Fallout 3: An Outsider's Inside View

Bethesda SoftBack in early June I was fortunate enough to attend the Fallout 3 Press Event at Bethesda Soft, where we got to see about an hour’s worth of game play and ask a whole lot of questions with Todd Howard, Emil Pagliarulo, and Pete Hines. Right off I would like to extend a huge thank you to Pete for inviting me to the event and giving me a chance to experience the whole thing.

The advantage of this situation is that we are not a huge game review site, we are not a monthly magazine, we don’t have a bottom line to meet and we certainly don’t have to say what the publishers and editors tell us to say. (That’s partly because I am one of the editors) This means that I can relate directly to you everything that was shown about Fallout 3, good and bad, and let you all decide based on that direct information.

The event started off, after Adam Sessler stumbled in (intentionally?), with Todd Howard explaining the history behind how Bethsoft decided to get the Fallout license and why they decided to do it. Believe me, hearing him talk about it you can seriously tell that the man has a passion for the franchise. Howard repeatedly stressed that the primary influence for their creative efforts on the game is the original Fallout game, not so much the sequel, and certainly not Brotherhood of Steel or Tactics. He stressed that there was a particular line between the specific brand of humor needed here and campy, breaking the barrier moments, and they’re attempting to stay on the good side of that line. Todd mused, “Violence done well is f@$king hilarious.”

The Jefferson Memorial Ruins Concept ArtAfter a quick pan through of lots of conceptual art and screens from the original game, Howard finally got behind the controls of an X-Box 360 and fired the game itself up for us to bear witness. Immediately he began to explain the most obvious design choices as to why the game is not in an isometric view but is primarily first person. The reasoning is quite simple; they want to make the game feel like it is real. The best part of this, while he seemed to be saying that the game plays in first person, is shortly afterwards he zoomed out to an over-the-shoulder view that really blew us all away.

If you played Oblivion, and odds are you did for at least a few minutes, you no doubt know that the game’s third person view was less then satisfying. Very surprisingly, they informed us that apparently players in America play Oblivion in first person view, while European players are all playing from the third-person perspective. This affirmed the need to really ramp up the character modeling, movements, and textures for Fallout 3. In a nutshell, they succeeded brilliantly.

Everything that is visual about this game looks stunning in motion, so much so to the point that it looked natural to be playing the game from over-the-shoulder, and at one point Todd zoomed all the way out and up to an isometric view while running and it still looked beautiful. For all of you purists out there, I’m not sure if you can play the entire game from that view. We didn’t get to see how it would act when indoors or in more confined spaces, but outdoors it worked like a dream. Forget calling this game ‘Oblivion with guns’, that’s like saying that Half Life 2 is just ‘Doom with a story’.

A huge number of upgrades can be seen to the game engine, not to mention the fact that everything you see looks so different simply because there is no green ANYWHERE. Facial modeling and animation has all improved greatly, and you can still tell it’s the same engine, but many of the annoying things have been tweaked and fixed. Characters in the game world display much more unique personalities, not just through how they move but in what they say. In just two minutes of playing Oblivion you can tell the character voices are similar and repeated, but over about 10-15 minutes of Todd running around in towns characters moved to different locations, acted differently in those locations, and really inhabited the world they were in.

V.A.T.S. in actionThe combat has been a hot bed of questioning lately, and from what we saw it is a complicated thing to convey properly. The game is in real time, not turn based, and enemies will move and act in real time when you fight them. The key is when you activate the VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) button that it becomes interesting: the game pauses entirely as your view zooms into an enemy and you see the parts of their body highlighted with different percentages. While the game is paused the player assigns actions to be taken using their given number of Action Points. i.e. – shoot them in the head 3 times) Once this has been done, the system is deactivated and the assigned actions play out in a matter of seconds in what is really a seamless mini-cinematic. And if the player has succeeded the mutant’s head explodes in glorious 3D with guts and eyeballs flying all over the place. It is vague at this point about how fast action points refresh and therefore how often this can be done, but in the demo Todd was using this system repeatedly in each combat over and over again. It seems that when used in the game, it really borders on becoming a turn-based game where things simply happen in real time between player turns which really just means the turns are more fluid. We will have to wait and see exactly how this turns out.

That pretty much covers my reactions to what we were shown; there was quite a bit of the game there to be seen and a couple things snuck out that Todd seemed to want to keep secret for a while longer. If you check out our recap of the Q & A session you will spot of a few of them that we attempted to pull from them (like a fox wrestling its leg from a steel trap that just won’t budge.) I also loved getting the shwag that everyone has seen by now (Nuka Cola, Bobblehead, Lunchbox, and a spiffy Fallout 3 metal-bound notebook) but I am really regretting the decision to pass on the dinner party aftewards, especially considering they got Duff from Ace of Cakes (and Charm City Cakes) to make this sweet cake!!!

Bloody Mess Cake!


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