Overhaulout Part 8: Fixed and Broken

By Rutskarn
on Nov 10, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

The brutal Enclave assault marks a point of critical transition for Fallout 3‘s story. This is the part where James ceases to be the de facto protagonist and passes his mantel of agency and primary story-driving responsibility onto the player. In other words, this is where your story should properly begin.

To pull this off, this scene should accomplish three goals:

  1. Bring closure and resolution to your father’s arc, and by extension your relationship with him
  2. Provide a brand-new motivation for the player (since the old driving force, centered directly around your dad’s choices, has become moot)
  3. Establish the villains for the final stretch

Before we go giddily rewriting, an important question: to what extent does the game’s midpoint, as already written, succeed and fail at these goals?

The James Story

Inarguably, James’ story ends when he sabotages his purifier to kill Colonel Autumn and prevent the Enclave from taking charge. Is that a proper ending to his story as written by Bethesda?

Well, let’s take stock of his decision to kill himself and endanger you so he can without prior communication or forethought sabotage his own life’s work to prevent it from…being finished, and then put to unstoppably altruistic use, by the wrong people? As heroic maneuvers go it’s a shortsighted, brash, incredibly damaging and ill-conceived gesture of self-indulgent pride that directly jeopardizes his workers, friends, and only remaining family. So yes; it’s the perfect ending to his story. This is exactly the sort of boneheaded melodrama that caused dozens of deaths in Vault 101, so it’s actually a completely appropriate note to go out on. The only problem is, the game refuses to acknowledge any of that. Ultimately this ending can’t work because James doesn’t work in general. His character as conceived is not in balance with his choices as written.

As for wrapping up the player’s relationship with James, there were two ways to approach that from a writing perspective. The first path is the painful and tragic: the player never really gets a chance to square things with James. In this version the Enclave takes away something the player probably wanted, which was closure with their father, and comes off as an even bigger and more loathsome jerky-jerk. The other path is that of the conscientious writer: wrap everything up so the act break is maximally tidy and the players go away satisfied.

I don’t really care for the game-as-written’s compromise between these two poles, which seems to be: the player’s relationship is resolved if they’ve made ethical choices (“I love you, son/daughter. I am proud. Let us hug.”) and unresolved and open-ended if they’ve made inconveniently barbaric ones (“You nuked a city? Let’s…uh, talk about that after I’m dead, I guess.”), which seems suspiciously like a concession towards keeping the story on rails when James is a saint and the player’s a cartoon supervillain. Whichever route you end up on, it’s hard to shake the sense of “This conversation doesn’t matter” permeating the dialogue.

Let’s cut straight to the rewrite. One way or another (either after helping with repairs or returning from the last unhappy argument for a final showdown), the player will end up speaking to father. Your father will be…not apologetic for what he’s dragged you through, exactly. He doesn’t seem ready to be that honest with himself yet. Instead he has a kind of confession, only a little defiant, even somewhat regretful: he can only ever do what he feels is right. Sometimes those choices hurt. Sometimes they means making sacrifices, or putting people in danger.

But he wisheshe wishes you didn’t have to get hurt.

He’s making progress in Project Purity. He still thinks he’ll need the GECK, sooner or later, but he’s almost got the project back to where it was. He’ll keep working on it. He understands if you don’t share his vision. He understands if you’d rather go home to Vault 101, and he’s sorry that you never can. What he wants is for you to be by his side while he finishes this project to help the wasteland forever.

But first, there’s something that belongs to you. In a maintenance tunnel that was previously locked is the grave of Catherine, your mother. He left a ring of hers there: a piece of silver twisted to look like flowing water. He’d been in too much pain to keep it when she passed, but in the long years since he’s regretted not passing it on to you. Now he’d like you to have it, and to remember who she was and what she stood for.

The player retrieves the ring. Vertibirds creep over the horizon. By the time the player arrives, the scene is in full swing:

The colonel confronts your father inside the booth, soldiers at either shoulder. James, was it? Very good that he dropped by. The cameras they’d installed showed everything. The purifier’s not finished, you say? Oh, no problem at all…it doesn’t have to be finished. The important part is that the primary and secondary reactors, the ones your father warned you were dangerous, have already been set up. Just one premature push of the “start” button will permanently soil the Potomac, force settlements across the Wasteland to deal with the Enclave for water, smooth the way for a peaceful occupation.

All James needs to do to accept a position as chief engineer in this new world order is…press the button. Rest assured, the position is unbelievably comfortable.

Your father’s voice shakes. At first he manages to speak evenly:

“Here we are again. Again. I’ve never met you, ah, colonel? But you know, I know you. Ever since the first toothless wasteland thug took my work, I’ve known you. I’ve harnessed the thing that’s rotting the guts of children, and I’ve beaten it into a miracle, but that’s no use to people like you, is it? You don’t want the miracles, you just want the plagues, the rains of frogs, the death of the firstborns! Is that what you want from me? You want a fucking weapon? (Dr. Li yells to him through the glass) You want me to push this fucking button? Well! Let’s push the fucking button!

He slams his fist down on the console. The generator crackles, bursts—the booth glows green. The colonel collapses in an instant. Your father staggers, clearly ill, looks at you.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and dies.

Brand-New Motivation

So what is the player’s motivation for the second half of Fallout 3?

I want you to take a moment and decide for yourself what it is in the game as written. Be earnest; engage the game in good faith. Think about what happens in this act break and what you’re supposed to feel afterwards.

Now. Did you answer that the player’s motivation is to:

  1. Restore the purifier and cleanse the Wasteland, or:
  2. Avenge your father?

Tricky, isn’t it?

The second one seems like the much stronger emotional drive. You’ve just been through a massacre that among other targets, claimed the father you haven’t had much time to reconnect with. Avenging your father seems like the obvious drive.

At the same time…the man who killed your father is apparently dead. The man who planned the operation, the President, hasn’t really been explicitly connected to what happened yet and ultimately barely will be. Besides, your first act isn’t to declare war on the Enclave, it’s to try to fix the purifier…the one your father just irradiated, and that the Enclave also wants to fix…? And this is leaving aside the elephant in the room, which is that not all players are going to give a shit about dad or are even given a reason to (“He was just gonna lecture me for blowing up Megaton anyway, so whatever”). So revenge doesn’t really qualify as the main motivation.

So what about restoring the purifier? That works, but honestly—and laying aside the myriad reasons this goal doesn’t actually make sense as written—it’s not really emotionally sold to the player. The player watched dad die dramatically, but it wasn’t of thirst. The purifier only matters in an abstract sense, or if the player feels particularly motivated to finish dad’s great work while at the same time not closely examining the logistics of fixing it vs. keeping it out of enemy hands.

In the rewrite, we’re going to break this into two stages. While the emotional rawness is still in place, we’ll give the player the same temporary motivation the original draft does: survive. The player needs to escape the assault and get to safety.

Then the second stage will begin. Dr. Li will exposit where the project currently stands: it’s badly, badly broken. The main generator and secondary generators were both whammied but good. Dr. Li mourns your father, and has some angry words to say about his rash sacrifice, but she has to admit he’s done a thorough job of sabotaging the purifier: at this point only GECK-level technology will fix the thing to the point where it can purify the Potomac OR poison it like the Enclave wanted to. In other words, it’s stable: stably worthless to either party.

Of course, as long as you could find a GECK…it could be very, very useful.

New motivation: opportunity.

NEXT WEEK: #3, ESTABLISHING THE VILLAINS

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2020209Sixty-nine comments, dude! Excellent!

From the Archives:

  1. ElementalAlchemist says:

    The old kill off NPC in front of player to invoke an emotional response routine. It’s a staple of Bioware’s and it pretty much invariably makes me roll my eyes every time they pull that trick again. At least in their case it’s typically done right at the very start of a game (Virmire in ME1 being a notable exception), so the lack of player response is justifiable. It says a lot for Bethesda’s storytelling capability that they pulled this trick in the middle of a game after however many 10s of hours play, with the NPC that was driving the entire main plot to that point, and who was voiced by Liam Neeson, that I just rolled my eyes.

    • John says:

      Poor Trask Ulgo. Nobody loves him.

    • SKD says:

      To be honest, killing off an NPC to invoke an emotional response is pretty much a staple of RPGs in general, not just Bioware. Having played many JRPGs I can say it is almost a requirement that an NPC or party member gets killed off at some point in the game. The Final Fantasy series tends to do it right by letting you get to know them over a significant part of the game. FF7 was a prime example with Aeris, who joins your party at the start of the game and, whether you choose to think of her as a romantic interest or not, it is a gut punch when she dies.

      The worst examples are those games which get lazy and kill off a family member right at the outset.

      • ElementalAlchemist says:

        Bioware gets a special mention because killing off a companion/party member in the opening act is one of their signature traits. For example, Gorion in Baldur’s Gate, Jenkins in Mass Effect, Bethany/Carver in Dragon Age 2. And of course they also like to kill off non-party NPCs early as well, for example Duncan in Dragon Age Origins (plus assorted NPCs in the individual origins, like the Noble’s parents, sister-in-law, and nephew), the whole starting village in Jade Empire, off-screen deaths of BG1 NPCs in Baldur’s Gate 2, the player’s father in ME Andromeda, etc.

        • Jeff says:

          Depending on background (since in a handful he basically forces you to join him, while in the others he’s rescuing you from death), Duncan was done really well. Actually, that whole sequence was done well, with the betrayal and destruction of your new family.

  2. Jarenth says:

    Ah, this is a clever section break trick you pulled, because I did get to both of those possible player motivations. Plus a third: If the player is a real mean sort, one that doesn’t care about James or about the lives of Wasteland dwellers, they might be most interested in that Enclave offer — work to fix the purifier, then take that technology to the Enclave, and accept their offer of living a life of luxury. If the player’s driving motivation so far has been ‘I’m angry at James because he got me kicked out of my comfortable safe Vault 101 life’, I could see that line of reasoning work.

    • All 3 of them can be successfully routed into “get that GECK”, because you can phrase it as “even if you don’t want the GECK to restore the purifier or poison the wasteland, you can still use it as leverage to either get the Enclave off your back or force them to deal with you.”

      Likewise, since you retreat to the Brotherhold stronghold at this point, THEY probably also want the GECK. There could be a cool scene when you reach the doors where Dr. Li basically buys your way into the Brotherhood stronghold by telling them that she knows where to find a GECK.

      So you’d go very rapidly from “escape with your life from the Enclave” to “literally everyone wants this GECK and whoever gets their hands on it first is going to be in a position to dictate terms to the entire Wasteland”.

      That kind of power plays very well into the theme of the story that Rutskarn has created, about power and its misuse.

      • It could also make the Brotherhood an interesting player in the endgame, because THEY want to use the GECK AS a GECK–but it’s far too small to help the ENTIRE wasteland. However, they don’t really care about that. It will give them enough resources to stand up to the Enclave and help the people they deem worthy of being allowed in their little paradise. So you have 3 options:

        1. Help Everyone some and utterly wreck the Enclave’s plans (purify the Wasteland’s water)
        2. Help a (sort of) benevolent group a LOT–but the conflict over control of the Wasteland will continue (Brotherhood)
        3. Help the Evil Overlord become unstoppable (Enclave)

        • The Brotherhood could also make a very good argument that recklessly purifying all the water in the wasteland may just make things worse, because the lack of widespread resources was just about all that was keeping raiders and other bands of baddies in check. (Which would make sense given James’s reckless actions throughout the game.) So before you head out after the GECK, they could make the argument that SOME kind of strongman control over resources is NECESSARY. Which would fit in really well with their ethos as an organization.

          • *snerk* I just went back to review the first post in this series about the Theme of the Game, and found this:

            “I acknowledge an objectivist position that using one’s strength to get what one can from others is not evil, and would ask that we refrain from a bottomless argument about this in the comments.”

            Well, I don’t really want to argue about it, exactly, but as sort of the Resident Objectivist around here, I’d like to comment that this is a Nietzschian ideal (maybe–or at least the popular notion of Nietzsche), not remotely an Objectivist one. What it leaves out is that there are different *types* of strength. There is the strength of a brute with a club, who can threaten to destroy, and there is the “strength” of an inventor with an idea, who can create.

            The only “strength” it is appropriate for a human to use in the Objectivist view is the LATTER one–the strength that makes life better, not worse. The point isn’t to grab a pile of loot at gunpoint. It’s to create the values that support life.

            • Decius says:

              Even the Objectivist knows that they need to have protection from the strength of the club. In practical terms, everything that provides protection from violence is also part of violent strength, so in the actual world being able to resist violence requires having violent strength.

              (In more abstract worlds, things like the Sanctuary spell might provide protection while not being very useful for projecting strength, the way Mage Armor is.

    • BlueHorus says:

      Agreed that this is clever.
      (Hey, Ruts writes well, who knew? :P)
      The GECK, being the only means to fix the purifier now, is power. Whoever has it controls James’ dream, decides whose vision of the wasteland comes to fruition all factions have a good reason to court the player.
      You could explicitly pot the power into the player’s hands by having some clue in Catherine’s grave as to the GECK’s existence – it’s literally ONLY the player who knows even that there’s a GECK to be had at all.

      • I thought that the reason why James went to the vault where you found him in the first place was to locate a GECK? Or am I mis-remembering?

        Granted I haven’t played the game in a while so I could be off-base, but I was pretty sure that James already knew about the location of the GECK, and moving this information could be problematic.

        • BlueHorus says:

          Yeah, literally just the player knowing probably wouldn’t work.
          Who did James tell, though? Maybe Dr Li knows about the GECK – and points out that’s what the purifier now needs. But as to exactly where it is, only you and James were in that simulation with Braun…
          Or the GECK wasn’t actually necessary until after James’ sabotage/suicide. It was a backup, and he got something else from Braun initially.
          I think it’s doable, but it would need some work. Have the Enclave move in with engineers to try and fix it, indicating that they don’t know.

          • I checked the wiki and it’s not clear when or who mentions the need for a GECK to complete Project Purity. You find out WHERE the GECK is from the Brotherhood stronghold, but who tells you that you need the GECK at all isn’t mentioned.

            • Ciennas says:

              James tells you in his recorded journal just before he goes to meet with Braun.

              Not sure about how or when or why the Enclave know jack though- that traitor science lady who didn’t get shot tells them?

          • Decius says:

            The Enclave didn’t give their troops zero information about what was going on. They studied the place beforehand and are gave their engineer the notes.

            After the murder/suicide, you get a chance to talk with The Engineer, and end up either agreeing to help her repair the purifier, which she tells you will require a GECK… or a genius the like of which only happens once [pointed glance at your late father].

            Luckily she has a lead on where one might be in her notes, and while she’s going to be busy getting things ready for it you could show your good citizenship and Fetch Quest. Because of operational security, she doesn’t know any of the super mutant facts about 87, and she doesn’t know that sending a non-enclave person there is a Bad Idea. If you go maximum evil, she refuses to believe you about the Enclave being the source of mutants, unless you find the sufficient information to confirm to her that it’s true, in which case she tries to quit and gets the Deluxe Enclave Retirement Plan (Twice as good as the Metro retirement plan: you get TWO bullets) from the commissar.

            If, on the other hand, you refuse to agree to work for The Engineer, her last action as the ranking officer of the detachment is to order all of them to kill you. You kill her and find the same Enclave notes on her corpse as the plot key to exit the room. Reading the notes that way reveals a lot of “[redacted]”, making it clear that there’s something else going on at 87 and that it would be a Bad Idea for anyone not with the Enclave to go there. Dr. Li also looks at the notes and sends you to get the GECK while she prepares the facility to receive it- it’s not like she has the genius to make it work the way Dad could, but she refuses to stop now. If you refuse the Call to Adventure from Dr Li, she says that she’ll find someone to do it eventually but hopes you’ll change your mind, and gives you the quest anyway.

        • Ah, okay, in Ruts’s version James went to find Braun because of an unspecified generator problem that prevented the purifier from working. So it could be totally functional for you to, say, find some of Catherine’s notes hypothesizing that a GECK could be used to make the purifier functional–if one could be located that’s still in working condition. Then when you get to the Brotherhood, you can quietly use their computer system as in the original quest to research the location of a GECK.

          So, at that point you’d be the only one who knew that a GECK was needed to make the purifier work, possibly.

          The next few plot sections need the most overhauling, of course, since in the original version there were so many contradictions, weird bits, and nonsense.

          • I just went back and watched the scene where James confronts Autumn in the Purifier and ZOMG does Ruts have his work cut out for him.

            In the original scene as it stands, there is ZERO reason for the Enclave to even be AFTER you or assume that you know ANYTHING about how to get the Purifier running. Autumn in that scene doesn’t even know that James is in charge of the project until James identifies himself. He was just ordered to seize the purifier. And James even says that the purifier DOESN’T WORK.

            This makes the Enclave showing up at Vault 87 to grab the GECK from you *completely insane*. Why did they even follow you? How did they know you were going to Vault 87? WHY DID THEY CARE? As far as they know you’re some rando science assistant (assuming anyone even SAW you enough to identify you while you were escaping through the tunnels) who escaped from the purifier (which in Ruts’ version is currently completely useless) with Dr. Li.

            At this point in the story in EITHER version the Enclave should not give one poop about you.

            HOWEVER, this is actually where something that Ruts set up earlier can be a HUGE benefit to the writer–and the difference between good writing and bad. When you write well and the things that happen are integrated, problems are not really problems, they are opportunities to bring back something from earlier on. Because Vault 87 isn’t just the location of the GECK. It’s ALSO where the super-mutants in the Wasteland come from. And the super-mutants in Ruts’ version are secretly under the control of the Enclave. See, the Enclave doesn’t magically have to read the script and show up at Vault 87 to steal the GECK from you in Ruts’ version . . . because in Ruts’ version THEY WERE ALREADY THERE, keeping tabs on the production line of super-mutants. The Enclave isn’t running the vault as a base because nominally the super-mutants are the ones creating more super-mutants, giving the Enclave deniability. But they ARE keeping tabs on the vault.

            So, at whatever point you decide to go retrieve the GECK, when you leave you stumble right into the Enclave security forces, who take you prisoner. This is the perfect opportunity for the big reveal that the Enclave has been behind the super-mutant menace all along. The Enclave doesn’t HAVE to know anything about you at this point. You walked right into their operation in going after that GECK. It’s a coincidence, yes, but it’s better than “Colonel Autumn read the script”.

            Plus, there could be a really cool branching conversation here with lots of interesting speech checks as the Enclave tries to interrogate you. You could TOTALLY fake out the player and get them to accidentally give away huge amounts of information just because *it usually wouldn’t occur to the player that the bad guys don’t know this information*. I mean, the Enclave doesn’t know who you are, has no reason to suspect you have ANY connection with the Purifier AT ALL . . . you’re just a random yabbo who stumbled onto their biggest secret, accidentally found a GECK inside, and was about to waltz off with it.

            They’d probably try and recruit you and be delighted with you for (in effect) bringing them the only working GECK in the Wasteland.

            • In fact, they’re so pleased that President Eden wants to thank you–personally. (Regardless of whether you agreed to their recruitment efforts or not.)

              When Eden meets with you, “he” realizes that the GECK could be used to repair the purifier–much better than just using the GECK by itself, since it would affect the entire Wasteland, not just a small portion of it. He hands off the GECK to his chief officer (somebody OTHER than Zombie Colonel Autumn, please). That officer leaves the base to take the GECK to the purifier. If you agreed to join the Enclave, he takes you with him. If not, you’re left in a cell in the Enclave base.

              When you leave the base in his company, Eden’s Number Two reveals that he’s sick of working for a machine and he’s going to use the GECK to poison the wasteland and take over himself. He orders his minions to take you away and execute you, then leaves in a vertibird. You fight the minions and run off. This, of course, is a *horrible* contrivance. Maybe somebody else can come up with a better way to get you back to the Brotherhood if you decide to be “evil” and accept the Enclave’s offer.

              If not, now you have to escape the Enclave base, which can go pretty much as in the original sans the whole discussion about “modified FEV” which has absolutely zero plot value since Ruts set it up that the purifier can either purify or poison on its own.

              So, either way, you go back to the Brotherhood, they activate Liberty Prime, and everyone rushes to the purifier for the Final Showdown.

              • trevalyan says:

                The Enclave sends you back as a double agent: they’re not sure what the Brotherhood is up to, but they’re confident that the Brotherhood is working on a secret project, and that’s why the Paladins have never used an all-out attack to scour the Wasteland clear of non-Brotherhood influence. Eden doesn’t actually care if this is true or not: either way, he wants the Brotherhood’s main reactor to go off during the final battle, completely eliminating them as resistance to the Enclave even if they can force a stalemate at the Purifier itself.

                It’s not the best solution, and makes Eden look like an idiot if you lied to the Enclave about joining them, but given how obviously cushy the deal is, they don’t assume you’d reject it.*

                * – That would imply a level of basic morality foreign to the Enclave as a whole.

            • BlueHorus says:

              …This makes the Enclave showing up at Vault 87 to grab the GECK from you *completely insane*. Why did they even follow you? How did they know you were going to Vault 87? WHY DID THEY CARE?

              Well they’re the bad guys, and that means they need to do bad-guy things. That’s why they kidnapped the one old guy in the entire wasteland who cared about and believed in Eden’s propaganda-bots (left the rest of the town) and tortured him for a bit. Can’t have anyone thinking they’re the good guys, can we?

              Love the idea of the interrogation. It doesn’t have any effect on the game story really what you ‘give away’ (since they only want one thing from you – anything else you give away is superfluous) but it’s a great role-play opportunity. Co-operate or not, try to work out what they want or not, tough it out, swear at them – could be awesome.

              • Anitogame says:

                “Well they’re the bad guys, and that means they need to do bad-guy things.”

                This is Bethesda’s big problem (well… one of the many). No one has any real motivation.

                “We help Synths escape the Intitute!”
                Why?
                “Because.”

                “We make Synths and send them to replace real people in the Wasteland!”
                Why?
                “Dunno. Lulz?”

                “WE TAKE ALL THE TECHNOLOGIES FROM HEATHEN MAGGOTS.”
                Why?
                “Because that’s what we did in the first game and Bethesda has no creativity.”

                “I have another sett…”
                You know what? Forget it.
                “But…”
                I’m not interested, Preston, you’ll just send me to some pointless location to clear out some ghouls, I’ve got better shit to do. Also, throw yourself off a skyscraper, please, and take your goody-two-shoes Minutemen with you.

                • It’s not even motivation in this case–they have magical knowledge that there’s no way they could have short of reading the script.

                  Even assuming that they’re reasonably smart and, say, listen to Three Dog’s commentary about you on the radio, they have NO WAY to know that he means YOU. Colonel Autumn’s dialog in the original game indicates that *he doesn’t even know who James is*. He says “who’s in charge here?”

                  Granted, in the version Rutskarn has re-written, the Enclave has had ample opportunity to find out who you are, particularly if you’ve been doing the famous-making side quests at all. They have all those announcers/spybots all over the Wasteland and they’d have to be some kind of cretins not to have somebody monitoring them, especially since their freakin boss is a freakin computer who can directly integrate the freakin spy feeds.

                  Rutskarn pretty much already fixed this problem, I was just pointing out that the Enclave chasing you in particular was really weird in the original game.

  3. tremor3258 says:

    But whether a saint or a sinner, the path leads to the Garden of Eden (Creation Kit)

  4. nobb says:

    you know it’s so super hard to make a player actually care about an NPC that it’s a frigging waste that when they actually succeed they usually just kill the NPC.

    • It seems silly, too, it’s hard to get further drama out of a corpse.

    • BlueHorus says:

      I’d care about Ruts’ version of James. The self-deception, the excuses, the desire to help regardless of the consequences to others around him make him very believable.
      The post-Braun argument with him detailed last week would also help a great deal.

      I love the idea of visiting Catherine’s grave as well. You could add a hell of a lot of depth to James (and her) with a well-done audio message found there. A glimpse at a younger, happier, more idealistic James filled with less self-justification and more hope, genuinely trying to do something good.
      It’d make a good contrast with James now.

  5. Pax says:

    What’s this, a simply sane reason to actually try and stop the Enclave from turning on the Purifier? Madness! I hope I know where you’re going with Colonel Autumn as well, because his being alive later on in the game was highly confusing. Not because he wasn’t dead, but because I didn’t even realize he was supposed to be the same guy that “died” in the tube with James.

    • Anitogame says:

      Sad thing is you can see him inject himself with a literal plot device during the purifier scene. It’s so hamfisted I can’t believe someone actually thought it was a good idea. Then I remember this is Bethesda we’re talking about and… yeah.

      • ehlijen says:

        Yes, he injects himself. But:
        – He then lies there, still as though dead, so it’s in no way obvious that he succeeded in saving his life.
        – Neither Rad-X nor Rad-Away are injected drugs. They are pills and IV drips, respectively. So the connections of injection = survive radiation doesn’t exist in the player’s mind.
        – Him surviving the chamber thoroughly undermines the idea that going in for the endgame is automatic death. In fact, it begs the question why you can convince him to walk away with the purifier still about to blow up. Either, that should mean you can run away from the explosion, too, or that he should know he can’t and therefore offer some of his magic drug to turn the purifier off safely. At the very least, the peaceful talk option should leave him telling the player what’s going on, at which point the player could get a speech option to ask for some of that drug.
        – So he fell unconscious rather than dying in the death tank. Who got him out? Why didn’t they die? Or if they didn’t, how? Why can’t you find any of that drug at the enclave base? Or get a robot to save the purifier for you in the end if that’s how the enclave got the Colonel out.

        In short, him being alive is yet another signpost that the end choice is dumb.

        • Actually, given that in Ruts’s Fallout 3, the supermutants are working for the Enclave, maybe Autumn injected himself with the Enclave’s version of FEV and he shows up later as a SUPERMUTANT. This would serve numerous purposes:

          1. Drive home that the Enclave is responsible for the supermutant menace.
          2. Make a “reasonable” path for the return of Autumn.
          3. Nasty boss fight.

          • trevalyan says:

            I think there might already be a Super Mutant working as an evil scientist in this timeline… or someone who is friendly with them? I might even know the candidate. But yes, this idea is obvious genius- needing Autumn to interrogate you, instead of some faceless goon, is probably why Bethesda had him survive in the first place. You need to have someone to resist, someone with a history- even if that history is closer to cartoonish supervillainy than anything real.

        • BlueHorus says:

          I either forgot or never noticed that Autumn was supposed to be the guy who ‘died’ in the control room with James. That’s awful, for all the reasons listed above.
          But yeah, Bethesda, so who’s surprised…

          I’d say just have him die. it makes the Enclave scarier if they just have disposable troops – kill one guy and another just steps up, same arguments, same motivation. Like a syndicate or corporation.
          Maybe to the extent that they’re just clones of each other?
          Point is, they aren’t a problem your player can solve by simply shooting them. You can’t even kill Eden, in the end, since he’s an AI who backed himself up.

  6. Hey, Rutskarn, I know it’d probably be a lot of work, but I would LOVE it if you would create a “treatment” that’s basically a very fast single-path story writeup showing how the major scenes would play out in your final version of this game re-write. I think that would be a great way to wrap this series up.

  7. DwarfWarden says:

    First time I played through I was a good little scientist and fixed everything ever. But in the middle of my second playthrough, a.k.a. Adventures in Explosionland, I had to save before talking to Dad. Because I just had to see all the dialogue choices. And no matter what I did the ‘evil’ stuff was just “We’ll talk about this later.” Somehow Dad, during the journey from Vault 112 to Rivet City somehow found out I nuked Megaton and that it was irrefutably my fault. Still trying to figure out how he came to this conclusion when only the most rudimentary radio communications have been set up.

    • Ciennas says:

      I would assume the Radscorpion told him- the one that in every playthrough I’ve had is sitting outside of the garage, that James then gets into a fist fight with after exhausting his six shots from the worst pistol in the game.

      Maybe Braun had him locked up as a dog in the simulator for his own safety- the man is dangerous enough with just thumbs, by accident.

  8. Ciennas says:

    So, I gotta wonder about John Henry Eden- or ZAX, as his pals like to call him.

    Is he still an AI in this set up?

  9. SoranMBane says:

    One of the things that’s come to irk me about Fallout 3’s story is that, after James dies, the mantle of protagonist never really does pass on to the player. Immediately afterwards, Dr. Li starts calling the shots, and then the BoS guys after that. The closest thing the player has to agency in the main story comes in the form of two flaccid “moral choices” near the very end (“Do you want to poison the river for no reason?” and “Do you want to sacrifice yourself for no reason?”).

    I think the sequence where you and the researchers are escaping the Enclave should be the point where the player has the opportunity to stand up and take charge in their father’s stead (along with the option to defer that responsibility to others if that’s the kind of character you’d rather play). Maybe there could even be opportunities during the escape to gainsay Li when she tries to order anything too risky, or to perform special actions to slow the Enclave down or open up safer routes, or use your skills to calm the members of your group or tend to their injuries. Just following Li’s lead would almost certainly lead to casualties along the way, but taking charge and using your head could potentially get the whole group to safety.

    • BlueHorus says:

      Well there’s a section where someone gets ill and you have the choice ‘of leave him, there’s no time’ or giving him some medicine…

      But yeah, Bethesda is really good at putting a grand name/costume over something underwhelming and/or shallow.
      Remember how meaningful it was to be the Archmage of the Mage’s Guild in Skyrim? How earning that role really impacted the gameplay and story?
      How joining the fabled Nightingales (at the cost of your soul!) gave you nothing but a set of clothes that was worse than what you already had?
      Etc.

      • SoranMBane says:

        Yeah, I remember the guy with the heart condition. But the thing about that moment is that it has the same problem of other people being the ones calling all the shots for the player. Dr. Li is the one who orders you to stop and help that guy, and from there you have the options to either be good and do what she says, or leave him to die. Attempting to have even an ounce of agency is actively framed as evil.

        • Ciennas says:

          I suspect the problem was because all of the moral choices in the game were pretty simple and binary.

          EAT KITTENS/SNUGGLE KITTENS

          Not a whole lot of room for player choice in there when you have NUKE TOWN/DISABLE NUKE as your baseline morality.

          They did really interesting stuff or could have leveraged it well, for instance:

          In Vault 101, you are asked to save Butch’s mom. There is no reason not to save her. However, if saving her triggered extra guards or radroaches or closed off a potential escape route….

          So it becomes ‘do the right thing, even if it makes your life more difficult’ versus ‘do something that you’ll feel terrible about, but you’re still alive.’

          Maybe even introduce a middle gradient, like convince Butch to do it- Butch, still afraid of Radroaches, saves his mother, but at a cost- maybe she gets knocked into a coma, or loses a limb or something.

          But since the game had the morality meter as a central mechanic, it ended up having to feature it, and that pushed nuance right out the window.

          The most nuanced (and irritating because it cheated and lied and punished you for doing the ethical and smart thing,) was with the Tenpenny Towers ghouls.

          As for giving the player freedom… All of the Bethesda titles past Morrowind have a mild deficiency in this regard. Even when you’re in charge, you’re still not in charge.

          Any suggestions for fixing that?

          • BlueHorus says:

            Short of just…write better?

            I think Bethesda’s particular take on player freedom has a large part to play here. The games are often shallow and simplistic to allow the player to do as much as possible without barring any future choices or paths.
            There’s a lot to do, just at the cost of having very little the player does actually achieve or change anything.

            (Seriously. The only reason I completed the main quest of Skyrim was because I was sick of repetetive, time- and potion-consuming random dragon attacks. AND THE DRAGON ATTACKS DIDN’T STOP AFTERWARDS.
            GAME I KILLED ALDUIN WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?!)

            Search for ‘Freedom’ on this site – there’s some interesting articles on it in the archives, a couple about Bethesda games in particular.

            • Ciennas says:

              I think the dragons had to stay in no matter what regardless- otherwise you punish players who took the main quest early, and keep them from learning any more Shouts.

              Since the shouts are where they stuck all the interesting and cool magic spells, they were stuck for things to do for that.

              Also, if you solved the problem of dragons forever, you removed one of the interesting AI fight mechanics. I mean, I know that people call Skyrim dragons boring, but while they could be improved, I don’t feel like disabling them would indeed be an improvement.

              Maybe…. Maybe introduce several post-game Paarthurnax like dragons who could teach several different schools of shouts. That could have been interesting. Introduce dragons who are willing to duel, but not to the death?

              I dunno.

              • Syal says:

                Just stick them in the dragon graves and/or shrines where the player can fight them on their terms.

                • BlueHorus says:

                  There’s a mod imaginatively called ‘No random dragon encounters’ on the Nexus which…well, I’ll let you work it out.

                  It leaves the dragons at grave sites and on mountaintops etc, so you can still fight them. And what with climbing a mountain first it feels a hell of a lot more epic than the ‘Oh, for fu- not again…‘ experience of the random encounters.

                  If you want to learn shouts go to the Greybeards. Isn’t that their raison d’etre? Just add a way to unlock the shouts as well and you’re sorted.

                  That’s another very Bethesda thing: an ancient order of monks who’ve existed for generations, guarding arcane knowledge men can barely handle…
                  The player spends half an hour with them, becomes better than them at what they do in 5 minutes and then leaves, (probably) never to return.
                  They really do specialize at taking the epic and making it humdrum.

          • Syal says:

            Take away NPC immortality, and if the player kills a quest NPC, redirect the quest advancement to a Daedra Lord who requires some ridiculous thing first.

            “Oh, you killed the Key Guy and can’t get introduced to the Important People? I can vouch for you to them, but first you have to go into the Tunnel of Shaggy Dogs and kill 800 Dremora for me. Then resurrect them all, and re-kill 750 of them, no more and no less. I’ll be counting!”

            • galacticplumber says:

              No just do the respectful thing and have anyone who dies while still being relevant to a sidequest throw up a message saying that such and such quest can’t be completed and let the player decide if they wanna load their last save or not.

              • Syal says:

                In Morrowind I once killed a random woman in a nondescript room off in a corner of a castle and it turned out she was integral to the main plot six quests later and I had to reload from who-knows-when.
                Then there was the villain in a cave who would give the Failed message when you killed him even though he was never plot important, and the people who were important but wouldn’t give you the Failed message because there was a quest to kill them after their part in the main quest was fulfilled.

                And then there was the guy who was important to the Hlaalu quest chain but attacked you in an Imperial sidequest and was likely dead when the other quest chain rolled around, with no warning because it wasn’t the main quest.

                A clear workaround would solve all of those.

                • galacticplumber says:

                  No no, just a simple series of logic checks on what side quests have been completed and if any left undone are ”tripped” by killing any given NPC. Basically give everyone a name and if there is any sidequest you need them for have an error message flag that trips when you kill them. This would of course require someone competent to test kill all relevant NPCs with quests undone to check the work. Probably a modder making an unofficial patch.

            • BlueHorus says:

              Tell you what – Keyholio the Daedric Lord of Repairing Broken Quest Chains would have been a much more popular NPC than any other Bethesda character ever. The entire player base would appreciate him and the internet would drown in memes.

              He’s a fantastic idea, though probably a massive bugger to implement.

  10. V says:

    What exactly does James do? Maybe this is in the original game, but I either don’t remember or don’t understand what you’re saying.

    • Ciennas says:

      At this point in the canon game, James tasks you with clearing out the entire memorial if you missed anything, and perhaps recognizing his own lack of combat skill, allows you to do this alone.

      Then, he has something that vaguely resembles a heart to heart, primarily based on what you did regarding Megaton (NUKE CITY/SAVE CITY), and then throws you into more routine maintenance to bring the system back online.

      While exploring, the supermutants who moved in were nice enough to leave all of the old audio logs from the last time James and company was here alone, so you can hunt those down if you wish.

      Finally, he has you flush a pipe (While you’re still inside it, naturally) that takes you outside the memorial, where we see the Enclave Vertibirds swoop in from nowhere, disgorge several troops and swoop off again.

      Back inside, you’re probably going to have to kill at least two hostile for no reason troopers in powered armor, and then you get to the control room.

      You find that James is in there behind PLOTGLASS DOORS with Col. Autumn and two power armor clad goons, and one of the other scientist ladies.

      Autumn introduces himself, says the US government is taking the project, and when James explains that it still isn’t working, Autumn shoots the lady and reiterates he’s going to take over the project, k thnx.

      James ‘acquiesces’, and keys in some kind of ‘flood the control room with enough rads to kill everything’ sequence, including the blokes in powered armor.

      Autumn injects himself with some kind of PLOT MAGIC that will somehow save his life here, and James uses his last words to tell you to run.

      It is a sequence that could have been super duper awesome, but was executed…. haphazardly? A lot of this feels like a DM who has this AWESOME Idea, you guys, and is so excited to get you there that they rush key reveals, expecting the player to have picked up their enthusiasm and running with it.

      I always could see that enthusiasm, at least.

      • V says:

        Oh my bad, I didn’t specify what I was confused about. What does James do to the water purifier by smashing the control panel that damages it so badly and irradiates the room? I don’t understand how he did something so specific in a fit of passion.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Its one of those star trek consoles that explodes from the slightest breeze and severely burns the user while at the same time spraying hot steam all around.Only this is fallout,so steam is radioactive.

        • Ciennas says:

          In the canon version of this scene, it was implied to be cold fury, because it was a deliberate suicide move, and the delivery said ‘You have pissed off a man with certain skills. Skills refined over a long period of time doing things of SCIENCE. Skills that will make him a nightmare to people like you.’

          Ooh, how awesome would it have been for Fawkes to be James, surviving his own stupid by turning into a super mutant and not so far gone as to be a mindless violence dispenser?

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