Defining (The) Fallout(s) Part: 2
It came to me in a dream.
For Part One, click here.
In the previous article, as you may recall, we discussed which core aspects made Fallout the brilliant game it was. We briefly defined what we considered to be what made Fallout a success. The
components we ultimately defined were:
3. Cause and Effect
4. Freedom, Non-linearity, and open endedness
6. Turn Based Combat
In this part, we will further examine these components in Fallout,
how they manifested themselves, and which features in them made
them become such important components of the game.
Take note that this part probably is more subjective than the
previous one. This is my view on what made each component such a
success in (the)Fallout(s). There is probably more to say about each component than I do say.
Just keep in mind that I'm trying to write this rather overviewish as
an article, and not a book. Also, many of these components are
interjoined. For this article, I am trying to describe them as separate
entities. But in the end it is the whole that made the game, how the
devs managed to fit it all together.
I'm trying to keep everything short here as I don't want to get
tedious. I feel that brief and concise should be the way to go to reach
a wider audience. So, if you want deeper analysis, ask someone over at
NMA to write something.
I've had to hurry through some parts a tad too fast, since
I'm writing my masters thesis at the same time and really am short of
time. I'll try to follow things up with a third article when things get
less messy around here.
In some cases when I write Fallout or FO I mean both games, in
other I mean FO1, and in others yet i mean FO2. Just so you know I'm
not being consistent.
The Fallout setting is at first glance rather straightforward, and
yet it is much more complex than one would think. One part fifties
style retro, one part Max Max fashioned post apocalypse, and one part
50's science fiction.
From this mix, something arises. A world harsh and desolate, an "It's every man for himself"
mentality only previously seen in old western flicks, and a boy and his
dog. By mixing genres which at first glance may seem to clash, Interplay
somehow managed to produce a world filled with uncertainty and fear.
Even as you entered a town you were on your toes since some local
gunslinger was probable to start a mess.
This insecurity somehow made security feel more secure. Regardless
of how you felt about they treat mutants and ghouls at Vault City, I
know that you, at some point, glanced at the grass and dreamt of just
sitting down. You were more than willing to trade freedom for a sense
of security and calm. No matter how short the moment was, I'm rather
sure it was there.
Fallout 2 did at some point (*cough* New Reno *cough*) lose
itself a tad ("I'm gonna start my own amusement park, with blackjacks,
and hookers!"), however, my opinion is that it didn't ruin the game. If you consider today's Reno, this vision probably isn't that far off.
So I can accept it without loving it.
Fallout 2 did, in general, stray a bit from the ideal Fallout set. However, and this is essential, it did manage not to stray too far. It was acceptable.
The setting is more than this though. The setting is also NPC
reactions, how they attack you as you say "Bite me" - the no bullshit
attitude and the violence you face when you say the wrong things or
sympathize with the wrong lads.
A setting without the right attitudes to underline it would merely
have been paint on paper. However with NPC's living and acting
according to the world, we have a setting. At this point I would want
to point out that this setting could have been a failure. A setting
alone does not make a game. However, with the right story to back it
up, this setting was a grand success. The story should be considered as part of the setting,
since a good story can make the setting more alive and believable or it
can ruin it totally.
The Fallout's story isn't merely a story of violence in a radiated
wasteland. It is a story of belonging, of fear of the unknown and
intolerance, of how isolation breeds suspicion and one mans quest to
once and for all end these fears, end the suspicion, the hate and the
intolerance(FO1) but in the end he manages to increase it and gives
birth to an attempt to cleanse the world of anyone who is not
genetically a human(FO2).
It is the story of Richard Grey.
And hopefully the developers of future Fallout games have understood this.
It is entirely possible that this is why FO has such a high degree
of freedom, because the game is not about the player, so controlling
him and pushing him in certain directions is not really needed.
The Dialogue in (The) Fallout(s) was very well written - not only well written in the sense that the writing was good, but also because it (usually) stuck to the setting. They went further than
this by having delightful dialogue trees and, perhaps most important,
took player skills and stats into account. A low intelligence made
it harder for the player to express himself, and high intelligence and
skills could give new dialogue options.
In essence, the Fallout dialogue system can be claimed to make Fallout a better cRPG in two ways:
1) By taking player skills and stats into account the dialogue
underline the fact that the player plays a role. Fallout lets stats
have unusually much influence on dialogue, and this makes the
dialogue unusually good.
2) The depth and amount of dialogue. This depth does not only
apply to important NPC's but in some cases even less important NPC's
have interesting dialogue. An example that springs to mind directly is
Athabaska Dick in FO2 who, in my opinion, is one of the most
interesting characters in the game. With such a large amount of
dialogue, many of which are deep (and some even gives xp like that
weird cat story in the Den), (the) Fallout(s) manages to reach a level
of immersion only matched by Planescape.
This is the quick way of describing dialogue in Fallout, and
hopefully my point has been communicated in an acceptable manner. If
not, I doubt that it ever can be.
Cause and Effect
In the opinion of many people, one of the greatest parts of (the)
Fallout(s) was/is how the world reacts to your actions. Often the
reaction is also well balanced, making the effect part even better. The
cause and effect in FO ranges from simple 'quest complete' reactions, to
the dynamic 'end game' movie which more or less sums up what you did.
And yet, there is more than that. Cause and effect is seen in the dialogue, where NPC reactions to your words may be a tad suprising. It
can be noticed as you get certain special perks: NPCs react to them,
and sometimes call you something related to what you are, or they may,
in some cases, even attack you.
This is rather unusual in cRPGs. Most of them only let a person
who is directly related to something react to it, usually in this
"Hello again, thanks for getting my cat out of the cellar!!!!"
In my opinion this thoroughness in cause and effect flows through
the game and increases immersion as well as your perceived reward for
completing something. The satisfaction is greater when the game world
I for one more or less pissed myself with pleasure when the
enclave showed up in Gecko (FO2) after I had fooled around with their
network. Sadly enough, Fallout had a particularly annoying cause and
effect bug which we all should recognize. The town killer
accidents that could happen. A stray bullet here and there caused an
entire town/settlement to turn against you and, being a 'tuff guy', you
don't back down and thus you end up having to kill everyone.
Fun, but sort of a faulty reaction in my opinion. It should be
said though that this reaction probably was the result of a bad
factions system rather than bad game design.
At this point I hope the whole cause and effect thingy has sunk
in on you, and that you understand it, as well as appreciate how lovely
FO handles it. Because I won't write any more about it and you can't
Freedom, Non-linearity, and open endedness
These three concepts are integral elements in making the Fallout
world believable and life like. Without them, FO(1&2) would still
be a good game(s), but not as great as it/they is/are.
Let's step 'em through (rather briefly, I'm tired of writing):
The amount of freedom in FO is rather big, you can open fire in the
middle of a settlement, use drugs on yourself and other people, roam
around the wastes just ignoring the main quest and generally do what
you want. Part of this freedom comes from the dialogue, which often
contains enough options for you to follow your desired conversation
The sense of freedom also increases due to one small but vital
detail: There is no babysitting. The player chooses his own path and
faces the consequences.
Often this makes you feel a tad lost in the wastes but this is a good thing, it elevates the harsh 'reality' of the setting.
Non-linearity in FO was shown in a multitude of ways, the most
obvious being how one was free to roam the wastes. This was, I dare
say, not the most pleasing non linearity in the game. What really made
it pleasing to one such as me was how many a quest could be solved in
different ways, with different outcomes and, finally, different reactions from NPCs.
This boosted replayability, increased the use of many player skills
(like speech), and made the world so much more interactive (in lack of
a better word).
Another way how non linearity showed was the 'outro clip' that
summed up your actions, which changed dynamically depending
on the player's actions.
Fallout's degree of non linearity is, as yet, unchallenged and probably will be for some time.
The open endedness in FO can be seen not only in the 'dynamic
ending thingy' I've mentioned earlier. In Fallout 1, there are two
different 'overseer' endings. Also I dare say that there was, before
patch 1.1 , a mutant army ending after 500 days. In essence an ending
is open if the player can affect it and in FO you can.
And now I'm bored so I'll skip to the next component.
We don't know whether GURPS would have worked with Fallout, but we do know that S.P.E.C.I.A.L does. And it works well indeed.
What SPECIAL did, and manged to do in a most satisfying fashion was
brunging pen and paper into the computer. This is a positive thing.
The details, the simple and yet remarkably good system which to model the world.
SPECIAL is the very spine of the Fallout universe, not because it
is the only system that would work, but because it is the only system
which is Fallout.
It is hard to imagine Fallout without SPECIAL and not think about FO:POS.
So let's not.
Let us be satisfied with the fact that Fallout is special. And so
is SPECIAL. And susan. There isn't much more to say. Well, actually
there is, much much more. But I hope someone else will since writing
about special isn't very exiting and I assume that reading about it
Turn Based Combat
As I stated in the previous article it is essential to have a
combat system that works well with the core system of the game. In our
case (Fallout) this is turn based combat.
Well, as stated earlier, SPECIAL was designed with PnP in mind and
thus it was also designed for turnbased combat. So designwise in is
unwise not to follow the SPCIAL system by not using turnbased combat.
Because this would not wreck the combat system, but also wreck SPECIAL
And that would not be very nice.
This is the purely game technical reason why turnbased combat is
part of what makes fallout fallout. There are other aspects of
turnbased however, aspects to why it is for cRPG purposes far superior
to realtime. (tactical and such) Usually in a cRPG the combat is bloody
boring, and I dare say that the Fallouts are the only games in which
I've really enjoyed doing combat. I love every minute of it, from the
death animations and the thought you have to put into it to the fleshy
thumping sound your foot emits as is strikes someone in the face.
And, as I recall, someone DID actually at some point write an
article about why TB is better over at the codex or something. But I
can't bloody find it.
That's all for now folks.
As I've stated some of this article was sort of a quickie, but I
figured it's better to realease it a tad sloppy than not at all.