Saturday Morning Gaming: Something To Get You To Thursday (Fallout 3 vs. New Vegas)
Let’s face it. Cyberpunk is coming out on Thursday. This is no time to start a new game.
But that got me thinking: What are the best ways to start a game?
I think that a comparison between Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas gives one of the best examples of Doing It Right versus Missing The Mark.
Fallout 3’s character begins with you hearing your mother’s heartbeat and then your own cries as an infant as you enter a brightly lit room. Choose a gender and hear your father announce to your mother “It’s a (whatever you picked)!” and then let you enter your name. “That’s a good name, don’t you think?” They then pull up the machine that will give a good best guess at what you’re going to look like in 20 years or so… and you pick out what you want your character to look like. Bald, beard, let’s give him a scar, get the nose right. After some chaos in the birthing room and some more voices discussing things, you find yourself as a toddler and you witness yourself taking your first steps (a minor tutorial on how to look around and walk). You’re in the vault! You’re in a playpen with a ball and you fiddle with the latch on your pen (here’s how you interact with your environment!) and then wander out and pick up your SPECIAL stats book and pick your character’s stats.
Then flash forward to your 10th Birthday party and you receive your Pip-Boy (your interactive menu) and then you walk around and have conversations with the people at the party. One of the first options you see in your first conversation is that you have the option of lying to your interlocutor. You get the gift of a bb gun from your dad and you go down to one of the remote hallways in the vault and you learn how to aim and shoot the gun and then a radroach steps out of the shadows and you learn how to engage in combat. Flash forward to your 16th year and you take the Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test (or G.O.A.T.) that will figure out which skills you want to have be your primary ones.
And *THEN* you flash forward and find out that your dad has left the vault, you are in trouble because the vault overseer thinks you were in on it, and now you have to escape to the outside world. You use what you’ve learned so far with conversations and combat and then, when you step outside of the vault and find yourself in a cave… and then you step out of the cave into sunlight and take your first gulp of real fresh air.
You step outside as a fully realized person. And *THEN* the game begins and you’ve got your first mission: Find your dad.
Fallout: New Vegas has a different way to start. You are a courier. It was your job to deliver a package. Here, the opening cutscene will do a better job of explaining it than I could:
You wake up in a doctor’s office who says to you “hey, I stitched you up the best I could… how’d I do?” and then he hands you a mirror. Pick what you look like. Hey, what’s your name? Pick your name. Hey, let’s wander over to the love tester machine in the corner and figure out your stats… now let’s do some word association games to figure out your skills… now let’s have you pick your perks… and now let’s give you a Pip-boy and some outfits and send you outside. And *THEN* the game begins and you’ve got your first mission: Find the guy who shot you in the head.
See the difference between the two? It took me FOREVER to tell you about Fallout 3’s opening. It covered big moments from the moment of your birth to the first time stepping out into sunlight. And New Vegas just has you wake up after getting shot in the head and asking you a couple of questions before kicking you in the butt as you walk out the door.
Now, it’s true: Fallout 3 was the first Fallout game since Fallout 2 (or Fallout Tactics, I guess) and the game changed *COMPLETELY* between the two games. It went from isometric bird’s eye view of everything to first person RPG. You did pretty much need to figure out how your character worked in this new version of Fallout and New Vegas had the luxury of assuming that you were familiar with gaming in a first person RPG.
But I wasn’t as invested in my character in New Vegas after the first hour of the game the way that I was invested in my character in Fallout 3. I felt like I occupied my character in Fallout 3 as I explored the world in the first moments. In New Vegas, I just wanted to explore the world and, only as I played, did I get an idea of who I was. I remember reading something, somewhere, a million years ago how this could have been improved, ever so slightly, by just having the doctor ask “hey, the robot who dug you out and brought you here normally collects little trinkets on his wanderings and he said that one of these things was yours… do you remember which one?”
And then giving you a choice between seven items. They could do something like… oh… offer brass knuckles and give you a brawl bonus, or offer a switchblade and give a melee bonus, or offer a teddy bear or something and give a conversation bonus. You know, nothing particularly gamebreaking and not really something that would be useful after level 4 or so but give you an idea that makes you say “yes, this thing is mine.” And, just by knowing which one of the seven things were yours (and which of the six weren’t), you’d have a better idea of who you are as a character in the game.
I mentioned this theory to a friend and he said “Like picking the Dalai Lama!” And, yes, that’s exactly it. Who are you incarnating as?
And it’s funny because Fallout 3 is generally seen as a pretty good game but New Vegas is seen as a *GREAT* one, but when it comes to character creation, it’s Fallout 3 that set the bar (and New Vegas didn’t clear it).
(I can’t wait until Thursday.)
So… what are you playing?
(Featured image is a screenshot from the opening of Fallout 3. Taken by the author.)