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Split Baby

Have you ever seen a friend or coworker make a terrible decision in what felt like slow motion? Like they asked for your advice, you said “No, that’s a terrible idea,” and then they do the thing anyway? Then they stop back by, tell you the terrible result, and then detail their even worse plan for “fixing” things?

Welcome to the Fallout 76 PvP Show. Todd Howard is your host, and tonight he’ll be splitting a baby.

QuakeCon just ended, and there was an entire panel on Fallout 76. A transcript/summary of sorts is up on Reddit and that’s where I’m getting the following information:

Question: PVP. People are concerned. What’s the deal with griefing? How can we we enjoy our own game or ruin somebody else’s?

  • Todd jokes, “This is why I don’t go on reddit!”
  • The game is designed to be both PVE and PVP as part of the core experience. They want you to have a sense of danger around other players, but (and he muses here that it’s weird to say), they want that sense of danger without griefing.
  • When you shoot another player, you do only a small amount of damage to them, not full damage, akin to an annoyance or an invitation to PVP. If the other player shoots you back and engages, the kid gloves come off and everybody is doing full damage.
  • There’s a cap reward for killing another player; the higher their level, the bigger their reward. After you die, you can choose to “seek revenge”, which doubles the cap value that the enemy who killed you is worth.
  • Even if you do not engage the enemy, they can eventually kill you with that reduced damage. “Which sounds terrible…” but if you do that to somebody who doesn’t want to fight, you get no reward, you become a wanted murderer.
  • When you become a wanted murderer, a bounty is placed on you and is sent out to every player on the map. When a wanted murderer is killed, they pay the bounty out of their own cap supply (there was a large applause here).
  • A wanted murderer loses the ability to see other players on the map.
  • A wanted murder is always visible on the map to every player, even when sneaking.
  • Their goal was to turn players who are trying to ruin other players’ experiences into interesting content, and they are really happy with how it works.
  • As a side note, when you see other players on the map, you don’t get their exact location, only the general area.
  • Jeff shares that during the last play session, somebody became a murderer. He had just finished building a high-power sniper rifle when he got the notification of the bounty, and set out to take him down. He stalked the area until he came across the murderer exiting a building, where he popped his head clean off with his sniper. He looted some of the junk used a dance emote, took a picture over the body, and logged off.

Later on, there were two additional notes of… er… note:

  • You can choose to ignore specific players. If a player kills you, a button prompt appears allowing you to ignore them for that session. If you ignore them, they can’t see you on the map, which makes it pretty much impossible for them to mess with you due to the size of the map.
  • They’re also working on a pacifist flag that you can activate, so your stray bullets will never harm another player by mistake. They mentioned how players who were trying to egg other players on would wait for them to shoot a creature, then run in front of them in order to grief them, and the pacifist flag was born.

So, let’s recap. If you’re out in the world, you cannot be instantly killed by a sniper griefer. That’s good. Griefers can, apparently, keep poking you with bullets until you are near-death though. And if you were in the middle of fighting off a pack of feral ghouls…? Question mark. If they outright poke you to death, the “wanted murderer” status kicks in and they’ll be a big target for everyone else while also losing the ability to see other players coming for them on the map. It’s not specified whether or not this status persists if they log off, or lasts until they are killed, or what. The griefer will also lose Caps directly from their own pocket, although it isn’t specified what happens if they don’t have the amount of Caps available.

Or, you know, what happens if the griefer has a buddy or alt account. Account A kills you, gets Wanted status, Account B kills A, and then hands the bounty reward back over to A.

And just think about this PvP system for a moment. You “poke” them with bullets, and if they return fire, then the match is on. If you’re looking for a fight, there’s no reason not to just fire off a few rounds at everyone you see. I mean, the only way you can even find consensual PvP is by firing at other players. Presumably you would only start fights from an advantageous position, and being ahead on HP is already good. So we’re absolutely in a “shoot first, ask questions later” state.

Plus, death penalties are back. You don’t lose your weapons or armor, but you drop your “Junk,” which I’m assuming means generic crafting materials. Considering that that is probably why you are out exploring in the world in the first place, it’s pretty important. Unless, of course, you want to engage in some PvP, in which case you likely aren’t carrying around any Junk with you, since you drop it all on death.

So, we have two classes of players. The ones who want to fight and will have nothing to lose, literally, for just shooting you several times… and then everyone else just trying to get on with their day. Instead of, you know, just making PvE and PvP servers. This convoluted nonsense is what happens when you split a baby.

None of this is even what really worries me about Fallout 76. What worries me is the incredible lengths Bethesda is going through to prop up this pillar of specific gameplay. Which means this was an arbitrary, top-down design decision that they are willing to bend the whole game around just to make it work. “Every NPC is a human player!” You can still do that in a PvE server. So… why? Why bullet pokes instead of emotes, or raising a flag on your map marker, or just having PvP servers?

The simplest explanation is that they feel there’s nothing else worth doing in the game. Getting more powerful so you can kill your human opponents though? That’s a perpetual hamster wheel that will be spinning until the heat death of the universe, no further dev time required.

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.