on Dec 16, 2008
|The town of Megaton, which is built inside of a steep crater. An undetonated Fat Man sits at the very bottom, and nobody knows what to do with it.|
As you enter the town of Megaton – a town built around an undetonated atomic bomb – you’re approached by two NPCs. The first is the mayor, who will pay you to disarm the bomb. The second is a shady character named Burke, who will pay you to set off the bomb and destroy the entire town. If you do as the mayor asks, you’ll be given a house in town. If you do as Burke asks…
|So… he wants me to blow up a city of people because it’s not scenic enough?|
The man who wants you to destroy the town is Alistair Tenpenny, a wealthy old man who wants the town gone because it’s a “blight on the landscape”. His instructions are very explicit. He wants the town gone, and you’re not to warn the residents, because he wants them all to die as well.
Megaton is one of the largest most successful towns on the map. It represents a major concentration of human survivors. Alistair doesn’t want to take it over, or steal from it, or rule it, or enslave it. He wants to get rid of it because it’s ugly. Remember that this is a post apocalyptic wasteland we’re talking about. Everything is ugly.
|This is a “burgeoning urban landscape”? Apparently Alistair’s biggest concern in this ruined world is a shabby city he can’t even see from his penthouse balcony. Stipulated: The visuals in this game are amazing.|
I can see where this mission came from. A designer thought that blowing up a whole city would be a great thing to allow the player to do. I agree. It gives them tremendous power over the gameworld. Take a whole town off the map. Note that this isn’t just a generic town, made to be destroyed. It’s full of named NPC’s, detailed buildings, one of several on-ramps for the main quest, and a smattering of sidequests. I can’t think of another game that allows a player to obliterate this much of the gameworld in a single act. (When I say “gameworld”, I’m not just talking about scenery. I’m talking about the content that exists in Megaton. They have given us a huge playground, and have given us the freedom to do whatever we like, including destroying the place.)
It’s an awesome concept for a mission, but the dialog is perfunctory and the premise is laughable. Tenpenny has no real motivation for doing this. The reasons given are nonsense.
|Worst urban renewal EVER.|
Given the ostensibly extreme scarcity of basic resources (not that anyone ever mentions having trouble finding food) then it would be crucial for people to pool their productivity and resources via trade. In which case nuking your closest neighbor would impoverish you. That’s one less place producing… well, nobody ever produces anything, but if they did, then nuking them would stop that from happening, and there would be that much less stuff to trade for. There would still be the same number of raiders, but now raiders that depended on raiding the resources Megaton never produced in the first place will have to find a new town to raid for nonexistent supplies. And Tenpenny Towers is by far the next closest and richest target. This was the wost thing Alistair Tenpenny could have done to himself, short of nuking his own town. (I’ll cover the messed-up economy in a later post. It would be fine to simply glaze over this sort of thing, but the quests constantly go out of their way to draw our attention to it.)
Like I said, I know this is sour grapes on my part. I love writing. I would be overjoyed if someday someone let me take a crack at writing a mission like this. Maybe most people don’t care about this sort of thing, but it irritates me to madness to see such an opportunity squandered. If someone came to me with this premise: “There is a guy who wants to nuke a town. Write it.” I would be giddy with excitement. Imagine the directions you could go with a character like that. What possible motives he might have, what goals. What sort of machinations might he be engaged in. Imagine how he might try to sell those goals to the player. Villains – particularly smart, articulate villains with a concrete agenda and limited resources – are some of the most compelling characters you could ever hope to write. The chance to let a player talk to a guy like this and have them try to have them sell the player on joining their cause is something great.
But instead we have this same villain we’ve met a thousand times before. Mr. clueless cardboard asshole, who aspires to nothing more than being a destructive jerk. This plan doesn’t even make sense. The entire landscape is a ruined wasteland, and he wants to get rid of megaton – a speck on his horizon – because it’s “ugly”. Is a smoking irradiated crater really going to look that much better? Can you even tell the difference from atop Tenpenny Towers? (Answer: No.)
The crime here isn’t that the quest is bad, it’s that it’s lazy and squanders so much potential. The conversation with Tenpenny could be this great reward, a chance to define a character and tell a story. Instead it’s just another stupid task to perform in exchange for money and experience points.
One final note: Watching the nuke go off is amazing. The screenshot I have above doesn’t begin to do it justice. Do not miss this sequence. Even if you’re playing as a good character, set off the nuke and restore the game. The dialog may be insultingly shallow, but it’s worth doing just for the light show.
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.