Recently I began playing around again in Fallout: New Vegas. Before I get too into the meat of the blog, I wanted to talk about the actual game for a bit. I am playing on PC, and using it as an excuse to get into the modding scene. I am mostly just trying out texture and lighting mods, and have been reasonably impressed by the results. Similar to how Battlefield 3 is known for a signature blue, Fallout 3 has a green filter and New Vegas has a brown haze. Removing both of these reveals two colors I can never get enough of - sky blue and grass green. The sooner developers realize that these colors look great on an HD TV, the better!
I know the term "master race" gets thrown out a lot these days....
From a gameplay perspective, I really like New Vegas, much more than 3 (which many consider blasphemy). For some reason I find it to be easier to get into, maybe better laid out? I have played many builds in the game, but the non violent was probably my favorite. You can get ridiculously far by hacking computers and picking locks, and many quests can be solved without a single hint of violence. Plus, I crammed all my points into luck, so as soon as you get access to Blackjack, you don’t ever have to worry about money again. My current character is my favorite in Fallout games: the melee build. Guns are the most valuable items in the game, and ammunition is the rarest substance, so by selling guns and not worrying about ammo, you reduce a lot of the stress, leaving you free to spend money on Stimpacks that you will be downing in close quarters. I just now learned (I am a bit slow) that the melee weapons have signature moves in VATS. For instance, the baseball bat has a long windup followed by an incredibly brutal bash to the head, only amplified by my recent viewing of Inglourious Basterds.
So now that I have fellated the game a bit, I feel that I can criticize it without the fans hating me for it, right? The biggest annoyance that I have with Fallout is that it is wildly inconsistent on what you have to know, and what your character has to know. For instance, if you want to repair a broken robot the game just gives you the [Science 65] option. If you have it, you repair it, because your character knows how. Makes sense! But then if you want to hack a computer, your character has to have [Computer 75] AND you have a play a minigame. Now, to an extent, I understand that you want some variety in gameplay, so having something to break up the monotony of walking, shooting, and talking, you have to have a puzzle game as well, but here is the thing: I suck at that game. Hard. My brain doesn’t figure out how to rearrange letters to solve for which word is the optimal choice to pick next. So I could put on my best John Nash hat (points if you get it, Wikipedia doesn’t count) and spend five minutes to solve it out, or I could brute force it which they actually allow. The part that gets me though is that I have been putting points into the character knowing how to do this for me! As the requirement goes up to 100, the puzzles only get harder, and the level 25 puzzles are simplified, but still technically can be failed. The greatest thief the world has ever seen can’t figure out how to pick Babies First Lock? Why?
If only there were some way.....
Now the part that annoys me the most about the computer game specifically is that I have a solution personally: there are websites you can visit that crack the code for you. This means that there are algorithms that can be applied and programmed to solve this problem. Now who would be in a good spot to program such a thing? Perhaps my nerd character...but instead, the game tipped my hand in breaking immersion, pulling up a website, plugging in the values, and selecting the correct answer with no problem at all. Now would it be hard to have my character have a tool that does that for him? Absolutely not. It fits into the world, it matches what he would know.
I guess the reason would be because there are good interactive and bad interactive mechanics. Take combat for instance. This is highly entertaining, and is the most common obstacle between the player and winning, so they need to make it fun. So your stats in guns mean that you do more damage, or can be more accurate in VATS, but at the end of the day if you can’t aim a gun (and don’t have Action Points) you can still get taken out by a radscorpion. Is it really believable that the world’s best sniper could miss seventeen times in a row because he is being controlled by an intoxicated god? Could the game instead have each encounter out of the player’s control and in the character’s control? I actually think this would be ridiculously interesting, if not frustrating at times. My mind goes to a Monster Rancher style Fallout experience, where you are suggestion actions but your character’s skill determines the outcome. But this is boring, and most of all, unmarketable.
Instead of making everything a dice check (like D&D, but no one likes that for being an RPG) why not have everything be interactive? I think the biggest offender on this are the speech checks - if you have a speech of 100 you can solve for world peace by pressing a single button, but if you want to stop a nuclear missile launch, you have to solve a Sudoku puzzle? Really? Why aren’t the speech challenges more intricate? You are initially prevented from a word off with a silver tongued adversary by a [Speech 75], but once you get into it, you have to select the correct dialogue to appease their ego, to change their views, or to agitate them into slipping up. Deus Ex attempted a system like this, giving you the option for an Augmentation that would allow you to better understand your progress in the debate. A similar system could be implemented - as your speech increases you can see the effect of your words on the other character to understand what your next move would be. After a series of twenty choices, you finally whittle down their will and convince them to surrender. I feel like this would create a consistent role playing experience, with better immersion.
Turning to the paragon of reality/immersion, Far Cry
There are many games that have done something with each of the mechanics to enhance the immersion of the game. You have better skills in medicine? Great, now instead of bandaging a wound up, your character goes all Far Cry and is able to perform ad hoc self surgery, recovering more health. Or, going in a different direction, do you remember treating wounds in Snake Eater? Maybe something like that where instead of snapping into a Stimpak, your character is able to guide the player in the correct order of cleaning the wound, dressing it, and fixing it.
Looking through, another really terrible example (especially with my character) is repair. How, exactly, does one fix a baseball bat’s quality with another baseball bat? Am I duct taping the two bats together, forming das Uberbatten? So what would be better? Well, let’s look at guns for example. An unskilled character sees a gun as a gun, and knows to polish the outside. A skilled character can disassemble to gun to it’s core pieces to see that the magazine spring is rusted. If they find another working one in a gun that a bandit is no longer using, they can replace it in their gun, effectively fixing it. That sounds a million times better than my weapons turning into Legion from Castlevania which makes them more effective.
Turns out, guns are crazy complicated. Who knew?
Barter? You character keeps tabs of prices of each item that he sees, so you can raise/lower the price to meet the average value, or just know where to sell an item to maximize a profit. Handguns? Borrow from games like Sniper Elite - you can see where your shot will land, adjust your sights, highlight enemy vitals. Sneak? Take your pick of any stealth game this generation that lets you know how well hidden you are.
The more I think on it, the less I care for the design of games like Fallout and Skyrim. Basically, the entire western sandbox RPG. They have such a fantastic opportunity to really bring the player into their world, but they fail to capitalize on it because they are splitting their attention between dice rolls and minigames. The worst part is really that other games have already paved the way on how to make a fantastic system. The point that I am making is, I really depressed myself the other day. I was thinking of the scene from Office Space. If you never had to work for money again, what would you do? Clearly, I would love to work in video games.