Random Thoughts – Randocity!

The Curious Case of Fallout 76: What went wrong?

Posted in botch, ethics, fail, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on April 16, 2019

NukaColaPA-f[Updated: May 17, 2019 for Battle Royale Mode]

I’ve already written plenty about Fallout 76. So, this one is likely to be my last about this disaster of a video game. In this article, I intend to detail all of what went wrong (and is still going wrong) with this game and why it’s such a critical failure. Let’s explore.

Fallout History

Fallout is a series about a post-apocalyptic landscape that has been ravaged by nuclear war. Because the Vault-Tec corporation (a company within this universe) saw the coming of the nuclear war, they built vaults to house the best and the brightest to bring about a new future after the devastation had cleared. We won’t get into just how Vault-Tec’s foreseeing (and building the vaults prior to the) the nuclear war makes Vault-Tec appear complicit in the nuclear war itself.

Anyway, the vaults became a safe haven for limited residents (who paid dearly to Vault-Tec, I might add) for entry into a vault. Because there were so few vaults and so few spots in a vault itself, many people did not get a coveted spot in a vault even though they had enough money to pay their way into one. There were many who were left out. I digress at this backstory and Vault-Tec’s possible collusion in the war.

Suffice it to say, the vault is the place where pretty much every Fallout game begins including Fallout 3, Fallout 4 and Fallout 76.

Once each of these games opens, you are forced to make your way out of the vault into a hostile, treacherous, dangerous, nuclear fallout-laced landscape (without a weapon, food or protection). You are forced to forage and eat irradiated foods. You must live in disease ridden conditions, at least until you can create your own clean space. You must find or build your own weapons. There’s always something or someone after you. Many creatures have even mutated into giant versions of their former tiny selves.

Once outside, you find that survivors have grouped themselves into factions for safety including such old favorite factions as the Brotherhood of Steel, the Raiders, the Enclave, the Railroad and so on. In Fallout 76, there are seven (7) factions including the Enclave, the Brotherhood of Steel, the Responders, the Raiders, the Free States, the Whitespring, and the Independents.

Unfortunately, because the factions in Fallout 76 consist entirely of stationary Protectron or MODUS robot vendors, there’s no “joining” a faction in this game. Though, you can follow in the footsteps of the former now-dead faction members and gain access to faction facilities by finishing up uncompleted quests for left-behind robot computers.

So, exactly how did Bethesda get Fallout 76 so wrong? Here we go…

Game Design

Video games are about having fun in a fantasy landscape. It’s about taking off your IRL hat and putting on a fantasy world hat to relax, play with friends and generally do things in a game you can’t do in real life. Let’s begin to understand what led to this disaster.

=> Lack of NPCs

Going into a Fallout game, you sort of expect certain things to exist. Certain things that have come to exist in every prior game in the Fallout franchise. You know, those pesky things called non-player characters or NPCs for short.

NPCs have been a staple in every Bethesda RPG up until the release of Fallout 76. Let’s add a bullet point (and this one is a major point), that one of the biggest reasons that Fallout 76 fails is due to the lack of NPCs.

NPCs are one of the primary reasons people go into the purchase of a Bethesda role playing game (RPG). Without NPCs, the game is entirely barren and lifeless. Fallout 76 proves this out. One might even say, the entire game is soulless. Part of what makes a Bethesda RPG interesting to play is that you feel something for the folks who have been put into this untimely and hazardous situation. Without people there to feel for, there’s no emotional tie to the game. Fallout 76 is as soulless of a game as has ever been made. The only other game to have this same problem is No Man’s Sky… except we knew going into the purchase of No Man’s Sky that there would be no NPCs.

With Bethesda’s past track record, we simply had no idea that Fallout 76 wouldn’t have NPCs until we cracked open the shrink wrap.

=> Short and Few Main Quests

One other thing Bethesda is known for is making lengthy games. Games that, if you work through them as intended, might take you 3-4 months to complete. Granted, that may include participating in a few side quests, but even the main quests will take you at least month or better to get through.

With Fallout 76, you can blaze through the main quests (all 22 of them) in less than a month and be stuck at endgame content.

In fact, there are more side quests in Fallout 76 than there are main quests. Even then, the main quests are far too short.

=> Multiplayer vs Solitary Quest Completion

Bethesda had hoped that its idea of having 24 players in one of its “World Servers” would be a great way to get players to interact with one another (and create story). Gamers don’t “create” story, they “consume” it. Todd Howard got this idea entirely wrong. In reality, what that ends up is just the opposite. Few players actually want to co-op with other players and instead you end up with a bunch of loners all running around the world doing their own thing (or griefing one another). After all, each player can only complete their own quests, anyway.

Because each person must complete their quests on their own, having a teammate doesn’t really do you much good. It can help in combat situations where you’re ganged up by lots of creatures, but that’s about it.

The solitary nature of quest completion runs entirely counter to the notion of getting 24 players together on a server as a whole. It just doesn’t work.

As a follow on to this problem, the lack of NPCs makes completing quests boring, repetitive and tedious. Reading computer terminals, listening to holotape recordings and reading notes is not what players want to be doing in an RPG. These are non-interactive media. It’s just lore being told to us by a long dead character. A character that we have no reason to even trust is telling us the truth. We’ve never met them and never interacted with them. We have no idea if what they want us to do is in any way necessary. Are they leading us into a trap or is what they’re directing us to do useful?

The secondary problem is that all of these holotapes and notes and so on are optimally placed so as to be found. It’s as though these dead folks were expecting us to come along and read and listen and do. It’s all too convenient and handy. It’s as though it was all planned out by something or someone in that world. Yet no “world designer” has ever come forth. It only ends up making this lore more trite and contrived.

If this is supposed to be a treacherous, dangerous environment, finding these people and their situations would be much harder than it is. Ultimately, the setups are as convenient as they are boring and repetitive.

=> No Effect on the World

At the end of completing the quest for lore, you find that nothing in the world actually changes. All of the running around. All of the collecting. All of the fetch quests. All of it is for naught. You do get lore around the Scorched, but in the end the world remains unaffected. The Scorched do not disappear. The Scorchbeasts still appear from their fissure sites. Even the Scorchbeast Queen still spawns if someone conveniently launches a nuke over Fissure Prime.

If you’re going to spend hours traipsing through the wasteland, fetching and fighting and doing and consuming, you would think that the world would be a better place in the end. In Fallout 76, the world doesn’t change. It doesn’t become a better place. It doesn’t get built.

The 24 vault dwellers released from Vault 76 were destined to rebuild Appalachia. Instead, these 24 “players” simply become loners who build their own camps, don’t bring about change and don’t in any way make Appalachia a better place. The game worlds remain entirely status quo at the end of the quests. So, what’s the point then?

=> 24 Random Players

As mentioned just above, gathering 24 random video gamers together on a server isn’t going to lead to anything useful. Real video game players don’t (and can’t) make a game. Players can only interact with the environment. The fun must be had by what the designers design, not by interacting with 23 other live players.

This was a total miscalculation by Todd Howard. Any video game designer thinking you can rely on other video gamers to help make your game work, think again. Fallout 76 is the prime example of how this thinking entirely fails you.

As a designer, you must take the time to build fun and interactive activities for each and every person who joins your game world. Again, you can’t rely on other players for this “fun”. Player versus player (PVP) activities only go so far and even then many folks don’t want to participate in PVP. You can’t rely solely on PVP to carry an RPG game.

If you’re trying to carry a game using PVP activities, then you need to design a Brawlhalla, Apex Legends or Fortnite kind of game and skip the RPG portions. Just keep it simple and straightforward for PVP and leave out the RPG elements that simply get in the way of that design. If your game is PVP, then make it PVP. If your game is an RPG, make it an RPG. Don’t try to try to marry an RPG into some PVP thing or you’ll end up with something like Fallout 76 which just doesn’t quite work.

=> Bugs and Code Management

Bethesda has unofficially become known as Bugthesda. After Fallout 76, this moniker is given for good reason. Fallout 76 is exactly the poster child of everything wrong with Bethesda’s ability to code games. For Fallout 76, each update has taken one step forward and made at least two steps back, many times reintroducing old bugs.

There’s a serious problem at Bugthesda with their ability to code this game. I’ve personally witnessed bugs that were squashed two releases ago reintroduced to a later release. In the coding profession, this is called a ‘regression’. Regressions are typically frowned upon heavily. No one wants to see old bugs reintroduced into new versions. If you squash a bug once, it should stay squashed and gone.

Good code management practices should see to that. This means that using industry standard code management practices should prevent regressions. If you check in code to a repository which fixes a bug, that code fix should eventually make its way back into the “main” branch. Once in the “main” branch, that bug should never see the light of day again. This clearly means that Bethesda is likely not using standard code management practices.

For teams not using standard team code management and storage practices, like Git, then it’s easy to grab old code and reintroduce bugs because there’s not a single place to store that code. That’s the worst of all disasters. Not having a standard code management system in place is nearly always the death of a project (and product). Your product can’t sustain heavy regressions and expect people to come back for second helpings. Eventually, people walk away because they know they can’t trust your code to work.

When bugs appear, disappear and reappear over and over, trust in your ability to code a functional product disappears. Trust is the most important thing you have as a software engineer. Once you blow that trust, it’s all over.

=> Limited World Events

With a game so heavily entrenched in a 24 multiplayer world, you would have thought Bethesda would have given us many intriguing world events for multiple players to gather around, combat and defeat. You might think that, but you’d be wrong.

Out of the gate, Bethesda offers exactly one big world event in Fallout 76. That event being the Scorchbeast Queen event.

The problem with this event is that it entirely relies on other players to spend a significant portion of time traversing through a silo site fighting tons of robots and dealing with broken computers to launch a nuke into the world. Even worse, it requires the player to have not only fought their way through a silo site, but they must have also caught and fought a Cargobot to get a missile launch keycard. They also must have gone through the Enclave quest line to become a General in the Enclave, which requires killing at least 10 Scorchbeasts. It’s an involved and grindy quest line just to get to point where you can even launch a nuke.

Instead of these largest world events simply spawning on a timer, you have to wait until a player decides to launch a nuke on their own. Lately, this has been few and far between because with each release, Bethesda makes it more and more difficult to launch a nuke. This ultimately means that the biggest world event in Fallout 76 almost never happens.

That’s not to say there aren’t other world events. There are, but they are no where as big as the Scorchbeast Queen event. Events like “Path to Enlightenment”, “The Messenger” and “Feed the People”. However, these events are small potatoes by comparison. The Scorchbeast Queen event requires multiple people all doing as much damage as possible to bring down the queen in 20 minutes. With “Feed the People”, one person can easily do this quest and, subsequently, the loot drop at the end is piddly and low-level garbage. The queen’s loot drops are nearly always worth the time and are typically high level drops.

If you’re promising an engaging multiplayer world, you need to deliver on that promise. Relying on other players to trigger the biggest world events, now that’s a huge mistake. Instead, the biggest world events should trigger randomly without player involvement. Let the small events be triggered by players. Let the biggest world events be triggered by timer. It’s fine if a player can trigger a big world event, but don’t rely on that method for the largest events to be triggered. If no player triggers the event within a specified period of time, then trigger it on a timer. But, don’t leave the game barren of these large world events simply because players aren’t interested in spending the time to launch a nuke at that exact location.

=> Even more Grindy

One of the the things that Bethesda doesn’t seem to get is grinding. No one wants to spend the majority of their time online fighting the same creatures over and over simply to level up. Worse, when you do level up in Fallout 76, it’s all for naught. The creatures cap out at about level 68. Yet, even if you get to level 180, that level 68 creature can still kick your level 180 butt.

This is is not how level systems are supposed to work. The game arbitrarily caps your SPECIAL stats at level 50. Effectively after level 50, you’re still level 50 even if your level indicator says your level is 142. This means that you can’t even level up past the highest leveled creatures in the game.

At level 142, I should be able to one shot nearly any creature in the game that’s level 68 or below. Unfortunately, creatures have two levels in this game. There’s the level number (i.e., 68) and then there’s the HP bar. The HP bar is actually the creature’s real level. Some creatures might have 200 HP, where a Scorchbeast Queen might have between 3000 and 50000 HP (even though its level is labeled 50 or 63 or 68). Worse, when you approach this creature, you won’t know how much HP it has until you begin firing on it. Even then, it’s only a guess based on how fast its health is dropping.

This means to beat some creatures in the game, you can easily spend hours grinding and grinding and more grinding. Fallout 76 is, in fact, one big ugly grinding mess. With all of the fiddling and nerfing (aka “balancing”) that Bethesda has been recently performing, grinding is getting even worse, forcing you to spend even more time at it. Bethesda is going to nerf themselves out of a game.

=> Collision Detection, Guns and Bullets

The weapons in Fallout 76 are probably some of the worst in a Fallout game I’ve experienced. Worst yes, but not in the way you might be thinking. It’s worst in a way that makes you cringe. The guns regularly miss enemies even when aiming directly at them using a scope. This is strictly bad collision detection. The game simply can’t seem to recognize when a shot has connected with an enemy.

Bad collision detection is ultimately the death of a shooter. If your game is intended to be a shooter, the one thing it better be able to do is shoot and connect. If it can’t even do this most basic thing, the game is lost. Games with guns need to “just work”. Failing to accomplish this most basic thing should have left this game in development. You can’t release a shooter and not actually have the gun mechanisms work.

But, here we are. The game barely even functions as a workable shooter. There are even times where guns fail to fire even when the trigger is pulled and released. Indeed, there are times when button presses aren’t even registered in the game… requiring the gamer to press twice and three times consecutively to get the game to recognize the press… and wasting precious time. If you had the perfect shot, but the game ignored your press, you’ve lost that opportunity and you have to wait for it to come around again.

This is one of, if not THE, most frustrating thing(s) about Fallout 76. When guns don’t work,  your shooter is broken. This means you should focus on fixing the fundamentals in the game before branching out to downloadable content (DLC).

=> DLC too early

Instead of fixing the never ending array of existing bugs from when the game was launched, Bethesda has mistakenly pushed their teams to create new DLC and add-on quests.

While I won’t get into these half-baked, half-designed DLC add-ons, suffice it to say that the developer team’s time would have been better spent fixing the existing fundamental flaws than releasing under-designed unfun DLC.

I ask you, if the game can’t even get the basics down as a shooter, how can it possibly be good with new DLC? The answer is, it can’t. And, this is why Fallout 76 continues to fail.

=> Players Find the Fun

Because Fallout 76’s quests ended up more grindy than fun, many gamers had to resort to finding their fun using alternative means. What ended up happening was that players went looking for (and found) loopholes in the software. When code is poorly written and released untested, it’s going to be chock full of bugs… and that’s Fallout 76 in a nutshell.

Gamers found ways to dupe and sell their duped items. This was one of the primary ways gamers found their own fun. Not in the quests. Not in the combat. Not in the nukes. They found their fun working around the bugs and making, selling and trading loot. Another way was breaking into closed off dungeons like Vault 94, Vault 96 and even the now-legendary “Dev Room”. Players found their fun outside of Bethesda’s design. Fun that couldn’t be had through the mediocre quests, the crappy storytelling system, the horrible combat system and the problematic collision detection.

This whole activity seems to have come to the surprise of Bethesda. It was as if they couldn’t have foreseen this problem. It happened early on in The Elder Scrolls Online, too. Why wouldn’t it happen to a half-baked game like Fallout 76? It did.

=> Half-Baked Patching

Because every Fallout 76 release Bethesda has sent out has only marginally improved tiny parts of the overall game, the game is still very much of the hot mess that it was when it was released at the tail end of November 2018. It’s now the middle of April 2019 when this article is being written and very little has actually changed.

Sure, they added a distillery as a DLC that produces some of the most useless liquor in the game. The Pre-War liquor is still the best free liquor in the game (and offers the best benefits) and you don’t even need to use a distillery or waste precious crops to get it. The new liquors not only are not covered by the existing perk card system, each of those liquors have heavy downsides. The distiller also doesn’t support the Super Duper perk card to create extra dupes when crafting liquor, unlike every other crafting table. As an example of how bad the new liquors are, Hard Lemonade gives a huge boost to AP regeneration, but at the cost of 1 minute of negative AP regeneration as the “Hangover”. Rad Ant Lager gives +50 carry weight (yay) at the cost of -50 carry weight during the 1 minute hangover (boo). Extremely sub-optimal when in combat situations.

Nukashine fares even worse. Not only is the effect of this liquor pointless (increases unarmed damage), during the “Hangover” you black out and end up in some random place on the map. Making a Nukashine is simply a waste of a Nuka-Cola nuka quantumQuantum (which these drinks can be difficult to find in the world even at the best of times). On top of the pointlessness of this liquor, selling Nukashine to a vendor yields basically no caps (the currency in Fallout). In fact, making a Nuka-Cola grenade is a much better use of a Nuka-Cola Quantum than Nukashine will ever be. I wasn’t really going to talk about the added DLC much, but I felt the sheer crappiness of this one need to be discussed to show how pointless it all really is. The rest of the DLC doesn’t fare much better than the distiller.

If you’re going to give us a distiller, then at least set it up so that the stuff we make has some value to vendors, gives us much better perks than what’s already in the game and is covered by our existing perk cards. If you’re not going to do this, then why bother creating it? That’s why I consider this DLC half-baked. No perk card coverage. No outstanding new liquors. No value to the new liquors. So tell us, exactly why we should find this fun?

=> Player Bans

While Bethesda calls them a “suspension”, it’s actually a ban. A suspension lasts 1-7 days at most. A ban last months. So far, because gamers ended up using the bugs in the game to find their own fun, Bethesda has penalized many of these gamers by suspending them for sometimes unproveable reasons. What that means is that Bethesda did some digging and found that some gamers had accrued “too many” items in their inventory.

Let’s understand that the original release of the game allowed infinite carrying capacity. You simply became overencumbered when you went over your natural carry limit. This meant that you had to use AP to walk around. When AP ran out, you had to stop and wait for the AP to regenerate or you walked even more slowly. This was the original design BY Bethesda.

After the whole duping scandal erupted, Bethesda blamed the gamers and not themselves for the problems in Fallout 76. The bugs are entirely there by Bethesda. That gamers exploited the bugs, bad on you Bethesda. You should have better tested the quality of your game. Testing is on you, Bethesda… not the gamers. If you failed to test your product, then it’s on you when bad things happen.

If you didn’t want gamers to carry infinite items, then you should have released the game with a carry limit cap. That you didn’t do this initially was a miss on your part. Anyone could see that was a vector for abuse. Waiting for it to be abused, then blaming the abuse on the gamer is entirely disingenuous and insincere. Blame yourself for the bugs, not the gamers.

=> Most Recent Update

As of the latest “Wild Appalachia” update, the game is still very much of a mess. It still crashes regularly, sometimes the entire client crashes back to the dashboard. Sometimes the game won’t load in. Sometimes the character load-in is extremely laggy, stuttery and problematic. If you do manage to get your character loaded in, the shooter basics still don’t work. You can manually aim dead onto enemies and the gun will entirely miss (several times in a row). So, you resort to VATS. VATS sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. You can be literally inches from an enemy and VATS will show a 0% chance of hitting. Yes, it’s STILL that bad.

Nuking on servers can make them highly unstable, particularly in the nuked region. If you enter a nuked region, you can expect the game’s frame rate to drop to about 10-15 frames per second… and I’m not joking. There are other places in the game where this frame rate issue is a problem. For example, when you’re in camp and trying to construct in the workshop menu.

There are many spots in the game where the frame rate can drop to practically nothing. These problems should have been worked out months ago. Yet, instead of fixing these absolute game engine basics, Bethesda has its devs off creating half-baked DLC to try to rake in new revenue.

Unfortunately, with every patch, Bethesda’s devs add back in regressions removed two or three patches ago. It’s been a never ending cycle of one step forward and two (sometimes three) steps backward. The world never gets better.

=> End Game

Every game has a problem with end game fun. Unfortunately, Fallout 76’s end game starts the moment you first login. The whole game is end game. There’s not a beginning to this game, so how can there be an end? Even once you do complete all of the main and side quests, there’s even less to continue doing in this world.

I do understand the reason for the DLC… to try and bring back old players. But, that’s going to be difficult considering you banned a very large number of them from the game. The few that weren’t banned aren’t going to come back simply because you put a crappy distiller in the game or that you created a 7 day long festival and forgot to actually give out the most desirable masks. They’re certainly not going to come back to grind for Atom to buy the useless (and expensive) Atom Shop items.

Ongoing Disaster (Battle Royale)

Here’s the part where I talk about DLC. As Bethesda continues to add questionable new game modes to Fallout 76, I have to wonder what’s going on over there. First, Bethesda adds the ‘Survival Mode’ server to its list of game play engines. This server basically enables PVP right from your character’s load-in. When you join ‘Survival Mode’, if you encounter another player, your character is pretty much dead. I’m uncertain the impetus behind adding this game mode other than to segregate PVP from the ‘Adventure Mode’ servers and put it into a different server. Yet, this segregation is not yet over.

Because Bethesda has been feeling the pinch from Battle Royale games like Fortnite and Apex Legends, Bethesda seems to feel left out. After introducing ‘Survival Mode’, Bethesda next introduces a new ‘Battle Royale’ game mode. Instead of trying to design a new Battle Royale game using an engine actually designed for that kind of game play, which would actually make the most sense, they instead grab the source code for Fallout 76‘s server and they wedge a Battle Royale mode into Fallout’s less than stellar game and combat engine.

Both of these game modes are questionable in and of themselves. For example, how do either of these game modes progress the Fallout story in any way? They don’t. The ‘Survival Mode’ server is designed to simply make the game more difficult. Instead, what it makes the game is pointless. You can’t quest, you can’t follow quest lines, you can’t even play normally…. for fear of losing not only all of your junk, but part of your aid.

With Battle Royale, there’s no point for its existence in the Fallout franchise. There’s not even a story basis for it to exist. Worse, it’s not even close to competing with games like Apex Legends or Fortnite. In fact, a battle royale mode would make a whole lot more sense to exist in The Elder Scrolls than in Fallout. Sure, Fallout is about gun fights, but it’s not about this silly and unnecessary concept being forced into the Fallout universe… a universe where battle royale actually makes no sense at all. The Elder Scrolls at least had an ‘Arena’ where a battle royale could feasibly take place within the story’s narrative… and make sense in the context of the larger Elder Scrolls story arc. Fallout has never had such a “battle” concept in its franchise. Adding this in now simply makes zero Fallout story sense, but makes sense only if Bethesda is trying to “cash in”.

Sure, Fallout survivors might need to do things to amuse themselves in a toxic nuclear wasteland… but, would they actually play in a Battle Royale themselves? No, I don’t think so. Bethesda is now adding stuff that’s so out entirely of character for the Fallout universe, they’re just adding stuff to “keep up with the Jones’s” instead of because it makes sense for Fallout. If you want to trash your franchise, this is a good way to go about it.

Let me also say that the implementation of Fallout 76’s Battle Royale mode is entirely trash and illogical to boot. You’re trapped in an ever condensing ring of fire. A ring of fire that actually makes no sense when you’re supposed to be tasked with rebuilding Appalachia. As contestants continue to kill one another (and the ring condenses to a tiny circle around them), the last man standing is the person who “wins”. In fact, the “winner” actually loses, because the condensing ring of fire would actually end up killing everybody. This is how logically stupid this concept really is. Effectively, it’s not really even Battle Royale, it’s a “Last Man Standing” game. I’ve also seen much better “Last Man Standing” multiplayer games.

If Bethesda wants to create DLC that’s in keeping within the Fallout universe, then they should tie these new game modes in with the existing lore that they spent all of that time creating. For example, how about implementing multiplayer dog fights? Or, how about actually using the ‘Animal Friend’ and/or ‘Wasteland Whisperer’ perk cards to tame beasts that can be used in a multiplayer arena? This would require the player to spend the time to locate and tame a beast (and level it up and equip it) for use in the arena. That kind of mode makes a lot of story sense… and makes sense to wrap new lore around all of this.

Since the world is dangerous and treacherous, use the existing lore as the basis for creating unique new multiplayer challenges. Don’t just grab the first unoriginal idea to come along (e.g., Fortnite) and slap it into a world server. You know, spend time actually putting some amount of thought and effort into tying the existing lore into the new multiplayer game modes. Give them a basis to exist in the universe. Don’t add game modes because you CAN… do it because it both makes actual sense, is logical and is entirely in keeping with the Fallout universe lore.

Overall

The game is STILL a very hot beta mess offering a poorly written, badly conceived and boring storytelling system utilizing no NPCs. The combat system is the worst system I’ve encountered in a top tier game developer’s title. No joke. It is the absolute worst. Even the patching hasn’t improved it. If anything, it’s actually gotten worse.

There are times where button presses are entirely unresponsive. You might have to press the button two or three times rapidly to get the game to register even one press. You might be trying to pick up something, trying to fire your weapon, trying to search a container or it might manifest in any other number of ways. Unreliable button presses are the death of a game that so heavily relies on real time play value.

No amount of patching or DLC will solve these basic fundamental engine problems. To solve the storytelling problem, you need to add NPCs to the game.. which would require redesigning the game from scratch. To solve the combat problem, you need to redesign the combat system from the ground up using a practical engine actually designed for real-time online use.

You can’t take a 20 year old offline game engine and attempt to patch it for an online use. Doing so will produce exactly the problems found in Fallout 76. Fallout 76 needed a game engine designed entirely for online play. Designed for real-time combat. Designed for real-time activities. Designed for responsive button presses.

Unfortunately, what we got was a crapfest of epic proportions that Bethesda will neither acknowledge nor comment on. If this is Bethesda’s new game development norm, I won’t be investing in any more Bethesda games. It’s just not worth paying $60 (or more) to be an alpha tester for a game written on old technology that isn’t up to the task.

In short, Fallout 76 is STILL an immense hot mess that has not at all improved since its November launch.

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Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2

Posted in botch, video gaming by commorancy on October 27, 2018

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I was so wanting to like Red Dead Redemption 2 right out of the gate. For Rockstar, this game’s lengthy intro and dragging pace is a total misfire. Let’s explore.

A Horrible, Horrible Intro

The whole slow snow covered mountain terrain opening is an incredible fail for a game series like Red Dead Redemption. It’s so slow as hell and rail based that I just want to toss the disc in the trash. This insipid opening doesn’t inspire me to want to “wait it out” for the “rest” of this game. All I desperately want to do is skip this opening and get through it as fast as possible. Really, why does it require 3 hours to teach me to ride a horse, shoot a gun and fire a bow? Unfortunately, not only is it unskippable, it’s ….

Slow, Slow, S L O W

Red Dead Redemption 2_20181027022716

When following the rail based opening “stories”, even when you do manage to follow the correct path (a feat in and of itself), it’s entirely far too slow of a pace. I could run to the kitchen and make a sandwich in the time it takes to get from point A to B in this game.

The horses run like they’re drugged. Even worse is the forced stamina meter on horses. This isn’t a simulation, it’s an RPG style “Old West” game. We don’t want to water and feed our horses so they can run fast. Then, have to stop and feed them again when they run out of “energy”. That’s akin to making us fill our GTA5 cars up with gas at in-game gas stations. Thankfully, they didn’t make us endure that stupidity in GTA5. Unfortunately, that stupidity is included in RDR2. We also don’t want our horses to run out of energy while running at full gallop. A stupid concept made stupider by the mere inclusion of it in this game.

The game seems like it’s running in slow motion. I’m not sure what’s going on here or why R thought this opening play style would be okay, but it isn’t. At least with GTA, when you got in a car, it was fast. Here, everything moves at a snail’s pace and the rail based gang quests are sheer torture. I just want this part to be over so I can finally get to the meat of the game.

R, let us skip these insanely boring, long and insipid intros. I don’t want to endure this crap. This opening is a horrible misfire for a game in a franchise like Red Dead Redemption. It’s fine if a tutorial opening takes 15-20 minutes. But, when an opening takes 2 hours or more to get past, it’s entirely WAY TOO LONG. Cut it down… seriously.

Failed Intro Setup

I understand what Rockstar was trying to do with this opening. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. It’s fine to see the gang camaraderie being built, but it doesn’t take 2+ hours and snail’s pacing to do it. This dragged-out opening is a horribly unnecessary.

I realize the opening of any game is typically tutorial city, but let me skip most of it. I don’t want to be told how to open a cabinet or how to sit down. I can figure this out on my own. Just show me the screen icon and let me do the rest. I don’t need little black boxes appearing in the corner telling me how to do the most simplistic things. It’s like Rockstar thinks we’ve never ever played a video game in our entire lives. Shit, it’s RDR 2 for crisake. It’s a sequel. We’ve likely already played RDR. I have.

Condescending treatment to gamers by hand-holding even the most basic of actions is as torturous as this far-too-slow-paced intro. Whoever greenlit this intro should be removed from producing future video games. Just get to the game already, Rockstar!


Camera

Batter Batter Batter… swing and miss. And, what a miss this one is for R! Let me start this section by saying there is no “photo mode” at all in this game. Instead, you have to obtain an “old timey” camera from some hack who’s in a bar. Then, you have to equip it from your satchel. Only after you obtain and equip this camera can you actually take pictures in-game. Uh, no. I realize this is supposed to be some kind of immersion tactic, but having characters take photos for quests with an in-game camera should be entirely separate from having a photo mode built into the game for player use and sharing. A photo mode should be available from the moment the first gameplay begins. It shouldn’t be something that’s “found or earned” later in the game.

Rockstar again swung and missed on this one. Rockstar, next time, just add a photo mode into the game as part of the UI for the player to use from the start. If the player character needs a camera to take pictures for a quest, just make it disposable and disappear after the quest is completed.

The reason for having a photo mode is so you can add features like exposure, filters and get bird’s-eye views of the environment. Limiting the photos to the perspective of the character holding the camera is stupid and wasteful. We want to use an actual photo mode, not a character acquired and limited camera.

Lighting and Graphics

I was actually expecting a whole lot more from the RAGE engine here. While Grand Theft Auto wasn’t perfect in rendering realism and didn’t always offer the most realistic results, the lighting did offer realistic moments, particularly with certain cars and with certain building structures under certain daylight lighting conditions. With Red Dead Redemption 2, I was actually expecting at least some improvement in the RAGE engine for 4K rendering. Nope. It seems that Rockstar simply grabbed the same engine used in GTA and plopped it right into Red Dead Redemption 2.

So far with Red Dead Redemption 2, I’m entirely underwhelmed with the indoor lighting model being used. “Wow” is all I can say, and that’s not “wow” in a good way. I am not only underwhelmed by the realism of the character models themselves, but of how the lighting falls on the character models. When a character opens his/her mouth, the teeth read as a child’s attempt at a drawing. It’s bad. B.A.D! Let’s take a look at RAGE’s poor quality indoor lighting:

The wood looks flat and dull. The clothing looks flat and dull. Metal doesn’t look like metal. Glass doesn’t look like glass. The faces just don’t read as skin. The skin on the characters looks shiny and plastic and, at the same time, flat and dull. The teeth look like a child’s drawing. Part of this is poor quality lighting, but part of it is poor quality models and textures. The three main character models in GTA5 (Michael de Santa, Trevor Philips and Franklin Clinton) looked way better than this, likely using the same RAGE engine. The RAGE engine is not aging well at all. Even the “sunlight rays” here look forced and unrealistic. This game looks like something I would have expected to see in 2004, not 2018. Let’s compare this to Ubisoft’s AnvilNext engine which is night and day different:

Wow! What a difference… (click to read Randocity’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey review)

Screenshots vs Camera

And speaking of teeth… trying to get these Red Dead Redemption 2 screenshots is like pulling teeth. I have to attempt to position the gameplay camera just so. I can’t use the “Old Timey” camera for the above in-game shots as there’s no way to get that “Camera” into the proper position using the player character. Using the actual gameplay camera is always hit or miss. If the camera moves a little bit too far or too close to a figure, it pops over the character and you can’t see them.

The point to adding a photo mode is positioning the camera exactly where you want it, to get the best shot. It also allows you to use depth of field. I can’t do that in Red Dead 2 and I’m limited to playing tricks with the camera placement and hope it turns up with a shot using the PS4’s share button. Not to mention, I have to spend time running to the menu to turn off HUD elements (the reason the map and the money is visible in one of the RDR2 screenshots).

R⭑ , get with the program. It’s time to add a real photo mode to RAGE… a photo mode that offers so much more than the player character holding and using an “old timey” camera. It’s fine if the character needs an in-game camera for quest reasons, but it’s time for a real photo mode… which is how I captured all of these Assassin’s Creed Odyssey screenshots above. I should also point out the reason for having photo mode in a game is for the game player, not for the benefit of the in-game character. Adding a photo mode means you’re thinking of the gamer and how they want to use the game to capture and share their gameplay. By not including a photo mode and having such poor quality graphics, it shows that R‘s interest is more in making money and not in advancing their RAGE technology to provide a next gen quality experience.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a huge step backwards for realism in video games.


Meat of the Game

I’m finally past the torturous intro and I’m sad to say that the game itself is absolutely nothing like Red Dead Redemption. Red Dead Redemption was open prairies, tumbleweed and Arizona-like environments. These environments worked tremendously well for “The Old West”. This game is lush green valleys with trees, forests and streams. It’s not so great to set an “Old West” kind of ambiance. Ignoring the wrong environmental settings in which to place an “Old West” kind of game, the game’s pacing is sheer torture to endure. The pacing in Red Dead Redemption was near perfect.

Here, the leisurely slow pace in how the player character moves and walks and how slow the horse runs is totally wrong for this game and is *yawn* b.o.r.i.n.g. Again, this is nothing like Red Dead Redemption. I’m not looking for Lamborghini speeds, here. But, I am looking for a much quicker pace than the la-la-la leisurely pace of this game. In fact, this game’s pacing is so arduous, it makes you want to pop the game out and go do something else at a faster pace. Again, another total Rockstar misfire.

Town Bounties and Game Interference

Just for the sheer heck of it while trying to relieve the boredom with the game’s slow pacing and lame story activities, I decided to have a shoot out in Valentine, the first town you’re supposed to reach in this game. As you progress in dying and getting a higher and higher bounty, the game stupidly pushes your character farther and farther away from the town with each respawn. Game, if you don’t want the character doing this in a town, then just prevent it. Don’t respawn my player character farther away from the town each time. Respawn the character where he fell and let me choose whether to leave or stay. This intentional interference is not only an asinine game design mechanic, it makes me want to break the game disc in half.

I’m merely trying to make the game at least somewhat more interesting and tolerable than the forced slow pacing… but then the game feels the need to frustrate and interfere with my efforts by sending my character farther and farther away from town. On top of that, once you get a bounty, the NPCs that come after you are practically unkillable. I’ve hit them with perhaps 5-10 shots of a shotgun (many times in the head) and they’re still getting up and shooting at me. There is absolutely no way that’s possible. I realize this is a game, but that’s taking the unrealistic nature of this game way too far. It’s not like they’re wearing Kevlar. If I shoot an NPC twice, they need to die. This includes any character, deputy or otherwise. These are not SWAT characters in Los Santos wearing police armor. It’s asinine how the game works this bounty mechanic by protecting the town residents.

If this game is truly supposed to offer RPG style open world play, then I should be able to go into any town and have a gunfight with the entire town if I so choose… and the characters in the town need to die with a realistic amount of bullets. It might make my character wanted, put a bounty on his head, turn him to the “dark side” or whatever, but I should be able to play this game on my own terms without the game interfering with my choice of play. By interfering with my choice of play, the game is specifically telling me that this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing and that I should be following the story path laid out by the game developers. That’s the very definition of a rail based game. That’s NOT an open world make-my-own-choices game.

Now, I do realize this interference is intended, but this interference takes away an important gamer choice… to play the game in any way the gamer chooses. If you’re going to offer guns and bullets, you need to make them count in the game. Bullets can’t act deadly in some situations and act as mere bee stings to other NPCs. Bullet damage must remain consistent against ALL NPCs under ALL conditions unless you implement a visible character level system.

Because of the boring slow pace, the lame story elements (Really? A tavern brawl is the best you can do?), the absolute crap hand-to-hand combat mechanic, the unkillable-NPC-bounty situation, the lackluster lighting, the game’s meddling interference in my choice of play, the poorly created character models and textures, the lack of photo mode and the broken Social Club site, my 2 out of 10 stars firmly stands for this game.

An Utter Disaster

This game is a disaster for Rockstar. I guess every game studio is entitled to a dud. Most times I can give some creative advice on how to improve a game. I’m at such a loss for improving this game’s disastrous design, I can’t even begin to tell Rockstar how to get this hot mess back on track. I think it needed to go back to the drawing board. Oh well, my high hopes for this game have been utterly dashed. It’d be nice to get my money back. This game is crap. Avoid.


Graphics: 5 out of 10
Sound: 7 out of 10
Voice Acting: 2 out of 10
Brawling: 2 out of 10
Gunfights: 5 out of 10
Pacing and Stories: 1 out of 10
Stability: N/A

Overall Rating: 2 out of 10
Recommendation: Don’t buy. Avoid. If you must try it, rent only.

I’d actually rate it lower, but I’m giving it 2 stars for sheer effort. Let’s just forget all about this game and remember the fun we had with Red Dead Redemption.


Agree or disagree? Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about Red Dead Redemption 2.

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Fallout 5: This time, it’s not a game.

Posted in nuclear disaster by commorancy on September 4, 2011

As Fukushima Daichi continues to spew radiation non-stop, that radiation continues to blanket the world with many different types of radioactive elements including Strontium, Plutonium and Cesium. While the news media has been quite silent on this issue, Fukushima is far from silent.  In fact, its melted reactor cores are just as potently spewing radiation as the day the tsunami hit and knocked out the power to containment causing the cores to begin melting.

As of today, three of the cores have now fully melted down and have melted through their protective casings and/or were damaged by the quake.  In effect, they are now polluting the environment with their toxic radiation. The Japanese (and corresponding US) media outlets have been releasing reports with blinders on.  That is, their tunnel vision reporting has attempted to keep the rest of the world from panicking, but at what price?  So, both we and our children and our children’s children can end up slowly dying from radiation poisoning?  Yes, this is a very real possibility.  Why?

Radiation Plumes

Following the exposure of the cores at Fukushima, these cores are no longer safely contained.  That is, these materials are now open to the air and environment.  They are now continually spewing radiation into the atmosphere, water and soil.   These plumes began blanketing the US (and the rest of the world) within days of the accident.  At the same time, the Japanese decided to use seawater to attempt to cool down the cores.  It didn’t work.  But, what it did do is throw off additional plumes of radioactive sulphur (and other radioactive contaminants) into the air pushing even more radioactive material into the air currents.  At the same time, that seawater had to go somewhere, so back into the soil (and ocean)  it went.  This action alone ensured an environmental disaster of epic proportions.  Although, considering lack of containment, it likely would have been equally as bad without the seawater dispersal.  So, while they thought they were attempting to cool the core with the seawater, they were simply creating an even more devastating ecological disaster.

Since then, both the ocean currents and the jetstream have moved plumes of radiation around the globe sending radiation over all parts of the globe (starting with the US and Canada) and contaminating sea animals and land animals alike (including people).  This further means that our food and water supplies are now contaminated with these radioactive elements.  Perhaps minutely, but radiation exposure is cumulative.  Once it’s in the human body, it doesn’t come back out.

Not a game

Some have postulated that the Cesium fallout from this event is equivalent to 168 Hiroshima bombs (or more).  This is a serious and devastating ecological event. Yet, where is government and the news media discussion?  The fallout from this event is likely to kill millions around the globe from tainted food, water and soil.  There is no where anyone can go on this Earth to get away from the radiation as it enters the food chain.  Contamination is now everywhere (and will continue to build) as the air and water currents ensure the movement of the radiation throughout every part of the food chain (and globe).  Even if the cores were to become contained today, the fallout from Fukushima is still enough to contaminate the world for years to come.  Some of the isotopes have decay rates for thousands of years, some for millions.  Worse, Japanese authorities seem to think it may take 1-3 years to fully contain the melted cores in reactors 1, 2 and 3.  That means, the radiation will continue to spew for at least 1-3 years from these melted reactor cores.

What can be done?

Clearly, this shows exactly why deriving electricity from nuclear materials is not a good idea.  Well, it is a good idea, but that’s where it should have ended.. as an idea.  In practicality, humans cannot be trusted to manage these materials safely as Japan so clearly demonstrates.  Lax behaviors patterns, unwillingness to touch, modify or upgrade aging facilities coupled with devastating earthquakes solidify that argument.  Humans just cannot be trusted with these levels of radioactive materials.  They are, in effect, ticking time bombs waiting for a mistake (Chernobyl) and/or disaster (Fukushima).

Dismantling aging nuclear infrastructures

It’s quite clear that aging nuclear reactors must be turned off and dismantled.  Nuclear fuel rods must be safely removed and contained separately.  The world can ill afford yet another nuclear disaster.  We cannot even afford this one, but here we are.  Simply viewing the Radiation Network, it’s quite clear how many radioactive sites may need to be dismantled.

Human nature is unavoidable

Unfortunately, “Out of sight, out of mind” is the optimal phrase here.  People do not see what they don’t want to see.  Yet, we have many extremely old reactor facilities in operation in the US (and around the world).  These sites have been in continuous operation for many many years.  Too many, in fact.  Unfortunately, these sites were built at a time when construction techniques were less evolved.  Now, we’re paying the price for that with these aging nuclear infrastructures.  As I said, these old infrastructures are now ticking time bombs.  It’s not a matter of if it will happen, it’s now a matter of when.

If companies like PG&E can’t even properly maintain underground gas pipelines, what makes anyone think these companies can properly maintain a nuclear power reactor? It’s clear, they can’t.  Some of these aging reactors were built around the same time as the Fukushima reactors.  In fact, they may be the same exact reactor at work from the same manufacturer. These Fukushima reactors may have, in fact, already begun decaying long before the quake or the tsunami.  It just took those events to push the aging reactors over the edge. So, what will it take to push reactors in the US over the edge?  Do we wait for companies like PG&E to conveniently siphon funds away to pay bonuses to their executive staff instead of putting money into maintaining these critical pieces of equipment?

The power of greed

Greed is a factor that invades every part of our lives. From the news media’s lack of reporting on this disaster to what happens with healthcare reforms to Wall Street monetary meltdowns.  All of that we can live through.  What humanity can’t live through is when greed causes toxic consequences.  Did greed cause Japan’s nuclear meltdown?  That’s debatable, but it probably played at least some part in this.  If Japan had kept these reactors current by either building newer to replace the old or upgrading its current facilities, this might have been avoided.  Yes, it takes money, but that’s the issue.  We’re so preoccupied with giving the money to the executives that we don’t think twice of trying to avert disasters.

Fundamental thinking of money, money supply and how the world works must change.  We cannot continue down the road we are on and expect humanity to survive.  Then, people wonder why some civilizations rise and fall.  Here’s a prime example of why.  Greed drives society to do the wrong things and, in many cases, ignore doing the right things (when it’s too costly even when human life is at stake).

Fukushima: Lessons Learned?

This ongoing nuclear disaster is continuing, yet the US media is conveniently ignoring it.  In fact, this is exactly what the US does best. Ignore things it doesn’t want to know about. Fukushima won’t stop spewing radiation merely by ignoring it.  It will still continue to silently kill millions for years go come even if we take action today to contain it.  In fact, those in Japan are to be the first casualties of this.  The rest of the world won’t be far behind thanks to the jetstream and the Pacific and Atlantic currents coupled with our global food supply chain.  In fact, you may have already exposed yourself to radiation from Fukushima and not even know it… in that glass of milk you drank or that piece of sushi you ate or that hamburger.  Do we need to carry Geiger counters? Perhaps we need an app for that.  We definitely need to prevent this from happening again if for no other reason than to save ourselves.

Apple’s iPad: 10 inch iPod Touch or iDisaster?

Posted in Apple, ipod, itunes by commorancy on January 28, 2010

Recently, I wrote the article “What is it about tablets?”.  In that article, I discussed what Apple must do to make the newly announced iPad (tablet computer) successful.  Apple needs a paradigm shifting technology embedded in the iPad that would make the usability of such a tablet go leaps ahead of previous tablet attempts.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Failure to launch (and type!)

The iPad may look like a pad, but it functions nothing like a pad.  In fact, this device looks and acts like an iPod touch on steroids.  But, Apple failed this device on so many levels.  First, let’s start with the design.  The iPad back is not flat (which is just like the newest thin iPod touch).  The back is curved. So, laying the iPad on a flat surface leads to wobbly typing or surfing.  This forces you to put it on a soft surface or hold it in your hand.  Not an optimal or convenient design.

Typing input

On the touch, however, it was small enough to hold in one hand and type with the other.  In fact, you could hold it with two hands and thumb type.  With a 10 inch sized device, one hand typing isn’t really an option.  But, this whole typing issue just goes back to the fundamental input problem with tablets.  How do you reliably get input into a tablet computer?  The options are voice, handwriting recognition and touch typing.  None of these input styles make for a truly usable computer experience.  So, on this level, Apple has failed.  Funny too, because Apple is usually the leader when it comes to innovative ways to improve user interface experience.

Finger Friendly?

I’d like to point out another possible problem.  On the iPod Touch, the touch screen surface only works with an actual finger touch.  It doesn’t work with gloves on or by using your fingernail.  As a result, this makes the touch surface a problem in the winter or for women with long nails.  I do not presently know that the iPad uses this same touch screen technology, but it’s very probable.  Therefore, this could make the iPad not friendly for glove wearers or women with long nails.

Lack of ports

Most computers today need to support the latest in port technology.  More and more, however, Apple seems to shun standards and try for their own proprietary connectors.  Sometimes it works.  More often than not, it fails.  In this case with this device, it adds to the design failure.  With the iPad, Apple should have added standard ports like HDMI and a Secure Digital slot.  Unfortunately, they didn’t do this and this device suffers as a result.  This is especially bad considering most Netbooks offer most of these ports.  Yes, some Netbooks even offer HDMI ports.

iPod Touch Clone

Unfortunately for the iPad, it appears to be a 10 inch iPod touch.  The interface is, of course, 10 inches.  This means it uses the same interface that’s on the iPhone and iPod touch.  On a small handheld device, that interface works well.  On a 10 inch screen, the oddness of it all is quite apparent.  The resolution is higher on the 10 inch screen and, thus, the iPad scales up most apps to accommodate.  The problem is the scaling.  Some apps look fine scaled.  Some can actually take advantage of the larger screen (mapping softwares).  With low res apps, the iPad scales up the app window to fill the 10 inch screen which looks quite lame.  Granted, all of this can be fixed by developers reworking their apps.  But, for now, it makes this device all the more clumsy.

App Store Tie-In

This is yet another in a series of devices that Apple is requiring the user to use solely with iTunes and the App store.  Inevitably, the iPad will be jailbroken.  Until then, the audience is captive to the Apple store.  So, if you want apps or media, that’s where you must go.  Of course, you can import media into iTunes app and sync that, but you cannot load any apps other than those that come from Apple’s app store until it is jailbroken (probably the day after it gets released).

This also means that tried and tested apps you’ve come to know on Windows or even Mac OS X may never become available on the iPad due to iTunes App Store restrictions.

A must have? No.  Not yet anyway.

Apple has yet to convince me (and many others) of the necessity of this device.  There’s no wow-factor here or anything compelling to make the iPad stand out as must have.  There’s nothing here to say that it is even useful for anything beyond what a Netbook can accomplish for less money.  The iPod touch is still much more useful due to its size.  The iPad is sitting in a cost space near Netbook pricing (the iPad is more costly), but Netbooks still have much more functionality due to a real keyboard and better use of the screen (not to mention, full fledged apps).

At the entry level pricing of $499, which will mean a bare bones model, you’re sure to get as little as possible.   To get all the bells and whistles, you’re likely to pay well over $1000 for the equivalent of a large iPod touch.

In other words, Apple did not provide a paradigm shifting technology necessary to make the iPad absolutely compelling.  In fact, the whole big clumsy nature of this tablet is quite apparent even from the image of Steve Jobs holding it.

This is a 1.0 device that feels like a 0.5 device with poorly thought out software.  The iPod/iPhone interface and its apps were designed to be used on handheld small screen devices.  Putting this interface onto a 10 inch sized display and expecting full fledged computing out of portable apps is stretching this device to its limits.  Granted, Apple can generally get the kinks out of new devices.  But, the tablet has such a long history of failure going back to Grid Computers in the early 90s that Apple has a steep bank to climb to get out of this trench they’ve dug themselves into.

Overall, I’m still underwhelmed and I’ve seen nothing yet that screams, must have.  An iPod touch screams that due to its sheer size and portability.  The iPad definitely does not!

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