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Mistakes to avoid -- lessons from Fallout 2


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I've been replaying Fallout 2 for the first time in many years. I honestly didn't remember much of it at all, so it was almost like approaching it afresh. I do know the game system well enough to be able to roll up a pretty brutally effective character though, and I did remember that in much of the early game firearms and ammo are scarce and that there were some fun quests that you could only do if you were good at unarmed combat, so I took those into account when creating my character. So off I went into the great wasteland.

 

And realized -- again -- how far Fallout 2 falls short of its promise. 

 

I thought I'd bring it up here because a lot of the Fallout 2 team is working on P:E, and there are pretty big structural similarities between the two games, despite the very different setting and different mechanics. Both games are big and sprawling in scope with a variety of different locations, both feature something of a blank-slate main character, both are combat-heavy, quest-heavy and writing-heavy, and both have heavyweight role-playing mechanics with deep and broad character development options.

 

So, specifically what, I hear you asking?


First off, the combat system. It worked well enough for Fallout with its relatively limited character development scope, but breaks down completely in Fallout 2. Basically, the upshot is that combat is either boringly easy (you almost never take any damage while getting frequent one-hit kills on your enemies), or almost impossible (you take massive damage every round and are likely to be one-shotted), with only a very narrow band where it actually presents a tactical or gameplay challenge. I'll leave the why and wherefore as an exercise for the reader, but hint: it's the armor system and the crit system.

 

Second, the "macro" structure of the writing. A lot of the "micro" structure is great, with memorable, interesting dialog, varied options, interesting characters, motivations, goals, twists, secrets, turns, and so on. But a lot of it has nothing to do with you. I played in a fairly freeform fashion, following the nicely set-up main quest with the occasional diversion when something caught my interest. It almost completely bypassed some of the major locations in the game. I haven't even visited NCR yet, and I was just handed the piece of kit that makes me invincible in combat except to the end-game bosses. From this point on, all combat in the game is mindless chore. What motivation do I have now to go sort out the differences between the crime families in New Reno, or even pay the NCR a visit? It's nothing to do with me, and I've nothing to gain from it; I don't know or care about anyone involved, and I barely even know these places exist. (In fact, there are locations on the map I don't even yet know about.) So the only reasons I have are meta-game: LARPing a good-guy out to solve everybody's problems for them, or completionism or other some such.

 

So, how would I fix this?

 

One, fix the armor system and crit system, and add a cost to the use of overpowered items. The Power Fist uses Small Energy Cells. What does Power Armor run on, sunlight? If it used one charge of Small Energy Cell for every few steps you took, you'd actually have to think about when to use it -- Small Energy Cells being scarce and very expensive.

 

Two, tie in the optional sidequests to the main quest and/or the character's motivations in some way. They can and should still be optional of course, but there should be some reason for you to care about the politics of Vault City, New Reno, or NCR, or the relations between them. Maybe somebody from one of them did you a big favor and then got killed by another of them, or maybe someone there has a shared personal interest in something you're doing for your main quest. Lots of possibilities.

 

Three, give better hints about the relative toughness of the different areas in the world. For example, take Redding and Broken Hills. One of them is a really "easy" area. The other is a pretty damn "tough" one (until and unless you have one of the game-beating armors anyway). Yet the game gives no hint whatsoever about which is which. This is perhaps one of my pet peeves in this type of game -- I want the option of exploring really dangerous areas above my level, but I want to make this an active choice, not something I blindly stumble into. Don't give me "you're too low level for this quest." Give me "Hey kid, that's a really bad area you're about to wander into. You sure you don't want to grow a beard first?"

 

I'm not too concerned about system balance, what with Josh in charge and so on. However I am slightly concerned about "writing overreach" -- cramming in so many quests and so much content that the game loses focus and becomes basically a mishmash of things with no motivating force to keep you going. There is a balance to be struck between on-rails storytelling and free-form exploration. Fallout 1 hit it very sweetly. BG2's Athkatla was close, closer IMO than Fallout 2. But "more of everything for everybody, or at least a lot" is a great electioneering slogan but not necessarily great game design. I hope P:E wan't fall into that trap.

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I have a project. It's a tabletop RPG. It's free. It's a work in progress. Find it here: www.brikoleur.com

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There's a saying in advertising: If you throw someone a ball, they'll catch it. If you throw them three balls, they'll catch none of them.

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Me? I'm dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It's the honest ones you want to watch out for.

 

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1. I agree with you on armor system - it was pretty bad in Fallout - seriously you are harder to hit in Heavy Armor?

2. just no - world feels unbelivable when everything is focused on main protagonist. And there is good reason why these quest are described as side quest or optional. Its completly fine if you finish game without doing them

3. Just no - I am not sure which of these towns you think is easy but I remeber that awesome feelin: I got into Redding with some garbage from Den - no guns, almost no healing powders and then bought shotgun somewhere here for all my money. I was like, yeah now I am baddas lets kill something! And step into sewer. Then I run into first Wanamingo and was like. OH SH*T There goes my uber shot gun! Bam and I am dead. So hilariouse, I was scared to go down here even on level 20 or so then xD So BIG NO to level scaling

I'm the enemy, 'cause I like to think, I like to read. I'm into freedom of speech, and freedom of choice. I'm the kinda guy that likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder, "Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecue ribs with the side-order of gravy fries?" I want high cholesterol! I wanna eat bacon, and butter, and buckets of cheese, okay?! I wanna smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in the non-smoking section! I wanna run naked through the street, with green Jell-O all over my body, reading Playboy magazine. Why? Because I suddenly may feel the need to, okay, pal? I've SEEN the future. Do you know what it is? It's a 47-year-old virgin sitting around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake, singing "I'm an Oscar Meyer Wiene"

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Re point 2: yes and no. Yes, it does feel wrong if everything in the world openly revolves around you; the "chosen savior" scenario is getting pretty old. But no, that doesn't preclude writing in hooks to pull you in. My "fix" would not be to make you the predestined arbiter among the crime families of New Reno, but rather to add better adventure hooks to pull you into their factional politics than "I'm looking for a job" or "I'm taking this briefcase from some derp I met in Vault City to some other derp here." Make me care IOW. The Witcher 2 did this really well; there were always reasons for you to do what you were doing; it wasn't just running errands for people for no reason.

 

Re 3, Broken Hills is the easy one; Redding is the punishingly tough one. You really shouldn't go into the Wanamingo mines without combat armor. This was another stupid world-building mistake. They could've just placed Redding closer to NCR, and Broken Hills closer to Vault City, and made the Broken Hills quests start from Vault City or Gecko (logical, because uranium), and the Redding quests start from NCR (or mmmmaybe New Reno, near the end of the New Reno quests -- also logical because of the Jet connection). I wasn't advocating level scaling here (and in fact wouldn't use it for optional content at all.)

Edited by PrimeJunta

I have a project. It's a tabletop RPG. It's free. It's a work in progress. Find it here: www.brikoleur.com

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As an afterthought, I quite liked the experience of exploring out-of-your-depth territory in Gothic 2 (and to an extent in Gothic 3). You knew there were critters there that would kill you dead in no time flat, so you had to be super-careful about not being spotted, and then run like hell if you were. Yet there were rewards for it, sometimes quite big ones. I seem to recall some sword on top of a pyramid for example... The point is the game didn't just have you innocently blunder into an area and then go "squish your ded lol." That's just dumb IMO.

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I have a project. It's a tabletop RPG. It's free. It's a work in progress. Find it here: www.brikoleur.com

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The power armour was so ludicrously overpowered, and it was possible to just waltz on over to Navarro and pick one up as soon as you started the game. I found the game a lot more enjoyable if you played the way you were 'meant' to- leather jacket - leather armour - metal armour - combat armour - power armour, and without running to higher level areas to grab all the premium stuff right off the bat. I really like your idea of using up energy cells to make power armour work, they could have had a 'fuel' indicator for the armour just like the car that you had to fill up to use it.

 

I think the reason the different areas felt so disconnected from each other was that they were each made by different people on the team; I agree that they should have done more to tie those areas into the characters story. I understand that Wasteland 2 is being developed in a similar way, with different people working on different areas of the game... hopefully they will address this.

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No doubt. As I said, though, I'm not too worried about the mechanics. I am a bit concerned about the writing aspect. This is going to be a big, sprawling world with two Big Big Cities to boot. How are they going to hook you into doing stuff in all of them, assuming the main quest isn't some kind of guided tour (which I hope it isn't?) How are they going to have the world unfold?

I have a project. It's a tabletop RPG. It's free. It's a work in progress. Find it here: www.brikoleur.com

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You know Fallout 2 was released 15 years ago and all the developers of it who are even present at Obsidian have gained 15 years of experience and technological advancement in that time, right?

 

All you're doing is listing complaints about Fallout 2 that I'm sure have been made many times before. Have you ever played any games actually developed by Obsidian? Especially recent ones? That would be a much better predictor of how P:E is going to turn out than Black Isle circa 1998.

No doubt. As I said, though, I'm not too worried about the mechanics. I am a bit concerned about the writing aspect. This is going to be a big, sprawling world with two Big Big Cities to boot. How are they going to hook you into doing stuff in all of them, assuming the main quest isn't some kind of guided tour (which I hope it isn't?) How are they going to have the world unfold?

...Really? You're judging P:E's potential writing quality based on Fallout 2, rather than, say, KotoR2 or Alpha Protocol or Fallout: New Vegas?

 

What are you even doing? Why does this thread even exist?

Edited by AGX-17
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The power armour was so ludicrously overpowered, and it was possible to just waltz on over to Navarro and pick one up as soon as you started the game. I found the game a lot more enjoyable if you played the way you were 'meant' to- leather jacket - leather armour - metal armour - combat armour - power armour, and without running to higher level areas to grab all the premium stuff right off the bat. I really like your idea of using up energy cells to make power armour work, they could have had a 'fuel' indicator for the armour just like the car that you had to fill up to use it.

 

I think the reason the different areas felt so disconnected from each other was that they were each made by different people on the team; I agree that they should have done more to tie those areas into the characters story. I understand that Wasteland 2 is being developed in a similar way, with different people working on different areas of the game... hopefully they will address this.

 

Power Armor was military design using micro thermoreactor. These were expensive because uranium was spare in that time and thats why cars doesnt have it. And that fact that you can go to navarro an steal it is not fault of game. But because we already replayed so often that we remember it. Also get there is almost suicide on lover levels. But I agree that if you follow main plot it was much more enjoyable. It lead you Den - (nearby Redding) - Modoc - VC - Gecko - Broken Hills - NCR/New Reno - SF. For me it doesnt feel inconnected. 

I'm the enemy, 'cause I like to think, I like to read. I'm into freedom of speech, and freedom of choice. I'm the kinda guy that likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder, "Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecue ribs with the side-order of gravy fries?" I want high cholesterol! I wanna eat bacon, and butter, and buckets of cheese, okay?! I wanna smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in the non-smoking section! I wanna run naked through the street, with green Jell-O all over my body, reading Playboy magazine. Why? Because I suddenly may feel the need to, okay, pal? I've SEEN the future. Do you know what it is? It's a 47-year-old virgin sitting around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake, singing "I'm an Oscar Meyer Wiene"

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Really? You're judging P:E's potential writing quality based on Fallout 2, rather than, say, KotoR2 or Alpha Protocol or Fallout: New Vegas?

 

Fallout 2 wasn't bad, one of the best games I have ever played, but sure - the quotation above says it all. Here's an example from NV: getting near the Nellis Air Force Base will result with a big GO AWAY welcome party, yet it is possible to get inside on lower levels quite easily. Deathclaws in Sloan are also quickly introduced, and you don't have to be a Fallout series fan to realise that, that there place is a no-go and the risk is all yours to take.

It would be of small avail to talk of magic in the air...

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The fact that you don't know things (why are you doing something, how is power armor powered) doesn't meant it isn't mentioned ingame. And wondering that the game isn't balanced when you stray from the intended story line? Please.

 

I will rather trust Obsidian people know what they're doing just like they knew as Black Isle (or parts of thereof) when they made Fallout 2 in a year under massive time pressure. Unlike any Baldur's Gate, I remember Fallout 2 as a very immersive game I tend to return to every ear or two. That's something I'd like to have in PE as well, not a medicore experience parts of which I would remember as "above average entertainment" and without any will to replay the game.

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