You may have blinked and missed it while Josh was doing the jackrabbit two-step around Kellogg’s foggy noggin, but we just passed The Quote From Fallout 4. You know; the singular monologue that gets memed and shared around like a dying cigarette in a post-apocalyptic campground. It’s not mandatory, but even if you passed over it in your playthrough (and you probably didn’t unless you were very impatient) there’s a good chance you’ve seen it online:
“The thing about happiness is that you only knew you had it when it’s gone. I mean, you may think to yourself that you’re happy. But you don’t really believe it. You focus on the petty bullshit, or the next job, or whatever. It’s only looking back by comparison with what comes after that you really understand, that’s what happiness felt like.”
I mentioned before that I found the line overwritten, and that the message is got across quite well by “The thing about happiness is that you only knew you had it when it’s gone.” I’m not cynical enough to think the line was stretched out so people would take it more seriously, but I think the elaboration does suggest a lack of confidence. I’d still like to see more dialogue like this in the game–and in a way, that’s the biggest problem.
This isn’t a special moment where everything comes together. This isn’t a hammer blow, a mic drop, or a thesis. This is a reasonably interesting throwaway line that does a little to illustrate a character’s perspective and keep the player’s attention from wandering–and yet it has so much more gravitas, thought, and meaning than the dialogue surrounding it, and when you’re playing it you get this instinctive feeling like it’s Something Important. And I have to ask–is it?
I don’t think it resonates well with the themes of the game–past a point we’re fast approaching, feelings of wistfulness and nostalgia have little importance in the game’s storyline. I don’t think it comments incisively on human experience–I’d argue that “you don’t really know you’re happy until you know that you were happy and now you aren’t happy” is a pretty shallow cut and there’s not much in the context of the scene to give it more meaning. So all it does is tell us about Kellogg, and since I just killed him, I can’t unkill him, and there was never anything I could do but kill him–and since Kellogg’s impact on the plot is constrained to one trigger pull and one messy death–that’s some pretty weak tea.
I put it to you that in a game where solid characters spoke about interesting topics that had thematic cohesion and significance, Kellogg’s line here would have been practically ignored.
In Defense of Crunch
Crunch-mode game development isn't good, but sometimes it happens for good reasons.
Final Fantasy X
A game about the ghost of an underwater football player who travels through time to save the world from a tick that controls kaiju satan. Really.
Juvenile and Proud
Yes, this game is loud, crude, childish, and stupid. But it it knows what it wants to be and nails it. And that's admirable.
The Opportunity Crunch
No, brutal, soul-sucking, marriage-destroying crunch mode in game development isn't a privilege or an opportunity. It's idiocy.
A look at the main Borderlands games. What works, what doesn't, and where the series can go from here.