Tomorrow’s World

Faintly dissatisfied by Crysis – more on that soon – and being, apparently, the only games journalist in the world without a copy of Unreal Tournament 3 yet, my hungry eyes have begun ogling next year. I’m sure there’s all manner of important things happening in 2008, but right now I’m only thinking of one thing.

I’m tired of elves. Bored of orcs. Sick to the stomach of paladins, mages, rogues and especially of men with long hair, rippling muscles and mysterious destinies. Give me big, dirty roleplaying in an exciting new setting or give me death. Give me Fallout mamalovin’ 3.

There’s no other game next year I’m quite as excited about. Bethesda! Bethesda! Listen to me. Don’t. Screw. This. Up. You make a beautiful game engine and you understand the importance of non-linearity, moral dilemma and experimental side-quests, but going on Oblivion, you’re not so hot at these things:

– Quality voice acting
– NPC faces that don’t look like a footprint in some custard
– Compelling characters and core narratives

And that’s enough to mean I don’t quite trust you yet with a game that desperately needs all of the above if it’s to work. Prove me wrong, please prove me wrong.

Of course, I’m frenziedly lapping up all the information I can get while I wait to discover whether my excitement/paranoia is justified. There isn’t a vast amount of new information in this interview with Bethesda’s Pete Hines, but he says a few of the right things, most pertinently that Elder Scrolls’ wide-openess has been curtailed a little so that the core quests are sharper:

There will be somewhere between nine to 12 different endings… based on what you’ve done in the game. So it’s something that is inherently a diverging path. It may be some of the same things but doing them in very different ways, and ultimately that will define your gameplay experience. Then you’ll have to go back and play again. So you may have to play through once and blow up Megaton [a major city in the game], and then play again and not blow up Megaton just to get to the bits that are all behind both of those paths.

I’m totally blowing up Megaton. And the game had damn well better play this as it happens:

Much as killing giant ants in the desert at my leisure appeals, I’d much rather have a well-told tale than vacuous non-linearity for non-linearity’s sake. Destroying an entire city is the kind of scripted event I can get behind – especially when it’s an optional one. Do you agree, or is an anything-goes radioactive playground a more tempting prospect?

There’s a ton of info-snacks on the official site too. This neat piece on the making of Fallout 3’s Pip-Boy grants some insight into quite how dedicated Bethesda are to staying true to Fallout’s legacy:

The biggest creative battle fought was to keep the Pip-Boy’s screen monochrome, as adding a dash of color was often an easy solution to a usability problem. But color in UI design is often a crutch and not to be relied upon, plus it would have disrupted the purity of the concept. So we found ways around it, often forcing us to improve the layouts in the end.

For some reason, just knowing the Pip-Boy will be monochrome calms my fears enormously. Here it is, and it looks right:

39 Comments

  1. Andrew Mayer says:

    Game fiction is always a little bit stilted and odd, RPGs doubly so due to the need to try and weave a compelling (but still interactive) story.

    I’m willing to give Bethesda the benefit of the doubt on this one. Whatever we get it’s going to be interesting.

  2. Phil says:

    Providing I can lovingly craft a stimulate addicted, wife selling, child exploding, slave keeping, genocidal son of a bitch who would happily doom a species for spare change, I’ll be happy.

  3. Chris says:

    I thought most of Oblivion’s voice acting was pretty good, actually, and while I wouldn’t call their NPCs compelling, I did find many of them interesting and endearing.

    I agree 100% about their faces, though.

  4. Citizen Parker says:

    I want to be excited about Fallout 3, I really, sincerely do. PipBoy aside however, I’m not entirely sold on the art direction (every released screenshot makes it look like Hellgate: D.C. TimeShifter)

    Moreover, I’m really concerned they aren’t going to nail the Fallout tone. The first two games possessed a spot on blend of grit and humour, the latter being drastically in short supply judging from the reaction to Team Fortress 2.

    Each time a designer talks about how they’re taking out some of the tongue-in-cheek elements, or when they release overly serious preview trailers, I die a little inside. I know it’s their game to do with as they please, but not every game needs to be Gears of War.

  5. Briosafreak says:

    I’m frenziedly lapping up all the information I can get while I wait to discover whether my excitement/paranoia is justified.

    Ok I’ll give you a hand then.

    First stop is my blog (surprise, surprise, a hint, use the search function on any subject).

    Second you can try the Official Fallout 3 FAQ andNMA’s Fallout 3 FAQ and TheVault-Fallout Wikia Fallout 3 FAQ.

    Then there’s DAC’s Media page, NMA’s Fallout 3 media previews page.

    This is a good start, don’t forget the Fallout 3 Official Forum.

    All the best.

  6. someone says:

    That ‘blowing up megaton’ example of player choice (which is still not the same as non-linearity in my opinion) is a bit over-quoted by now. I hope they have got more up their sleeve then just that. Anyway, I suspect it will be a good game as those guys seem to know what they are doing. But It won’t be the same as the old fallout. It will be something new. May as well get used to that and move on.

  7. MisterBritish says:

    As long as you can sign on as a caravan guard I’ll be happy.

  8. Jae Armstrong says:

    Right. I’m going to try to pick my words carefully here, because the temptation to descend into slavering fanboyism is almost overwhelming.

    On the other hand, it’s hard not to bit critical. So: the Pipboy. Yeah, the art direction is spot on. The actual UI design, on the other hand, is a little iffy. There are VAST swathes of dead space there. Consider that its predecessors’ character screen managed to fit the whole shebang into one easily readable 640×480 page. I am less than impressed.

    On the other hand, I doubt it’s going to make the Pipboy any less functional. Just a damn sight fiddlier.

    And in an attempt to balance the pessimism; Bethesda have managed to prove that they have a great deal of respect for the original work, so I remain hopeful that anything they mess with will be for the sake of improving the game, rather than just for the sake of messing with it.

  9. malkav11 says:

    Frankly, they seem to be hewing closer to the original formula than I had any reason to expect when I first heard they’d acquired the license. I don’t doubt that poor cancelled Van Buren would have been closest to the original feel, but I’m pretty optimistic about what Bethesda’s going to give us.

  10. Mo says:

    The actual UI design, on the other hand, is a little iffy. There are VAST swathes of dead space there. Consider that its predecessors’ character screen managed to fit the whole shebang into one easily readable 640×480 page. I am less than impressed.

    The whole point of good UI design is not to cram as much data onto the screen as possible. The idea is to have a set of logically organized screens. This works better than one “DO EVERYTHING!” screen. :-)

    Also, keep in mind that Fallout 3 is multi-platform. Console games need to draw UI’s with bigger fonts because of the distance between the user and the (possibly SD) TV.

  11. Chis says:

    _I_ want to be excited about Fallout 3. But consider the relationships you could have in Fallout 2. Bethesda are tremendously conservative in that area, I doubt they’ll give you such “freedom”.

    Come on, someone has to do it sooner or later. Even Troika didn’t in Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines. At least not visually. :P

  12. Jae Armstrong says:

    The whole point of good UI design is not to cram as much data onto the screen as possible. The idea is to have a set of logically organized screens. This works better than one “DO EVERYTHING!” screen. :-)

    You say that, but I say I’d far rather be able to see everything at a glance than have to flick through numerous sub screens. Drowning the player in information is a bad thing, but is it really necessary to have one page for eight numbers- eight all but static numbers, let’s not forget (barring some change in the game mechanics).

    Let’s compare the original, shall we? Is it overwhelming? Each section is clearly delinearated. All the information is right in front of you.

    It’s not perfect. The game was made in The Time Before Scrollbars; the boxes could use headers; the Perks/Karma/Kills section would have worked better on its own page and the primary stats could have used a little room to be spelt out in full – but these are little niggles.

    The screen works well enough that even a cursory examination by a wide-eyed twelve year old (myself at the time; the readership of the Daily Mail would have died in a fit of collective apoplexy had they known) was enough to figure out what was going on.

    The point of good UI design, to me, is to present the user with information in such a way that they can make sense of as much as possible as fast as possible.

    Maybe Bethesda are throwing more numbers into the game. Maybe the concatenating this one with the potentially choc a bloc others would be impossible, or at least impractical. It’s impossible to say. But that screen shot is still 60% visual fluff.

    The point about consoles is a regrettable truth, though. :(

  13. etho says:

    I think the voice acting in Oblivion wasn’t that bad, it was just repetative. Which is unfortunate but i suspect unavoidable in a game that size. The Shivering Isles section had excellent voice acting, though, because most everyone was unique.

    As for the faces… Yeah, not so hot. Not terrible, but again repetative and not especially memorable. (except Sten the Ugly. Heh.) But for me that’s one of the less important things, especially with Fallout. I don’t care if the specific characters look ultra-realistc as long as the overall style is good. Like in Bioshock, the character models weren’t stunningly great, but it just added up to so much more than the sum of it’s parts that it became one of my favorite games ever, visually speaking.

    Compelling Characters and Core Narratives. This is the biggy for me. These two things are probably the most important things in a game for me, especially an RPG. And yeah, Bethesda has a… mixed record. All the Bethesda games I’ve played (which is to say, Daggerfall, Morrowind and Oblivion) have had huge variations. I liked the main storyline for Morrowind, and all of the games have had some really good sidequests and characters. Shadow Over Hackdirt, in Oblivion, is exactly what it sounds like, and it was awesome. But the main Oblivion storyline is pretty lame, and the story from Daggerfall just didn’t make any goddamn sense whatsoever. So yeah.

    Overall though, I’m really hopeful. No matter what, I think Bethesda will make something that’s fun to play. Whether or not it lives up to it’s name remains to be seen, but I definitely think it has a good chance. It’s at the absolute top of my “DO WANT” list for 2008.

  14. harrison schaerr says:

    I didn’t like crysis either…

    it under delivered in every imaginable way.

    the graphics, the physics, the performance…

    what a shame. 6/10

  15. Pod says:

    Maybe Bethesda are throwing more numbers into the game. Maybe the concatenating this one with the potentially choc a bloc others would be impossible, or at least impractical. It’s impossible to say. But that screen shot is still 60% visual fluff.

    As far as I’m aware, there’s only one screenshot of the pipBoy from Fallout 3, right? For all we know, that screenshot could be in the middle of an animation where you’re raising it up to your face or something. Hardly basis for a religious war on the issue.

  16. Jae Armstrong says:

    Religious war? Ack! I thought I was having quite an enjoyable discussion. :'(

  17. Alexander says:

    I hope Bethesda takes things serious enough not to let their marketeers bust their own balls on this project. But honestly, I would feel pretty uncomfortable myself trying to make a 3D first person sequel out of Fallout; it sounds just downright stupid to pick up such IP because of it’s (and the game’s) incredibly delicacy.

    Besides that I think the art direction of Bethesda has always been absolute horror. Their user-interfaces are horror. Their attempt at having npc communicate is absolute horror. In general Bethesda should be remembered for a (I am dead serious) well done attempt at creating non-linear TIME in a computer game. The game should receive an award for that.

  18. Alexander says:

    By the road, did anyone notice how there’s a big conspiracy in computer game-land?

    http://tech.uk.msn.com/features/article.aspx?cp-documentid=6666856

    and

    this most interesting thing?

    oh

    BUY VISTA!

  19. Phil says:

    I never really thought of the games as delicate before, asides from bugs in the second game that meant if you put single step wrong your car boot would disappear or, memorably, turn entire towns against you of otherwise friendly radioactive undead.

    From the shots and video thus far the project seems to be handled with a huge respect for the source material, interface included. Combat could be more of an issue.

    The problem of excessive open endedness in Bethesda games I think have much to do with the fantasy fatigue their game worlds eventually engender. Well, that and bastard Cliff Runners. The prospect of getting similarly lost in Fallout world is actually quite enticing.

  20. Andrew says:

    Really looking forward to Fallout 3. What I’ve seen from previews so far seems to be making the right noises about learning from Oblivion’s mistakes. For a developer to admit there were mistakes in the first place is a pretty good step.

  21. Zuffox says:

    Take a look at the upcoming adventure pack (in this case sorta similar to official DLC content) for Neverwinter Nights 2, Mysteries of Westgate (link to eurogamer.net).

    “It is called Mysteries of Westgate and is being created by Ossian Studios – the developer responsible for acclaimed NWN1 module Darkness over Daggerford.

    (…)Ossian says the new campaign should take around 15 hours to journey through, and will have various side quests to get distracted by on the way. It will also not be some slap-dash affair, and will feature a professionally recorded musical score and script, three new companions, new sewer tile set and plenty of new monsters to roll dice at.

    Mysteries of Westgate and all upcoming Adventure Packs will require the original game to play, and will cost an as-yet unknown amount to download.

    (I tried using the url and blockquote tags, but ran into some friggin’ enfuriating minor issues, I couldn’t seem to figure out.)

  22. Alexander says:

    Fallout’s IP is delicate, rather than the games (especially F2), which of course have their flaws. However dealing with such an explicit setting that once provided gamers quite a profound experience really takes a lot of dedication and care.

  23. xeno says:

    I totally agree. Bethesda, DON’T FUCK THIS UP. PLEASE. Don’t fucking make it a bioshock clone, nor a halo clone, or a mass effect clone and for the love of ALL that is holy, don’t make it oblivion with guns. Please?

  24. Mo says:

    Religious war? Ack! I thought I was having quite an enjoyable discussion. :’(

    Yep, no bitterness on this end … just a fun discussion. :) Now where were we …

    Let’s compare the original, shall we? Is it overwhelming? Each section is clearly delinearated. All the information is right in front of you.

    Honestly, it is a bit overwhelming. When I played FO2 a couple of years ago, it was a bit of “information overload” at first. You get used to it, but I think putting the Perks (and maybe the Skills) on a seperate page would have added a bit of breathing space.

    However, you make a fine point about “information at a glance”. A way around that is to have the initial Pipboy screen be a “summary” screen of sorts. Actually, looking at the screenshot, the “Status” tab might very well be that. You get your “info at a glance” and you aren’t overwhelmed.

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