Overhaulout Part 10: Bury My Heart at Little Lamplight

By Rutskarn Posted Friday Dec 15, 2017

Filed under: Video Games 71 comments

When I started this series, I said I was keeping all the major story beats. All the major characters. All the major locations. Every mile of Bethesda’s extensive worldmap and groundwork. Even if I don’t like it, even if I can’t stand it, even if remembering it exists makes my teeth itch. Yes, in fact: even Little Lamplight.

I’ve talked before about how Bethesda can’t be trusted with immortal NPCs. Not because it’s some objective sin of game design, because it really isn’t, but because nobody in the company knows how to write for NPCs that have privileges the player character lacks. If you create NPCs that relentlessly taunt and belittle the player, there should be a way to serve them comeuppance. If there isn’t, there should be a way to ignore them. If one can’t, they should be basically immaterial to the player’s success or failure in the game. If they aren’t, that feeling of all-too-familiar disempowerment at the hands of an unassailable bully better be what the game is about, heart, soul and center. It’s an appropriate emotion to convey in a game about the horrors of tyranny or man’s inhumanity to man. Slipping it in like a pinch of sand in your triple-decker victory sandwich is just bad writing.

Sure, the bullying dorkuses of Little Lamplight aren’t really sinister. I was myself only moderately bullied in elementary school, but I have trouble imagining even the most tender souls are genuinely reduced to tears by Mayor MacReady or his snotty authoritarian goombas. I would characterize them as “annoying.” You know what, though? “Annoying” is bad enough. “Annoyed” is not an emotional goal of Fallout 3 and I will aggressively roll my eyes at anyone who argues otherwise. We can do better.

So how do we fix Little Lamplight? As in all things, by identifying the intended purpose and the core problems.

Intended purpose:

  • Check another box from the “wacky high-concept brainstorm wall,” which it pains me to say Bethesda loves more than the company loves internal logic or a logical story structure. “Sure, this cool thing might be a complete dead end that seems to exist purely for its own sake, but it sure did make journalists chuckle and say ‘huh’ at E3!”
  • Provide another set of quests to pad out the main story (or skip if you have the right perk, which is sort of neat).
  • …that’s it.

Not an incredibly strong start. So, besides the fact that LL’s existence is weakly justified, what are the problems?

  • The kids as written are jaw-shatteringly obnoxious. If you’ve played the game, you need no examples. If you haven’t, no one example will suffice. Trust me, they’re real shit-kids.
  • Appointing the Lamplighters sole guardians of the pass creates an ugly plot holeAnd a plot hole is only really ugly when it enables bad storytelling which I’ll get into in a later post.
  • Considering that their role in the story is literally to be gatekeepers, they’re insulting unqualified. They prevent the player from passing with a short plywood wall and a handful of armed children. To earn a way through the gate without the right skills or perk, the player has to assault a fortified base of murderous slavers. Even if you present the reasonable conceit that harming the kids is off the table, how hard would it really be to bulldoze through with power armor? And given that the kids don’t know they’re invincible, why would they stand their ground and shoot at you instead of running for the hills? It’s asinine. The mind reels from the idea that these kids actually get to dictate terms to you just because they’ve got a shitty barricade and the protection of youth.

Now we’re getting somewhere. First we’ll fix our identified problems; then we’ll create new, better, more ambitious goals.

Problem solutions:

  • Forget the kids playing gatekeeper. “We’ll let you progress in the main quest if you do us a favor” is a frustrating chestnut of RPGs anyhow and rarely holds up to scrutiny. How about instead, the player arrives to discover and thwart a raid currently in progress, and (after witnessing the vulnerability of the settlement and having their heartstrings plucked by the plight of the poor beleaguered kids hanging on by their fingernails) finds out that in an earlier gambit, the members of Little Lamplight who know how to hotwire the vault door have been snatched up. The player’s cleared to pass on through the town, but there’s nothing to pass on to because the vault door won’t budge without the right passed-on-for-generations steps known only to the absentees. Now the player has a choice: they can rescue the children and get the information directly, or they can negotiate with or befriend the Paradise Falls slavers to gain access the information without saving anyone.
  • Like I said, I’ll get to the plot hole later.
  • Simplest fix so far: don’t make the children a flock of cocky shitbirds. Make them defiant, proud, brave, but don’t make them pointlessly antagonistic. I can buy that a settlement of children can fend for themselves and demonstrate the grit they need to keep predators at bay, but there’s a tremendous difference between standing one’s ground and savagely mocking potential enemies. One of these two attitudes is associated with survival in desperate, brutal, dog-eat-dog situations. The other is associated with getting one’s ass kicked.

Updated goals:

  • Pad the main story with quest content and a choice that reflects the tension between helping others at great risk and taking advantage of weakness. We do this by presenting a pretty straightforward choice: the player can either take great risks to get some information and rescue the innocent, or exploit the fear and helplessness of the captured children to get the info out of them under false pretenses or intimidation. Either way, a resounding and full-throated commitment to the player’s established principles…unless the player just buys the kids and sets them free, choosing neither to confront evil nor to profit from it and deferring “choosing a side” for a little longer.
  • Check another box on the “wacky high-concept brainstorm wall” in a way that tells an active story about what’s currently happening in the world. If you come across a settlement of children, that’s…cool, I guess? If you come across a settlement of children that is currently locked in a war of attrition with slavers and fighting to save its own existence, that’s a just a location that can show up in a story, that is a story. That tells us something about Little Lamplight’s role in the world. That makes the lol-crazy concept of an entire village of youthful innocents facing the dangers of a hungry wasteland directly speak to the central themes of the story by acknowledging: the weak are always in peril of being devoured by the strong and evil, and can be saved only if the strong and good give their strength willingly.

So that’s our Little Lamplight. We’re past the worst of it now; time to bring this story to its satisfying final act.




[1] And a plot hole is only really ugly when it enables bad storytelling

From The Archives:

71 thoughts on “Overhaulout Part 10: Bury My Heart at Little Lamplight

  1. Khizan says:

    Little Lamplight made me quit playing Fallout 3 in disgust. I’ve never advanced past it.

    My 100% villainous Terror of the Wasteland, who was already working with the slavers, has to go rescue a bunch of kids instead of just plasma rifling their barricade down and stomping over the ashes? No. I put up with the stupid cannibals and everything else, but that’s just too far.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      The game would have been a lot better without annoying kids in it. I didn’t just get Fridays at Lamplight. I got sick of the kids in Megatonne. If game needs them to be invulnerable, that’s acceptable, but they shouldn’t be insulting the player. Make them quiet and timid children who always run away from combat. Hell, make them insult you as they get out of your way. “This grown-up smells funny. Let’s go play over there.” still let’s you have kids that insult the player, without drawing attention to the fact that they break the 4th wall.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Dang autocorrect. “I didn’t just get Fridays at Lamplight” should have been, “I didn’t just get annoyed at Lamplight”. Or “annoyed by the children in Lamplight”. :)

        1. Tintenseher says:

          The demon of autocorrect is contemptible, but “Fridays at Lamplight” is a fantastic novel title that I will be stealing, so thanks! :)

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Turn it off and instead leave just the autocomplete.Once you used it enough,autocomplete can even type out your most used sentences by just tapping the full words buttons.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            I actually include auto complete in the same set of errors. Also when the swipe-gesture recognition messes up on my phone keyboard (which is what usually happens to me). All the same thing really – messed up input, but didn’t catch it before hitting the button. :)

        3. Mintskittle says:

          Is it bad that when I read that, I saw “Five Nights at Lamplight” instead?

          1. Durican says:

            Dark cavernous place with invincible obnoxious children who cannot be harmed in any way. I think that fits as the Purple Guy’s personal hell.

  2. Matt Downie says:

    Typo corner: “that's a just a” -> “that’s not just a”?

  3. Shen says:

    Honestly never got the hate for Little Lamplight… but I suppose that’s because I always spec into Speech and spend barely 5 minutes there unless I’m doing some relevant roleplaying. Sure it’s a silly place logically, but the backstory with the mad vault dweller is quite interesting.

    1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

      Can you actually speech your way in? I thought only Child at Heart allowed that.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I seem to remember you can because I’d consider Child at Heart a waste of a perk and I’m 99% sure I only did LL quest once in all my playthroughs. On the other hand it might have been a mod since I tend to use a lot of those.

  4. Decius says:

    Just buying the kids off of the slavers should result in the slavers realizing that kids are profitable merchandise that moves quickly. They’ll be back soon, with more muscle.

    1. Pax says:

      Or even better, there should be an option to barter with the slavers – access to the captured kids to get the info, in return for using your access to Little Lamplight to open the way for the slavers.

      1. SYABM says:

        And, of course, you can backstab the slavers, but that has consequences too.

    2. Oh, I’d love to see a game smart enough to make that point. You thought you could just float through the world and take a sort of easy way out with no consequences? That’s not how it works, bucko.

      1. Tizzy says:

        I'd like to know if there's a game that, when you side with people who only respect strength, take the next logical step and check your strength before deciding whether or not these guys turn on you.

    3. KarmaTheAlligator says:

      Aren’t they already raiding every place, including LL?

  5. Hal says:

    An option not mentioned: With a high enough skill check, the player can fix the door themselves and continue on.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      ’twas implied. :)

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Thats not always a necessity.Even the best engineer can still have immense trouble when confronted with a mechanism unlike anything they ever saw before.Take the best electrician in the world and tell them to defuse a bomb* of medium to high sophistication,and theyll be stumped.Its not unreasonable to have a machine in fallout that you cant tech your way through.

      *Which is basically just tracking wires and figuring out the paths of currents.

      1. Pax says:

        In this case, though, it’s a Vault-brand door, which I’d imagine a techie Vault kid would be pretty familiar with. Of course, you could come up with any number of other contrivances to keep them out, but why? Let the player’s character build be rewarded.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Agreed. Ideally, every major plot point should be solvable in many ways, and all of the skills should be roughly equally useful in the game.

      2. ehlijen says:

        That is absolutely true in the real world, but for it to be acceptable to a player in a game, such distinctions need to be carefully maintained throughout.

        If picking a safe’s lock, an armoury door and the padlock of a wooden crate are the same, you’ll need a good explanation why this door is different or you’ll end up looking like this to the player:

        1. Echo Tango says:

          A “good explanation” isn’t very difficult to come up with, especially in a post-apocalyptic world. Just make all the non-lockpickable chests or doors rusty- and sturdy-looking. Un-hackable computers can have scrambled software, or just be burned-out. Real world wooden crates that have padlocks are smashable, and should be in a game based (more or less) in reality. Non-smashable crates can be metal footlockers.

          1. Philadelphus says:

            I liked how Knights of the Old Republic II let you bash open (most) containers if you didn’t have the lock-picking skill necessary to open them, at the expense of potentially damaging any loot inside. Once you’ve got a lightsaber in hand there really shouldn’t be too many containers that are not accessible to a determined figure.

    3. Pat says:

      Choosing this (if you have the skill for it, like perhaps a high repair skill is needed) could also have the side effect of the kidnapped children being “left for dead”, gaining negative status with Little Lamplight.

  6. Joshua says:

    Never understood why game designers seem to get a hard on for trolling their own players. If you want to make a character that the PCs are dying to kill, you don’t have to do it in a way that distorts reality to make your point. If you visualize running your video game plot event as a pen and paper tabletop session and ask yourself, “Would doing things this way make the PCs really want to kill the NPC or just punch the DM?”, that should be a clue about how to introduce the conflict in your game (or how not to do so).

    1. Warclam says:

      That can be a surprisingly difficult question to answer, though. Stories where characters and bystanders are constantly getting the chop are really popular right now (I blame Game of Thrones, and 90s kids who liked hyperviolent comics growing up to write their own pablum).

      I hate that. It makes me want to punch the writer. I had to stop myself from enclosing the word writer in quotation marks in the last sentence. But that isn’t a universal, or even common, reaction to such stories.

    2. A lot of writers clearly think stories are like puppet shows, where you can just do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want, and it’s all just a story, so who cares? The idea that stories have their own logic, and that by conforming to that logic you can make more powerful stories, is foreign to way too many so-called “writerz”.

      It’s something I’ve been musing on a lot in the last couple of weeks. I’ve been showing my 6 and 9 year old sons My Hero Academia. It is, in my considered opinion, very well written, for what it is. (It is not trying to be amazingly new and novel, but instead taking a fairly standard story and just hammering it home with quality… and my goodness, that’s plenty.) And at one point recently, there was a bit of foreshadowing of something that was going to happen in the next episode. It was minor, and most of us would consider it very obvious stuff, because it was intended to be, it was more for coherency than subtlety. On a whim, I asked my nine-year old what he thought it meant, and he got it instantly correct.

      And I realized, growing up in the 80s on the cartoons of that era, that 9-year-old me absolutely would not have gotten it correct. I was raised on a whole bunch of stories written by authors who think that stories are just about making whatever they want happen whenever they want. On those rare occasions where a decent author got their hands on the material, they might make a memorable episode that actually got some feelz out of me (in the modern parlance), but mostly it was garbage. It was so garbage that to this day, I first have to realize (or be told by someone) that I’m watching something actually decent, and only then will I start thinking about the story seriously. My default reaction is to let the story just wash over me, and get on with the other elements that are going on without thinking about the story, because of decades of crap stories being what I had to work with.

      The fact that I also played a lot of video games does not help, because on average, video game stories are even worse; not only do the writers think they can do whatever they want whenever they want with no need to think about consequences, the core gameplay loop and perhaps even the gameplay beats and targets as dictated by upper management are putting even more strain on the stories that already can’t support themselves, let alone also figuring out how to put the player where they want the player, with the player empowered in the way they want the player empowered to be, and with the usually-consequence-free action they want. Just look at how Spec Ops: The Line was received, when all it really did was have consequences. The story and consequences themselves wouldn’t have been impressive in any other medium; it was only video games (or AAA video games, at least) that were story-impoverished enough for that to be amazing. (As a movie, I would have considered it downright trite, honestly. Hollywood has made that movie dozens of times.) You can see it in Fallout 3, too, which suffered from this every which way.

      Umm… I don’t know that I have a conclusion here. Well, I guess, to the parents out there, I’d say don’t make the mistake of thinking that children don’t care about these sorts of quality issues. They can end up raised not to, like I was accidentally, but give them the good stuff and they will respond. There is no other show they beg to watch like this one. They notice, even if they don’t know why yet.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Trolling the players can work as a comedy though.Its hard to do properly,but not impossible.

      And of course,it can work as a way to make you want to murder the villain even more.An evil npc that slaughtered your village is a tempting target,but a douchebag that tricked you and then added some nasty taunts,thats someone you really want to see suffer.

      1. It seems to work best if you have in-game characters acknowledge that, yeah, basically this is a bunch of b.s. Gothic II had a great “trolling the player” moment in it where it made you jump through a ton of hoops to get an amulet (basically the entire first third of the game), and right when you get back from the final quest to get permission to get the amulet . . . someone stole it.

        Your character: “are you kidding me”
        Npc: “Er, no, sorry about that”
        Your character: “You assholes”
        NPC: “Yeah, we know, we’re really sorry”

        So you chase down the thief and finally catch up with them and retrieve the amulet and . . . it’s broken.

        So your character pretty much just enters Full Sarcasm Mode. It was actually FUNNY at that point. I think part of it was that you never really had emotional investment in this stupid amulet–the start of the game is that you wake up in the tower of the wizard dude who was your friend/assistant in the previous game, and he says “we probably need this amulet, go get it” and off you go. The various tasks you’re doing and the relationships of the various people you meet are interesting, but the “get the amulet” thing was not interesting from the beginning and they never pretended it was.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          A good point there is that Gothic II let the player express what they were (probably) thinking within the game (and be heard by the NPCs): eg ‘are you kidding me’…’Er, no’.
          The railroading becomes funny, rather than a burden, because of this.

          Compare and contrast with Shamus’ account of Mass Effect 2: The game not only forces you to work with Cerberus and TIM, it hamstrings your conversations regarding that fact.
          You can’t ask pertinent questions of Miranda or Jacob; when arguing with Kashley you’re forced to defend Cerberus; you can’t run away to join the Alliance at any point;you can’t badmouth TIM to anyone else; etc etc.
          The ability of the player to express what they think is a big deal.

          (There was a good part in Dragon Age 2 to this effect: a quest about finding a woman’s brother, who was a rogue mage. You track him down and find he’s turned to Blood Magic and gone mad; you watch him kill his sister in a cutscene, I think.
          I was so chuffed to find the option to make Hawke roll his eyes and say something like ‘Oh, ANOTHER rogue Blood Mage, what a surprise! Never seen THAT before.’ Fit my sentiments to a T.)

          1. Sleeping Dragon says:

            The “tones” system was actually something that I really liked in DA2, it expanded the usual “agree/disagree” dialogue options by at least touching on the PCs feelings/motivations and allowed the player to inject a little personality into the character. I was also somewhat more forgiving when the game effectively railroaded me into a choice but let me decide what my feelings about that were*. That said the sheer number of mages that turned to blood magic at the slightest provaction in that game is a steaming pile of BS and no amount of lampshading is going to change that.

            *Let’s not start another Anders discussion.

    4. Tizzy says:

      It's easy to underestimate how much resentment is sloshing around towards the game-buying public in game development circles. We are fickle beasts whose whims can make years of hard work praised to the heavens, or brushed aside into the dustbin of history.

      I assume that episodes like Little Lamplight to be the creators' monstrous collective id bubbling up to the surface.

      1. ehlijen says:

        You know what could be fun?

        If these troll characters changed behaviour depending on whether or not the game was pirated (we know some games can tell, because we’ve seen some trolling by the developers in that regard).

        Don’t even just make it obvious. Just switch from Little Lamplight as is to something more polite and sympathetic.

  7. JBC31187 says:

    What about their relationship with the Super Mutants? I think the original game states that the kids were being farmed by the Super Mutants- perhaps that should be more explicit.

    – In the first scenario, Little Lamplight is a people farm set up by the Enclave for their Super Mutant army. The kids live in relative safety in the shadow of the Mutant lair, because the Super Mutants only attack the big people. Occasionally, one or two go missing, but that’s the price you pay for safety from slavers and raiders. Fawkes is a little girl who got grabbed, but didn’t have the Enclave control chip implanted.

    – Like the above, but the Enclave doesn’t realize what’s going on. This is something the Super Mutants figured out on their own, in a “turned against their masters” sort of way. The Enclave is so high on their own superiority they never realized that there are free Super Mutants running around.

    -In the third scenario, famous Little Lamplight is the safest town in Capitol Wasteland, thanks to their Super Mutant repellent. If you apply now, you can live a life of relative ease, as long as you don’t mind never leaving again. It’s all crap, of course- Little Lamplight is a honey trap designed to snare warm bodies for the Super Mutant vats. The player is asked to go there by the Brotherhood of Steel to bargain or steal Little Lamplight’s secrets, since the Super Mutants are tearing them a new one.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I love all of these, but especially the second.
      Make the ‘official’ story of the town just not ring true, not feel right (as Bethesda did, hohoho) – and then, when the player starts to investigate, they find out there’s something a lot more sinister happening. Smart Super Mutants have been ensnaring desperate wastelanders to create more of their own.
      And even better, the free Mutants have their own leaders, who resent the Enclave’s control of them and want to break free. They even say they want to live in peace with the humans of the Wasteland…

    2. Groboclown says:

      The third scenario there could be a really good way to an interesting story line. If the kids are protected by Super Mutant Brand bandit repellent, they would have a reason for becoming arrogant from a false belief that they are safe because they are so renown for being toughs. Their same general myth would apply regarding Big Town, but instead of being sent to the slavers, they are sent to Super Mutant vats.

      This could open a door for a really interesting child soldier story. The implied invulnerability and fearlessness that the children feel could be torn down by the removal of the super mutant wall and the bandits / slavers invade. Here, it’s the tired trope that the hero does something good (remove the super mutants that gobble up the children) but it ends up having harm (slavers just come in and take all the children) that the hero then has to deal with again.

      But the story could really shine with personal relationships showing the changing attitude of several key children.

  8. BlueHorus says:

    You’ve moved past the illogic/story problems with Little Lamplight fairly quickly. Namely, kids.

    -Firstly, once a kid reaches 16 or so, they’re given a going-away party and sent to Big Town, a mutant-beseiged hovel on the other side of the map. So an unarmed 16-year-olds trek across the wasteland to a place no-one ever comes back from, alone? Just because a group of annoying 10-year-olds tell him to?
    Other take – this situation ends up with a load of bruised, crying 10-year-olds and their new 16-year-old mayor who’s putting an end to this ‘Big Town’ rule.
    -Second: 200 years on, they’re still kids. Nothing but kids. Are they breeding? But they kick out the inhabitants old enough for that. (Well technically not, but I’m sure Bethesda didn’t intend to write a story about sexually-active and/or pregnant 11-15 year-olds).
    Are they getting orphans from elsewhere? But they live in a cave in the middle of a radiated area, that no-one seems to know about. Orphans can find them but slavers can’t?

    The writers were married to this LOLS SO RANDOM concept of a settlement of kids so much they threw all logic to the wind.
    Make them adults, descended from a school group that survived the apocalypse by luckily being on a day trip to the Lamplight Caverns, and you solve so many problems. The player can kill them, they can still be shitheads, and the settlement actually makes a lick o’ sense.
    Big Town can just be where they send the unpopular/old people to die in order to keep the population down. Food is scarce, after all.

    You can also do a lot of fun/interesting things with an ‘isolated tribals who venerate old-world school tropes’ concept.

    1. Viktor says:

      It’s actually not hard to justify the entire town of kids with a bit of effort. Oh right, Bethesda. Make it a cave with a stream of clean water and a supply of food(mole rats and cave fungus) where the food, water, and space can’t support many people. A group of settlers found the caves and wanted to use them as shelter from bandits and slavers, but quickly realized they couldn’t support more than a handful of their people. So they left their children in the safe caves with books and toys and went off to found Bigtown. The older kids protect and raise the younger ones, and once a year the adults of Bigtown trek to the cave, collect the kids who are too old to fit in the caves now, and leave their toddlers to be raised away from the horrors of the wasteland.

      Then slavers found a way in through the SuperMutant tunnels anyway and snagged a couple of kids collecting food. The kids have collapsed that route, but a couple of them died to do so, and now the kids are paranoid and traumatized. They’re on their own out here, and even with their weapons and the fact that bigguns can’t fit through the passages to reach them without removing armor and having to crawl out headfirst, they still lost people. There’s a lot of good ways you can go with that if you try.

      1. DeathbyDysentery says:

        Ehhh, I still think your proposed justification is really weak.

        In a world like this, loving parents would want to watch over their children directly, or at least ensure that some responsible, trustworthy adult was doing so. They certainly wouldn’t drop their toddlers off in a cave to run around completely unsupervised and unguarded for 16 years. If a community or tribe really wanted to take advantage of a safe but small space like this, then they would either, A: Separate into groups, one of which stays in the caves and the rest of which go their own way, or, B: Establish some kind of nursery or children’s creche in the cave which adult caretakers look after. Either way, you end up with adults being in charge.

        Mind, even the second option is kind of unlikely, considering parents usually like to parent their children themselves and teach them to survive in the world as they grow up. After all, is exiling your child to a cave for 16 years before kicking them out, untrained, unprepared, and soft into the wasteland really better than just letting them adapt to it from birth? Realistically, they would only really want to be separated from their children like this on a temporary basis during times of exceptional danger. So, a tribe might hide their kids like this if they’re about to go to war or if there is a sudden spike of unnatural hazards.

        Really, the best justification for a town like this is: ‘Our parents hid us here to go kill the slavers/raiders/mutants, but never came back.’ Of course, that would mean little lamplight would probably also be home to the sick, elderly, pregnant, and noncombatant parts of that community.

        1. “Loving parents” in a place where something like 70% of the population is cannibal raiders? And where birth control is probably completely unavailable?

          They could probably replenish their population quite well just by having a drop location where women could leave infants they don’t want. You would not BELIEVE the number of infants humans produce in a “natural fertility” situation.

          1. Moridin says:

            Birth control has existed in one form or another for thousands of years. They might not have anything as effective as modern hormonal birth control, but they almost certainly would have SOME form of birth control available.

            Not to mention that the medical technology you see in the games is both highly advanced and highly effective(even if you accept that a lot of it is highly abstracted for the sake of gameplay).

    2. MadHiro says:

      The root to the “but why kids?” problem is endemic in the game, namely that no one at Bethesda understood that hundred of years have passed since the Great War. Everything from the kids of little lamplight, to the still radioactive water, to the bombed out wooden houses still standing to the grocery stores that still have food to loot screams “recent apocalypse”.

      1. Groboclown says:

        Some suggest that the idea for Little Lamplight was based upon the canceled Black Isles Studio version of Fallout 3 (dubbed “Van Buren”), specifically the location called Vault 29.

      2. FluffySquirrel says:

        You’re not wrong in that really, it has somewhat of a Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome feel to it. With all the kids who worship the airplane, that was also set pretty close after the apocalypse

        1. Anitogame says:

          Yeah, make it 20 years and it’s less an issue. But 200? Nope.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            The original two fallouts*drink* made it between 50 and 100 years.But,this is the most important part,there was progress.Yes,they were scavenging old tech and buildings,but they were also making new stuff as well.Thats what bethouts are missing:Making new stuff to replace the broken down old things.Everyone in bethouts is either a scavenger,or a remnant of the old who miraculously survived.The enclave is not a new organization that sprang out after the war,and neither is the institute.

            1. Ciennas says:

              This. Fallout 4 would have been a lot more plausible if most prewar ruins, regardless of type, were treated like Dwemer Ruins in Skyrim- there, but dangerous. And also, really rare compared to the rebuilt societies, with the exception of stuff explicitly preserved.

              Sort of like how in ESO, every culture has a unique clothing and armor style, as befitting their culture.

              Also, their desire to leave the world stuck perpetually after the Great War creates irritating inconsistencies beyond just ‘why is this still here to loot’. Why the hell could they just not call the T-60 suit the results of merging the Enclave tech they had captured in the third game with their own suits and equipment? Why did the T-60 NEED to be Pre-War?

              Shouldn’t the East Coast have casual access to the super tech they had built before? In 3, they had a prototype Tesla Cannon, and access to the Enclave’s superior plasma weaponry and (supposedly) superior power armor, not to mention that they were implicitly acting like the Rust Devils from the Automatron DLC- Repairing and fielding Pre-War robots to help bolster their numbers in the field.

              The BoS in 4 Do…. none of this. No Tesla Cannons, no Post War designs- almost like Fallout 3 never actually happened- not even the rigid bits of canon we were stuck with, like the defeat of the Enclave and Project Purity.

              I feel like Bethesda’s need for this world to stay immediately Post Apocalyptic is really hurting its immersion.

    3. Nessus says:

      My first thought for an alternate origin/reason for the kids thing was “A group of escaped child slaves”. They’re established as being in conflict with slavers, so just say a gang of slavers who were keeping a big pen full of children had A Very Bad Day, and the children escaped. Having nowhere to go due to being far from home, or their homes razed and families being dead, they fled into the hills, got lucky in finding a vault cave, and bunkered up into a “Lord of The Flies” community.

      You get your Little Lamplight kidtown, but it’s only maybe a year old insted of implied generations. And as bonus, their conflict with the slavers gets some extra dimension.

      Oh, and your “descendants of a class trip” idea: literally that EXACT thing happens in New Vegas. Or in one of the DLC expansions, rather. And the way that story is told is fantastic, and the best part of that DLC IMO.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        The ‘school trip that survived Armageddon’ is the vanilla Fallout 3 story as I remember. There’s (200-years-old, sigh) audiotapes in the town of desperate teachers wondering what the hell to do with all the kids, how they’re going to feed them, what to do now etc. One by one, they left the caverns to try and find help…and never came back.
        It’s quite good, in that ‘go with the moment and don’t think too much’ way that Bethesda writes.

        But New Vegas took the same idea and did it better? Who’s surprised…
        (Where, though? In the Honest Hearts DLC, I assume? Is it one of the backstories to the Sorrows tribe, that the Survivalist meets right at the end of his journal? It’s can’t be that crashed school bus full of pint-sized skeletons ;))

        1. Nessus says:

          It’s in Honest Hearts, yeah. Unfortunately I can’t read spoiler tagged stuff ’cause I’m stuck on mobile (desktop monitor died recently), so I don’t know what else you said there.

          In HH it’s all told through separate bits and pieces you find. And artifact here, a computer log there, some cave grafitti, the local creation myths, etc. The game never comes out and tells the story explicitly (neither all at once nor in chapter-like text chunks), it just salts various clues around and leaves it up to you to notice and Detective Conan things together. Almost like an easter egg.

          EDIT: I did a cut and paste to read the spoiler text. You got part of it, but looks like you missed a bunch of of the clues to see the whole picture. Yes, the bus is part of it.

      2. Coming_Second says:

        The mention of Little Lamplight does always just remind me of the Survivalist’s story, and how the exact same element of a community of children was used to tell a story about the land around you to incredibly moving effect. The difference in writing between NV and F3/4 is night and day.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The mind reels from the idea that these kids actually get to dictate terms to you just because they've got a shitty barricade and the protection of youth.

    See,this is the major problem of practically every western rpg,and many of western other genres.In jrpgs,usually you play a predefined character instead of a blank slate,so when the writer doesnt want you to bypass something,you can always have the character say “I need to do this”.Its perfectly reasonable to disconnect the player character from the player like that.

    In fact,its even better from immersion standpoint as well:its much easier to identify with a predefined character that actually has stances similar to yours,than with an empty brick.Its better for a game to prevent you from doing something youd like by just having the protagonist say “Nah”,than to do whatever you want and have no one even care about it.

    Interestingly,this is precisely why I liked witcher 3 much more than many other rpgs,even though I actively loathe geralt.

    1. I think it’s mistaken to say that western RPG’s don’t have defined characters–they do, simply by virtue of the options that the game gives you or does not give you. The trouble is that the characters are usually defined in *ways that make no sense* and *have no internal consistency whatsoever*. You wind up with a main character that has a completely different characterization depending on which part of the game you’re in.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        they do, simply by virtue of the options that the game gives you or does not give you.

        Thing is,they are trying to cover all of the options,and in order to do that your character has to not have strong feelings in the event that the player wants to go the good route for one thing and the evil route for the other.Thats what I mean by the characters not being defined.Oh sure,the player does define them somewhat,but its usually just in the shades of gray.

        There are exceptions,of course,mostly from the pre full voice over era.

        1. This is one of the things that I really like about the “tone” options in Pillars of Eternity, where if you stick with a consistent characterization (like “Benevolent” or “Rational” or “Cruel”) periodically you’ll get access to bonus options that make sense for that characterization.

          And you can do several of them, so you can sort of assemble a somewhat unique characterization from the options.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    but there's a tremendous difference between standing one's ground and savagely mocking potential enemies.

    And now Im imagining bethesda writers similar to this.

  11. Brainbosh says:

    Ok, reading through this post made me think about the plot-hole Rutskarn left till later, but I have to bring it up now while I’m thinking about it.

    So after going through Little Lamplight to the vault, you get jumped by the Enclave. Always assumed that they went through Little Lamplight, but I just realized the writers may have intended them to go through the vault’s front door.

    At this point, they have already shown Autumn(?) survive massive radiation exposure, more than you can take, although at this time the player doesn’t know that. Could the writers have thought that the scientifically advanced Enclave had the tech to get them through the front door?

    Still not great writing, it’s never talked about in game. And the first time I played it, I didn’t even realize Autumn was the same officer that was in there with your dad. Would have worked a whole lot better if you found some mention somewhere of an experimental Super Rad-X or something like that.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Or, while you’re in the Enclave base, have some of the Little Lamplighters be in prison cells next to you, asking you to free them. This
      a) makes the Enclave extra-super-evil because they also kidnap kids, those monsters!
      b) Gives the player the chance to tell those immortal brats to get bent.
      c) Makes a Moral Choice ™: do the Good thing and rescue children, or be Evil and leave them behind because who wants to fight their way out of an enemy base surrounded by pint-sized meatshields vulnerable kids?

    2. Ciennas says:

      Nope. That plothole is not resolved that way either. The main entrance of 88 is impassable, regardless of the progress of the main story. The door failed, and that’s all their is.

      Apparently they were approaching deadline for their story and couldn’t be arsed to think that one through.

      Honestly, they should have just lampshaded Autumn’s death by having him be a twin. It’s not like that’s that rare in the real world too. So Colonel Augustus Autumn dies with James T Neeson, and Justin or Tyberius Autumn, Brigadier General and surviving twin, carries on the proud tradition.

      Then they don’t have to have a plot hole- it would even explain why Augustus learned nothing for his lack of Speechcraft- Augustus is dead, and his brother has to start over from scavenged recordings of the incident.

      1. Brainbosh says:

        I know that in the game the door doesn’t work, but in the story, the door is supposed to function. That’s how the Super Mutants get in and out. The reason the door doesn’t work in game is because it should not be possible for you to see it. Only through cheating or a frankly unbelievable amount of Rad-Away could you get to it.

        But I like the idea of the twin, or just a brother. It would also give him a reason to hate you and look for any excuse to kill you. A personal revenge would give a lot more weight to his actions towards the end.

        1. Ciennas says:

          That’s the thing- the assets to make the door work were already in, and consistently, they remark in universe how the door doesn’t work because it took a direct strike during the war, which is why the thing is so lethally irradiated even two centuries on.

          Which leads to a lot of bad fridge logic with the only remaining entrance or exit presented- Little Lamplight.

          Bad in the sense that if you try to accept Lamplight at face value- a refuge for children from the harshness of the wastes, then a bloody corpse strewn Vault entry way is more than a little jarring.

          Especially since there are supermutants on the path from Lamplight to the ‘secret’ Vault 87 entrance. No matter what, there is some horrifying shit here that doesn’t seem to hold up under close examination.

          How do the Super Mutants get in and out of a Vault with only one door that leads through a village full of seemingly unharmed and uncaptive children?

          If they had allowed for Vault 87 to be reenterable, say with a contingent of Brotherhood soldiers determined to finish off Vault 87’s horrors once and for all, this could all be brushed aside- a post main quest mission that takes you through the 87 entrance, and on to clear off a few of those Overlord bastards and to either torch the FEV found inside or to sneak a sample out for whatever reason.

          This would have extended Broken Steel in an awesome way- a story beat after a successful curbstomping with Liberty Prime, and a chance to use him in a way that prevents him from being used again before he is space murdered, to help sell how awesomely overpowered he is- Basically, an all powerful Door Opener.

          And then he is space murdered, and you get to feel how much that blows for the Brotherhood more.

          1. Ciennas says:

            Easy fix I suppose- Just show that the Super Mutants dug their way out into…. I dunno, some prewar sewer system nearby, or a cave that was full of something nasty that the mutants murdered or tamed to be friendly to them.

            Then we don’t have to argue about whether or not the vault door was fused into a single sheet of steel or not.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        How about once you progress through the Enclave Bunker if you decide to go back to LL… there is nobody there, and let the player draw their own conclusions (also don’t have additional quests in LL I suppose). If they had more time the level designers could put in some scorchmarks, maybe destroy a building or two but if they were in an actual hurry just put a trigger that removes any character flagged for LL* once you get to that point in the story and move on.

        *So maybe you’d have to account for a possibility that a kid or two might be still at the slaver’s camp if you didn’t do the quest. Still an extremely minor scripting job.

  12. Coming_Second says:

    I never expected the game to allow me to kill McCready, but to me the inability to give him the spanking of his life or at least noogie him was absolutely baffling. Why have an untouchable character like that in what is explicitly a power fantasy?

    It was a similarly strange decision to bring him back in the sequel. I suppose the idea was to show that he’d just become this wash-out – about which I suppose you could feel some schadenfreude if you really actively hated him in F3 – and then could redeem or kill him as you saw fit, enabling the control the PC lacked in the first game. However, I think just reminding people that Little Lamplight existed was a bad idea, and came across as the cardinal sin of devs rubbing their worst excesses in the player’s face as punishment for not liking them.

    1. Ciennas says:

      People disliked Macready in 3 because he was an obnoxious asshole with no easy means of receiving any form of comeuppance, a trend that would continue into the next several Bethesda made RPG’s, with Maven Blackbriar winning my personal ire as the worst, with Ancano taking a runner up for being obviously evil and untrustworthy well before he was supposed to be a villain.

      The best fix for this would be to allow several methods of showing up an obnoxious asshole character- prevent him from being in control, having the PC give as good as given, save the dumbass from a problem he couldn’t solve and earn his respect, grudging or otherwise, to the simpler ones like simply shooting the asshole and demanding parlay with a less obnoxious ambassador.

      For bonus points you could reveal some depth to the character that makes their abrasiveness seem more realistic, and maybe even sympathetic.

      But in a power fantasy, there should generally be a way to ‘square up’ with antagonistic forces in some manner. Otherwise, you gather a lot of ire from your player base.

  13. Sleeping Dragon says:

    I do realise this is not fully in line with the idea of the overhaul because it requires a bunch of work but here’s my idea for something close to LL.

    So if for some reason I really, really wanted to have the player trolled to high heaven by this community of kids I’d give them robots. Robots that were programmed to “protect children”. The robots occasionally forage into the wasteland for scrap and whatever food they can’t grow within the town, maybe they kidnap small children they spot as an attempt to “protect” them (hence repopulating the town, also gives that dark twist to the kids believing robots are their supercool defenders) they are also highly suspicios to anything deemed “not-a-child” and very hostile at the slightest provocation so people tend to stay away from the LL location and most don’t even know about the actual inhabitants (also explains why you really should leave when the robots start giving you the bad eye). So the kids act like obnoxious assholes because 1) they’re kids, 2) they have rotobs that cater to their whims, 3) same robots are always around and shoot everyone who so much as looks at the kids funny. If you wanted to build some choices around it maybe let the player do something about the situation once they get past the kids (like, turn the robots off, or remove target recognition… I know, I know, “child murder simulators”).

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “If you are mean to me,mister bubbles here will take care of you!”

      1. Ciennas says:

        “Uh, just as a side note though, try to avoid eye contact with any of the animatronics tonight if you can. Someone may have tampered with their facial recognition systems – we’re not sure. But the characters have been acting very unusual, almost aggressive towards the staff. They interact with the kids just fine, but when they encounter an adult, they just…stare.”

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