Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Why Fallout 76 sucks badly

Posted in botch, business, video game, video game design by commorancy on July 26, 2020

NPCsWhenever I play Fallout 76, I just want to pull my hair out. This game is so fraught with bugs, poor design, piss poor consistency and overall crap gameplay, it’s a wonder anyone wants to actually play this turd of a game at all. And, it gets worse with every release. Let’s explore this crap game in all of its crap glory.

Bugs Bethesda Won’t Fix

One of the most infuriating things about this game is its incessant bugs which Bethesda has consistently refused to fix. Some of these bugs have existed since before the release in the Beta (if you can even call one week of early play “beta testing”).

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of gameplay bugs I’ve run into with this game (in no particular order):

  1. Getting in and out of power armor breaks mutations, specifically Speed Demon. This bug persists until you log out and back in. If you use power armor at all, this mutation remains broken while both IN and OUT of power armor. This is a new regression bug and didn’t exist early in the game’s life.
  2. When playing sneaky while crouching, the game will sometimes overload the fire gun action onto the run button and fire your weapon when you attempt to run from the crouching position. This happens with any weapon. Not only does this waste ammo, you may be forced to reload your weapon, wasting time. This is an older bug and has existed for at least 6-9 months.
  3. Getting stuck in power armor. While this bug has supposedly been fixed, I have run into occasions where it is impossible to exit power armor. It clearly is not fixed. This bug has existed since Beta.
  4. Getting stuck in VATS. This is a new bug that sees you pull VATS only to find that the game won’t let you exit it, while allowing the enemies to attack you without any resistance. This is a recent bug, but existed before Wastelanders.
  5. Enemies staggering the player. This is a new bug that sees enemy stagger your player for longer amounts of time. Like getting stuck in VATS, you are unable to move or fire your weapon for up to 5-10 seconds, all while letting hordes of creatures attack and kill you. This may have been introduced in Wastelanders.
  6. Camp over budget after update. This one begins after you buy and install Atomic Shop items into your camp. After an update, Bethesda will raise the budget of SOME item(s) in your camp substantially causing your camp’s budget to go WAY over. There’s no way to know what is causing the issue or resolve it without randomly deleting camp items one by one.
  7. Toxic Goo fails to work. After your character dies and respawns, Toxic Goo doesn’t work for up to 1 minute (or longer) after a load-in or respawn. You’ll end up wasting goo after goo after goo trying to get it to work. This affects Bloodied builds.
  8. Loss of certain perks, but not all, after your character dies. Yes, I consider this a bug. There is no reason why this exists in the game. The Well Rested and Well Tuned perks disappear after the character dies and respawns. You are forced back to your camp to sleep and play an instrument again to refresh these. This is a bug that, I think, has been in the game since the start.
  9. Can’t choose respawn point after character death. This bug has been in the game since day one. Under certain conditions, if your character dies, the game will give you zero respawn points on the map. You are forced to log out and log back in… losing any dropped loot and any other benefits you may have had coming. Day 1 bug.
  10. VATS accuracy…. When the game first arrived, VATS could reach 100%. After a ‘balancing’ update, this has been visually reduced to a maximum of 95% at all times (no matter how close the enemy is to you). This is a ridiculous change. However, during this ‘rebalance’, Bethesda introduced two VATS percentages (one you see visually and one you don’t). The one you don’t see is the one that determines whether the bullet will hit. This has caused VATS to become mostly unusable, particularly when combined with bug #4 and specifically with certain weapons. It fares even worse when attempting to use the Concentrated Fire perk card.
  11. After loading into the game world, the game client runs a background process to synchronize the game to the remote game world server. This process takes at least 5-10 minutes to complete. It’s very slow. While this background process is running, you can’t craft on a workbench as the workbench stutters on and off while this synchronization process runs. This is a new bug introduced within the last 6-9 months. It existed before Wastelanders. This bug prevents using workbenches for at least 10 minutes after you’ve loaded into the game world.
  12. In-Game Music can’t be controlled with volume settings slider. A volume slider for music was introduced into the game client, but it has been selectively applied to only certain music. For example, music inside of Whitesprings, inside of Valley Galleria and with musical instruments are not covered by this volume slider. You must endure this music in the world regardless of your settings.
  13. Main Menu Music Slider settings. This one is also broken. While it does not play music on the main menu on the PS4, it does not at all work on the Xbox One. Worse, after a few minutes inside of the Atomic Shop and after the music changes, the music will begin playing at full volume in the Atomic Shop. This slider is only minimally effective at doing what it’s supposed to do.
  14. Challenges don’t work. This is an ongoing problem. If you’ve bought into Bethesda’s Fallout 76 challenge system, then that means doing whatever convoluted activities are needed to win that challenge. Some challenges require you to perform multiple activities to win the challenge. Because of these multiple activities, if one of them does not register after completion, the entire challenge fails. This is one way challenges don’t work.

    The second way challenges fail to work is if you do perform all of the actions successfully and receive a check mark, but the overall challenge doesn’t reward its bounty to you. Both of these are firmly broken. Even the newest update to the Legendary Run suffers from this same bug. You can perform everything required of the challenge and still not see the 1000 score you’re supposed to receive. Bethesda support won’t help with these failures. You’re just shit-outta-luck. Bethesda simply doesn’t support the game or gamers who are playing this game. These are Day 1 bugs.
  15. Blue Screen Crash… yes, these still exist. I regularly experience these crash-to-the-dashboard bugs about once every day or so. They are about as frequent as they were when the game was released. This is partly because of the memory issues.
  16. Level of Detail Image Rendering… this bug as existed since day one. As you approach objects, the game won’t load in the higher res texture version until you’re standing on top of the object (literally). Even then, it may take 1 minute before the higher res texture loads in. It’s a cosmetic bug, but who wants to look at blurry 8 bit textures?
  17. Fast Travel Bug — Here’s a bug that has existed since day one. You open the map and select a travel point, choose to pay the caps and then …. nothing. The map exits and you’re back in the game. You haven’t fast traveled and nothing has happened. Worse, you try again and it does the exact same thing. This bug is annoying, frustrating and shouldn’t even exist.
  18. Workshop Bug — Here’s a regression bug. This bug existed a week or so after release. It was gone for a long time, but now it’s come back in the latest update: v1.3.2.9. Under some conditions, the workshop icon reverts to the older “regular” icon. As a result, the game requires you to pay caps to travel to your owned workshop.
  19. Bethesda Math — Here’s a bug (several actually), but this one’s very very subtle with the perk cards and with damage multipliers. Bethesda sucks really hard at math and they hope that players won’t notice. Too late, we have. When Bethesda calculates damage multipliers, it rarely does so accurately. For example, a multiplier card might say “does 30% more damage”, but in reality it may calculate out 28% more or 25% more or some random value way less than 30%.

    You can see this in action after enabling damage numbers on your weapon. If you calculate out the number shown, you’ll find that the damage is far, far less than what the gun claims to offer with the damage multipliers. This is just one way that Bethesda reduces the damage level of weapons without showing that reduced damage in the weapon info panel.

    This further continues in the weapon info panel as well by not accurately calculating the damage multipliers within this panel. While some perk cards offer exact damage multipliers, many of these cards offer nebulous increases like, “does more”, “does even more”, “does substantially more” without stating any numbers. This allows Bethesda to modify these nebulous cards at their whims on each release, so you never know exactly what those nebulous cards are actually giving you. In many cases, they don’t give you anything. As for the hard number cards, it only stacks these multipliers by calculating from the gun’s base damage level. For example, if you put on cards each offering 10% damage, it will be stacked like so:

    Gun base damage = 197
    Gun + 10% damage = 197 + 19.7 = 217
    Gun + 20% damage = 217 + 19.7 = 237
    Gun + 30% damage = 237 + 19.7 = 257
    and so on…

    Basically, Bethesda calculates the value based on the current gun value + the % to be applied. It doesn’t add by stacking. If it added by stacking, 60% more damage would stack like this:

    Gun base damage = 197
    Gun + 10% damage = 197 + 19.7 = 217
    Gun + 10% more damage = 217 + 21.7 = 239
    Gun + 10% more damage = 239 + 23.9 = 263
    Gun + 10% more damage = 263 + 26.3 = 289
    Gun + 10% more damage = 289 + 28.9 = 318
    Gun + 10% more damage = 318 + 31.8 = 350
    and so on… but this is not how Bethesda does math during stacking.

    Worse, guns with +30% damage to Scorched (Zealots) or 30% damage to animals (Hunter’s) never see these percentages reflected in the gun’s damage information panel. You have no idea if the gun is actually giving you that extra % damage.

    Even worse, when you kill something with damage multipliers on, you almost never see the damage level of the gun reflected in the damage number seen on the enemy. For example, with the 257 damage listed above, if this is an Instigating rifle, it would do double damage to an enemy with full health. This means that at 2x, Instigating damage should do 514 damage to an enemy. With sneaking, it should double that to 1028. However, shooting an enemy with sneak might show way less than that damage inflicted. Damage to an enemy should reflect actual gun damage.
  20. VATS + Accuracy … this bug has been ongoing since day one, but affects some weapons more than others. For example, neither has the Tesla nor the Gauss rifle ever properly worked with VATS. Using these weapons is more likely to miss than hit. You waste so much ammo using VATS with these weapons, it’s not even worth considering. For every one shot that hits, you might have 10 that fail… even with high accuracy, even if you have the +33% VATS accuracy legendary perk, even with all of your best perk cards equipped, these electric weapons are the worst for VATS.

    Even the Pipe Bolt-Action Pistol fares poorly with VATS. This weapon when set up correctly can have an accuracy of 108, yet it acts as if it as an accuracy of 2. It misses way more often than it hits. This is a VATS problem. In fact, I find that using the scope fares way better than relying on VATS.
  21. Gauss Rifle Wind Up and Misfire — this bug has been ongoing since a week or so after release. You can press and hold the trigger to power up the Gauss, but upon release, you only hear a sad sputter and then nothing. The rifle misfires. This is the only weapon in the game that misfires. I’ve given up using the Gauss rifle entirely because of this one bug that Bethesda refuses to fix.
  22. Bullet Connects, Does 1000+ Damage, Health Wiped, Enemy Lives — this is a new bug, but I believe has existed for quite some time and is a regression from early in the game’s life. You can shoot an enemy point blank in the head, the heath bar is reduced to 0, but the enemy’s health bar goes back to full and lives to fight. This is not a legendary enemy. I’ve run into this bug with Ghouls and Robots alike. There is nothing you can do but shoot again and hope it will kill the enemy. This bug seems specific to shooting the enemy in the head, but can occur shooting any body part. Collision detection on this game is piss poor, to say the least.
  23. Delbert’s Traditional Chitlins Recipe — Here is a bug that has most definitely existed since day one and before. This recipe is supposed to exist on a piece of notebook paper sitting on a picnic table at Spruce Knob Lake, next to a blue cooler. The note paper is sitting there on the table, but it cannot be retrieved from the table. Bethesda has had this bug reported probably hundreds of times and at least twice by me since launch, yet they have still not yet fixed this very long standing bug. There are supposed to be 13 Delbert’s recipes in this game, but this one is not retrievable, leaving only 12 in the game. It’s anyone’s guess as to what this recipe offers.
  24. Backpacks — In a recent update, Bethesda decided to change how backpack skins work. Instead of selling individual backpacks as they had been formerly doing, they set it up to place skins on top of the generic backpack. In doing so, they introduced two fundamental bugs:

    1) We had to pay to reskin our already skinned backpack, using up more resources again. We had to do this for every backpack we own.

    2) The backpacks no longer sit correctly on the character’s back. Instead of sitting properly on the back, they are now embedded in the back and look crappy when wearing certain bulkier outfits. The original packs adjusted their placement on the back to accommodate outfits and the size of the pack. This new system doesn’t. It inherits the placement of the original skin and assumes that placement is correct for all packs. One of the worst cosmetic bugs in the game.

Perk Card Bugs

Under this section, I call out bugs specific to perk cards that have gone unfixed. They are just as numerous.

  1. Tenderizer — This Charisma perk card simply doesn’t work, it’s as simple as that. It’s supposed to afford an up to 7% bonus damage (3 star card) on every hit after the first, but it doesn’t do anything. Don’t bother equipping this card. I’m not certain if this card has ever worked. Day 1 bug.
  2. Concentrated Fire – This is a card that is supposed to not only allow you to target individual body parts of your enemy, it’s supposed to give bonus damage when you hit that body part. This card performs only one of its two stated perks. While it does allow you to target body parts individually, it does not offer any bonus damage. Day 1 bug.
  3. Super Duper – Lots of bugs here. This card is supposed to offer you a chance to duplicate whatever you are crafting on any crafting bench. This card has multiple problems. Its primary problem is that a 3-Star version is supposed to afford you your best chance at receiving a duplicate. However, ranking this card up to 3 does not increase your chances for a duplicate any more than using a rank 1 card. This card formerly functioned correctly for a short time after the game’s launch, but after a subsequent rebalance, it has been broken since.

    Additionally, this card is entirely selectively applied to certain crafted items and in specific amounts when it does work. For example, attempting to combine a 2 star Ammosmith with 3 star Super Duper doesn’t yield a duplicate number when crafting certain ammo on the Tinker’s Bench. For example, Ammosmith increases the Mini Nuke x3 count to x5. Yet, Super Duper doesn’t provide 10 Mini Nukes when Super Duper fires. Instead, it provides perhaps 6 Mini Nukes, not 10.

    Further, Super Duper formerly alerted us every time it fired letting us see how often it fired and how much extra we might expect. At some point during a ‘rebalance’, Bethesda stopped this every-time notification. Instead, now it only notifies us once inside the bench and once on the way out, no matter how many times it has fired. In other words, you have no way to know exactly how much extra you may have received. If you want to know, you are forced to exit the bench each time Super Duper fires so you can see exactly how many times it has fired while crafting… infuriating.

    I believe this much reduced notification change is because Bethesda reduced the frequency with which Super Duper fires (even at 3 stars) and they didn’t want people to see this lowered fire rate.

    Super Duper has also never been applied to the Brewing Station crafting bench. You can craft whatever you want on the Brewing Station and Super Duper will never duplicate it. This bug has existed since the Brewing Station was introduced. Some of these above are Day 1 bugs including this Brewing Station bug.
  4. Butcher’s Bounty / Scrounger / Cap Collector / Can Do! / Pharma Farma design change. Yes, I also consider this one a bug. Butcher’s Bounty (and the rest of these scrounging cards) formerly allowed us to search containers at any time and, most importantly, after the fact. Can Do! and Pharma Farma and some of the others still do allow after-the-fact searching, but it is now hands off with no button presses. You must look at the container with the card equipped to get the benefits. Before this change, you were forced to pressed a button. After the change, it works simply by looking at the container.

    However, unlike the rest of the cards, Butcher’s Bounty has some severe restrictions placed onto it how and when it works and it has seen new bugs introduced. Unlike the rest of these scrounger cards, Butcher’s Bounty no longer allows after-the-fact usage.

    Butcher’s Bounty now requires that you must have killed the creature yourself to be able to search a dead creature and to activate this perk card. Even still, searching a dead animal doesn’t really yield more meat. You hear the chime, but no additional meat seems to appear on the body. You only get what was originally dropped. Butcher’s Bounty is firmly broken. This bug was introduced during the Wastelanders release.

    Additionally, Butcher’s Bounty no longer searches Bloodbugs or Ticks and will not produce any additional bounty from these creatures. There may be other creatures it also fails to search. Ticks contain Tick Blood and this ingredient is important in crafting Stimpaks. Without being able to search Ticks for Tick Blood, this means of crafting Stimpaks is lost.

    Bloodbugs offered Bloodbug meat. Unfortunately, without Butcher’s Bounty, you could rarely ever find Bloodbug meat on a dead Bloodbug. You were nearly always forced to search them with Butcher’s Bounty. Unfortunately, this is another creature whose meat is now entirely extinct. There is no way to craft Bloodbug Pepper Steak… and this now entirely useless in-game recipe is rendered worthless by this specific bug.
  5. Storm Chaser — This perk card is supposed to see you have health regeneration during rain storms. I’ve used this card multiple times in rain storms with no effect. This card is broken.

Regressions

So many of the bugs from the past are actually returning from the past. Particularly duplication bugs. I have grown exceedingly tired of the 12 and 13 year olds whose sole goal is to find some overpowered weapon and dupe the hell out of it so they can make a few caps, caps that don’t make a difference to their game play.

Instead, Bethesda needs to counter these problems by removing this problem from the game. In fact, I’d prefer if Bethesda removed vending entirely from the game. No more sales at all. What you own is yours to keep forever. If you don’t want it, scrip it, scrap it or send it to the game’s void. Nothing at all good has come from player vending. Nothing. The world is not a better place. Vending is a form of play to win. It’s solely used as a way for players to buy their way into better weapons without having earned those weapons or armor.

The point in Fallout is to earn your weapons from your game play experience… not to buy the weapon from someone else.

Bethesda is already considering doing away with future item vending anyway. As more and more new items are introduced into the game, Bethesda is putting the no-vending restriction onto these newer items. You can’t sell them, you can’t drop them and you can’t transfer them to others. These newly introduced items are yours to keep, but not to sell.

I believe Bethesda is slowly introducing these items into the game to get players used to this new no trading concept. Then, at some point in the future, every new item in the game will be marked as player restricted. At some point, the newest great weapon will not be obtainable by buying it from another player. This change IS coming. Bethesda WILL introduce this in the future. It’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN. Don’t believe me? Just you wait.

Even more bugs

This next bug is one that has existed since the game’s release. The game has completely unresponsive button controls at the most inopportune times. You are forced to press a button twice, three times or more simply to get the game to respond to a button press. Infuriating. You press the button expecting VATS to trigger and it doesn’t. You press it again and again it does nothing. You press it again and it finally triggers. This multiple press issue sees the enemies getting ever closer or out of range. It’s entirely frustrating to have the perfect shot had VATS consistently worked. Instead, you’ve lost that shot because you were forced to press VATS multiple times to get it to activate, way too late to make that perfect shot.

This button press unreliability problem isn’t limited to VATS. It affects all manner of button presses from crafting, to firing your weapon to jumping to running. It doesn’t matter which button it is, they are all equally affected by this unreliability of the game’s controller input system.

I’ve never ever played a game with this amateur level of button unreliability. Never. I’ve been playing games since the Atari 2600 and this is the actual first time I’ve encountered a game with this bad of a controller interface. I cannot believe a top tier developer is putting out games with this low level of quality.

I believe this problem stems from multiple problems. I believe the game is giving priority to the back end synchronization with the server over front end input. This means that the game is willing to sacrifice controller button presses to ensure the game client is properly synchronized with the server. Ultimately, I believe this has to do with using a 20 year old engine and trying to retrofit it into a multiplayer system over the Internet. This engine was not designed for this purpose and the signature of this unreliability is in this game’s random and sporadic failure to read input from the controller.

This leaves the game with an increasingly problematic gameplay experience. This situation has only gotten worse with the game’s age. With each successive update and expansion, Bethesda keeps taxing the game engine more and more. As the game engine becomes more and more overtaxed, the controller input is given increasingly less and less polling time… to the point where button presses are entirely lost.

This problem is not a problem that should exist in a top tier game. No game should ever be released with this level of controller problems, let alone with all of the additional problems listed above.

Overpowered Enemies

With the addition of Wastelanders, the balance in the game has been lost. I do classify this as both a design failure and a bug. The human enemies that have been added into the game have not only begun overtaxing the already taxed game engine, but Bethesda has chosen to give level 15 enemies weapons that do the damage of level 98 enemies with similarly equipped armor.

A level 15 Blood Eagle with an automatic laser pistol can kill any level player (even over 200) with just handful of shots. If that’s not the very definition of overpowered, I don’t know what is. This isn’t limited to Blood Eagles, it works for Settlers and Raiders alike. All human enemies have these way overpowered weapons and overpowered armor.

Whether this was intentional design or simply janky happenstance, I’ve no idea. Bethesda has proven time and time again that they simply don’t care about the gamer. With every update, they make it increasingly harder to even play this game, let alone want to like or play it.

In fact, the joy I formerly found in playing some parts of this game is quickly evaporating with the ever mounting bugs, regressions and frustratingly poor design choices.

Atomic Shop and Camp Budget

Worse, I can no longer even build in my camp… which runs entirely counter to buying Atomic Shop items. If Bethesda wants us to buy Atomic Shop camp items, then they’ll need to understand this point of contention. We can’t buy anything for our camps that require budget if we can’t build in our camps. Camp budget maxed = no more sales!

Bethesda, however, doesn’t seem to get this fundamental concept. Bethesda relies on people buying Atom, yet no one will run out to buy Atom if there’s no camp budget available to build. It’s a Catch-22, Bethesda!

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If this game is failing, it’s because of your short sighted management of this property.

Instead of throwing in NPCs because everyone complained about the lack of them, you should have focused on fixing these long standing bugs. Instead, you focused your time adding new and unnecessary features that are further overtaxing this game’s antiquated engine which exacerbates these existing bugs at the expense of actually useful and fun gameplay.

It’s getting almost impossible to play this game at times… just as it’s getting impossible to type this article into WordPress’s editor with its incredibly bad input lag.

Bethesda needs to wise up rapidly. The Fallout 76 team needs to focus on overcoming these listed shortcomings rather than spending more time crafting unnecessary items for the Atomic Shop which fewer and fewer people can buy with the updated daily challenges no longer giving out Atom. So, let’s talk about the ‘new’ ….

Legendary Run

This is supposed to be the replacement challenge system for Fallout 76. It was promised to be an improvement to help people perform the challenges more in-line with their daily play.

In reality, what this is is a junky and janky mess of a system. Not only are the rewards some the crappiest I’ve seen in this game, they are duplicated all over the place. Need Ghillie armor for Marine Armor? How about Robot? How about Secret Service? Well, Bethesda has littered the board with so many duplicate Ghillie armors that it’s entirely pointless. How many Ghillie armor types do you think that we need? It’s stupid and pointless.

We only need one Ghillie cosmetic suit that we can wear over the top of any armor we wish. We don’t need to own the plan to craft Ghillie skins on every type of armor in existence. We only need ONE cosmetic item we’re done. So many board spaces wasted with this single skin item, the same as the Atomic Onslaught paints.

Worse, handing out these skins runs entirely counter to the way the Atomic Shop wants us to play. This point has been hammered home, oh I don’t know, since the game launched… to wear cosmetic items over the top of our armor. So now suddenly you want us to not wear cosmetics and start crafting Ghillie armor pieces instead? This game is sending us such mixed signals. Show your armor, hide your armor, don’t wear armor, do wear armor. The messaging in this game is not only a mess, it’s a disaster. No wonder everyone is always so confused by this game.

Not a Fallout Game

And here is where we come to the crux of this article. This game is not a Fallout game. It is a cartoony representation of how someone who’s never ever played a Fallout game might think a game like this works. Fallout 76 only pretends to be a Fallout game. It certainly has the skins, the weapons, the armor and the rusted environments, but the game itself is just a hollow, vapid, pointless shell. It barely even resembles Fallout. Further, its lore is so weak and so shallow in storytelling, nothing even matters.

Beyond this, Bethesda has introduced new items into the universe that have never before existed in Fallout New Vegas, Fallout 3 or Fallout 4… games with world environments and stories that exist long after Fallout 76. Games that should have seen traces of many of these new Fallout 76 items.

That’s the danger in creating a prequel… introducing new items into a world where previously existing worlds you’ve already built won’t have these items. Not seeing these items in Fallout 4, for example, means major continuity problems… yet another reason Fallout 76 is a crappy installment.

It’s not just the continuity issues that are a problem, however. It’s how weakly handled the entire world concept is. You exit the vault with the hopes of rebuilding Appalachia, yet the 24 vault dwellers who exit the vault are limited to building tiny crappy camps in remote areas of Appalachia? That’s not rebuilding, that’s junk. That’s not coming together as a team, that’s every-person-for-themselves. That’s not how rebuilding should be envisioned or handled.

In fact, after all of the quests are done and all of the smoke clears, Appalachia remains the same old decrepit place with the same old enemies roaming it and so many of the old bugs present. The presence of vault dwellers did absolutely nothing to make Appalachia, or indeed, Fallout 76 a better place. For a multiplayer game, it’s hard to believe a top tier developer like Bethesda failed so spectacularly at producing a compelling and fun experience… but here we are. Even the combat fails mostly because of all of the bugs that remain unfixed. Bleah.

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Fallout 76: Let’s review Wastelanders

Posted in entertainment, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on April 19, 2020

NPCsNPCs are now in the game and so are duping exploits. Let’s review.

[Update for 5/4/2020] It seems that Bethesda has released a hotfix to prevent losing your weapon to an NPC if that NPC kills your character and loots the body. However, all other vending bugs have not yet been patched. We’re still waiting, Bethesda.

[Update for 4/27/2020] Serious Bugs! Bethesda appears to have introduced several new very serious bugs related to player vending in Wastelanders! These bugs can see you lose not only your weapons and armor, they will be taken directly from your stash! You may want to reconsider playing the game until they’ve fixed these showstopper issues. If you need more details or examples, please visit this Reddit thread. Bethesda is aware of these and are in the process of a hotfix for at least Bug 2, but there’s no date set when these fixes may arrive.

Bug 1: Player vending machines appear to be selling random unlisted items from your stash at random prices. This means any legendary weapon, rare armor, ammo or outfit in your Stashbox could be up for grabs for as little as 0 caps. Some buyers report having purchased extremely rare outfits and legendary weapons for 50 caps. Players hadn’t listed these items in their vendor. There is no rhyme or reason why this one is occurring.

Bug 2: Players report having their equipped weapon looted from their dead body by an NPC after character death. This bug seems to occur both in and out of events. If you’re fighting NPCs anywhere in the game and they kill your character, that NPC can apparently loot your body for your equipped weapon before you respawn. This one is a showstopper.

Workaround for bug #1 — Store ALL of your player vending machines in your workshop until this one is resolved. I also suggest storing ALL other player vending items such as Nuka-Cola vending machines, beer kegs, punch bowls or any other vendors that allow players to interact with items from your stash. Display cases should be safe from looting by players, but to be safe it might be worth storing them too.

Alternatively, play in a Private World where no other players can buy from your vendors until this issue is resolved. If you invite friends into your Private World with your vendors out, make sure you trust them fully and explain not to buy anything from your machines.

Workaround for bug #2 — Other than not playing the game, I don’t know of any way to avoid this situation other than making sure your characters don’t die around NPCs.

[Update for 4/22/2020] Bethesda has re-enabled vending and displays after rolling out a hot fix designed to solve the duping problem. However, knowing Bethesda’s track record at performing updates around duping exploits, they likely didn’t solve this problem. I fully expect these items to be disabled again within a week after duping resumes… with yet another patch forthcoming.

Bethesda’s Bad Coding

We all know that Bethesda’s ability to code a great game isn’t the best. Bethesda’s games are always chock full of bugs, particularly day one releases. Well, Wastelanders has arrived (on April 14th) and like all new releases, it is once again chock full of bugs… some fairly severe, like duping.

Before you run out and attempt to dupe your items, let’s talk about the ramifications of these actions first. I’d also recommend that if you don’t own Fallout 76 that you hold off running out to buy a copy before reading this article.

Duping, Exploits and Consequences

Before I get into the meat of this article, which are my actual thoughts about the Wastelanders addition and general review of the new content, I need to talk about duping and exploits first. This is something that some gamers seem to live for in Bethesda’s games, particularly it seems, when they are playing Fallout 76.

But, “Hold your horses there, Mac”. Don’t run out and begin looking for the duping exploits lest you get your account permanently banned from Bethesda.net. Many players see in-game exploitation as some kind of game within a game. To be fair, I see their point. However, Bethesda doesn’t agree with it.

In fact, Bethesda has made their stance on venturing outside of the bounds of the game to be very much a ban-worthy offense. Not only is it ban-worthy, it’s permaban worthy. What I mean is that if you choose to exploit the in-game world by doing things not intended by Bethesda, expect to see your account banned. I don’t mean a few days of ban here either. These bans are likely to be so severe, you may never get your account back… and, you will lose all Atom you carry, all items you’ve bought in the Atomic shop and lose any remaining portion of Fallout 1st you may have left, in addition to never being able to play the game again.

If Bethesda finds what you’ve done severe enough, they may even contact Sony to have your PSN account banned at the console level. Yes, Bethesda can do this.

This section should be seen as a warning to those of you gamers who wish to tread on the very tenuous ground of duping and exploitation in the Fallout 76 world. If you wish to play a Bethesda online game, you need to keep your character’s feet firmly on the ground and away from all in-game exploits. Anything that feels like cheating in the game world is very likely to get your Bethesda.net account banned!

How Will Bethesda Know?

I know this game is played by a lot of naïve minors under the age of 18. Many may even be under the age of 12. Being of this younger age, it’s easy to fail to understand that there are such things as logs. Bethesda has been logging and monitoring Fallout 76 on their servers for months. They began this monitoring process when the last duping flare-up occurred early in 2019.

Since then, all of this monitoring has improved and, in fact, is likely being actively reviewed and monitored daily through reports and other condensed information. This means that someone at Bethesda has the job of actively looking for players using suspect behavior and/or carrying suspect stacks of items.

If you carry a stack of 1 million pieces of ammo, or a 100k stimpaks or 50k Large Holiday Presents or any unnecessarily large stack of items, your account is likely to be found and flagged for duping. The numbers of items you can reasonably carry range from 1-10000 depending on item. Even then, the 10k amount only applies to ammo where it is feasible you can find that much in the game world. While Bethesda will overlook 10k in ammo, they will NOT overlook 10k or 100k in Large Handmade Holiday Gifts or a million pieces of ammo… particularly if they all have the same object ID.

Once they see a large stack of suspect items, they will begin investigating the account for how it obtained this many of the item. The Bethesda staff person will then find if the account performed duping to obtain that item. Bethesda’s duping detection system isn’t perfect. Even if you didn’t dupe the items, but carry them on your account, your account may still be flagged. If your friend hands you 10k Holiday Gifts, be cautious and open them up quick or drop them. Don’t leave them lying around in your stash or in your character’s inventory. Simply holding onto a large suspect stack of items is enough to have your account banned… even if YOU didn’t dupe them.

I can’t stress the above enough. If you value all of the work you’ve put into Fallout 76 and your Bethesda.net account, then don’t dupe and don’t accept large duped stacks of items.

This is why we can’t have nice things!

When push comes to shove, Bethesda is king at punishing (and retaliating against) exploiters and, by extension, all other users of their games in general. Bethesda has continually proven, at least with Fallout 76, that they don’t really care whose toes they step on to solve gamer exploits in their games. If that means deleting game world items from every Stashbox, regardless of whether it was legitimately obtained or not, so be it.

That means that a small minority of gamers can run amok within Fallout 76 exploiting duping bugs which forces Bethesda to take their ire out on the entire Fallout 76 gaming community as whole. Bethesda will willfully modify their game in negative ways, regardless of whom it affects.

Additionally, with exploiters who Bethesda can identify were specifically participating in the exploits, they will outright ban these gamers from Fallout 76 and, potentially, Bethesda.net on the whole. What this means to exploiters is not only the loss of access to Fallout 76, but it also means loss of access to every game you’ve ever purchased from Bethesda’s store. Yes, this punishment is hard. But, some people need to learn lessons the hard way. Life’s lessons aren’t always wrapped in pretty bows… which is a life lesson in and of itself.

Though, I’m not at all saying that being banned from the game isn’t the right choice to make for Bethesda. If gamers choose not to play the game as written and instead insist on playing outside of those boundaries by exploiting bugs, then you take what’s coming to you. Bethesda’s Terms of Service are crystal clear as follows:

You agree not to access, receive, play or use any Service to:

  • Promote, upload, transmit, encourage or take part in any activity involving hacking, cracking, phishing, taking advantage of exploits or cheats and/or distribution of counterfeit software and/or Virtual Currency or virtual items. In an effort to continuously improve the Services, You and other players discovering exploits, cheats, cracks or other inconsistencies are required to report them to ZeniMax;

If you participate in this or any other activity listed in Bethesda’s Terms of Service, Bethesda’s remedies are clearly defined here:

In response to a violation of these Terms of Service, ZeniMax may issue You a warning, suspend or restrict certain features of Your Account (including, but not limited to, user names), selectively modify or remove or revoke Downloadable Content at an Account and/or device level, immediately terminate any and all Accounts that You have established and/or temporarily or permanently ban Your Account, device, and/or machine from accessing, receiving, playing or using all or certain Services.

ZeniMax may terminate Your access to and/or receipt, play or use of the Services (i) for violating these Terms of Service; (ii) if ZeniMax, in its sole discretion, deems that Your information is untrue, inaccurate, not complete or incomplete; (iii) if Your access to or receipt, play or use of such Services infringes on or is suspected of infringing on another’s rights or any intellectual property; or (iv) if You or Your Account reflects inappropriate Content and/or violates these Terms of Service. Any and all Content (including, but not limited to, Software, Content, and Downloadable Content) will be considered forfeit immediately in the event of any cancellation, closure, or termination of Your Account by ZeniMax.

This means that, yes, you can lose access to a portion or all of your content for the game involved or, indeed, you can lose your entire account at Bethesda. Basically, you will forfeit your access to the software involved and potentially everything else you own from Bethesda. When you exploit Bethesda’s software, eventually you will pay the price and that price is fairly steep.

One additional problem that can arise is that Bethesda can also report your account to PlayStation or Xbox if you have also violated those service’s terms and conditions. Bethesda’s report can see your entire PlayStation or Xbox blocked entirely from online services. Not only can you not use any Bethesda games you own, you could lose your entire Xbox Live or PlayStation Network access for all other games. It all depends on how Bethesda plays it against you. Bethesda can most certainly play hardball if you press the point.

With all of that behind us, let’s move into the meat and potatoes of this review…

Wastelanders Add-On

With the addition of Wastelanders, the Appalachia wasteland has changed. How has it changed? It now has NPCs all over the place. This addition is a mixed bag, however.

While some of the portions of the game have been somewhat rewritten, the fundamental original game is still under there. The NPCs will help you get a handle a bit quicker because they can aid you in getting your character to where it needs to go. When you first exited Vault 76 before this update, you had to fend for yourself alone without much of any help.

Now there are NPCs to greet you just outside the vault who not only give you various information, they help you get a handle on what’s going on in Appalachia. That’s not to say these helpers outside of the vault are necessary, but now Appalachia doesn’t feel so barren.

The question is, does this addition really help the game out? As I said, that’s mixed bag. Nearly all of the original underlying quests are still in the game including the boring holotapes and terminal text lore. Some quests are somewhat altered with the presence of the new walking, talking NPCs.

Allies

Also with the Wastelanders addition, Bethesda has added on the concept of an ally. Think of this as effectively a named settler. If you’ve played Fallout 4, it’s similar to a companion with the exception that these allies don’t follow you around and aid you in combat. They live at your C.A.M.P. and help protect your camp. They also issue you quests that lead to a final 3 star legendary drop at the end.

Two of these allies include Beckett and Sofia. To entice them to come to your base, you must place down something that they need. Beckett wants a bar stand. Sofia needs a computer console. Once you plop down their requirement in your camp, they will join you there.

However, you can only have 1 ally present in your camp at a time. This also means you can only run one ally quest line at a time. These allies don’t leave your camp. They stay there and interact with whatever you place around them, such as musical instruments. Be careful with musical instruments, though. Sofia can, for example, sit and play the guitar for 20 minutes or longer constantly. That would be okay if they had given Sofia some actual guitar music to play. Instead, just like a player character, the guitar plays snippets and chopped together riffs that, after a while, become annoying as all get out. It’s fun to know that NPCs will play the instruments, but it’s torture to listen to them playing the same thing over and over for 20-30 minutes continuously.

Dialog Choices

With NPCs, comes dialog. Here’s a screenshot of how that looks:

Dialog

Much of the dialog, as one would expect, is pointless. But, some of it does lead to adding map markers or other interesting actions. With some dialog choices, you can use your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points which will lead to unlocking other dialog.

New Main Quests

WaywardIn addition to the long ally quest lines, there are new main quests. This main quest begins at The Wayward, just across from the Overseer’s camp. Pretty much it seems the Overseer’s camp has now been discarded in lieu of beginning the game at The Wayward. The Wayward is a house that doubles as a bar. It’s a new addition to the world, along with many other new locations. Some original locations have also been converted into NPC communities.

If you’re used to how the wasteland looked before Wastelanders, many of the locations have changed. For example, the Isolated Cabin which was inhabited by mongrels has been converted into a settler settlement. These NPCs are generically named ‘Settler’. The dogs may or may not appear with the addition of the settlers. The settlers can be killed, however.

New Bosses

Of course, the addition of Wastelanders wouldn’t be complete without a new boss location to nuke. Instead of nuking Fissure Prime to get the Scorchbeast Queen to appear, there is a new location which now spawns the Wendigo Colossus. Don’t think that this boss looks anything like the long slender Wendigo, however. The Colossus looks like a Grafton Monster with tall skinny legs. This particular monster design was, in fact, far too lazily designed. It seems Bethesda did as little as possible to make a functional workable monster.

This boss also has a new attack. It throws goop at you that sees you literally run away screaming. There’s no way to counter, stop or in any way halt this animation effect. You are forced to let it play out. It’s a stupid effect and it completely gets in the way. I’m sure someone at Bethesda thought it was hilarious, but I find it extremely frustrating and stupid. You fight bosses to fight, not run away screaming. If Bethesda had given us a new perk card, food stuff or chem (i.e., Calmex) to negate this attack for a period of time, I’d be less harsh on Bethesda for this addition. This attack needs to disappear or we need to be given a way to negate the attack. It’s frustrating when you’re attempting to kill this beast and you’re constantly being forced to run away.

Updated Locations

Some locations have been updated and rebuilt to support NPC settlers. One of these is the crashed space station. Here’s a picture:

SpaceStation

I’ve included the border because the original space station as it was is seen in the upper left corner. Compare this to the reworked and updated Wastelanders image. I realize the image is kind of drab, but the in-game world had a rainstorm going at the time. I also thought it would be important to Factions-smshow the rain storm look in this review.

This location introduces one of two new factions: Raiders. The other faction is the Settlers. You can view your acceptance level in these factions by checking your social menu.

Negating the Scorchbeast Queen

With the newly added Wendigo Colossus, few people are going to run over and start up the Queen event anymore. Because this is a type of Wendigo, all of the Zealots, Ultracite and Prime perks are useless against this boss. In fact, there really isn’t a Legendary effect that actually works against a Wendigo. You just have to be long and steady with your weapons. This usually means using heavy automatic weapons. Weapons that don’t necessarily do lots of damage per hit, but that cumulatively add up to lots of damage over time.

This is where Bethesda didn’t really plan ahead much. If you’re planning to add an entirely new boss into the game, you also need to add in perk cards and legendary effects to help defeat this boss, just like we had with Zealots and Prime against the Scorched. We have half of the equation with this boss addition, but we don’t have the other half of this in the weapons to help defeat or armor to protect against this boss.

This is where Wastelanders becomes a mixed bag. Yes, we do get a new boss in Wastelanders. No, we don’t get any new legendary effects, perk cards or chems that help us kill that new boss. Don’t think that you can grab your Zealots and have these legendary weapons be more effective against the Wendigo Colossus, like they were against the Scorchbeast Queen. It doesn’t work that way. You’re better off using basic legendary effects like Bloodied or Berzerker’s with a proper character build.

Perk Card Changes and New Weapon

ArcherWith Wastelanders, a new set of perk cards has been added in support of the new bow and arrow weapon. The perk cards are standard 3 damage multiplier Archer cards in addition to Bow Before Me, an anti-armor card which applies to bows and crossbows. The bow itself is a decently powered weapon at level 50, offering up to 350 damage when sneaking. That’s not bad all things considered. However, it’s an exceedingly slow loading and slow firing weapon. Once a horde of enemies finds you, you better switch to a different weapon or you’ll want to pair it with the Sneak card and hope the enemies don’t find you.

New Power Armor

The newest power armor set is the T-65 power armor. This armor requires collecting gold bullion (yet another new currency). To get this bullion, you’ll need to complete as many of the new main and faction quests as you can. One you complete the main and faction quests, you will be able to visit Regs (another new NPC) who is located at Vault 79 (a new vault) where you can spend your bullion to buy the plans to build this armor.

Whether this armor is effective against the Colossus is as yet unknown. Though, I will say that power armor in Fallout 76 has been, in general, a joke. For example, 5.56 equipped Colonel Gutsy robots can shred your HP in just a few shots in or out of power armor. In fact, I haven’t seen any difference between being in or out of power armor when facing a 5.56 equipped Gutsy or Super Mutant.

Worse, while Fallout 4 offered legendary effects on power armor, these PA legendary pieces have never made it into Fallout 76. Even though regular armor regularly drops with legendary effects, power armor has never had any legendary effects in Fallout 76. This drastically reduces the effectiveness of power armor in Fallout 76. Why am I bringing this up here? Because Wastelanders didn’t fix this problem. It still exists just as it did before Wastelanders.

New Challenges?

Actually, no. Even though the Wastelanders update has added NPCs, no additional combat challenges have been added… such as Kill Blood Eagles with a Combat Rifle (0/1000). While NPCs have been added, Bethesda just didn’t work out these small details that would have added much more value to the game.

Lighting System Changes

WhitespringStationPrior to Wastelanders, the lighting in the game was brighter and more dynamic. With the introduction of Wastelanders, the game has taken a questionable backward step toward darker lighting levels (see Whitespring Station image), including the elimination of many areas of ambient lighting. Walking into some buildings which were formerly well lit, we now see portions of the room exceedingly dark with a single bright light in the middle of the room.

CharlestonStationThe Charleston station, left, is exceedingly dark where before the interior was very bright. This is in the middle of the day in-game time. Even the daylight outdoors lighting model has changed seeing shadows on the ground as much darker. This lighting model change is unusual and unnecessary. The original lighting system actually looked better, particularly inside of buildings. This absence of ambient lighting thus makes many rooms, like the interior of Charleston Station, overly dark.

BeforeAfter

As you can see above, the before is brighter, lighter and more vibrant. The shadows are less intense. The before was taken about a month ago, perhaps. The After image is darker, less colorful, drab and is more difficult to read the signs. The whites were easier to see in the before.

…. Where does Wastelanders not work so well?

Changes, Not Changes

This is where I find Wastelanders to be basically a facelift, primarily on the surface. The underlying problems from Fallout 76 all remain. The bugs, the problems, the glitching, the crashing, the difficulties, the getting hung up on rocks while running, the getting stuck in a hole, the broken texture maps, the lack of responsiveness from button presses on down to the whole less than stellar way the interface is built and works. None of these basic day-one problems have been addressed. We’re still working on game foundation that wasn’t perfected from the beginning. So now we have NPCs plopped right on top of all of these still existing bugs.

Many people say that Fallout 76 has greatly improved since its launch. I’ve yet to see that. The game is still just as glitchy and broken as it was on release day. Sure, some problems have been addressed, but the majority of the underlying bugs are all still there. Wastelanders did little to solve these fundamental game engine problems. The problem here is that these bugs and glitches are mainly inconvenient. They are typically not showstoppers. However, some are more inconvenient than others.

For example, dead enemies can sometimes despawn moments after death. If you aren’t super quick to grab the loot from the body, you won’t get it. This includes legendary enemies. This is a bug that has existed from launch day.

Another bug is when you fast travel. You can land inside of rocks, under a building wedged, wedged between two walls or in other places that don’t allow you to move. You are forced to travel again.

You can still find enemies sliding around on the ground either standing up in a T position or in a lying or seated position. This glitch has been in the game since day one.

This next one I’ve seen so many times is one I can’t believe hasn’t yet been fixed. When you’re fighting a boss and your character dies, the game forces you to choose a respawn point. The problem here is that on character death, the game immediately recalculates your carry weight far below your in-game carry weight. This forces you to become severely overencumbered immediately after your character dies. This then forces you to respawn back at Vault 76 (all the way across the map).

Once your character has respawned fully and the game has recalculated your carry weight back to normal, you can then travel back to that death location and pick up your dropped loot. In my case, the game wouldn’t even let me respawn back at my Fallout 1st tent! I was forced to fast travel twice. Once to Vault 76, then once again back to my tent. It’s like, shit, just let me travel to my tent first. If I hadn’t had my tent there, I’d have had to pay caps to get back across the map. This problem has existed since day one.

Bugs, bugs and more bugs

These above are but a few examples. There are plenty of others that still plague this mediocre game. That doesn’t mean there aren’t new bugs. Oh, no no no. There are plenty of new bugs in this update. Duping is, as I mentioned above, back with a vengeance. It seems that many gamers were just waiting to pounce all over duping again, and dupe they have. In response, Bethesda has stopped display cases from functioning and halted player vending.

It’s clear that unless you (as a company) are absolutely stellar at programming, you shouldn’t attempt to have an in-game economy. This shows exactly how amateur Bethesda is at producing online games with any semblance of an economy. If you can’t lock down such basic things as duping, you can’t have an in-game economy.

At this point, it’s probably best were Bethesda to dismantle player vending entirely, disable dropping any items from inventory, stop player trading and halt all ability to transfer items from one player to another. If the devs can’t handle keeping these bugs from surfacing and resurfacing, then they must stop the underlying reason why duping continues to exist. If players can’t sell, trade or transfer items from one player to another, there’s little reason to dupe items. Items like Holiday Gifts should be removed from the game entirely and never see a return. Nothing should produce caps upon consuming the item, not even Nuka-Cola drinks. The only things that should give caps are in-game vending bots, cap stashes, dead enemies, containers and quests. Basically, items that cannot possibly be duplicated.

Additionally, vending bots should mark an object ID which has been previously sold as unsellable. This means that should another player show up with that same object ID attempting to sell it, the vendor bot will not only refuse to buy it, it will then confiscate it from the player’s inventory. Vendor bots that buy items never relist an already used ID. Instead, they will always relist the item with a new ID. This means that a duped item can’t be sold by a bot. If you can’t sell a dupe with an added double whammy of losing it, players will think twice not only about duping, but attempting to sell those dupes to vendors. It also means they can’t sell them to players either. This means duping is a dead end.

This is tough way to handle duping, but we’re at the crossroads with this game. If Bethesda can’t prevent duping, then it needs to be stopped using another more permanent method… and that way is to halt all further player-to-player sales and trading. Halting the ability for players to trade goods with one another is the only way to stop duping.

Player Vending is Broken

I’m singling out duping here because it keeps coming back over and over and over. Duping has not gone away and it is, once again, back. It will also keep coming back so long as player-to-player trading remains in the game. Instead of Bethesda playing this never ending game of “catch the duping mouse”, the answer is to simply halt player trading entirely. Only allow players to interact and trade with game controlled vendor bots. It’s long past time for Bethesda to have solved this problem and this is the ONLY solution.

Changing this fundamental aspect of this multiplayer game will have some ramifications. Yes, it will make traders exceedingly angry. At the same time, it will also stop all real money eBay listings, it will halt scammers and it will halt the third party trading marketplaces. This will force players to legitimately earn caps in the game through normal in-game means.

If Bethesda wants to better control these exploits and continue to allow selling, they need to do away with vending machines at each camp and place a vending machine at each train station (see next section for additional thoughts). A vending machine will always re-ID every object it receives to sell. This means there is no possibility a player could receive a dupe from a vendor bot. When a player lists an item, the item is checked for a duped ID. If this object’s ID has already been purchased by a vendor bot once before, the weapon is confiscated and the player is then notified the duped item has been confiscated. A notification should also be sent to someone at Bethesda that a vendor bot has confiscated a duped item and which account presented it.

Player to player vending can be implemented in the following way and should be limited to a centralized system. This system will list the item along with the player’s name. The item (after being validated as not duped) will go up for sale at the player’s specified price. The item remains listed for a period of time (i.e., 3 days) and will remain listed regardless of whether the player is online. After 3 days without purchase, the item is returned to the player’s inventory. If purchased, the caps will be placed into a centralized bank to which the player can withdraw those caps via the vending machine. Players should be limited to no more than 5-10 listings at a time and a max amount of caps in the bank.

Other bugs which were recently added include the rogue turret bug. If one turret is damaged in a workshop, the other turrets in the area begin shooting at friendly camp or workshop items. This is such a stupid bug. I can’t believe it has been allowed to persist across multiple releases in a row. Bethesda is well aware of this issue, yet they choose to do nothing to fix it. In fact, it seems that now a rogue turret in a camp can actually damage other workshop equipment. I shake my head that Bethesda can’t even fix what should be simple bugs, yet they spend massive amounts of time working on add-ons that really don’t add that much value to the game.

End of Player Trading?

At this point and strictly due to duping, I’d personally like to see player-to-player trading end. This won’t be a popular opinion among traders, but it’s definitely needed to stop all of these duplication problems. Trading is not really very useful, it causes bad behavior among players, it invites duping and it doesn’t really solve a problem for the game. Since Fallout 76 is pretty much a single player game with a multiplayer component, there’s no need for player vending at all. It simply gets in the way of the enjoyment of the game. With the advent of Purveyor Murmrgh and the ability to buy 1, 2 and 3 star legendary weapons and armor, player-to-player trading is now unnecessary.

I’m sure a lot of traders will disagree. Were Bethesda to make this change, it would stop the need for most duping. The primary reason most players dupe is to sell weapons to other players for high amounts of caps. The secondary reason is to dupe items that instantly produce caps for the player. Both of these problems need to be stopped. The way to handle it is to stop player-to-player trading and implement a duped ID checking + confiscation system when attempting to sell duped items to vendors. Further, stop giving away items that instantly produce caps upon consuming it. Instead, drop only objects into the player’s inventory. They can then sell the item to a vendor for caps. Keep caps issuance only from vendor bots, from world containers and at the end of quests.

Additionally, items can no longer be dropped into the world. This should also include stopping the drop of junk items upon character death. Further, like many of the newer items, if you attempt to drop any item, you’re then notified the item will be destroyed. With this change, you won’t be able to drop loot bags any more… which of course negates the idea of custom loot bags sold in the Atomic Shop. A small price to pay to get rid of player trading.

Halting all player trading means the player must rely on the game to produce caps and provide the player with weapons and armor. This change is actually in keeping with the way that Fallout 4 worked in single player campaign. Because Fallout 4 doesn’t allow multiplayer, the player had to rely solely on themselves to obtain caps and obtain the best weapons in the game. Moving Fallout 76 to this more stringent and similar model would actually heighten the gameplay, make it more challenging and more in keeping with Fallout 4’s model. No longer can gamers rely on others to give them “the best weapon”, a form of cheating. Instead, they must grind in the normal way, earn their keep individually and spend the money they legitimately earned to buy weapons from the Purveyor or, alternatively, find a legendary enemy and take their chances to get a better weapon or armor.

Moving Fallout 76 to a more-or-less closed single player system with limited multiplayer support, this stops players from wanting to exploit the game in an attempt to gain more caps, better weapons and better armor via cheating. Yes, I do consider player-to-player trading a form of cheating. You didn’t earn that weapon, you bought it. You didn’t earn that armor, you bought it. There’s no difference between pay-to-play with Atomic shop items and player-to-player for-pay trading. It’s all a form of pay-to-win. I’m most definitely for ending all forms of pay-to-win whether by Bethesda or via player trading.

Overall

The addition of NPCs to Fallout 76 is a long time coming. Unfortunately, it’s probably too little, too late. This should have been the way the game was released on day one, not a year and a half later. Will this make Fallout 76 a great game? With NPCs added, it’s better in some ways, but it’s worse in others. This is why it’s a mixed bag.

Can I recommend this update? For curiosity sake, sure. Download it and explore. If you’ve already played Fallout 76 through to completion, it doesn’t change the original game so much that it makes a huge difference. The changes to the original quests are relatively minor… just enough to introduce NPCs so they make sense.

The best part of Wastelanders is the addition of allies. This C.A.M.P. addition is probably the single best part of Wastelanders. You can now have an NPC at your base permanently. Your character can even have a relationship with them. While they cannot become companions that follow you around, they can help defend your base while you’re not there.

On the flip side, because this is a fluid multiplayer game without the ability to create saved game files, your character’s choices are permanent. If you wish to redo a portion of an NPC’s quest, you can’t do that. If you make a mistake which has specific unknown consequences, your only choice is to start a new character and try again on that new character. I might even suggest starting a new character so you can use this character to determine where these quest pitfalls are. You can then play the quests through a second time on your primary character and know the best choices possible while avoiding such pitfalls.

Is Wastelanders a great game? Hardly. Is it better than it was? In some ways, yes. In other ways, it’s much the same as it was. If you’ve already played the game through to completion, it does add on a few quest lines that you can explore. Unfortunately, the quests mostly consist of fetch this thing, kill this person or do this thing for me. For the allies, there are many of these before you get to the end. Though, I’d say that the game’s Wastelanders addition probably adds, at most, a month’s worth of additional play value if you play it through slowly.

↩︎

Top 10 gripes for Fallout 76

Posted in advice, botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on December 8, 2019

Fallout 76_20191108124032

You’re thinking of buying Fallout 76? You’ve rationalized, “It’s only a game, how bad can it be?” Let’s explore the top 10 gripes for why Fallout 76 may not be the best game purchase in 2019.

Number 10 — It’s not a new game

This game was released over a year ago in October of 2018. It’s over a year old already. Games typically have a 1 year lifespan of relevance before losing steam. The useful lifetime of this game is already waning and the clock is now ticking down on this game. Bethesda knows it, the industry knows it and gamers know this. You could invest your money into this game and find in 5 months that Bethesda has decided to pull the plug. For this reason alone, I’d be cautious in investing time in building a character.

Bethesda RPG-like games usually take months to fully play through. You might not even see all of the endgame content before Bethesda pulls the plug. Though, you can most certainly get through the main quest line before then, as short as the main quest is. Keep in mind, however, that because it’s an online game, there’s no local save file on your computer. If Bethesda pulls the plug, all of your characters and the work you’ve spent building them will disappear.

Number 9 — Multiplayer Game Modes

If you’re solely looking at the purchase of Fallout 76 for its multiplayer player-vs-player (PVP) game modes, you might want to think again. There are only three multiplayer modes in Fallout 76:

  1. Native (Workshop and Adventure)
  2. Hunter / Hunted Radio
  3. Battle Royale

Native PVP

None of the 3 PVP modes are particularly well designed and none of them fit into the Fallout universe and actually make sense. This first mode, “Native”, requires two people to initiate this mode through a handshaking process. One person fires on another. The second person must fire back to complete the PVP handshaking and launch into PVP mode. The problem is, there’s no fun to be had in this PVP mode and it’s rarely, if ever, used. Most players in adventure mode are there to explore and play PVE, not to get into PVP battles. So, be cautious when trying to elicit a PVP action from another player.

The second half of the PVP mode is at Workshops. If you claim a workshop, the handshaking mode is disabled and the entirety of the workshop area becomes an active PVP zone. Once you own a workshop, anyone can come into the workshop and begin PVP with you or your team. It’s the same PVP as the version that requires handshaking, except there is no handshaking.

Speaking of teams, be cautious when teaming up with other players. It only takes one player in a team to begin PVP with another player. Once that happens, the entire team becomes vulnerable to PVP with that player (and anyone on a team with that player). No warnings are issued by the game to other team players when one team member begins PVP activities with another player.

Hunter / Hunted Radio

The second game mode, “Hunter / Hunted Radio” requires you open a radio station on the in-game Pip boy (heads up display giving access to your inventory, weapons, armor, etc). This “radio station” links you into a matchmaking mode that allows up to 4-5 players in a given radius to begin PVP activities. As the name suggest, it’s about hunting for other players all while being hunted yourself. It’s also a sort of ‘Last Man Standing’ mode in that whichever player ends up with the most kills gets the most rewards.

Both of the above listed game modes are effectively “death match” style PVP. That means that it’s solely about player characters killing one another… which then comes down to which player has the best and strongest armor and weapons. Both of these styles rapidly elicit boredom because “death match” is the oldest and weakest type of PVP mode there is and is simply about killing other player characters.

This PVP also makes no sense within Fallout 76 where all of the people who lived in Vault 76 were supposed to remain civil and friendly towards one another. Not even the game setup or later found holotapes reveal any story aspect of people in Vault 76 turning on one another before “Reclamation Day”. If that had been a story element, then perhaps the PVP might have made some sense. But, no. The holotapes found almost ALL tie into the Scorched threat or other similar environmental survival threats (bad water, radiation, etc). None of the holotapes discuss bad blood between the residents within Vault 76. If that had been true, the “Reclamation Day Party” the night before would have ended in bloodshed before the vault even opened.

Nuclear Winter — Battle Royale

The third PVP activity is separated from the above because it arrived much later in 2019. At the same time it is a merely a weak copy of other better implemented Battle Royale games, which are currently “trending” in the game industry. Bethesda added this game mode, not because it made sense to Fallout 76 (or the Fallout universe), but because it is so popular in other popular game franchises, such as Fortnite and Apex Legends. It’s simply Bethesda’s attempt at a cash grab in an industry being inundated by other better Battle Royale based games.

Battle Royale is nothing new. It is a game mode that has been around since the early days of PVP. However, games like Fortnite and Apex Legends have turned this mode into hugely successful franchises. This mode is another “Last Man Standing” mode which is simply an alternative version of “Death Match.” In this death match style game, instead of people picking off one another and continually respawning until the clock runs out, you only get one try to win. This means that once your character has been killed, you can only watch the action unfold for the remaining active players. The point of any Battle Royale mode is to survive as long as you can and possibly become the “last man standing”.

With Fortnite and Apex Legends, it’s not so much about being Battle Royale, it’s more about the game makers crafting the game using interesting characters using gimmicks (building forts) with interesting attack modes. It’s about finding a character who has the “best” attack in the game. This means you can bring in experience earned and weapons owned back into the game to use over and over.

Why is all of this important to Bethesda’s “Battle Royal”? Because Bethesda chooses to allow nothing into its Battle Royale mode. All experience earned is earned explicitly within this game mode. But, even that experience doesn’t matter. Any weapons you may have used or armor you may have found cannot be used in subsequent plays. You must ALWAYS find weapons and armor in the game once it begins. Even then, it’s all random what you find. The chests generate random weapons, armor and loot. It could be good loot or it could be bad. Since you have no idea what you might or might not find, you’re at the mercy of the game to outfit you while you’re in the game. All the while, the clock is ticking.

You’re never given enough time to really outfit your character in a useful fashion. You end up spending inordinate amounts of time hiding from other players and, hopefully, finding decent armor and weapons in the loot chests. Some Battle Royale games offer this “loot chest” idea, like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). Unfortunately this game concept fails to work in a game like Fallout 76 where the entire point of playing Fallout 76 is to gain experience, weapons and armor over time. Having to “start over fresh” every time you play is, unfortunately, tedious.

Ignoring the nonsensical nature of this game mode even being IN Fallout 76, Nuclear Winter is boring. Even after one playthrough, it’s the same every time. Hide, search, outfit, stay alive. In fact, in this game mode, if you actively attempt to go looking for other players to kill, your character is more likely to be killed. To survive in this game mode, you need to remain hidden until the ever enclosing “ring of fire” gets too small to ignore any other players.

Additionally, any earned experience in “Nuclear Winter” is not carried into the “Adventure Mode” of Fallout 76. Everything in Nuclear Winter is for Nuclear Winter and vice versa. These modes are mutually exclusive.

Considering that Apex Legends and Fortnite are free-to-play, buying Fallout 76 solely to play Bethesda’s Nuclear Winter game mode is a waste of money. Go get the free Fortnite or Apex Legends or buy into Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds which do Battle Royale mode much, MUCH better. Bethesda would have done better to separate Nuclear Winter into a separate, standalone, free-to-play game… not tied to Fallout 76. I might even suggest retheming it either as its own franchise or theme it under a franchise more known for multiplayer games, such as Doom or Wolfenstein.

But… don’t run out and buy Fallout 76 strictly for Nuclear Winter. It’s too expensive for as weak as this game mode’s design is. If you already own the game, then it’s worth trying.

Number 8 — Holotape Hunt

This game has categorically been chastised for its lack of NPCs. And… that criticism is rightly justified. All previous Fallout games have been HEAVILY centered around NPCs and their dilemmas. To yank a mainstay out of a Fallout game means to yank out its very heart-and-soul and its reason to exist. The reason players play Fallout and Skyrim is because of the sometimes heart wrenching stories of its human NPC inhabitants.

In Fallout 76, because there are no human NPCs, save Super Mutants and a bunch of robots, the game is devoid of ANY interactivity with other NPCs. Instead, the game’s primary story sees you hunt down a trail of pre-recorded holotapes to “listen” to a bunch of canned messages and read random text on computer terminals. Worse, many of these holotapes open up quests that you are required to complete, yet the holotapes are way too short to really give the player any sense of urgency. Indeed, the holotape has likely been sitting by a dead body for months, if not years already. How can there be any sense of urgency around listening to something that’s been sitting there that long? In fact, whatever that dead person may have been doing to prompt that tape is likely long over and done.

Worse, sitting around listening to holotapes as a matter of story course, then reading text on a bunch of terminals is entirely boring. Storytelling, particularly in video games, should be done by interactive characters, not by text on a screen or pre-recorded audio tapes. In fact, such a storytelling tactic thwarts the point of even using a video game to tell a story. This isn’t the early 80s when Zork was the best that computers could achieve, it’s the days of Call of Duty when it’s all about realistic cinematic 3D character storytelling. Yet, the best Bethesda can come up with is effectively what we got in a game from the 80s?

Number 7 — Shorter Than Expected

While there are a wide number of side quests, events and tertiary activities, the main quests total 22. Considering that previous Fallout installments had way more than this number for its main quests, this is a sad number for Fallout 76. In fact, if you solely focus on just these 22 quests, you can probably get through all of them within a week or two at most. Note, most of this time is spent grinding up levels and gaining resources to ensure you can complete some of the quests properly and, of course, survive.

Number 6 — Eating, Drinking, Diseases & Weapon and Armor Breakage

To extend the amount of time you play Fallout 76, Bethesda has implemented some, at least they think, clever time extending mechanisms. Mechanisms such as eating, drinking, diseases and then there’s weapon and armor breaking frequently. The point to adding these mechanisms is less about realism and more about making you grind, grind, grind to keep your character from dying. Sure, in real life we do have to eat and drink. We’ll also have to repair armor.

These mechanisms in Fallout 76 are implemented poorly. For example, water consumption is entirely too frequent. You will find you have to consume water and food at least once per hour of play. No one eats food that frequently. You might sip water over the course of the day, but you don’t drink the amount of water they force your character to drink at every interval.

Worse, if water consumption drops too low, the penalty is reduced action points. Action points aren’t even a concept in real life. This is where the realism ultimately ends. It is also where it becomes apparent that the point to why Bethesda added these unnecessary additions comes into play. It’s not about realism, it’s about extending the time it takes you to play the game. Indeed, it can and does slow you down. Instead of actual, you know, questing, you’re not forced to forage for food, water and resources to keep your weapons and armor repaired and keep your character from dying. That’s not survival, that’s stupidity.

Worse, it’s all manual. To eat and drink, you are forced to stop and perform a manual task. There is no perk card that automatically consumes marked favorite foods whenever it gets too low. No, it’s all manual. In the middle of a fight? Too bad, now you have to open a menu and consume some food. Forgot to mark it as a favorite? Now you have deep dive into a bunch of slow menus in the middle of a battle. Yeah, not fun.

Number 5 — Menu System / Lack of Pause

As was discussed immediately above, the menu system is clumsy, cumbersome and dated. As I was talking about Zork from the 80s, that’s how this game feels. Like it was designed in the 80s for an 80s audience. Fallout 76 doesn’t in any way feel modern.

When you’re in the heat of battle (and because this is a multiplayer game that doesn’t allow for pausing), if you want to change weapons or swap armor, it’s a laborious process involving a convoluted set of menus.

Sure, there’s a wheel you can plant your favorites, but that’s limited and must be used for ALL items in the game. This means this small menu wheel is overloaded with food, clothing, aid, armor and weapons. You don’t have separate wheels for weapons, armor and food… which this game desperately needs.

While the PipBoy seems like a great idea, in practice and for a game UI, it really sucks for quick access when in a multiplayer non-pausable environment. For Fallout 4 where pause was a mainstay, thus allowing you time to think and swap, in Fallout 76 the PipBoy’s UI system entirely fails the player and Fallout 76.

Number 4 — Scorched and Broken Canon

With Fallout 76, Bethesda introduces a new enemy into the Fallout universe. The Scorched. However, this enemy addition doesn’t really make any sense at all. Fallout 76 is a prequel to Fallout 4. If the Scorched existed in Fallout 76, they very likely made their way to from Virginia to Boston in Fallout 4. After all, Scorchbeasts fly. This is where Bethesda breaks its own canon and lore simply to create new games.

There are a number of places where Bethesda has broken canon in the Fallout universe, the biggest faux pas being the Scorched. So, let’s focus on the Scorched. Even after you complete the game’s main quest (which is supposed rid Appalachia of the Scorched), the game remains status quo and unchanged with regards to Scorchbeast Queens, Scorchbeasts and even Scorched… which continue to reappear. The player following the Scorched quest line does nothing to resolve the Scorched plague… which doubly means that the Scorched should have made their way to Boston to appear in Fallout 4. Yet, they inexplicably don’t. And, it’s not like Bethesda couldn’t have rolled a Fallout 4 update to apply retroactively continuity to add the Scorched information into Fallout 4 and make the universe consistent. Nope, Bethesda didn’t do this.

So, now we have Fallout 76 which remains with story incongruities by introducing enemies, clothing, items and concepts which have not appeared in games that have chronologically come after Fallout 76.

Number 3 — Grind Grind Grind

While some people might think this is the number 1 problem in the game, it is not. In fact, we will come to the biggest problem in just a few, but let’s grind on with number 3.

While this one is somewhat tied to the number 1 problem, it is separate and unique. But, it is not at all unique to this genre of game. Developers seem to think that grind, grind, grinding your way through the game is somehow fun. It’s a mistaken thought rationale. While grinding does extend the length of time it takes to play the game, we gamers can see right through that charade. We know when game developers have added grinding for the sake of grinding and not for the purposes of general game exploration.

There’s a fine line between grinding to complete a quest and grinding because you have to play the subgame of surprise grab bag to locate the best weapons, armor and loot in the game.

Purveyor Murmrgh is the poster child of everything wrong with not only grinding within Fallout 76, it also bookends and highlights this major industry problem across the RPG genre, but also of video gaming in general.

fallout-76_20191207153431.jpgSlogging through the same pointless battles over and over just to gain “currency” to play the Loot Bag Lottery is not in any way fun. That’s exactly what Purveyor Murmrgh is to Fallout 76. It is the icing on the grinding cake… but it’s more like Salmonella.

Oh, and believe me, most of the junk given out by Murmrgh is just that, junk. It’s a Junkie’s Meathook dealing 25 damage. It’s a Vampire’s Knuckles dealng 20 damage. It’s an Instigating Shovel dealing 5 damage. It’s a Vanguard’s Pipe Pistol dealing 10 damage. It’s literal junk. The only thing you can do when you’re issued this junk is turn it back in and get at least some Scrip back. Yes, you might get super lucky and get a Two Shot Gauss or a Instigating or Furious Pump Action Shotgun, but it might also take you hundreds of tries (100 Scrip per try) to get it.

Let’s understand exactly how much grinding is needed to gain the 100 Scrip required to “buy” a 3-star randomly generated legendary weapon from Murmrgh. Each 3-star legendary traded in offers 40 scrip. That means it takes three 3-star legendary weapons to gain 120 scrip and top the 100 Scrip mark. That means that it takes at least 3 Scorchbeast Queen kills to gain three 3-star legendary weapons… and that assumes she will even drop a 3-star legendary weapon every time. Hint, she doesn’t. Many 3-star legendary enemies rarely drop 3-star weapons. In fact, most drop 1 or 2 star weapons most commonly.. which you can trade in at a lesser Scrip value (see chart below). Ultimately, this means even more and more grinding just to find those ever elusive 3-star legendary weapons to turn in and gain Scrip.

You also can’t get Scrip in any other way than grinding for and “selling” Legendary loot. You can’t buy Scrip with Caps. You can’t buy Scrip with actual money (although that would be an even bigger problem for Bethesda). You can’t buy Scrip with Atom (because you can buy Atom with real money). You must grind, grind, grind your way into getting Scrip.

Here’s a table of how it all breaks down for Legendary Scrip:

Legendary Type Scrip Trade-In Value
One Star Legendary Weapon 5
Two Star Legendary Weapon 15
Three Star Legendary Weapon 40
One Star Legendary Armor 3
Two Star Legendary Armor 9
Three Star Legendary Armor 24

What this table means to a gamer is that you should expect to grind, grind, grind to find 3-star legendary weapons (which you can trade toward Scrip), versus any other type when you’re looking to get a 3 star legendary weapon out of Murmrgh any time soon. That doesn’t mean you won’t happen upon a great 1, 2 or 3-Star legendary weapon or armor along the way while grinding. But, it also means that if you want to play the Scrip Loot Box Lottery game at Murmrgh, you’re going to need to grind your way through a lot of legendary weapon drops before you get enough to visit Murmrgh. Even then, because it’s a Surprise Loot Box, you’re at the mercy of whatever crap it decides to roll the dice and give you.

Ultimately, Fallout 76 is about grinding and Bethesda’s understanding and design of its game constructs are intended for gamers to spend inordinate more amounts of time grinding than questing. Bethesda’s rationale around this is having people grinding on the game is better than not playing it at all. To some degree this may be valid, but only because there are some gamers that actually LIKE grinding. I’m not one of them. Doing forever repetitive tasks over and over is not something I want to do in an RPG, let alone in Fallout. Let’s grind on.

Number 2 — Bugs, bugs and More Bugs

This one goes without saying for Bethesda. The game industry has been in a tailspin in this area for the last 3-5 years. When the N64 was a mainstay in the home gaming, game developers did their level best to provide solid, reliable, robust, well crafted gaming experiences. Literally, these games were incredibly stable. I can’t recall a single N64 game that would randomly crash in the middle of the game. While there were logic problems that might have made games unintentionally unbeatable, the games were still rock stable.

Since then when the N64 console was popular, games have moved more and more towards hardware being driven by Microsoft’s operating systems (and also adopting Microsoft’s idea of stability), the former push towards gaming excellence has severely waned. No longer are developers interested in providing a high quality stable gaming experiences. Today, game developers are more interested in getting product out the door as fast as possible than in making sure the product is actually stable (or even finished). What this has meant to the gaming industry is that gamers have now become unwitting pawns by paying retail prices to become “Beta Testers”. Yes, you now must pay $60 to actually beta test game developer software today. Let’s bring it back to Fallout 76.

Bethesda has never been known for providing particularly stable software products in its past gaming products. Even Fallout 3 had fairly substantial bugs in its questing engine. Obsidian muddied the already murky waters of Fallout with its Fallout New Vegas installment. Obsidian is much more attuned to producing high quality stable products. This meant that many gamers probably conflate the stability imparted by Obsidian’s Fallout New Vegas with Bethesda’s much buggier Fallout 3 as both games were released during a similar time frame. Fallout 4, however, can’t rely on this conflation. Fallout 4 stands on its own, for better or worse, and its bugs were (and are) readily apparent. Fallout 4 even regularly crashes back to the dashboard hard. By extension, so does Fallout 76. Fallout 76 was also born out of Fallout 4 and many bugs in Fallout 4 made their way unfixed into Fallout 76. Some of those Fallout 4 bugs are even still there!

Fallout 76 has, yet again, become an unwitting poster child for this newest trend towards cutting corners. Even though Bethesda has always provided buggy experiences, Fallout 76 is by far Bethesda’s worst. Even The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) at its worst never fared this bad, even though it was not completely bug free when it first arrived and was still considered fairly beta. Fallout 76, however, was released entirely unfinished and chock full of serious bugs.

Worse, the whole lack of NPCs feels more like cutting corners than it does an active design decision. It’s like they simply couldn’t get the NPCs working day one. So, they cut them out of the mix and quickly threw together a bunch of voiceovers for holotapes and wrote a bunch of terminal entries. The bugginess and being unfinished for Fallout 76 is readily apparent, but what may not be apparent is this lack of design forethought for the (lack of) NPCs. There are even areas of the game that seem as though they were designed to have functional quests on day one, but never had anything attached. For example, Vaults 94, 51, 63 and 96.

Recently, however, Bethesda released add-ons that fill in Vault 94 and Vault 51 (sort of). Vault 51 is still unfinished in the Adventure server portion of Fallout 76, but it exists as Battle Royale (a completely separate game mode). Vault 94 is a raiding vault intended for multiplayer group play. Unfortunately, Vault 94 is entirely a disaster. Not only is the interior one of the worst designed vault interiors I’ve seen, the actual gameplay is so overloaded with unnecessary amounts enemies, it’s a chore to go in there. By ‘chore’, I mean literally. There’s so much stuff being thrown at you, the game engine can’t even properly handle it. It ends up a completely stuttery, herky-jerky gaming mess. If you can even fire your weapon timely, you’re lucky. Most times, you’re so inundated by swarms of enemies, you can’t even properly aim or fire. VATs barely even works in this “dungeon” simply due to the enemy overload.

As for vaults, 63 and 96, there’s still nothing associated with them in Adventure. It is assumed that, like Vault 94, both will become part of later group raids.

Still, there are many, many unfinished quest lines throughout Fallout 76. Not only are there many presidential ballot systems all over the wasteland, including in Harper’s Ferry and Watoga, there is also a locked presidential suite in the Whitespring Enclave bunker. Also, while there are several hand scan locked rooms in the Whitespring villas, there are also many more hand scan locked rooms in the Whitespring Hotel proper. This almost entirely indicates that being General in the Enclave may not have been the end of the road for the Enclave quest line. Instead, it seems the quest may have led the player to becoming President over the Wasteland. With all of the random ballot systems, it seems that you may have had to repair enough of these systems to allow vault residents to vote for you to become President using those ballot systems, thus giving you access to the Enclave’s Presidential suite. It seems Bethesda abandoned this quest idea somewhere along the way. This, in fact, may have been dependent on NPCs which were summarily stripped from the game. Without NPCs to help vote you in as President, there’s no way to actually play this quest… probably the reason it was left out of the game.

In addition to this abandoned quest line, there are the upper floors in the Whitespring hotel. The front desk Assaultron specifically says the hotel is still under refurbishment. This is, yet another, unfinished quest. You don’t build a hotel like Whitespring and then lock off half of the building as “unfinished”. These are self-autonomous robots. They can easily finish this refurbishment process… and should have finished it by now. This Whitespring Hotel part is simply more on top of the vaults that still remain locked. There are likely even more than this in the Wasteland (crashed Space Station with no explanation), but these are the ones that stand out.

And now…

Number 1 — Revisionism of Fallout 76

Here we come to the biggest foible of Fallout 76. Instead of fixing bugs, Bethesda has focused solely on revising Fallout 76. Instead of releasing a complete and functional game, the developers got to about a 45% finished state and Bethesda pushed it out the door. Unfortunately, when something is pushed out unfinished, it never does get finished.

What that means is that like what’s described in #2, too many long standing bugs remain. Instead of Bethesda focusing on knocking out the remaining bugs, they have instead diverted to “value added content”. More specifically, designing shit they can sell in the Atom shop… that and the addition of mostly pointless short term events that haven’t even dropped loot that they should have dropped. Because of all of this, this game hit the game market hard, garnered intensely negative criticism (and still does) and ended up as a huge miss with many Fallout fans. Bethesda, however, has been riding this storm of negativity in hopes they can somehow succeed.

Unfortunately, all of what Bethesda believes to be “better” for Fallout 76 has been merely temporary bandaids, without actually fixing much of the basic underlying problems. There are so many bugs in Fallout 76 from day one that remain unfixed, it’s a surprise the game actually even functions (and in many cases, it doesn’t).

Bethesda has even spent time towards targeting “fixes” for things which haven’t even been problems. For example, Bethesda has reduced the damage output of weapons that in previous Fallout installments have been some of the most powerful weapons in the game. What that means to Fallout 76 is that the game is so heavily nerfed (reduced) that it’s almost no fun to play. You go into Fallout to spend time looking for the best weapons and armor in the game. Since all of these “best” have been so heavily reduced in damage, they are no longer the best. They are, in fact, now some of the worst weapons in the game. For example, they have reduced the Two Shot Gauss rifle’s output damage to no better than a non-legendary shotgun.

This has forced the remaining gamers to perform even more rounds of grind, grind, grinding. Because now you blow through even more armor and ammo… meaning you now have to go repair everything every few plays (yes, even when you have the perk cards equipped).

And here’s even more unnecessary meddling… Bethesda has mucked with how well the perk cards work. Many cards claim up 60%-90% reduction of “whatever”. Yet, if you really do the math, it’s way, way less than that percentage. Sometimes, it’s more likely 10-15%. The cards lie on their face. Many perk cards don’t even function.. AT ALL. You can buy into a perk card stack, but some cards literally do nothing. When the cards do function, they function at much less than what the face value of the card says. The perk cards nearly all lie in some way. They are merely there as “feel good” helpers. Many of them don’t function as intended, if they function at all.

Much of this reduced functionality is because of Bethesda’s revisionism. Instead of leaving well enough alone with the cards, Bethesda has continually felt the need to tweak these cards silently without informing gamers of the changes they are making. The cards are not the only place where they have done this. Silently screwing with VATs seems to be yet another pastime of the Bethesda devs. Yes, Bethesda is sneaking in changes without letting anyone know. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Simply equip your Perk cards and see if they actually perform at the level they state. This all assumes that you really want to invest in this way less than mediocre game title. It’s these unnecessary changes that make this game less than stellar. It is also why this is the #1 gripe for this game.

The only thing that Bethesda’s revisionism has done for Fallout 76 is turn it into even more of a disaster than it already was. Yes, Fallout 76 is actually worse now than it was when it launched (when most of the game actually functioned as intended). Only after Bethesda began its revisionism has the game turned into junk heap. And, junk heap it is.

Bethesda continues with its revisionism in Fallout 1st (pronounced “first”), Bethesda’s monthly / yearly subscription service. You should be careful investing into this service. Considering the state of Fallout 76 today, it may not have a year of life left before Bethesda cans this game. If you’re considering purchasing a year of 1st, you may find that in 6 months, the game is shut down. How you get half of your $99 back is as yet unknown. If Fallout 76 remains in service for one more year, I’d be surprised.

Bethesda also doesn’t want to listen to what the gamers want. Instead of adding things gamers have actually requested, Bethesda has had its own agenda of questionable add-ons. Add-ons that no one has actually requested or even wanted (Distillery?). Add-ons that have added limited value back to the gamers. For example, Purveyor Murmrgh. No one wants surprise loot-crates. We want to BUY our legendary rifles already outfitted and ready to go. We want to buy legendary module add-ons so we can add legendary effects to our existing weapons and armor. We also want to be able to level our weapons up along with our player. None of this has been provided by Bethesda. All of these requests have gone unfulfilled and unanswered.

As another example of incompleteness in the game, there are 5 star slots on legendary armor and weapons. Yet, the highest amount of stars is still 3? So what gives with that? If you’re only planning to ever have 3 star weapons and armor, then remove the extra 2 unused stars as we’ll never see any 5 star weapons or armor. So many misses in this game, yet Bethesda keeps going without addressing or fixing all of these simple little problems… instead Bethesda has focused on breaking, breaking and more breaking.

The big takeaway here is be cautious with purchasing this game and be doubly cautious if you decide to purchase a 1st subscription. This game is already skating on thin ice as it is. If it lasts another year, call me surprised.

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Should I beta test Fallout 76?

Posted in best practices, botch, business, video gaming by commorancy on November 1, 2018

ps4-pro-500-million-dualshock-4-crWhile I know that beta testing for Fallout 76 is already underway, let’s explore what it means to beta test a game and whether or not you should participate.

Fallout 76

Before I get into the nitty gritty details of beta testing, let’s talk about Fallout 76. Fallout 76, like The Elder Scrolls Online before it, is a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG). Like The Elder Scrolls Online which offered an Elder Scrolls themed universe, Fallout 76 will offer a Fallout themed universe in an online landscape.

How the game ultimately releases is yet to be determine, but a beta test gives you a solid taste of how it will all work. Personally, I didn’t like The Elder Scrolls Online much. While it had the flavor and flair of an Elder Scrolls game entry, the whole thing felt hollow and unconnected to the franchise. It also meant that Bethesda spent some very valuable time building this online game when they could have been building the next installment of the Elder Scrolls.

It is as yet undetermined how these online games play into the canon of The Elder Scrolls or, in Fallout 76’s case, in the Fallout universe. Personally, I see them as offshoots with only a distant connection. For example, The Elder Scrolls Online felt Elder Scrollsy, but without the deep solid connections and stories that go with building that universe. Instead, it was merely a multiplayer playground that felt like The Elder Scrolls in theme, but everything else was just fluff. I’m deeply concerned that we’ll get this same treatment from Fallout 76.

The Problem with Online Games

Online games have, in recent years, gotten a bad rap… and for good reason. The reason that this is so is because the game developers focus on the inclusion of silly things like character emoting and taking selfies. While these are fun little inclusions, they are by no means intrinsic to the fundamental game play of an actual game.

Games should be about the story that unfolds… about why your character is there and how your character is important in that universe. When the game expands to include an online component, now it’s perhaps tens of thousands of people all on the server at the same time. So, how can each of these characters be important to that universe? The answer is, they can’t.

Having many characters all running around doing the “same” things in the universe all being told by the game that they are “the most important thing” to the survival of that universe is just ludicrous.

This leads to the “importance syndrome” which is present in any MMORPG. As a developer, you either acknowledge the importance syndrome and avoid it by producing a shallow multiplayer experience that entirely avoids player importance (i.e., Fortnite, Overwatch, Destiny, etc) or you make everyone important each in their own game (i.e., The Elder Scrolls Online). Basically, the game is either a bunch of people running around doing nothing important at all and simply trying to survive whatever match battles have been set up (boring and repetitive) or the game treats each user as if they are individually important in their own single player game, except there are a bunch of other users online, all doing the same exact thing.

The Elder Scrolls Online fell into the latter camp which made the game weird and disconnected, to say the least. It also made the game feel less like an Elder Scrolls game and more like any cheap and cheesy iPad knockoff game you can download for free… except you’ve paid $60 + DLC + online fees for it.

I’ve played other MMORPG games similar to The Elder Scrolls Online including Defiance. In fact, Defiance played so much like The Elder Scrolls Online, I could swear that Bethesda simply took Defiance’s MMORPG engine and adapted it to The Elder Scrolls Online.

Environments and Users

The secondary problem is how to deal with online users. Both in the Elder Scrolls Online and Defiance, there were areas that included player versus environment (PvE). PvE environments mean that players cannot attack other players. Only NPCs can attack your player or your character can die by the environment (i.e., falling onto spikes). There were also some areas of the online map that were player versus player (PvP). PvP means any online player can attack any other online player in any way they wish.

In The Elder Scrolls Online, the PvP area was Cyrodiil, which was unfortunate for ESO. The PvP made this territory mostly a dead zone for the game. Even though there were a few caves in the area and some exploring you could do, you simply couldn’t go dungeon diving there because as soon as you tried, some player would show up and kill your player. Yes, the NPCs and AI enemies could also show up and kill your player, but so could online players.

The difficulty with Cyrodiil was that if another player killed your player in the PvP area, that player death was treated entirely differently than if they died by the environment. If another player killed your character, you had to respawn at a fort, which would force your character to respawn perhaps half a map away from where you presently were. If your character died by the environment or another NPC, you could respawn in the same location where your character died. This different treatment in handling the character death was frustrating, to say the least.

With Fallout 76, I’m unsure how all of this will work, but it’s likely that Bethesda will adopt a similar strategy from what they learned in building The Elder Scrolls Online. This likely means both PvE areas and PvP area(s). Note that ESO only had one PvP zone, but had many PvE zones. This made questing easier in the PvE zones, but also caused the “importance syndrome”. This syndrome doesn’t exist in single player offline games, but is omnipresent in MMORPGs.

MMORPGs and Characters

The difficulty with MMORPGs is that they’re primarily just clients of a server based environment. The client might be a heavier client that includes handling rendering character and environment graphics, but it is still nonetheless a client. This means that to use an MMORPG, you must log into the server to play. When you login, your character information, bank account, level ups, weapons, armor and so on are kept on the server.

This means that you can’t save off your character information. It also means you can’t mod your game or mod your character through game mods. Online games are strict about how you can change or manage your game and your character. In fact, these systems are so strict that if a new version of the game comes out, you must first download and install the game before they’ll let you back onto the server… unlike standalone games that let you play the game even if networking components are disabled. This means that you cannot play an MMORPG until your client is most current, which could mean 50GB and hours later.

This means that you’ll need an always on Internet connection to play Fallout 76 and you’ll need to be able to handle very large client downloads (even if you own the game disc).

Beta Testing

Many game producers like to offer, particularly if it’s a server based MMORPG, the chance for players to beta test their new game. Most online games allow for this.

However, I refuse to do this for game developers. They have a team they’ve hired to beta test their environments, quests and landscapes. I just don’t see any benefit for my player to get early access to their game environment. Sometimes, characters you build and grow in a beta won’t even carry over into the released game. This means that whatever loot you have found and leveling you may have done may be lost when release day comes. For that early access, the developer will also expect you to submit bug reports. I won’t do that for them. I also don’t want to feel obligated to do so.

Bethesda stands to make millions of dollars off of this game. Yet, they’re asking me to log into their game early, potentially endure huge bugs preventing quest progress, potentially lose my character and all of its progress and also spend time submitting bug reports? Then, spend $60 to buy the game when it arrives? Then, rebuild my character again from scratch?

No, I don’t think so. I’m not about to spend $60 for the privilege of spending my time running into bugs and submitting bug reports for that game. You, the game developer, stand to make millions from this game. So, hire people to beta test it for you. Or, give beta testers free copies of the game in compensation for the work they’re doing for you.

If you’re a gamer thinking of participating in beta testing, you should think twice. Not only are you helping Bethesda to make millions of dollars, you’re not going to see a dime of that money and you’re doing that work for free. In addition, you’re still going to be expected to spend $60 + DLC costs to participate in the final released game. No, I won’t do that. If I’m doing work for you, you should pay me as a contractor. How you pay me for that work is entirely up to you, but the minimum payment should consist of a free copy of the game. You can tie that payment to work efforts if you like.

For example, for each report submitted and verified as a new bug, the beta tester will get $5 in credit towards the cost of the game up to the full price of the game. This encourages beta testers to actually submit useful bug reports (i.e., duplicates or useless reports won’t count). This also means you earn your game as you report valid and useful bugs. It also means that you won’t have to pay for the game if you create enough useful, genuine reports.

Unfortunately, none of these game developers offer such incentive programs and they simply expect gamers to do it “generously” and “out of the kindness of their hearts”. No, I’m not doing that for you for free. Pay me or I’ll wait until the game is released.

Should I Participate in Beta Tests?

As a gamer, this is why you should not participate in beta tests. Just say no to them. If enough gamers say no and fail to participate in beta releases, this will force game developers to encourage gamers to participate with incentive programs such as what I suggest above.

Unfortunately, there are far too many unwitting gamers who are more than willing to see the environment early without thinking through the ramifications of what they are doing. For all of the above reasons, this is why you should NEVER participate (and this is why I do not participate) in any high dollar game beta tests.

↩︎

 

 

 

 

Rant Time: Don’t ever wipe your network settings in iOS

Posted in Apple, best practices, botch by commorancy on July 15, 2017

I’ve been recently trying to solve a problem with T-Mobile which ended up a bust because of the absolute sheer uselessness of T-Mobile staff about the iPhone and Apple Watch features. I will write a separate rant about that entire disaster, but let me lead with this rant that’s a little more critical. Let’s explore.

Apple’s iCloud

What is this thing? It’s a way to store settings and various data in Apple’s network cloud storage. This seems like a great idea until you realize what Apple keeps ganging up into this storage area. Then, you might actually think twice about using this feature.

While you might realize that Apple iCloud service will backup your photos and other data stored on your iPhone, it also stores other things you might not realize, like your WiFi network passwords, your Safari logins and passwords and various other sensitive data. What that means is that if Apple’s iCloud is ever compromised, your passwords could be completely captured by a hacker. Depending on whether Apple has stored this data encrypted strongly or not (probably not), you may end up having to change every password you have ever typed and stored on your iPhone.

Now, while that is a security problem, that’s not the problem that this article is intended to address. Let’s continue.

Apple Geniuses Are Anything But

I was recently talking to an AppleCare staffer who, when trying to solve my T-Mobile problem, requested that I wipe my network settings on my iPhone. I explicitly asked this staffer if it would also wipe my iCloud passwords. She, of anyone on this planet, should have known the answer to this question working for Apple. Unfortunately, I have very quickly learned that Apple is now hiring the lowest grunts of the grunts who simply don’t give a shit nor do they even understand the technology they are hawking. Apple, train your staff. Which leads to …

Never, Ever EVER wipe your network settings on any iOS iCloud device

No matter how much anyone begs or pleads you to do this, tell them, “NO”. And, if anyone ever tries to do this to one of your devices sharing a single iCloud login, you need to grab the device back from them PRONTO and stop them.

The answer to my question I asked Apple is that wiping network settings on your phone does, in fact, indeed wipe all of your network settings in iCloud! Why is this important? If you have multiple devices sharing your iCloud ID and settings, after wiping a single device, all of your WiFi passwords are also wiped for ALL other iCloud devices. This means that every single iCloud device suddenly and explicitly drops its WiFi connection.

This also means you will need to go back to each device and manually re-type your WiFi password into each and every device. This is the only way for the device to log back into iCloud and relearn all of its knowledge of all newly recreated settings.

This is an absolute PAIN IN THE ASS, Apple! So, if anyone ever asks you to wipe your network settings on your iPhone or iPad participating in iCloud, don’t do it! Note that even signing out of iCloud and wiping may cause the same problem once you log it back in. So, I wouldn’t even try this knowing Apple’s crappy network designs. Simply tell the person asking, “Not only no, but hell no” and have them figure out another way to resolve whatever the problem is.

So, there you have it.

iTunes 8.1.x and Vista

Posted in Apple, botch, itunes by commorancy on April 8, 2009

[Update: 10/28/o9]

It appears that upgrading to Windows 7 and iTunes 9 resolves this entire issue with Vista and iTunes. Please see my latest Randosity article for specifics.

[End Update]

Just a quick update on the iTunes and Vista problems.  If you are experiencing troubles using iTunes on Vista, please see my updated Randosity article on how to fix iTunes installation issues.  The fix has been simplified and works easily to resolve the registry issues surrounding iTunes.

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iTunes can corrupt your iPod’s iTunes library

Posted in Apple, computers, corruption, ipod, itunes, music by commorancy on January 19, 2009

As a follow up to this Randosity article, this article will focus on a specific condition when iTunes will corrupt your iPod’s music database… over and over and over.

How it all starts

About a week ago, my iPod became unrecognized by iTunes.  Because iTunes cannot ‘recognize’ the iPod, it requests that you restore the iPod using the restore feature.  As a result of a domino effect issue, this problem became more and more compounded.  Compounded to the point that I was ready to sell the iPod to someone else and get a different solution.

What is the issue exactly?

This issue started right after the first unrecognized error.  After the iPod becomes unrecognizable (we’ll get to what that means shortly), I had to restore the iPod to actually use it again.  From that point forward, I kept having to restore it about once a day.  Mind you, this is the 8GB iPod Touch and not a 60GB iPod.  If it had been a 60GB device, I would have sold it no questions asked.  I digress.  Anyway, the restores kept getting more and more frequent.

  • So, I plug the iPod Touch into the computer’s USB port and let iTunes synchronize the touch.  The synchronize progresses normally and then ends correctly.
  • I unplug the iPod and check it out.  Yep, everything is all there.
  • I plug it in again and iTunes then syncs again.  Except, this time I noticed (or thought I noticed) iTunes synchronizing some music that was already on the iPod.  I thought it was weird, but I discounted it.
  • I unplug the iPod and check the ‘Music’ app.  I see a “There is no music loaded” message…frustrating (note this was the first time it had happened).
  • I plug the iPod back into the computer.   iTunes says, “This iPod is unrecognized, please restore it”.
  • Note that the Touch’s Apps are all still loaded and the iPod works even though iTunes won’t recognize it (and the music is missing).

What does ‘unrecognizable‘ mean exactly in the iTunes?

After poking around on the Internet about any similar type issues, I’ve found others who’ve had similar behavior on their iPods.  The base problem that prevents iTunes from ‘recognizing’ the iPod is that the iPod’s music database (iTunesDB) file has become corrupted.  Basically, when the iPod’s iTunesDB file becomes corrupted internally, iTunes refuses to recognize the device or work with it forcing the user to do complete restore (even when the unit is STILL functioning).

Restore Process

There are so many problems with this restore process, suffice it to say that Apple is in desperate need of help.  Apple has designed the iPod to work under ideal conditions (i.e., never need to restore).  However, when it comes time to restore your iPod and because they didn’t really work this all out properly, the restore process is where iTunes fails miserably.

When iTunes needs to restore the unit, it places the iPod into a special restore mode.  A mode that appears to make the unit receptive to installation of firmware (a special icon appears).  After iTunes extracts and transfers the firmware over to the iPod, the iPod reboots and installs the firmware (all the while iTunes is watching the progress).  After the unit has restored the firmware to factory defaults, iTunes allows you to try to restore from a previous backup or set it up as a new iPod.  This factory reset process can take anywhere between 10-15 minutes.

iPod Backups

iTunes only allows for one (1) stored backup of your iPod at a time.  So, if that one (1) backup that iTunes has is corrupted, you’ll waste a ton of time trying to restore only to find that the iPod is still corrupted.  So, you’ll have to start the restore completely over again and then set the iPod up as a new device (wasting even more time).  This happened to me.  I also quickly realized it was simpler (and faster) to avoid using an existing backup and just setting it up from scratch again.  Apple really needs to allow iTunes to take multiple backups in dated slots and allow these backups to be stored outside of iTunes in files.

Note, if you choose to set the iPod up from scratch, you will have to completely set up your apps again.  For example, settings like your WiFi settings, your email settings and your VPN settings will all have to be manually reconfigured.  Any apps that require login and passwords will need to be re-entered.

Restoring your settings and media

If you’ve chosen to restore your iPod’s customization settings from a backup, this process will take between 10-15 minutes to complete.  And no, as slow as this process is, it doesn’t restore music, videos or any other media.  That still has yet to be done (and comes last).  After the settings have been restored, you now have a workable (and very blank) iPod again.  So, the next thing iTunes does is sync up the applications, then the music, then everything else.   The applications will take anywhere from a few minutes to over ten minutes depending on how many apps you have downloaded.  The music restore will take whatever it takes to copy the size of your unit (about 6 gigs takes at least 15-25 minutes).  So, an 8GB iPod Touch, it takes probably 15-45 minutes depending.  If you’re restoring a fully loaded 32 or 60GB iPod, your rebuild will take a whole lot longer.

Corruption

The issue I faced, however, is that something kept corrupting the iTunesDB file on the iPod.  It was either the iPod’s hardware messing up or iTunes was shuttling something over it shouldn’t have been.  I noticed that on a particular CD the artwork kept disappearing in iTunes (it would be there and then it would show the blank icon when I know that the art previously worked).  I also noticed that iTunes would randomly transfer this music over even when it already existed on the iPod and had not been changed.  I guess it thought something changed about the music file.  Anyway, after it transferred that music, I believe this is what corrupted the iPod.  Whatever was causing the artwork to disappear must have corrupted an iTunes file which was transferred to the iPod.

Fix

The fix for this issue, that I found by trial and error, was to completely delete the entire iTunes music library, podcast library and video library and reimport it.   So, I went to the ‘Music’ area and selected everything and pressed delete.  Of course, I used ‘Keep Files’ to keep them on the disk.  I also made sure to NOT use downloaded artwork on the reimported music as I believe the downloaded artwork database is what is getting corrupted.  I don’t know why the corruption happens and the guy at the Genius Bar had also never heard of this.. so much for their Genius.  He also offered to replace the iPod Touch just in case the hardware was bad, but I don’t think it is.

Arrgh.. Apple get your ACT together!

iTunes can be a hassle to deal with, as evidenced here.  Apple needs to take a long hard look at how this all works and fix these problems. One of the ways to fix this issue is to stop marking the unit as unrecognizable when the iTunesDB is corrupted.  Instead, they should simply delete the database and rebuild it.  Better yet, they should keep a copy of the iPod’s database on the computer for restoration.  Also, if Apple allowed multiple backups stored by date on the computer, it would be far simpler to roll back to a previously KNOWN working configuration.  Because of this lack of foresight of Apple and because of the simplistic backup system Apple has implemented, this leads to a complete timewaster in restoration by trial and error.

Since there is no real fix you can do to iTunes itself to manage these limitations, I recommend that you turn off automatic synchronization so you can manually sync the iPod yourself at the time of your choosing.  I should also mention that Apple decided to turn off visibility (through a drive letter) into the iTunes library files with the iPod Touch, so you can’t even use a third party utility.  I can’t imagine having to go through this restore process on a 60GB or larger iPod.  Having to go through it 5 times in 5 days because of iTunes is ludicrous and enough to make anyone want to get away from Apple as fast as possible.  Apple, you definitely need to figure out how to deal with this issue!

ATI Radeon 3650 driver vs Vista 64: Who Wins?

Posted in computers by commorancy on December 29, 2008

After a bout of attempting to install the 12/10/08 graphics driver on my ATI Radeon 3650 on 64 bit Vista, I ran into a few glitches… well, many glitches actually.  Glitches upon glitches… I guess you could say it was a clusterbuck (replacing the b with an f).  Anyway, my system was rather messed up after the attempted installation.  Suffice it to say that the 12/10/08 release of the Catalyst driver from ATI is Borked.  It doesn’t run on the 3650 on Vista 64, so don’t even bother.  However, that was only half of my issues.

The other half of the issues consisted of how to recover from the uninstallation of the driver and recovery back to my previous driver.  Unfortunately, Microsoft has completely messed up driver installation and removal on Vista 64.  So, be WARNED if you attempt to upgrade your graphics driver under Vista 64.  Suffice it to say that here’s the short list of steps:

  • As best you can, uninstall the ATI Catalyst tool from ‘Programs and Features’.  If that fails…
  • Remove all references to ATI and ATI Technologies registry keys from HKLM and HKCU
  • Remove all ATI Technologies directories from C:\program files and C:\program files (x86)
  • Follow the instructions below to ensure Catalyst Control Manager reinstalls properly:
  1.  Check that registry locations are empty:
    •     a. HKCU/Software/ATI/ACE
    •     b. HKLM/Software/ATI/ACE
  2.  Check that (Program Files or Program Files(x86)  folder )/ATI Technologies/ATI.ACE is empty
  3.  Check (Windows folder)/Assembly folder to see if there’s any files with Public Key Token of “90ba9c70f846762e” (Sort by Public key token to get a easier view). All these tokens should be uninstalled by right clicking and uninstalling.
  4. Check that (Document and Settings)/(User)/AppData/Local/ATI/ACE is empty
  5. Reinstall CCC

Hopefully, you won’t run into the same issues I did getting Catalyst reinstalled, but if you do run into this issue with your ATI Radeon card, perhaps this will help!  Oh, and who wins?  No one does… Vista sucks for Driver issues.

Disclaimer:  If you don’t know what you’re doing in the registry, don’t go there.  If you accidentally delete something you shouldn’t, that’s your responsibility.  The registry can be a tricky place, so you are hereby warned.  Use this information at your own risk.

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iTunes 8 never installs or upgrades, requests to reboot over and over in Vista

Posted in itunes bugs by commorancy on December 15, 2008

[UPDATE: 9/15/10]

This issue is back (without the rebooting part) in iTunes 10 and Windows 7. Please see my most current post describing how to resolve this issue. Note, the information contained in the article below is here for historical value only. Please see my latest post describing how to fix the most current issue with iTunes 10 and Windows 7. -Brian

[UPDATE: 10/28/09]

As an update to this Randosity article, I have upgraded my system to Windows 7 and then installed iTunes 9.  Since making this change, I am no longer having the registry issue documented in this Randosity article. So, it may be worthwhile to upgrade your system to Windows 7 to alleviate this issue. Of course, it could be a fluke, but iTunes installed and started up without any issues on Windows 7. Before you upgrade, though, you’ll want to remove iTunes from your system, then run the upgrade to Windows 7, then reinstall iTunes 9. If you still experience registry issues with Windows 7 and iTunes 9, refer to this article for tips on what to do.

[UPDATE: 4/08/09]

Note: I’ve just found that the permissions issues resurface after the upgrade to the 8.1.1.10 version of iTunes.  If it happens to you, you will want to follow the instructions below to fix the permissions problems such as to enable the use of the itms protocol (the protocol that lets you get to iTunes URLs from your browser through the iTunes app).  Note that you may be able to uninstall iTunes and reinstall it with success.  However, I wasn’t able to do this on my system.  So, I had to utilize the instructions below.  Note also that when you use the Software Update tool under Windows that it will change the permissions back to being non-functional.  So, you will, again, need to follow the instructions below.

Note that I have simplified these instructions.

[END UPDATE}

What is this all about?

I ran into this iTunes problem on my Windows Vista 64 Home Premium installation.  If you have an iPod or an iPhone, this can be extremely frustrating.  I am also using the iTunes 64 bit version.  I spent probably 2-3 days poking around on the Internet for answers to this problem.  The answer is not as easy as one might have hoped.  This fix should work with all versions of Vista, but specifically works for Vista 64.  However, there is a solution.

So, let’s describe the problems you might encounter because of this issue:

  1. iTunes upgrades and asks you to reboot.  You reboot.  You try to start iTunes and a Windows Installer says ‘configuring’ again.  It asks you to reboot again.   You do this 2 -3 times and realize this is a dead end.  iTunes won’t start from the icon.
  2. You launch an itms, itmss or itpc protocol in your browser and the browser tells you there is no application associated with this protocol.
  3. Quicktime gives you an ActiveX error and won’t run.

There have been several proposed solutions to this issue.  The easiest being, go to your Program Files folder and create a shortcut from the iTunes.exe file to your desktop (or wherever).  While this first resolution does work and will let you play your music, it will only work to a degree.  It doesn’t fix Quicktime.  It also doesn’t fix the underlying issue and it doesn’t fix the browser launching problem described above.  For that, read on.

The Reason Behind this Issue

Feel free to skip to the The Solution below if you want to get started right away.

Windows Vista adds in much stronger security protections within Windows including Windows registry entries.  So, things tend to run as the psuedo user SYSTEM (sometimes called Local System) and also apparently some registry entries get installed as the SYSTEM user.  Note, the SYSTEM user is not an actual user.  So, you cannot log in as this user, nor can you easily use RunAs on this user.  Fret not, there is a way to get an interactive session with the SYSTEM user in Vista.  We’ll come to that under the solutions section.

With the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft has completely thwarted the idea of a superuser.  No longer is there a superuser on Windows Vista.  Because of this change, there are now permissions that can be set onto objects, things and registry entries that can even prevent Administrator (the once previous superuser) from getting access to that object within Vista.  That doesn’t mean that Administrator can’t ulimately get access to the object, it means that the initial permissions prevent it.  The superuser Administrator can still change the permissions and ownerships always, but the initial permissions prevent access.  In a truly superuser system, this should never happen.  There should always be a full superuser that always has access 100% of the time regardless of set permissions.  That’s the idea behind a superuser.   Thus, Microsoft has officially broken the Windows’ superuser.

The Broken Apple Problem

Because the superuser is now broken in Vista, there are registry entries that get placed (or replaced) as a result of Apple’s inept handling of the installation of iTunes (and probably Quicktime also).   So, entries get built with only SYSTEM user permissions.  No permissions are given to Administrator, Users or any other group or user on the system.  Because SYSTEM has such limited privileges (created specifically by MS to thwart privilege escalation exploits), the installer for iTunes (actually the Windows installer) cannot reset the broken permissions that  the initial installer created in the first place!

In other words, let’s say you’re logged in as your account named ‘beaners’.  The account ‘beaners’ is not allow access to read objects that are created by the SYSTEM user (where this object has no other permissions set).  Since your ‘beaners’ account doesn’t have permissions to SYSTEM created objects, your account gets ‘Access Denied’.  That would be fine if the object were intentionally supposed to be set this way.  However, because of Apple’s ineptness, the iTunes registry entries get set up this way.  So, your ‘beaners’ account again gets ‘Access Denied’ to these registry entries.  This breaks iTunes and is probably not what Apple intended.  In fact, the permissions for these registry entries should have been set so that all users have full control over these registry entries.  Yes, there is a Users group that includes all users of Windows.

This is a fairly serious and stupid mistake by Apple.

The Solution

As of 4/08/09, I have found that the reason the script didn’t work for me initially wasn’t related the administrator account.  Instead, it was the script itself being incomplete.  I have, therefore, included a lot more registry fixes for mostly iTunes, but it also includes many Quicktime registry entries.  Because of the fixed script, I am able to present a far easier methodology to get iTunes working.  As a result of fixing this script to work better, I was able to reduce this article down to only a few steps.

Actually, the solution relies on a script that ultimately resets the permissions on the iTunes and Quicktime registry entries to give Administrator and Users (the group described above) access to all of these entries.  The script must run as Administrator to be successful.  Therefore, you will need to use the ‘Run as administrator’ feature on the script.  This fix will not succeed if the script isn’t running as Administrator.

To proceed with this fix, you will need the following things:

  • Subinacl: Download ‘subinacl.exe’ from Microsoft here.
  • Reset.cmd: You can download the script from here.

Find your script where you downloaded it.  Make sure that subinacl.exe is in your path or place this subinacl.exe in the same directory with the script.  Next, right-click the reset.cmd file and choose ‘Run as administrator’ (see image below):

Run reset.cmd as Administrator

Run reset.cmd as Administrator

Once you run it as Administrator, it will open a command shell.  You may see the security warning below:

Security Warning

Security Warning

If you see the security warning, it is just asking you to confirm that this is what you really want to do.  Click the ‘Run’ button to run reset.cmd script.  Once it runs, it will open a command shell:

Command Shell Running Reset.cmd

Command Shell Running Reset.cmd

Press any key to begin the repair or close the window to abort.  If you want to see what the Reset.cmd command does before you run it, open it in Notepad.  You will see that it simply modifies the permissions on the registry keys associated with Quicktime and iTunes to allow Everyone to access these registry keys.  Once this task is completed, your iTunes will be repaired and functional.

Good luck and let me know if you have questions or if you have a success story.

Disclaimer:  You are responsible for your use of this information.  This information is provided as-is with no warranty expressed or implied.  Use the above information at your own risk.  You should always make system restore points or backups before making registry changes so you can restore your system in the event of unexpected problems.

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