on Jan 14, 2013
Sweet mother of Mutants, I forgot how unabashedly horrible the Three Dog dialog is. There’s this awful mix where the game is putting motivations and characterizations into your own dialog, the NPC makes all kinds of assumptions that you can’t challenge, and the NPC talks a great deal without saying much. The player’s attempts to direct the conversation are a futile struggle against the iron will of the author.
The Tasteful Understated Nerdrage guy did a video on the Elder Scrolls series and Bethesda Software, and he talked about how Bethesda is good at worldbuilding. (Alas that the guy stopped making stuff. He was doing really good work.) Giving Fallout to Bethesda is like giving DOOM to Peter Molyneux. It requires almost the inverse of the given skillset, preventing them from doing the things they’re good at and demanding a lot of they types of things they’re bad at.
This project didn’t require much in the way of worldbuilding. The Fallout world was already built. They just needed to match the tone of the original games, which were pitch-black comedy. Something like Brazil, Six-String Samurai, or Dr. Strangelove. A lot of the feel of the game came not from the “50’s vibe” but from the way the game subverted the “Happy Days vibe” by mixing it with a Mad Max world of savage desolation. Bethesda doesn’t do subversion, they do scope. They make big, detailed worlds and stories that span centuries. Bethesda took the 50’s vibe and just turned it into an design aesthetic, played straight.
When Bethesda makes a new Elder Scrolls game, they roll the calendar forward a couple of centuries to find an open spot in the lore where they’ll have room to work. They tried that here and the setting fell apart. Yes, their skill at environmental storytelling served the game well and they crafted many interesting spaces, but none of it felt like Fallout.
Looking back, it’s obvious to me that Bethesda is just wrong for this material. On the other hand, this sort of thing happens all the time in movies. The people at the top almost never understand the business with enough granularity to understand how to match designers up with material that’s suited for them. Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a talented filmmaker. Joss Whedon is a talented writer. Alien is a franchise with two or three strong films behind it, depending on who you ask. And yet when you combined these three things we wound up with Alien Resurrection, which was a bad Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie, a bad Joss Whedon movie, and a bad Alien movie. It might have been a decent popcorn-munching movie otherwise (depending on personal taste) but it didn’t deliver on the promise of what went into it.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.