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Shelving Fallout

“… out of all the legitimate complaints about this game, “I had to actually pay attention and look around” just seems a bit out of place.”

-Deadpool, from the Twenty Sided comments

I think this excerpt pretty much exemplifies a lot of responses I received for my Fallout review.

Most of you viewing my blog at this point probably learned about it from Shamus Young. He made a post about my blog two days ago, and hoo boy, my views and comments skyrocketed.

I’m not surprised by how many people disagree with the points I made. Fallout is a very beloved old game, and I understand that. Some people responded to me with contempt, but that’s inevitable on the Internet.

What I’m surprised by is how many people actually agreed with me, both on my blog and on Shamus’s. Kind of reminds me of Shamus’s response to Halo, actually. I thought everyone loved this game, so I went in expecting it to be all sunshine and unicorns. Then I post my angry rant on it and realize that it has as many haters as it has lovers. Huh. Guess my opinion wasn’t as radically outrageous as I thought it was.

Anyway, I want to respond to what a lot of people are saying. Essentially they’re saying that by focusing my efforts on getting through Vault 15 and consulting GameFAQs instead of just exploring and wandering to figure out what to do next, I was playing the game wrong. And they’re saying that it’s my fault, not the fault of the game.

I still think it’s the game’s fault because the game gave me no sense of direction whatsoever. And considering how many people are agreeing with me on that (a lot of people) I think it most certainly is a valid complaint.

Some gamers are alright with exploring and figuring everything out on their own, but most gamers need at least some sense of direction from the game or else they won’t see any reason to continue. You can’t blame us for this, it’s just how most of us are.

You’ll notice that nobody develops games like this anymore, even the people who used to make games like Fallout. Take Obsidian, which if I recall correctly contains members of the original Fallout dev team. When they made Fallout: New Vegas they left us a tangible trail of bread crumbs (so to speak) wherein each piece of the trail pointed us to the next one. That way the player always has a sense of direction, and is never left thinking “Uh… Where do I go now?” It gave you a sense of freedom while still having structure. Fallout 1, on the other hand, had no structure and still didn’t give me a sense of freedom.

Some people call that “not handholding.” I call it “bad design.” Yeah, some people might like it, but most people don’t, and if most gamers don’t like your game, you’ve failed as a designer.

I get that Fallout was meant to appeal more to “explorers,” the kinds of people who want to uncover everything themselves. And those people are probably upset that games don’t give them that feeling anymore. And you know what? I can actually empathize with them on that, because most modern-day shooters follow certain trends that really make me miss the old days as well.

The one that frustrates me the most is the fact that you can typically only carry two or three guns. I can understand how that helps keep things balanced in a multiplayer setting, but in single player it adds more depth to the gameplay when you can carry all the weapons in your arsenal at once. It lets you approach each challenge in a multitude of ways and helps bring more strategy to the field. By only letting the player hold a few guns, you have to make sure that every challenge in the game can be defeated with any of the guns, and it ends up feeling like either the challenges, the guns, or both have been dumbed down.

But now I’m getting way off-topic. Anyway, I’m open to the idea that in some parallel universe where I had a different first experience with Fallout I may have ended up loving it. People have said that it gets better elsewhere, and while I’ve never really liked that excuse before I have to admit that I didn’t really love Deus Ex at first either, but the more I played through it the more I became enamored with it. But my first impressions for Fallout were really awful, and I think that if I continue to push through it I’ll probably be focusing on the bad instead of the good. I think it would be best for me to shelve it for now. Maybe I’ll come back to it eventually.

Evidently a lot of people liked my Deus Ex review, and I enjoy playing these old games, so I’m going to continue this. To anybody who cares, the next game I’m gonna be neo-retro-reviewing is Thief: The Dark Project. I’ve had the disk for awhile, but whenever I tried to run it on this computer it would freeze up every ten seconds. Thankfully some kind soul on Twenty Sided named Daemian Lucifer let me in on how to fix that problem, and it seems to be working alright now.

I just beat the second level. So far it’s been very entertaining, interesting, and frustrating. Reminds me a lot of System Shock 2.


31 responses

  1. I’m going to show my JRPG bias by bringing up the old Final Fantasy games as a good examples of games that allow some exploration, while still giving you guidance on what direction to go. Talking to people in town always gave you a clear direction on where to go next, but you were free to explore the overworld and find extra towns and dungeons if you wished.

    It wasn’t perfect, since the overworld was largely empty, it would have been nice to have more stuff to find, but overall I think it was a nice way to offer exploration without getting people lost. Unfortunately if FF13 is any indication, they’ve abandoned exploration entirely for long corridors.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:15 PM

    • JPH

      Final Fantasy 1 didn’t really keep me captivated enough to play it very far. Seemed to suffer the same problem as Fallout for me, in that I didn’t really feel any incentive to continue onward and it started to feel really tedious.

      Having said that, Final Fantasy 6 is still easily on my top 10 favorite games, though that’s mostly because of the story and setting and how flawlessly they pulled off that whole apocalypse thing.

      Oh, and before you ask, 1 and 6 are the only old-school FF games I’ve played (“old-school” meaning “before 7” or so I’m told).

      May 18, 2011 at 12:59 AM

      • I think the problem with FF1 is that it seems like a bunch of unrelated events rather than a story. Go north and kill Garland, go across this bridge, go kill some pirates and take their ship etc.

        While FF6 had a much stronger story that encourages people to keep pushing forward. Since you haven’t played any other old FFs I can’t expect you to know this but FF4 and to a lesser extent 2 and 3 have a much more focused story than 1, and will give more incentive to keep playing.

        I admit FF1 is a bad example for the point I was trying to make, but I hope you’re experience with 6 sort of gives you an idea of what I was trying to say.

        Also the bit about old school FFs meaning before 7. Technically true. I should have been more specific, FF7 – 9 also apply to the point I was trying to make. Starting in 10 they cut out the overworld connecting towns and dungeons, and remover pretty much any exploration from the game.

        May 18, 2011 at 9:11 AM

      • JPH

        Yeah, I noticed that about 10. That’s weird.

        And I agree that 6 did the exploration quite well. One of these days I’m gonna go and play FFs 2 through 5… guess I’d better put those on my to-do list as well.

        May 18, 2011 at 12:16 PM

  2. Chris

    It could have a “Normal” mode where you get hints or a sidekick or something and an “Expert” mode which plays as it is now. You are right though, as it is, there is much exploring/clicking/wandering, in either 1 or 2 I always wasted too much time wandering around exploring and failed the water chip mission, ending the game :(

    May 17, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    • JPH

      That idea sounds similar to the “runner vision” in Mirror’s Edge. I think I could get behind that.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:47 PM

  3. It seems I’ve reached the limit of replies, but it’s not a big deal. Since you are considering playing FFs 2-5 and you probably have lot of other old games you are planning to play as well, I thought I might share a few thoughts on each to help you prioritize.

    FF4: The one I recommend the most out of all of them. Decent enough story, protagonist has a character arc that I thought was pretty cool, especially since most games the characters tend to not change at all throughout the game.

    FF3,5: I tend to rank these at about the same but maybe 5 is a bit better. Plots aren’t too fancy but get the job done. Both games have a similar job system that lets characters switch between an enormous number of jobs between battles and its pretty sweet.

    FF2: One of my least favorite games in the series. Story is decent enough. Depending on whether you play the original or one of the remakes, the leveling system ranges from horribly broken, to slightly annoying. And the dungeons go above and beyond anything in any other FF. As much as I like exploring large dungeons, even I had to admit it just became tedious.

    I think I’ve talked about this enough, but maybe it will help you decide.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:02 PM

  4. Tesh

    I’ve not played any of the Fallouts, but I seem to remember reading somewhere that that is a hard time limit in one of the first two, after which you cannot win the game. That sort of thing just doesn’t work well in an exploration heavy game.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    • krellen

      If you do not complete the quest for the Water Chip in Fallout 1 within 150 days (a limit that can be boosted to (I think) 200 days with a sub-quest), you get a game over screen. However, once you have secured and returned the Water Chip to the Vault, you can take as much time as you like to finish the rest of the game. Taking a long time does give you some different ending results (as the army you’re trying to stop wipes out more settlements as time goes on), but the results don’t carry over to the sequel anyway.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:32 PM

      • Deadpool

        Actually, BOTH games have a hard time limit. Fallout 1 you can find the Water Chip in 150 days and then you have 500 days to finish the game or you get a game over (if you did the sidequest to bump the water chip to 200, then the game ends after 400 days). I barely made it on my first playthrough. To be fair, there is ample time to do everything in the game and then some (I spent quite a bit of time wandering aimlessly through the desert). Since the game takes place in real time, the only time one must worry about time is when travelling.

        Fallout 2 also had a hard coded ending, although I THINK it just might have been a programming thing (as opposed to an ending cutscene). Game ends after something like 19 years or so, so definitely no problems there.

        I can understand the complaints with 1 though. I think a patch changed that, I don’t remember, but it was one of those annoying things about the game.

        May 21, 2011 at 2:12 PM

  5. krellen

    There are vanishing few exploration games these days. It is a point of contention for us Explorers/Seekers, because there used to be a lot more of these games.

    For me, personally, another downside is that the biggest remnant of the exploration game left are the games made by Bethesda, and I’ve never played a game of theirs that I’ve enjoyed. I don’t like how they build worlds and design quests.

    Not being able to have games you really love, when once you did, makes you bitter and cynical. Instead of there existing many smaller games made for niche markets, everyone instead tries to make large, mass-appeal games for everyone, and leaves people outside the core “action/multiplayer” demographic in the cold.

    Nothing good survives mass appeal, unless you happen to be smack-dab in the mass.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:35 PM

  6. Littaly

    It’s not necessarily as simple as “bad design”. You have to look at it from a broader perspective. How were games made back then? What expectations did gamers have in 1997? What limitations did developers have? What expectations do you as a player have when playing it today?

    I’m not saying that you have the wrong opinion for not liking Fallout (you don’t), but that doesn’t make Fallout a bad or flawed game. The quality of a game isn’t always proportional to how much you like it, it’s important not to get the two mixed up.

    May 19, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    • JPH

      I’m not just calling it bad design because I didn’t like it. I’m calling it bad design because the vast majority of commentators agreed with me, even the people who liked Fallout.

      And as Shamus pointed out in one of his own comments, Black Isle did go out of business, so…

      May 19, 2011 at 2:44 PM

  7. Littaly

    I still think you need to put it into context. Fallout wasn’t made yesterday, and it didn’t reach it’s status as a classic in recent years either. Fallout may seem badly designed by today’s standards, but that doesn’t mean the game was badly designed. You could say that it has aged badly, but that is an entirely different thing.

    And yes, Black Isle was laid down, in 2003, six years after the release of Fallout, for reasons completely unrelated to that game.

    May 19, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    • JPH

      If the game truly was a classic, it would still hold up nowadays.

      May 19, 2011 at 4:21 PM

      • krellen

        And for many of us, it does. It’s not the right sort of game for you, though.

        May 19, 2011 at 4:36 PM

  8. Pingback: Exploration and Player Agency « MaxFF's Blog

  9. GiantRaven

    Whilst I agree with a few of your points I must disagree when you say:

    ‘Yeah, some people might like it, but most people don’t, and if most gamers don’t like your game, you’ve failed as a designer.’

    Does this mean that anything unpopular is therefore bad? Is Grindcore, for example, a failure of music and artistry because most people don’t like it?

    May 20, 2011 at 2:22 PM

    • JPH

      It depends on what kind of scale you’re talking about.

      I mean technically the majority of people might dislike grindcore, but a there are a lot of people that love it.

      Nothing wrong with niche appeal, but there are specific elements in games, music, movies, etc. that you can tell are bad because most people object to them. The vast majority of people agreed with some of the complaints I had with the opening of Fallout, even people who liked Fallout.

      May 20, 2011 at 2:27 PM

  10. TSED

    “I’m not surprised by how many people disagree with the points I made. Fallout is a very beloved old game, and I understand that. Some people responded to me with contempt, but that’s inevitable on the Internet.”

    You know, you accused me of having contempt for you in Shamus’ comments, and I feel that was unfair. I am merely abrasive, what with “tact” being my dump stat and all.

    May 20, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    • JPH

      I’d have guessed charisma was your dump stat.


      May 20, 2011 at 7:22 PM

  11. Deadpool

    I hope that you didn’t take my responsives as aggressive or offensive, it’s certainly not how I meant it. I was merely counterpointing that the game DOES give you a list of breadcrumbs (just like New Vegas), you just didn’t follow them.

    Path to Vault 15 leads (very unsubtly) you to Shady Sands, Shady Sands leads you to Junktown (also, unsubtly so) which leads you to the Hub (less directly) and thus to the rest of the world.

    Vault 15 also tells you you need rope, and Shady Sands (only other place on the map at the time) has it waiting for you.

    In the end, I get the feeling that the whole post would have been COMPLETELY different if you hadn’t panned out and missed Shady Sands completely… Was Luck your dump stat? ;)

    May 21, 2011 at 11:57 AM

    • JPH

      It doesn’t do it the same way New Vegas does. In New Vegas you don’t have to explore if you don’t want to, you can go right where the quest markers say and you’ll always get lead to the next part. In Fallout you have to just go into Shady Sands even though the game gave you no incentive or hint to do so, and you have to go to Junktown because the NPCs mentioned it even though there’s no guarantee that that’s your next destination in the plot.

      New Vegas encourages exploration; Fallout requires exploration.

      To be honest, I’m not even sure if I did pan out and fail to notice Shady Sands. That may have been the case, but I may have just not been interested in going there yet.

      I’m fine with exploration. In Oblivion and Fallout 3 I spent most of my time exploring the different cities and handling all the side quests before I went back to the main plot. But when the game requires you to explore, that’s when I get put off. I would commend Fallout for having the exploration, if that wasn’t your only option.

      And thanks for clarifying, by the way. I thought you were trying to be condescending; I’m glad to know I was wrong.

      May 21, 2011 at 12:32 PM

      • Deadpool

        It’s actually not so different from the more rescent Fallouts. New Vegas sends you to Primm but you still have to ask around to get the information. Same with Novac and Boulder City and blah blah blah… you can meta game and instantly realize it will all come to a head in Vegas, but the game leads you from town to town and you have to talk to people to figure out where the next one is.

        Original Fallout did the same thing. You can even metagame and realize that there’s no way the chip is in the first place you look and ignore it completely. The big difference? No quest marker.

        That’s it. You’re still just following leads. It’s still “nope, Chip/Geck/Liam Neeson/Benny ain’t here, why don’t you try over there?” repeatedly. It’s still “The Princesss is in another castle.” The only difference is that quest marker.

        To be fair, you made two mistakes in that playthrough. You missed (or forgot about) Shady Sands and you didn’t read the info square on the bottom left. Now an argument CAN be made that the info box is just not that visible (although, to be fair, the game has a jingle whenever important info is dumped) although I prefer it being unintrusive personally. But the Shady Sands ordeal is entirely your fault. I cannot see a reasonable way to blame the developer because the player decided not to investigate the big, giant green circle in the middle of the path.

        And I would never take offense to someone voicing a diseenting opinion, particularly when it’s well thought out and presented without offense to begin with. I’m clearly not inclined to agree just because it, but there’s no need to resent someone for disagreeing.

        I’m still thinking, if you’re an Oblivion/Nu Fallout fan, having gone to Shady Sands, you would have picked the place clean, found the rope and not even notice…

        May 21, 2011 at 2:01 PM

      • JPH

        It wasn’t a “big, giant green circle.” It was actually not very big. Like, at all.

        The game told me to go to Vault 15, and Vault 15 didn’t tell me where to go. Shady Sands did. The game told me to go to a dead end. That’s what I’m bothered by.

        New Vegas never sent me to a dead end. It sent me to Primm, and Primm told me where to go after that. It didn’t tell me to go to Primm and then hope I run into an area on the way to Primm that would tell me my next destination. Because that would be stupid.

        May 21, 2011 at 7:52 PM

      • Deadpool

        Maybe memory is failing me, but I remember it being the same size as Vault 13 and Vault 15: A whole “square”. By the time you discover it, it’s probably 1/20th of the entire map, which is really quite large…

        Honestly, I think you may be letting your emotions control your reasoning a bit. The difference between “go to place A, then go to place B, then go to place C” and “go anywhere. You only have place A on the map. Oh, not there, try the new place on the map. Oh, not there, try the even newer place on the map” isn’t particularly large. It’s more a difference of the hook (hunting after a person vs. searching for an oject) than anything else. From a gameplay standpoint, they’re identical. It’s still, in the end of the day, “go to place A, explore it to its fullest, then move on to place B.”

        May 22, 2011 at 1:10 AM

      • JPH

        Letting my emotions control my reasoning? What does that even mean?

        No, it’s not identical. The bread crumb was in Shady Sands, and it should have been in Vault 15, it’s as simple as that. And I’ll remind you that I’m not the only one who thinks this; Shamus agrees with me, and Shamus likes Fallout.

        May 22, 2011 at 11:09 AM

      • Deadpool

        It means you’re letting your dislike of the game (a totally acceptaple emotional reaction) cloud your judgement on the validity of the design.

        Vault 15 leads you, unceremoneously to Shady Sands. It’s on the path, it’s big as a house and just about impossible to miss. Just in case you did, the game also tells you to go find some rope and places it in Shady Sands, meaning you can’t get INTO Vault 15 (the first hook) without visiting Shady Sands (the second hook). Can’t visit Shady Sands without hearing about Ian, who leads you to the next and so on.

        From a design perspective, this is pretty tight. The player ALWAYS has a reasonable lead. There’s always an explored area in the map. Hell, the game is even nice enough to give the player the “look elsewhere” message at the end of Vault 15, or the “need rope” message. Player is never left clueless, or needing to make any sort of logical leap.

        Only thing missing is a quest marker that goes “right here.” Which would’ve been the hand holding.

        One’s like or dislike of the game has no effect on this discussion. There’s a million reasons one can like or dislike the game, it’s not always a design flaw.

        May 22, 2011 at 12:02 PM

      • JPH

        I think there’s nothing left to do but agree to disagree.

        There’s a reason all games nowadays “hold your hand,” and that’s because it really helps a lot of players. It makes things a lot more convenient. Most people like that. It makes the whole game feel more intuitive.

        May 22, 2011 at 12:59 PM

  12. Bubble181

    If I may chime in, I have to say that, while Oblivion had a lot of faults (it wasn’t Daggerfall 2 ;-|), one thing I did like was the fact that you’re quite clearly told how and where the next object was for the main quest, but that you could happily ignore it and come back later. No “sorry, you can’t pass yet because you haven’t done X” as in some games…Nor the completely loose “just go!” sandboxy thing. I love exploring and open worlds, but, like JPH, I prefer some reason to the madness :-P

    May 21, 2011 at 4:02 PM

  13. For anyone who played Falloyut the first time around. I presume it had a proper manual. Ploughing through a pdf file to get the back story that would (perhaps) make the game more meaningful . . . sorry, no thanks. Fallout only cost me 97p, so I wasn’t put out

    May 22, 2011 at 9:14 AM

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