Last time we talked about how the writers completely misinterpreted and subsequently bungled the themes and tone of the Fallout universe. Now let’s get into the brokenness of the Fallout 3 setting. Last time they just made things really hard for themselves, but this is where the plot of the game melted into radioactive nonsense.
Let’s start with my favorite question…
But what do they EAT?
I know this question is really irritating to some people. They see it as some kind of unreasonable demand for a super-realistic simulation. But the question of “What do they eat?” isn’t some dumb pedantic complaint, like a gun enthusiast demanding to know where everyone gets gun oil or a computer technician asking why the computers haven’t all failed due to magnetic degradationAlthough if the story was all about “we’re running out of bullets” or “all the computers are breaking” then maybe these questions would be reasonable..
The fact that human beings need food and that food takes work to accumulate is a completely universal truth that has shaped our entire history and culture. Human beings hate work, but we do it anyway because we need to eat. In a survivalist society, it shapes how we form families, where we build towns, what we do for a living, what resources we value, what animals we domesticate, how we dress, and countless other details about our outlook and day-to-day life.
If this was a story where the sides were fighting over some pre-war super-weapon, then we wouldn’t need to think too hard about where food comes from. But Fallout 3 makes the struggle for water central to the plot, and then completely fails to lay the groundwork for it.
I said previously that I wasn’t going to pick on the game for having small farms or scaling things down. But this world has no farms at all. Think about the major cities in the game: Megaton. Tenpenny Tower. Little Lamplight. Big Town. Paradise Falls. The Citadel. These places have not a single farm or means of acquiring food between them. The people do no work. This is supposedly some desperate post-war hellhole where people must fight to survive, but we never see that struggle. Most people don’t even have jobsAnd the jobs they DO have are consumption or service based: Traders, guards, bartenders, innkeepers. Nobody produces anything..
Wait, that’s not true. The slavers work. They go out, kidnap people, and then lock them in cages because there’s nothing for the slaves to doAside from sex and serving the food that shouldn’t exist.. Fallout 3 is so devoid of work that even slaves are idle.
|In Fallout 1, time was taken to establish where food comes from and how it gets around.|
I’m not asking for something exotic. Fallout 1 had farms, tucked on the edges of the maps so you could imagine they continued on, just outside of the playable gamespace. Fallout New Vegas had farms that you could walk through, and observe people farming. This is basic environment design 101: How does this world work?
The game takes place around Washington DC, but Bethesda thought that Fallout = desert, so they made a version of Washington DC where it never, ever rains. So people have survived for 200 years without a drop of rain and without growing so much as a single carrotRivet city seems to have an experimental hydroponics farm, so they have made some carrots now. Doesn’t explain what everyone ate before now. People aren’t even really that interested in the hydroponic farm. It’s like they’re not worried about food..
Yes, Fallout 3 allows you to scavenge food from 200 year old grocery stores. I’ll hand-wave food spoilage and just assume it’s part of the setting. If the writers say a box of deviled eggs can sit un-refrigerated for 200 years and still be nourishing, then fine. But again, that stuff should have run out over a century ago. And nobody seems keen on going out to gather it anyway.
There are cows and rats to eat, but there’s nothing for those creatures to eat. There’s no food chain. With no rain and no food, every single living creature in the capital wasteland dropped dead 199 years ago. There should be nothing left to save.
If Bethesda just wanted to make a big dumb shooter about shooting big dumb mutants with big dumb guns, they could have done that. But instead they made up this business with water, and it’s completely unsupported by what we’re shown. I didn’t freak out when I didn’t find any farms in Rage. It’s totally fair to say you’re not supposed to ask questions about how people in Serious Sam make a living. But Fallout 3 is presenting us with a problem: “The people of the Capital Wasteland need water!” You can’t think about this problem without the whole thing flying apart. We’re constantly interacting with a premise that doesn’t exist.
Nobody needs your stupid water.
People have managed to survive for an astounding 200 years without rain and without Dad’s nonsensical water purifier. They must be getting water from somewhere. What makes the problem urgent now? How would more water (or cleaner water) help these people? If you dropped a tanker truck of fresh clean water at the gates of Megaton, how would the people be better off? It wouldn’t help their harvest, since they grow no food. It wouldn’t help their health, since nobody seems to be sick. It wouldn’t save them from dangerous or arduous work.
Yes, the game has these ridiculous karma dispenser guys outside the major cities. They claim to be dying of thirst no matter how much water you give them. That doesn’t support the notion that “the wasteland needs water”, it just draws attention to the fact that most people don’t. Why doesn’t this beggar just walk ten steps into town? Those people seem to have both food and water without making any effortThey even have recreational drugs and medicine with no technology, and booze with no stills!.
Imagine a version of Skyrim where somebody keeps telling you that the world is being destroyed by dragons, but you never actually see a single dragon anywhere in your travels. Instead there’s just a lone singed peasant outside of town who tells you he needs a health potion because he was attacked by a dragon, and he always needs a health potion no matter how many you give him, and he’s the only guy in the world that seems to have a problem with dragons. That’s Fallout 3.
You can’t claim we’re not supposed to question this stuff. This is central to the premise, and everything you do is supposedly in the service of giving these people water. Don’t present a problem for me to solve and then demand I not think about it.
But the icing on the cake is that there’s a Mr. Handy robot in the game. He lives in your house. And he can make fresh, clean water for you, for no work at all. He doesn’t even need energy. He just needs time for his “condensers” to work. Which means he’s basically a dehumidifier. And the wasteland is full of these robots. If these people needed clean water, they could just gather up Mr. Handy parts and put them to work condensing them all the water they need.
Mr. Handy breaks the entire premise of the game. And they made him part of the player’s house.
Again, I’m not asking for something unreasonable. If your goal is “give the people water” then establishing that people want water is just basic, bare-bones, low-level motivation for the player. That’s the reason the story exists in the first place.
So the setting is broken. To be honest, this isn’t the end of the worldEr. You know what I mean.. You can have a good story on top of a broken setting. Dr. Who is riddled with contradictions and plot holes, but it manages to scrape by with character depth and drama. The ending of Mass Effect 3 was a disaster (and to be honest, so was a lot of the rest of it) but some people still liked it because they got to hang out with Garrus, Mordin, and JacobJust kidding. Nobody cares about Jacob.. As long as your characters hold together, you can still make your story work.
Next time we’ll talk about the characters…
 Although if the story was all about “we’re running out of bullets” or “all the computers are breaking” then maybe these questions would be reasonable.
 And the jobs they DO have are consumption or service based: Traders, guards, bartenders, innkeepers. Nobody produces anything.
 Aside from sex and serving the food that shouldn’t exist.
 Rivet city seems to have an experimental hydroponics farm, so they have made some carrots now. Doesn’t explain what everyone ate before now. People aren’t even really that interested in the hydroponic farm. It’s like they’re not worried about food.
 They even have recreational drugs and medicine with no technology, and booze with no stills!
 Er. You know what I mean.
 Just kidding. Nobody cares about Jacob.
This Game is Too Videogame-y
What's wrong with a game being "too videogameish"?
Quakecon Keynote 2013 Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.
Grand Theft Railroad
Grand Theft Auto is a lousy, cheating jerk of a game.
Do you like electronic music? Do you like free stuff? Are you okay with amateur music from someone who's learning? Yes? Because that's what this is.
A video Let's Play series I collaborated on from 2009 to 2017.