Friday, May 27, 2011

Fallout – Mutants and Radscorpions and Ghouls, Oh my!

War. War never changes. From those four words, fans of the franchise who hadn't read the title of today's post would still know what I'm writing about. I've had a long and complex relationship with Fallout, most of it good, soured near the end, but with hope for a happy reconciliation someday. I already talked about the only blemish on the franchise in my experience here, (basically, the ending to Fallout 3 practically ruined the game for me) so I can devote the rest of this article to the good times.

I still reinstall and play this and Fallout 2 every few years.

Black Isle Studios was a development house, frequently confused with BioWare as they both produced RPGs for Interplay in the late 1990s – early 2000s. They are best known for PlaneScape: Torment and Fallout 1 & 2. Due to differences of opinion in how the team should be run between team members and Interplay, key members of the dev team left to form Troika Games in 1998, leading to the rest of the division being laid off and Black Isle was officially defunct as of 2005. The inspiration for the first Fallout game, released in 1997, was an earlier Interplay RPG called Wasteland, released nearly a decade before.

The pen and paper RPG roots of Fallout are apparent in the character creation and improvement screens, and feeling like a tabletop roleplaying game was by design. Initially, the developers planned to use Steve Jackson's GURPS for character creation, combat and skill resolution, but the amount of violence in Fallout was a primary factor in the licensing agreement falling apart. Instead, the developers came up with their own in-house system, named SPECIAL (an acronym for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck, the primary attributes of any character.) In addition to purchasing points in these attributes, a character had to spend initial character resources to buy ranks in skills, and one or more “perks” which gave a character abilities not covered by his/her skills and attributes (not unlike feats in D&D or talents in WoW.)

PiP-Boy, the Fallout series mascot (and whipping boy for some of the more gory perks.)

The post-apocalyptic wasteland in the Fallout titles gave the character an overall goal with a time limit, but beyond that, a great deal of freedom in choosing how to complete that goal, as well as other side quests and subgoals encountered during play. Many challenges could be completed with stealth, violence or smooth talking, and consequences for attacking or allying with any of the various power groups out in the wastes would have an effect both later in the game, and on the ending (at least in Fallout 1&2). In the first game, the player takes the role of a dweller of a vault, a self-contained “bomb shelter” of sorts that insulated itself from the apocalypse, but exploration becomes necessary when the water purification chip in the vault becomes defective. The 2nd game features a descendent of the original Vault Dweller, now living in an imperiled village out in the wastes.

Many elements of style, from the Iconic Pip-Boy to Nuka-Cola (a bottled soda whose caps become the default standard of currency) and iconic creatures like genetic mutants and the radioactive Ghouls persist throughout all Fallout titles. Bethesda Softworks (of The Elder Scrolls games) acquired the rights to develop new Fallout titles, starting with Fallout 3, which dropped the top-down isometric perspective in favor of a first-person view more in keeping with their other games. Though the thematic elements were in keeping with the original games (your character in Fallout 3 is, once again, a Vault Dweller on a quest), series purists derided the newer games as “Oblivion (Elder Scrolls IV) with Guns.”

These games actually got me into listening to Louis Armstrong.

The combat systems in the original Black Isle titles and the Bethesda games were significantly different from each other. Fallout 1&2 featured turn-based RPG “action points” style combat, controlling multiple party members from a tactical perspective. Fallout 3 and later Bethesda titles did away with this system, preferring instead combat more like a first-person shooter, with the ability to zoom in and use “action points” to target specific creature body parts to allow a weapons skill roll to handle to hit and damage calculations, with a lot of extra damage assigned for hitting a vital spot. Both combat systems had their own advantages and disadvantages, the degree of precise control and tactical perspective in earlier games appealing to RPG gamer not fond of first person shooters, and the faster pace and improved graphics appealing to gamers who don't mind action elements in an RPG so much.

I really hope that this game is as good as I've been hearing, it'd be nice to look forward to Fallout titles again.

Overall, I prefer the older titles to the newer offerings by a wide margin, even though I don't mind RPG-action hybrids in the slightest. I appreciate how much work went into the newer titles to do a classic setting justice, but I fear that in the rush to modernize the franchise that some essential depth was lost. I've heard very good things about Fallout: New Vegas, in particular that it addresses some of the specific concerns of fans of earlier games with regard to deeper storytelling with more choices and potential consequences. I'll be sure to give the newer games a look once I can manage it. Bethesda obviously has a lot of respect for getting the Fallout “feel” right, and now that they don't have to completely reinvent the wheel, maybe they can recapture some of that Black Isle magic.
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Rob said...

I have never played a fallout game as strange as that is. They've always looked interesting, just not enough apparently lol.

Alpha said...

Now I've gotta play New Vegas...

Zombie Ad said...

My other half is a huge fan of these games. I love it when a game brings out an interest in something else new i.e. music, books etc.

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