Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fallout 3 - mod it like you mean it

Fallout was released two years ago but has since then undergone some changes, most recently opening up to modding (and before that a couple of DLC's which added new quest areas) which makes it worth trying out again and so Love has dusted off his old Fallout 3 to give it another re-run to see what has happened.

Fallout is one of the best game series ever made. Not "probably", not "perhaps", but definitely. It goes without saying, but you can't say it too often either. So having said that it's understandable that it was with much anticipative angst that people were looking forward to the most recent part in the series - Fallout 3. Since the game was placed in the hands of a new developer Bethesda, and not the original creator Black Isle, it means someone else than the ones who had made Fallout into the awesome concept it is, was taking over the legacy and putting their interpretation over the game. Fortunately, the ones taking over were no nobodies. Bethesda have done their fair share of huge RPG-universes in the past, most notably Oblivion, and people were anxious to see what Fallout 3 could turn out to be in their hands. Awesome or dreadful. It turns out to be both, but not inbetween.

To explain myself we probably have to take a closer look at Bethesda. To understand the good and bad parts of Fallout 3 we have to look at the good and part parts of Bethesdas idea of a good game. Bethesda is a game developer whos made a name for themselves as really good story tellers. They usually put alot of effort into making their game worlds as immersive as possible when it comes to dialogues and character build up. Bethesda does these parts great, and so also in Fallout 3. What Bethesda never has done any good however is more about the mechanical bits of the game. Bethesda feels like a bunch of pen & paper rp-players who've been forced to adapt to the digital world of the computer and don't really know what to do with things like game physics and graphics. A game isn't just supposed to be a good story, but Bethesda often seem to think that as long as people enjoy the narrative, they'll overlook or forgive flaws in physics and graphics. This is only true to some part. Easy explained Fallout 3 looks like Oblivion in a Fallout setting. The graphics and physics are exactly the same - good looking but odd in the same time. The story line is great and characters that you encounter around the world generally interesting. There is of course the PipBoy and other Fallout-trademarks implemented into the game and anyone who's played the other parts of the Fallout-series will feel right at home.

Unlike the other games in the series, Fallout 3 is 3d instead of 2d. People were concerned about the feel to the game after this rather massive jump in dimensions, something that hasn't always worked well for other games of other series throughout the gaming history (Sonic for example). This is probably one of the biggest changes to the game world that Bethesda has done, but it works really well. Bethesda presents a beautiful dystopia, if such a thing could exist, and it is really more fun to be able to sneak around corners in 3d than in 2d. That extra dimension actually gives a whole new dimension to the game (see what I did there), and doesn't at all remove the feel from the other series, but rather enhances it. In the old games you could get into tense situations by being chased by more enemies than you could handle. In Fallout 3 you can be jumped by mobs from behind or around corners, which makes the entire world even more eerie and dangerous. So with any Bethesda game there is nothing wrong with the overall feel and immersion of the game.

It is worth noting however that Bethesda aren't as good as the dark humor that was Black Isles trademark for the Fallout-series. A little bit of that certain feeling has been lost, but Bethesda could've done so much worse when it comes to administering the legacy of this game. And in other areas of the game there is alot that could've been done alot better.

The problem lies in the details, details that in the end will become like huge splinters in your eye, because you can't stop thinking about them. Bethesda are extremely bad at constructing character graphics, for one thing. People move in bizarre ways and look really odd. Even if the character profile and story is great, you don't get the feel that you're actually talking to a real person, which could be bothersome when Bethesda is trying to make you feel something for them. It often happens that you simply shoot someone down just to get rid of their annoying behavior. Not because they're annoying characters, but because they move around like robots with ants in their pants. So even though some characters are just awesome, like Moira the crazy wannabe writer who uses you to learn more about how a person can be hurt, everytime you look at her you wonder if she's been hit by a truck because she moves around so weirdly.

Don't even think about zooming out to see your character in third person view. Although this is according to the the standard of the previous games, I strongly advice you never to do that. The animations of you character are hilariously bad. Jumping, running and "strafing" (or whatever it is your character is trying to do when you push those buttons) looks like your character has suffered severe damage to his backbone, removed it and replaced it with a stick. This takes me to the physics part of the game, which could make its own post really. The physics of the game are to the most parts so badly programmed that you wonder if you entered Twilight Zone somewhere along the way or if you've had a little too much of that rad-coke.

When shooting an enemy they can explode into red goo, or fall in literally any direction. They can easily get stuck in just about anything when falling making them end up in Lovecraftesque death positions with limbs all over the place and twisted in possible and impossible angles. They can also just hurl away and start bouncing around and probably never fall down to earth again. A car can come falling from the sky. Just like that. The problem with the physics of Fallout 3 is that it seems like Bethesda has a fairly advanced movements motor, but hasn't applied any weight to objects in the game. This means the game has to calculate how the body would move in weightlessness, something that usually ends up in total, mind-boggling chaos. Items/bodies more often than fall downwards rather than any other direction, but that's about the weight they seem to have gotten. And even then it happens that bodies fall upwards. The physics of Fallout 3 seriously never end up confusing and amaze you as a player, it is almost worth playing the game just to see what can happen to loose objects. "WTH?!" is something you'll think alot when playing Fallout 3.

Bethesda has changed the turn-basedness of the previous games into the Vats-system, allowing the player to semi-pause the game to choose different areas of the enemy player to hit, with different percentage scores presented to tell you how big of a chance you have to actually hit that particular body part based on your skill what that weapon. This means you can either play Fallout 3 like any old shooter, simply running around and using your own aiming skills to shoot down enemies, or have statistics do the shooting via Vats. The statistics of your character applies to both these systems however, which means that in Vats you can change the percent-chance to hit different areas and outside Vats the damage and spread of you weapon is affected by your skill with that weapon. Vats is also affected by action-points, which means you can only do a certain amount of actions through the Vats-system. This is to ensure that both systems work about equally well and that none is too easy to use. Unfortunately both of these systems suffer from huge flaws that in the end makes Fallout 3 into a rather bad shooting game. Yet again the criminal is the physics motor.

Trying to describe how a body moves around in the game world is difficult, because there isn't really anything in the real world that would behave in such a way. Enemies, and you, react to every little object in the world when moving around. That means that enemies running around will bob up and down like a fishing-bobber when moving about an area, making it really difficult to try to aim at. Trying to anticipate and predict the enemies movements for that perfect shot is near to impossible. Shooting stuff outside of Vats is best done on enemies standing damn still. Vats has its flaws too however. It doesn't seem like the Vats-system is correctly programmed to what obstacles does to shooting. This means that it can show you to have 90% chance to hit an enemy in the head, but when you try to shoot Vats ends up shooting some pebble that happens to be in the way. When using Vats you might be aiming in the right direction, but anything in the way will probably be hit instead and you will have wasted all those shots on shooting the grid in a fence or things like it. Vats is best used when you have a really clear vision of sight, and definitely not when you're crouched behind objects like one wants to in shooting games. The shooting aspect of Fallout 3 is because of these flaws rather crude and has to be worked around constantly to make due. The player constantly has to compromise his actions to what the physics motor will allow, which ruins immersion pretty effectively.

So far it sounds like Fallout 3 is a horrible game and completely un-playable. And yes, Fallout 3 has very many problems about it that makes it difficult to enjoy the good portions of the game, the story-telling and characters (and also it is always easier to talk about the bad stuff than the good stuff). Fallout 3 offers hours of interesting game play that deserve a chance. Fortunately, Bethesda have in some sense realized that there is room for improvement and that anyone else probably would do it better than them. Hence, they have opened Fallout 3 for modding, making it possible for anyone skilled enough to enhance the aspects of the game they find lacking the most. And there has been alot of enhancing done. Unlike Add-ons, mods actually change how a game works, which means you can change, remove or add aspects to the game as you please. All of the above mentioned problems and flaws of the game currently have a mod that tries to fix the problem somewhat. A mod is only a patch in the end of course. What Fallout 3 really would need is a code-overhaul, but since that won't happen and Fallout 3 definitely is worth experiencing at least once, we'll have to make due with band-aid mods instead.

There are mods that do just about anything - changed graphics that make people look less unreal, more detail to different items, enhancing the rp-factor of items, adding quest-lines and new characters, adding creatures, making the game more difficult etc. Not all mods work well together, but there is a lot of them so you can pick and choose pretty much as you like and end up with a Fallout 3 that suits your likings.

As an example of mods that one might like, Love went with the following;

- Fallout Wanderers Edition: A huge overhaul to many aspects of the game, enhancing the RP-experience. Adds for instance the necessity to eat, drink and sleep. Fast travel is changed, so that a motor cycle is needed, which has to be maintained with fuel and repairs. You can no longer carry half a military base around which means you have to restrict yourself to a select amount of weapons. Not being able to carry around enough ammunition to kill half the wasteland but actually feel a little exposed. When encountering enemies you might actually choose to avoid them instead of going in and Terminate everything you see Schwarzenegger-style. You will actually have to treat injuries. These are just some things that this mod changes.

- Marts Mutant Mod: Adds a couple of new enemy types. Most importantly it gives all the enemy types already in the game more variables when it comes to color, size and things like it, making the enemies more unique and interesting instead of a hoard of clones.

- Project Beauty: Remodelling of some character faces which makes them look less beaten by the bad-programming-stick.


  1. I found Fallout 3 a good game as well. Though I didn't encounter such bad physics as things falling uppwards.
    I usualy argue (with the old RE2 as an old favorite and survial horror as a general point in chase) that fighting against the controlls is a part of the experience of the game. Hoever it might be true as you say that this ruins the immersion. But total immersion can still only be acived by the person playing it.
    So my stand is that you should accept "reality" as it is, and play the game with in its limitations. This is the same as when talking about choises, they are limited because its the limit of the format (as game in a game and not real life).

    My first most critique of the game would be that I, as the goodytwoshoes that I am, felt the game to be quite linear. It was too easy to reach max lvl (20). In the end alltough i had done some side quests i still had mainly just completed Moiras hand book and the main quest. I did some exploring while "in between", trying to walk as much as possible. And I don't know what happens if you make some different choises but for me, the game ended when, well... the game ended. Somehow, with this "vast" world to explore, I had come to expect that the game would be "end less" much like oblivion or morrowind.
    But here is the down side to great storry telling (at least to me) and its that once you've done it, and if you've done it your way, playing the game again just do to differently dosen't sound all that attractive. The second time trough won't be as "true" as the first and will only sully the memory of that first character you grew so attached to.
    Quite a lot of games today have great storry telling, some you can play through again because you want to change the outcome of your actions (Mass Effect 2 i'm looking at you) but with most of them I feel content with feeling that the experience was my experience and as all great should just be left alone as is. (Fallout comes in here, but also Fable and Dragon Age, and even NWN2 in wich I've lost my safe file half way through.)

    I haven't tried to mod Fallout yet, but I have moded oblivion and assume it is much the same. Maybe I'll give it an rerun after aplying some mods to it. Who knows, maybe it'll turn out diffrently this time? Naw, i just cant be cruel to those unfortunate gouls, they're too cute.

  2. I agree there are times when bad controls heighten the feeling in the game, survival horror is definitely that kind of game. "Bad" camera angles is part of that for example. But one still has to separate planned "bad" game design from unplanned bad game design. If a game developer tries to make a game into something and that just doesn't work, the game won't be fun. In RE, part of the fun is not being able to run and move around perfectly. In Fallout 3 this surely can't be the intention.

    And I think it differs between players if they want to preserve that "first time", or try it again and again to get the perfect run through. Love clearly seems to belong to the second group. I don't know if you've tried the DLC's, but that might be worth another play through otherwise.

    Personally I don't think additional run throughs removes the feel of the first. I clearly remember the first time I played FFVII for example, but I still like to play it through now and then, trying different group setups or fighting styles (which is about what you can change in FFVII) or just to experience the story again (in which case the story has to be interesting enough of course).

    I also agree with you that Fallout 3 was a bit too short, I think if you try some of the mods that make the game more difficult (and also they increased the level cap to 30 through a DLC) you might find more time to enjoy the other stories in the game :)

  3. DLC = DownLoadable Content?

    True enough, accidental errors in controls are bad I suppose.

    And there is a difference between "old" rpgs and the "new". In the classical ones you are given a role to play and an certain story to follow. These new ones try to make it so that the story goes where you want and not a predetermined course (this is impossible of course since what you can do in a game is limited by the games programing).
    Now that I think about it more... It really is in the break between these that playing again can be frustrating. Repeating the same story can be like reading a book again, you might notice something new but it all have the same flow and ends the same as before. Some games, at least try to make the gameing experience diverse and broad so that perhaps two games might only have a few points in common. Then again... If you have as I said played it "your way" the first time, to make it diverse you must then probably play against your nature... Depending on game... Depending on your own feel for role-playing... Depending on the range of options available...

    Hm. I guess it comes down to how just how willing you are to explore the possibilities and distance your self from your avatar. And also if there are several layers of "my way" to go through... I'm thinking of Dragon Age atm. Im quite pleased with my first, and only, play through.(A story to be told on its own.) But recently seeing PA start over as a Dwarf made me think. I'm starting to believe that there is enough room in DA to go about things differently but still play it my way and it might still be interesting, even though you basically know what's to come.
    The same might be true about Fallout as well, especially with mods. But in this chase the question is also... Would the main difference lie in exploration? And is the world interesting enough to explore more thoroughly? Perhaps. We'll see. I've explored Oblivion quite a lot but grown tired of it in the end. Then again, I haven't been to the shivering island yet...
    Ah, well the "free world exploration" is an other aspect of these "sandbox" games. I'll save that discussion for another time I believe.

    Just writing on top of my head as usual.