Kelgray and Beyond

int game_engine(void) {

On Bethesda, Fallout 3, and Oblivion

It looks like I’m gettin a few visitors from the Fallout 3 forums and I haven’t updated the blog in far too long so I figure I’d share my own, somewhat convoluted opinion on what I think about the company, and the games both from a fan’s perspective and an aspiring young software developer’s perspective.

Let’s get Oblivion out of the way first.  I came into the Elder Scrolls series with Morrowind and I loved it.  Mainly because it was the closest game that I’d found to Fallout in a long time.  That may seem counter-intuitive to some, but it was one of the only open-ended RPGs that didn’t focus on party based combat (which I dislike intently) that I’d seen in a long time.  Of course I was also younger and more naive at the time and didn’t even consider the implications of it being first-person instead of top down (and, to be fair, Morrowind’s combat system is still largely based on stats) and thought the move a good one.  When I finally got a 360 and Oblivion, I was excited at the prospect of having this hugely hyped sequel to Morrowind that was supposed to be so much larger and more robust.  While I was disappointed, I don’t think I was as dissapointed as many.

The player-skill based combat bothered me much, as well as the complete lack of meaningful dialogue, and the surprisingly small (in feel if not in actual size) game world.  I think I passed the main plotline within 20 hours the first time through (I loggged well over 200 on Morrowind and still haven’t gotten around to actually passing the game, though I always had quests to do)  and found very little to do beyond that.  That all being said, I still enjoyed the game and do not regret the purchase.  It may not be close to what I was hoping for, but it’s still so much more than any RPG I tried to get into since Morrowind.  Of course I still consider my favorite RPG of all to be the Secret of Mana which is entirely linear story and dialogue, so that may have had something to do with my ability to accept Oblivion as a decent game, if not a decent cRPG.

I found out that Bethesda had bought the rights to the Fallout franchise back in  2004 when it was first announced and was highly looking forward to my new favorite RPG company making a new version of my old favorite RPG game.  I’ll admit that one of my first thoughts was that a 3D Fallout would be so extremely cool.  I continued to wait for information on the subject for far too long after that before I actually decided to go and look for some info.  In 2006 I was saddened to fin out that there was exactly zero new news stories on the franchise since I’d first heard about the purchase two years earlier.  So I succumbed to the urge to look at the forums on the fan sites, mainly NMA.  At first I was shocked to find out that the Fallout community did not think that Bethesda making Fallout 3 was a good idea.  However, I figured that there must be some reason for their complaints outside of the simple fact that Interplay wasn’t doing it, so I looked further.

As I spent more and more time lurking around NMA I got to learn the arguments against 3D real time RPGs pretty well.  I already completely agreed with the idea that twitch based combat had no place in the Fallout universe (I can put up with swords and arrows but when the main weapons are guns, well let’s just say that I’ve never been a fan of first person shooters).  I did, however maintain my faith in Bethesda, more simply out of the fact that there was no real indication that they were going to move in that direction.  After all, no information had been released yet.  So I bided my time, and I waited, and I waited, and I slowly began to see exactly why people were getting a little frustrated.

I can understand wanting to keep important game concepts, characters, weapons, graphics, all of that under wraps.  Anticipation is a powerful tool.  But Bethesda took it too far.  If they had had a simple message once every month or two that said non-specific things about what they were working on, like, oh say, "today we had a board meeting where we discussed different possibilities for combat styles" I think it would have quelled a huge amount of the mistrust (sure people woulda been angry with the prospect that it might not be turn-based, but the huge relief that the combat was ot going to be like Oblivion’s would have far surpassed the small increase in forum slander that was already there anyway).  More than that, if they had told us vague descriptions of what general area of the game they were working on, we could have written essays and posts based on that area so that we wouldn’t feel like we were yelling into the darkness and so that if by some random whim one of the developers actual wanted to find out what the fans thought about the area that they were talking about or working on, they could go find some recent ideas and debates on the subject.

Of course I don’t expect any game company to pay too much attention to forum based communities.  It is a small sample size of fans who have had much time to discuss and find common ground in their opinions so that many opinions of average fans get lost along the way.  I understand all that and respect it as a smart business decision.  However, the controllers of  the internet based media (especially concerning the Fallout games) did and do have a certain amount of sway over those who came to their sites once every few months simply to get updated information (and right up until the Bethesda forums came out they were still the only places with any real info on the game and stuff in the world of post-apocalyptic art and games and still are some of the first places that pop up when ya google "Fallout 3").  So as long as Bethesda continued to withhold information, they continued to post well-thought out and very rational anti-Bethesda propaganda that converted more to their cause.  Even if you weren’t going to listen too much to the input of the NMA and DaC frequenters, if you’d simply made them feel as though the process was not some government based, classified, highly dangerous and volatile project.  Basically, if you wanna be treated like people, you gotta treat other people like they’re people too.

All the while I still managed to keep my neutral stance on Bethesda.  They still haven’t done anything yet that says that they fucked up (although they’re coming close with the possible elimination of groin criticals and possible loss of sexual based themes and humour, or seemingly any humour for that matter outside that of the pip-boy and related cartoon figures themselves).  Since they finally started letting information into the air (though they still seem to be trying to limit the sources that they give info to to sources that do not disagree with anything that they’re doing, kinda like, you know, that guy, he lives in a big white house and has way too many bombs at his disposal) they have done a good job at relaxing some of my nerves, what with the work they’re putting into text trees and different options to complete quests and the moral choices that affect the game world and the ending of the game etc… I’m still in my alert stance on far too many things, like the staff’s seemingly adamant opinion on the idea that Fallout contained no silliness and to have anything silly in the game at all would somehow ruin any speck of credibility that they worked so hard to muster up against the huge angry storm (which they provoked slightly and gradually over the course of almost 3 years) that arrived at their doorstep when they finally opened the forums.  Taking out the star trek based random encounters I can understand, but to potentially leave out shots to the groin or drug induced women trying to hit on you so that you’ll buy her some Jet.  If done properly those are not slapstick and dick and fart jokes.  They’re a chuckle here and there that also make you think about how sad that Jet addict’s life is, or how sad that guy you just whacked in the nuts is gonna be when his wife divorces him because he can’t give her any babies.

I really didn’t intend to sound this anti-Bethesda when I sat down to write this, but like I said, it’s hard to listen to them telling everyone that they and only they know what belongs in Fallout and what does not.  But like I said before, I’m not gonna count them out.  I’ll continue to be angry about their condescending attitudes and lack of respect for the people who pay their cheques.  But as far as their business practices, hype machine, and general development talent goes I still think that Fallout 3 does indeed have the potential to be the game that the majority of Fallout fans (you know, the ones who don’t know anything about Fallout 3 that they haven’t read in a magazine) will enjoy as an actual sequel to Fallouts 1 and 2.

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August 20, 2007 - Posted by | Bethesda, Computer Programming, Fallout, Games, Oblivion, programming, Roleplaying Games, RPG, Technology, Videogames, xbox

3 Comments »

  1. I think Fallout 3 is going to be great .. but then again I don’t dislike first person shooters. I do expect there to be some kind of balance that will allow you to set the pace in the action. In Oblivion I often hid behind a pillar and used my bow from there. There has to be some tactical element left .. and otherwise you can leave it up to us modders to make something decent out of it anyway. As long as they churn out the graphics files for us :)

    Comment by Fallout 3 modder | May 10, 2008

  2. Oh I completely agree with you there, regardless of how they do I expect to enjoy the game thoroughly. But I also enjoyed Oblivion (almost as much as Morrowind) even though I agree with the arguments against it being a real RPG.

    With Fallout 3 I’m scared for different reasons, and probably the same reasons the hardcore enthusiasts are. I want to see another actual Fallout so badly and Bethesda has seemingly put a nail in that coffin. They’ve admittedly decided to treat the violence as the main source of comedy for fuck’s sake. The beauty of Fallout was in the writing, not on the “moral ambiguity” as Todd likes to put it (not to say that the moral ambiguity wasn’t important, but never in those games did you actually feel as though deciding whether or not to kill someone was a moral decision).

    The second Fallout advertised on the box that one of the features of the game was that you could fall in love, get married, then pimp out your spouse for some spare change. Those are the days that I miss. Other than GTA I can’t think of any games that have come out for the next generation that have that kind of humour in them.

    Fallout 3 will be an enjoyable game. I’m certain of that, just as I’m certain that I’ll be dangerously close to ruining my entire social life shortly after it comes out. I’m just not sure if it’s a game that I’ll love 10 years from now, the way I do the first 2.

    Comment by Taylor | May 11, 2008

  3. But my main point was not about the game itself. It’s Bethesda’s PR department. They know how to deal with the mainstream press (or as mainstream as videogame press gets anyways), but they got no clue about the power of the good old blue grass advertising which not only wins you popularity with the fans but free advice (after you sift through the bullshit of course). They’re making the game for them, and don’t get me wrong, I would love to work for them because then I’d be making games for me, but if you’re gonna do that, you should at least put some small amount of effort into trying to convince the people that their opinion of your company matters for something.

    Take Lionhead for example. I don’t care who you talk to but Fable sucked balls. Not so much because the game itself was bad (though they did fail to deliver pretty much everything that they were saying was going to make the game a milestone for RPGs). It was because after waiting for 3 years for the thing to come out (not avidly, but at least somewhat eagerly) I got a total of 15 hours of gameplay out of the thing. And I did every sidequest, owned all the houses in two towns, got all the moral acheivements both good and bad, got laid then divorced my wife charged her some rent and evicted her and I had every item in the game save 1. 15 hours, and I’m not exagerating. However, I am still keenly looking forward to Fable 2. Why? Well mostly because Peter Molyneux is a genius with a silver tounge. But I’m not the only one.

    When I found out it was coming out I was spending admittedly a little too much time on the Fallout 3 forums, so I decided to head over to the Fable forums and see what the folks there were discussing. Everyone on the goddamned site was singing Lionshead’s glories. It was an utter shock. How rare is it to find people who are chatting happily on any forum on any website? Especially one of a game company which makes huge promises and then consistently fails to deliver on them. The most heated debate there was people discussing what their favourite part of Fable was. And how do they maintain that positive outlook from their fans? They throw them a goddamned bone every now and again. They barely had their models rendering properly when they gave their first public demo to show everyone why Mr. Molyneux is so excited about this new groundbreaking game. They have video diaries on Xbox live documenting their progress with the game. And if you don’t like what they’re doing, Peter Molyneux will make you care instead of just telling you that if you don’t like the game then the game was made for someone else.

    Lol, normally I’m not this hard on Bethesda. Officially I still consider myself half on their side. I just think that their dedication to secrecy (especially during the research and planning phase of the development) is hurting them a lot more than if they told us of some cool plan to have the option to pimp out your pipBoy 3000 with custom ringtones and the ability to download pixelated porn, and then failed to actually get it implemented before the game came out 3 years later (which by all the accounts that I’ve heard so far is their main reason of keeping quiet).

    We’re living in the age of collaboration. Asking the people who love the series what they want to see in the next installment is free research. If your team of writers can’t take those ideas and improve on them so that the fans will still giggle with glee at their originality when they see them, then you desperately need to hire some new staff.

    Comment by Taylor | May 11, 2008


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