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. Initially, BattleCry Studios was seeking employees with experience in microtransactions and free-to-play games.
On May 28, 2014, BattleCry Studios announced their first game, BattleCry. On September 10, 2015, it was reported that BattleCry Studios had laid off a “substantial portion” of their staff. On October 7, 2015, the development on BattleCry was halted for the studio to work on different projects. 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.
When you follow the  link, you get an Engadget article from 2012 that states:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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]