Fallout 4 EP25: Lonely Week

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Aug 3, 2016

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 125 comments

Link (YouTube)

The problem of making smarter stealth mechanics is that it’s kind of like trying to straighten out a bit of poorly-placed wallpaper. You smooth out a bubble, and it pops up elsewhere. So you smooth that out, and now you have two bubbles. You never really get it right, but eventually you get it to the point where the flaws are small enough that you’re willing to put up with them because you’re sick of the task.

Laying aside the mechanics, the big problem for immersion is that foes don’t say the right things in response to stealthy activity. The problem becomes more pronounced when you have spoken dialog. It creates unintentional comedy when the AI barks don’t match up with our perception of reality. For example, in Skyrim you can hit a bandit with an arrow. He’ll run around looking for you furiously, then give up and go back to his patrol. Mechanically, that’s fine. The problem is that he says, “It must have been the wind” with an arrow sticking out of his shoulder.

There’s a lot to keep track of here. Let’s assume we’re trying to fix the Skyrim / Fallout 4 stealth mechanics. An AI is presented with some stimulus (something happens that ought to cause a change in behavior) and we need to work out how to handle this gracefully. Aside from the problem of having an AI navigate an arbitrary space and search for the player in an interesting way that provides challenge without obvious cheating, we need to have our AI say things that don’t make them sound like stupid Bethesda AI.

So the stimulus is presented. The AI can’t SEE the player, but something happens that indicates that the player might be active nearby. Now we have to consider:

  1. Is this stimulus clearly threatening, or merely suspicious? Threatening is stuff like gunfire or discovering the body of a dead ally. Suspicious things would include hearing traps go off, suppressed gunfire, lights or doors changing state, and random environmental noise.
  2. Has the AI clearly spotted the player previously? Obviously it doesn’t make any sense to conclude “It was just the wind.” when you were chasing the player around in the dark five minutes ago. Once an AI has identified a genuine opponent, they should be in some different type of state that prevents them from ever attributing unknown events to the wind.
  3. Has the AI suffered (known) casualties? An AI shouldn’t be smug and satisfied that the player “ran off” if the player has killed a half dozen alliesSure, you can excuse this by saying bandits are just apathetic about each other. But this AI isn’t just used by bandits. It’s also used by town guards, Brotherhood, Railroad, Vaults inhabitants, etc.. If there are no casualties, then resetting to default patrol state should come with dialog indicating relief. But if the AI has lost friends then the dialog should convey anger or frustration.

This isn’t a list of three different states, this is a matrix of states. The state of looking for a (possible) threat in response to a mysteriously open door (could have been the wind) should be different from the state of looking for whoever just fired a gun a second ago (was definitely NOT the wind) which should be different from the state of looking for the source of a suspicious noise when three of your bandit buddies have already turned up dead, which should be different from the state of hearing a definite intruder but concluding they have escaped without inflicting harm. Every bandit voice needs multiple barks for each of these states. They need barks for entering, the state, for being in that state, and for when that state ends and they return to their default behavior. You may also need an additional set of barks from moving from this state into open combat. For example: “There you are!”

But if we fixed that, then players would just notice how the AI hilariously doesn’t take notice when all of the valuables mysteriously vanish from the room they’re patrolling. And if we fix that by having the AI notice missing items, then players will laugh because this AI freaked out and drew his gun because the player picked up some garbage off the floor. So then you fix that by coming up with different item classes that the AI should and shouldn’t care about. But then we’ll laugh because the AI notices that someone swiped his baseball cap but he doesn’t notice that Bob has mysteriously vanished. So then you fix that by having the AI notice when allies vanish. But there are about a half-dozen ways to do that, and all of them lead to still more goofy behavior. (Ex: How come this bandit magically knew Bob was “missing” when he walked into the room? It’s possible Bob simply exited through the other door!)

This is not to say it’s not worthwhile to try. Only that it’s possible to spend a lot of time and resources on a problem and yet make no discernible (to the player) progress. If I was appointed King of Fallout Development, fixing the idiot AI would be low on my priority list, simply because that money could be spent elsewhere for stronger results. (Like a dunk tank for the writing staff to sit in when they bring me story suggestions.)



[1] Sure, you can excuse this by saying bandits are just apathetic about each other. But this AI isn’t just used by bandits. It’s also used by town guards, Brotherhood, Railroad, Vaults inhabitants, etc.

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125 thoughts on “Fallout 4 EP25: Lonely Week

  1. Majromax says:

    There’s a treadmill of capability at work here. As verisimilitude increases and the AI acts more and more like a group of people rather than a group of simple algorithms, the fairer the fights become.

    That’s a problem in a game that’s ultimately a power fantasy.

    Take Shamus’s AI to its logical conclusion, where groups of enemies work together as a tactical unit. The only way the player can then “beat” them is to have them be made of (comparative) tissue paper, wielding limp noodles for weapons — and that just breaks immersion in another way. (And if they’re tissue paper, what’s the advantage to stealth?)

    It’s the problem of Bond or Borne against a bunch of movie mooks, only without a highly-paid director arranging fight choreography to distract the audience.

    This is why dedicated stealth games, like Thief or any of the 2D “heist” games, are just as much puzzle games as they are stealth games. Discovery has to be bad and sometimes instantly fatal, so the player is expected to play through until finding a “right” solution. That doesn’t work in a more run-and-gun game like 3D Fallout or Skyrim.

    1. Christopher says:

      Works in the Metal Gear Solid games. The mechanics were particularly amazing in V, and that was the open world one.
      But I can’t imagine Bethesda ever reaching that point. I can dream, though.

      1. Jokerman says:

        They do great, i think any stealth game should have people stay on alert when a known threat is close, they should never go back and sit down to stare at that interesting wall like in Bethesda games.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      You don’t need the enemies to have tissue-armor and limp-noodle weapons, though. You just detect when the player is hidden/caution/seen by the enemy, and then give the player a damage boost when they’re stealthed. This is how the other 3D Fallout games dealt with stealth, and it worked reasonably well, because there’s still an advantage to stealth, instead of just going in full Rambo all the time.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      It would work if the stealth and combat were comparable(which they arent).If you could pick to be good at stealth,you could easily go unseen hrough a bright room with no cover,but once spotted youd have to run and hide.But if you pick to be good at combat,you couldnt hide in a box,in a pitch black room,on a moonless night,but youd be able to take damage and dish out pain.

      The real problem in these games,especially in fallout 4,is that bethesda does not want you to be bad at anything.So you will always be able to sneak at least competently,or fight at least competently,or speak at least competently,…You will never be a master in just a narrow field.

      1. Rack says:

        Honestly I think that would break the game entirely. If you can do everything the stealth gameplay only has to be good enough to be occasionally valuable and reasonably enjoyable to be worthwhile. If you can focus to the poiint where you can only do stealth then the stealth gameplay needs to be absolutely top tier, it needs to be fun and powerful enough to carry a whole game. That’s a design goal that Bethesda clearly aren’t capable of reaching.

        If stealth is only a side tool though then they just need enough that it doesn’t break completely. It’s enough just model points 1 and 2 if thats all you’re going for. For 3 you can either never return the ai to relaxed state once they suffer known casualties, or have all their lines model anger and frustration as soon as they encounter clear enemy action.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Bethesda probably isnt up to that task,that is true.But it definitely isnt impossible.After all,thats how the original fallout*drink* did it.You focused on a few skills and you used them to approach stuff from different directions.

    4. Fists says:

      In the standard game the only way they increase difficulty is by turning the enemy into bullet sponges though, so I think they really should have gone one or two steps further into the AI development process. If the mobs acknowledged combat losses by pulling back into a better defensive position rather than deciding the pile of bodies was just the wind I think that would be a big difference to the way the majority of players experience the game. Yes, it would still be implemented in a janky stupid bethesda way but it wouldn’t be an obvious flaw in the majority of encounters for the mainstream playstyle.

      Survival mode does remove the bullet sponge element but I think it would still benefit from the mobs reacting to getting their asses kicked.

      1. Fred B-C says:

        I agree. The Fallout games are not difficult. Having a bit better coordinated of AI would reward at least a little intelligence.

    5. MrGuy says:

      I don’t know. The souls franchise is built on being a combat-based game that still demands skill. Where every enemy is a genuine potential threat but doesn’t have to cheat, and every enemy can be beaten without requiring them to be dumb.

      But, as you point out, the Souls games are anything but a power fantasy (in Bethesda’s sense of a “I am a nearly invincible badass!” protagonist ideal)

      I think the problem is that you can only reasonably choose two of the following three items:

      1. Enemies who are tough enough to pose a genuine threat.
      2. Enemies who are genuinely combat savvy in their gameplay.
      3. A protagonist who should be easily able to overcome all obstacles without frequent defeat/death.

      Bethesda sacrifices 2 to keep 1 and 3. Souls games sacrifice 3 to have 1 and 2.

      1. IFS says:

        I really like the Souls games but I don’t really think they maintain 2 very well for most of their enemies. Granted most of their enemies are mindless hollows so you don’t expect much tactical maneuvering out of them but there are plenty of ways to cheese the AI in those games. This does get back to the problem others have mentioned below though, namely that ‘when the enemy looks human you expect them to act human’.

        1. JakeyKakey says:

          To be fair, Souls enemies are designed more as interactive parts of the greater ‘obstacle course’ that is the current given level. The enemies themselves may not be ‘savvy’, but the level design that incorporates them very much is.

          A Souls game with ‘smarter’ enemies would be a very different experience altogether.

          1. IFS says:

            Oh certainly and that’s an advantage the Souls games have with their more deliberate level design as compared to Bethesda’s looser open worlds. The ‘smartest’ Souls enemies tend to be bosses as they’ll have specific attacks to do things like close or force distance and punish turtle-ing.

      2. Andy_Panthro says:

        Depends a little on what you define by a “cheat”, since Souls enemies often have unlimited spells, missile weapons, and of course I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been hit through walls (although that’s more due to glitchy collision detection).

    6. Peter H. Coffin says:

      Take Shamus's AI to its logical conclusion, where groups of enemies work together as a tactical unit. The only way the player can then “beat” them is to have them be made of (comparative) tissue paper, wielding limp noodles for weapons “” and that just breaks immersion in another way. (And if they're tissue paper, what's the advantage to stealth?)

      Or, since if you’re actually putting work into your AI, you scale that and make that (part of) your overall difficulty setting.

      I’ve got a personal philosophical objection to messing with damage of either weapons or enemies to scale the “forgivingness” of a game. That path leads to The Division levels of bullet-sponging and the craziness of watching dozens or hundreds of white-number “hits” required to actually take down a mook, where anyplace but Fantasyland, a well-chosen shot that hits should incapacitate pretty much anybody, including your elite Ranger troops. It’s a little more okay to make the player abstract some “hit points” into lucky dodging or “it’s just a scratch” hits, but even that shouldn’t last long.

    7. Loonyyy says:

      I think there’s a little more granularity than that. You can have a stealth system that makes sense and feels good, even in a system where the player can break stealth and murder everyone. I agree that if you don’t have some sort of consequence, it damages the stealth system, but not as much as having one which is transparently stupid.

      And that’s what most AI systems are, because they don’t react at all like people. A relatively simple amount of improvements could fix them, at the expense of making AI behaviour much more complex and difficult to troubleshoot. I think the other problem is what Super Bunnyhop called simulationist design. A lot of open world games, like Bethesdas in particular, are, or used to be, designed with a massive scope which extends beyond gameplay into the ridiculous. I can steal empty food containers from a fridge. I can take a fork off a table. everything is an item, and is individually lootable and touchable. Getting AI to deal with the world around them there is a really difficult scenario. Like the example, what’s important enough to notice it’s gone?

      I think it’d be easier to make the AI react to each other and the player though. Nobody should be deaggroing after being hit by an arrow. Most AI walk fixed patrols, a simple variable counter with a little bit of probabilistic fuzz can count “How many times have I missed X on patrol” and what that means.

      I don’t think they need to redesign the game to make stealth builds combat useless to make breaking stealth more significant. I think that’d actually be a step backwards. This halfway system in Bethesda RPGs basically serves a purpose. Like someone else said, if stealth only is a viable spec, that doesn’t give real combat options, it has to really work. Fallout 4 has to be super enjoyable as a stealth game, rather than passable as a stealth game, and still enjoyable when you break stealth.

  2. Gruhunchously says:

    Is Rutskarn getting annoyed at the Idiot Savant noise going to be added to the drinking game?

    1. Rutskarn says:

      You do you, but since I’m genuinely kind of mad about it I think I’ll leave it out. I find the idea of the drinking game more appealing when it focuses on our “fun” gripes.

      As much as I love story-based branching RPGs, a poor one doesn’t make me angry–at worst I miss what could have been. But the “idiot savant” dur-hur thing grosses me out.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        Mebbe the mod kit will allow replacing that sound set with a variety of siren whistles or other slapstick. Josh wouldn’t torture you for the WHOLE season, would he?

        1. Andy says:

          There are already replacement sound mods for that. I use one that silences it completely.

      2. Dirigible says:

        Yeah, I gotta say I find it pretty offensive as well. Especially the part where it’s better than sinking all your points in INT.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Funny,but thats the only part of it that I dont mind.Mechanically,its an ok idea.A way to make low int comparable to high int by spending some skill points on a perk.

          But the name,the sound,the graphics,the whole idea that you arent even an idiot with int 1,the fact that they have SIX DIFFERENT SOUNDS FOR IT,its just all WRONG.

        2. Raygereio says:

          Especially the part where it's better than sinking all your points in INT.

          Eh, not really.
          If you compare high Int to Int 1 + Idiot Savant rank 3, then sure: The latter wins when it comes to total XP gain. But you're missing out on the hacking bonus high Int gives and a bunch of actually useful perks.

          1. djw says:

            Also, the chance of idiot savant firing bottoms out at about 0.5% when you hit an intelligence of around 11 or 12. After that adding intelligence on top of idiot savant is a strict increase in experience.

            If I recall correctly an intelligence of 16 + 3 idiot savant > int 1 + 3 idiot savant. You very rarely get the bonus experience, but when you do it benefits from the full intelligence exp bonus and you get a huge amount of experience.

            Getting your int that high isn’t easy though, and there is probably an opportunity cost to be paid if you wear gear that has int rather than something else that could be useful.

            1. Loonyyy says:

              Also, getting more xp is of debateable use, especially when you lose out on other perks levelling up.

        3. MrGuy says:

          I will say that acknowledging in some way that “low in stat X” builds can be “interesting” in some way is a classic Fallout idea, and I’m glad they at least tried to bring some of it back. I have fond memories of playing the original 2 Fallout games with a low intelligence score and only being able to grunt at people, who all had special dialogue to try to explain simple things to me.

          I just wish they’d done more with it in this game than have it be an XP modifier and a dumb sound effect. You can have deep, nuanced conversations with people and follow “branching” conversations unimpeded with very low intelligence.

      3. GloatingSwine says:

        It helps to think of it as the sound of pain and surprise a Bethesda writer makes when an idea happens to them.

        1. Sunshine says:

          “I’m getting one of those things! Like a headache with pictures?”

      4. MrGuy says:

        On a separate note, can we acknowledge for a second that the idiot savant noises are a little over the top insensitive towards mentally handicapped people?

        The nosies sound like a noise an 8 year old would make on the playground making fun of another kid for being “retarded.” It’s like bullies making fun of a kid with Downs syndrome.

        The term they’re actually using (“Idiot savant”) does refer to someone who is mentally handicapped, but doesn’t actually necessarily refer to someone with low intelligence. It’s more common to refer to someone with normal or above normal in certain specific ways combined with a brain injury, an Autism spectrum disorder, or some other condition. They wouldn’t necessarily score well on an IQ test, but it’s more that they perceive and interact with the world differently than most people than they “are dumb.”

        I don’t know – I guess I’m a little uncomfortable with the game seeming to buy into the notion that it’s OK to make fun of the mentally handicapped with the setup and especially their choice of sound effects.

        Yeah, yeah – I know it’s a game, but still.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Yeah, yeah ““ I know it's a game, but still.

          Thing is,even I think this whole perk is offensive,and Im strongly anti pc.

          1. tmtvl says:

            Idem, I can’t believe Bethsoft got away with it.

            1. Christopher says:

              Probably because people don’t know. I had no idea idiot savant was even a thing before Rutskarn brought it up.

        2. Rutskarn says:

          This is pretty much my problem with it, yeah.

        3. Gruhunchously says:

          Maybe they could have fixed the problem by renaming the perk to something less pointed – somebody once suggested ‘Dumb Luck’ as an alternative. Removing the noises would have also probably helped.

          1. Michael says:

            Honestly, renaming it to nearly [i]anything[/i] else would have been less offensive. Fallout’s always had elements that skirted good taste, but between Idiot Savant and Four Leaf Clover… somehow 4 seems way more offensive than usual.

  3. Echo Tango says:

    The other option for fixing stealth, is to have a non-realistic aesthetic, and keep the AI dumb. Less realism means less possibility for immersion-breaking, which means less recursive budget spending on making everything in the game progressively more realistic. Consider the stealth in Teleglitch, a Zelda game, or Mark Of The Ninja – none of those are very realistic in their stealth, and it’s because of their non-realistic aesthetic that they can get away with it. :)

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      The problem with “realism” in games is that its both impossible and counterproductive to have it.All of the games are just simulations,and you will have to make it unrealistic somewhere.So trying to do something “real” only works if you are building an accurate simulation of the real world(military or aircraft simulators).In everything else,you should focus on making the gameplay good,and if it happens to match the real world,that is only a bonus.

      1. MrGuy says:

        There definitely need to be limits to any simulation, and in certain areas, oversimulation can be a real problem.

        But I’d argue the issue isn’t so much “how accurate is the simulation,” but more a question of where the seams are, and whether those make sense to the player in a way that they will have the right expectations. The illusion of realism doesn’t come for the detailed accuracy of the simulation of the things you choose to simulate, but rather from whether your simulation rings true by its own rules.

        For example – from the The Last Of Us season, there was a frequently used mechanic where Joel could swim around. He could swim, he could dive, he had an oxygen meter that he’d drown if he used up. As a swimming mechanic, it was “good enough.” Putting more thought into the kinds of strokes he could do, or getting more fussy with the speed he could swim on the surface vs. underwater wouldn’t have made the swimming feel more “real.” It was fine for most people. I’m sure a professional diver would have found issues with it, but it was good enough to convey the idea of swimming.

        There were some pieces that didn’t make sense, like the fact that being “wet” never bothered you, or was even really a “thing.” It also didn’t make sense that you’d swim around with a pack full of guns, and this both never dragged you down from carrying 50 pounds of steel, nor did it ruin any of you bullets. Those things weren’t realistic, but sort of acceptable video game tropes.

        What was jarring (to me, at least) was the places where things around the swimming mechanic didn’t make sense in the context in which it was presented. First, Joel can’t pull himself out of the water on any ledge that’s more than 6 inches above the surface of the water, even if it’s clear you or I could reach up and grasp the ledge. And they make a big deal elsewhere in the story about people being pulled up to ledges, which imply some significant upper body strength. So…Joel can’t lift himself a foot out of the water, but he can climb ledges over his head with just the help of one hand from an 80 pound girl? Also, I recall one point where you’re swimming across the spillway of a hydroelectric dam. The water is clearly moving fast, and they put some effort into making it clear there was a strong current. But the current didn’t affect you in the slightest (or your friend the wooden pallet). The swimming simulation might have been “fine” for the stagnant pools earlier in the game, but it’s definitely NOT fine when you deliberately set up a situation where the mechanic SHOULD work differently but doesn’t. They should have either simulated it better (e.g. had the current be meaningful), or changed the situation so their simulation wouldn’t be at odds with our expectations (e.g. don’t have this be fast-moving water).

        I’d argue the issue isn’t “they should have spent more time on the verisimilitude of the swimming mechanic” and more “they should have recognized the gaps their mechanic had with the world in certain places, and done something to fix them.”

      2. Loonyyy says:

        Like the Errant Signal video points out, and similar to what you said, it’s a simulation. The trick comes, when making a good simulation, in knowing what to simulate. Oversimulation is wasteful and underproductive.

        In this case, making games that look real, and involve some realism on the part of the mechanics, makes us more likely to assume that the setting is meant to be realistic.

        Whereas say, Mark of the Ninja, I don’t notic how ridiculous hanging from the ceiling is, or that the guards are clearly thick as hell. Because the game never gives you the indication that you should be concerned about that.

        But when the guards are people who occassionally talk, and live in a space designed for leisure or even accomodation, they become people, and it becomes strange when nobody wonders where the guy they live with, they spend all their time with, walks into the front room and never comes back.

  4. IFS says:

    Honestly if you just implemented the first set of fixes (that is the remaining suspicious when you’ve been shot or found a dead body) I think that would be more than enough to fix stealth in the Bethesda games. Having them say something like ‘Huh where did that go…’ or ‘As soon as I figure out who’s knicking things’ if the player has been stealthily stealing stuff would be pretty cool and as far as they’d really need to go for reacting to that stuff.

  5. Henson says:

    I think the exploration difference Rutskarn describes of Fallout vs. Stalker is something primarily created by the way the games handle loot. For Fallout, it’s the typical RPG reward; better loot kills things faster, and even mediocre loot is sold in order to buy better loot. There’s a direct explore/reward feedback loop. For Stalker, loot rarely improves in its effectiveness, your weight limit can easily be reached from carrying enough different gun types (which I do just to make sure I have options in case I need them), and selling is pretty much entirely replaced by trading. For Stalker, killing enemies carries little to no benefit, and exploration (outside of quests) is engaged for its own sake.

    Of course, there’s also that whole ‘no XP’ thing…

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      I wonder if Spoiler Warning could cover Stalker well. I’d love to see them try, but as the crew pointed out, it’s a rather atmospheric game, and I think a lot of that would be lost if we had to listen to Rutskarn punning while Shamus asks where all this bread is coming from.

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        Also I think they have a pretty strong no mods, play as it was released/patched, rule and I think STALKER is pretty much unplayable unless you fix it using fan made fixes.

        1. Raygereio says:

          Shadow of Chernobyl & Clear Sky are kinda broken in their vanilla states.
          But Call of Pripyat works fine.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            All of the games were progressively less of a prototype until the final game, where it merely had the normal amount of bugs. :)

            1. Raygereio says:

              It wasn’t what I’d call progressive improvement:
              The first game had some performance and bug related issues, but was overall okay’ish. Especially if you mod the game’s balance to something resembling sane.
              The second game was a complete mess. There’s a neat idea floating around in there with the whole Faction Wars thing, but it – and pretty much everything else – just doesn’t work.
              Third game was good.

              1. Michael says:

                Oh god, Clear Sky was such a mess. It’s a huge shame too, because there’s the bits of a really good game splattered across the walls in there, it just doesn’t work on so many levels.

        2. JakeyKakey says:

          Eh, hardcore STALKER purists used to playing AMK & Misery might complain, but tbh the Complete mods barely change anything.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Ah,but think of all the cool stuff that would be gained instead.Like ear bleeding and alcohol poisoning.

  6. Echo Tango says:

    Website: This post links back to the “Remembering the 70s” post, instead of the previous Fallout episode.

  7. Phantos says:

    I have opened hundreds of those Vault-Tec lunchboxes, and I’ve never gotten anything as good as a Nuka Quantum. It’s always a plastic spoon or some garbage like that.

    1. Mintskittle says:

      Sometimes not even that cause the item got pushed through the floor when it popped out.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      I opened a lunch box one time, and all I got was a plastic figurine and the feeling of having spent too much money on a “collector’s edition”… ^^;

    3. Ninety-Three says:

      Looking at the drop table, you have dozens of pieces of junk, the five Nuka Cola types, one economy wonderglue, and a fusion core. The wiki isn’t especially clear, but it implies the good stuff is rarer. For my part I’ve opened a couple dozen lunchboxes, found one ice cold Nuka quantum, and a bunch of trash.

    4. AdamS says:

      Huh. I’ve only ever gotten various nuka cola flavors. Had no idea you could get anything else.

      1. I’ve opened more of the boxes than I can remember, and I’ve gotten two Ice-Cold Nuka Cola Quantums, which heal you for (iirc) 900 HP with the same rads and weight as a normal Quantum.

        Needless to say, I still have both of them since my HP in Fallout 4 isn’t anywhere close to 900 nor would I be able to survive the damage required to make drinking one worthwhile.

        There’s also the whole “I’ve got enough food to feed the Commonwealth for a year” thing that tends to happen when you’ve utterly mastered an easily-breakable economy.

        1. Michael says:

          Earliest you can get your HP to 900 is somewhere around level 100, I think.

    5. Andy_Panthro says:

      I’ve had robot model kits (to make mini Mr Gutsy models or similar), I think I found about three of them.

      But usually it was Nuka Cola or a plastic fork, or some other junk.

  8. Phantos says:

    If I were to make a “stealth game”, I’d make all of the enemies cartoony, bleep-blorp Robots.

    If they look human, I expect them to act human. But if they look like something stupid on the cover of a pulp sci-fi magazine, then it doesn’t break my immersion too much if they get stuck on the level geometry or act “dumb”.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Stealth game with robots, you say? :)

      1. IFS says:

        Urg, I tried that series when it was free on PS+ and I hated it. Its not really a stealth game, more of a puzzle platformer with a really unfunny sense of humor.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          But stealth games ARE puzzle games.

          1. IFS says:

            Sure but not all puzzle games are stealth games. Just because the game has some instant-death traps does not make it a stealth game and for what I was able to tolerate of Stealth Bastard pretty much all it was was platforming around instant death traps. If I wanted that experience I’d play a game that does it well like Super Meat Boy or They Bleed Pixels.

      2. Groboclown says:

        Or maybe a robot stealth game with furniture eating mechanics…

  9. Content Consumer says:

    Shamus, I love it when you talk about stealth mechanics. Or game mechanics at all, really. I’d love to see more stuff like that on this site.

    I do have one argument with what you posted, though:

    Threatening is stuff like gunfire

    Given that you can’t walk ten feet through Boston without hearing a gun battle in the distance, I’d say that that’s pretty low on the “suspicion” list. :)

    Of course, that would put it in a category of “suspicious, but this NPC has been inundated with that lately so it’s not quite so suspicious as it might otherwise be” which begs the question – how many times does the NPC think it was just the wind before getting really suspicious about all this odd wind and upping the search, and how many after that before the NPC gets fed up with high-alert searching and decides to ignore “the wind” from now on… and deeper down the rabbit hole we go.

  10. Writiosity says:

    “For example, in Skyrim you can hit a bandit with an arrow. He'll run around looking for you furiously, then give up and go back to his patrol. Mechanically, that's fine. The problem is that he says, “It must have been the wind” with an arrow sticking out of his shoulder.”

    Yes. Indeed.


  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Im surprised that they didnt do the thumbs up from terminator 2.I was sure they would do it.

    1. Michael says:

      Nah, they saved that for the Doom reboot.

  12. I like stealth in DDO much better and the enemies don’t make any weird noises.

    Granted, that game also doesn’t have a bunch of crap lying around that you can steal. It’s a very different style of game.

    I generally start out being sneaky in Bethesda games and eventually get bored with it and just start mowing everything down. I usually don’t bother stealing stuff. The Thieves Guild stuff in Skyrim was very weird to me because very little of it actually involved STEALING anything. (Even the radiant quests rarely involved actually STEALING anything, and then you were looting gaudy Special Items that you never saw elsewhere and basically weren’t really worth anything and didn’t even show as Stolen in your inventory.)

    I generally like stealth better when it’s an activity/challenge of its own rather than an alternate combat mode.

    1. DDO’s also directly pulled from 3.5E, so stealth is VERY limited when it comes to classes; for those not familiar with that game, Rogue and Ranger are about the only classes who are really good at it, and even then the Rogue’s the only one who can make anything of it in terms of killing stuff.

      The only class that can do almost everything is the Artificer, and even then they don’t get stealth and you need to be Warforged to get self-healing without taking certain enhancements that still reduce the effectiveness of the spell due to basically being a cyborg instead of the Warforged automaton. :D

      1. Michael says:

        Honestly, if you want to do a little bit of everything in 3.5… and this will probably make Shamus froth at the mouth, but, pick a Bard. If you know what you’re doing, they’re hilariously broken.

        1. Afaik, that’s definitely not the case in DDO. There Bards are mostly support classes when you actually SEE one, since they’ve gotta be one of the rarest classes in the game.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Rutskarn,did you know that the sound for idiot savant depends on the voice you pick?Oh yes,thats how comited bethesda was to this:


    1. Rutskarn says:

      I hate this perk more the more I learn about it.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      Cripes, they actually spent resources on this, instead of literally any of the other things in the game that needed more attention…

      1. Raygereio says:

        This did not take any significant amount of money or time to implement.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          I dont know,if someone asked me to make idiot sounds in a mic like that,Id ask for an extra pay.

          1. Raygereio says:

            “Okay, this is too much. I’m not making idiot sounds.”
            “Why? You didn’t object to reading out the rest of our dialogue.”

  14. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You never really get it right, but eventually you get it to the point where the flaws are small enough that you're willing to put up with them because you're sick of the task.

    I disagree.Mark,of the ninja did it practically flawlessly.The old commandos did it well too.And both avoid the “unrealistic behavior” because in mark,of the ninja panic IS one of the things you can exploit in guards,and in commandos you have enemy spawners that make breaking stealth a really bad thing as long as these things are active.

    The problem with stealth in games like fallout and elder scrolls is that there are only two things you can do when you are revealed:Enter combat,or wait it out.You cant distract the enemy into looking elsewhere,you cant make them panic and shoot their allies,you have practically no tools for stealth other than a few invisibility items.Yahtzee described the various approaches to stealth,and these games do only one of those,the passive hiding one.

    Also,stealth isnt really useful in these games either.You can use it to pick loot from the enemy(which you can do from their corpse as well),or to get some extra damage.Thats it.You dont get any rewards for not being seen,you dont get quests that specifically ask you to not be seen,there are no enemies that you are simply too weak to tackle,especially because you can always buff yourself enough with a plethora of stuff you can find everywhere.Its pointless to be sneaky.

    Basically,the problem with stealth in many games is that it was just slapped on,with no thought going into it.

    1. I think Oblivion had a quest or two that required you to not be seen or you’d insta-fail, and I think Skyrim had one.

    2. Henson says:

      Sneak is, unsurprisingly, most useful as a tool for initiating combat. Get one or two hits off, and then fight as normal. Or get one hit off, retreat, wait until they give up the search, rinse and repeat. Or wait for patrols to spread out, then assassinate from behind one by one. Bethesda isn’t really interested in any game mechanics not tied to fighting enemies. Just look at what happened to Persuasion.

      It would be nice if some sneak quests required infiltrating government buildings, so that combat would make all town guards hostile. On the other hand, insta-fail for being spotted is very unsatisfying.

      I think we may just have to accept that Bethesda games are not for ghosting.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        But ghosting isnt the only stealth thing there is.Bethesda games are perfect for making disguises a thing,yet they attempt that only once(was there any other attempt than that skyrim quest?).

        And Ive already mentioned that the alarm does not have to be the failure state.Persuasion wouldve been a great addition to stealth:
        – Hey!What are you doing sneaking around here?
        – Oh the boss told me to come and check how good the guards are.You are doing your job great!

        1. Pax says:

          Interestingly enough, the Railroad version of taking down the Pryden is exactly like this. You and Deacon sneak on in BOS disguises, and are confronted by people demanding to know what you’re about several times, and you have to charm/lie your way past them. It is very satisfying to waltz onto the airship, plant explosives, and waltz back out without anyone being the wiser. Though since this is a Bethesda game, it means you miss out on all the phat loot like Maxson’s coat and unique laser gatling.

          1. Gethsemani says:

            Psh, I took a power armor and a minigun and murdered my way through the Prydwen. Why be stealthy when there’s thousands upon thousands of more exp in killing everyone aboard? Not to forget all the phat loot you mentioned.

            This, of course, is a recurring problem in Bethesda games. The incentive is still to kill anyone, even if you are a stealthy super spy, because you get exp and loot for every enemy you kill, but you get nothing for bypassing them without being detected.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              The incentive is still to kill anyone, even if you are a stealthy super spy, because you get exp and loot for every enemy you kill, but you get nothing for bypassing them without being detected.

              Actually, the game’s overuse of level-scaling makes XP a bad thing, so in a (completely unintended) way, bypassing enemies and missing XP is a reward. A melee-focused character will have the easiest time killing level-appropriate enemies before level 10, the only reason to even bother leveling past that is that there are lots of areas where the enemies refuse to scale down below 20. Once you hit the point where super mutants and deathclaws are level-appropriate foes whose HP starts scaling, for optimal DPS you want to stop leveling* and amass personal power in the form of wealth (legendary equipment and fusion cores) since enemies scale only to your level, not your wallet.

              *Unless you’re doing a crit-focused build, which requires a zillion perks and stat-ups to come to fruition

              1. Michael says:

                Not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you want. It’s not like Oblivion where scaling would simply maul your face off. To it’s credit, Fallout 4 does have legitimate reasons for playing low level characters for longer, and the game does give you the tools to control your XP gain to some extent.

                1. Loonyyy says:

                  But it is a pronounced problem with levelling. Levelling isn’t always a pronounced increase in power.

                  The autolevelling scale usually means you either get left behind or leave everything else behind. If you’re playing through the story, going after the majority xp just hastens you to the point where levelling is infrequent, unexciting, and comes with very little benefit.

                  I always find in these games, NV included, Skyrim and Oblivion included, that there’s more than enough XP lying around that doing all the content often means you stripmine the levelling, and it becomes an unsatisfying system.

        2. IFS says:

          Not technically Bethesda but New Vegas did disguises to an extent. If you dressed up in faction armor then most people would think you were a member of that faction (though some actual members of the faction could still identify you).

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But if we fixed that,

    Thing is,you dont have to do it all at once.I mean look at how the elder scrolls games improved only some of the things(while breaking others)and still got praised for those things.Even today when we know of all the goofy shit going on in all of those games,we still praise those improvements they made.So you can just focus on one of those problems and do it well,leaving the others for the future.In fact,doing so is preferable to not doing any of it because “you can never do it all”.

  16. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Like, it’s cool with me if YOU use iTunes, but I have an MP3 player that doesn’t spy on me, show me ads, or devour CPU cycles.

    Wait,are you talking about windows 10?

    1. tmtvl says:

      He’s probably just using moc on FreeBSD.

  17. Thomas Lines says:

    I reckon lots of stealth players enjoy the AI jank and would be disappointed without it. I’m basing this off one of the key activities of Metal Gear Solid players is fucking with the AI. In fact the games tend to have janky AI reactions _added in_ with ludicrous stealth weapons.

    Similarly popular Dishonoured videos involve getting the AI in a complete mess and the same goes for Skyrim.

    It probably wouldn’t fit every game but the games who needed/wanted to ‘solve’ the problem added a ‘The AI is driven mad with fear’ state, which is just a more official version of screwing with the AI

    1. IFS says:

      People enjoy screwing with the AI in MGS games because the AI reacts interestingly to various things, you can scare them or make them salute you, they can go on alert or caution, you can hold them up at gunpoint and shake them down for items and information, you can leave them all hungry by blowing up their food, you can distract them with magazines, etc. One of the videos I’ve seen from MGS3 is a guy who managed to collect a bunch of guards and then get them constantly cycling through various mood states including fear through placement of certain items and spinning on the ground (in a specific camo) and its hilarious in part because you can see all these interesting mechanics being warped into something bizarre.

      Bethesda stealth/AI has none of that, they have two states uncaring and hostile and the only difference between the two is whether they’re shooting at you or staring at a wall. One of these states is more exciting than the other, but neither is particularly interesting or something that has much depth to it.

      1. Michael says:

        If I remember correctly, Bethesda has four states. Passive, alarmed, hunting, and hostile. They’ll go into hunting mode if they’ve seen you and you tried to slip away, though I don’t remember if it’s a last known position system, or if they’ll just head towards you while hunting.

  18. Dev Null says:

    You’re right of course; it’s an incredibly nuanced issue that doesn’t have easy answers.

    But screw that – that’s like an answer on politics from someone who understands issues, instead of just how to get elected. Lets get elected. You could make stealth mechanics “still laughable really but 100% better and much less noticeable” if you simply had your mooks never come back off of alert. Let’s face it, if you’re really in a life-threatening situation, and something looks screwey? You’re on alert to one degree or another until you go off shift. And that stops all the ludicrous “streak past them in the nude carrying a neon Imagonnakillyoulater sign, then hide under a chair til they forget about you in 30 seconds” maneuvers. The problem is that it makes stealth very unforgiving, but I think that could be doable in the right sort of game. You just have to make people aware that once they screw it up they’re probably done with stealth for awhile – without save-skimming you’re probably not going to stealth the whole game.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      That works in games that arent open world and dont have an actual day night cycle,and in games where alert isnt a failure state but just a different state.Alert enemies tend to notice stuff more,but have much narrower patrol routes is an example of this and mark,of the ninjas panicked enemies shooting other enemies is another.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Not sure if it works the same in all the parts but the stealth sections in the Batman:Arkham games have the mechanics where mooks become increasingly panicked, running around, checking places they haven’t before (like floor grates or actually looking up) and even shooting at shadows.

        1. psivamp says:

          Came down here looking for someone to mention this. The Arkham games are great at this.

          The Predator sections are actually quite asymmetric. Enemies have guns and those guns will kill you pretty quickly ( varies somewhat based on which game you’re playing, Asylum was quite lethal, latter games more forgiving ). On the other hand, you are more manueverable and have a variety of environmental takedowns and one-hit melee takedowns that you can employ — most without alerting the other enemies.

          In Bethsoft games, you have an inventory and access to healing, but other than that you’re using the same set of tools as the enemies.

          It’s also worth noting that not every group of enemies can be affected by the Predator system in the Arkham games. Most of the open world areas, for instance. But the barks are still more appropriate in the Arkham games than in Bethsoft games.

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      In case of the big open world Bethesda games we’re hitting the problem of granularity again, for example not all types of mooks and not in all situations should react in the same fashion. For the sake of discussion limiting it to more or less reasonable human beings it makes sense that everyone should go on high alert when people start dying, but should everyone start running, screaming and shooting at shadows because a spoon disappeared? What if a standing guard is gone from his post? There’s a difference between disciplined BoS troopers who may even have some kind of radio communication with each other and, say, a bunch of raiders.

    3. Matt Downie says:

      Here’s an easy answer for realistic stealth-response dialogue: incoherent swearing. A bunch of swears could mean: “I am hurt” or “My friends are dead” or “I am frustrated by my inability to find the enemy” or “I don’t know what’s going on”.

  19. KarmaTheAlligator says:

    Isn’t that very similar to what you wrote back in your game design column about Emergent Gameplay? How that kind of problem, and how to solve it, snowballs very quickly?

  20. potatoejenkins says:

    Questgiver: Bring back my sword! I need it because grandpa!

    Cuftbert: C’mon, that’s dangerous. Sweeten the deal a bit.

    Questgiver: You’ve got some nerve!!

    Cuftbert: I think you need to sweeten the deal.

    Questgiver: You’ve got some nerve!!!

    Cuftbert: What about your son?

    [Quest accepted]

    Questgiver: He’s dead to me. But not my sword!

    Cuftbert: I still think you need to sweeten the deal.

    Questgiver: You’ve got some nerve!!!

    Cuftbert: ………….. I’ll find it.

    Questgiver: You are doing me a big favor and I’ll make it up to you as best as I can!!

    I. I don’t even. My left side feels kind of numb and tingly.

    1. Phantos says:

      And then Macready liking you for failing to extort the guy.

      It’s gotten to the point where I’m not even sure what’s on purpose in a Bethesda game anymore.

      1. Pax says:

        To be fair, MacCready just likes it when you act greedy. Just the act of asking for more money makes him feel all warm and tingly. Also stealing stuff and helping children. Actually, the more I think about it, the more that makes sense for his Little Lamplight roots.

      2. potatoejenkins says:

        The biggest problem I have with this whole conversation is this: It’s a “unique” quest.
        Yes, it ends in another settlement needing your help, but it is still a unique quest with a unique dialogue branch. Not reused random-settler-bloke dialogue.

        And to top it off the quest is accepted in the middle of the dialogue before taking actual player input into account. Josh asked about the son. He did not yet agree to get the stupid sword.

        Somebody sat down, wrote and coded this exact scenario and thought: Well, that’s as good as it can get.

  21. Zaxares says:

    It can work the other way too. In some of the early Hitman games, the AI was ludicrously sensitive. For instance, you could be disguised as a Russian soldier, carrying a matching AK-47 rifle, running alongside the airport’s runway, and for some bizarre reason another enemy soldier on the other side of the runway (so far away that you can barely even see him) sees you running and INSTANTLY goes into a panic and starts shooting.

    I don’t know about you, but if I saw a fellow soldier hustling along (maybe he needs to get somewhere in a hurry?), my first reaction would not be to OPEN FIRE.

    1. tmtvl says:

      In Capitalist America your allies run from your enemies, in Soviet Russia your enemies run from your allies.

      Long live the proletariat, comrade!

  22. Chris Davies says:

    At 12:10 in the video, there’s the thing that makes this the absolute worst location in the game. On the overpass right by the ironworks, there’s a gunner encampment with a guy carrying a fat man. Any time you engage with the Forged outside the ironworks, he gets over excited and starts lobbing nukes down at random combatants. For all the hate Macready gets, he literally took a nuke to the face for Josh.

    I died so many times trying to do this quest. Spend too much time here and you’ll either be killed by a stray nuke or an assaultron sneaking up on you.

    1. Pax says:

      It’s why I clear these two locations every time I pass by. If nothing else, it helps protect my provisioners and Bunker Hill’s caravans since they don’t know any better than to walk right through the area.

    2. Coming_Second says:

      Bethesda loved assholes with a Fat Man and laser-like accuracy standing on very tall buildings, that’s for sure.

  23. Daemian Lucifer says:

    About archer the video game:
    Obsidian did quite well with south park.It captured the proper tone of the show while still being a fun game.So I think they could do well with archer too.

    1. IFS says:

      Clearly Telltale and Obsidian should both make an Archer game, by the time Telltale’s final episode for theirs is out Obsidian’s game will be ready for bug testing release!

    2. How well Obsidian did South Park Stick of Truth make me skeptical of the new south Park; especially considering how much South Park game experience those guys have now.

      But how well Obsidian did also saddens me, as I can see how good Alpha Protocol could have been if they did equally well with that.

      Or imagine that Stick of Truth finish/polish but applied to KoTOR2.

      Hmm! I know EA is sitting on Star Wars game rights. But AFAIK BioWare/Lucasarts is sitting on the rights for KoTOR2.
      Imagine if Obsidian created a enhanced edition, maybe did a patreon to cover the costs. And either worked with some of the modders or re-created a lot of the stuff the modders did. I’m also assuming that Obsidian still got a a few disks with the original unused/cut material, and if they got “all” the voice files thy could finish the art etc.
      Tweak the game engine a bit, make it run properly on Widescreen and fix the sound/audio stuff (I think you need to tweak some stuff to make the audio work/not crash the game?)
      And either re-render the cutscenes to hires res (or do it in-engine where possible).
      And I think the music need to be re-encoded into a lossless format (I seem to recall the audio was overly compressed).
      And then release this enhanced edition on GOG and Steam.

      1. Kelerak says:

        I’d rather they just make another New Vegas.

      2. Philadelphus says:

        I would totally pledge for a Kickstarter or Patreon for them to rework KotOR II. So much potential cut short by corporate meddling.

  24. J Greely says:

    In answer to the question around 5min in, when the game was released, switching guns auto-reloaded. They changed it in one of the patches.


  25. “Has the AI clearly spotted the player previously?”…”they should be in some different type of state that prevents them from ever attributing unknown events to the wind.”

    Although eventually they should “wind down”.
    A guard may be on alert for a half day, but after that they’ve have burned through so much adrenaline and energy to stay alert that they’ll get sluggish/tired/sleepy.
    (the play may have gone elsewhere for half a day, camped nearby or just waited in the bushes).

    Also I don’t think you can have just three states. I’d suggest a three scale ranging from 0.0 to 1.0 (alternatively 0 to 1000 if integer)
    So that “Is this stimulus clearly threatening, or merely suspicious” set to 1.0 means some shit happen just now and they saw it.
    And if the guard just spotted the player then that value would be 1.0. If the guard has never spotted the player before it would be 0.0.
    Eventually that 1.0 will slide down to 0.0 but it will take a while.

    And certain things will prevent it from falling (like the player accidentally dropping something that didn’t used to be here) or in case of friendly casualities the more bodies (percentwise of all buddies) the higher the value. so a 1.0 could mean all are dead except the guard themselfs.

    Once a state reached above a certain level (0.5 maybe?) the guard(s) may be fully paranoid/angry/actively hunting.

    I wonder how the new Hitman game does it?

  26. Mersadeon says:

    I feel like your justification for the bad AI doesn’t work for me, because you can see they haven’t even tried a quick and dirty fix IN SEVERAL GAMES.

    Like, just check for one thing: has this unit been damaged? If yes, don’t use the list of barks like “must have been the wind”. If need be, make them use no bark at all, because a patrol silently dropping caution at least makes some sense. This would already get rid of about 50% of all the times the AI says something silly during stealth.

    I don’t want them to waste resources on tackling this. I don’t need them to find a great solution that takes them to a reasonable margin of error. I just find it embarrassing that they don’t try at all – that for years, not even once they tried to use a band-aid fix for this kind of thing.

  27. Vect says:

    I’m of the belief that Stealth AI should be predictable enough that you can plan around it (enemies have set patrol routes and can be easily baited) while also reacting to threats in an “Acceptable” fashion (If you escape from enemies that see you, they stay in Suspicion mode at the very least, though this might vary between difficulty). You want to keep enemies “Dumb” to a certain level (at least on “Normal” difficulties) so that players can experiment to some extent with tactics and tools.

  28. Coming_Second says:

    Something I’ve often felt would aid the verisimilitude of stealth mechanics in games that use them is random behaviour in guards – or, more specifically, the world having an effect on their behaviour that the player may have a chance of turning to their advantage. Guards should be able to be paranoid, lazy, careless, dedicated, panicky, level-headed, psychotic. They should let it all hang out on Friday nights. They should tighten up their routines because Dark Goblin Cave got hit only two days ago and those poor fuckers didn’t see it coming. They should be more persistent and alert the better paid they are. You should be able to get ahold of this kind of information and plan accordingly.

    As is, from Fallout to Deus Ex to Hitman there is very little noticeable difference in behaviour in human guards, whatever form they may take. From bandits to security guards to crack secret service goons, they all generally follow the same tight set of rules, encouraging the player to view them all as lights that are either off or on. Whatever mechanics you employ, stealth has to be at least a bit arbitrary and unreal for the game to remain fun. Changing up the behaviour of the antagonists at least enables a human element to creep in.

    1. Michael says:

      I could be wrong, but I remember a major difference between the NSF and MJ12 guards in the original Deus Ex. NSF would patrol obvious routes, and were generally pretty easy to slip past, undetected. In contrast, MJ12 forces were way better about securing their environment, and made moving around inside their areas a lot harder. Even the vent tricks which would serve you pretty well against NSF just would not work in MJ12 facilities without also digging out augmentations.

      1. Coming_Second says:

        Should have been clearer and specified the more recent Deus Ex, sorry. How the guards got better weapons but got better at detecting in the original is a reasonably good demonstration of what I mean.

  29. Duoae says:

    I just watched the show now and got to the part where Chris and Rutskarn are discussing the invisibility of the Pip Boy – or lack thereof in relation to the light emitted from the screen.

    I actually have to agree with Bethesda’s implementation here because the way ‘invisibility’ works in the real world* is by bending or refracting EM radiation instead of reflecting it off of the surface being ‘cloaked’.

    So, light being emitted from any cloaked surface would not be bent by the cloaking technology… in which case the screen would be visible. Of course, even the ‘black’ parts of the screen would be visible too because there is a backlight on screen technology… at least as we know it.

    *We have it, just not at human visual wavelengths!

  30. anaphysik says:

    Rutskarn: “[T]his represents a large percentage of the experience of playing the game as intended.”
    MacCready: “Ohoh!, Big mistake!

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