The Fallout Series

It’s Easter, you nerds! You know what that means. No more work! Jkjk, there’s plenty of work to be done in the coming week, I just wish we didn’t.

For this week I’ll be talking about a game that I was recently reminded of: Fallout 4, and Fallout: New Vegas. I regard both of these two games to be great at what they do: let the player take part in a post-apocalyptic world where the rules and laws of society are thrown out the window and so is your own sense of personal safety.

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Out of the two games I played Fallout: New Vegas first, to be more precise, I played Fallout: New Vegas when I was supposed to be studying for my ‘exphil’ exam the first semester of my time here at the University of Bergen. But alas, I was playing video games instead. (I passed the exam(s) just fine, don’t worry) Fallout: New Vegas was a dozy though, it was pretty old by anyone’s standard around the time I started playing it, but at the time it was released in 2010 it was considered a great release by the players.

The game starts with the players in the shoes of the playable character named ‘the courier’. The story only tells you the bare minimum of what you need to know to begin playing. You’re a courier and your package was intercepted and stolen by Benny (voiced by Matthew Perry!) who promptly tells you “it’s just business” before he shoots you in the head and leaves you in your already dug out grave in the Mojave Desert of ‘New Vegas’. What happens next is that you’re recovering from your head wound in a run-down medical center, with amnesia. From that point on, more or less, you’re able to decide for yourself what to do in this unfamiliar place.

The game itself starts and runs somewhat similar to the game I discusses in my previous blog, Dark Souls. The character’s past isn’t crucial to the plot going forward, what matters is what choices you make throughout the game following you picking up the remote controller.

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Fallout 4, however, is filled with references and plot twists depending on your past—a stark contradiction to its predecessor. Fallout 4 starts with your creating your character, witnessing a nuclear attack in American soil, entering the bomb shelter successfully, and you entering into your ‘cryo sleep’. Several plot twists and plot lines are revealed later in the story to have a deep impact because of the past. Fallout: New Vegas shows us how to make a traditional role-playing game where the character is you and you make the decisions—while Fallout 4 is more of a game that follows a strict storyline, with the occasional moment where you can make a slight impact on the overall story.

Despite this ‘huge’ difference in the two games of the same series, the game mechanicals and playstyle is very similar. With the addition of Fallout 3, all of these three games follow a somewhat cookie-cutter format of how the game is played. They’re all played in a third-person perspective, the game focuses on exploring the world around you to uncover the land and lore, siding with different factions tied together by war and differing ideologies, and the confrontation with several philosophical and ethical questions—which is a staple of the series by now.

With Easter just starting, perhaps it is the perfect time to do another dissection of these very different, yet very alike games. Happy Easter everyone. 🙂

 

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Dark Souls and it’s lore design

After hearing Elias’ presentation on Dark Souls, there are two parts that I consider crucial to the overall identity of the game that I want to touch upon. The post-apocalyptic scenario of the world—a key component of the core of the world of Dark Souls—and the ambiguity of the prophecy concerning the player. To do this however, I need to do a quick summary of the hidden plot of the Dark Souls, the plot that mostly takes place in the past. The character you play is in this weird position of being an inconsequential character to the world while at the same time he is the most important individual to the overarching plot of the game. Confused yet? Let’s go deeper.

There exists a prophecy in the world of Dark Souls that says that one day a ‘Hollow’ will “rekindle” the flame. (Hollows are humans who are slowly degenerating into a state of being Undead, essentially humans who are without hope or drive) This is the very same flame that Lord Gwyn chose to sacrifice himself to so many years ago in a desperate attempt to rekindle it as it was slowly fading away. The “flame”, essentially, represents life, humanity, and hope.

The character that you play in Dark Souls—an unnamed human—is supposed to represent the individual player that picks up the remote control. Making the character an unnamed human, with no ties to the past or future, make it the perfect avatar for the player. (Sort of how Link in the Legend of Zelda doesn’t have a voice, but instead is only given a different array of battle cries—this makes the character incredibly viable for any and all players to identify with.) Essentially, the character is you, me, anyone who has ever picked up the game, and anyone who will ever pick up the game in the future. Because that is the brilliance of the underlying plot of the game;  the light will keep fading regardless of how many people ultimately chose to sacrifice themselves for humanity. The “chosen one” really only refers to whoever eventually manages to make it through the entire journey of the game. Once that player is done and has successfully completed the game, the flame will start to fade again, an another will have to serve as the next sacrifice. The prophecy itself is self-fulfilling—which is a brilliant design on the game developers part.

Let’s talk about the post-apocalyptic state of the world of Dark Souls. This component to the game’s story is executed masterfully. There is no real narration in the game, anyone can play through the story without picking up on basically any of the lore of the world. As Elias said in his presentation of the game on Thursday, barely anyone understand the story on their first playthrough of the game. That’s because the story and lore is intentionally vague and shrouded. One of the ways of learning the history is to read the description of various items and objects found and uncovered throughout the world. These usually describe events and characterize the previous owners.

But the most interesting part of the game is the state of decay that it is already in by the time you arrive on the scene. The world is slowly dying around you, but just as evident as the corrosion of the world is to the player, so is the marvel of the former glory of the world. You’re able to travel through enormous castles, vast landscapes, and awe-inspiring dungeons. This world feels like it at one point in time was living and breathing. So, what then caused its demise? This intriguing conundrum is what drives the lore-enthusiasts on the Dark Souls community to seek more and more knowledge and pieces of information out of the game.

This design choice is part of what inspired me in my work this last semester in Mia’s class when I worked on developing ‘the Lord of Light’, my piece of interactive literature for that subject. My goal was to create a work in which the story of the world was unraveled piece by piece through documents and parchments written down by historians throughout history. Once the reader had gathered enough history I wanted to prompt the reader to make a executive decision on a crucial choice that would determine the fate of the characters involved in the piece. Sadly, my ambitions for the project outweighed my competence and time available. However, I do plan on continuing the ‘Lord of Light’ piece and I hope that I will be able to complete it in its intended design.

For anyone interested, here’s a link to the actual work:
https://writer.inklestudios.com/stories/jb86

 

The Long Dark

The shift from digital art to video games gives me the perfect opportunity to write about a game that I have become a huge fan of—and a video game category that I normally would not say that I am a fan of—the survial game, the Long Dark.

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The Long Dark was released into its beta stage the 22nd of September in 2014—I didn’t hear about it until at least 2016. The game is created by Hinterland Studios and is a ‘survival game’. I’ve poured about 300 hours into this game and loved every second of it. The premise is pretty straight forward; you’re the only surviving passenger from the emergency crash-landing of an airplane travelling across the wilderness of northern Canada. The game throws you into a highly hostile territory that would like nothing else than to see you perish. The game is highly focused on surviving, this is key as basically every mechanic of the game is either out to kill you or help you postpone that promise of eventual annihilation that waits around every corner.

Right of the bat you need to get your priorities straight and adept to your surroundings. First thing’s first; you’re injured from the plane crash, and as such you need to find some bandage, painkillers, and antiseptic to clean and dress your wounds. If you can’t find these things in your surrounding area you can always look for natural remedies provided from nature, such as ‘usnea’ aka ‘old man’s beard’, or ‘rose hip’, or ‘reishi mushroom’—these all function as medicine harvested from nature.

You’re clothes are torn and ragged from the plane crash making your susceptible to the cold and the cutting wind of the harsh and barren land. You’re afforded a few options here, scour the land for clothes left behind by others, tear up already destroyed clothes and repurpose the scraps of the cloth that this yields you, or create new articles of clothes from the pelt and fur or animals.

You’re both famished and parched—you need to find food and water to sate your hunger and appease your thirst. The issue of thirst might seem benign at first—you’re constantly surrounded by heavy snow—but there’s the issue of successfully lighting a fire to melt the snow to make it drinkable. You might also think that the material required to start a fire is readily available to you. They’re not. There’s the issue of finding small sticks to serve as your tinder, and either logs of wood or broken wooden furtiture to serve as the body for the fire. Additionally, you will either need the limited number of matches to light a fire—and those are usually hard to come by—or you can be exceedingly lucky and find a magnifying glass, but lo-and-behold, you need calm weather and clear sky for that one to work (and it only works in the outdoors).

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And then there’s the whole food poisoning part of the game. You might search far and wide to only find a single can of dog food stocked away in an abandoned cabin—only to realize once you open it that it’s past its expiration date. Way past it. But who can afford to be picky in the final days of armageddon? There are some other options available to you however. The game provides you with a few options for hunting the wildlife of Canada, there’s plenty of both rabbits, and deer to eat—both neither one is just going to keel over and present themselves to you, you need to hunt them on top of everything else going on. Rabbits can be lured into simplistic spring traps laid down by you once you’ve gone through the lengthy process of crafting them, or you can hunt them with either stones (used to stun them for long enough for you to grab ahold of them), bow and arrow, or rifle and bullets—the two latter options requiring either immense patience to search for and finally find, and the other one immense patience to craft from scratch. (Also, there’s somewhat of a learning curve to be able to handle the various devices at your disposal.)

I’ve talked about some of the wildlife present in the game, but did I forget to mention the carnivorous wildlife that’s out to get you? Both wolves and bears would love to dine on you if presented the chance. Wolves usually go in packs while the bears enjoy their solitude, the harder the difficulty you choose to play on the farther away both agents will detect your smell and start to chase you—you’ve got some ways of combating these predators however. I just mentioned both the bow and arrow, and the rifle and bullets a paragraph ago, but you can choose other ways of proceeding. The pacifist approach would be to just turn around and walk the other way should you either spot or suspect the presence of any animals. Tips to alert you would be either the howls of wolves, the remains of a fresh deer carcass (usually surrounded by crows circling overhead), the heavy breathing of bears, or fresh tracks in the snow made from either party. Sometimes you can successfully scare off either one, the wolves can be scared by the lighting of torches, flares, or rocks thrown by the player—while the bear will usually only run if it’s shot by the signal gun.

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Up until now I’ve mostly talked about the survival aspect of the Long Dark, but I would like to touch on a part of this game that I previously have never truly been able to appreciate in any other games before it—the soothing atmosphere. The Long Dark is filled with the ambient sounds that one would expect from today’s games, but there is something about the atmosphere and aura present in this game which strikes me as unique. Apart from the truly terrifying moments of panic when presented with the potential permanent death (which is the only death presented in the game) by either wolf, bear, disease, starvation, or hypothermia—the game offers numerous genuine moments of contemplation and reflection. Once you’re out of the immediate dangers of either one of the aforementioned perils you’re presented with the question of ‘what now?’ Do I look for new food sources, do I take some time out of my schedule to fortify my temporary home (or headquarter), do I put in the time and energy to craft additional tools, do I look for medicine in case of future mistakes or blunders, or do I leave the comfort of my home and head out to seek my fortune in a differ part of the land? With the worry of perma-death hanging over your head at all times, the time and energy that you put into your every action becomes that much more serious and consequential. Leaving your home could result in you being ambushed by a bear, while staying in one spot will eventually drain all of the resources in the immediate area—either chose comes with its potential rewards and consequences.

The game masterfully pulls out the survival instincts you didn’t necessarily know you had in you and makes you feel like you’re truly fighting to survive with every day that goes by. Every day you’re presented with the toll of being alive and what it means to provide enough resources for your body to function and develop.

The Long Dark, to me, is a game of self-realization—regardless of how cheesy that might sound. It successfully rekindled a long forgotten sense of survival instinct within me—and I can only hope that there are other people out there who experienced that same sensation that I did while playing the Long Dark.

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