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Chris Avellone Comments on Diplomatic Problem Solving In Games

Chris Avellone, senior designer of Fallout New Vegas and the older Fallout titles, had some interesting insight regarding diplomatic solutions in games in a very lengthy interview with Iron Tower Studio. On the subject, Avellone states the following;

“It caters to a small % of players, and those players find it meaningful if that’s the power fantasy they want. To cite the best example, in Fallout 1, I think it’s pretty ego-boosting to point out the flaws in your adversaries’ master plan so much that he suicides after talking to you. I really can’t be more of a talking badass than that. It is difficult to implement a speech/sneak path, and the main obstacles to it are many, so here’s my opinion on how to approach it:

The speech path should present more than a skill check challenge – there needs to be some other obstacle associated with it. I usually veer toward exploring conversations (asking about back history, reading lore, discovering evidence to a criminal case), exploring the environment (discovering an enemy encampment, learning a secret path into a fortress, discovering a rival caravan is already sending an emissary to scout a new trade route), or being able to draw logical connections between two topics…

Obsidian has a rule in quest design that any non-violent path has to have a reward that’s comparable to killing and looting everyone in the scenario, and has similar repercussions. Whether this is XP bonus greater than killing the opponent, alignment shifts, barter rewards, or whatever, speech-defeating someone can’t yield you less in the long run than it would if you killed everyone. Often, it can yield more if you’re patient… or if you decide to shoot the person in the face after you verbally crushed them. In some ways, it could be considered a speech bribe. I’ll be honest, KOTOR2 was a huge speech bribe as well – once people figured out that’s how you could make Jedi or Sith from characters by interacting with them, suddenly there’s a lot more incentive in getting to know your allies and playing the influence game. I will say this doesn’t always work (I’ve seen YouTube footage where people simply rapidfire through the FNV DLC1 Dead Money conversations just looking to mine the XP awards, which makes me die a little inside – but hey, it’s more than they would otherwise).”

So, Avellone notes a couple of key  problems with modern approaches to diplomacy in games. It’s mostly skill-check–do you have a high enough stat? rather an inference, and the structure of dialogue as a mechanic in games (XP rewards and all) devolves conversations into just another impersonal way to farm experience.

It’s interesting, too, that he calls it another form of ‘Power Fantasy’ especially within the context of Fallout , a franchise that has multiple instances where one can convince an adversary to suicide via dialogue. Normally I associate combat-heavy games to adhere to a power fantasy ideal, but he’s right, diplomatic solutions are no different. Silver tongues turn you into a sly trickster, capable of convincing people to downright eat their newborns if it came down to it.

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I Don’t Want To Save the World

I don’t want to be the chosen one. I don’t want to get the girl. I don’t want to make kingdoms rise and fall on my whim. I don’t want to dictate who lives and dies. Most of all, I don’t want to save the world.

I want small moments instead; they mean more to me. Getting stood up at dinner. Figuring out how to deal with a student that’s being bullied. Deciding whether or not you’re going to use the swingset or toss a ball with your son. Perhaps, even, dealing with the death of a parent. Hey, that’s an actual game! Well, actually, all of these are. But, we’ll get to this specific game–Winter Voices–a bit later, after I explain my rationale a bit.

Basically, I don’t want games to act as an extension of masturbation. Wish fulfillment. Escapism. ‘Power fantasies‘, as Leigh Alexander would put it. Frankly, I’m tired of it. I want something new, something that challenges the entitlement we experience as players–the power that comes with god-like control. Perhaps then, choice and morality would actually mean something, instead of being just another thing you have have authority over. Perhaps then, relationships with other characters can feel more genuine–they are not simply pawns that we can manipulate how we see fit. Perhaps then, I’d be put in my place–and this could be a valuable experience.

I think back on that now that I’m playing through Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. Day 3 happens, and an immortal demon called Beldr arrives and is slated to kill us all at a predetermined time and place. Of course we happen to find the singular item that will slay the supposedly immortal being (not really a spoiler, considering the game takes place over 7 days and so it would follow that you do not die on the 3rd day). My party rejoiced, only to find out there’s three or four other beings like him. Of course, they’re supposed to be crazier and more powerful (than an immortal being?) and  we have to take them out if we want to survive.

No problem. ……right?

Read the rest of this entry

New flavor of the apocalypse: New Vegas impressions

Aside from this bit about your character getting shot in the head and left for dead, the opening cinematic for Fallout: New Vegas feels like a documentary–but I suppose that’s the way Obsidian decided to set the (very) slow pace of a Bethesda-style Fallout game. It does feel like it goes on too long, but maybe that’s because I knew every piece of information it gave me already. For someone who hadn’t kept up with the pre-launch coverage, it probably was quite interesting. I can only offer my own opinion: meh.

Of course, any game can have an interesting (or awful) opening. It could have been worse. I actually did like the character creation sequence, though it’s not as unique as the one in Fallout 3. I wish more games would do a contextual creator rather than slap a bunch of menus in front of you as soon as the movie finishes.

And then the game starts. Instead of the dramatic opening of Fallout 3, you’re basically thrown out into a hick settlement that functions very differently from the major hub that Megaton was. Sure, there’s a couple quests, but I didn’t get to experience those. See, the character that’s integral to the initial questline died in my tutorial. Yes, because I sucked that badly at the combat tutorial, the NPC died.

Quest failed. Quest failed. Quest failed. Quest failed. Okay then. . . .

I even tried to figure out a “creative” resolution to the questline. Nope, there’s one whole tree that still can’t be resolved. Because I have to talk to the dead character to advance it.

This is a worrisome start.

It also doesn’t help that your first clue along the central story involves asking someone at the town of Primm. Obsidian, however, neglects to tell you where Primm is. No map marker, no general direction, nothing. I found it (by accident) pretty quickly, but to me it’s sloppy development work. Fallout 3 at least put the major settlements on your map to give a general layout. An open world RPG works, but only if there are clear indicators of how a quest starts when you get that itch.

I’m excited to see the different faction branching–I’ve seen some already–but I’m also more than a bit skeptical.

Share your thoughts in the comments!

P.S. Aiming down the sights is a great addition. Say goodbye to our dear friend, the Dunning-Kruger reticle.

Preview Fallout New Vegas’ “All Roads” Prequel Comic On Itunes

While the release of New Vegas may be about a month away, I’m sure that most of you, especially those who have preordered the fancy collector’s edition, can’t wait to get your hands on the post-apocalyptic adventure. Well, turns out that you can start satisfying your New Vegas hunger today, because Bethesda has released a 12 page preview of the comic “All Roads,” which comes bundled in exclusively with Collector’s edition. You can download the preview here, over at the iTunes store, and get a taste of one of the goodies which awaits you on October 19th.

“All Roads introduces the world of New Vegas, a town of dreamers and desperados being torn apart by warring factions vying for complete control of this desert oasis, and a tells an intriguing tale of loyalty and violence that leads right up to the beginning of the game.

Created in conjunction with Dark Horse Comics and written by Chris Avellone, the game’s senior designer, All Roads is tightly integrated into the story of New Vegas, even containing clues to in-game missions for the sharp-eyed reader. Artists Jean Diaz (Incorruptible) and Wellinton Alves (Shadowland: Blood on the Streets, Nova) and cover artist Geof Darrow (Hard Boiled, The Matrix, Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot) offer their stunningly interpretation the world of New Vegas.”

Obsidian Explains Why Fallout New Vegas Has A Definitive Ending

Yes, the notorious “definitive ending” will be back for New Vegas. I know, you’re bummed that you can’t just keep roaming the wastes after the ending. Well, you’re gonna have to do your waste-roamin’ before you finish the game: there’s no turning back, and seemingly no plans for Broken-Steel like DLC to erase that definitive ending. Why? Let John Sawyer, project director, explain:

“We want to make it a definitive ending. Initially, we talked about trying to support post-game play, but because the changes that can happen at the end of the game are pretty major, this is what it basically came down to: either have the changes feel really major in the end slides and then have them not be very major after the end of the game, or make them really minor and not that impactful. And we feel it’s better to say, ‘you know what, we’re just going to end the game, and the changes you made can be minor or really really big, but because we can’t script all the changes to the Wasteland to let you keep playing, we’re just going to stop it there.’ But we do let the player know when that’s about to happen– a sort of, ‘the end of the game is coming, so we’re saving your game right now, so if you want to keep your game going, you can, otherwise, it’s about to be over.'”

And there you have it.

Fallout: New Vegas digs at JRPGs

Bethesda’s apparently been drinking the same Kool Aid that Bioware’s having, and decided that the best way to market Fallout: New Vegas in Japan was not to actually, you know, show off the product (possibly a good decision, considering how the game looks!), but instead to slag Japanese games. That’ll show those squinty eyed bastards! They can’t even make games as good as them big ol’ Westerners. What jerks!

Yes, people with signs referring to how much they hate JRPGs passes as a marketing campaign nowadays; someone must have dipped into the political advertising talent pool. For reference, their signs read things like:
“A game where you just follow the scenario is like living life on rails.”
(startlingly similar to main thematic element of Final Fantasy VII, in fact.)

“What’s the point of playing again if there’s no change to the story?”
(ignoring the fact that the story is pretty much the same in Fallout 3 no matter what choices you make, and none of your choices have any consequences whatsoever.)

“When did games become something that you watch?”
(When western production values met the Japanese field of video games.)

Advertising campaigns have gotten so clever. Really, they’re always a source of comedy.

Fallout ‘All Roads’ Comic Set Before New Vegas

The recently announced Fallout comic which will come bundled with all special editions of New Vegas is going to act as a prequel to the main game. We already know that the start of Fallout: New Vegas sees the player getting shot in the head and getting his package stolen–the comic follows the two people who hunt you down. You will not only get a glimpse at your adversaries, but also learn about important people in the game before you get to meet them.

“The title showcases the cast, locations in the game (including New Vegas), and provides more backstory on some of the major characters in the game. It leads right up to the opening movie of the game, and provides context for the initial set-up and the motivations for some of the major adversaries in the game” says Avellone, senior designer for New Vegas and author of All Roads.

“If you read the graphic novel, you’ll see the results of many of the events, locations, and fates of the characters in the comic in primary and secondary locations in the game – as well as characters you’ll encounter in these locations. You’ll have a glimpse of their motivations and struggles before you meet them, and it’ll give larger context to their actions and how to deal with them. If you’re careful in your exploration, you’ll even find some items they left behind as well – whether the characters are alive or dead.”

Fallout New Vegas is set to release on October 19th.

Fallout New Vegas Graphic Novel

The Fallout New Vegas Collector’s Edition comes with a variety of goodies, as we know, but we can add one more thing to the list: “All Roads,” a hardcover prequel comic written by Chris Avellone, creative director. Geof Darrow and Peter Doherty team up to bring you the cover, of which you can see a small slice above. If you want to see the rest of it, well, you’re going to have to head down to comic-con, where “Darrow and Avellone will be handing out signed “All Roads” lithographs at the Dark Horse Comics booth. Both Geof Darrow and Chris Avellone will be signing special lithographs featuring the full cover art at the Dark Horse booth (Booth #2615) at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Saturday, July 24 from 5:00pm to 6:00pm.”

Fallout New Vegas’ Gambling, Companions, and Weapons

GameBanshee has an extensive–if not the most comprehensive–preview for Fallout New Vegas, which you should definitely read. Fear not, fellow internet traveler: we’ve got all the goods for you right here, too.

It seems as if you will not be able to carry weapons into the casinos openly without risking the entire casino becoming hostile toward you. Thankfully, there are a number of conceivable weapons, like switchblades and brass knuckles, which you can sneak in with you anyway. Once inside, you will be able to gamble–and gambling is slightly affected by your luck stat. You cannot, however, win an infinite number of caps, since ‘breaking the bank’ is possible. Moreover, Obsidian has made it clear that they will be programming some mysterious “inconvenience” which discourages players from saving before gambling, and simply reloading when they lose too much money. And once you’re done trying your luck at the slots, your weapons will be returned to you on the way out of the casino.

Named weapons will be making a return, but these weapons cannot be modified. There are also a bevy of new weapons, like the following: “Anti-Material Rifle, a Lever-Action Shotgun, some C-4 Plastic Explosives with Detonator, a 9 Iron golf club, a Bladed Gauntlet, a Multiplas Rifle, a Plasma Caster, a Trail Carbine, a Light Machine Gun, and the infamous Grenade Launcher.” Melee weapons will now have “special attacks,” too, but these aren’t specified or detailed.

Lastly, there will be a total of 9 companions available for you during your journey, one of which is a sniper called “Boone.”

Stay tuned as we bring you more info on Fallout: New Vegas!

Fallout: New Vegas Preview Reveals New Details

Duck and Cover has the scoop on the latest PC Powerplay, which previews Fallout: New Vegas this month. Things we learn about New Vegas include:

  • Existence of a  ‘wild wasteland’ trait, which unlocks wackier variants of existing content.
  • New Vegas is a fortress.
  • Sidequests may be more rewarding than the main quest, as the main quest is only 20% of the main game.
  • Epic moments, like Liberty Primes trip through DC, will be more abundant in the main storyline.
  • Like previous games, there will be unique dialog for low intelligence characters.
  • Inclusion of a survival skill, for cooking at a campfire–a skill that sounds a bit useless unless you’re playing hardcore
  • Some areas may have vegetation..wonder if it’ll be anything crazy like Oasis?

This, coupled with the knowledge that skills outside of speech will alter what you can say in a conversation, are starting to convince me that Obsidian might just be able to pull it off this time.