October 22nd, 2010
On to the wasteland. I’ll return to the review the comments made in the previous article once I’ve completed Fallout. In the meantime though, I’d like to analyse Fallout on the grounds of freedom of expression and interplay alongside with my regular “ooh, this looks interesting” commentaries. Freedom of expression speaks for itself, interplay though requires an explanation and fortunately I’ve taken one from Richard Terrell, who coined the term:
“Interplay is the back and forth encouragement of player mechanics between any two elements in a game. Put simply, interplay is where actions and elements in a game aren’t means to an end, but fluid opportunities that invite the player to play around with the changing situation.
The easiest way to think of interplay is offensively/defensively or in counters. Consider two elements of a hypothetical action/fighting game. The first element is the player’s character, and the second is an enemy. If an enemy can attack you, does this attack/enemy have a way to be countered? What happens when you counter the enemy’s move? Does the enemy die, does it reset itself, or does the situation change? If the situation changes, is the enemy still a threat? If so, can you counter the new threat? And the cycle repeats.”
My ideas will be presented in a journal format. This first entry will cover the tutorial parts of the game Vault 13-Kahn raiders camp.
I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed my first few attempts at playing Fallout which is steeped in needless trial and error and some arbitrary stat abstraction.
Your journey begins with the player “rolling” their own character. With wariness of a supposed difficulty spike early on in what is meant to be an already difficult game, I consulted a FAQ and maxed out the most useful stats while minimising the useless ones (known as min-maxing). Useless, or rather relatively less useful, statistics include endurance, outdoors man and luck. The FAQ I used also listed some variables that I shouldn’t raise as I could do so later through books. All very complicated and not so balanced. Fallout penalises players who don’t choose, and then subsequently boost, the appropriate statistics from the outset. It’s quite hard for players to get the gist of the usefulness of certain statistics from the brief descriptions from the menu alone, so rolling your own character has many unnecessary hazards. Fortunately, players can choose a pre-rolled character.
After rolling your character, you leave your isolated home of Vault 13 to a gloomy cave. The introduction to Fallout doesn’t offer any real tutorial on the functions of the game which leaves the player to figure the game out for itself. Fortunately, the cave acts as a fail-safe playground to practice the primary mechanics, despite the fact that they are never introduced to the player. The cave is inhabited by rats which initiate the use of the turn based combat system based on action points and allow for a little practice and experimentation.
Fallout requires some kind of peripheral reading to substitute the lack of tutorial, I pieced together bits of information from the internet as opposed to reading the appalling 130 paged manual (read here) which is written out in long form instead of using a freaking screenshot to tell you what everything means. Argh. After an unnecessary amount of time wasting and trial and error you’ll eventually get the hang of it.
After finally making your way through the army of kamikaze rats, you’re presented with a top-down world map marked with the nearby town of Shady Sands. You’ll learn that venturing out much further will only lead to overpowered enemies and a series of stop gaps that don’t have much use at this stage in the game due to your limited supplies. The map doesn’t disallow players from diving head first in the deep end, it is entirely open-ended, but the initial state of the player binds them to nearby safety zones. Metroid appears to be open-ended but caps players with power-ups, Fallout does so with the heightened difficulty because of a lack of inventory, weapons and ammo and decent statistics. This form of limitation radiates out from Vault 13 so it’s a very natural form of persuasion.
Just making it this far is a challenge—a 2-part one at that, as you’ll need to first grasp the rules of the game and then figure out a way to survive the harsh landscape of the wasteland. Both of these factors have undoubtedly caused many players great frustration. My brother is an example of someone who gave up early on.
If the rat cave was a tutorial on combat, then Shady Sands is a tutorial on social mechanics. Well, actually Shady Sands could be an extended tutorial of combat if the player so well chooses because Shady Sands is a really an introduction to player freedom before anything else.
When players enter Shady Sands they are greeted by 2 guards. If the player still has a weapon equipped (which in all likelihood they will as there is no reason to de-equip it) the guards will ask the player to remove it. Right here is moral choice and freedom. The player can choose to ignore the guards, in turn starting a fight or conceal their weapon and have access to the village. The interplay here is just fascinating, I tried both approaches on different saves and here’s what I got:
Aggressive Option (player doesn’t holster weapon)
-the doormen will attack the player
-the player can flee or attack
—————-if you defeat the guards, you can take their loot from their bodies
—————-other people in the village will pursue you as well, reverting to attack/flee option
————————you can effectively kill everyone in the city and raid the whole place dry
—————–leave the doormen and the screen, state of doormen is back to neutral
Peaceful Option (player holsters weapon)
-the player is treated as a wanderer which means that all the facilities in the town are available to you such as the advice from the doormen, a healing centre, bartering and trade
-the peaceful option opens up a microcosm of other choices each with their own separate avenues
As we can see, a very natural occurrence in the wasteland (defending one own’s turf) leads to numerous ever-changing possibilities for the player to react to (interplay). I took the peaceful option, so let’s continue the game from there.
Interactions in Shady Sands
From the onset Fallout establishes a high precedence for player vulnerability and the interactions and decision-making in Shady Sands are all pertinent to this element of survival. Depending on your decisions, NPCs will cough up tangible goods and money, act as safety net for levelling up and so on. How you get them is up to you. Here are some further examples of player choice and interplay:
Problem: Earning money and goods
Solutions: Trading you wares up with good deals until you earn more, pickpocketing the cash and goods
Example of Interplay: There’s a risk that you will get caught pinching money and the villagers will turn on you. Trading wares requires many interactions with people in order to nab the best deal.
Problem: Getting Ian to join you
Solutions: Choose the dialog option that pleases him or pay him a fee of 100 bottle caps
Example of Interplay: Having Ian on your side radically changes the combat portions of the game as he’s another character with their finger on the trigger. He makes the exploration of Vault 15, the radscorpion caves and latter exhibitions considerably easier.
Problem: Radscorpion invasion plaguing the town and making villagers sick
Solutions: Go to the radscorpion cave and defeat the scorpions or don’t
Example of Interplay: If the player defeats the scorpions then their tails can be gathered and given to the town doctor who will use the tails to make an antidote for the poison and give you a sample. Later you can use the antidote to heal people and gain experience. The town elder will respect you, the gate keepers will offer additional advice. Later they will call on the player to save Tandi from an opposing faction, leading into another story arc.
Comments on The Rest of Shady Sands, Vault 15, Radscorpion Cave and The Raiders’ Camp
The rest of Shady Sands
As I mentioned previously, I can’t bear reading “too much” text in video games. Playing Fallout, I was still stubborn about this point and it was to my own detriment. This first tutorial chunk has taught me that to survive the wasteland you need 3 things: goods, decent statistics and proper intel. You’re simply far too underpowered to be lacking in any of these. By knowing the lay of the land, you can avoid venturing off aimlessly and wasting precious time and resources. The advice the NPCs doll out then is just the kind of support you need. The dialogue also has a dual function of adding to the lore of the game as well as simultaneously dropping hints. NPCs are thoughtfully spread out too so that prioritised characters with something to say are marked by their unique appearance and convenient placement, while peasants are placed apart and interaction with them doesn’t launch into the dialogue/trade menu.
In Shady Sands, the gatekeepers are placed right at the front and communicate the most necessary information, hold the most useful items for trading/stealing as well as tell you who can give you more info.
Vault 15 and Radscorpion Cave
The radscorpion cave is a little obscure as you can’t reach the location on foot, but are instead teleported there by one of the gatekeepers who reckons he knows the way. The location of Vault 15, on the other hand, is marked on the map after you prompt your partner Ian for directions. Both areas are extensions of the rat cave tutorial at the start of the game with the ante raised some. I found that these areas helped me fall into the rhythm of combat since fighting and looting is all there really is to do in these parts. On reaching the bottom floor of the abandoned Vault 15, I was surprised that there wasn’t some kind of reward. I suppose this is part of the Fallout charm.
The (Kahn) Raiders’ Camp
After obtaining the antidote from the town doctor, you learn from the gatekeepers that one of the girls in the village Tandi has been kidnapped by the Raiders (who you learn earlier have been ransacking the village). The village leader obligates you to save her and you can do if you wish.
The Raiders are one of the wasteland’s many factions. Their base is in an decapitated house just south of Shady Sands. Guards are settled out in smaller tents around the make-shift base. Like Shady Sands, you need to holster your weapon before you’re allowed access. Once holstered, you can walk straight in and negotiate with the leader Garl on Tandi’s release. There are several ways to tackle the situation:
- Barter 650 bottle caps worth of goods for her
- Fight the leader in a one-on-one cage match
- You can smooth talk your way to her (given you have the necessary stats)
- Shoot through the guards and kill Garl
- Follow Garl’s request and shoot one of the slave girls
There is clearly a great deal of flexibility in how the player can tackle the situation and each option supports key strengths that the player could have rolled into their character. In order of my listing above the options support bartering, combat, conversation skills, weapon skills or just utter failure (let’s just assume that killing innocent an abused ladies is the failure option).
At this stage I hope that you get a basic idea of the degree of freedom and the resulting interplay present in Fallout. It really is quite fascinating to explore the different outcomes of the player’s choices. Some of the stories I’ve heard of inspire me to be more experimental with my approach. It will take some time before I get to the next entry, so there’s still time to join in if you want. Otherwise, please enjoy the reading below.