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The Fallouts are still fresher and richer


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This is not clickbait. I really feel that Fallout 1 and 2, the real ones, have kept better than the fantasy games on the Infinity Engine. The base for the fantasy titles, 2nd edition of AD&D, doesn't evoke any nostalgia. The good ideas in it were mostly from the previous editions, the elves, the dwarves, the ghouls, all that stuff from the earliest days, and even there a lot had been lost. For example, illusionists in the first AD&D were a distinct class from wizards and specialized in many unreal, but very convincing effects. Imaginary fireballs - what can they do? I imagine that the DM had to adjudicate quite a bit for that, but the idea is fantastic. It was a whole parallel system of magic. The second edition "improved" it by conflating them into wizards - just another school. Looking forward along the timeline, the 3rd edition of the game famously made many rationalizations, and as far as the computer adaptations are concerned, the lost charm had failed to carry over from the tabletop game long before. That was their main flaw, if you ask me: that the excitement of playing heroes and finding treasures made it into the computers, but the freedom of imagination did not. The environments of the Infinity Engine games are restrictive, dry and distinctly short of content - with the exception of Torment, which was a work of art, not gaming entertainment, from beginning to end. I like the first Baldur's Gate well enough, but outside of the scattered books about "History of the North" I don't get any sense of a wider reality there. The Sarevok story could happen in any generic fantasy setting. But maybe that's for the best, considering what kind of awful kitsch the Forgotten Realms are, when really cracked open.

In short, I just don't get enough information in these games, having played them time and again. I am not attracted to their worlds any more, not excited, puzzled, amused or challenged. My min-maxing ability could be challenged with a combat mod, but what is the point? It is like running around the same room, which did not have very many interesting toys to start with. Fantasy can be real and true and remain fantasy, but that's not the case for these monster-killing, villain-haunted play rooms. I have way outgrown them - not such a tall order.

But the Fallouts feel fresh, adult. I've played them plenty too, and I don't want to repeat the same quests, see the same items, temples, military bases, "Kitty's Paw" magazines and bullet clips. I don't want to fight mole rats again. Everything concrete put in those worlds is too familiar. Yet the worlds themselves are not outdated, they still feel like something that has lived and breathed (and died in a nuclear blast). The New Age sequels capitalized on this feeling to make profit, misinterpreting it as a desire to see more of pseudo 50s in sequel after sequel the same way as the movie "The Fury Road" stole everything from "The Road Warrior" and forked over "more but different." That's not what I feel nor what I need. When I say that a world is fresh and relevant, I'm talking about independent potentials within, not extrapolations. I don't exactly know how the Earth of Fallout 2 could develop - and that is the point - but I'm sure it could, really, take off in some direction as unforeseeable as consequences of mutation. The authors of Fallout - or of the Incredible Hulk - did not have to invent huge supermutants, and they didn't have to be green. This was not deducible from the logic of previous culture. But something zinged in their brains, something fluctuated somewhere, and quite out of the... aquamarine popped out these concepts.

And this growth of reality from reality can continue; real fiction is born that way. That is why I feel that Fallouts can respond to me, that, were I to live there, there would be occupations for my body and mind - creative ones, not going around asking for errands from wizards and other local Politburo as in all, or almost all, fantasy games. (Some exceptions: Faery Tale Adventure 2, Morrowind.) It is true, asking for errands is the main business of the day in Fallouts too, but out on the sides, on the red travel edges of maps - scrolling into infinity - there is a lurking possibility for more. Before the war, in any case, there was more: science, industry, but complementing that legacy came the fertile chaos after the bombs mixed things up. It is a world of many roles and layers that has enough autonomous existence for me to belong in it - as much as any Hubologist or Ed. Ed's dead, but he didn't die on a treadmill of vacuous escapism.

Tolkien wrote that escapism is not a soldier's desertion from the battlefield but the breakout from a dull prison, but this is only true for imaginary worlds that grow on the terroir of surprise. The writer himself must never quite know what he is going to produce. At least the starting concept needs to be news to him, even if he plans out the development, but the very best and rarest stories are rolled out like a carpet with an assassin in it. Then a method may creep in. Some of the finest writers had been convinced to give up on their ad hoc approach, like Leigh Brackett, who started out phenomenal, but settled down to really good. Here, as I reflect, I enter upon some sad territory... Stories must be new, or it's like writing copy. It IS writing copy - of all other mods, for instance.

One of the consequences of going after reality in one's life, though, is that it becomes impossible to reproduce cliches. At this moment I myself find me in a situation where I can no longer write dialogues for Baldur's Gate. For the mods. I just can't. I spent about five years in this modding business, I've done a little quest-making, some conversations here and there, they were always possible, never in focus, but now it's come to the point where anything that would be understood and welcomed by this "community," by players, is beneath the level on which I would like to write. I don't exactly know what I would write if I could thrust anything under the spectacles of God's angels, but I am absolutely tired of sending characters on killing missions, to retrieve somebody's items, of powergaming, of imitating a frat boy's sense of humor. I don't want to simplify my language, shorten my sentences, use plain, obvious jokes that will evoke a "ha-ha." The skills are there. I know how to make a quest exciting to what the American film rating system calls General Audiences. I know what buttons to push. I can mystify people, I can confuse them, lead them around by the nose, then blast them with a stupendous battle and reward them with an unusual artifact. I can amaze them with magic from the bowels of this toolset, functions that others are afraid to use. I can make them think a little along the way. All that takes is sitting-down time and attention to detail. And they would be thankful for a good time in the end: a fine mod, a wise mod.

But what's in it for the maker? There must also be desire on the creator's side. You must want this. You must believe in this and be into arguments about this. If you are not excited by making or finding a special sword, what are you doing in this biz? That's only half true, though. I think I would be excited by a magical sword, if I were to find it for real, and if around me was a life where swords have a use, and if, let's face it, I could be any good at fencing with it. Instead some people become actors... David Warner and his voice. "To end like this?" And the Fallouts come to mind as something between, the happy hunting grounds between hell and heaven, necrophilia and masturbation... could that be exciting sex? Too bad I can't replay them.

Edited by temnix
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It sounds like you're brushing up against the limits of video games as a medium for storytelling. How many 'jobs' can the developer assign to a player? Kill foozle, rescue NPC, fetch object, craft object. Platformers give players the job of reaching a destination. Racing games, reaching a destination faster than your opponents. Fighting games, kill foozle with extravagant controls. A good game assigns the player a variety of jobs; a great game does so in the context of a meaningful story. But at the core of any game, you'll find these same formats. If you're tired of it, then maybe you've outgrown video games in general.

In movies and literature, there are also limits. It's been said there are two types of stories: adventure and romance. Horror is a scary adventure, tragedy is a sad romance, etc. Even life itself is a boring limited medium - complete work, get food, exchange information, procreate if you're lucky, fight if you're unlucky, reach destination, acquire object. It's a good thing we eventually die, because it gets tedious after a while.

The art of storytelling is to make the player forget they're interacting with a limited medium, and to lose themselves in the urgency of the story. Maybe the key to a good life is being able to forget you're a limited material creature reiterating the same formats day in and day out.

Edited by InThePineways
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19 hours ago, InThePineways said:

Should I laugh or cry?

Well, it IS a very good chase movie. A movie doesn't have to be arthouse to be an exemplar of a genre, and every genre deserves recognition for excellence.

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@InThePinewaysNo, life is not limited to that. Those are the basics of existence without knowledge and development. Eat, procreate, that's nothing. I take a dump every day, too, but I don't include it in the content of my life - and neither was this stopover at the dentist's today where I asked them about two techniques about restoring teeth, and they didn't know about the first one, or I couldn't find it in the Russian translation on the list, and the second one was terribly expensive, as I had expected. So I've gone there, I got that information, but if the rest of my life will be filled with just that, then I will not have lived at all. On the way back I came past a trio of glorious 18 year-olds, and they weren't running through the same cynical thoughts. They were talking and laughing, and I could see in their eyes they were learning. Maybe what they were learning I had already learned, but even the swallows outside my balcony, when they are ducking and checking the wall for a nest, are doing something meaningful to them - and not lying to themselves. Their limit is simply that, to build a nest, and the limit of many humans is not that much farther out. But nobody is play-acting, nobody is trying to forget his limited nature and pretend the toys are new. They are really all doing it all around. The more complex a nature, the higher its requirements, that's all.

For instance, I'll be honest: I haven't actually watched "The Fury Road." Only a teaser with a fight scene, and I saw the posters, and I read about it. And it was enough for me, because I saw it was "The Road Warrior" rehashed, which is not acceptable in any shape or form in my standards. So that one couldn't work for me - and I had objections to the messy fight cinematography, too. What I want is not to be fooled, though, or seduced. The first "Mad Max" (well, it was the second) didn't have to lie to me. It was new, it was inventive, it was sincerely felt. I was sorry for the dog who was shot there. Because death is real enough, love is, a broken leg, the expanse of the desert, the ruminations about the collapse of civilization that had gone into the visual style, all that techno junk - they were real. The heat and the space, the worry was there, the nuclear menace was in the air in Reagan/Thatcher days. And it was the same for the first "Fallouts," who didn't simply steal from "post-apocalyptic" predecessors but dug into that whole rotten 50s optimism lunch box. Those games are as true as the novels of Philip Dick. And that's why I can still relate to them. In parallel there were real and new inventions in the fantasy role-playing genre, which D&D spearheaded for a while.

To the extent they are honest, they can still excite. An adventure module where the characters walk through a wood, gathering herbs on the side, and talk to a druid about a task, is timeless like simple enjoyment. But even in a fantasy adventure things don't cycle endlessly. Nobody wants to kill ogres over and again, mostly because after a while you know all there is to appreciate about ogres, their clubs, their smells, their voices - enough! It's then time to move on before sensory deprivation comes in. And with Baldur's Gate and the rest we are all way past the point when they were new to us in any degree - especially if people don't aim high to create new adventures, come up with surprising plots or mechanics. I cannot read about another red-headed scoundrel girlfriend or a dark, doomed hero. Make new magic or disappear - that's what I believe in. And no matter what people here may think about my "leaving" again and again but always staying, I will indeed do that for real soon. I gave five years of my life to modding these games.

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36 minutes ago, temnix said:

But nobody is play-acting

What, on these august forums? Gosh, most certainly not! Perish the thought, eh, temnix?

1 hour ago, temnix said:

I gave five years of my life to modding these games.

It's amazing sometimes how much impact a short, simple sentence can have if it's in precisely the right place. One way or another, it just seems unaccountably sad.

If you're leaving soon, and if you carry on in this vein in the interim, I'll say good luck to you when you go.

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On 5/28/2022 at 10:10 PM, InThePineways said:

It's a good thing we eventually die, because it gets tedious after a while.

Maybe it's the inevitability of death that leads us to succumb to the tedium?

On 5/28/2022 at 10:10 PM, InThePineways said:

Maybe the key to a good life is being able to forget you're a limited material creature reiterating the same formats day in and day out.


Sort of, but I think that having the chance to find interesting new formats to replace the stale ones every so often helps, provided those chances are taken.

On a non-morbid note, I thought that your points about game design seemed apposite!

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@Thacobell That scene is just a little bit over the top in stupidity. Talk about a franchise becoming a parody of itself.

Also, I'm pretty sure you know what he means when he says the movie is politically correct. It pushes the strong woman theme, even though women have half the upper body strength as men on average. Baldur's Gate is guilty of this in a less obnoxious way. The day women play in the NFL is the day female action heroes become believable.

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