The Blistering Stupidity of Fallout 3, Part 2

By Shamus Posted Saturday Jun 13, 2015

Filed under: Retrospectives 144 comments

Last time we talked about how the writers completely misinterpreted and subsequently bungled the themes and tone of the Fallout universe. Now let’s get into the brokenness of the Fallout 3 setting. Last time they just made things really hard for themselves, but this is where the plot of the game melted into radioactive nonsense.

Let’s start with my favorite question…

But what do they EAT?

You guys have ONE cow? I feel that – at the absolute bare minimum – you ought to have TWO. And that one of them needs to be a bull. And that there should be something for them to eat, and…

I know this question is really irritating to some people. They see it as some kind of unreasonable demand for a super-realistic simulation. But the question of “What do they eat?” isn’t some dumb pedantic complaint, like a gun enthusiast demanding to know where everyone gets gun oil or a computer technician asking why the computers haven’t all failed due to magnetic degradationAlthough if the story was all about “we’re running out of bullets” or “all the computers are breaking” then maybe these questions would be reasonable..

The fact that human beings need food and that food takes work to accumulate is a completely universal truth that has shaped our entire history and culture. Human beings hate work, but we do it anyway because we need to eat. In a survivalist society, it shapes how we form families, where we build towns, what we do for a living, what resources we value, what animals we domesticate, how we dress, and countless other details about our outlook and day-to-day life.

If this was a story where the sides were fighting over some pre-war super-weapon, then we wouldn’t need to think too hard about where food comes from. But Fallout 3 makes the struggle for water central to the plot, and then completely fails to lay the groundwork for it.

I said previously that I wasn’t going to pick on the game for having small farms or scaling things down. But this world has no farms at all. Think about the major cities in the game: Megaton. Tenpenny Tower. Little Lamplight. Big Town. Paradise Falls. The Citadel. These places have not a single farm or means of acquiring food between them. The people do no work. This is supposedly some desperate post-war hellhole where people must fight to survive, but we never see that struggle. Most people don’t even have jobsAnd the jobs they DO have are consumption or service based: Traders, guards, bartenders, innkeepers. Nobody produces anything..

Wait, that’s not true. The slavers work. They go out, kidnap people, and then lock them in cages because there’s nothing for the slaves to doAside from sex and serving the food that shouldn’t exist.. Fallout 3 is so devoid of work that even slaves are idle.

In Fallout 1, time was taken to establish where food comes from and how it gets around.
In Fallout 1, time was taken to establish where food comes from and how it gets around.

I’m not asking for something exotic. Fallout 1 had farms, tucked on the edges of the maps so you could imagine they continued on, just outside of the playable gamespace. Fallout New Vegas had farms that you could walk through, and observe people farming. This is basic environment design 101: How does this world work?

The game takes place around Washington DC, but Bethesda thought that Fallout = desert, so they made a version of Washington DC where it never, ever rains. So people have survived for 200 years without a drop of rain and without growing so much as a single carrotRivet city seems to have an experimental hydroponics farm, so they have made some carrots now. Doesn’t explain what everyone ate before now. People aren’t even really that interested in the hydroponic farm. It’s like they’re not worried about food..

I’m pretty sure the last of the Nuka-Cola machines should have been cleaned out 199.9 years ago.

Yes, Fallout 3 allows you to scavenge food from 200 year old grocery stores. I’ll hand-wave food spoilage and just assume it’s part of the setting. If the writers say a box of deviled eggs can sit un-refrigerated for 200 years and still be nourishing, then fine. But again, that stuff should have run out over a century ago. And nobody seems keen on going out to gather it anyway.

There are cows and rats to eat, but there’s nothing for those creatures to eat. There’s no food chain. With no rain and no food, every single living creature in the capital wasteland dropped dead 199 years ago. There should be nothing left to save.

If Bethesda just wanted to make a big dumb shooter about shooting big dumb mutants with big dumb guns, they could have done that. But instead they made up this business with water, and it’s completely unsupported by what we’re shown. I didn’t freak out when I didn’t find any farms in Rage. It’s totally fair to say you’re not supposed to ask questions about how people in Serious Sam make a living. But Fallout 3 is presenting us with a problem: “The people of the Capital Wasteland need water!” You can’t think about this problem without the whole thing flying apart. We’re constantly interacting with a premise that doesn’t exist.

Nobody needs your stupid water.

Dude, do you know your robot can make free water?

People have managed to survive for an astounding 200 years without rain and without Dad’s nonsensical water purifier. They must be getting water from somewhere. What makes the problem urgent now? How would more water (or cleaner water) help these people? If you dropped a tanker truck of fresh clean water at the gates of Megaton, how would the people be better off? It wouldn’t help their harvest, since they grow no food. It wouldn’t help their health, since nobody seems to be sick. It wouldn’t save them from dangerous or arduous work.

Yes, the game has these ridiculous karma dispenser guys outside the major cities. They claim to be dying of thirst no matter how much water you give them. That doesn’t support the notion that “the wasteland needs water”, it just draws attention to the fact that most people don’t. Why doesn’t this beggar just walk ten steps into town? Those people seem to have both food and water without making any effortThey even have recreational drugs and medicine with no technology, and booze with no stills!.

Imagine a version of Skyrim where somebody keeps telling you that the world is being destroyed by dragons, but you never actually see a single dragon anywhere in your travels. Instead there’s just a lone singed peasant outside of town who tells you he needs a health potion because he was attacked by a dragon, and he always needs a health potion no matter how many you give him, and he’s the only guy in the world that seems to have a problem with dragons. That’s Fallout 3.

You can’t claim we’re not supposed to question this stuff. This is central to the premise, and everything you do is supposedly in the service of giving these people water. Don’t present a problem for me to solve and then demand I not think about it.

But the icing on the cake is that there’s a Mr. Handy robot in the game. He lives in your house. And he can make fresh, clean water for you, for no work at all. He doesn’t even need energy. He just needs time for his “condensers” to work. Which means he’s basically a dehumidifier. And the wasteland is full of these robots. If these people needed clean water, they could just gather up Mr. Handy parts and put them to work condensing them all the water they need.

Mr. Handy breaks the entire premise of the game. And they made him part of the player’s house.

Again, I’m not asking for something unreasonable. If your goal is “give the people water” then establishing that people want water is just basic, bare-bones, low-level motivation for the player. That’s the reason the story exists in the first place.

So the setting is broken. To be honest, this isn’t the end of the worldEr. You know what I mean.. You can have a good story on top of a broken setting. Dr. Who is riddled with contradictions and plot holes, but it manages to scrape by with character depth and drama. The ending of Mass Effect 3 was a disaster (and to be honest, so was a lot of the rest of it) but some people still liked it because they got to hang out with Garrus, Mordin, and JacobJust kidding. Nobody cares about Jacob.. As long as your characters hold together, you can still make your story work.

Next time we’ll talk about the characters…



[1] Although if the story was all about “we’re running out of bullets” or “all the computers are breaking” then maybe these questions would be reasonable.

[2] And the jobs they DO have are consumption or service based: Traders, guards, bartenders, innkeepers. Nobody produces anything.

[3] Aside from sex and serving the food that shouldn’t exist.

[4] Rivet city seems to have an experimental hydroponics farm, so they have made some carrots now. Doesn’t explain what everyone ate before now. People aren’t even really that interested in the hydroponic farm. It’s like they’re not worried about food.

[5] They even have recreational drugs and medicine with no technology, and booze with no stills!

[6] Er. You know what I mean.

[7] Just kidding. Nobody cares about Jacob.

From The Archives:

144 thoughts on “The Blistering Stupidity of Fallout 3, Part 2

  1. Bropocalypse says:

    I feel like the formation of the plot of Fallout 3 is a fascinating thing to think about. Not the plot itself, but how it came to be.

    My immediate guess is that someone wrote an outline that read like this:
    1) Player’s story centers around fixing [some big machine]
    2) Bad guys steal big machine
    3) Player needs to get big machine back before bad guys use it for badness.

    And then they skimmed the cliffnotes for the plots of Fallouts 1 and 2 and noticed that there was something about water in those and filled in the blanks. By the time they took that step, though, the game world was already generated and filled with desert-y assets. But THEN instead of FIXING this horrible series of mistakes, they shrugged and knocked off for the weekend.

    1. Incunabulum says:

      I wouldn’t disagree.

      The plot writing is very thin, especially the idiot way you were forced to end it – before player outcry got them to change it with the first DLC.

      1. Mormegil says:

        Which (if I recall correctly) changed the ending so you could do it sensibly by sending the radiation immune mutant or the non-organic robot in to turn on the purifier but then insulted you for doing so. Thanks Bethesda, I tried to think of a good answer to a problem instead of committing suicide because I want people to like me. I guess I’m not the hero after all.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          With the DLC you could commit suicide and then get better!

        2. Bropocalypse says:

          Come to think of it, why is it the radiation suits(including the power armor) couldn’t be used? It seems like the radiation that was ‘filling’ the chamber was held back just fine by the few inches of GLASS surrounding it.

          1. psivamp says:

            Incidentally, glass is awful at attenuating photon radiation. Basically useless at it.

            I guess you could say that it’s polyethylene or some other polymer and that does much better. Real shielding usually contains lead, high-density plastic, water and steel. Steel does alright, but mainly it’s there to hold everything together.

            Lead and water are pretty good at absorbing particulate radiation (alphas (helium nuclei), betas (electrons and positrons), neutrons ) as well as photon radiation ( which are named differently for different powers, but in the Navy we just called them all gammas after the 3.3 MeV range that also happened to be the power released by decay of cobolt-60 AND a minima in the effectiveness of the shielding ).

            1. Bropocalypse says:

              For a moment I was going to be generous and pretend that the chamber’s walls were cushioned by water between two panes of whatever-transparent-material-they-are but then I remembered. Oh yeah. The water is the damned problem.

  2. keldoclock says:

    Well, there’s radioactive water all over the place. Maybe people are just getting poisoned and living with it? Still doesn’t make sense for 200 years.

    1. You know what could’ve made the quest a little better and not required a change of location? If the Jefferson Memorial was the source of the contamination.

      Let’s see… Either have it be something that’s a slow-leaking source of radiation/toxin left over from the war (maybe a Chinese MegaNuke failed to detonate and crashed through the dome, and now it’s leaking its uber-toxic gunk into the water and will continue to do so for centuries) or it’s an old Enclave device designed to depopulate the wasteland in preparation for a takeover. Getting the GECK and using it at the memorial would make sense because it would turn that area into usable, farmable land while eliminating the source of the pollution. The Enclave grabs the GECK hoping to use it to make the toxins more tailor-made to mutated people and creatures, and you have to stop (or help) them.

      In the end, the Memorial becomes the epicenter of a green space with a no-longer-radioactive (though possibly deadly, if you sided with the Enclave) river basin.

      And now that it’s the only green area in the Capital Wasteland (apart from Oasis), the BoS, Enclave, and anyone else who wanted to grow food would be jonesing to fight over the place, making the conflict in Broken Steel have some actual stakes.

      1. Bropocalypse says:

        Like Hitman: Absolution, there’s almost no change you could make that wouldn’t improve the plot somehow.

        1. Phantos says:

          Replace all of the voice actors with… whoever played The Outsider in Dishonored.

          There. I made it worse.

          1. Kerethos says:

            I liked the Outsider.

            He’s so utterly bored with existence that he just wants something remotely interesting to happen. I though it worked that have him deliver his lines without any emotion.

            There, that’s my daily dose of blasphemy done for the day.

  3. You’re not going to want to hear this, but there was at least one place that had food cultivation going on. It was in…

    …Little Lamplight.

    They harvested and encouraged the growth of cave fungus, which (if I remember correctly) gave you health and lowered your radiation as well.

    The only other source of grown food I can recall is Dr. Li’s lab where I’m assuming they were playing around with hydroponics, which means maybe a fruit & veggie plate for one.

    There’s also a machine in one of the metro stations where a Raider “scientist” made a machine that can produce “Mole Rat Wonder Meat” by “curing” mole rat meat with Wonderglue, but that really just increased its healing potential rather than producing new foodstuffs.

    1. IFS says:

      Although if I remember right that cave fungus grew almost exclusively off of ‘strange flesh’ which was human flesh, leading to there being roving hunters in the wasteland that killed people to get the flesh to trade to Little Lamplight. So the only people growing food in the wasteland are children, who are growing it off of the flesh of people from the rest of the wasteland who have nothing to eat.

      1. Corpital says:

        And using their free time to abduct babies/children for 200years so they can continue to kick everyone over the age of 16 out.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Okay, a serious question. It’s been a very long time since I’ve played the game (I think I replayed it around or soon after the SW season). Could someone remind me is it ever actually cleared where do new kids come from in LL?

          1. Grudgeal says:

            I *think* they insinuate at some point that they’re basically a community of runaway kids who take in orphans and people who run off from their parents.

            …You know, because *that* makes a lot of sense.

            1. Eruanno says:

              That’s super sensible! Orphans and kids who run away hear of this mystical paradise underground that you get to through an unmarked cave by trekking across a murderous wasteland full of raiders and radiation-mutated beasts. Yeah! Yeah… y–yeah…

              1. IFS says:

                It’s ok, they all know they’re invincible so the trek really isn’t that hazardous to them. In fact what we have with Little Lamplight is a community of immortal assholes who caused the creation of an economy involving the trade of human flesh, and who encourage children across the wastes to flee their families, only to evict anyone from their own group who shows the first signs of mortality. Truly they are the real villains of the Capital Wasteland.

              2. James says:

                and then when they turn 16 they have to go to this other myth of a place called “Big Town” thats on the otherside of the deadly wastes, and happens to be beset by Raiders and Mutants.

          2. The thing that would’ve made LL a little more reasonable as well as far darker was they’d established it as a place that the slavers would bring kids until they were of an age to be more profitable to sell.

            Even better (worse) would be that its origins were the same (field trip trapped by the bombs) but the descendants of those original kids were among the founders of Paradise Falls, who kept LL up and used it as “future slave storage.”

            Man, I need some coffee sweetened with Pixie Sticks or something. I’m pretty dark at the moment…

            1. MichaelGC says:

              That’ll pass, don’t worry. It happens: you’ve just been thinking about Little Lamplight for too long. Gazin’ inta the abyss, style o’ fing.

          3. Ben says:

            I think other people give them unwanted children, and also they make some kids themselves. Girls are able to get pregnant before age 16.

            1. WJS says:

              Honestly, you have a group of teens without any adult supervision, it would be weird for it not to happen. Have you met teens?

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      They harvested and encouraged the growth of cave fungus, which (if I remember correctly) gave you health and lowered your radiation as well.

      So what that means is that in order to have clean water they just needed to dump one of those fungus into a bottle and let it do the work.Then eat the fungus afterwards for dinner.So what the hell was the point of dads machine?

      1. ? says:

        Mid-life crisis.

    3. Thomas says:

      Did they give a reason for the Hydroponcs btw? It seems like a really weird thing to work on when people are supposedly dying of thirst.

      Like surely working on a way to make the land arable would be 10x more effective. There are already catcuses and stuff surviving in it

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        I think Hydroponics uses less water, space and time so it is a viable solution if you are facing such a problem. Allthough they should still be relying on conventional farming since it’s unlikely that an experiment can supply all the food a city needs.

        1. Farms would’ve nicely filled a lot of Rivet City’s deck space.

        2. houiostesmoiras says:

          Hydroponics uses less space and time if you have a decent greenhouse and crops suited to the climate. (You should see the difference between winter and summer kale in a hydroponics greenhouse in eastern Pennsylvania. It’s a spring crop, so it absolutely bakes in July.) It’s been a while, but I don’t recall Dr. Li having a greenhouse, just a few heat lamps. It uses less water per pound of produce, but requires an initial investment of water that ranges from vast (for NFT systems) to mind boggling (for pond systems), although I grant that Rivet City has access to that, if radiation isn’t a problem. Also, note what NFT stands for: Nutrient Flow Technique. You have to have some sort of chemical fertilizer dissolved in the water to do any good; natural fertilizers do nothing but clog the system without a whole heck of a lot of preprocessing. And that’s just the big stuff. Let me get nitpicky.

          First of all, hydroponic crops must be grown in a substrate; dirt would just turn to mud. Even if you had a way to filter the water on its way through the system, the mud would provide no support, and the plants would just fall over. Who would manufacture the substrate?

          Next, you have to pick a crop. You’re gonna need even more specialized equipment to do traditionally hardy plants like root vegetables. Most hydroponics greenhouses deal in flowers and leafy greens because they start at the bottom, grow up, and don’t get too big. Wheat can be done in our world, but, again, it’s difficult and takes specialized substrates and equipment; there’s no way the Fallout-verse could accommodate it. Vine plants like tomatoes, melons, and squash are probably your best bet: It’s actually possible to use soil for those by binding the root ball and soil in, say, burlap, wrapping that in a lightly perforated less-breathable material like plastic (or foil, since Fallout seems to have some capacity for metal manufacturing), and using a drip hydroponic system. The ability of the substrate to support the plant is immaterial because the plant’s weight is held by the vine against whatever poles/wires/etc. you have for it to grow on. However, the drip technique uses a lot more water because it’s harder to reclaim.

          Finally, you need a sealed greenhouse. Oh, you can have openings for air—need them, in fact, unless you have some insanely advanced tech for the Capital Wastelands; like, equivalent tech to what it would take to build Liberty Prime and the doomsday satellite from the ground up—but those openings need to be screened off thoroughly. Have you ever seen an insect infestation in a hydroponics greenhouse? It ain’t pretty, and there’s so much soft, nutritious food that you need to pretty much douse everything in industrial insecticides to stop it. Remember I mentioned kale earlier? Imagine having an entire month’s harvest completely ruined by a relatively small caterpillar infestation. Hope you like aphids with your salad, ’cause they’re gonna be everywhere, probably along with some farmer ants. Roaches are absolutely gonna get in, and remember that Fallout has the ginormous, sometimes deadly, rad roaches. And that’s just the start.

          And now for some technical stuff that I’d be able to forgive Fallout for if they managed to address all of the above somehow. Where do the seeds come from? A large part of the reason hydroponics takes so little time is because many of the crops grown that way are harvested before they have a chance to flower. (The rest is because it’s done in a greenhouse, so, if you time your rotations right, harvest time is always now.) Modern hydroponics greenhouses have separate seeding and grow-for-harvest facilities, but I doubt anyone in the Capital Wasteland has the resources to make a separate facility just for getting seeds. How would you pump the water? Like I said earlier, the initial water investment is pretty impressive, and you need a way to move all that water through the system. I worked in a very small greenhouse, and the water pump there probably weighed a few times what I do (and I’m an overweight male), and that’s on top of the pressure from being pumped out the bottom of a storage tank the size of a small grain silo. Oh, and don’t forget that the water lines at the plant end have to be very thin in order not to damage the plants. Not only does that increase the burden on the water pump, but it also clogs easily. Even with a custom-made substrate, I spent many an hour replacing and cleaning nutrient solution tubes. How clean do you think they’d stay in the probably-dirt-based-substrate in the always dusty/dirty Fallout universe?

          And that’s just the nitpicks I picked up from working on the salad packing line at a hydroponics greenhouse for nine months. Imagine how much an expert—say, a florist supplier or a pot grower—would tear that apart.

          1. Peter H. Coffin says:

            That’s a magnificent summation. Thank you.

          2. modus0 says:

            *Imagines a giant cockroach just sitting on top of the plants in Rivet City looking at everyone that gets close like, “Hey, what’s up?” and starts giggling.*

            1. houiostesmoiras says:

              I hate when experience ruins the joke. Now I’m imagining a foot-long rad roach trying to sit on a plant and having it fall over because all the plants are what normal farmers would probably still be calling seedlings.

      2. MrGuy says:

        I think it’s implied somewhere (forget the reference) that the soil of the wasteland is too irradiated to support plant growth (let’s ignore for a second whether that’s good science or a handwavy “that’s how this world works).

        Which still doesn’t make sense, because Dad’s purifier cleans WATER, not soil – what, are we going to dig out all the topsoil and replace it? And with what?

      3. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well the hydroponics stuff is on a ship so they should have plenty of (irradiated) water at least there.

    4. MrGuy says:

      I’m going to take it further. Little Lamplight was the single best designed area in the game.

      It’s huge. There are a ton of named characters, and most of them have some personality. The place is huge. There are interesting jobs that people actually have (they have a physician, people who farm the cave fungus, people who actually guard the civilization, etc.) In a lot of ways, Little Lamplight makes more sense than most of the towns in the Capital Wasteland. A huge amount of time was spent building it. It makes a ton more sense as a town (from the “realistic people doing realistic jobs” perspective) than any other town in the game.

      And then, they threw it away. Specifically, they worried nobody would find it, so they decided to make it mandatory by making it the only way into Vault 87, which meant you HAD to go there. And not only had to go there, but had to go there late in the main quest, when the player has decided to stop screwing around and do the main quest. Which turned the whole place from a potentially interesting quest hub into a giant plot door. You have to go there. You’re irritated to be blocked. The sidequest to open the door is massive (especially if you can’t get into Paradise Falls easily). And then, when you’re done, you run through the entire town pointlessly as a “get from A to B” exercise without stopping to admire any of it or meet anyone, and then immediately leave to go somewhere else (and don’t so much as come back on your way out).

      Consider an alternate reality where Little Lamplight was NOT required – if it was more an easter egg like Oasis. It’s hinted at a few times, and if you find it, you can either leave it alone, or do the optional (long) sidequest to get in. The reward is a new area to explore, new quests, and some interesting worldbuilding.

      Sure, the place has issues, especially the “where have the future generations come from?” I suspect there was a plan to solve this where Bigtown was nearby, and sent their children to Little Lamplight. But then they decided to appropriate Bigtown to be the place defined by “OMG we’re all useless help us!” teenagers (and ONLY teenagers, which makes no sense). Alternately, maybe this town (like many other areas) was designed BEFORE they made the dumb decision to push the game 200 years in the future – the entire place makes a LOT more sense if it’s ~10- years after the bombs fell.

      1. Tom says:

        There was no plan. Little Lamplight was incompetently salvaged from a much earlier idea for one of the vaults in the cancelled “Van Buren” Fallout 3, which had, I think, a computer AI raising a community of cryofrozen children or embryos or something along those lines.

      2. modus0 says:

        Bigtown itself wouldn’t have been as much of a WTF issue if it had been placed about half as far away from LL as it was.

        Or the exiled teens been given weapons upon eviction.

  4. I dunno Shamus. California hasn’t had water for some four years now and we’re still kickin.

    1. MichaelG says:

      Auugh! We have plenty of water, and we use it to grow crops. It’s just not coastal rain, it’s mountain snow (and aquifers.)

      1. Syal says:

        And of course, the tears of failed actors.

        1. Primogenitor says:

          But where do failed actors get their water from?

          1. The Rocketeer says:

            1: Hopeful actors drink water from home flyover states
            2: Hopeful actors arrive in LA, become despondent
            3: Failed actors cry bitter tears, replenish local supply

          2. MrGuy says:

            Fiji, I think.

        2. Grudgeal says:

          But tears are salty! Do you have to distill the tears first before you can use it?

          1. Syal says:

            Couldn’t tell you, I’m not a director.

        1. Orillion says:

          Is the number of people who have dehydrated completely to death as a result of this drought 50% of the population of California or more?


          California has plenty of water. You just have no excess.

          1. modus0 says:

            Just because we can import water (or pull from the ocean we’re right up against) doesn’t mean we aren’t experiencing a severe drought.

        2. WJS says:

          Right, because “Severe drought” is synonymous with “Absolutely no water whatsoever”.

  5. MichaelGC says:

    Think about the major cities in the game: Megaton. Tenpenny Tower. Little Lamplight. Big Town.

    Don’t make me think about Little Lamplight. You wouldn’t like me when I think about Little Lamplight…

  6. MichaelG says:

    My theory about Dr. Who is that the series is really from the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” universe. There is quote in that book:

    “There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

    There is another theory, which states that this has already happened.”

    1. Gruhunchously says:

      Considering Douglas Adam’s involvement with the series, you might not be far off with that assessment.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      And we actually see the whole universe in dr who exploding and restarting.The stories after that became even sillier.

    3. Zagzag says:

      This is at least halfway the case, since as has already been noted Adams did some writing for Doctor Who and made use of some of it in his other work.

      One of his non Hitchhiker novels prominently features an extremely forgetful old Time Lord who’s retired on Earth as a history professor and has a TARDIS disguised as his office.

    4. Filthy Casual says:

      Tennant Dr Who spends an episode in his bathrobe and explicitly mentions meeting Arthur Dent. I think it’s Tennant’s first episode.

    5. A Gould says:

      Also, on a practical note: Who gets away with the handwaving because they never make those aspects part of the plot – it’s fluff, not crunch. So you never worry about what the Doctor eats (he has no job, no money, and I’m suspecting he never gardens), because “The Doctor Is Starving To Death” is never the plotline.

      1. That said, they occasionally stumble. The recent “The Moon is an Egg” episode was incredibly stupid because they tried so hard to make the viewer take it seriously. What they should have done was make it a joke that could be referenced in later episodes.

        For those who haven’t seen it, a creature hatches out of the moon, and the drama was whether or not to kill it and prevent possible further chaos on Earth should its hatching be detrimental to the planet. After it hatched, I wish the backside of the moon (which we never see on Earth) was left as a giant hole where you could see the moon’s interior if you flew by in a spaceship. The writers could leave the moon like that, since we just “never noticed” the huge hole. Even better would be to have future episodes where the camera pans in towards Earth and you see on the moon’s dark side a lot of framework and construction going on for the “Spherical Moon Restoration Project” or something.

  7. Rack says:

    I never really had a problem with this, people seemed to live off the various insects and critters that roamed the land, which in turn probably ate whatever low quality plants that did grow (only we didn’t see them, as a gamer of several decades I’m used to stuff not being shown). Clean water would fix the radiation problem which was referenced in the gameplay (though I did usually mod up its effect). It would also let farming happen later on which seemed significant. If the population of Washington is about 100 people magically stored canned food would last many many years, but is still clearly unsustainable and that again came up in gameplay.

    This was broken for me only by the vast numbers of raiders and the way people seemed happy to buy unending guns and armour for seemingly no purpose, while water, food, stimpacks and bullets were all cheap as dirt. If it was a gameplay contrivance it was a damned poor one.

    1. Incunabulum says:

      “. . . happy to buy unending guns and armour for seemingly no purpose, while water, food, stimpacks and bullets were all cheap as dirt.”

      This was, IMO, one if its largest mechanical failings – it was too easy to get good equipment, radiation is never a problem (healing supplies are plentiful so you rarely *need* to drink radioactive water, there’s not thirst mechanic, and radiation reducing meds are widely available).

      Add in being loaded down with a half dozen assault rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammo, there are almost no instances of having to make hard decisions about entering combat – its all pro-forma, pop in, kill a couple of guy, ho-hum, kill a couple more, hit quest WP, kill a couple more, loot, move on.

      I agree with Shamus – the game is set too far in the universe’s future. I think it would have done better to be set around the same time as FO1 (or, even *earlier* – say 20ish years after the war) and had a lot less working high-tech stuff.

      Give it a Mad max vibe, where a functional reciprocating bolt rifle is rare, cased ammunition is precious. You have to make hard choices as to whether or not to wade in in melee or use your precious ammo – and it would have made using bows/spears worthwhile. Muzzle-loaders as basic fire-arms and you have to search and fight for a functioning laser pistol.

      Even in FNV on hardcore, there’s no reason to use the ‘primitive’ weapons when you get a bolt action .223 right at the start.

      1. Sorites says:

        Agreed. My favourite thing about wasteland society stories is extreme gratitude for every little resource.

        There’s a story about an explorer called Ernest Giles, who got lost in the Australian desert. He chalked up his survival to the discovery of a baby wallaby, which he ate “living, raw, dying — fur, skin, bones, skull and all.”

        There’s none of that in Fallout. You never team up with an NPC, realize that oh my God, he’s got a pre-war leather belt; if I got my hands on that, I could untie my rope belt and use it to strap more gear to my backpack, and think long and hard about murdering him while he sleeps.

        1. ehlijen says:

          I think Fallout was never that kind of game. It wasn’t about ‘how do I survive the apocalypse’: you did. You were in a vault.

          Instead, to me, Fallout was about the culture shock when the vault dweller, a space age descendent with a carefully preserved zeitgeist of optimism and belief in science(!) has to go out into the blood and grime world and see just what everyone who didn’t have a fancy supertech vault had to do to survive.

          You never needed to make a real belt, you’ve always had one. Now how will you react to guy who’s telling you he had to kill a coyote with his bare hands to get the leather to make his.

          The first place you find in Fallout 1 is a solid settlement, not a prewar ruin. The world has moved on from the base survival stage. The game was about discovering the world and finding a place in it. The only abandoned prewar places you go to are Vault 15 and the Glow. Everywhere else is populated.

          Fallout 3 got it wrong by making scavenging prewar buildings a core part of the game. It evokes the dungeon crawling CRPG players like and that was in all their Elder Scroll games, but it didn’t fit into Fallout, at least not on that scope.

      2. Eruanno says:

        It’s interesting how The Last of Us (which is set like… 20 years after the zombie apocalypse?) has seemingly less resources to go around than the wasteland in Fallout 3 (~200 years after a NUCLEAR WAR)

      3. MrGuy says:

        I like to compare this (of course) to Fallout 1, where there are only, like, 2 doses of Rad-X in the entire game, and radaway is pretty scarce as well. Rad-X is the difference between “lethal in 10 steps” and “wander around and explore!” amounts of radiation. You have to think really hard about radiation, and plan to avoid it. I even like that there’s a trap based on this – if you play chess with the computer on the lower level of the Glow, you stay so long your Rad-X wears off and you almost always die before you get out, because there’s no way you have enough Rad-Away to fix it.

        In Fallout 3, you basically trip over RadAway and Rad-X in every unlocked container in abandoned subway stations. RadAway is so plentiful that Rad-X is useless – the penalty for getting irradiated is so small that it’s almost pointless to worry about avoiding it.

        Given the NAME OF THE FRIGGIN GAME, it’s really disappointing they broke the notion of radiation as an important threat.

      4. Part of the problem is the way the game tries to be an open world sandbox based on a tabletop RPG.

        If you could take an adventure module and shake out all the possible loot one could gather if you went through every single container, corpse, monster, etc., you’d likely wind up with a character with enough weapons to beat anything in the adventure and enough cash to purchase resurrection several times over if they wanted.

        Fallout and the Elder Scrolls games let players do what no DM would allow: Become an OCD vacuum cleaner, going through every container and every square inch of space looking for loot. If you look at the loot that you’d get from a fairly typical run-through by a “reasonable person,” I don’t think these games would seem as unbalanced as they are (though some mechanics/perks also unbalance things), but if a player (like me) really enjoys finding hidden stuff and gets loads of resources that let me overwhelm the obstacles in my way, it makes it far less challenging.

        On the flip side, if you’re tired of combat getting in the way of exploration or your quest goals, then I don’t see it being all that unreasonable to go find some items that facilitate your goals.

        1. MrGuy says:

          Yeah. I mean, trying that in a table top game is just begging the DM to find a way to screw you for it.

        2. Incunabulum says:

          This is why I love me some Project Nevada – not only can you tailor how much loot is found in containers (and I like to cut it waaaaay down) there’s an add-on that will remove a percentage of (non-quest important) items found in the world.

          So you don’t walk into a room and find a fatman launcher, 4 rounds, *another* AR and 50 stimpacks.

        3. Incunabulum says:

          “If you look at the loot that you'd get from a fairly typical run-through by a “reasonable person,” I don't think these games would seem as unbalanced as they are (though some mechanics/perks also unbalance things). . .”

          That may be – but that ‘reasonable person’ is a rare player. Skyrim forums were filled with people complaining because the merchants didn’t have enough gold to buy the 500 flea and lice-ridden leather armor pieces and the rusty iron weapons that they stripped off every bandit.

          The *average* player can’t seem to help himself. Not only will he search everything, he’ll pick up everything he can carry and then *come back* for the 15 bottlecaps worth of junk that was left after the third trip.

          1. Mephane says:

            I can only speak for myself, but that is my default behaviour when a game only provides (or pretends to) a finite supply of things. If foes never respawn, health doesn’t auto-regenerate, anything used or consumed is gone for good – then I have no other choice than to make the most of everything and get my hands on as much stuff as possible – you never know how much is “enough” to decently keep going.

            That’s why in a game like Borderlands (1/2/whatever), I can happily go past some unopened containers if I don’t feel like it, and buy fresh ammo in the store in town. After some time (more precisely, when you have been to a number of different zones), zones have repopulated with foes etc., so if I am short on anything, there is always more to be had.

            And I definitely prefer the latter situation. RPGs of the former kind are very stressful to me, and lead to me going to great lengths to make sure no piece of loot is left behind. As a side-effect, inventories in the former kind of RPG always seem too small by an order of magnitude.

  8. Incunabulum says:

    “Just kidding. Nobody cares about Jacob.”

    That is a horrible, horrible thing to say. Jacob is the only one *I* liked. Garrus was OK, the rest were annoying at best.

    1. MrGuy says:

      You just failed the Turing test.

      1. Incunabulum says:

        Never played ME3, but don’t tell me you weren’t constantly wanting to shoot Miranda and Jack and wanted to stuff a sock in Mordin’s mouth and wrap his head in duct tape.

        Jacob was the only professional in the whole crew.

        1. ehlijen says:

          No. I wanted to spend more time headbutting and punning with Grunt.

        2. Xeorm says:

          I hated Jack, liked Miranda, and liked Jacob.

          We’re weirdos, but people like us do exist.

          Poor Jacob, always being hated.

    2. Orillion says:

      I liked Jacob, too! But then I played an Infiltrator, so he was a great compliment to my team. When I wasn’t taking Garrus and Tali with me. Which was almost every mission that I could.

      What I’m saying is, Jacob was an integral part of the team when it was just between him and Miranda.

      1. Mortuorum says:

        Jacob was OK to have in your squad if he filled a hole (that couldn’t be filled by Jack, Samara or Miranda), but as a character, I found him about as interesting as last week’s cardboard. By Mass Effect 3, I had forgotten he existed and when I ran into him in the Citadel, I didn’t remember right away that he was a squad member and thought he was just a random NPC I had run into at some point. In all fairness, Garrus was like that in ME1 and didn’t really become likable until ME3. Mordin was pretty awesome from the word go, though.

        In Fallout 3, none of the companion NPCs were even as memorable as Jacob, except Fawkes and (maybe) DogMeat. New Vegas was also much better in this respect.

    3. Jarenth says:

      I… I liked Jacob.

      He’s a chill bro.

  9. Ian says:

    “Imagine a version of Skyrim where somebody keeps telling you that the world is being destroyed by dragons, but you never actually see a single dragon anywhere in your travels.”

    This is actually how I played Skyrim the first time. I escaped from custody during the very first dragon attack and then set off into the wilderness not bothering to follow to the nearest town to get my quest to go to tell the thane about dragons.

    Turns out if you do that no dragons spawn again anywhere but people keep mentioning it.

    It must be me because I did the same in Oblivion and had no idea what these Oblivion gates people kept talking about were.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I have to say I’m kind of intrigued by the concept. Rather than have the danger rear its ugly head every 20 minutes (directly, like Skyrim dragons, or through mooks) have it be omnipresent but discreet, a land gripped by terror rather than destruction. The PC, especially if positioned as a newcomer to the territory, just kinda learns that everyone is afraid, that so many events and occurences are attributed to that force of evil and that people basically freak out as soon as he starts asking “what the big deal is”… and make that thing freaking uber-powerful when the player actually does encounter it.

      1. dp says:

        That sounds like a great idea for sandbox fantasy world building. Too bad Bethesda forgot about it after making Morrowind.

    2. That makes it sound like Minecraft, in a way.

      I mean, it’s obvious that the threat is only a threat because of your actions. In Minecraft, zombie hordes and monster spawns happen at night only if you don’t go to sleep, making me think the creatures are somehow products of a sleep-deprived conjurer.

    3. WJS says:

      Well that’s just sloppy programming, isn’t it? Before people talk about dragons, they should check that the flag for there actually being dragons is set first.

      1. Ivan says:

        The ‘spawn dragons’ flag is set during the first dragon encounter in the main quest. That being the one at the watchtower east of Whiterun. It’s not an oversight, tho you can criticise if it’s a good design choice since you and several other survivors of Helgen certainly saw the real thing. Such as the two leading figures on either side of the civil war (credible sources, in other words).

        But anyway, yeah, as long as you don’t approach that watchtower, after completing the bleak Falls Barrow quest, dragons will never spawn as random encounters, and will never be the bosses of those dragon-word shrine places. You can go anywhere, do any non main quest related quests, etc etc, and never encounter another dragon. The only dragons you’ll see are that DLC one, in the Soul Plane, and the bone one in Labrynthian.

        Anyway, point is, no, it’s not sloppy, it was intentional on the devs part. Tho certainly plenty of other stuff was sloppy, yes.

  10. Thomas says:

    I like the format of this essay so far “but this problem wouldn’t be insurmountable if they – oh wait”

    1. Squirly says:

      “They could have avoided this problem if they had done this. Tune in next week to find out how they didn’t.”

  11. I love how Shamus always goes for the “But what do they EAT?” question.

    It sounds silly but is oh so important as it basically boils down to whether the game world makes sense within itself.

    And thank’s to Shamus any game/movie/series I watch I’ve now begun to think “Hmm. Wait, if they…then how do they…?”

    1. MrGuy says:

      I think it’s slightly subtler than that. I don’t think Shamus or anyone else asked the question during Alan Wake or Marlow Briggs seasons (at least, not ironically). Because neither of those games were about humanity’s desperate quest for survival in a harsh, unforgiving, distopian world.

      The question only really rears its head when the game demands you take the world seriously, as a complete and realistic place, and when it tries to convince you that life in this world is a struggle for desperate survival by small bands. If you want me to believe that’s true, then fine, but show me the struggle, and show me how people are holding off the hunger at the door.

      Episode 2 of Season 1 of The Walking Dead (where they’re at the motel) did a great job making you feel the depths of their hunger, and how hard it was for them to subsist on their meager supplies, and why them having no source of food was such a problem. As presented, the solution is unrealistic (really? Only 3 people get an apple once a day, and we survived like this for months?). But it makes it clear that food is a critical resource, that hoarding it is critical to our survival, and that hunting and foraging are major occupations that we spend most of our time on.

      1. When I saw the fields of weat and farmers “farming” I kinda went “Oh, that’s so cool.” as if it was something completely alien to my eyes. (though in video games it kind of is).

        My biggest pet peeve is probably the lack of toilets on space ships/stations or in modern houses and whatnot.
        Although some FPS’es has improved on this (i.e. WC signs on doors).

      2. Chauzuvoy says:

        I think “What do they eat” feeds into the idea of showing versus telling. Especially in an open-world game where the player is going to be able to explore and see the world without a whole lot of direction if they so choose, it’s really important that the conflicts that drive the world are actually present. Like in New Vegas, where the driving conflict between the NCR and Caesar’s Legion wasn’t just what everyone was talking about. You would actually go out and find NCR and Legion patrols and outposts. If your rep got low with one side, they would hunt you down like you were an enemy. The whole world was influenced by it in some way, so when your character started getting involved it felt really powerful and cool. (The game also really forced you into some of the biggest parts of it early on by forcing you to go through Nipton.)

        In Fallout three there isn’t that sense that there’s a major overriding conflict to deal with. I mean, there’s super mutants and giant hostile wildlife? And some areas are really heavily irradiated? And I guess the Brotherhood of Steel and Three Dog are there and there’s a good fight to be fought against… nothing in particular. The characters will tell you that it’s hard to eke out survival in the wasteland, but when you actually explore and start kicking over rocks, none of the actual problems you run in to are related to survival.

  12. Mark says:

    The issue that’s being gotten at here is something that’s common to Bethesda games (and many other open-world games), which is that the world and the narrative are separated by a wide gap. The player can choose to run off into the wide open world and do whatever they like, or they can follow the narrative along a single path. And more often than not, that single path is a very short one, implying that it really wasn’t a priority to the developers, who were far more concerned with making their big open world.

    I’ll bring up Fallout New Vegas again here, because in that game almost every single one of the sidequests was somehow tied into the main story, and it gave you a distinct feeling that the main story had weight and importance.

    I’m less upset about the farming thing. Yes, it definitely makes a world seem more complete when things like that are included – but for me that’s almost a subconscious thing. I’m unlikely to notice the lack of farms when they’re not there, but I’ll appreciate them when they are.

  13. JJR says:

    So what we should all take away from this is that the cannibals are the smartest group of people. They actually have a sustainable food source considering how many raiders there are out there (ignoring the question of what raiders eat). Mumbles would be proud.

  14. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I have the solution:

    You see,those no one needs to eat or drink,because those beggars out there have taken all the thirst and hunger of the place onto themselves.They are the gods of thirst and hunger,and are perpetually in distress in order for everyone else to live without ever being bothered by it.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      While I’m not a fan of these myself F3 could really use some thirst mechanics. So, you know, giving water away was actually a meaningful choice to the player, and not just a way to farm karma.

      1. Ayegill says:

        I think in general FO3 suffered a lot from having the setting be supposedly all about resource scarcity and struggling to scrape by, while the player practically drowns in resources.

        There are no thirst or hunger mechanics, and even if there were, food and drink is fairly plentiful. It’s mostly irradiated, but rad-away is extremely common, and if you can’t get that, a doctor can always heal your radiation for a few bottlecaps, which are, again, extremely easy to get. Getting enough ammunition and maintaining the condition of your equipment is never problematic, either.

  15. Corpital says:

    Everyone eats mirelurks. There. Easy. And as soon as the purifier is working, people can farm. They have to, because turning the purifier on kills all mirelurks in Washington.

    1. Andy_Panthro says:

      This would have been the best solution, and I would have loved it if lots of people were angry at you because you destroyed their main source of food.

      1. I think that would be the granny down at the wharf. Her kids had some racket going where they killed mirelurks in the Anchorage Memorial, but I believe they were dead already, overrun by their “food.”

        I wonder why no one tried harvesting giant ants? They had eggs and meat, and were far easier to kill.

  16. Tom says:

    The craziest thing of all? These are the same people who made Oblivion. It even uses the same engine.

    Oblivion has farms. Lots of farms. Every NPC in it has a real job that they actually go to do each day or is a beggar. Granted, the actual in-game economy doesn’t simulate production, trade and consumption at all and instead runs entirely on an endless supply of dungeon loot just like Fallout 3, but at least they made some effort to give the outward appearance of a world with a functional economy.

    Oblivion also still has the same issue as Fallout 3 in that the eating and drinking mechanics are entirely optional, and you can spend months of game-time alive, healthy and carrying out high-energy activities without ever rehydrating or consuming a single calorie, but it’s not a massive, glaring problem the way it is in Fallout 3 because, as has been said, drinking water isn’t pivotal to the plot. (or taking a dump, for that matter – neither game has toilets in it anywhere, except Fallout 3 which has exclusively non-functional toilets in some of the ruined buildings, but absolutely none, functional or otherwise, in inhabited areas – again, a slightly silly but ignorable design characteristic from Oblivion is carried over and made glaringly ridiculous in Fallout)

    You can see exactly how pointless the entire central plot mission was if you get the expansion that lets you live and keep playing afterwards – aside from the water that you never, ever needed to drink becoming safer (when radiation poisoning was never that dangerous anyway, because you can just TAKE A PILL TO MAKE IT INSTANTLY GO AWAY in the Fallout 3 world), nothing changes in the rest of the game world. NPCs don’t alter their activities at all. Gameplay is identical, and survival is no easier (or, rather, just as easy).

    1. SKD says:

      I distinctly remember “functional” toilet facilities in Megaton, Tenpenny Tower, the vaults, and outhouses in several raider camps and towns like Arefu. I’m fairly certain there was at least one toilet in every settled area of the game but I can’t specfically picture most of them.

      1. krellen says:

        Megaton had public restrooms.

        1. MrGuy says:

          But none of them would function, because toilets don’t flush absent a connection to municipal water supply with sufficient pressure to get water to the tank, and somewhere for the waste water to go. Sure, you could build a septic system to solve the second issue, and maybe even hook up Megaton’s water purifier (hey, Shamus, remember how the first town in the game actually HAS a working water purifier? But they’re too lazy to fix the leaking pipes?)

          But why would you bother with the effort to build a fully working waste plumbing system, when outhouses are way cheaper and easier to build?

          1. Corpital says:

            But Where Do They Poop?

            *Very* important question. The toilets must function. How else could you drink an infinite amount of highly irradiated water from the disgusting things?

            1. Andy_Panthro says:

              I am suddenly reminded of the (very good) side mission in Fallout 2 which involves a latrine. So much poop.

          2. Peter H. Coffin says:

            But Megaton HAS a water system. There’s even quests around it, including one where you wander around town fixing leaks.

      2. Tom says:

        Hm, guess I misremembered that aspect from way back when I last played. My apologies.

    2. modus0 says:

      Speaking of Oblivion, the one thing that broke immersion for me, which I’ve never seen anyone mention, is that the road are not conducive to transporting goods on any relevant scale.

      There are far too many sections of the rather narrow “main roads” that have somewhere around a 45 degree angle to them. Now imagine how hard it would be for a horse to pull a cart up that, and do so without anything falling out the back. Or even worse, how hard it would be to stop a cart going downhill from careening forward, running over the horse, and then flipping when the still hitched horse proves to be moving slower than the cart.

      Not to mention that there isn’t any such traffic visible in the game.

      In the HEART of an EMPIRE none the less.

      At least Skyrim’s roads aren’t all up and down. Goods for Riften probably come on the roads from the West, rather than that steep slope to the North.

    3. WaytoomanyUIDs says:

      IIRC Oblivion had 5 farms and farming villages and several other areas that were supposed to be farming areas, but didn’t show a trace of cultivation. Pretty good for a post Morrowind Bethesda game, I suppose.

      You may be playing it with the Unique Landscapes series of mods, which add a massive amount of farmland to the game

    4. Moridin says:

      Meanwhile in Fallout 2, not only do all the settlements have at least an outhouse or two, but you actually have to climb down one of them for a quest – and afterwards, everyone comments on the smell. These posts are really making me appreciate how well-made the original two Fallouts were.

  17. The Rocketeer says:

    This was a big-ish problem in Final Fantasy X, too. The church bans most technology, and then later you find it the ban is pointless, which is supposed to make the church look evil and oppressive.

    But no one actually needs technology in the setting. No one labors, and no one is sick. There’s never a problem or situation that could be resolved with technology that isn’t allowed. What’s more, technology isn’t universally banned; there’s plenty of allowed technology, including television and everything needed to run a sports stadium requiring pumping countless gallons of water.

    When the specifics of the ban are brought up, the only thing the game states is banned for sure is weaponry. But machine weaponry in Spira is demonstrably either evil or useless. The only people that rely on it are the Al Bhed, who are never benefited by it, and the church itself, which is supposed to be proof that the church is evil. Which seems like circular logic: the church allows all good, useful technology and bans weaponry, but uses weaponry itself because the church is evil, and the church is evil for banning technology to control people. It’s nonsense.

    The proscription of weapons tech might be a bigger sticking point, but keep in mind Spira is a world in which functional magic is real, plentiful, and demonstrably more powerful than technology. The only actual problem in the world is the giant whale monster, which is magical in nature, and can’t be killed by technology, but only by magic. The only people in the world that rely on technology- including plentiful weaponry- fail to even trouble the creature attacking it on their own terms, and later have their entire homeland destroyed by a few jerks with magic and pet monsters, the likes of which are common around the world and easily defeated by the main party, who don’t rely on tech.

    If anything, the tech-reliant Al Bhed basically put the nails in the coffin of their own tech: they can’t defend themselves with it, they consistently fail in attempts to outdo magic or martial skill with tech, and we know technology isn’t making their lives easier or their people healthier; Al Bhed apparently have harder lives than anyone else in the world despite their tech fascination. They can’t be growing more plentiful, or faster, or else their population would attract the whale monster, which they can’t repel or defeat.

    The entire setting exists as it does because of an ancient war between magic and technology, and magic won that war so hard it basically killed technology itself, along with nearly everyone in the world. As soon as the doom whale gets killed and technology starts to proliferate again, it immediately causes nothing but problems, which have to be solved by magic, again.

    People fear the whale, but tech can’t kill the whale. People fear other monsters, but those monsters can be defeated by basic weapons and magic, which are common and more powerful than tech. No one is hungry, and the population can’t grow because of the magical doom whale, anyway. Everyone is already happy, except for fearing the whale. The only thing they want is to play water polo, which they can, because all the tech necessary for it (and any task anyone needs performed) isn’t actually banned, just weapons. No one is unhealthy, and if they were, white magic can cure any disease or injury. Once tech is unrestricted, it goes out of control and generates disasters.

    The church was shown to be philosophically corrupt, but their only stated dogma turned out to be universally reliable.

    1. Syal says:

      That’s not their only stated dogma, though, and it’s not the only thing that makes the church evil. The story’s not about the tech, (and it seems to be a pretty soft ban to begin with since everyone can get weapons if they want them). The story’s about the space whale and the idea of having to Send the spirits of the dead.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        Yes, they have at least two other stated rules: that summoners must send the dead, and that atonement will end Sin’s reign of terror. Yevon’s leadership is corrupt, of course, but of these big three rules, the third is the only one not born out by the game’s events.

        Sending the dead is, again, spot on; unsent become fiends. Except for all the times they arbitrarily don’t. The game is sort of weird about this. We know that the overwhelming majority of unsent become fiends, and that being unsent is miserable and tortuous. Jyscal’s returning from the Farplane temporarily indicates his extreme emotional distress, and Seymour and Mika’s unsent status is another indicator of the corruption of Yevon.

        That doesn’t really make sense, though. Mika states that enlightened rule by the dead is preferable, as though it’s always how Yevon had done things. But if Yevon is typically ruled by unsent, where are all of them? Mika’s held the office for sixty years, the longest ever. Who did he replace? Who did Kinoc, Kelk, and Seymour replace? Where they unsent? Where are they now? If Yevon has typically been ruled by zombies, how is it that Mika is the first to rule for so long? The only thing that makes sense is that this isn’t traditional Yevon dogma, and that it’s a recent development under Mika. You could try and chalk it up to Yevon conspiracy somehow, but ‘convenient unmentioned conspiracy’ is a common tool for fans to carry water for bad writers.

        Then you have unsent that don’t seem extraordinary in any way, like Belgemine and Auron. Really, being unsent doesn’t seem to be a hindrance at all; Auron doesn’t count as undead for the purposes of magic. He must eat and sleep, or someone would notice. They were on the road for months. If Yunalesca is any indication, being unsent might eventually result in extraordinary power, but that could just be the effects of having so long to master magic. And she was still defeated by less than a dozen weirdos. And Yunalesca and Seymour were undead, somehow, unlike Auron. Really, being unsent and becoming a fiend or not seems to be a completely ad hoc tool for whatever the writers find convenient, but as far as the (unseen) vast majority of unsent, they just become fiends. This is another case of Yevon being evil for breaking their dogma, because their dogma was right.

        It’s completely untrue, of course, that atonement will get rid of Sin. Really, this seems more like a true moral that just got twisted over the centuries. If Bevelle hadn’t pushed Zanarkand to the brink of genocide with their machina weaponry, Sin would never have been created, after all. It seems like a simple guideline for not committing genocide or letting society grow decadent just got wrapped up in warding away people’s only actual, day to day problem: Sin, and getting rid of it.

        Really, I believe that Yevon’s leadership upheld this dogma because they sincerely believed Sin was undefeatable, period, and that society couldn’t hold together without that false hope. Mika says as much in as many words, so it seems to be the logic the game is running with. Well, two out of three ain’t bad, for a crazy zombie pope.

        1. Syal says:

          Well, it is how they’ve always done things; Yunalesca predates all of them. We don’t actually get examples of unsent becoming fiends, and several examples of them not becoming fiends; the whole doctrine is highly questionable.

          1. The Rocketeer says:

            I think there are one or two times when corpses are turned into fiends en masse? But that’s different from the “regular” process of how unsent form into fiends.

            Then there’s Lulu’s former summoner, whom you meet in the Cavern of the Stolen Fayth. She’s retained her human form, though as a phantom; she’s lost all reason and identity, and just attacks mindlessly. Yet, you don’t actually fight her, but rather Yojimbo, whom she summons. So, aeons will answer an unsent, fiendish, feral summoner? One who apparently died in that cavern? What, did she die after getting the Aeon, on the way out? That’s odd. Or did she die negotiating to gain the aeon? At the beginning of the game, they indicate that praying to the fayth can be stressful on the summoner, to the point of danger, but we aren’t shown how this can be so; it apparently just makes you extremely sweaty, judging from that first cutscene with Yuna. And Yojimbo doesn’t even work that way! He just asks for all your gil!

            Yeah, unsents and fiends are definitely a case of “whatever they felt like at the time.”

            1. Syal says:

              I think the only case of mass unsent fiends is Zanarkand, and they act just like the living Bevelle guards (unless X-2 did it, I never played that one). The summoner is iffy because we don’t know what she was like before; she could well have had an irrationally bad temper in life too, or she could hold a grudge against Lulu personally like Lulu seems to think.

    2. Jarenth says:

      I just wanted to point out that I am entirely on board with this explanation of FFX’s story.

  18. Jokerman says:

    I loved in New Vegas that i was trying to find the entrance to the strip and was getting annoyed by all the farms i had to walk through…. then i stopped being annoyed and was very happy how they made this effort.

  19. Sleeping Dragon says:

    RE: some recent tweets

    The Steam game is an idler, a rather unbalanced, bare bones and definitely technically unpolished (ohh, the memory leak) one. I find it interesting that the genre, which has been around for a while and rose to prominence in the last year or two (and even sprouted it’s own branch of the “not a game” debate), has not only made it onto Steam recently but actually became a key mechanics for this year’s summer sale. They are mostly games about watching the numbers grow with varying degrees of player activity and decision making required. Some people (myself included) find them oddly mesmerizing…

  20. Alex says:

    There’s another reason to add farms: cheap space filler. If you want a setpiece with a dead family in a burnt-out house, you can surround it with as much cropland as you want and your only concern is how far the player is willing to walk. It could even tell you a bit about where in the game world you are: healthy farmland means you’re near the basin after you finished the game, razed cropland and dead cattle means you’re probably in super mutant territory, fields being tilled by people wearing explosive collars means you just found a slaver’s farm, and so on.

    1. ehlijen says:

      The ‘how far the player is willing to walk’ bit is the key though.

      The Sims exists and it’s a genre some people like, but many don’t want to make their RPG protagonist go through eating and pooping animations every ten game minutes or spend thirty minutes just walking to the next town.

      But by choosing to make the game world so open and seamless that the player is driving the protagonist 24/7 and can go look at everything, the fact that some things are simply not there becomes fairly obvious. Some even found it odd that Gordon Freeman was awake for at least three days straight (others get annoyed when Shepard has to walk the same 1 minute path on Illum several times because they get dumped at the spaceport again after every side mission there). An open world game has a responsibility to actually show a world, but also to still be a game and not a chore.

      The old mission sector/game world map travel separation was less immersive, but it did provide a convenient handwave for a lot of inanities not being in the game.

      Sorry, I got into rambling…anyway, if Bethesda didn’t want to spend the time making a world, they should have not made it an open sandbox game and it still might possibly have worked.

  21. SKD says:

    There is one place which made a half-***ed attempt at showing food production that hasn’t been mentioned by Shamus or others. Arefu has the problem of just having it’s herd wiped out by the Family. The writers and world designers failed again as the herd was only 3 or 5 brahmin which would not produce enough calves to support the needs of the people that live there or allow enough surplus for trade, nor is there enough pastureland to support the needs of the herd.

    1. I think there you have to hand-wave the size of the “herd” because of console memory limits. Arefu has its own NPCs, the Brahmin, the possibility of traders showing up, and random spawns (like Talon company or mutated monsters), which meant that if you were playing on a console, adding too many bodies would overtax the game.

      1. MrGuy says:

        I can live with handwaving not needing 100 cattle to actually have enough to support the town.

        What I can’t live with is the handwave of what the COWS eat. There’s no grass. No plants that aren’t burned-out trees. No clean water (though there IS irradiated water).

        Eating animals is incredibly wasteful in energy terms over eating plants – you have to feed far more calories worth of food to an animal to have it survive than you get from eating it, so animal husbandry only works as either a luxury food, or where there’s sufficient grazing available that they’re eating plants that humans can’t (e.g. grass).

        Which gets back to Shamus’ point – we’re in a burned out wasteland with no plants and no water. How does energy get into this food chain?

        1. I think there we’re getting into the “what is this game about?” territory, and no one writing this game was thinking about settlements and food gathering beyond scavenging and maybe fungus harvesting & hunting. In New Vegas, it made far more sense because of their faction system. The NCR was trying to settle the area, and the sharecroppers were a big part of that effort, so including them worked really well (it’s what makes me always choose the farmers over the people trapped in the vault that’s contaminating the irrigation system).

          I’m not saying that farms wouldn’t have helped this game, but it’s something I didn’t really miss. If I wanted to lampshade it, I wouldn’t go with the “the bombs fell 20 years ago” thing, but rather the idea that “up until about 50-80 years ago, DC was so irradiated and full of peril that nobody was settling the area.” Megaton has been around since soon after the bombs, but I could see them surviving on people hunting mole rats/scavenge, at least until the present day.

          Now that would have helped: If people in Megaton had been worried that they couldn’t live there much longer because all attempts at farming had failed and they were down to their last few seeds so that if something didn’t change, they’d all have to abandon the Capital Wasteland. It would also have made Tenpenny Tower more interesting and evil if it turned out they were turning away ghouls while having their own version of the White Glove Society running the kitchens.

        2. Micamo says:

          Actually one solution that many cultures use is to consume mostly the milk and blood of their cattle, and only slaughter and eat the animal on special occasions. This way you can make a single cow or goat stretch *much* further in terms of calories and nutrition provided, though it’s still not quite as efficient as eating the plants yourself.

    2. Peter H. Coffin says:

      GW2. Humans have lots of farms. Charr herd cows, Silvari have aquatic farms, Norn… well, they’re mostly hunter/gatherers but have some dolyak farming and keep bees. The only food production we don’t know much about are what the Asura do for food and they’re prolific and advanced enough that one can imagine them simply importing most of it and synthesizing the rest.

  22. Neko says:

    Love the Skyrim analogy.

  23. Dragmire says:

    This reminds me of the future section in Chrono Trigger. The people there had no food and were constantly hungry. They depended on a machine that would revitalize a person but would do nothing for the hunger they felt. Without that machine, everyone would die and the npcs tell you that they are worried about the possibility of it breaking down.

    I didn’t care for the dreary nature of that section of the game but I appreciate the answers to questions that are brought up as a result of the setting.

  24. SlothfulCobra says:

    I’d say that “what do they eat” isn’t necessarily the lynchpin to creating a setting, but the way that you can focus on it and have it tear at every element of the setting is symptomatic of the writers at Bethesda just not caring at all about creating a believable setting. Some settings manage to get away with not paying attention to that by just putting effort into other elements. Take the Bioshock games for example, I don’t think there’s ever an explanation for where either Columbia or Rapture really get their food, but they manage to build the setting in other ways to make it believable in the moment. It takes hundreds or thousands of square miles of farmland to feed a city, which is the main reason that you don’t get big cities in such isolated spots.

    Fallout 3 is really just a collection of vignettes that were each written independent of any thoughts to the setting, from a skeleton with booze and a mannequin to a weird tree cult to a scientist doing experiments on giant ants as an old movie reference. Some scientists trying to build a science device to do science to water and stopping the Bad Guys from using it is just one more vignette. Only difference is that one of the scientists is your dad and doing the science can end your game.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      But columbia and rapture are cities set in a sort of modern world,where trade is (relatively) easy.Plus they are high tech cities that have a bunch of very valuable stuff they can trade for anything they cannot produce themselves.Not to mention that rapture is located in the middle of the ocean,where they can fish practically forever.

      Fallout on the other hand is set in a post apocalyptic world where resources are scarce,and trade is infrequent and very dangerous.And the capital waste has practically nothing they of value they can trade even if other places had stuff to give them in return.

      Yes “what do they eat” is not important for every setting.But,as Shamoose says in this piece,for a setting where resources are scarce,it most definitely is important.Especially when the main story revolves around the scarcity of food or water.

  25. One quick/easy way would have been for Fallout 3 to have heavily guarded caravans arriving/leaving regularly to various towns/areas.

    That way the food/water would be imported from surrounding areas (outside the map).
    Heck such a caravan could even be a plot point for some extra quest stuff.

    Also while a lazy move one could also make the caravans invisible in the sense “The next caravan is tomorrow” “Oh you just missed” “The caravan came by yesterday”.

    (looks at Shamus) these would partly solve the issue right?

    1. Disc says:

      It still begs the question that why would people bother living in the Capital Wasteland if there was enough of an abundance of food elsewhere to feed all those mouths. It would make sense if Capital Wasteland had something like a unique/very rare valuable resource(s) that people scavenged/mined/harvested and the caravans being the method they keep getting supplied, for example. You need to have something there that would be worth the freaking bother for people to stay and for some community on the outside to keep sending the caravans. As it is, Vault 101 is probably the only community that makes any sense to exist at all.

  26. Talby says:

    Mr. Handy actually steals water from the beggars to give to you. The line about the “condensers” is a lie, he actually needs time to go rob more beggars.

  27. Jabrwock says:

    I saw the whole water problem less as a “OMG THEY NEED IT TO SURVIVE” and more a “we can make things better if we fix it.”

    Things can grow in the soil. But not well. They do a terrible job of showing it, but obviously there’s food somewhere.

    Mr Handy can distill water for you, but you only get a few litres a day. Even if you gathered up all the Mr Handys in the area, you’d get enough water to maybe supply Rivet City with “clean” water.

    It doesn’t rain enough, and if you don’t have a way to collect the water, it ends up in the ground, and is contaminated.

    So the problem is not “we need a GECK to make the water drinkable”, but “we need a GECK to make the water not suck so much”.

    The water is just irradiated enough that crops don’t do well, and people are weak from drinking it. Not enough to kill, just enough to hamper.

    The GECK cleans up the contamination, and suddenly you’re able to grow healthier and hardier crops, with bigger yields. Your infant mortality rate drops. Brahmin don’t look so sickly, and can produce more meat or milk.

    That’s a HUGE advantage. Suddenly you can feed an army. You can raise enough food to feed your population and have surplus, which means you can devote energy to non-food-related tasks, like developing technology instead of just scavenging and repairing what’s lying around.

  28. Paul says:

    “What do they eat” is the same question asked by MrBtongue in his review of Fallout: (at 10:18)

  29. Lupinark says:

    I’ve actually heard some interesting arguments for the point of the culture not truly changing as a part of the theme that while may not hold up to scrutiny do actually make some interesting points.
    One being that part of the “1950’s” theme of the original fall out was not from a technological standpoint but from an evolution of the belief that the 50’s ideal was the “Perfect culture and civilization.” Note that’s the stated idealogical belief that it was perfect in the minds of the populace but not an actual fact in any way. We get some of that even now actually now that I think about it…Anyway if that belief was strongly enough indoctrinated into the survivors then they would attempt to “recapture” it, but better this time of course.
    Another one that actually made sense in a way was that due to the vaults, brotherhood of steel, enclave, etc. Society kept getting influxes of those cultural ideals at random times or downright forced to follow them. Whether it’s the enclave being all super evil in there attempt to incorporate there “perfect america” or the Brotherhood of Steel constantly stealing/denying access to the higher levels of technology it can be kind of hard to start off on your own. And every once in a while you’d get some annoying vault causing a ruckus….
    There were a few other reasons I remember talking about with friends buuuttt this post ran on long enough

  30. Land Moose says:

    Maybe I just take different paths than most people, but the very first place I wandered into in Megaton after the script with the Sheriff was the water reclamation plant where it’s this guy’s full time job to make sure the water is clean “enough” to keep the entire city alive.

  31. natureguy85 says:

    More great stuff, as usual. I didn’t think too much about this at the time, but it stands out to me now that I’ve learned more about writing and world building. I can’t wait to read you really dig into the goofy plot of this game. Well done again. Also, nice shot at Jacob.

  32. Blunderbuss09 says:

    This is a very belated response but I love this article. The plot-hole around the purifier is so obvious I feel like an idiot for not realizing it before.

    And honestly there’s an easy way to fix the issue; start the game by having the Enclave already poison the water with FEV. In FO2 you beat the Enclave and stopped their genocide; FO3 is that nightmare become reality. For long-time fans that would be horrifying. And for new players you get the curve ball that the bad guys already WON.

    Thus reason the small settlements are shitty because thousands are dead and order has collapsed. The people who couldn’t leave are slowly dying because they’re forced to drink from unsafe sources. So it makes sense that the Capital wasteland is such a shithole. And since you’re not allowed back in the vault a lack of clean water is YOUR problem too.

    So Colonel Autumn wants the purifier, but alters it so it takes in water, purifies it, and stores it in vats. With the sole source of endless clean water he could rule the wasteland as a god. At the end of the game you could either join the Enclave in return for power, give the purifier to the BOS for rewards, or clean the river to give everyone free water. Bam; a moral choice that actually has good options instead of being evil for shits and giggles.

    It’s really ticking me off that fans are capable of coming up with such better plots – for this game and FO4 – while Bethesda couldn’t be bothered. No one is asking for anything complex; just stories that are engaging and make sense.

    1. Daniel says:

      There is no plot hole regarding the purifier.

      – Eden wants to purge mutations, like his predecessor wanted in FO2, so he plans to sabotage the purifier. FEV will be leeched into the water as it is pumped back into the basin from the purifier, and Eden will pass it off to the people of the wasteland under the guise of “clean” water. Because Augustus Autumn doesn’t want to do this, Eden tries to recruit the player behind Autumn’s back.

      – Augustus Autumn disagrees with Eden, and wants to use the purifier for the intended purposes, with the goal of buying goodwill with the people and legitimizing the Enclave as the rightful government.

      – The Brotherhood of Steel was guarding the Purifier, but had to pull out when the West Coast cut off Lyons and their support collapsed. They want to reclaim the technology and legitimize themselves as a regional power, preventing the Enclave from this goal instead.

      What is the plot hole here?

  33. Agammamon says:

    If Bethesda just wanted to make a big dumb shooter about shooting big dumb mutants with big dumb guns, they could have done that.

    How prophetic – because that’s basically what they did with FO4.

  34. Patrick the Closeted Alpha-nerd says:

    1. Dehumidifiers are actually very basic machines. Given the level of technology and machinery presented creating drinkable water from non-oceanic sources would be fairly simple.
    2. Removing irradiation from water is actually pretty simple. For breivty sake, evaporation already does this naturally. Dillution would make this easier since any irradiation would be swept through the entire ocean by currents, effectivley turning all water slightly irradiated within a few years. However that isn’t the biggest problem here…
    3. The Potomac bay is (and always will be) salt water. Not as potent as the Indian ocean, but still salt water. Enough so that even if you removed all radiation from it it is (and always will be) lethal to all living creatures.
    4. The process of desalinization is actually much more complicated than removing radiation. And the process of removing a salt from the Potomac is impossible inasmuch as that would require turning the entire Atlantic ocean into drinking water. And since the Atlantic is connected to every other ocean….

    Basically, the idea of turning the Potomac basin into drinking water is laughable even if there wasn’t a nuclear holocaust. Thats impossible today, even with a GECK.

  35. UrMum says:

    What does the Legion eat? Where does the Legion get water from? They didn’t even have borders up to the Colorado up until recently and Arizona relies on Colorado for water. Most of Arizona and New Mexico is a desert. You are a hypocrite.

    1. dumba*s says:

      This makes no sense lol. Have you even played the game? Legion’s water and food supply are never mentioned, like not even once. It’s not integral to the plot. That question is never asked, unlike in Fallout 3. So he’s not a hypocrite, you’re just not a very bright person.

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