciding who rules the Mojave? Or was the main plot just a vehicle in which you drove around the wasteland, finding all the poignant stops along the way? Fallout 76 has that same vehicle, that same main story quest, getting you to explore every corner of the map. It’s a beater instead of a Porsche, but it still gets you from A to B.

Which is astounding for a survival game.

SynCaine would surely not care that Fallout 76 was never intended to be anything but a spin-off survival game and not some Fallout 5 substitute. But that is a distinction that matters. There is no plot reason to care what occurs in ARK, or Rust, or Conan: Exiles, or most other survival games. And yet there is an overarching plot to Fallout 76, complete with hours of voice acting, tragedy, and dark humor. There are no moral decisions, true, and yet that is about to change with upcoming patches in a natural way, e.g. everyone died from Scorchbeasts, Vault opens, we followed in footsteps of the dead but succeeded in eliminating the threat, newcomers are now moving in.

The devs did not set out to construct the plot this way; they honestly felt like “players are the NPCs” would work, which is some Silicon Valley startup fantasy bullshit and any actual player of videogames would instantly say is dumb. Bethesda is trying to turn the ship around though, and they have largely succeeded thus far with monthly patches and new quests. Some of it is a bit grindy, like the recent Boy Scouts-esque stuff which comes down to Achievement hunting to unlock a backpack. But, well… it fits this game, and gives you a reason to go back around the block.

I dunno. People aren’t still playing Diablo 3 for the plot, or Destiny 2, or Anthem (at all, *rimshot*). They play because the gameplay loop is fun. Complaining about Fallout 76 not having the same narrative quality of actual Fallout games just makes me question why you played Skyrim so much, and possibly still do. Was it for the engaging faction warfare? Or for whatever the situation was with that one dragon final boss that I 2-shot from stealth? Is that why any of us played and enjoyed Skyrim so much? Or was it perhaps the walking around, the fighting, the exploring caves, and otherwise existing in that world?

Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps you played Fallout and Skyrim exactly one time, never went anywhere other than towards a quest marker, and turned it off the moment the credits rolled. If you don’t play these games that way, well, you are in for a treat. Not because there is a grand narrative you are missing – although it ain’t that terrible – but because there is a huge map full of nooks and crannies actually filled with things worth picking up, killing, or looking at. And it’s getting better all the time.

Bygones

It was once said:

“A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” -Shigeru Miyamoto

These days, we have this:

“All of the games like this… It’s not how you launch, it’s what it becomes.” -Todd Howard

There are a number of interesting articles out this week, including this one, which covers a candid interview with Todd Howard regarding (among many other things) Fallout 76. Specifically, how he and the entire team knew it was going to be a widely panned shitshow… but released it anyway. Because eventually it could be made better.

…and it has. Even if you were hostile to the idea of a Fallout survival game in the first place, it is undeniably in a better state than before. It may still not be your cup of tea at all, but it’s better.

None of this is particularly ideal for anyone though. As consumers, we should not be offered half-completed games riddled with bugs and half-baked design philosophies. On the developer side, while they do indeed get cash for a half-completed game, they also get (well-deserved) bad reviews and negative press for releasing a shoddy product.

The thing is… this method appears to work. As pointed out in the Ars Technica article:

The examples are almost too numerous to list. There are the games like Evolve, Paragon, Battleborn, Artifact, and Lawbreakers that were never able to turn things around after moribund launches. Then there are titles like Rainbow Six: Siege, For Honor, Final Fantasy XIV, and Bethesda’s own Elder Scrolls Online that have found long-term success despite some early troubles. Right now, Bioware’s rough launch of Anthem seems to be sitting on the razor’s edge between these two possibilities.

The other two poignant examples listed earlier in the same article are Diablo 3 and No Man’s Sky. While we can quibble over whether No Man’s Sky is any better conceptually than it started, the game is undeniably a huge success now, with each content update pulling 100,000 concurrent Steam users. In other words, it did not crash and burn – the poor initial showing was only a flesh wound. And Diablo 3? The game that launched with literal P2W in the form of Real Money Auction House? Blizzard was punished with… 30 million copies sold by 2015.

And, really, at what point does it all end up sounding like sour grapes? I had to look back, but apparently the Diablo 3 RMAH was removed back in March 2014. Are we still mad five years later?

I mean, the RMAH was absolutely a terrible idea and Blizzard should have known better and we’re all so terribly disappointed in them. But if someone asked you whether they should play Diablo 3 today, is the RMAH really something you would legitimately bring up? What’s the statute of limitations on poor game design that no longer even exists in the current game?

It’s a struggle, I know. If you buy/play/enjoy Fallout 76 or No Man’s Sky or Diablo 3 or anything else today, you are indirectly supporting the (usually) same people who screwed up these games the first time around. “How will they learn, then?!” Well… they did learn. As evidenced by the game getting better. It will probably not prevent them from releasing a half-baked mess with their next game, but that may simply be the unfortunate reality at this point. We can hope that by delaying our purchase until the game is fixed – instead of preordering or Day 1 purchasing like a chump – the devs get the memo on what stage of completeness we are willing to accept. On the other hand, giving them money later on kinda justifies the whole “Release Now, Fix Later” approach.

And on the third, mystery hand? Taking a principled stand is exhausting when you could just sit down and play some damn games. If it’s fun now, play; otherwise, don’t.

Treading with Purpose

I continue to “play” Fallout 76 (F76). It’s really more akin to treading, but it suffices.

Caps are the universal currency in F76, and there is a daily vendor cap for… Caps. Basically, since nearly everything that isn’t nailed down can be sold, Bethesda decided there should be some limiter involved so someone doesn’t grind or glitch their way to the hard, player cap of 25,000c. It used to be each faction vendor had a 200c limit, but that was changed to be a universal 1400c, resetting daily.

Actually having 1400c worth of shit to sell isn’t impossible, but it requires some grinding slash borderline exploitative practices. One of the easier methods is finding the plans for the Marine Tactical Helmet and then crafting a bunch of those. I just so happened to locate the plans the first time I looked for them, and now can create a helmet for 1 glass, 1 plastic, and 3 rubber, then sell it to a vendor for 28c apiece. Getting 150 Rubber each day is not technically a struggle, but it has been. One of the best sources of Rubber is a school building that spawns a bunch of Kickballs in the gym. Alternatively, there is also a river shop that has a bunch of life preservers that can also be scrapped for Rubber and Plastic.

Unfortunately, as these are the best places for collecting vast amounts of these resources, and the Marine Tactical Helmet is the most straight-forward way of getting Caps, they are often swept clean before I ever show up. One can “server hop” by exiting to the main menu, but that’s also what everyone else does when they find those places empty too.

There is technically an easier helmet to craft and sell – the Civil War Hat – but the plans for those are a random spawn on a corpse that is itself a random spawn.

The end result is that I spent a not-insignificant amount of time in loading screens as I play F76. Checking the school gym, fast traveling to the Overseer’s Camp (near one confirmed random spawn location for the Civil War Hat), fast traveling to the river shop, then server hopping. To break the monotony, I’ll also hit up player bases along the way and check out their wares. Then repeat.

“But… why?”

Part of it is fear of missing out, specifically regarding the 1400c from vendors. With an angry baby at home, I do not always have the opportunity to play F76 or any game each day. So when I do find 30 minutes or less, I definitely want to drain those vendors before doing anything else. Considering that players can and are selling 3-star Legendary items in their Camps, gaining these Caps is basically the equivalent of farming Legendaries without actually having to do so directly. There is a question about why I care about better gear when I’m not actually “playing the game,” but that conundrum exists in any MMO anyway. “Defeat the boss for gear that makes it easier to defeat the boss.”

The other part is that playing F76 this way is still better than playing any other game at the moment. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is right out if I can barely finish one fight and one dialog box before having to put the game down. Oxygen Not Included could be an option, but there is a big content update that was scheduled for this month, but got moved to July. The latest Humble Bundle includes Streets of Rogue and Graveyard Keeper and a few other games that I was interested in, but I just sat and looked at the purchase button before closing the window. When could I even play these games? Can all them be paused/saved at any time?

Fallout 76 is perhaps worst out of those options given there is no pausing or saving at all. But in terms of “value” for time spent, it definitely is at the top of my list, still. Plus, you know, I still like the game. So I will keep treading, and do some swimming when I can.

No Man’s 76

The development redemption arc of No Man’s Sky is perhaps one of the best gaming, dwarfed only by Final Fantasy 14. Insane hype followed by a PR disaster as the game cratered, was meme’d, and then… practically born again. I would not say that No Man’s Sky has become some wildly successful game – it apparently sells well with each update – but the fact that it was not abandoned altogether is an immense testament to the will of devs wanting to make things right. And it is undeniable that the game is better than it has ever been before. The Beyond Update slated for this summer, for example, is set to introduce VR support and 16-person multiplayer. Yes, multiplayer that was advertised to exist years ago. But still! It’s getting closer to that original vision and potential.

Reading some of the latest updates regarding Fallout 76 is giving me similar redemption vibes.

For example, you may have read about how there is a PvP mode now. What you might not know is that they have eliminated the “slap” damage from the non-PvP mode, essentially giving people the PvE mode they always wanted. Granted, you can still get shot defending/attacking a Workshop or if you don’t have Pacifist mode turned on, but it’s immense progress.

Also immense progress? Player vending machines. Set one up in your camp, power it, and it’ll highlight your camp on the map for everyone to see and visit. Not only will this give you a means to sell your useful items and Legendary gear, but also give you a reason to make your camp look cool. That’s classic Show & Tell! I have a perfectly functional mountaintop base currently, but now I have an immense desire to relocate to a more convenient location and rework my entire camp.

Oh, and did you read about the Purveyor? Basically you can now scrap your unused Legendary gear for Scrip, which you use to purchase random Legendary items. At first, I was not particularly excited about such RNG layering, but then I started thinking about the current state of affairs. In the old system, you… tried to farm Legendary mobs for random drops, then get pissed every time a 3-star wood armor dropped. Now you can farm those same mobs and Legendaries and eventually earn a second chance to roll the dice.

Or, you know, sell the useful-but-not-for-your-build Legendary items in your vending machine for Caps instead of Scrip. Then use Caps to purchase your dream drop from someone who rolled differently. Or go farm Caps yourself and buy other peoples’ crap Legendaries and scrap them for Scrip to fuel your own rolls.

Are there still issues? Of course. Some are clearly bugs, such as not being able to inspect 3-star Legendary items in vending machines without the owner nearby. Others might just be terrible design decisions, such as being unable to text-chat other players on PC. And were is a “Sorry” emote?

If you hate the entire idea of Fallout 76 or what it represents, then okay, no updates will likely improve the game for you. But it is undeniable that the game has improved, in subtle yet significant ways. That player vending machine thing practically carves out an entirely new endgame by itself, nevermind the Diablo-esque Legendary gambling endgame now. And nevermind the continued release of dungeons and new events and so on.

There will be people who say that Bethesda deserves no praise for making (baby) steps to correct an initially poorly-developed product. I agree, for the most part. Yet I must say that the game is in a wildly better state than it has ever been, and I am looking forward to how much better it can become.

Sometimes it IS that Simple

I had been having an issue in No Man’s Sky where I did not know how to retrieve my prior base. The internet said there should be a quest in my log to fix the issue, but didn’t see it. The internet also said you can find a “base computer” in the wild by going through a very tedious process of scanning planets, moving your ship, scanning again, etc. I eventually abandoned that latter endeavor after a few hours, and wrote the whole thing off as a loss… then found the quest in my log. Base restored.

Of course, the base was mostly broken nonsense, but I at least retrieve my materials. Now begins the long journey in finding a new planet to set down roots on. Or continue using my Freighter, that the devs just gave away for free to everyone at this stage of the story, as a mobile base. Glad I didn’t grind the 50+ million credits that they cost before I left.

I had been having an issue in Fallout 76 where right-click was not letting me look down the scope of the gun. The internet said the issue was with a mod, specifically Better Inventory. I had already deleted that mod and the custom .INI file though. I also uninstalled the whole game and reinstalled, without a fix. Given the 55 GB install size, that was a serious time investment.

After a while, I stumbled upon a Reddit thread mentioning that as part of some update or another, your custom .INI file was copied over to a My Documents subfolder in addition to it existing in the normal game folder. Lo and behold, there it was, complete with a call towards a mod archive that no longer existed. How that specifically and only affected the right-click function of guns, I have no idea, but deleting it resolved the issue.

Both these issues were show-stoppers for me, and would have led to me abandoning the games forever if I had not been so damn stubborn. It remains to be seen whether either game will ultimately be worth my time playing in a “fixed” state, but it’s interesting nonetheless how precarious one’s gaming experiences can be even with “simple” issues. At every stage of troubleshooting, I was reminded of the other dozen or so Good Enough games that work out of the box.

How Not to Return

Coming back to a game can be incredibly daunting. Coming back after it has gone through several updates can be more concerning still.

Then there’s No Man’s Sky.

NMS_Restart

I didn’t want to play that character anymore anyway.

The No Man’s Sky meta-narrative is inspiring in its own way. In the beginning, the game was hyped beyond belief (and reality), the designers actively lied about features, and it was the go-to example of a failed game. Over the years though, the same designers have… stuck to it. Update after update has improved the gameplay experience, and now it is very close to completely resembling the product that was promised in the first place. While some may decry giving the company any praise for fixing what ought not have been broken in the first place, their dedication towards making things right is completely unexpected in the current gaming environment.

The problem is that so much has changed between the various patches that my 50+ hour character may as well have been erased.

The main culprit appears to have been NMS’s “Next” patch. There was a major overhaul in the crafting system, or upgrade system, or both, or something. Basically, all of my upgrades and enhancements were turned into “Obsolete Technology” that I had to scrap for upgrade currency. Which would have been slightly okay on its own, but now I have no idea how anything works anymore. Which resources are important have changed, all of the planets in the galaxy have changed, and my previously-existing base appears to be lost entirely/”archived” somewhere. While there have been a few prompts to check the Codex here and there, otherwise there is nothing resembling a tutorial on solving the “Dude, Where’s My Base” situation.

Slightly perturbed, I decided to spend my limited free-time patching up Fallout 76 instead. There have been several feature patches there too, resolving some long-term Quality of Life issues and introducing some new quest content as well. Everything was looking good… until I realized I could not aim-down-sights anymore. Right-click and nothing happened. With a melee weapon equipped my right-click would Block attacks like normal, but no scopes apparently.

Kind of a bummer when you are a Rifle build.

Near as I can tell, this problem might be related to mods. Deleting the mod file and removing the Custom.ini did not fix anything, nor did reboots or verifying file integrity. So, I’m typing this up while waiting for another 55 GB install to complete. [Edit: this didn’t fix the issue either]

Both experiences are giving me time (literally) to reflect on the situation though. Blizzard spends an inordinate amount of time trying to make the transition from lapsed to paying subscriber as easy as possible, to the extent of not changing systems that desperately need fixing. It’s hard to see value in that approach when you are actively playing the game, as all that occurs is basically stagnation for the sake of people who aren’t even customers. But if I weren’t so starved for survival-esque experiences, my first five minutes back into No Man’s Sky would have ended with an uninstall.

I’m not even sure there’s a middle path anymore. Games require you to learn their arbitrary, sometimes non-intuitive systems in order to succeed. It is hard enough trying to remember which buttons do what after a year or two, and then you add the possibility of previously accumulated experience no longer being useful (or actively bad)? You might be worse off than a brand new player at that point. In fact, I am worse off, because my patience for relearning tasks is immensely low – if I am to spend time learning something, it may as well be a new thing.