Morbus Gameplay rant

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When Morbus spend one hour and a half making a comment on this blog I thought such dedication to discuss gaming deserved an article of itself. He’s more known for being profoundly disliked by Pete Hines, and running an interesting Gaming blog known as megascore.biz.

So I’ll leave you with this piece, it should be interesting for the gaming archaeologists of the future, to better understand the different perspectives that were being discussed in the early years of the 21st Century, and gives an insight as to the reasons behind the reactions of some Fallout fans.

—X—

Morbus:

You’re certainly aware that games are not like movies. Unlike all the other media (not only movies, but music, books, et cetera), games introduce a new point that has to be taken seriously when we look at them: gameplay. Not only is gameplay what games are about, but it is also the reason why the term “franchise” is so important in games. I’ve had a little article on standby for some time, and I’ll probably publish it in my site, so feel free to stay tuned if you’re interested: megascore.biz. Meanwhile, I’ll explain a bit why gameplay is such an important issue in a series, and why series are different from franchises.

Game franchises, like cinema series and franchises, have to take into consideration at least one essential part of the “thing”: setting. In games, we commonly call it “gameworld”. Game series, however, have to look at other things. Not only do they normally take into consideration the plot and the characters, but they also (have to) take into consideration gameplay. Let’s look at some examples.

Inside the Need for Speed franchise, we have multiple series that may not be considered spin-offs themselves because the franchises’ spirit has widened with the time. So we have Hot Pursuit series (1 and 2), we have Underground series (1 and 2), and we even have other series of one single title each (Most Wanted and Carbon). Of course we have the main series, which we simply call Need for Speed #.

The same thing happens with Ultima franchise. We have the big main series (Ultima #) and then we have separate (spin-off) series, like Ultima Underworld and Ultima Online. It also happens with Might and Magic (if I’m not mistaken) with the (now dead) main series (Might and Magic #), with Heroes of Might and Magic series (of which I’m a somewhat avid fan), and with the Dark Messiah of Might and Magic series (and possibly others).

So we have to ask ourselves a very important question: why do they need to make different series inside a franchise, and how do they decide which game fits in which series. The answer is simple, and you probably already guessed it: gameplay. Gameplay is the factor that sets games apart from other already established media, the factor that is the reason why a game fits into a series and why another doesn’t.

To back that up, I will use a very simple and straightforward example: FIFA. FIFA, the franchise, has, of course, the main series: FIFA #. But there are spin-off separate series that are set apart because of their gameplay. I’m referring to FIFA Manager series (an FM clone). It would be unthinkable to name FIFA Manager 2007 only by FIFA 2007. Why? Because of the gameplay. This is a drastic example (so drastic that both series are inside completely different subgenres), but it gets the point through (hopefully).

Fallout (the franchise) itself has different series. We have the main series, of course, with Fallout and Fallout 2, and then we have the BOS series, with FOBOS (and the now thankfully canceled FOBOS2) and the Tactics series, with Fallout Tactics and the now canceled Fallout Tactics 2. Three series inside one single franchise. What is it that makes them be of a single franchise? Setting, of course (even if not completely taken into account). What is it that makes them be of different series? You could say it’s their names (it wouldn’t be wrong), but we’re talking seriously here, so the correct answer is, of course, gameplay. Gameplay is the reason why Fallout Tactics is not Fallout 3, because Fallout Tactics does not play like Fallout in the wholeness of the thing: it’s a tactical RPG, not a character RPG anymore. The same happens with FOBOS. What is it that makes FOBOS be of a different series? Gameplay: it’s an action/adventure game, not a character RPG.

So this is all that matters in what concerns your sentence:

If you don’t think a franchise can stand a technical transition into first person and retain the qualities of the original, you clearly haven’t played Metroid Prime.

I certainly haven’t played Metroid Prime, but still I know that franchises can stand technical transitions, and even gameplay changes, sometimes. However! However, what we are talking about here is a series, and not a franchise. Fallout 3 is named to be in the main series, and not in the Brotherhood of Steel series (where it should be). So what I really take out of your sentence is that you believe that Fallout main series can stand this kind of gameplay transitions. And I tell you: it can’t. As I said, that is like asking that The Sims 3 is a third person game without the build-your-house thing, or that StarCraft 2 is a MMORPG a la World of Warcraft.

And why? Why do I think so? Because the switch between a top-down free-camera point-and-click strategy-style character RPG and a first/third-person chase-camera click-and-kill action-style character RPG is not, I repeat, it is NOT a technical transition: it is a gameplay transition. That is why I (and many others) ask that Fallout 3 is renamed into any other name.

Now, I do understand your position, and I think I understand how graphics can really blind someone why they actually get to see the game running. All this hype about graphics really pisses me off, though. You know what? Graphics don’t matter in a Fallout game. Graphics are only one of the things you need to get the game content through and have it reach the player. graphics are not the content themselves, or at least they shouldn’t be. You know why? Because of Fallout’s core design: simulation of pen and paper RPG’s… That is why Fallout was such a praised name in the past, is such a praised name now, and would hopefully be in the future (if Fallout 3 wasn’t going to change everything Fallout stands for). In a Fallout game you have to use your imagination, just like in a PNPRPG. I’m not asking that they make it 2D. It doesn’t matter for me. I’m not even asking that they don’t make every dialog has voiceovers (although I would certainly like that). What I’m asking is that they keep that specific part of fallout: players have to use their imagination.
For instance, the indirectly related text-box in the left-bottom corner of the screen is gone. Plain and simple. It is probably a reflex fact of the gameplay style (you don’t use the mouse anymore and all…), but it takes a big, big chunk out of what fallout is… I mean, that is probably the biggest issue about Fallout 3 not being a point and click game. Because we can have all the other things in a FPS, but not the descriptions for each and every single item and thing in the gameworld. Every rock, every weed, every window, every person, every item, every weapon, everything (in Fallout 2, unfortunately, many things don’t have descriptions anymore, and that really bothered me), everything has a description, you can look at it and your character (not you yourself) sees it and describes it, and he will describe it differently according to his intelligence… Say what? It’s an RPG!!!

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the player shouldn’t be able to see things in detail, that’s not the point. In a case where player is able to see things in detail, the descriptions we would get should be logical enough and not redundant that we really see how our characters sees the world (a bit like Lara talking about the things in the world in the last Tomb Raider game). That is a very important part of Fallout that we will not see in this hell spawn (it’s me talking here) Fallout 3 (which I sometimes call “FOE”, for FO3).

Those small things, those little tidbits you find and like (or not) about a game, are what really makes a great game, and the lack of those things are what breaks it. And you should know that better than me. The little things are sometimes the more important things in a game. Yes, how I like to be able to kick a slaver in the groins and send him flying for 30 feet, and then go there and smash his face with my sledge hammer while he’s still K.O.. Guess what: no more groin shots. How I love see the descriptions of items, for instance, of the “two-horned kangaroo skeleton” or of the “sleeping mattress where, even if you were to sleep by yourself, you would not sleep alone”. Guess what: no more descriptions (for that kind of objects and for combat actions at least). How I loved the little funny and individual descriptions for skills and stats and stuff. Guess what: Bethesda simplified that. The old “Coordination and the ability to move well. A high Agility is important for any active character. Modifies: Action Points, Armor Class, Sequence, and many skills.” is now the simple and insipid “Agility affects your Small Guns and Sneak skills, and the number of Action Points available for V.A.T.S.”… How I loved to play while eating or drinking something (hot milk with chocolate in the late cold nights :P ). Guess what: twitch play (even if they don’t want to reward it)! How I loved how there where no dungeon crawls in Fallout (Fallout 2 had them, much to my displeasure). Guess what: mutants everywhere, biggie baddie mutants to kill you with death! And who knows what more little things will be wiped out? Certainly (hopefully?) many will be there, but from the little things I’ve seen, it’s just dull. Joke weapons? What?! Fallout had no joke weapons (well, actually it had one, but it was logical and retro-futuristic: the Alien Blaster). It didn’t have Barbie-head-launcher-toaster style weapons, or stupid mini nuclear explosions everywhere, or portable phonebooths that protect you from radioactivity and nuclear explosions!!! What the hell?!?! I mean, the little things I’ve seen in Fallout 3 are dim, and not creatively neat as those in Fallout. Remember Rose’s Brahmin fries? I do. Remember all the fuss about one headed Brahmins in Modoc? I do. Remember the rant about the description of Cat’s Paw not changing even after it was identified? I do. Remember the in-game rant about Fallout European version not having children? I do. Remember the conversation with the enclave guy? I do. Remember the BB gun in the shack? I do. Remember Tandy? Remember Torr? Remember Harold and Bod? I do, I do, I do. Remember the in-game thing about Fallout 3 being 3D and multiplayer? I do. Remember Vault 15 having a whole load of water chips (oh, the irony!)? I do. Remember nuclear weapons, the things that destroyed the world, saving it (oh, the irony!)? I do. Twice? I do too. Remember F.E.V., the thing that supposedly was going to save humanity, almost destroying it (oh, the irony again!)? I do. Twice? I do too. Remember Elvis painting? Remember the nice glasses from Salvatore’s? Remember the radio? I do, do and do. Remember what Jet was made of? Remember *the* Deathclaw? Remember that one mutant and his girlfriend, in the Military Base? Again and again and again, I do. Hell! What do we have now? Cannon-breaking Vault-Boy bobbleheads? Nuclear grenade catapults that act like normal grenade launchers? Radiation pools that vanish after a little while? Mutants that look like uruk-hai, and not like mutants from 50’s comics anymore? What. The. Hell?!

So, not only is fallout tone and setting are being changed into something different, but so is gameplay . No, they are not technical changes, and you certainly understand that…

17 Responses

  1. Don’t about the mistake I pointed out here. Again, thank you very much for publishing it :D (although I kinda got shocked with the title: “zOMFG! I made a rantzorz!!1″)

  2. [...] more a Fallout 3: A Post Nuclear Blog.   By Tiago Sá at July 8th, 2007     [...]

  3. im realy toucht, morbus… realy..
    u put a salt in every open wound that bleading from me in past months. wound that never gonna heal. make it hurt.. make it burn.
    a dream from i never wonna woke up.

    funny.. its sound almost like last battle speech.
    TONIGHT WE DINE IN HELL…

  4. Well, I always have that in mind when I write things like these. It’s important to touch people in the heart with this kind of things…

  5. This review is probably the best written rant I’ve seen about the new foe game so far. Quite nicely sums up all the reasons bethesda is not only raping and pillaging the franchise, but completely f’ing up one of my greatest hopes for a game since 1998.

    Moon

  6. “If you don’t think a franchise can stand a technical transition into first person and retain the qualities of the original, you clearly haven’t played Metroid Prime.”

    Did this one came from Pete? If so, no wonder several Bethesda apologists are parroting it as their new mantra. Jeebus, it takes a truckload of arrogance and ignorance to even suggest that their design is validated by an example that fails to take into account the dichotomies between each game’s design. It’s like saying going from dart throwing to archery is the same as going from chess to basketball.

  7. Diogo: That one came from me, 100% and entirely from me. Really I’m trying very hard to narrow down the arguments against Fallout 3 and find out what’s REALLY bothering the fans. 80% of what I read and hear is crap, filth, and junk that’s built up around the actual argument. IE – the bobbleheads. The issue isn’t (and shouldn’t be) that they are in the game, it’s really that they supposedly increase stats and directly effect the character/game.

    Morbus hasn’t played Metroid Prime, so I don’t mind him not addressing it very directly. The fact of the matter is a lot can be done to a game to change how you interact with it, and if you’re talking about arrogance and ignorance you must have already considered that all previous Metroid games were 2d, in a flat world, and the transition from that into 3d first person constitutes as many gameplay issues as it does technical ones. Now consider Fallout, where the previous games were in a semi-3d world (you could move north, south, east, west and even up and down to a limited degree) and a lot of the technical issues with transitioning it to first person are simplified. The main thing that is changed in this transition is that the Player can look up and down in first person, rather then just down at the world. What that leaves is the changes to interaction, of which Morbus brought up some good points.

    My argument is that there are a lot of technical changes to Metroid Prime which aided the gameplay and made it feel more like the originals, we could get into specifics but it seems (?) most of you haven’t played it. All this does is counterpoint the argument, “It’s not Fallout because it’s in first person!!11!!” What should be said is, “It’s not Fallout if the gameplay is drastically different!”

  8. Now to respond directly to Morbus’ rant:

    “Now, I do understand your position, and I think I understand how graphics can really blind someone why they actually get to see the game running. All this hype about graphics really pisses me off, though. You know what? Graphics don’t matter in a Fallout game. ”

    Something you have to realize is that a large portion of what was shown was -purely- the graphics. We saw a very limited, rushed, cut down, and hacked run through of a small part of the game. We didn’t get any sense of the pacing, how a player travels between areas, how frequent/rare combat is, how scarce items really are, how much damage vs. health you take/recover, the overall narrative, NONE of these. It’s an early demo, in 2007, and unfortunately that means what the general population and therefore game companies focus on is graphics.

    This is where the real gold of your “rant” came through, you got to the point and addressed the important issues. The player using their imagination, specifically through the use of the little flavor texts and the text-box in the corner. That was definitely missing in the demo, and maybe from the game, but I really hope it will show up in some form in the final game because it really is an important part of the game.

    With your discussion between Franchises and Series within them, I think it’s a great distinction but it is definitely not the end-all be-all. Final Fantasy is the clearest example, there are tactics games and other off-shoots, but just within the main series the gameplay has changed a lot. Then there’s also the freak addition of Final Fantasy 11, which was a huge change. Just because there are seperate series within a franchise does not mean that each series cannot change over time also.

    The last thing to consider, possibly, is that Bethsoft chose the name Fallout 3 specifically to state their intent to make a game along the same lines as the original games. They may fail, or they may succeed, but how can you get angry at them for WANTING to create it? This also doesn’t mean that there can’t be a Fallout 4, or 5, that build upon the older games and succeed if FO3 fails. My only reason for arguing this is because a lot of you guys are pissing your lives away caring about what they call this game, and I’m trying to get you to just let it GO. You can’t change their minds (well, you might but I doubt it) so there’s little reason to trouble yourself about it to the extent that a lot of people are. :)

  9. Hey Bartoneus, thank you for the reply. I was under the impression that it had indeed come from someone at Bethesda, seeing as I’ve seen it thrown around many times in the past – even before I heard about you or your site – along with other examples such as Grand Theft Auto as an attempt to defend them.

    But as to the point itself, I still stand behind my earlier dismissal of it.

    The key issue here is that Metroid Prime – which I actually own and have played several times – is erroneously being used as an example of how a shift to firstperson perspective doesn’t necessarily translate into a different game or how it can retain the qualities of the original. I find it to be a disingenuous example because the gameplay changes from older to newer Metroids are largely superficial and in no way constitute a difference comparable to the one Fallout is undergoing from the old Fallouts into Bethesda’s project. The qualities of the original were there because Retro Studios did, for the most part, a very good job.

    It was easy to remain faithful to Metroid’s core gameplay because going from flat 2D to firstperson 3D did not alter its main design elements: platforming, open-ended gameworld, exploration and combat – the latter which always depended on the player’s reflexes – were all intact. The firstperson perspective (insofar as a perspective under which the gameworld is shown) ends up being mostly an aesthetical factor – aiming and firing at enemies, some of which required precise aiming, was already built into Super Metroid where players could tilt Samus’ arm cannon. You’re seeing it differently but still playing it the same way. And combat in the series was always based on that control and play mechanic. The very same thing applies to the example I’ve seen being used alongside yours, Grand Theft Auto, since things like character movement, vehicule driving and weapon use – anything that requires skill – is controlled exclusively by the player, and has been ever since the series began. The only exception to the rule is San Andreas where character skills have been implemented into the game.

    However, all of this is quite different from Fallout’s situation, which used a more abstract method of control than Metroid’s direct model. Whereas Metroid pretty much relied on player reflexes to navigate mazes in the levels, access higher platforms or fight enemies, in Fallout the character’s abilities were the dominant gameplay factor: the player decided what the character would do and the character would “git’er done”. Success or failure were, excluding the odd wrong button press or rash decision (and really, both of these are a liability regardless of system), a result of the character’s skill. If a character failed a shot in Fallout, it could be due to a number of factors: low weapon skill, character positioning, distance betwen character and enemy, low perception score, or even being present in a poorly lit area.

    Failing a shot in Metroid just means the player wasn’t fast enough.

    While simplistic and void of many of the nuances of each system, my previous comment pretty much drives the point home in regards to the change of gameplay: going from dart throwing (older Metroids) to archery (newer Metroids) is not the same as going from chess (abstract control method, importance given over character skills) to basketball (direct control method, importance given to the player’s reflexes or own skills).

    We can say firstperson doesn’t necessarily translate into a different or worse gameplay since there are exceptions, but can we really say that there is no difference between an action game that gets a facelift but retains its original qualities and a turn-based game that gets turned into a realtime action game? At this point, V.A.T.S. is sounding like your typical realtime with pause system which also allows a firstperson perspective alternative to combat (although how much of an alternative that is remains to be seen, since it’s been implied when players are waiting for Action Points to be regenerated that firstperson combat is their best bet) and I can only wonder just how much of a character’s skill will be present there.

    One of the worst things I can recall in Oblivion was being able to have my own abilities completely trivialize character inexperience, with me just circle-strafing some opponents like Ogres and pumping them full of Dwarven Arrows until they collapsed. Can we say this won’t be present in Fallout 3? I hope I’m wrong. But faith, more often than not, just lets us escape from what was there to notice in the first place.

  10. I smell a new article in the air ;)

  11. All this does is counterpoint the argument, “It’s not Fallout because it’s in first person!!11!!” What should be said is, “It’s not Fallout if the gameplay is drastically different!”

    I never said any of those sentences. What I meant was that it’s not Fallout because it’s not focused on simulating PnP feeling… Anyway, I remember some discussions where I said I would like to see a Fallout 3 where you explore in first person but the combat is top-down point and click, and you would always have the option to explore in top-down point and click. That would be very good, almost like an optional first person camera, like Afterfall I think…

    Something you have to realize is that a large portion of what was shown was -purely- the graphics.

    I know that very well, and it’s saddens me ever more when I look at The Witcher, for instance, and see a very small amount of hype around graphics… It’s inevitable: it only leads me to think Fallout 3 has little more to offer besides graphics…

    With your discussion between Franchises and Series within them, I think it’s a great distinction but it is definitely not the end-all be-all.

    Ahaha, of course not, there’s always something more to it, whatever it is. Besides, did you thing I’d say everything here while having an article about it backed up for megascore.biz? :P

    They may fail, or they may succeed, but how can you get angry at them for WANTING to create it?

    I don’t. I get angry at them because they keep saying they want and keep showing they don’t… That’s what makes me mad. For example, the interview with Garter (or something) by GameTrailers, the guy said something about they wanting to please the hardcore franchise… Ahahahahhah… :lol:

    My only reason for arguing this is because a lot of you guys are pissing your lives away caring about what they call this game, and I’m trying to get you to just let it GO.

    I used this example a long time ago: you’re out in the night seeing your house burning down to ruble. What do you do? Do you scream? You can’t extinguish the fire with screams… And remember, you can’t do nothing about it, you can’t call for help, you can’t do nothing. Just as we can’t do nothing about Fallout 3 besides screaming…

  12. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

  13. Well… yeah, actually… :\

  14. Almost a year later and still so spot on…. in-fact even more so.

  15. I signed up an account just to say Thank you, Thank you Morbus for making sense, Thank you for pointing out things which although obvious seem to have been completely ignored by the vast majority of the gaming journalism/press. And thank you for reminding me why I love Fallout.

    From me and probably a few others at NMA, Thank You!

  16. Another “thanks” here.

    It’s a shame, really.

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