Settling Fallout

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.

I realize Ive been a bit overly lax on the entertaining pictures as of late.

I realize I've been a bit overly lax on the entertaining pictures as of late. Let the "pyromaniac" perk picture entertain you.

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.

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