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Fallout 1: Character Creation

This is the first of what will likely be a full series on Fallout 1, which is undoubtedly the Sacred Cow of many of you reading this. There will probably be many complaints and nitpicks, and an overall tone of bitterness. So buckle up. If you have no interest in Fallout and need some alternative method to have more fun with these posts, I’d recommend taking a drink every time I mention that first impressions post I wrote awhile back.

Anyway, I didn’t elaborate on this very much in my original Fallout post, (drink!) but the character creation was really a sore spot for me. I’ll go ahead and repost the screenshot of the character page, just so you can see how complex it is and how they throw it all at you in one piece.

Once again: Kamikaze? Seriously?

I’d fill out the spreadsheet and create my character, and then almost instantly I’d become paranoid that my build isn’t good enough, that I screwed up somehow. I built a character who specializes in melee, but how good is melee? I tagged Outdoorsman as a skill, but how often is that going to be helpful? I used the Gifted trait, but is that really going to benefit me in the end?

There are so many unanswered questions, ambiguously described skills, and presumably unbalanced abilities that the only way you can figure out what works and what doesn’t is by:

  • Trial and error, which will take a pretty damn long time since each trial involves an entire playthrough of the game
  • Looking up a FAQ/walkthrough.

So if you don’t want to have to FAQ it up before starting you first playthrough, you’re going to just have to guess which skills are the best. And I hope you don’t pick Outdoorsman, because that skill is fucking useless.

IcePotato pointed me toward a very insightful article about introducing RPG elements to the player. The gist of it is that throwing too many decisions at the player before he’s had a strong taste of the gameplay is a bad idea, because you’re ultimately forcing the player to answer questions that haven’t been asked yet.

I especially love this line of his: “It’s very hardcore and old school. By which I mean that it’s mean-spirited and unnecessarily punitive.”

It always pisses me off when I know that my choice just wasn’t good enough. This was one part of System Shock 2 that bugged the hell out of me, and what probably ended up causing me to like Bioshock more. I specialized in energy weapons, because it made logical sense to me that a laser sword would be stronger than a wrench.

No such luck, as it turns out; energy weapons are only strong against robotic enemies, and pretty much every major threat toward the end of the game is organic. So if, like me, you specialized in energy weapons, then you get to eat shit. Like I did.

Whenever I try to think of a game that absolutely nailed RPG elements, Deus Ex springs to mind.

That dude looks fabulous.

The game didn’t give you many points to start off with, but the more you got to utilize your skills, the more skill points you would receive as rewards. This way you could specialize in doing the things you liked, rather than just blindly guessing. The game even let you save all the skill points you had at the start, in case you wanted to wait before leveling yourself up.

Every skill point in that game is useful in different situations (yes, even swimming) and while some skills are undeniably more useful than others, those skills cost more points. So it takes a hell of a lot more points to raise your Rifles skill than it takes to raise your Swimming skill. This leads to a system in which you can sink your points into anything you want and still beat the game, but the way you beat the game is drastically different depending on what skills you specialize in. Isn’t that the “zenith” we should all hope to achieve in our RPGs?

Deus Ex was also great because of how straightforward it was. It didn’t give you a bunch of skills and not explain what skills would benefit what situations. Do you want to sneak around people and steal their stuff? Add to Lockpicking and Electronics. Do you want to charge in like Rambo? Add to Rifles and Heavy Weapons. Do you want to be a badass ninja like me and get stealth kills with a silenced pistol and a combat knife? Add to Low-Tech and Pistols. You’re never left guessing about what skills are going to benefit what play style, and what skills aren’t going to be useful at all. (I’m looking at you, Outdoorsman.)

Incidentally, that reminds me… Was this supposed to be about Fallout or something?

Oh yeah! Yesterday I said that I was going to start Fallout again. I did start over. Once I reached Vault 15 I decided to start over again, but with a different character. And this process repeated itself once or twice more before I finally decided on a build I’m happy with, after consulting Twitter and my Steam buddy Jarenth.

I can’t show you my build, because as I said in my original Fallout post, (drink!) the screenshots come out entirely black. I tried using Fraps, but apparently Fraps doesn’t recognize Fallout as a game, which is weird, because it recognizes everything else as a game, including old games from GOG.com, Windows Minesweeper, and full-screen Youtube videos. What makes Fallout so special? I am at a loss for words over this.

But I suppose I can describe the final verdict of my build to you. Agility is my highest attribute, with the runner-ups being Intelligence and Perception. Endurance and Luck are the runt of the litter. I picked the Good-Natured trait and tagged Small Guns, Energy Weapons and Speech.

This may or may not bode well for me.

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21 responses

  1. Tobias

    I think requiring the player to have read a million FAQs and Spoilers when they start the game is a common fault of almost all CRPGs. I would have a hard time thinking of one where you don’t have to do this.
    I doesn’t make me think fallout is a bad RPG, or make me hate fallout. It makes me hate all CRPGs.

    August 16, 2011 at 3:50 AM

    • JPH

      I haven’t played many CRPGs, but I’d have to agree with you on that. I didn’t have this problem as much in Baldur’s Gate 2, but that’s because I’ve been playing D&D for years and so I know what characters go well together in a party and which skills and feats complement which classes.

      August 16, 2011 at 4:00 AM

  2. I’ll just echo here what I said on Steam (for posterity’s sake):

    I think one of the reasons you’re so annoyed with this game is because your mindset is that of finding the ‘best’ build, or at the very least, a ‘good’ build. I feel, however, that Fallouts 1 and 2 (and 3 and NV, to an extent) have always been more about ‘picking a build and making it work’ instead. You want to play a guy with Outdoorsman, Gambling and Throwing? Go right ahead! It’ll be hard, but not strictly speaking impossible.

    If you’re the kind of person who worries about playing sub-optimally, this is probably terrible.

    I’ll agree that to our modern sensibilities, that character creation screen is terrible. Remember that Fallout is from the old-timey times, when people were still fully expected to read the manual; that sort of design doesn’t really fly anymore today.

    August 16, 2011 at 4:22 AM

    • JPH

      My issue is with the fact that “good builds” and “bad builds” even exist. The different builds in Deus Ex were based entirely on personal preference, and virtually no build was objectively worse than any other. It’s literally impossible to sink every one of your points into stuff like swimming, so no matter what build you make, you’re not going to end up “gimped.”

      The fact that it’s even possible for me to be gimped just seems like the game failing to have balanced skills and attributes.

      It’s not that I have to have the “best” build, it’s just that I don’t want a build that will put me in unfair situations. I don’t have to be the best. I just want to have fun, and being stuck in a situation where my character is too crappy to complete the quest is most certainly not fun.

      August 16, 2011 at 4:39 AM

      • Deadpool

        You’d have to try HARD to have a “bad build.” I think reading FAQs and talking to friends is hurting you more than helping you in this situation.

        In the end, every situation in this game can be handled in the following manners:

        Stealth – Requires Sneak, with a sprinkle of Lockick, Repair and Science. Also, exploration (talking to the right people, looking in the right corners).

        Combat – Requirements are obvious. Barter helps.

        Dialogue – Speech, with a sprinkle of Doctor/First Aid and INT. Also, exploration (talking to right people, looking in right corners)

        Straight out avoid it – When all else fails, just don’t deal with the problem. Low speech characters won’t talk down the hostage taker. The hostage will die. Oh well, game goes one.

        There are only two quests that NEED to be done, and you’d be hard pressed to find a build that couldn’t pull it off…

        That said, the game DOES need balance. Barter is BROKEN good (high enough levels you can buy things for less than you sell them. Also, the game doesn’t register weight limits when you buy things, so you can literally take EVERYTHING every single store owner owns… As long as you don’t need to pick anything up) and Outsdoorsman sucks (just aren’t any skill checks for it. The speeding up the map movement isn’t that useful even on a blind playthrough). but not something that would REQUIRE an FAQ read…

        Although, and I reallly really hope this doesn’t make you go back but, I question the wisdom of taggin two weapons skills maxing AGI and then picking Good Natured… Surely you’re going for a combat build, yes? I mean, it’ll work. You get enough skill points for it NOT to matter… Just seems like an odd choice.

        August 16, 2011 at 3:30 PM

        • JPH

          I tagged two combat skills specifically because I picked good-natured. I want to use speech, barter, first aid and doctor often, but I also want to have enough combat prowess to not get destroyed in a firefight. If I tag two combat skills, then I can level them up quickly regardless of the good-natured trait.

          To me, good-natured just seems like the most logical choice. It lowers four skills, two of which I won’t use, and raises four other skills, all of which I know I’ll use.

          August 16, 2011 at 3:35 PM

          • Deadpool

            Just different ways to look at things I guess… I worry less about max/min, more about the roleplay aspect…

            But I’m weird. I’ve always picked Fast Shot on my combar focused characters, something most Fallout fans consider a crime… I still say 6 normal shots per turn > 2 Targetted shot any day of the week, but oh well. Curious as to how this will turn out just the same…

            Fallout 2 is considerably more balanced btw… Curious as to how THAT would turn out as well…

            August 16, 2011 at 3:59 PM

            • Khizan

              With a high enough skill, targeted shots at the eyes are fairly reliable one shot kills. Fast shot’s not BAD, but it’s definitely suboptimal, imo. Targeted shots also let you take leg shots, which lets you abuse the hex-per-turn thing for endless kiting of a let of things.

              August 16, 2011 at 4:43 PM

              • Deadpool

                Like I said I’m weird.

                Still, powerful as Targeted Shots are, you’re still killing 2 people per turn at best. I’m hitting six times a turn, killing anywhere between 3 and 6 people a turn depending on enemy stats, luck, my level, etc… I know I’m the minority, but 10 AGI, 2 Action Boys, Fast Shot, Bonus Rate of Fire and Turbo Plasma Rifle are my main killing impliment. Even before Sniper and 10 LK kick in…

                Btw, best critical damage boost (short of instant kill) is X4 from an eye shot… Average is -X3. So two average critical hits will MATCH six normal, no crit shots. If even one of those shots crits, we’ve already matched the 2X4 dmg. And it’s more evenly spread.

                Not trying to change anyone’s mind. Just saying… I like Fast Shot for killing things…

                August 16, 2011 at 6:05 PM

          • Khizan

            You really only need Small Guns. Energy Weapons aren’t that bad, but by the time you can reliably get the good ones, you’ve got the awesome small guns. And when you get towards the end, you can get the gauss rifles, which are small guns and, imo, the best guns in the entire game.

            August 16, 2011 at 4:47 PM

            • JPH

              Gauss rifles are small guns in this game? Huh. Well I’m gonna be starting over for the stream anyway, maybe I’ll tag a different skill.

              August 16, 2011 at 4:48 PM

              • Deadpool

                Fairly certain there are no Gauss Rifles in the game. There is no Small Gun that compares to Turbo Plasma Rifle in damage.

                August 16, 2011 at 5:55 PM

                • JPH

                  The Vault says the Gauss Rifle is only in Fallout 2 and beyond. Not in Fallout 1.

                  Deadpool wins this round. :P

                  August 16, 2011 at 5:58 PM

                • Deadpool

                  Note the Small Guns ARE viable. Red Ryder LE BB Gun is 25 dmg for -1 AP and Combat Shotgun does about the same and has Burst Mode for +1AP which does QUITE a bit of dmg (3X 15-25 dmg).

                  Sniper Rifle goes as high as 35 dmg as I recall it, although its shots cost +1AP…

                  Of course, Turbo Plasma Rifle does 35-70 dmg for -1 AP but hey… I DID say this game had some balance issues didn’t I?

                  August 16, 2011 at 6:10 PM

                • JPH

                  A Twitter person informed me that while Small Guns are good in the beginning and middle, toward the end it’s much more viable to go with Big Guns or Energy Weapons. Still, if all goes according to plan I’ll have maxed out Speech by then so I might not need to be a powerhouse.

                  I dunno though. Guess I’ll decide tomorrow when I start the stream.

                  August 16, 2011 at 6:17 PM

                • Deadpool

                  Maxing tagged skills is EASY…

                  Also pretty doable to rush to Speech and skip Small Guns altogether (or not Tag it and put just a few points on it, avoid combat until energy guns show up).

                  Small warning though, while you CAN talk your way out of a LOT, this isn’t Fallout 3/New Vegas. If (random, non game related example) there’s a guy about to commit suicide and take a school bus full of children with him over the death of his wife and children, you will NOT get a quest pop up that says:

                  – Stop suicide bomber
                  (Optional: Find information that his wife and child are alive and talk him down)

                  That’s Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Fallout 1 and 2 will just have a guy with a bomb in a bus. If there’s information about his family faking their deaths because of witness protection, you’d best have found it on your own!

                  So the diplomatic playthrough will involve looking in every nook and cranny, following every lead regardless of how meaningless it may seem at the time, etc…

                  In some ways, shooting your way in is MUCH easier… Although I find the diplomatic approach considerably more fun. Just figured I’d give fair warning.

                  August 16, 2011 at 6:30 PM

  3. I guess Final Fantasy has a similar problem, you have to choose which 4 classes will make up your party at the beginning of the game, and you have no idea what a good party will be. If you choose 4 white mages, then the low defense and lack of attack power should hint to you that you’ve chosen a really difficult party. You’ve wasted some time, but you should realize the mistake and start over without getting too far into the game. Its far worse if you choose something like 4 red mages which will seem pretty good at the beginning, but by the end of the game it will suck from the lack of high level spells and decent equipment. It really will take almost an entire playthrough to find out the mistake you made at the beginning.

    I’m pretty sure all the others in the series avoided this problem. You never really have a huge decision at the beginning of the game, although you may have some choice in what skills and stuff the characters get, it happens throughout the game, and you will have some experience to base the choice on.

    August 16, 2011 at 9:15 AM

  4. Falcon

    It seems like your issue is games ‘wasting my time’, close cousin of do it again stupid.

    You like games that have an experience. You like to see, and try, new things and situations. You don’t want to bang your head against a wall trying to force your way through a situation because you missed some obscure item, or created a ‘weak’ character.

    I get that, it’s similar to why I never played oblivion. A leveling system that forces you to abuse it, or become essentially useless because you picked some alternate playstyle, is bad design. ‘haha you are playing a leveled up merchant, but your combat skills are lagging. Good luck with those guys in Daedric armor fool’ would piss me off.

    Fallout has the same trap available to the newbie. At the time it was the norm, but now we see it as bad design. Forcing you to repeat the same section of game several times until you found a character that was good enough is, essentially, wasting your time.

    Oh and Jarenth just because you could make it through the game with a bad build, could a fallout neophyte? Why risk getting 30 hours into a game then running into a brick wall you cannot pass because of an uninformed choice at character creation? Cause Fallout is the type of game that would do that to you.

    August 16, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    • Fair enough. I have no idea how I could run into an unwinnable situation in Fallout 2, but that’s not to say it couldn’t happen.

      August 16, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    • You would have to make consistent uninformed choices throughout the game, at every single level-up, to get yourself into an unwinnable situation in Fallout. Levels count for far more than initial set-up already, and by the time you’ve reached your 6th or 7th level, you should already have a feel for how you’re wanting to approach the game. You still have twice as many levels to go from there, so you’ve got plenty of time to catch up.

      August 16, 2011 at 5:07 PM

      • Falcon

        True, but I’m not nescisarily talking impossible situations, merely ones that are unnecessarily difficult. The type that would have you either resort to save scumming or giving up.

        I appreciate having different options open or closed to me depending on choices or skills. I’m not even indicting Fallout as being particularly bad at this aspect. Just saying being put in a situation where you have to abuse non game mechanics (saves, faqs, etc) to brute force through something is not fun.

        Yeah you can level out of bad choices at the start, but you have to suffer through several hours of frustration to do so. That ultimately is the problem. Having to suffer for several hours before having fun isn’t good design.

        Still the game certainly has enough good points to make the rough edges forgivable.

        August 16, 2011 at 5:47 PM

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