November 30th, 2010
Since the last instalment I’ve made considerable headway through Fallout. With the water chip returned to Vault 13, I’m off to find the cause of the super mutant plague. Having made my way through Junk Town, The Hub and Necropolis, I’ve noticed a pattern in the quest structure. Quests, which also act as major story arcs, can be mapped out as follows:
The pre-quest context happens before the actual quest begins. The game will draw the player’s attention to a specific issue in the surrounding area through dialogue with NPCs, access and in-access to certain points on the map, visual markers, in-game events and so on. These indicators can only be triggered through the player’s interactions which themselves fit the real world context of investigation (talking to people, asking questions, snooping around). As such these basic mechanics (talk, walk and view) work well with the devices that establish context. In this way, the mechanics make the player’s awareness of the populace’s social troubles (which necessitate quests) quite normal and life-like.
One of these indicators will prompt the quest to begin. So maybe when talking to an NPC, they will call on the player to help them or entering an area will cause some characters warn you about a current predicament.
Contacting With The Source
Most major issues in the wasteland that act as the backdrop for quests can be attributed to faction leaders exerting their force on small minorities. At some stage you’ll need to make contact with faction leaders who often remain tucked away in their fortified hideouts.
At this stage Fallout presents the player with a fairly open slate. The objectives of the quests, which usually fall along the vague lines of “stop this person from disturbing our way of life” allows for multiple solutions that fall in accordance with the player’s SPECIAL statistics and skills. The statistics directly affect what tangible abilities (and their success rates) the player can employ in such situations and throughout the game at large. The chart here identifies the tangible outcomes of the player’s primary SPECIAL stats, while this one here correlates to the player’s skill system. But let’s take some more practical examples. Say, if the player has high intelligence and perception, then they will have more dialogue options and can therefore persuade the aggressor to change their stance. If the player has good strength then they could simple barge through the fortress and blow away the leader and their goons. Maybe the player has invested in a skill, like stealing, and can simply take what is needed without confrontation. Every situation allows for more than one possibility (at its most minimal violent and non-confrontational choices), and maybe even a few you’d never even realise. (Tricking Gaul into thinking that you’re his father is a good example).
The bases for the factions are designed in such a way as to create a risk/reward system pertinent to player’s potential approaches (read: their best and most usable skills). Guards cover the entrance of bases, making it difficult to flee if one decides to attack the leader. Similarly, if the player steals and gets caught, they’re immediately in great danger. Backdoors are often included for those who can sneak their way through, yet failing to crack the lock can foil the entire plan before it even begins.
Based on the player’s actions, there may be a point where the situation branches (almost a given when 2 factions are involved) and the player can choose to support the quest giver or the opposing faction. This is where most of the moral ambiguity finds its way into the context. Requested assassination attempts are a common example. After being asked to remove a certain individual, on contacting with that individual, you may warn them and, in turn, they may request that you remove the initiator instead. My example below along with the recommended quests in the conclusion all feature this design.
Simple enough, the quest is completed and the player receives some kind of reward.
Due to the savage nature of the wasteland, the benefits that players get from a quest is usually to the detriment of somebody else and this, more often than not, creates consequences that affect play. The best examples being that certain areas becoming inaccessible or clan members automatically launching into an assault when sighting the player.
With the quest structure layed out (and frivolous commentary added), we can now apply this model to one of the quests.
Junktown, Gizmo and Killian
Overview: There are two main players in Junktown, Killian Darkwater, grandson of Junktown’s founder and local store owner who respects the rules of the community and Gizmo, an overweight casino tycoon who employs the neighbouring Skulz gang to help him with his dirty work. Both men are at odds. Killian wants to restore proper law and order to Junktown which means the dissolution of the Skulz gang and removal of Gizmo, while Killian’s holding up the expansion of Gizmo’s flourishing empire. Killian has the local police force on his side, but lacks the evidence to lock Gizmo away. On the other hand, the bottom half of town near Killian’s store is well protected, making it difficult for Gizmo to make a hit on Killian.
The videos below are of the quest playing out, a text version can be read here too.
Starting at 5:20 in this video (there’s an overview of the area first).
All of that information just above is communicated to the player in several ways, here are some examples:
- the player isn’t allowed into Junktown with a weapon holstered (law enforcement)
- the player may not be allowed into Junktown at night (law enforcement)
- if the player aggravates the police, they will open attack (combat)
- there is a town jail (sight)
- local police force warn the player of Gizmo and the skulls (text overlays (representing dialogue made out in the open) during gameplay; perception)
- further clarification if the player initiates dialog with these people (speech)
- similar speech can be gleamed from the Skulls and NPCs in the upper areas (Gizmo’s town; speech)
The primary piece of context is the assassination attempt on Killian which plays out entirely in-game. An unassuming NPC (Kenji) will walk into Killian’s store when the player is in the vicinity and shout out “Gizmo sends his regards” in an on-screen text display before proceeding to fire at Killian. At this point, if the player chooses to help Kenji take out Killian (and therefore align with Gizmo) then they’ve already passed the Quest Trigger and there is no Branching phase. (This path brushes over the meat of the quest). The player can also choose to let Kenji be killed, in which case nothing happens, or they can attack Kenji at least once (ie. defending Killian). The last option leads to the Quest Trigger.
The assassination attempt is the breaking point for the two sides. After saving Killian, he will ask the player assist him in gaining the evidence needed to bring down Gizmo. His request activates the quest proper. If you turn him down then the asshole throws you in jail and heads off with some officers to take down Gizmo by himself which is pretty harsh considering that you just saved his life. This path ends the quest.
Killian requires the player to either voice record Gizmo saying something incriminating with a supplied tape recorder, or to plant a bug on Gizmo.
Contacting With The Source
To spring Gizmo, you obviously need to be near him, right? So, you make contact with him at his casino north of Killian’s shop. You can avoid any communication with him by just planting the bug, which therefore doesn’t allow any branching in the quest structure. If the player records Gizmo’s voice on tape, then the easiest way to have Gizmo say anything incriminating is to tell him that his previous attempt (Kenji) failed and then make a proposition that you’ll make the hit and get it done right.
After obtaining the evidence, the player is left with 2 objectives that they can fulfil: give the recording to Killian or kill him and give him dog tags to Gizmo as proof.
Gizmo will either be sprung and Killian will let the player take something for free from his shop or Gizmo will hand over a healthy amount of bottle caps (currency) as a reward for killing Killian.
Option A) You give the evidence to Killian which later opens up a mission where you can kill Gizmo with other NPCs. In which case, his casino will be deserted and the local law enforcement will be happy with you.
Option B) The police populating the bottom half of the screen will turn on you for betraying Killian. (Fortunately they have a lot of armour which can be auctioned off for a handsome price). If you remove all the officers including the gatekeeper, you are free to enter Junktown anytime you please. Gizmo won’t give a rats about you. You can always kill him off too and clear him of loot.
As you can probably tell, there are opportunities that arise in the quest which circumvent parts of the structure I’ve laid out here and that’s to be expected as the quests are quite flexible. The questing structure I’m proposing isn’t a fixed model, but instead a complete model of what a quest looks like when played out to its maximum extent. It’s a mark of quality that Fallout allows the player to intervene with this model, offering solid interplay at every divergence.
If you’re interested, the quest with the mutants, Set and water supply at Necropolis and the quest in Boneyard in dealing with the Blades, Gun Runners and Regulators are other meaty examples that flesh out this model to its fullest.