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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.

A Bad Good Idea

Or would this be a good bad idea? You be the judge (emphasis added):

[…] Finally, we’re also going to have players be able to queue against other players [in Pet Battles]. But one of the important values for us with the queuing system is that we keep this very light and very casual. And as a result of that, we are doing everything that we possibly can to eliminate the shame of defeat. One of the things that really keeps a lot of players out of PvP types of activities is feeling bad about when they lose. ‘Cause ultimately, that’s really what drives a lot of people out of it. So we’re trying to do everything that we can to make sure that you do not feel bad about losing this.

We’re doing that in a number of different ways. For one, when you’re fighting an opponent in a match made battle, you’ll have no clue who they are, and they’ll have no clue who you are. So you’re playing this cross-server against who knows who. You won’t see their character name. You won’t be able to talk to them. They won’t be able to talk to you. So there won’t be any trash talking going on as they stomp your face in or whatever. Or you won’t be able to trash talk as you stomp their face in. It will feel a lot more like just some relatively intelligent AI then it would a normal kind of PvP ingame. In addition, not only will you not know who they are or not be able to communicate, but we also aren’t going to tabulate a running number of losses that you had. We’ll keep track of how many wins you had in your own statistics page, so you can always look at that out of curiosity. But the game is not going to record how many times you’ve lost. Again, we are really trying to eliminate all the sort of negative emotions that go along with PvP. So, that sums it up for the pet battles.

I know there are going to be people going into an apoplectic shock after reading this.

Something that should qualify as good good idea:

Could the gear scaling that is being added for challenge mode dungeons be applied in a similar manner for older content, allowing players to go back and play through old dungeons with an appropriately powerful character?

It’s like someone is reading our minds. That’s something that could 100% work for that. What we are starting with for challenge modes is the concept of doing it with the shipping dungeons for Mists of Pandaria. Then we’re going to watch it, see how it plays out and see how things go. Then the idea is if that goes well, we totally want to backdate that to some of our older dungeons. I mean, obviously it will probably be in thing like Scholomance, because that’s coming as new dungeon. But if it works out well, there’s no reason we couldn’t backport that to older dungeons. That could end up being in any of the more classic dungeons that players really like. That’s the kind of tech that we develop at the beginning to know that it could work in other places. Gear scaling that is something that could also work in a scenario if we really wanted to because it’s an instance. We could decide that we could build a scenario for say level 35, it takes place in say Southern Barrens, but then you could also play that scenario at level 90 because we could scale your gear. So in that way we could make content that works for the level up, but also for the max level. So there’s a lot of options of being able with being able to scale gear on players that we can use.

Yes, other games did it years ago. Yes, Guild Wars 2 will be doing it this summer. But just imagine: all the people who loved TBC could (potentially) go back play that content at its intended difficulty! Assuming you could find 24 other people willing to do so, of course.