Fallout 3 has turned out to be everything I anticipated and more, if only because I understood from the beginning that Fallout 3 was going to be more Oblivion than Fallout. The game plays largely identically to Oblivion, right down to the vast majority of the controls, but with aspects borrowed from Fallout. Universally, the Fallout aspects have been an improvement.
Today, 10 years after its release, I’ve completed Fallout 2 at last. (As I said a few entries ago, I played it near release but was stopped dead by the difficulty with being a melee specialist in the end game.) Even as technologically dated as they are, the last few cinematic cut scenes’ artistic quality made the trip fairly worth it.
Now, if all goes well, I get to play this in 2 days:
That is amongst the best (in terms of thought-provoking art) game trailers yet released, pointing to an excellent website, as is fitting for what’ll quite possibly be a legendary game: Fallout 3.
Fallout 3 won’t resemble Fallout 2 as heavily as the die hard Fallout fans would like, but after slogging through Fallout 2 for the past few days all I can say about that is good riddance. Even with the unofficial patch applied, Fallout 2 had a number of unfortunate crashes, save game corruption, and other bugs which can be downright game-breaking. On my list of unforgivable sins:
- Items in Fallout 2 can fall behind things extremely easily. If it’s something you can click through, like a body, you need to mouse hunt in a painful manner to find them. If it’s a click-blocking prop, like if you accidentally drop something behind that container you’re searching, kiss that item goodbye forever.
- In many places throughout the game, doing things out of the developers’ intended sequence risks killing whole plot lines. For example, I optimized a power plant, and because I brought up the dialogue option too early I was no longer able to inform the nearby city it was ready to share its power. An end cinematic informing me that the city withered and died because of its lack of power just rubbed salt in the wound.
- There’s a general issue with the way Fallout 2 employs an isometric perspective in that visibility is blocked constantly. Your character might be able to see that enemy in the hall in front of them, but you can’t – you have to enter combat mode just to get an outline of them. At points, this makes it difficult to open doors that were not properly coded to stay visible as you approach it from the other side. (A small circle around your character always makes the terrain in front vanish, and this eliminates the door you’re trying to interact with.)
- The friendly characters that join you have serious holes in their AI. For example, they’re unable to properly assess when attacking will harm you more than the enemy, even with “make absolutely certain I’m not in the way” selected in the combat options. Other times, the friendly characters will just stand there, ignoring the monster trying to eat you not 10 feet away. They may have charming dialogue, but they’re often more of a hindrance than a help in combat, with a feeling of genuine pleasant surprise erupting whenever they do something right.
These glitches turned a 2 hour run through the final maps in the game into a 6 hour fiasco – it didn’t help that a save game representing 2-3 hours of play became corrupt during the final boss fight.
Still, the game has style, fun, and a killer backdrop, and that’s probably why I was able to dedicate this last week to finish the game even after several abortive attempts at character creation. As the end credits rolled, I found myself unabashedly choked up about the excellent cinematic conclusion that (as in Fallout 1) touches on your characters’ impact to the various parts of the game world.
I’m definitely looking forward to Fallout 3’s release, not only because it can harness this moving feeling, but also because it’s using a completely different (and well tested via the Elder Scrolls series) engine and a different approach: in a very real way, the flaws of a game 10-years old yet still stellar game make the game coming out in two days seem all that much more promising.
A successful Fallout 2 character
After 5 or 6 restarts in Fallout 2, I finally settled on a brilliant character coping with strangely advantageous bad luck by fighting without adequate weapons, going where society should not permit, and stealing everything under their noses. That’s right, he’s a one-man Republican party.
Unarmed combat is actually highly effective in Fallout 2, arguably even better than melee weapons due to massive critical hit modifiers, all the way up until the end game where (I learned the hard way from my previous character 10 years ago) enemies sporting energy weapons never give you the chance to that close. A winning plan is to tag the energy weapon skill at level 12 and max that out.
As for my other two tag skills, picking locks and possessing sticky fingers is the quickest way to amass a considerable fortune in Fallout 2. Early into the game, I found passing travelers to be excellent beneficiaries. This is especially effective when your character has the incredible power they possess in many other games: the ability to quickly save the game and reload whenever something goes wrong. It has me thinking that performing virtual 1-100 rolls against these interactions is yet another flaw in the game – if I could do a mod, it would be a ‘take 50’ against any use of the skilldex.
(A random YouTube video highlighting the ridiculous power of unarmed combat in Fallout 2, if only you can reach the enemies first.)
That said, after revisiting Fallout 2 for 4 or 5 days solid, I’m getting sick of it. Fallout 2 seems to sort of drag on a bit longer than the gameplay seems to support (especially if you’ve restarted several times before settling on a character). It’s yet another flaw on the laundry list of issues I’ve collected while playing Fallout 2, such as why would I ever take adrenaline rush when I could get a permanent strength point gain instead?
Lessons From Post-Apocolyptic Monotony
However, the influence of Fallout 2 did change the direction I’m thinking of taking my BYOND project because I realized a few good things while I was playing it.
First, another revelation about “the grind.”
Before, I defined the grind as the sensation of mental discord that comes about from playing a game you’re bored of because you’re forced to level up longer than the game mechanic entertainment value supports. I was thinking that a good solution was simply to allow the players to level up instantly as soon as they demonstrate sufficient aptitude at having conquering their current skill set. “You can kill 10 kobolds? Great, you’re ready for 10 orcs.”
Yet, have you ever noticed that sometimes a lower-level portion of the game is much more satisfying because it’s that much more challenging, then you level up and your powerful character no longer has that feeling of challenge anymore? The intent is to make the player believe they’re getting more powerful and feeling a sense of progress, but the trouble is that the flow of the game – possibly that which is responsible for the majority of the enjoyment games generate – is essentially in reverse in this scenario: it needs to challenge the player more as they get better at playing the game, not less!
Now, thanks to observing Fallout 2’s SPECIAL in action, I’m thinking that you can have a long grind so long as you can maintain one thing: flow theory.
The game needs to continually assess the player character’s capabilities and continually challenge the player. If they’re having a really easy time overcoming the challenges arrayed against them, things should be kicked up a notch. No matter how low level or high level a player character becomes, the actual challenge needs to be continually adjusted to this “sweet spot,” and most RPGs are not balanced with this in mind.
The second major Fallout 2 revelation I had was in the value of an open-ended, explorable world with pre-established points of interest. Fallout 2’s greatest asset is the whole post-apocolyptic feel they’ve established throughout the game, and I need to be a good world builder to carry that kind of feeling.
Finally, I’m thinking that perhaps my concept of having one universal tool to manage all interactions in the game is not quite as interesting as I thought. I could do a lot more with a number of separate tools, such as define rigid statistics which can liven up and bring character to the players’ inventories.
Suddenly, the idea of abandoning all these fancy statistics, items, and static world elements – something I was doing to think outside the box of typical MMORPG mechanics – makes no sense. You can keep these elements of a CRPG, so long as they can master the underlying aspects of flow and story telling. Here, perhaps, is the main dividing line between a good RPG mechanic and a bad one.
It’s hard to say where my whims will take me this weekend – back to Fallout 2, into some more BYOND work, or something else – but regardless I’m anxiously awaiting Fallout 3, which should be here shortly after the weekend’s conclusion.
I’ve decided to put my Elder Scrolls VI: Oblivion plugin work on hold for a bit. Frankly, just about every kind of plugin has already been made for ESVI already, and all I’m doing is custom-tailoring the game towards my unique tastes.
The trouble with that approach for me is that I’m already so very burned out from Elder Scrolls VI: Oblivion, I’m not sure anything I could do within the confines the developers have established would make the game enjoyable for me. It’s mostly a trouble with the story: Seen Martin go from monk to rock once, you’ve seen it as many times as you need to.
Instead, I decided to boot up Fallout 2 via Gametap’s recent offering of it. Fallout 2 has ever been a game near and dear to my heart, and so it is with some chagrin that I come under the realization that it has been ten whole years since it was released.
My, how far we’ve come in ten years.
My WO:AR account has expired, citing a declined credit card. I guess we’re not getting that free week in the states. I’ve decided to take advantage of this. You see, Fallout 3 is only a little over a week away, and I’ll probably be playing that game for a week – or more. I can’t see the point in resubscribing to Warhammer Online since I’ll lose a week – or more – of that subscription time playing Fallout 3.
In the meanwhile, I’m continuing my game development work.
Although my Dwarven Engineer proved a more entertaining diversion in retail than in beta (perhaps due to a better understanding of why all those AOE attacks are so unusual) I’m clearly burnt from Warhammer Online again. However, before returning to my BYOND world, and in commemoration of the upcoming Fallout 3 release, Ive decided to take one last run at an Elder Scrolls IV: Oblvion plugin.
One More Run At Oblivion
While I created a fairly ambitious balance plugin in the past, my actual goal this time around is a bit simpler: I want to make the combat a lot quicker and better balanced. Although Bethesda certainly got away with it, Oblivion had a number of unfortunate artifacts in their game design balance which shows that the product was rushed to the door. The Unofficial Oblivion Patch claims to have found 1,800 bugs (though I wonder how many of those bugs are just differing opinions).
My concern is just with the general combat balance. The end game in Oblivion is pretty pathetic, involving hitting monsters dozens of times before they succumb. I’ve played some of the best player-produced mods out there, and none of them have really fixed this fundamental problem. What I’m going for is not a minor re-balancing (as in Obscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul) nor a clumsy quick fix (too many plugins to list), but rather a complete re-understanding of the Oblivion RPG mechanism and seeing what I can do about it with the variables they allow me to change via the TES Construction Set.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Damage Calculation
This begins with simply understanding how damage is calculated, and that’s an incredible task in itself. The damage calculation in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is, in a word, monstrous. In a more fair word, overambitious.
Where a typical good RPG attempts to make the player character’s damage something easy for them to understand and control, Elder Scrolls IV horribly mangles the damage curve with a cumbersome formula that tries to merge considerations of your attribute (e.g. Strength) your skill level (e.g. Blade) your weapon’s current condition, and even how fatigued your character is.
The base weapon formula apparently looks like this:
Damage = WeaponDamage * ((Fatigue/MaxFatigue + fFatigueBase) * fFatigueMult) * SneakMultiplier * PowerAttackMultiplier * OpponentArmorRating * OpponentWeaponResistance
WeaponDamage = BaseWeaponDamage * fDamageWeaponMult *
( fDamageStrengthBase + Attribute/100 * fDamageStrengthMult ) *
( fDamageSkillBase + ModifiedSkill/100 * fDamageSkillMult ) *
( fDamageWeaponConditionBase + WeaponHealth/BaseWeaponHealth * fDamageWeaponConditionMult )
BaseWeaponDamage comes from the weapon itself, although in the case of bows it’s the arrow added to the bow. WeaponDamage should be visible on the actual stat screen within the game under a little dagger icon.
You can check the rest of the OESP article for how SneakMultiplier, PowerAttackMultiplier, OpponentArmorRating, and OpponentWeaponResisence factors into that. I had to modify it a bit to get a bit closer to the truth because somebody took it upon themselves to substitute base values where configurable global variables (such as fFatigueBase) would go.
Hand-to-hand (unarmed fighting) damage is a little easier to handle because there is no BaseWeaponDamage or condition concerns. Unlike the butchered OESP article, the official formula is faithfully preserved on the official Elder Scrolls Construction Set wiki.
Hand-to-hand Health Damage = fHandHealthMin + (fHandHealthMax – fHandHealthMin) *
(Strength / 100 × fHandDamageStrengthMult + fHandDamageStrengthBase) *
(HandToHand / 100 × fHandDamageSkillMult + fHandDamageSkillBase)
Hand-to-hand Fatigue Damage = fHandFatigueDamageBase + fHandFatigueDamageMult * Hand-to-hand Health Damage
Interpreting That Mess
To help interpret all this mess, I’ve made a spreadsheet document. What I learned is that these are all set up to modify a basic value in such a way that it is equal to (or close to equal to) its basic damage value if the values are set exactly in the middle. For example, an Iron Dagger (10) comes out as only a little over 10 given half fatigue, half maximum attributes, half maximum skill, and half weapon condition. The actual amount of influence of each aspects could be summarized thus:
At zero fatigue, weapons do *2 damage. At half fatigue, weapons do *3 damage. At full fatigue, weapons do *4 damage. You’re essentially doing half damage at zero fatigue and double damage at full fatigue.
At 10 attribute, weapons do *0.8 damage. At 50 attribute, weapons do *1 damage. At full attribute, weapons do *1.25 damage. You’re essentially doing 25% less damage at zero related attribute and 25% more damage at maximum related attribute.
At 10 skill, weapons do *0.35 damage. At 50 skill, weapons do *0.95 damage. At full skill, weapons do *1.7 damage. From the baseline, you’re essentially doing about 70% less damage at zero related weapon skill, about 70% more damage at maximum related weapon skill.
At 10% weapon condition, weapons do *0.55 damage. At half weapon condition, weapons do *.75 damage. At fully repaired condition, weapons do *1 damage. At 125% repaired condition (possible with expert armorer level) weapons do *1.13 damage. You’re essentially doing 13% more damage on a expertly repaired weapon, or down to just over 50% damage just before the weapon breaks and becomes unusable.
So that’s the balance as it stands by default. We can draw a few things from these numbers in terms of how massive of an influence each aspect the attack is. There are a few other aspects to consider such as power attacks (which is 250% by default except of the central power attack which triples it) and backstabbing (which is not compatible with power attacks and essentially doubles, triples, or quadruples it based off of your sneak rating). However, the base damage is the key to remember.
We’re not done if we’re actually trying to harm things, as coming into contact with a foe has to resolve their armor and other protections before getting at those juicy hitpoints. Fortunately, the way damage actually influences the target is much simpler. Each armor piece worn adds a direct percentage of damage taken away from the blow, with total armor worn determining your overall percentage of damage mitigated (no more than 85% by restriction of the default fMaxArmorRating setting). There’s a random roll done each time you’re hit to see which part of your armor is damaged.
Defense is simpler than resolving attacks because fatigue doesn’t get involved, although armor condition still does in a matter pretty identical to weapon degradation. Blocking also takes away a fraction of your damage depending on certain global variable setings and if you’re blocking unarmed, blocking using a weapon (all weapons are the same here), with blocking using a shield granting a sizable bonus. Anything that’s left over is taken out of your hitpoints, and reach zero hitpoints to die/kill things.
So, knowing where we are now, where do we go from here? That’s the decision of the meddling game designer.
Making Changes Starts With Choosing a direction
As I said, the RPG mechanic in Elder Scrols IV: Oblivion is absolutely monstrous overambitious in that it obscures too much from the player to intelligently play it. Judging by how monotonous the later game combat is, I suspect it was too tough for the developers to tackle either: There’s no way of knowing if a level 20 player is doing 124.31 damage (Daedric Claymore under the best possible conditions) or 10 damage (a terrible-condition Daedric Claymore wielded by an out-of-breath minimal related skill/attribute diplomat character). Consequently, all the happy scaling in the game breaks down and dies.
It’s just too hard to balance a game around heavy influences from fatigue, attribute, skill, and weapon condition and expect the player to keep up. If I’m going to work with this at all, I’m going to have to mitigate some of those extraneous variables.
Fortunately, elimination or severe mitigation of those extraneous variables is possible thanks to having control over each variable via the Elder Scrolls Construction Set Gameplay>Settings list. I can set fFatigueMult to near or at zero and simply have fFatigueBase take over, and the same goes for fDamageStrengthMult and fDamageStrengthBase as well as the fDamageConditionMult and fDamageConditionBase. The resulting formula looks something like this:
WeaponDamage = BaseWeaponDamage * 1 * ( 1 ) * ( 1 ) * ( 1 ) = BaseWeaponDamage.
A very simple formula that says your damage is entirely dependant on your weapon no matter what condition it is or how strong you are, ect. Maybe I don’t want to go that far, and just really reduce the influence of extraneous aspects. That’s a decision to make when I choose a direction.
it’s important that I choose a direction. I need to have a goal. My main goals remain as I said in the start: “I want to make the combat a lot quicker and better balanced.” Quicker means I want combat to be resolved faster. Better balanced means I want to make player interaction more meaningful. I’m left with the following actions:
- Speed – Because I want combat to resolve a lot quicker, I need to cut down on the amount of hitpoints possessed by mobs and players a great deal, and create a lot less desparity between the most powerful and least powerful attacks so the balance seems more reasonable. I’ll think in terms of “how many attacks maximum and how many attacks minimum is acceptable” and throw in aspects such as “how will influence affect this, and how about spells” and arrive at a decision.
- Interaction – In Elder Scrolls VI, you do have some choices you can make. Sneak attacks, Marskman attacks, spells, blocking, and directional melee attacks. By balancing around these heavier, I make the players use of these interactive aspects more important than simply hacking away.
Another thing I’d like to do is make Hand-To-Hand combat actually worth doing. By default, it’s an art that is both greatly inferior to weapon damage and does not have the capacity to block as well. The ability to do fatigue damage is mitigated by a hard coded restriction in how much negative fatigue a mob can rack up, making knocking them unconscious for extended periods impossible. I’ll likely take Hand-To-Hand in one extreme or the other (defense or offense).
It would be nice if I could create a point to there being an “Axe” versus “Blade” skill. Right now, it’s a very crude and poorly implemented choice. I don’t think it will be possible for me to fix this due to hard-coded restrictions. It would have been wiser of Bethesda developers to make it a “one-handed weapon” or “two-handed weapon” skills. I could potentially modify the game to work this way. (At least Marksman makes sense.)
I think much of this is going to start by tweaking fatigue, strength, and skill (the PC attribute) to have a much lesser effect on the overall damage inflicted on the foe. I’ll start tweaking and let you know how it turns out…
Edit: There, Version 0.1 Released
Have fun with that, you crazy Oblivion lovers. If I get any notice at all, I might go about creating some additional plugins to deal with the necessary NPC hitpoint adjustments to core Oblivion and Shivering Isles.
What I really want out of my MMORPG class
It seems what I personally want out of a class in Warhammer Online — and I’m noticing this trend in all MMORPGs — is a character that excels at helping other players while doing enough damage to accelerate the advancement rate when soloing. Is that so unreasonable?
“Helping other players” usually means being able to protect them in some way. After all, if players need any kind of help in a MMORPG, it’s usually in protecting them from themselves. The average pickup group spaz – for whom I’ve a certain devotion towards under the rationale that the common man reserves at least a basic level of respect to flourish – needs as much of this kind of help as they can get.
“Accelerated advancement when soloing” requires both a certain level of self-defense capacity and a certain level of offensive capacity. Without the later, it takes forever to kill things. Without the former, I’m sitting on my around waiting to heal. (Fortunately, WO:AR’s balance is such that you never need to keep a book around to deal with downtime.)
It’s tricky. To an extent, a good offense can be a good defense, and so why would you need healers or tanks? That’s a question the developers answer by making sure the offense is not great enough to replace healers or tanks. In trying to find a fast-damaging class that also protects, I’m left trying to satisfy a desire that is forbidden by niche-focused design.
I started up a Warrior Priest to see about merging my love of a tank’s durability with the influentialness of a healer. It didn’t work. If I can’t guard, I’m no tank. Healers are great for a scratch, but they can’t blunt an offense nearly as well. Besides, the Warrior Priests’ offense (at level 5ish) seems as bad or even worse than my Archmage experience.
In my previous Warhammer Online experiences, the Archmage is an excellent healer but his mediocre damage output at level 22 left me doubting. Maybe I should try re-specializing him down the Path of Asuyran (the offensive Archmage specialty). The Shadow Warrior’s damage is outstanding, but killing enemies is not a guaranteed way to protect your allies. Thanks to that whole niche-specialty by design thing, my Shadow Warrior can barely protect himself, let alone others. The Swordmaster is pretty damn close to my goal, maybe I should just shut up and play him?
I’m contemplating one more alt before giving up and settling Swordmaster: the Dwarven Engineer. On paper, they’re essentially a different flavor of ranged DPS, but with the distinction of dropping their positional attacks (backstabs) for a wide range of area-guarding mechanics, including his stationary pet. If I specialize down the Tinkering path, I can even drop a moderately potent PBAOE healing effect. OMG, healz! It seems to be the all-round choice I always wanted, right?
However, I learnt something from playing a City of Heroes */Devices Blaster and /Traps Mastermind. If you have a bunch of stationary traps and whatnot, you’re trying to move in reverse and pull the enemy to you. However, your average MMORPG spaz wants to move forward. The only hope for my Dwarven Engineer is if forward locomotion is not as common in gritty Warhammer Online as it is in the super-powered City of Heroes.
I’m not sure I still have the motivation left to start another alt, such is the amount of burnout my rampant alt-a-holicism has generated. Even as I write this, BYOND Dream Maker is open in the background: my new default “bored of the games I have” activity.
Fallout 3: Oblivion
With a October 28th release, Fallout 3 is less than 2 weeks away now. Seems a waste of 1/1040th of my estimated remaining lifespan to worry about the game being only 2 weeks away, but that I would actually perform that calculation shows just how much anticipation I have towards the game.
I knew Fallout 3 wasn’t going to be a literal sequel to Fallout 2 because I knew that it was based on the same engine Bethesda is using for the Elder Scrolls series. However, after seeing the “trench warfare in DC” trailer I was surprised how brutally true it was. It was downright depressingly stupid – like Gears of War without the innovative cover system.
Fortunately, I found better trailers, such as the above PAX 2008 installment. The PAX videos show a number of features that Fallout fans will enjoy: the “VATS” targeting, planting live grenades in peoples’ pockets, and familiar tunes on radios.
Still, what we’re talking about here is more of an Oblivion sequel than a Fallout sequel. Fine, I’ll take that and enjoy it. It’s not like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion sucked, exactly — it’s more like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion got boring after I completed the main story because suddenly the whole flow of the thing stopped. Fallout 3 offers a whole new story, so that’s cool. It aught to hold me a couple hundred hours of gameplay, and if that isn’t worth $50 then what is?
Blue Bomber Blues
As the reviews are making clear, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is indeed an imperfect game. It’s a pity considering this comes as a blow to the reputation of Bioware, to whom Mass Effect proved a massive feather in their cap. (I’d probably shell out for the PC version if I had the scratch right now.)
However, as an appreciator of games in general, I’m quick to interject that Sonic Chronicles is not an absolutely awful game. The art direction (aside from the sound) is good, and the combat is as novel as it is monotonous. Some interesting features include a mini-game involving chasing foes who flee from you in combat, the Tamagotchi-like Chao-bonding, and combat stylus exercises. In the end, what we have is a relatively tolerable JRPG-style game, if certainly rough around the edges.
My lead gripe for the game remains that the maps are so hard to navigate. The very second map you encounter in the game is a city that involves running around in the opposite direction to find the way up to where you want to go. I can appreciate challenging the player, but most RPG players are just going to be annoyed when simply trying to move to where you want to be is one of those challenges.
It helps one overlook these faults if you’ve watched the entire Sonic X series, a setting of which Sonic Chronicles borrows heavily. Admittedly, I’m 32 years old and couldn’t put the series down until I finished it. All I can say in defense of my sanity is that it’s really hard to look away from the absolutely ridiculous things Sonic and friends do. These video game characters clash so much against a modern backdrop that it’s a spectacle.
More than that, it’s the Superman appeal: sure the dude wears a blue outfit with red underwear on the outside, but when he can punch through the hull of intergalactic spaceships you generate a certain sense of appreciation towards the character. Sonic is neither bird nor plane but rather one freaky (reinforced metal hull perforating) hedgehog, and he’s got equally freaky friends. So it’s actually kind of interesting that Sonic Chronicles puts you in control of these improbable marsupial marvels. I’d humor a continuation of the Sonic Chronicles series (hopefully with the major gameplay issues addressed) for this reason alone.