Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Gaming: PS5 vs XB SX Case Design Review

Posted in game controller, gaming, video game console, video game design by commorancy on June 14, 2020

Since the Xbox Series X and the PS5’s case designs have now been unveiled by both Microsoft and Sony, respectively, let’s explore these case designs.

Sony’s PS5

Let’s start with the recent elephant in the room, the Sony PS5. Here are some images:

Xbox Series X

Note, I will henceforth be calling the Xbox Series X the Xbox SX. Here are images of this console:

Design Goals

Sony claims they wanted something “bold, daring and future facing” according to Sony’s CEO. Microsoft’s Xbox Phil Spencer claims they wanted the, “fastest, most powerful console ever”.

Regardless of the claims, let’s dive into the designs of these consoles. The first word that comes to mind is “dated”. Both the Xbox SX and the PS5 offer odd choices in case designs.

Let’s discuss the Xbox SX’s case design. This design has already been done and been done better… thrice, in fact. Once by NeXT and twice by Apple. Let’s look at designs past, shall we?

The above computers consist of the following:

  • Apple G4 Cube (circa 2000)
  • NeXT Cube (circa 1990)
  • Apple Mac Pro Cylinder (circa 2012)

All three of these computers are of a very similar design to the Xbox Series X. Microsoft never can seem to come up with original designs, instead choosing to abscond with older manufacturer designs. I’m not sure what it is about Microsoft’s inability to come up with innovative case designs, but this is what we get with Microsoft: clunky, outdated designs.

That’s not to say that Sony’s case design is much better. It’s unique, but in a word, “ugly”. If you like the look of consumer routers, then I guess the PS5’s case design is what you might like.

The main problem I have with both of these designs is that neither of them are stackable. It seems with Sony, it’s all about having an oddly round shaped surface. This means when you place it horizontally, you can’t stack anything on top of it. With the PS4 Pro, it offered us a fully flat top. Unfortunately, the PS3 had that, again, oddly rounded design. It seems that Sony vacillates between flat topped systems and oddly shaped systems. If Sony’s were the only device in the home, it might be okay. Since some of us have several pieces of gear, including multiple older and newer generation consoles, we want to stack them so we have them together.

Additionally, stacking a console vertically, at least in my cabinet, is out of the question. There is no way for me to locate the Xbox SX or the PS5 vertically. In fact, I have yet to place any console vertically in the last 10 years (no space) and it’s not going to happen now. Note, I talk about alternative placement of the Xbox SX below.

Waiting… and airflow

As a result, I’m likely to wait until the second case iteration of the PS5. I’ve invested in too many first gen consoles and gotten burned. The only time where having the first edition console was a boon was with the PS3… before Sony yanked out the PS2 compatibility and several other useful features for later iterations. That was the one and only one time when it was a benefit. That didn’t excuse the horrible rounded PS3 case design, nor does it excuse the rounded case design of the PS5.

With the Xbox SX, it can at least be placed horizontally. In fact, this console design might actually fare better horizontally than vertically. Why? When standing vertical, there will be limited airspace under the bottom of the unit with which to pull air up and through. The airspace distance is probably designed well enough, but sitting close to a surface will still limit the amount of air flow.

Placing the Xbox SX case horizontally completely unobstructs the bottom intake vent and allows full and complete airflow through the unit. Placing the Xbox Series X horizontally might actually be the better way to place this unit for the best airflow possible. Sony’s case design probably won’t have an airflow problem. They usually don’t.

Sony’s choice of white case, black inner section using blue case lighting is also a throwback design problem. It has the same aesthetic as the Nintendo Wii. It’s not the same case shape, of course, but it has a similar lighting and visual aesthetic.

Form vs Function

One thing that video game console designers need to understand is that it really doesn’t matter how aesthetically pleasing a case design is. What matters is how well the console functions. That isn’t to say that we don’t enjoy seeing a pretty case, but we don’t spend time staring at it either. We want to use the unit, not stare at the case.

Therefore, the most important aspect of a video game console isn’t its case, it’s what’s under the hood and how well all of that works. Spend time making the innards work well. Make them solid and functional and with proper air flow. Put your effort and money into designing the innards and make that innovative. We don’t really care what it looks like.

In fact, as a gamer, I’d prefer the case be flat on top with airflow front-to-back or side-to-side so I can stack my other gear on top of it. A boxy looking case? Not a problem. Failing to understand this functional stacking issue is a design failure in my book. Clearly, Sony’s industrial designers weren’t considering ergonomics or functionality of its case design. For that matter, neither was Microsoft with the Xbox SX.

Case design isn’t really that important to a video game console unless it gets in the way of being installed into a cabinet… which both of these case designs do.

Vertical Design

More and more, game console creators want to produce vertical case designs. I’m not a fan. I don’t want my console sitting vertically. Not only do I have no cabinet space for this, I simply don’t like this design aesthetic. I prefer my computers to sit horizontally. This is partially to do with the cabinet I’ve chosen, but it’s partially due to the wasted space needed to place a console upright.

Case designers need to reconsider this unnecessary trend of designing for vertical installation. Any design that can be installed vertically should also be designed to install horizontally. Design for both use cases!

Blue LEDs

I’m also not a fan of blue colored LEDs. They are 1) too bright and 2) annoying as hell. At night, you simply can’t sleep with blue LED lights staring you in the face. They’re like little lasers piercing your retinas. I hate ’em with a passion. The faster we can get away from this blue LED trend, the better.

PS5 Reveal

Here’s the part where some of you may have been patiently waiting for me to chime in. Well, here it is. The PS5’s reveal was, meh. The gameplay was actually not any better looking than the PS4 Pro. The CPU and GPU might be somewhat faster, but Sony is reaching the law of diminishing returns. The PS5’s play was, well, not at all impressive. In fact, I was so unimpressed by the PS5’s gameplay so as to be disappointed.

I was expecting so much more from the PS5 and we’re basically getting another PS4 renamed PS5. It’s really unimpressive. Going back to the CEO’s remark, there’s really nothing “bold, daring or future facing” about this PS5 console. From the uninspired and knock-off case design to the PS4 graphics shoved into a new case. It’s really very unimpressive.

I’m not sure what Sony has been spending the last 2 years doing, but it’s clear they were not spending the time designing an innovative new product. The PS5 is a rehash of the PS4 in an oddly shaped case.

Innovation

Nintendo Switch

What is innovation? Innovation means to come up with something which hasn’t been seen or done exactly like that before. I’d consider the Nintendo Switch innovative. I’d also consider the Apple G4 Cube innovative. Why is the Switch innovative? Because not only is the Switch a dockable home console, you can take it with you and play on the go. It’s a powerhouse well big enough to work in both situations.

I was fully expecting this same level of innovation with the PS5. Unfortunately, what we got was exceedingly underwhelming. Even the “new” PS5 controller is bland and uninspired. This controller looks pretty much like the old controller with, again, horrible blue LED lights piercing your retinas and lighting up your face. Let’s hope that this time you can actually turn these silly lights off.

The touch pad remains, but is an unnecessary and almost never used feature of the PS4’s controller. The touch pad was simply a battery suck and a gimmick. I wouldn’t mind seeing Sony get rid of that touch pad garbage. As I said, battery suck, gimmick and completely unnecessary.

Yet, here the touch pad is again, making yet another unnecessary appearance. That’s most definitely not innovative. It simply means Sony is way out of touch with how most game developers use the PlayStation’s controller. Short of a handful of early game titles on the PS4, the touch pad was almost never used, other than as a button. Simply get rid of the battery hogging touch pad and replace it with a button, like the new Xbox SX controller has. If you need a touch pad for PS4 compatibility, allow connecting a PS4 controller via Bluetooth.

See, I innovated for you there, Sony. Microsoft’s Xbox SX controller, on the other hand, is about as simplistic and utilitarian as you can get. That doesn’t make it a problem. In fact, it looks so much like an Xbox One controller, you might not even notice that there’s a new button in the middle of the controller surface. It’s a button that basically does the same thing as the touch pad button on the PS4’s controller.

I was actually hoping to see a few more buttons added to both the Xbox SX and the PS5 controller. Buttons that can be programmed for lesser used functions so that game developers don’t have to keep overloading functions onto the same buttons depending on context. It’s frustrating, for example, to play Fallout 76 and expect the square button to do something, but does something entirely different because you’re too close to an in-game object. You have to move away before the original function resumes. Frustrating.

By having more buttons on the controller, you can map these lesser used functions to these other (smaller buttons) so that button overlapping in games becomes much less common.

PC’s don’t have this problem because you have a keyboard with usually 101 keys. On a controller, you have basically 13 buttons on the face plus 4 on the shoulders. I want more buttons on my controller’s face so game developers don’t have to overload button functions anymore. Yet, no such luck on the PS5 or Xbox SX. They are still basically the same ole controllers with the same limited buttons. Yeah, basically no innovation here.

Overall

I’m planning on waiting to purchase these consoles until the second iteration of the console. Possibly even until they release a case redesigned version. You know that both Sony and Microsoft will introduce subsequent case styles in the future. I tire of buying a the first day console and then having them redesign it six months later.

My plan is not to buy the console for at least six months to 1 year after release. I’ll stick with my PS4 and Xbox One until then. Even then, it doesn’t seem that many game developers will be taking advantage of the new console hardware fully for at least that time. Anything in development today on those consoles will have been using the gaming company’s older non-optimized engine. It will take at least six months for most developers to retool their engines to be optimized for the new platform.

For this reason and for the typical dearth of features that Sony is likely to offer us come release day, I’m waiting. There’s nothing like spending $700 to play one game, then let the console sit for 6 months without using it at all. Such a waste of $700.

No, I’m not doing that again Sony. I’ll lay out money towards a console once it actually has some gaming momentum behind it and usable features to boot. Once Netflix and Hulu and all of the staples arrive to the consoles, then there will be some reasons to consider. Until that day arrives, it’s a $700 paperweight.

Pricing

Don’t kid yourself about this next part. Even though pricing hasn’t been announced for the PS5 or the Xbox SX, you can bet that after buying games, accessories, cables, chargers and the console itself, you’ll easily have spent at least $700. The price will probably be closer to $1,000. Even the PS4 exceeded the $1,000 price point if you included a PSVR unit. If there’s a VR unit on the way for the PS5, then expect the PS5’s price point to hit $1,000 to $1,500, possibly more.

We’ll have to wait on the pricing, but Sony and Microsoft have to announce it soon. Few people will place a pre-order on these units without knowing what they’ll end up paying. I won’t. It’s a fundamental aspect of gaming. You have to know the cost of the unit to know if it’s worth the price.

If both Sony and Microsoft price at or close to $1,000 for a base unit, they are probably making huge mistakes. Since the gaming price point has always been $500 or so, doubling that price approaches PC pricing territory. If you can get a PC for cheaper than a console, what’s the point in buying a console?

Microsoft and Sony must be very careful when considering their price point for these consoles. For me, I’d value these consoles at being worth no more than $600-700 (regardless of the actual costs to assemble it). If they’re priced higher than this, the console industry is going to have a real problem on its hands. Even Nintendo may feel the pinch from it. Considering that the Switch costs $299, that’s an excellent price point for such a universally useful unit. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been lax on wooing developers to the platform. So far, Nintendo has only been able to woo Bethesda. Even then, Bethesda’s involvement on the Switch has been limited.

Sony and Microsoft must be very careful with their pricing. I’m actually hoping Microsoft announces their pricing first. This will start a price war between Sony and Microsoft. Sony will have to price the PS5 at or below the same price as the Xbox SX. Sony and Microsoft can ignore Nintendo’s pricing as Nintendo has never offered a similarly competitive console entry. It’s very unlikely Sony or Microsoft will ever price their consoles at $299. At least, not the day one console.

In the future, though, the pricing will be fluid and may approach the $299 price tag… yet another reason to wait.

Let’s hope that Sony and Microsoft can choose to do the right thing with these units and price them accordingly. At least, they shouldn’t be priced any higher than the Xbox One X or the PS4 Pro. As for the design, yeah, it could have been WAY better on both consoles.

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How to get the Living Starship in No Man’s Sky

Posted in video game, video gaming by commorancy on March 6, 2020

No Man's Sky_20200306074944

You’ve recently updated No Man’s Sky and you’re wondering how to get the new Living Starship? Let’s explore.

Instructions

It all starts with the Void Egg. There may be several ways to obtain the Void Egg, but let’s discuss the most straightforward way to get one. Before you start, make sure you have the prerequisites.

Prerequisites

  1. 3,200 Quicksilver
  2. Literal days of time to kill
  3. One free Starship slot
  4. A Starship that shows you planet coordinates on the HUD screen

If your starship obscures the coordinates off screen, much of this questline will be even more of a pain in the ass. Choose a ship that has the coordinates front and center and fully visible.

No Man's Sky_20200306075049Further, if you don’t have a free available Starship slot, you may not be able to accept the Living Starship once it’s available for pick up. If your slots are full, you will need to free up a slot by salvaging one of your Starships. I’d highly recommend doing this step WAY BEFORE the game allows you to pick up the ship.

Obtaining a Void Egg

  1. Head into space and call the Space Anomaly station
  2. Enter the Space Anomaly station and land
  3. Open your inventory and see how much Quicksilver you have
  4. If you have 3,200 or more Quicksilver, you’re all set and you can skip Step 6
  5. If you don’t have enough Quicksilver, you’ll need to head to the Nexus and complete Quicksilver missions until you reach 3,200 Quicksilver. Note, weekend events can award anywhere between 1,000 and 1,200 Quicksilver. These start on Fridays. Complete these missions to get you to 3,200 Quicksilver faster. Otherwise, you’re limited to ~250 per day. Though, the game will gang up QS missions if you play the game daily, but don’t perform the QS missions daily… thus allowing you to do several QS mission in a day.
  6. With 3,200 Quicksilver in hand, head over to the Quicksilver store and shop. Inside this shop, you’ll find the Void Egg for sale. Buy it.

Once you own a Void Egg, you’ll perform a new set of actions to unlock its secrets.

Unlocking the Void Egg

To begin unlocking the Void Egg, follow these steps. There may be many ways to get this to work, but these are the easiest steps. Though, I’m not going to say that the steps are in any way “easy” or “fast”. In fact, it literally takes days to complete most of the steps.

Before you begin this process, you might want to jump down to the bottom of this article under “Living Starship” to get a better understanding of what you’ll be getting out of this deal. That way, you can determine if you think this process is worth the time for you.

Step 1 — Getting the Egg to Sing

  1. To begin the process and with the egg in your inventory, hop in your ship and head to space.
  2. Once in space, use the Pulse Drive between any two points in a solar system. Eventually, you’ll get a notification to drop out of pulse for an Anomaly. Once you do, any of a number of things may happen. You may see a living ship just in front of you. If you get this one, then your Void Egg will begin singing. If you get anything else, admire it if you wish, but that isn’t what you want. You’ll want to keep using pulse drive between points until you get a Living Ship anomaly. This one happened really quick for me once I had a Void Egg.
  3. Once you see the Living Ship anomaly, it will either give you a set of coordinates to a new solar system or it will have the egg send you to visit one of the planets in your current system.
  4. If it has to jump to a new system, once there is where the “hurry up and wait” starts.

Step 2 — Visit 4 worlds and find 4 Monuments

These steps are tedious because this portion of the Starbirth quest vaguely leads you to various worlds. Once on the world, it will give you a set of two coordinates to a monument on the planet. This is the pain in the ass portion of unlocking an egg. In the past, they would mark a point on your map and you could simply fast travel there. With this questline, Hello Games has you pilot your ship manually to a set of coordinates. It’s a pain in the ass because it’s entirely slow, manual and requires a lot of mucking about with flying the ship in and out of the atmosphere to speed up and slow down.

  1. Once the egg is singing, opening your inventory and hover over the egg. The egg will reveal a “type” of planet to visit. Read the “type” carefully and then find world that matches where you presently are… or jump to the system where it wants you to search and look there.
  2. Once you land on the world it is wanting, the quest will switch to a set of coordinates on the current world that will look something like +45.??? -170.???
    Sometimes the coordinates are static and sometimes they hop around. They will stabilize as you get closer to the monument.
  3. To locate the monument, I’d suggest getting as close as possible to the coordinates, then hop out of the ship and locate it on foot. You will need to use the Survey device to find your current coordinates.

Step 3 — Final World

Once you have received and matured / hardened all 4 components needed for the living ship, you are led to the final world. To reach this world, the Void Egg will sing one last time. Continue reading down to “Final Wait” to see what you need to do.

Step 4 — Assemble and Pick up your ship

Inhospitable Worlds

Many of the planets that the egg leads you to are inhospitable worlds with frequent storms. This can make locating a monument even more difficult. This is why it’s recommended to do the last locating portion on foot or in an Exocraft.

Once you reach the monument, it will have you supply it with one of the newly crafted items listed immediately after this section. In fact, it will ask you to supply it with something that you won’t, at the time, know how to make. You will need to “Leave” the monument menu and then it will teach you the recipe. After that, you may need Hexite (or other unique resources) to make the recipe. If you need something like Hexite, it will lead you to a location to pick up the Hexite. This part is easy, but you’ll still need to go get it, craft the item and head back to the monument.

Once you have found a monument, it does put a marker onto the HUD so you can get back there easily. Otherwise, you’d be forced to drop a Save Beacon to easily find your way back. Thankfully, you don’t need to place a Save Beacon as a game marker is set up. It’s always worth keeping enough resources handy to create a Save Beacon so you can easily mark and then head back to a unique planet feature without having to build an entire base.

Once you’ve crafted the required item from the recipe the monument has given you, head back to the monument and supply it with the item you’ve just crafted. The monument will give you a new component. This is where the “hurry up and wait” part begins. The item it gives you will be something like an Immature Neural Stem or a Fragile Heart. These items require maturation of between 22 and 27 clock-on-the-wall real world hours. Yes, that means you can’t make any progress on this quest for at least 22 hours.

You can’t do anything else with this quest until these items have “matured”. You might as well put the game down and go do something else while that timer ticks down. You can do other things in the game, but you cannot progress the Starbirth quest until that timer has expired. Note that the timer ticks down regardless of whether you are playing the game.

Four Items to Craft

You will need to craft 4 different items for the Living Ship, each with unique components required to craft the recipes:

  1. Consciousness Bridge
    • 250 Hexite
    • 80 Pugneum
    • 1 Korvax Casing
  2. Pulsating Core
    • 250 Liquid Sun
    • 100 Gold
    • 80 Mordite
  3. Impossible Membrane
    • 100 Chromatic Metal
    • 1 Hypnotic Eye
    • 150 Living Water
  4. Seeds of Glass
    1. 100 Magnetized Ferrite
    2. 100 Fragmented Qualia

To locate the items which are “unique” like Liquid Sun, Living Water, Hexite or Fragmented Qualia, the game will lead you to a deposit. For standard items like Gold or Ferrite, you’ll be expected to locate or have these yourself.

Once the items are crafted, you will give each to a monument and that monument will give you an immature ship component in return. You will then wait, again, for the item to mature before you can make any further progress on this quest line.

Rinse and Repeat

After you have received your first ship component, likely the Immature Neural Stem, it will take a fair amount of time (22 hours or more) to mature into a Mature Neural Stem. Once you’ve waited for it to mature, the item is closed with nothing else to do with that item until you assemble the ship. From here, it’s simply rinse and repeat.

  1. Hop in your ship and fly into space
  2. Pulse drive between any two locations and wait for a Living Ship anomaly to appear
  3. Once it appears, the egg will again sing and tell you which type of world it wants (hover over the egg in the inventory).
  4. Search the local worlds, then head to the coordinates, locate the monument, get the recipe, source its unusual requirements, craft it, give it to the monument and get a new item that needs to mature.

All told, you’ll need to repeat this around 4 times to assemble the ship with its Neural Stem, Shell, Singularity Core, Membrane and so on. I believe that it is 4 times, and each one is at least 1 day apart. All told, it takes at least 5 real days to finally get to the point where you can assemble and pick up the ship. Most of that time is spent waiting for something to “mature” or “harden” or whatever. This ship is easiest to obtain with Creative Mode and more difficult when using Normal mode or harder.

Hello Games would have done this quest much better to allow us to continue to find the rest of the components without waiting on the previous components to “mature”. Let us pick all of the items up and wait the time it takes for the longest component to “mature”. This would have meant waiting up to 2 days rather than 5.

Note, some players have stated you need to hyperdrive travel to trigger singing. I haven’t found that to be the case. Simply pulse drive between two points and wait for an anomaly “Living Ship” to appear after dropping out of pulse drive. Finding a living ship anomaly is all you need to trigger the egg to sing.

Final Wait

No Man's Sky_20200229015552

With the final “Cracking Void Egg” step, the egg will again sing once more. However, this time instead of giving you a vague description of a world to locate in your local system, it will give you a set of portal coordinates in the form of words. In my case above, the “lyrics” are:

  • The Hunter
  • The Reflection
  • The Hunter
  • The Spiral of Reality
  • The Star Over Water
  • The Ascending Orb
  • The Obscured Companion
  • The Hunter
  • The Lowly Insect
  • The Anomaly
  • The Sailor
  • The Ocean King

If you’re looking for how to translate these words into symbols, you can either guess based on the symbols or the easier method is to visit this page. The three “Euclid” means that it’s in the Euclid Galaxy somewhere. The Starbirth quest also states that you’ll need to use unconventional travel, indicating travel by Portal. The above also implies that you need to know where a portal is so that you can use it to travel to the final world to, again, locate a monument and complete the final steps.

SoulChamberOnce you reach the final world by portal, you will be required to locate four sets of different coordinates on this portal planet. The final three coordinates may take you some time to reach as you have to locate the coordinates manually by flying to them. The first set of coordinates (the only to have a planet marker) will lead you to an abandoned building. Here you will obtain a Soul Chamber, which you are given by accessing a terminal at the abandoned building. Once you receive the Soul Chamber, you will then need to locate three gravestones each at separate specific coordinates given to you in a small panel on the screen. You will then interact with each gravestone, which will fill the chamber by 33.3%. Once you have filled the Soul Chamber with 3 souls (channeling The Elder Scrolls here much?), you will then be asked to head back through the portal to your origin world.

Once you are back at your origin world, you will then fly into space and use the pulse drive to make contact one final time with the living ship anomaly. It will sing one last time then the egg will crack open, disappear from your inventory and give you a set of coordinates to your new starship shell on a planet. Head to that planet marker to claim your new ship.

It is here where you’ll need to make sure you have a free Starship slot available. Once you reach the Living Starship coordinates, you will drop in all of the “matured” or “hardened” components you have received over the previous 4-5 days or so, including the Soul Chamber. This will then outfit your Living Starship to be fully functional. Once it’s functional, you can then claim it (assuming you have a free slot), enter and fly away in it. Just be aware that it has limited functionality due to its small Hyperdrive capacity and low gun damage levels. Don’t expect a hugely overpowered ship here. Don’t expect that you can upgrade it, either. I’ll talk about those limitations next.

Living Starship

No Man's Sky_20200306074852Is the ship worth it? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. The “Living Starship” is a new class of Starship. However, there are definitely drawbacks. Specifically, notice that the ship’s areas are called “Storage Sacs” and “Organ Chamber” unlike standard ships where you have “General” and “Technology” areas. Here are the drawbacks around this new class of starship:

  • Cannot use existing “Technology” from “regular” ships for this new living ship.
  • Cannot expand the ship using the Starship upgrade tool at a space station
  • Cannot use storage augmentation to increase slots
  • Cannot extend base Hyperdrive range because “regular” technology doesn’t work
  • Cannot pay to increase slots like a standard starship
  • Cannot scrap the ship, but you may or may not be able to trade it for another

Basically, the ship you get is all that you get (at least for now) with no further upgrades possible. It’s possible that Hello Games may introduce a new living starship upgrade tool some time in the future. Hello Games may eventually open up more details about the Living Ship such as the world where the eggs come from, where the ships are likely to be found and so on. This means that we may be able to enter star systems where the living ships are easily found and can be augmented. There might even be star systems that may only be entered by the living ships.

For now, though, you can’t add on a Positron gun or any other “standard” Starship weapons to a Living Ship… even though this new “Living” technology type is basically the same as the old technology, just with a new name and new description. The weapons it has is all it has. Same for the Hyperdrive with its base drive range at 164.9 (at least on mine). Considering I’ve gotten some ships to around 1,800+ Hyperdrive range, this Living Ship’s range is next to nothing.

Even though it is a living ship, it doesn’t really need to be “fed”… you know, like living creature. I guess Hello Games thought that might be taking things a bit too far. Though, considering it is a type of living creature, it should need to be fed.

Why this ship now?

I’m not entirely sure the reason for the introduction of this new class of starship. It’s interesting, yes, but what’s the point? As bare bones as this new ship is, there’s very little it’s actually useful for, other than being a novelty item in the game. Until Hello Games decides to introduce vendors that sell Living Ship technology upgrades, it’s not very useful.

Regular ships are still way, way better options than this Living Ship for functionality, combat, upgradeability, support and travel distance.

Is it worth having? Perhaps it is… as a novel collectible simply so you can say you’ve gotten it. But, it’s not a very useful starship at this point. Until or unless Hello Games decides to add more quests and features into the game that only activate or become useful when you’re using a living starship, the ship doesn’t really have a point to exist.

The point to adding any new feature to a game is that you have also have planned a whole wider set of other features around that item and which are “unlocked” by obtaining access to the ship. Until Hello Games introduces those additional pieces to support the usefulness of a this living starship class, as I’ve already stated several times, it’s simply not very useful addition.

I was actually hoping that this new ship class would offer a completely new and different faster than light (FTL) drive technology, such a technology that could go twice or three times the distance of travel using new ways that standard ships can’t. Or, perhaps, a better class of weapon. But, no. No such luck. Effectively, the Living Starship is basically the same as any other “standard” bare bones basic ship that you can find. Except that now you have to jump through about 5 days of hoops to get it. In fact, standard ships can be outfitted much, much better than the Living Ship can. This ship needs a whole lot more game support and effort by Hello Games than it presently has. Here’s what the interior looks like:

No Man's Sky_20200306074923

The interior looks much the same as a regular ship, wouldn’t you say? If Hello Games is going to make us spend all of this time and effort to build this ship, they should have at least had the decency to give us something improved over regular Starships. Yet, Hello Games doesn’t offer us something better here. I’m not calling this exactly a fail, but it leans heavily in this direction.

Should I Get A Living Ship?

That’s up to you. I’d suggest reading above if you’re unsure if it’s worth your time. Perhaps in time Hello Games will make it more useful, but for now it’s mostly a novelty ship. Hello Games is going to be required to do a whole lot more quest building work to create a game that better supports the Living Ship and that gives us reasons to want to use this ship over regular ships.

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Should I buy a Sony PS5?

Posted in tips, video game console, video gaming by commorancy on February 18, 2020

ds4-gamingI know that the purchase of a PlayStation 5 is a burning question on every console gamer’s mind. Let’s explore.

PS4 Launch

To help begin to answer this burning 🔥 question, we’ll need to take a look back at the PS4’s 2013 launch. When the PS4 was first launched, it was absolutely the most bare bones basic console imaginable. Consider that both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 already had tremendous feature sets included at that point. Taking a jump into the PS4 felt like taking a huge leap backwards in time. When the PS4 launched, there was no Hulu, no Netflix, no apps of any real note, no browser and a barely functional store with literally nothing to see. It was so disheartening to turn on my brand new “day one” PS4 console only and find it such a barren wasteland.

What was in the PS4 store was limited to but a handful of game titles which you likely already owned. While all of this “lite” aspect of the PS4 would only last for a longish period of time, many of the features that eventually became standard on the PS3 never even materialized on the PS4 (i.e. CD ripping). Additionally, some common standards we take for granted today have likewise never made it to the PS4.

Bluetooth

For example, the prevailing Bluetooth headphone profile (AVRCP) has never made it into the PS4. You simply can’t go buy a standard set of Bluetooth stereo headphones (or a speaker) and use them on a PS4 without purchasing additional add-ons. The only Bluetooth headset standard adopted by Sony for the PS4 is the backwards and unrealistic HSP standard… a standard that almost no headphones manufacturers actually support. This fact forces you into buying Sony’s expensive dongle-based wireless headphones rather than using Bluetooth headphones you likely already own.

To this day, Sony has STILL not implemented the widely used AVRCP headphone and speaker profile on the PS4. If you wish to use this standard, you must do it by connecting another costly device to a PS4 output port, such as relying on your TV’s audio system, an external amplifier connected via HDMI, the optical out port or by using dongles attached to the DualShock controller. It all ends up a kludgy hackjob that Sony could have resolved (and avoided) simply by updating their system software to support AVRCP … possibly even a fairly simple change to their operating system.

First Six Months

You may be thinking the six months that I am talking about applies to the PS5. In fact, I’m discussing the PS4’s first six months after launch. For the 12 months after the PS4’s lackluster launch, there remained a drought of not only apps, but name brand video games. In fact, applications were entirely non-existent, save a handful of Sony only apps. Only but a handful of launch titles kept the PS4 afloat for the first 9-12 months after launch. The PS4 remained a fairly barren wasteland other than for those first few launch titles.

After my first six months of owning a PS4, I ended up putting the system down and not using it for at least another 8 months before the next game arrived that I wanted to play. I literally couldn’t use the console because of the lack of applications. As I said, there was no Netflix, no Hulu and no Amazon Prime Video. These apps have since launched on the console, but it took ages before they finally arrived… and by ages, I mean at least 12-15 months. It was an exceedingly long amount of time before these apps fully arrived on the PS4.

Before these apps arrived, the PS4 became an exceedingly expensive paperweight. Literally months passed when I didn’t turn the PS4 on because I had completed playthroughs of all of the launch titles and there was literally nothing else to do with the console. I couldn’t watch TV. I couldn’t listen to music. I couldn’t rip music to the hard drive. I couldn’t even watch Netflix. It was a useless paperweight. This forced me to return to using my PS3 and Xbox 360 because at least Netflix and other apps were available there, along with some of my ripped music.

Looking Forward

Looking 9-10 months from this article’s publication date, Sony expects the PS5 will take the world by storm. In fact, I highly recommend not purchasing the first incarnation of the PS5. Why? Because you’ll end up finding yourself in the same exact boat as I did with the PS4. No apps, nothing to use it for after consuming the launch titles. It will become a heavy and expensive paperweight for those first 12 months. Sure, you can play the launch titles again, but that wears thin!

I’m near certain that Sony will have spent their time readying the hardware, not wooing developers to write apps (or even games) or in making their OS stable. When the PS5 does launch, it will be just as lean and lite as was the PS4. It’s pretty much guaranteed given Sony’s track record with new console introductions.

A year or two after launch, the PS5 will have all of the apps and alternative uses. But, for the first 12 months, it will likely be a paperweight for at least half of that time. In the PS5’s case, this problem might last even longer.

Don’t expect to be able to use the PS5 as a music device or anything similar for months. Plex, a home media sharing app, probably won’t appear until well after the 12 month mark. Even on the PS4, the Sony Media app took months to finally appear before you could even use DLNA. There was no DLNA support on the PS4 for over 6 months after launch. I’d fully expect the exact same problem with the PS5’s launch.

Considering that Sony is having trouble sourcing components for its PS5s, this situation seems to have driven up the price tag of the PS5. In fact, the first release of a new console is always the most expensive. After Sony can wrap its head around where and how it can trim component costs, how it can merge components and see the same functionality and when it can trim components not needed, it won’t be able to reduce the cost of the PS5.

Worse, the first console release is always the worst of the bunch. Within 6-12 months, Sony always releases an updated hardware version that is better than its initial release version. It’s always worth waiting to buy the second version rather than investing in a “day one” system that will have little use and be the most expensive, least useful version. If you’re a “must have every first edition”, then by all means buy it. However, if you’re buying it as a gamer for the gaming utility of the console, then it’s well worth waiting through this “awkward” phase… which lasts at least 12 months after a console’s launch.

Launch Titles

Sony always readies one major game title that seems to be “must play”, to get people enticed to buy into their new console. The difficulty is that that game is not going anywhere. Day one releases can be fun to play, but more recently they can be a chore to play considering all of the “day one” bugs.

With the PS5’s version 1.0 operating system coupled with version 1.0 versions of the launch games, you’re looking at a major amount of bugs. In fact, you’re looking at far too many bugs. It will take Sony to release the 2.0 version of the operating system before I’d feel comfortable enough to say Sony has even the smallest handle on its bugs. Even the PS4’s OS at version 7 still has bugs. With the PS5’s 1.0 OS version, you are guaranteed to have day one bugs requiring a huge day one patch.

While the operating system bugs may not be too bad at times, you have no idea what the game developers have in store for us. What that means is that these big, bold games may turn into big, bugged games. Games that they may not see bugs resolved until Sony updates their operating system. Even then, 1.01 and 1.02 won’t be great OS versions either. While a 1.5 version might be somewhat better, it’s guaranteed it still won’t be great.

Applications

In addition to all of the bugs, the PS5 isn’t likely to have very many apps at all, if any. Sony’s apps like Crackle and PlayStation’s own subscription services may be present, but apps like Spotify, Pandora, Hulu, Netflix and similar are highly likely to be absent for the first several months. This means that besides gaming and possibly playing Blu-ray movies, there’ll be very little to do with the console. This assumes they plan on releasing Blu-ray and not forcing the console all digital.

Further, apps are a huge part of all computing ecosystems today. Releasing a console without third party apps could be the death of sales for the PS5. In 2013, apps were a thing just coming into their own. Sony’s misstep in 2013 wasn’t that devastating for them. The PS4 still sold respectable numbers.

Releasing a console today without apps on day one may become the death of the console (at least for a while). I’m fairly certain that Sony is more worried about getting the console out to the door than how many third party apps will be available on Day One, just as they did with the PS4.

Buyer Beware

When buying anything, “Buyer Beware” is always the motto that rules. Sony is no exception to this rule. They are just as likely to rope you into a purchase, where you’ll find maybe one or two games that last you a month or two of play. But then what do you do with the PS5 after that? You wait until something else is released. You wait until apps are released. In short, you wait.

If you’re going to be waiting for stuff to appear, you might as well use that money for other purposes and wait without making a purchase. Buy a PS4 and use it. It already has a huge game library. It already has apps. It already has much of what the PS5 won’t have. The PS4 will remain a viable console for at least 1-2 more years even after the PS5’s release.

Wait and See

Sony could resolve all of this if the PS5 also offers a full PS4 compatibility mode. This means that all of the PS4 apps and games can work right out of the gate on the PS5. If Sony adopts this, then it may be worth replacing your PS4 with a PS5. However, I don’t trust that Sony will include such a mode. It cost Sony a huge sum of money to include PS2 and PS1 compatibility modes on the PS3. Eventually, it cost Sony so much they had to remove at least the PS2 mode from the PS3. They didn’t even bother to try to include these modes on the PS4.

It’s exceedingly doubtful Sony will spend the time, effort or money in building such costly modes on the PS5 unless they’re basing the PS5 directly off of the PS4. If it’s to be a sub-$500 product like it always has been, Sony simply can’t afford to build in such features. I simply won’t expect to see the PS3 compatibility effort placed into the PS5 when it didn’t even make it to the PS4.

However, Sony could include PS4 game disc and store compatibility features allowing play of existing PS4 games, as long as the hardware is similar enough to the PS4… and it probably is. Unfortunately, I simply wouldn’t expect to see the PS5 offer compatibility modes for the PS3, PS2 or PS1. It would be great to see, but I simply don’t expect Sony to spend the money to include it in a sub-$500 product. Even then, the PS4 compatibility mode might not be available day one. It may be a promised feature that actually arrives months after launch… or possibly not at all. Sony has changed their minds about features in the past.

Professional Console

If Sony were to price out a “Pro” version of the PS5 at around $1000 or $1500 (a price point that’s way out of line for a console product, I might add), Sony could include such “advanced” features. The problem is that few gamers will spend that amount of cash for such a product. A greater than $1000 price point is the same as an iPhone 11, an iPad Pro or even many notebook computers. A parent is going to find that price tag difficult when comparing it to much more useful and educational computer devices at or close to that price point. That’s a hard pill to swallow solely for a dedicated gaming console. Sony will have to majorly increase the PS5’s usefulness as a generalized computer device and/or portability to make a $1000 or $1500 price point ever become feasible.

As it is now and based on the how the PS4 looks and works, I expect the PS5 to have a similar form factor and function. In fact, I doubt that the PS5’s case will be smaller. It will likely be the same size or larger than the PS4. Larger doesn’t necessarily make a product better.

The PS5 might have an option for a solid state drive (512mb or 1TB) rather than spinning hard drives. But, that’s not really a selling point. It makes the PS5 boot up faster and the games launch faster, but it won’t make the PS5 any cheaper. In fact, adding a solid state drive is very likely to drive the price tag up by a minimum of $50. Knowing Sony’s pricing premiums, however, expect such features to raise the price by at least $100.

Price Point

The PS5’s price point is likely to be its biggest hurdle in adoption. Since Sony has made some waves at potentially breaking with the “tradition” of a sub-$500 price tag, that means I might expect the PS5 to see a price tag of at least $800-900. Games may even see a “standard edition” price increase to $69.99 per game (a price hike of $10 per game). This will further push the “Deluxe” and “Limited” editions of the games up by $10-20.

If Sony attempts to not only raise the console price to nearing the $1000 price point with games nearing the $75 price point, this could further erode sales of consoles… pushing game developers onto more defacto devices, such as the iPad and Samsung tablets. Tablets are far more entrenched and compatible version to version than consoles have ever been. It wouldn’t surprise me to see big developers jump ship from the PS5 and begin porting their games over to iOS and other tablets… leaving the PS5 without much in the way of game developers, much like what happened with the PS Vita.

Sony is playing a dangerous game by mucking with the console’s traditional price point, particularly considering how lean the PS5 is likely to be on day one. Sony will need to seriously consider all of this (and, of course, Microsoft’s console plays) to get this part right.

My Opinion

Considering the PS4’s excessively lean launch and the length of time with which the console was more-or-less useless, I personally endorse waiting for at least 12-18 months for a purchase of a PS5. Don’t buy it in 2020. Buy it in 2021 or after. Why? Because this will give both Sony and the developers time to launch many more game titles and mature their operating system. You can always go back and try the launch titles, but typically the launch titles are never worth playing once better games are released. In fact, the launch titles are mostly looked on as amateur efforts once those more mature games launch, which almost fully utilize the hardware.

For me, I felt entirely betrayed by Sony in 2013, releasing such a uselessly lean console. Because of being burned by Sony, I fully intend to wait until 2021 to buy into a PS5. That will give Sony well enough time to not only work out bugs, but solidify its app ecosystem, add more peripherals, build a video game library and woo developers on board. It will also give time for Spotify, Pandora, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon to embrace the platform and release solid, functional apps. Until that point is reached, for me the purchase of a PS5 is simply a waiting game.

So let’s answer the question, “Should I buy a PS5?” Yes, but not day one. Buy it only after the console has sufficiently matured.

This advice won’t stop YouTubers from buying and reviewing day one editions. They will do it because that’s what they do. That doesn’t make their console purchase smart, but it does make their purchase into channel fodder to rope you in as a viewer. Don’t be fooled by these YouTubers. Just because they bought it doesn’t mean you should.

I’ve told you what I plan to do. Now it’s time for you to sound off and tell me if you intend to wait or if you will buy a PS5 on day one! Let me know below.

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How To: Portals in No Man’s Sky

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on February 9, 2020

NoMansSky3While there have been a number of articles describing the portal travel system within No Man’s Sky, it seems that these articles leave out some very important details and restrictions when traveling by portal. Let’s explore.

Finding a Portal

The difficulty with using a portal is finding one. Portals look like a Stargate from the SG1 TV series. In fact, they “dial” almost identically to the SG1 gates, thus requiring glyphs to complete the “dialing sequence”. Once a sequence is input, the gate will either open or fail to open. Putting in random values may lead to a world, but it can also lead to your own peril.

If you choose to dial a random sequence, you should make sure to have a current saved game position that you can go back to if it ends up some place perilous. I should also mention that for the first portal you find, you’re going to need to repair each portal glyph button with varying resources. Expect to carry a bunch of various resources like Indium, Sodium Nitrate, Oxygen and so on to repair the entire panel.

NoMansSky-PortalFinding a portal, however, can be a real challenge. With that said, there are multiplayer quest lines (you can reach these from the Anomaly space station) that will lead you to a portal as part of the quest line. Once you complete one of these basic quests that lead you by starship to a world with a portal, build a base near that portal before you use it. Place a terminus on your base and you can always return to that base right near the portal for use later. You’ll thank me for this advice later. Once you find a portal on a world, it’s always a good idea to build a small foothold base near it so that you can return and reuse that portal later. Otherwise, you’ll be hunting for a portal again once you leave it. Once you have a base near a portal, you can then find portals on other worlds. It’s a complicated process to get back to remote portals, but suffice it to say that it can be done in defiance of the below documented restrictions.

The second way to locate a portal is that you can accidentally happen upon portals on worlds simply by flying over them. If you happen to find a portal through happenstance, create a base near it so you can return to it and use it later. You can reuse any portal you find. You really only need access to one portal in the game. All others are extraneous. However, if Hello Games decides to add world destruction scenarios into the game (not currently in the game), then you might want to have access to several different portals in your chain of bases.

The third way to locate a portal is to use a structure scanner or an acquired navigational map to find one, but this is a hunt in the dark. The scanners (and maps) only locate a close / random structure and may not locate a portal. Though, every world appears to have a portal somewhere on it… including moons apparently. Airless worlds might be easiest to locate a portal as there are no clouds to get in the way of scouting by air.

Using a Portal

Using a portal is easy. To find the portal address of a world, you simply need to enter photo mode. Once in photo mode, a glyph sequence like the following…NoMansSky-GlyphsLarge (to the current closest planet) will appear on the bottom left corner of the screen. You can then snapshot this screen and use these symbols to get back to that world’s portal.

NoMansSky-GlyphsIn fact, using Photomode is the easiest way to find a portal address for a given world. Using the glyphs on your screen snap will land you at that world’s portal. You can then leave a Save Beacon at the portal location to find your way back there easily while revisiting in your ship.

Unfortunately, here is where the restrictions for portals come into play. Using a Save Beacon only really works if you’re within jumping distance of the world. If you’re hundreds of thousands of light years away, it’s going to take you a long while to get back to that world by ship.

Portal Restrictions

When you use a portal to reach a destination, Hello Games has designed some heavy restrictions on that solar system you are visiting via portal. These restrictions include:

  1. You cannot use the Galactic Map while visiting a system via portal. The open portal apparently creates “interference”.
  2. You cannot create a Base Computer on any world in the system you are visiting via portal. This means you cannot build a base there. However, you can leave a Save Beacon behind which will allow you to return to that specific ground location on that planet after you have returned back through the portal and flown there in your starship.
  3. You cannot shut down a portal at all… either on the visiting side or on the dialing side. On the dialing side, you can dial a new system and that will override the currently open portal.
  4. You cannot dial a portal while still on the visiting side. In fact, the dialing controller will not even raise out of the ground. You can only dial on the side where you began.
  5. You cannot dial out of any other portal on any other planet in the visiting system. In fact, all portals on all worlds, for whatever reason, only allow you to return to your dialing point. This means even if you leave the dialed world and head to another world in that system… and then you manage to find the location of the portal on another planet there, you still can’t dial out. You’ll find that that portal (and every other portal) is currently open back to your dialing world.
  6. The Terminus at the local space station is shut down and locked. You cannot use a terminus to leave that visited system.
  7. You cannot call the Anomaly Station (Nada and Polo’s ship) while visiting a system through a portal.
  8. You cannot call your freighter.

NoMansSky2These restrictions are intended to dead end you in the solar system you’re visiting by portal. You can’t leave that system in any other way than back through the portal. You can’t build on any of the worlds you’ve visited while through the portal, with the exception of certain small tech devices like a Save Beacon or a Message Beacon. As I said above, you can’t build a Base Computer on any planet in a Portal visited system. You also can’t leave that solar system in your ship. You can travel from planet to planet in that system. You can pick up resources and return with them through the portal, but you cannot use the Galactic Map to leave the system. You must head back to the open portal and return to your dialing point to continue playing.

Save Beacon

The only sort-of workaround here (at least to find the world again) is to leave a Save Beacon behind on one or several of the worlds. You can then hop into your ship from your own system (the dialing system), then use the Galactic Map to navigate back to that system. Once there, you can then use your Save Beacon to lead you back to that specific portal point on that world.

If you travel to that same system with your ship using Hyperdrive, there is no problem building Base Computers or any other structures. Basically, if you find a particularly compelling system via portal, you must return back through the portal and then use your ship’s Hyperdrive to get you back there. Of course, it could be many thousands of light years away… so there’s that.

Commentary

I can’t really understand the unnecessary portal restrictions within No Man’s Sky. In Stargate SG1, there were no similar restrictions. The one rule in Stargate SG1, though, is that you couldn’t return back through an already open gate. Gates in SG1 were one way. If someone tried to return through an already open Gate, the person would be fried. This is the reason that after traveling through a Gate in SG1, the gate would shut down. This meant that the person visiting via the portal would need to dial back out to open their own portal back to the originating world. This is how No Man’s Sky should work.

I want to understand the developer’s rationale here. I do. But, I must counter any such argument that this is an exploration game. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t use a portal to travel to another system as open-ended exploration, then continue our journey from there or build as we see fit.

If the developers are concerned that we’ll shortcut our way to the center of the galaxy, restrict that. If the dialed system is at or near the center or within a small diameter of the center, then restrict how travel is handled. Don’t restrict every solar system simply because you’re trying to keep us from using a portal to get to the center. Even then, this restriction is somewhat stupid.

Portals are Mostly Worthless

Ultimately, the restrictions imposed on visiting portal worlds make them a novelty form of travel, but entirely useless. You can only use them to “see” a specific world. You can’t use a portal for any other travel purposes.

Once you understand the heavy restrictions imposed when using portals, you’ll quickly realize the futility of using them. Basically, Hello Games wasted their time building this portal system feature. Unless Hello Games chooses to lift these unnecessary portal restrictions, the best way to travel is strictly by Hyperdrive. There are no such silly restrictions when traveling by Starship or Freighter… at least none that I know of.

Consider that it’s also a major hassle to portal to a world, drop a beacon, travel back via portal then hop into your starship and make your way back there. Yeah, it’s a real pain in the ass. I don’t get why game developers feel the need to place such silly restrictions all over games when they are entirely unnecessary.

NoMansSky4No Man’s Sky is supposed to be an open exploration game. Why close off avenues of game play when using a built-in travel system? If I choose to build on a world in a portal system, let me. If I want to use the Galactic Map, there should be no problem. If I want to use the Terminus to get back home, that’s my choice. These stupid restrictions should not exist in No Man’s Sky. Hear me, Hello Games!

The only restrictions that should exist are restrictions on traveling to worlds within 10,000 light years of the center. Simply place the restrictions on these worlds and systems. Don’t allow portal travel at all to these worlds. Force the player to fly in by ship. Honestly, though, what difference does it make if the player flies in by ship or arrives by portal? Why does it matter if the player has chosen to use a portal instead of a starship?

Video games should allow players to travel in whatever method they choose, even if it ruins their own game experience. What difference does it really make if the gamer flies to the center by ship or arrives by portal? However, if you must, place restrictions on key worlds… but don’t restrict the entire game of billions of worlds strictly for a very small subset use case. 🧐

If this article helped you better understand No Man’s Sky‘s portals, please let me know in the comments below.

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Game Review: The Outer Worlds

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on October 29, 2019

The Outer Worlds_20191024235517[Updated Dec 2019] While I hadn’t specifically heard that Obsidian was building “The Outer Worlds”, I was certain that this studio must have something in the works. I only came to find out about The Outer Worlds a week before its release. Due to other commitments, I hadn’t actually been keeping up with game releases for 2019. Let’s explore this game.

The Engine

Let’s start with the brightest star of this game. Unlike other RPG game studios that will remain nam… oh, that’s never gonna work. Bethesda. Ok, I said it. Bethesda… Happy now? Anyway, as I was saying, unlike other RPG game studios like Bethesda, Obsidian’s engine driving this game is rock stable. By “rock stable”, I mean nary a crash, glitch, frame rate drop or any other odd artifact have I run into while playing this game. The engine delivers a solid, fully functional, fully realized gaming system that seems free of major bugs or defects. Definitely a welcome change in the game development industry. That doesn’t mean this game is “bug free”… oh, no no no, my friends, but it does mean that unlike Bethesda, Obsidian seems to actually employ real game testers and a real QA team who do their jobs correctly. The bugs you are likely to run into are small, super edge cases you’re almost never likely to run into. The bugs you’ll find are also not at all likely to be showstoppers. Inconvenient occasionally, yes, but we can all live with an occasional minor bug.

What that means in this game is a poster child and a shining example to pretty much every other bug laden studio out there. The Outer Worlds proves that, yes, games CAN be written without glitching and crashing every 30 minutes. Obsidian definitely shows us and the industry that this level of software development is, in fact, possible. No, you don’t have to rely on your users to beta test your games and file bug reports. You can, instead, employ actual teams designed to locate, spot and eliminate these bugs before players ever venture into your story or your game world.

However, while this reliability and stability is a shining spot in The Outer Worlds, let’s talk about the features of this game including what it is and what isn’t… and believe me, there’s a lot to talk about here.

Role Playing Game?

The Outer Worlds_20191029024841

The Outer Worlds_20191029043959While The Outer Worlds does employ a number of role playing elements, it isn’t really a role playing game in the truest sense. In effect, The Outer Worlds is a party/team-based first person shooter. Sure, there’s looting, skill-building and limited workbench activities, but that’s really where the “Role Playing” ends. It has about as much a role playing in the game as the Resident Evil series.

A “role” playing game usually indicates that there are, in fact, multiple role types available. In Skyrim, for example, you could choose your race and your class. These features are typical in role playing systems. In Skyrim, you could make your character a Khajit Magic User or a Breton Warrior. It was up to you how you set up your character. If you set your character up as a warrior, this would increase certain “warrior” attributes up front and decrease others. This meant you had certain types of attacks which were very strong and certain attacks that were very weak. That’s the point in an RPG. Setting up your character to perform a certain way in specific combat situations.

In The Outer Worlds, there are no classes or character types. You are who you are and what you are. In this case, you’re human and you’re a colonist on a failed transport mission. It is now your mission to free your fellow colonists still stuck in the transport. That’s the pretext. The rest of the game is about leveling up your character, learning about the enemies and foes, negotiating with them (yeah, we’ll talk about this shortly) and sometimes killing them.

Anyone classifying this game as a true role playing game doesn’t fundamentally understand what an RPG is. It is, in fact, a first person shooter containing limited RPG elements. I liken it to Mass Effect in this way.

Space Epic

Here’s another area where it’s difficult to quantify this game. It purports to be a space epic, yet it has almost nothing to indicate it even takes place in space. Sure, you’re aboard a “space ship”, but not once do we get to see any space battles, scenes of landing on planets, no cut scenes, nothing to indicate the ship is, in fact, space faring.

The Outer Worlds_20191029035434All we get is a small galaxy map that when your ship travels, a tiny little sprite representation moves across the map and then, bam, you’re there. No space scenes. No faster than light travel scenes. No cut scenes. No waiting on travel. One second you’re in one location and the next you’re in another.

It’s entirely disappointing that being a space epic, you have absolutely no space flying scenes at all. Not a single one. The only cut scene that indicates space travel is the very first one that opens the story. After that, nothing.

Dialog

The Outer Worlds_20191028235233Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), within The Outer Worlds the dialog abounds… and boy does it ever! If you love having random conversations with random NPCs, this is your game. The amount of dialog in this game is astounding. You can have several multi-minute long conversations about nothing in particular with an NPC that really makes no difference to the outcome of the story. Sure, it might make a difference to your “charisma” with that specific character, but the dialog is shallow and pointless.

For the same reason that Bethesda expects you to spend minutes tooling around listening to pointless holotapes full of “lore”, Obsidian expects you to tool around for minutes in dialog with pointless NPCs. Worse, too much of the dialog is dry and really doesn’t do anything specific.

The only reason to even converse with random NPCs is to, hopefully, receive a new quest so you can get loot and gain more experience. Not that that’s really required as you can get loot and experience simply by joining random skirmishes in the landscape.

If you’re really happy about seeing tons of dialog throughout a game, well then this is your game! For me, there’s a tipping point to too much dialog. Dialog should be equally nestled into a solid gaming experience. Dialog should only be used to advance the story, but never to sidetrack the player into pointless dialog experiences. Unfortunately, The Outer Worlds falls far into the “too much dialog” trap.

Voice Actors

While there are a few solid voice actors in the roster of characters within The Outer Worlds, there are a number of voices that are outright bad. There’s nothing worse than trying to dig through dialog choices when the voice actor is so bad you have to cringe. It only makes the dialog experience worse. If you’re going to rely so heavily on dialog in a game, you should also make darn sure that your voice actors are up to that task.

Visuals

The Outer Worlds_20191029035151Here’s where this game gets rough. I’m not talking about stability here, I’m talking about lighting, textures and stylistic design. What I mean here is that the game’s visuals are problematic. First, there’s an odd choice of heavily relying on chromatic aberration over the entire screen without the option to turn it off. Not only is this effect hard on the eyes, it’s tiresome to look at constantly, it dulls the image and makes the image muddy. It’s fine to put a screen effect on as long as it can be disabled in a setting. If I don’t want chromatic aberration on the screen, let me turn it off.

Night scenes with low lighting fare even worse with this effect. The textures don’t read, become lower res and generally look bad. This is a rendering issue in the chosen engine. This game isn’t very realistic as it is, but certain lighting conditions look particularly bad. The above Stellar Bay image looks reasonably okay, but clicking to enlarge that image will show off the chromatic aberration problem.

Second, the game adds an odd color hue filter over the screen to not only give the world a color cast, it also dulls the scene by reducing contrast. Instead of the visuals popping because of contrasts, it all remains a similar monotonous contrast range.

Third, the game is chock full of “fake” product placements. In fact, that’s part of the story. These products are strewn all over the world on tables, in containers, in vending machines and so on. You can buy them, you can find them and you can even steal them. There are so many food and drink items in this game, it’s almost confusing what’s available. It’s just the opposite of Fallout, where you basically have only Nuka Cola and Blamco Mac and Cheese. The rest of the food’s labels are so degraded, the maker has been lost. In The Outer Worlds, there are at least 4 different vending machine types selling at least 4 different types of “branded” products. You can find these items strewn all over the world in containers, but you can also buy them.

On the one hand, I appreciate all of the “brand” artwork that was built to make this world seem (and is the key word here) grounded, but too many branded products means overkill… and in this game, there’s plenty of overkill.. but not for the…

Combat

Here’s where the game gets really weak. The combat system in this game is completely last gen. While it does offer a tactical time dilation (TTD — time slowing) gimmick, unfortunately that gimmick just isn’t very useful. It doesn’t increase damage output. It doesn’t help you aim. It doesn’t provide auto-aim. In fact, the only thing it does is slow down movement… and not even for very long. Yes, it might help you target the enemy’s head better, but that’s about where the benefit of TTD ends. It’s a “wannabe” VATs, but fails to work like VATs on just about every level.

As for straight up combat, it’s average. It’s no better than just about any other shooter and it relies heavily on the player’s ability to use the controller to aim. If you’re good with movement and aiming, you’ll do fine in combat. If you aren’t good at aiming, your character will die often and you’ll need to employ other strategies to win. Also, the combat is repetitive, but not in the way you might be thinking. It’s repetitive because the skirmish locations are entirely predictable, coupled with always being manned with the same exact enemies in the same quantities and strength. It’s simply monotonous after the first skirmish.

Perks and Skills

As with any modern first person shooter, the game wouldn’t be complete without some form of leveling system. To that end, the game offers you both perk and skill points. Perks offer your character an ability that enhances your character or your companion(s) in some way. For example, you can apply a perk that increases your carry weight, increases TTD duration, decreases cool downs, allows you to fast travel while overencumbered and so on. There are many perks that can enhance your play experience. However, you are limited to one perk point every few levels. This means these perk points take a very long time to achieve.

The second way to get perk points is by the game finding “flaws”. For example, if you’re hit too many times by energy weapons, the game might find a flaw that makes you more vulnerable to this type of weapon. If you accept the flaw, your character’s damage resistance to that type of weapon will be reduced by up to 25% in exchange for giving you a new “perk” point. Let me say right here that this is absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the worst, most ridiculous game mechanics (and ideas) included in a video game in a very long time. Why the hell would anyone intentionally hobble their hero character simply to get a new perk point? Why would you do it multiple times over and over? Yeah, it’s a very dumb idea. Extra perk points? Fine. But, not at the expense of intentionally hobbling my character.

Skill points, on the other hand, enhance your character’s attributes, such as persuasion, lying and dialog. It can also help your melee skills, your ranged weapon skills and others. However, until level 50, you can only apply skill points by section. This then applies one point per each item in that section. Once skill points reach 50 in a section, you can then apply points individually to specific skills. Skill points are issued at every single level up where perk points are only issued every now and then.

Additionally, you can also find wearable items that can enhance your character’s skills without the need to add points or wait for a level up. For example, a pair of goggles might add +5 to sneak or tech.

Crafting

The Outer Worlds_20191029053258Here’s another place where the game is extremely light. There is a single workbench in the game. This workbench allows you to modify, break down, repair and enhance existing weapons and armor. This is as far as crafting in this game goes. You can’t actually craft anything in this game, you can only fix, modify, destroy or upgrade existing items that you find. Destroying something only returns components which are needed to repair items, which wear down.

Weapons and Armor both wear down rapidly in this game. Without perks equipped which reduce the speed of damage, you’ll find yourself at a workbench after one or two skirmishes to repair your gear. This means you’ll need to break down lots of stuff to have enough components to perform these repairs. This means grinding and lots and lots of looting. Don’t pass dead enemies or containers by without checking. You’ll need to do this to progress in this game.

Unfortunately, while the planets team with plant life, you can use none the plant life to create potions, foods or healing serums. Expect that you’ll need to loot or buy your health items at vendors. I found this lack of health item crafting a huge miss for this game (and, in general, a miss for a modern RPG style game). There also aren’t specific health containers in this shooter. You’ll have to open buildings and loot kitchens for items. Even then, you will more than likely need to buy health inhalers and such from vending machines… so expect to grind, loot and then sell, sell, sell to get enough bits to buy this stuff. Same for armor.

Assigning Weapons and Health

You can assign weapons to 4 slots and toggle through them one at a time. You can also assign health items to slots which can then be used when you press the “emergency medical inhaler” key. You’ve got to manually remember to go assign these, though. If you forget, you’re going to be doing this in the heat of battle.

Autosave and Character Death

The game offers only a limited Autosave feature, it only saves when you exit certain buildings. There’s no way to trigger an autosave manually. These only trigger under specific limited conditions.

When your character dies, there is no “respawning”. This is a game where character death means “game over”. This means you need to reload a previous save from the saved games area. The game doesn’t automatically reload from that save. Instead, you are forced to stop what you are doing, open the save game area and reload… waiting for the game to reload the whole area again.

This is much more than a mere inconvenience. I also consider this a huge miss in game design. Most modern games are designed with at least minimal respawn capabilities. How hard is it to hold a save location somewhere in reserve, then use it to automatically reload the game after a player character’s death? We’ll come to why this is important shortly.

Quests and Currency

Many game designers seem to think that putting up a huge hurdle to overcome at the beginning of the game is a smart choice. It’s not. However, Obsidian decided to use this idea and run with it. Within the first four main questlines, your character is required to come up with 18,000 bits (in-game credits) to buy two mostly nonsensical items. Let’s understand why this is such a bad idea and such a miss.

In a game where your character is just barely getting its footing with armor and weapons, the game throws two main quests at you basically forcing you to gather 18,000 bits (in addition to the bits you’re going to need to buy weapons, armor and health). Being new to the game, you have to make a choice. Do you hold all of your bits and not spend any so you can get through these quests or do you spend your bits and upgrade your character properly? That the designers forced gamers into making this choice very early in the game, it means that those who want to progress the main quest must leave their characters and companions weak until past these quests.

This type of quest shouldn’t have appeared in this game until at least halfway through when, by sheer volume of questing alone, you will already have amassed that many bits organically rather than being forced to do so. It makes absolutely no sense to throw these “reach for the stars” kinds of quests at the gamer 3 and 4 quests into the game. This is not only a huge miss, it’s a poorly designed quest choice.

Modern Video Game Design

The Outer Worlds_20191029035555The Outer Worlds seems as if it had begun its design phase back when the Xbox 360 was an active current console. It seems that this game was designed to operate on a lesser console platform like the Xbox 360. A console with lower res graphics, limited audio, lower res textures, lesser speed CPUs, lesser ram and so on.

This game doesn’t in any way seem or feel modern. It feels like The Elder Scrolls Oblivion (or more aptly) Fallout New Vegas in look and feel. These latter games were designed to operate on the Xbox 360’s limited constraints with none of the “modern conveniences” being designed into today’s bigger, bolder and brighter games. The Outer Worlds seems to have been designed using the same creative mindset as Oblivion and New Vegas.

Instead, The Outer Worlds is a lightly designed game with a light operational framework offering few modern conveniences. It’s like thinking you’re buying a Tesla only to find that you really bought a bare bones Toyota Camry. Sure, both are cars, both get you from point A to B, but instead of that cool innovative touch screen LCD computer panel to guide you on your way, you are disappointed to find an antiquated illuminated speedometer with a needle. Not exactly what you were expecting… and, thus, this is The Outer Worlds in a nutshell. That doesn’t make The Outer Worlds bad, but it does make The Outer Worlds a less than modern gaming experience.

Missing Modern Conveniences

Unlike many recent games which have sought to solidify and define both the PS4’s and the Xbox One’s next gen gaming standards, The Outer Worlds seems intent to break many of these existing standards and revert back to older days. For example, on the PS4, this game’s control scheme is upended. Whether this was intentional by Obsidian or simply ignorance, I don’t know. Back when a game like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was published, such button control standards were only just becoming defined.

Today, controller standards are well defined. Placing “back” onto the O button and “interact” on X is as natural as tying your shoelaces. When a developer comes along and moves the Interact function to a button where it doesn’t belong or places jump onto the X button, it seems well out of place. And, out of place it is. Even switching to the alternative predefined controller maps on the PS4 doesn’t completely solve this problem. For example, the more or less useless and single purpose Tactical Time Dilation is oddly placed onto the X button when using the “Modern” or “Legacy” remapping. This odd choice of button placement gives me pause to consider Obsidian’s gaming ideals. Why would they choose to NOT map interact onto X in at least one controller mapping when this is pretty much the industry standard today? It’s a small peeve, but it is a concern for this game.

Another questionable choice is the lack of a manual Quicksave feature. Instead of spending time hopping through multiple layers of menus simply to save a game, you could press “Quicksave” at the top of the Save Game menu. You could then perform a quicksave and be on your way. You don’t need to stop everything you’re doing, then press “Save Game” and go through a bunch of dialog boxes simply to save a game. Additionally, on character death, you are summarily thrown to the “Load Game” screen. You are then forced to navigate through your saved games and load one of them. You have no choice. It’s an odd play. The convenience of Quicksaves in games like these is both readily apparent and a necessary modern convenience. That this convenience is inexplicably missing from this game is, again, an odd play.

For this reason, this is why I continually feel that this game must have be begun its development roots back sometime between 2005 and 2011 when this project was, for some reason, shelved. It seems like this game was then pulled off of a shelf by Obsidian, polished and released in 2019. It feels every bit like a game designed over a decade ago, spit polished to look somewhat modern. Even the liquidy-looking health and TTD UI elements hearken back to games from day’s past, though I can’t recall which exact game used a similar UI element.

As another example, when you press the pause button, the entire screen blacks out to a small menu. This is something that would have been used back in the days of the Xbox 360. Today, game designers use much more modern, sophisticated approaches to drawing a menu screen. For example, most developers use depth of field to blur the game imagery and then place a menu over the top of a blurred and darkened screen. It’s a modern approach to this screen. Not only does it make the game look more polished, it shows that the developers are aware of the importance of continuing to show the game imagery. When you black a screen out, you can’t see at all where your characters are, where the camera is or anything else about the game. You must exit the pause screen to see anything. A blurred version of the screen is much more informative than having nothing at all. It is an innovation and convenience that has helped retain the action of the game. That it’s not here is yet another odd play.

The “Inventory” screen also has its fair share of problems. For example, it doesn’t remember where you were when you last left it. When you enter the inventory screen, it always throws you back into “Inventory”. If you were formerly on the map screen and you exit the screen, then reenter it, you are back on “Inventory”. It doesn’t remember which tab you were on. This is yet another convenience that’s missing. These kinds of UI problems existed in games back in 2006, but haven’t existed in modern games since about 2013 (when the PS4 launched). That this game has reverted back to the days of 2006 seems odd.

Additionally, the use of hand drawn icons in the inventory instead of rendering an actual 3D model is something games back in 2006 would also have used, back when memory was short and showing 3D models in small places wasn’t something that was easy to do. Today, showing 3D models all over the screen is a common and regular occurrence. That Obsidian opted for hand drawn art in the inventory screen seems antiquated and, again, odd. It is also another indicator that this game may have begun its development lifecycle back in 2006.

Innovation (or Lack thereof)

Not using modern conveniences is actually only half the problem in The Outer Worlds. The other half is the lack of adding any modern innovation to the game. Other than TTD (which isn’t very modern nor innovative), that’s the extent of the gimmicks I’ve so far found. For example, there is lack of innovation in the dialog system. It’s straight forward and simplistic. Not only does the game zoom in for a bust shot of the other character, it locks the camera to a fixed position. Games haven’t done this for many years. In most modern games, when you’re taking to an NPC character, you can continue to walk around and talk to them so long as you don’t wander too far off. As long as you remain in the talk circle, you can continue to converse with them without the screen being locked into a fixed position.

Additionally to this, most games now voice the main character as a modern standard. This means that when the main character asks a question, you get to hear the main character say the words audibly. Then, the NPC character responds with their words. This mechanic makes the game more genuine, conversational and realistic. In The Outer Worlds, the protagonist is not voiced at all. In fact, the only thing you get to choose is the text in a menu of dialog. Again, an odd choice. Yes, some people complained that Fallout 4’s main character’s acting and wasn’t great. But, it did add to the experience of the overall game. That this is missing in The Outer Worlds makes it seem like Obsidian cut more than a few corners.

Other innovations that were missed included the use of individual armor pieces (left arm, right arm, left leg, right leg, chest and helmet). Instead, armor is full body and helmet only. Again, oddly not innovative.

Cutting Corners

In fact, let’s jump right into the heart of the issue with this game. The corner cutting in this game is palpable. These cut corners make The Outer Worlds seem less than a modern gaming experience. Indeed, the lack of being able to change much of the appearance of the main character is odd, though you do get limited customization. Worse, there seem to be a total of about 4 to 6 each male and female character models in the game. What this means is that the game uses and reuses these models with all NPCs. In fact, several character models are overused so many times, it’s almost like talking to clones all over this universe. It’s, once again, an odd play. Modern games typically utilize custom models for primary characters to avoid this “clone” problem. Yet, here we are.

Nothing makes a game seem less realistic than continually reusing the same 3D character models over and over on main story characters.

Space Scenes

Let’s talk about space scenes. Earlier, I discussed that this is a space epic. How can this be a space epic when there are no space scenes at all? It’s a space ship, yet the only places of interest are planets? What about space battles? What about other space ships? Again, it seems that Obsidian may have cut corners here to get this game produced. Instead of focusing on space scenes, the game focuses on ground play and combat. In fact, there are pretty much two things that this game heavily relies on… dialog and ground skirmishes. Fetch quests are obviously part of the reason for the ground skirmishes, after all there’s no point in running all over the terrain without a reason. Hence, fetch quests.

Simplistic Quests

With questing, there seem to be even more corners cut. Most of the quests are simplistic at best. Get quest from A, go to B and get thing, return to A and tell of success (ABA). The vast majority the quests given in this game are of the ABA variety. There are very few extra steps, options or things to do along the way (other than skirmish). These are not in any way deep, thoughtful quests. They are, instead, simplistic and straightforward. Even then, when skirmishing, the skirmishes are predictable, simplistic and straightforward.

Is it fun?

Well, that entirely depends on your idea of fun. If running around doing another NPC’s bidding is fun, then maybe. The difficulty with the quests in this game is that they are simplistic, short and somewhat nonsensical. For example, Udom on the Groundbreaker has you run over to a shop just mere steps from where he is sitting and has you spend 8000 of your own bits (in-game currency) to retrieve his “stamp”… a task which I am quite sure he not only has bits to handle, but one that he can walk over himself and resolve. Why is the “hero” the one who has to go gather said bits and spend them on another NPC’s behalf? This is but one example of similarly poorly written quests. Another is getting “auntie-biotics” for a guy. When you exit the shop, a nosy ne’er-do-well eavesdrops on your conversation who also wants these “auntie-biotics” for her own purposes. As cliché a quest setup as I’ve ever seen. And yet, also a very simplistic ABA quest.

Lack of Multiplayer

With all of that said above, the game also doesn’t sport a multiplayer mode. It’s still early in this game’s lifecycle, so there is a possibility for DLC to add this feature (and other multiplayer features). However, in this first release, there is no multiplayer anything this game. It is as single player as a single player game gets.

Overall

For as relatively antiquated as this first person shooter game seems, its rock stable engine helps this one along tremendously. We’ve ALL grown tired of having games crash every few minutes, particularly Bethesda’s games. The Outer Worlds’ stability is definitely a welcome relief from this level of bugginess and is a step in the right direction. Yet, there is so much unfulfilled potential in this antiquated game, it’s really hard to rate this one.

What I will say about The Outer Worlds is to be cautious when considering a purchase. If you like the simplistic nature of earlier Xbox 360 RPGs and significant amounts of dialog, you might like The Outer Worlds. If you’re looking for more complex questing, complex combat situations, unique space combat or a useful crafting system, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

[December 2019 Update]

I have completed this game fully and can, without a doubt, say this is definitely an Xbox 360 throwback game. It is a game that should have existed on a lesser platform with more strict graphics and RAM limitations. In fact, with only slight alterations to support touch, this game would play just fine on an iPad of any size. This is why I firmly believe this game may have begun its development life back when the Xbox 360 was still an active console. It may have even begun its development around the same time as Mass Effect (the first game). As a result of Mass Effect and because of Mass Effect’s similar play style, Obsidian might have shelved this title until 2019 to avoid any unnecessary comparisons to Mass Effect… when it seems that in 2019 it pulled this game from its code vault and began the work to complete it.

While I could be entirely wrong on this, this is the way the whole game feels. Regardless of its origins, it’s definitely a throwback game. It’s definitely not a game I would have expected to see on a Next Gen gaming platform in 2019. It has none of the Next Gen eye candy I would have expected to see in a modern Next Gen game.

Worse, the close of this game is a very  l o n g  montage outro consisting of a bunch of still images which cut from one to the next, narrated by a less than stellar voice over providing a very matter-of-fact and bland reading. The closing narrative strings together what your play through accomplished and how your shipmates fared after the story ended. Ultimately, this outro is a complete and utter letdown for a game that had a throwback-ish, but promising start.

In among the incredibly weak outro, it’s unfortunate that the close of this game is also bittersweet. That may have to do with story choices, but I can’t see how. Ultimately, Halcyon must fall and the beginnings of that fall had nothing whatever to do with game’s hero. The hero may have played a part in ushering along that fall faster, but it would have fallen regardless of the hero’s involvement. Ultimately, Halcyon has to fall based on the final narrative on Tartarus. It’s like the game is trying to blame the hero for all of the colony’s woes, yet the narrative can’t exactly do this because the hero had only just awoken from the Hope but a short time ago.

The story also brings up unnecessary information, such as the loss of communication with Earth and the loss of a large space vessel with many thousands of troops on the way to Earth. There’s no follow-up after the game ends to understand if this claim is even true. Perhaps the game is setting itself up for DLC or possibly for The Outer Worlds 2? This game feels like it was intended to be episodic in nature, but fails to solidify that this game is but one episode in a series. If you’re planning on creating a game as a series, at least disclose that it’s a series somewhere along the way. I believe this information may be left open for DLC because there are still 4 planets left locked on the star chart map. It is assumed these 4 unvisited planets will make their appearance in possibly upcoming DLC. Though, if DLC is coming, where is the season pass?

The additional trouble with the Earth communication loss information (and loss of a ship en route to Earth) is that this information comes solely from Adjutant Akande, a person who has proven herself (and the rest of the Board) to be an unreliable source of information. That Welles believes Akande wholeheartedly means Welles is incredibly gullible or simply woefully stupid. The game has given us no reason to believe the truthfulness of anyone on the Board, let alone Akande. If anything, Akande was, as the hero stated, a psychopath… and she probably was. The rest of the Board wasn’t much better in this regard. They were all at least sociopathic liars, treating the colony as nothing more than nuisances who spend money. The Board even had no trouble putting people of Byzantium to death just because (the retiree quest line). How can you trust a Board of people who are that subversive and uncaring about its very own population?

Worse, when the hero does put an end to the Board, the game summarily ends. There’s no more playing the game. You can’t walk the streets and see what all of your hard work has accomplished. Instead, we’re treated to that still image montage voice over. Obsidian, at least put just a little bit more work into the closing montage. Seriously, how about a cinematic with characters actually moving around and doing things? How about having some of the characters voice their lines? Oh well, it is what it is… a letdown.

Graphics: 5 out of 10 (decent, but chromatic aberration is hard on the eyes)
Gameplay: 6 out of 10 (fair, game is predictable, all planets look the same, no crafting)
Voice Acting: 5 out of 10 (ranges from very good to very bad)
Music: 8 out of 10
Combat: 5 out of 10 (too much of the same thing every time)
Stability: 9.5 out of 10
Story: 5 out of 10
Ending: 1.5 out of 10

Overall: 6 out of 10 (wait for a sale or rent… $60 is too pricey for what amounts to an Xbox 360 throwback with such a lame ending.)

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One Year Later: Has Fallout 76 improved?

Posted in botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on October 1, 2019

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-iujn21rsSeeing that Fallout 76 is an online multiplayer game and that Bethesda heavily enjoys its revisionist tendencies, this question arises about not only this game, but about revisionism in video games in general. It’s ironic then that this simple brown paper bag has come to represent everything wrong with Fallout 76. Has Fallout 76 gotten any better in nearly one year since its release? Let’s explore.

Revisionism in Entertainment

There’s something to be said for revisionism. As many entertainment products today are delivered digitally and are now also being created digitally these days, this opens the door to revisionism. The difficulty with changing stuff is that what we initially purchased is not what that thing is today. Whether it be a movie, a book, TV series or even a video game. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t happened in the music industry so far.

Throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, visual and literary entertainment was always set in stone. Heck, this idea goes back into the renaissance with such works as the Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Though, even then there were controversies with some clergy deciding that fig leaves needed to be added to certain artworks, thus forcing a revision. These instances were rare and usually happened while the work was in progress. However, sometimes a second artist might be commissioned later to paint fig leaves. What that usually meant was, what you saw when it first arrived is the same thing you’ll still see today. Unfortunately, too many entertainment makers see revisionism as something to make their product better, but does it? Can changing the content of a book, movie or video game a year or two later actually make it better?

This is up for debate. What it does is make the entertainment become a cloudy and murky experience. What you fondly remember about the product and experience could be completely invalidated because a creator later decides to completely rework large portions and change what you remembered most.

In fact, many people remember works for certain specific things that happened within. If revisionist changes remove or alter those specific sections so that they are no longer in the work, you may have modified what people remembered about your product. And this is the fundamental problem. Such revisionism can actually make a product worse. Fallout 76 is a poster child for this problem.

Editing for Correction

Now, I’m not against basic editing. In a written work, if you misspell a word, need to correct grammatical errors or word omissions, these are perfectly acceptable changes. If the dialog in a film is misspoken or acted in a less than professional and convincing way, I’m fine with a reshoot and reedit so long as the dialog and scene remains functionally equivalent. These are all edits that make sense in the context of a body of work. They don’t substantially alter the work, they simply polish it. Polishing a work to make at work the most professional it can be is perfectly acceptable.

However, changing a work by adding substantial content, altering the story, changing the outcome, changing the setups, changing the rules and so on, these are not simple corrections. These change the fundamental story outcome. These substantial changes are considered revisionism and are way outside the bounds of simple corrections. That would be like someone deciding to change the Mona Lisa’s smile on the original painting simply because they think it is too vague. You just don’t do this to the original work. Sure, you can create a derivation of that work and publish it separately, but you should never alter the original work by substantially changing its content.

For this reason in the art community, there’s a lot of controversy about “cleaning up” historical works of art that have layers of dirt, dust and debris on the surface. The “clean up” process could amount to changing the fundamental work rather than being a simple cleanup. The chemicals used might even long term damage the work. It means someone has to take liquids to the work, clean off the “dirty” layers and expose the “clean fresh” layers. The difficulty is, by doing this it may remove original content intended to be there by the original artist. With older works where the artist is no longer living, we cannot consult them for how to best “clean” their works. It’s all best guess. Modifying and cleaning these works may make them look better, but does it fundamentally alter the content? This is the contentious and controversial part… and it is exactly this controversial part that applies to ALL works when they are revised.

Reuse of Assets in Video Games

Video games are both entertainment and works of art. In fact, it takes a lot of graphical art content created by teams of artists to release a video game. Such art includes texture maps which get layered onto 3D objects. These maps make the objects appear naturalistic and real. Granted, some of the art is scanned from actual nature… such as tree leaves scanned in from real trees to create realistic trees in a 3D landscape. Even skin surfaces are likely scanned from actual human skin. However, some texture maps are hand crafted, stylistic art. These are the truest art in every sense of the word.

Revisionism in texture map art isn’t really a big problem in the video game world. In fact, once these “assets” have been created, it’s more likely a video game publisher will overuse these assets rather than modify them. By ‘overuse’ I mean reuse them not only in the original game, but future games also. I’m sure the devs think, “Why recreate the wheel with every new game?” Instead, reusing assets that already exist makes sense in some limited cases. Reuse also costs less development money.

On the other hand, reusing too many assets from a previous work makes your current work seem less than original. That would be tantamount to an author taking whole passages from a novel and copying and pasting them into a new novel. After all, if they worked in the old novel, why wouldn’t they work in the new novel? At least, that’s the thinking. The problem that creators overlook is that consumers can easily spot these reuses. Consumers can overlook small reuses of words and phrases in a novel, particularly if a specific character has a peculiar speech idiosyncrasy when using those words and phrases. In this specific case, it adds to character development. However, there’s a fine line between reusing words and phrases to make a character development point and plagiarizing your own past works. Consumers do recognize large plagiaristic reuses and judge the work’s merit accordingly.

Fallout 76

Here is where we come to the crux of this article and Fallout 76. Fallout 76 is a completely hosted, online video game world. It is also a world almost entirely derived from Fallout 4 with only the terrain, cities and landscape being different, but at the same time entirely reusing nearly every Fallout 4 asset and even the game engine itself.

Fallout 76 is also a world where nothing except assets and visual and audio data exists on your computer device. It is a game where only the rendering occurs on your device. The actual game world itself resides remotely on servers that Bethesda owns and operates. Even your character and saved game exists not on your computer, but on Bethesda’s server. If Bethesda shuts down the Fallout 76 service, so too does your character disappear along with all of the time you spent creating that character. Unlike Fallout 4 where your saved games live on your device and you can reload and play the game years later, Fallout 76 is beholden to Bethesda to remain in business for this game service to continue to exist. If Bethesda were to fold or shut the game down, Fallout 76 would cease to exist along with all of the work and time you spent with your character. All you’ll have left is a bulky game client on your device with no where to connect. Only videos or screen shots you may have of your game progress saved on your local device will be there to remember what that game was. I should point out that in Fallout 4, if you use mods, you should also make sure you have a saved game without mods. If Bethesda shuts down entirely, so too does Bethesda.net. This means that you will not be able to unload or remove mods as long as Bethesda.net remains down. So, make sure you have a vanilla save of your character without any mods loaded in case this eventuality occurs (side note). While Fallout 4 is playable without Internet, Fallout 76 is entirely dependent on it.

What that also means is that because the Fallout 76 engine runs remotely, it means Bethesda can roll out wholesale changes to the product at will and at any time. And, unfortunately, they perform this revisionism regularly. However, they’re not performing this revisionism in a way that makes ‘editing’ sense.

Earlier I discussed simple editing that allows for polishing a product. Unfortunately, that’s not what Bethesda is doing with its Fallout 76 revisionism. Instead of polishing Fallout 76 to fix basic bugs, glitches and improve the basic performance and fundamental user experience, Bethesda is adding large new sections of content and changing the rules of the game. The added content is over and above (and outside) of the context of the original game story as it was released. In fact, most of the additional content that Bethesda has so far added has not impacted the base original game. Even though this is still a form of revisionism, it revises the work by adding new stuff, but at the expense of not correcting basic problems within the original game… and not expanding the game in actually meaningful Fallout-themed ways.

“Where is the game today?”, you ask. Great question. Fallout 76’s original “Adventure Mode’s” fundamental game experience is still the same as it was when it launched (as lackluster as it is), bugs and all. Unfortunately, to add many of the new additions to the game, Bethesda has had to tinker with some of the fundamental game mechanics and rules that operate the base game. What that has meant to the game is broken, changed and altered base game playability. This means that for Bethesda to add these inconsequential new features, it has broken even more pieces of a game which where formerly fully working… in addition to the broken features that have not yet been fixed. They’ve even introduced newly broken features.

And here is where Fallout 76 is today. Instead of Bethesda focusing on simple basic editing to correct fundamental and original game flaws to make the original gaming experience better, it has decided to focus almost solely on adding new content to the game in an attempt to attract new consumers. In that process it has broken even more of the game rather than fixing original broken functionality. It is an entirely flawed rationale.

While Bethesda’s changes may seem to bring in new players for the short term, the difficulty is that these newly added game additions have severely limited play value. In fact, these additions have such limited play value, I’d expect gamers to get tired of playing them within 1-2 weeks at most. Most give up on them in only a few days. The original game might take you a month or two to get through. Yet, these newest additions might hold someone’s interest for a week (usually less) if you’re lucky! Yeah, that’s a lot of work for such a tiny payoff. Worse, these additions do not extend or modify the original story. These are effectively “mods” that add something new, but add no value to the original game’s story or content or, indeed, expand Fallout in consequential ways. These additions are effectively end-game content. They’re tiny and almost entirely inconsequential.

Backpack

I won’t go into discussing every addition, but I will discuss this one because it offers us insight into Bethesda’s thinking. This add-on item gives the player a backpack that offers a little more carry weight based on the character’s level. A level 10 character, for example, would get fractionally more carry weight (10 points). For each 10 levels, your character will get maybe 10 more carry weight, but you’re required to toss the old backpack and recreate a new one to get the updated carry weight, thus applying all new mods again to get your new backpack back to look like your old backpack’s setup.

It’s a lot of work doing this at each 10 levels. This is one of the fundamental design problems with this game. Instead of directly allowing leveling up of existing armor and weapons, you must scrap it and recreate it anew… or find it again. If it’s Legendary, then it is stuck at whatever level it is. Most weapons and armor top out at level 50 and the perk benefits stop there. This effectively means that even if your character is level 150 or 300, you’re still wearing level 50 armor…. which effectively caps the player’s level at 50. The level cap is not based on what your character’s level is, but the maximum of your armor and your weapons. When these max out at level 50, being a level 300 player doesn’t really in any way help you. The only thing it does is means you’ve been playing the game for a long time. But, effectively your level is capped by the highest level armor and weapons you have on you.

The small backpack, I believe, tops out also at level 50 with a maximum of 60 carry weight. You can’t infinitely keep leveling up the backpack. Though, there is a large backpack that doubles this carry weight, but requires even more grinding to achieve. This means that once you reach level 50 and can craft a level 50 backpack, that’s as far as the small backpack perk goes. Sure, you can add on additions like the cooler and other perks, but all of that is still capped at the maximum level of that backpack.

Unfortunately, for the backpack, the situation gets worse. When it was first introduced, the way to get the small backpack was through a series of convoluted quest lines involving a “Boy Scout” badge-like approach. You had to get “badges”. To get these badges, you had to perform any number of varying activities. You only had to have three of a larger number of badges. Once you had three badges, you then presented yourself with your badges and a successfully completed test and you were issued the small backpack plans. So then you graduated to the Possum rank only to start this whole process all over again for a second series of grinds to get the large backpack plans.

However, later, Bethesda in its infinite revisionist tendencies decided that you could simply go find the small backpack plans in a container. No longer did you need to jump through all of the convoluted lengthy tadpole badge hoop quests. Quests, I might add that could be difficult to accomplish without a teammate. For example, to complete one of the quests, you had to “revive an ally”. What that meant is staging it with a teammate. It’s not super easy to die in Fallout 76. Even then, there are two death types. One type is an incapacitated death where a player can stimpak and revive you. The other death type offers no hope of revival. The player simply has to respawn somewhere and start over.

Staging an incapacitated death can be difficult at the best of times. Getting this specific badge meant either grinding until you ‘accidentally’ found someone in that state or staging it to get it done sooner. Staging this is harder than you might think. I’m not even sure why this was required for the badge, yet there we are. Like using liquid flux to create fusion cores, reviving an ally is a questionable requirement for this quest line. I’m not even sure what Bethesda was thinking. Some of these requirements make no sense.

The point is, Bethesda invalidated the need to go to through the long “Boy Scout” quest line allowing you to bypass all of that by simply grabbing the plans, as long as you know where the container is (which is incidentally located in Morgantown Airport in the Overseer’s Cache). Though, if you wanted the backpack extras, you still had to go through the badge quests to earn scout credits to buy these additions (yet another currency type in the game)… as if caps, scrip and atom were not yet enough.

Bugs, Bugs and more Bugs

I’m not talking about the flying kind here. Worse, because Bethesda has chosen to prioritize the addition of new content over pretty much everything else, it likewise means Bethesda’s team has completely ignored fixing even the most basic of flaws in the original base game.

For example, in a video game that relies on shooting mechanics and melee attacks to function, you’d think a AAA developer could at least make these mechanics sound and “just work”. Unfortunately, even in the base game which was released a year ago, these fundamental basics have never functioned correctly. You can literally shoot directly at enemies and the bullets simply won’t connect. Not just once, but many times in a row. Even button presses on the controller aren’t reliable. Press, press, press… and nothing. It might take 5 successive presses for even one press to be registered by the game. This is a actually first in the video game industry. No other game have I ever played where a game’s control is this unresponsive and unreliable. If, as a video game developer, you can’t even register a button press from a controller, perhaps you shouldn’t be in the video game business?

Anyway, while the game consumes the ammo and shows the animation of the gun doing its thing, the game doesn’t recognize the collision on the enemy, even when you’re standing less than arm’s-length next to the enemy.

Oh, but it gets worse. When you spawn into a game world, there’s a huge time delay between the time when your character appears in the game world and when the visual part of the game releases control to you to begin playing. This time discrepancy is not insignificant. It could be upwards of 1-2 minutes before your game is handed control and the world is fully rendered. What that means is that if you spawn into a “hot zone” of enemies, your character could be dead before the loading screen has even disappeared.

Fallout 76 has even more basic problems. For example, when you spawn into a new game world, your character can spawn into a “blast zone”. A blast zone is a zone where another player has set off a nuke and irradiated the area. Irradiated areas in Fallout 76 last for at least 30 minutes to an hour real time, maybe longer. Because you’re spawned into the “last place” where your character formerly was and because you’re not given a choice where to spawn on load in, you could load into an irradiated zone unprepared. This, of course once again, means your player is dead upon spawning in. Worse, because the game force drops all of your junk upon character death, you’ve lost all of the junk you were carrying with little hope of getting it back. If your character does not have the preparation to handle a nuke zone (Hazmat suit or similar), you can’t venture in and get your stuff back. If you choose to hop servers to get out of that blast zone, you definitely can’t get your junk back. Junk drops exist in only one server. If your character dies in one game world and you are forced to hop game servers, your junk is forever gone. One of Todd Howard’s promises of Fallout 76 was that we shouldn’t need worry about ‘servers’. Yet, in this case, we very much do.

These are bugs that shouldn’t exist. These are bugs that should have been solved before the game was ever released. Yet, here we are a year later and they still exist. These are, by no means, the only problems / bugs in this game. In fact, there are so many bugs, I could write a book and still miss some. Anyway, let’s make a small-ish list:

  • Looping “stuck” audio out of one or both audio channels
  • Random server disconnects
  • Random inventory lost
  • Random character deaths
  • Getting stuck in power armor
  • The “wendigo” character problem (character has stretched elongated limbs)
  • Getting stuck on scenery (forced to fast travel)
  • Spawning inside of objects (stuck)
  • VATs doesn’t calculate accuracy correctly
  • VATs not working correctly
  • Perk cards not working (Storm Chaser almost never works when it’s raining)
  • Lack of perk cards for certain basic features (no weight reduction for rifle class?)
  • Too many perk cards for some functions (how many rifleman cards do we need?)
  • The Scorchbeast Queen event only appears IF another player decides to nuke that area. If not, the event never appears… and it’s the biggest multiplayer event in the game! … and yes, I do consider this a bug.
  • Losing junk after character death because of “server disconnect”
  • Stupid crafting recipes:
    • Fusion Cores — Crafting a fusion core requires only every single version of stable flux? Wait..what? You’re making a nuclear battery. It should require aluminum, copper, nuclear waste, plastic and silver. You can’t make a battery from liquid flux alone! Where does the case come from? The properties of flux, while irradiated, cannot produce an electric current in its liquid form when simply combined, let alone produce a hard shell case that approximates the shape of a fusion core.
    • Tick Blood Tequila — This one requires pure crimson flux. What? It’s not named Irradiated Tick Blood Tequila, it’s named Tick Blood Tequila. It shouldn’t require ANY flux.
    • Stable Flux — Making stable flux requires components that are only available in nuke zones and, more specifically, only available in very specific nuked zones. And even more specifically, are only dropped from very specific killed enemies in these very specific nuked zones. To craft stable flux requires 10 “raw” flux and 1 each of glowing mass, high radiation fluids and hardened mass. You cannot find raw flux, glowing mass, high radiation fluids or hardened mass on ANY other enemy in the game, in any other containers or in any other non-irradiated locations. The additional components can only be found in irradiated zones on very specific enemies after a kill. Even then, these drops are not guaranteed.. which means you need to kill A LOT of them to find all three of these “extra” components. Stable flux is easily the rarest required item in the game… not including cosmetic outfits (Red Asylum Outfit, Witch’s Costume, White Powder Jumpsuit, etc).  Not only are they rare, but they weigh a ton. Each Stable Flux weighs 1 unless you have the perk Pack Rat card which reduces the weight of all junk items.
    • Raw Flux — Separate but related to the above, raw flux is only found in nuke zones. It cannot be found anywhere else in the game. This means that every player in the game is beholden to other players to “create” a nuke zone to enable obtaining of not only raw flux, but high radiation fluid, glowing mass and hardened mass. You can obtain flux from the Queen event when it closes, but only if it just happens to drop it at the end and only if the event closes successfully. Raw flux (when refined to stable) is a required component for certain quests and crafting as well (Tick Blood Tequila and Fusion Cores).  Note that raw flux is considered ‘Aid’ not ‘Junk’. You’ll have to apply Thru-Hiker to reduce the weight for these.
    • Why Raw Flux is Aid and Stable Flux is Junk, I’ve no idea. But, inconsistency abounds in this otherwise mediocre game… thus one big reason why it IS mediocre.
    • Any other recipes that require “stable” flux
    • There’s not a single recipe that requires “raw” flux. Yet, it’s a huge component in the game. Raw flux is not even worth much anymore (revisionism at its finest).
    • Food Recipes — Most food recipes only provide food and nothing else. Sure, you can go find other more fancy recipes, yet they also only provide food. I’m not sure what Bethesda was thinking here, but if you spend the time to go track down a specific advanced recipe, that recipe should provide more than simple food. It should provide a perk increase, such as added luck or agility or improved health or AP regeneration. Yet, most advanced recipes offer none of this. What’s the incentive to find and craft advanced recipes when it provides nothing more than what a basic recipe provides? Sometimes even the most basic recipes offer better perks than the “advanced” recipes.
    • DLC — The add-ons that Bethesda has offered beyond the base game have excluded the use of perk cards entirely. For example, the distillery added to the game during a spring DLC addition gave us the ability to craft alcohol using a newly added crafting table. The problem is, none of the existing base game perk cards apply to this new crafting table. And no new perk cards were introduced, either. For example, Super Duper is one of the most widely used base game cards. This card offers the chance to double whatever you craft on crafting tables… except, this card does not apply to the distillery crafting table. While you can sometimes double your output while crafting stimpaks or radaway or when crafting ammo, you cannot double the output when crafting beer, wine or whiskey. It makes no sense, if Super Duper applies to all other crafting tables, it should apply to the distiller crafting table. That Bethesda selectively declines to apply known perk cards to its add-ons is just a jerk move… and, in my opinion, makes the game worse.

And here we come to even more issues:

  • Gun ammo is unloaded at every game load-in — Instead of the game remembering which gun was currently being held and how much ammo it has, the game unloads the gun of ammo on login. This means that if the game crashes or you quit and come back later, you must reload your weapon immediately upon login. If you fail to remember to do this MANUALLY, you will ‘click’ and nothing happens.
  • Quests fail to progress for nonsensical reasons — Quests can get stuck simply because the game won’t recognize the most basic of things. Some quests requires that you be drunk to complete them. In some cases, the game simply won’t progress even though the UI shows the effect is active. The quest simply chooses to ignore it and not progress.
  • Quests disappear — You can be questing along, then have the game crash only to load in and find that quest is no longer part of your quest inventory.
  • Quests cannot be abandoned — In previous Bethesda games, you could quit a quest and restart it by going back to the source. That is not possible in Fallout 76. If you pick up a quest, it stays in your quest inventory forever (or until it randomly disappears on its own). This is particularly problematic for quests that reload with incredibly loud voice overs (Grafton and Rose).
  • Quest markers do not always appear in the HUD — Quests put up markers in the compass HUD. Yet, at times, these markers are simply not there. Not all quest progressions are easy to locate. Perhaps it’s a specific computer terminal in a building with perhaps 20 terminals. Without a marker, you would have to run to every single terminal in the building and try them all. It’s one thing if a game is based on having no markers. It’s entirely another if the game has quest markers that fail to work reliably… and this is where Fallout 76 lives.
  • Music that can’t be muted — There is certain environmental music that cannot be muted. Even though I’ve turned off music in settings, the game insists on still playing music at certain events.
  • Paper Bags Drops — For a long while, dropping items into the environment was fraught with peril. You could drop something that should appear in a paper bag, yet no bag would ever appear and your item was entirely lost. While it seems that this issue may have been mostly solved, it still exists occasionally. I have dropped paper bags which never appeared even after it was claimed to have been fixed.

So now, let’s discuss C.A.M.P. bugs. I’d rather not because there’s a huge laundry list of items here, but let’s do it anyway.

  • Camp Circumference — When you drop your camp down, a circle is created that outlines the border of your camp’s buildable areas. You can’t see this circle in full. You are limited by seeing this circle from a ground perspective. This mean you must guess as to exactly how this circle fits onto the ground. If you get it wrong, you must pay to move your camp again. Each time you move your camp, you lose more caps. You can’t adjust or fine tune your camp’s circle. It is where it lands. Bethesda could have raised the camera off the ground to show us the circle from above, yet nope.
  • Randomly disappearing objects — I’ve had a number of camp objects that I’ve built simply disappear. Sure, someone reading might think, “Oh, it was just damaged and needs to be repaired”. Nope, I’ve checked that. The object is simply gone. I’ve had this bug happen a month after the game launched and I’ve had it happen as recently as a week before writing this article. This is a long standing bug that has basically existed since the game launched… and it still exists today. Worse, when these objects disappear, they still contribute to the camp’s budget. Even deleting everything in your camp will not free up these lost objects. Writing Bethesda support won’t lead to anything fruitful. The Bethesda support team actually does nothing other than write emails about how they can do nothing to help you.
  • Camp Budget — Bethesda has increased the camp budget exactly once… when they introduced the Distiller crafting table. Even then, you can’t build much with the allotted camp budget. It’s large enough to create a small structure, but if you want to defend that structure with turrets, expect to make your camp buildings much, much smaller. Turrets still cost a whopping amount of camp budget simply to create a single turret. If you want 5 turrets, expect at least 1/4 of your camp budget gone (perhaps even more than this).
  • 24 players per server — It’s crystal clear, this number of players is too many for the way they’ve built their servers. Half this number would make the servers much less laggy, much faster and overall perform much better. Yet, we’re forced to deal with 24 players on a server where even just one player can bring the server to its knees when spamming a crafting table at their camp.
  • Portions of objects disappear — If you’ve ever set up a fertilizer resource (a Brahmin Pen) or the new Scavenger Bot (Atom shop item), you can find portions of the object become invisible. I’ve had the hay on the Brahmin resource vanish. I’ve had the scavenger hatch become invisible. And again, no, it wasn’t damaged. When I open the workshop, the only thing that appears is a vibrant green untextured object. It’s most definitely a bug.

These are but many of Fallout 76’s most basic fundamental mechanic flaws and these are not anywhere close to all of them. These problems have existed in the base game… long before Bethesda added their newest add-ons. These are fundamental problems that, for a AAA game title and for an AAA developer like Bethesda, shouldn’t even exist. That these basic fundamental flaws, problems and, yes, bugs, exist means that Bethesda shouldn’t even be in this business.

But, wait there are even more problems afoot.

Graphics

Not only does Fallout 76 add an annoying haze overlay effect onto bright light sources, the graphics of Fallout 76 are actually much, much worse than Fallout 4. The shadows are incredibly low res by comparison. Some images don’t resolve to high res until you’re within arm’s length of the image. You can literally see the 8 bit sized pixels. For example, the GNN poster is a lighted decoration you can put up on your camp. When you approach it from a distance, you can see a very pixelated image. When you move within arm’s length, the pixelated image stays for a moment, then loads to higher res right before your eyes. You can even see the image load in. Sometimes textures will randomly toggle between low res and high res even while standing still.

In Fallout 4, this low res image loading problem never existed. The images were loaded at high res the moment you were within gunshot range. That Fallout 76’s graphics engine is this piss poor tells me Bethesda has no idea how to run a quality MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game). Though, I’d debate that 24 players constitutes an MMORPG. Perhaps MORPG (multiplayer online role playing game) more accurately describes Fallout 76. I digress.

Worse, it’s not limited to image loading.12-7-2018_5-55-00_AM-ztlpzw1g There are many problems with Fallout 76’s graphics including, but not limited to, seeing god rays through rocks, seeing image artifacts on trees when looking downhill, low res textures, poor quality lighting and this list goes on and on. Comparing Fallout 4’s graphics to Fallout 76, there really is no comparison. Fallout 4 looks sharp and crystal clear. Its sun and effects look realistic.

In Fallout 76, the sun disc used to have a horizontal lens flare effect. This was early when the game first released. In later releases, this lens flare effect was inexplicably removed and has never been added back. It’s still not back. The distance effects look bad and I mean really, really bad. The distance effects in Fallout 4 were fair, but looked mostly okay. There are definitely better graphics engines, like Ubisoft’s AnvilNext, but Fallout 4 did a decently respectable job for its engine.

In Fallout 76, the whole graphics system has taken a huge step backwards. The rendering is worse, overall. Some of this I get. The devs needed to reduce how much is required to download over the network. Otherwise, the network chatter would be too overloaded and the game wouldn’t function, particularly with gamers on slower networks. I get that. But, at the same time, it makes the game look amateur. This is one of those times where a AAA developer should have withheld the game and decided not to release it.

You can release junk or you can release nothing. Junk turns your brand sour. Releasing nothing increases expectation of the next product. Bethesda should stick to what they do best. Single player offline video games. Stay way from these online games where not only does Bethesda clearly have no experience, they have learned nothing since launching The Elder Scrolls online. At least use that MMORPG as a learning experience. Nope, they started over from scratch and had to relearn everything they already learned from ESO. Even then, Fallout 76 is still stumbling through mistake after mistake… mistakes that had already been corrected long ago in ESO.

Grinding and more Grinding

Grinding has always been a thing in most MMOs. Grinding is the way for the game developer to keep gamers interested in the game. Developers must ask themselves, “How much grinding is too much?” Bethesda, unfortunately, hasn’t asked itself that question and has firmly led Fallout 76 into the territory of too much grinding.

In fact, in Fallout 76, you’ll spend more time grinding for resources than doing just about any other activity in the game. Even going into final battles is less about the combat and more about grinding for XP, eating food and the loot drops. No one goes into the Queen battle to actually kill the Queen. They go into it because of what they’ll get from her in the end and what they’ll get from when the quest closes successfully. It’s not about the combat, it’s about what drops you get.

That’s not good game design. That’s crap design. You want to design a game for gamers to want to engage in the combat because of the combat, not because of loot drops. Unfortunately, because the combat in Fallout 76 is so exceedingly bad, the only thing we can look forward to at the end of a Queen event is the drops. In fact, I believe all of the loot the Queen drops should stop being dropped period. No more random queen loot drops. Instead, she should drop only caps and scrip (the newest currency you get when you sell Legendary items). This currency can then be redeemed at a vendor in the game world, such as at the legendary vendor Purveyor Murmrgh. This currency can then be obtained in other ways throughout the game. This means that if you choose not to do the Queen event, you can still get the same loot in alternative ways and using alternative means. You’re not beholden to join a combat event simply to obtain flux, legendary items or plans or whatever other things the Queen usually drops. Instead, no matter which role playing choice you choose to follow in the world, you still have equal chance of getting choice weapons, armor and loot drops. An open world RPG should allow for multiple paths to get to the same point.

Open World RPG

An open world RPG is about being able to do things in whatever way the gamer chooses. If the gamer wants to focus on crafting, they should be able to skill-tree up through a crafting system. If the gamer wants to focus on combat, there should be a combat skill-tree. No one skill-tree should become THE skill-tree. In Fallout 76, if you choose not to adopt combat as your skill-tree choice, you really can’t get much from the game. Further, loot drops in the world should not be unique to a specific triggered event. All loot drops should be equally available throughout the world to all skill-trees… perhaps, as I suggested above, by dropping currency rather than weapons and armor. The currency can then be exchanged for weapons and armor.

However, certain “main quest” quests may be required for all players and these required drops should allow all players to access and use certain fundamental items necessary for later main quests. However, all tertiary quest loot drops should be available in differing ways to all player types.

Stable Flux is a good example of this. This resource should be available in ways other than by visiting nuke zones. You should be able to buy this resource in the world from at least one in-game-world vendor. Grahm is a wandering Super Mutant vendor and is a very capable and shrewd vendor. Because he’s constantly traveling the wasteland, he’s the perfect vendor to sell stable flux. Not only does it make sense that he can wander into nuke zones and gather and refine flux, he can then sell it to us. Perhaps not in large quantities, but he should at least always have it on him to buy.

Flux shouldn’t be the one and only one needed resource in the game where the gamer is required to gather it under very limited and specific conditions that rarely occur. This part of the game was entirely a mishandled by Bethesda. Bethesda also needs to recognize that there is more than one play style that can be had in an RPG world. It needs to recognize that not all gamers go into Fallout 76 for the gun combat. Many do, but not everyone does. For those who choose not to go for the combat, the game itself penalizes this style of gamer by not allowing easy access to the rarer items in the game. In other words, you are forced into Fallout 76 for the combat if you want to gain access to the rarest items in the game. To be more balanced with all gamer types, Bethesda needs to rethink this stance.

Power Armor

12-9-2018_9-41-56_PM-3ra4ojsuOne of the biggest introductions into the Fallout franchise was the addition of power armor. This is heavy armor powered by a fusion core. When you enter the armor, the character is encased entirely in a metal shell covered over by pieces of armor. These armors have specific ratings and have specific attributes.

In Fallout 4, Power Armor was considered the strongest armor in the game, particularly if you wore Legendary pieces. If you had a certain set of power armor, you were practically invincible under most conditions. However, the armor did take damage and break. In Fallout 4, power armor breaks relatively quickly… particularly the legs. While it protects you well, it also damages quickly. The legs were the weakest parts of the whole set.

Unfortunately, in Fallout 76, Power Armor has actually become a joke. It’s easily the weakest armor set in the game. It’s weaker than its corresponding sets in Fallout 4. It’s weaker than even Marine armor found in the game. For example, wearing power armor in Fallout 76 sees absolutely zero protection against a level 52 Colonel Gutsy shooting 5.56 ammo… even if your character is level 150 or 300. A single bullet from a Colonel Gutzy with 5.56 eats straight through the armor and damages at least 1/10th of the HP bar. It might even damage more than this per shot. This is entirely bugged. Certainly, in Fallout 4, 5.56 loaded Gutsy did eat through health rapidly, it’s not nearly as rapid as it is in Fallout 76. The two tertiary benefits to power armor is its radiation protection benefit and its ability to fall from any height without sustaining HP damage. Yet, its armor protection levels are exceedingly weak.

This power armor problem has only gotten worse, not better. Power Armor is now even harder to maintain. When Fusion Core generators used to offer 100% charged fusion cores, Bethesda has changed the rules of the game and they now only provide 50% charged fusion cores. This means you now have to carry double the amount of fusion cores that you formerly had to carry when they were 100% charged. Now if you want 100% charged fusion cores, you need to make them with Flux or hope that the energy power plants still provide 100% charged cores in those workshop generators. Admittedly, those power plant generators used to offer 100% charged cores every 7 minutes, but with Bethesda’s revisionist tendencies, I haven’t tested this to find out if they still do. My guess is that they now provide 50% charged fusion cores.

Worse, most fusion cores randomly found sitting around in the game outside of a generator have a 25% or less charge. I don’t even get this change. Bethesda, do you want us to use Power Armor or not? It clearly seems that by making these silly reductions that Bethesda doesn’t want us to actually use Power Armor. So then, why even include Power Armor in the game? If they want to restrict the use of power armor, simply raise the weight of the fusion cores. Leave them at 100%, but raising the weight means carrying less.

One last thing about Fallout 76 and Power Armor is the lack of legendary armor pieces. While Fallout 4 had multiple legendary pieces of Power Armor (chest, legs, arms, etc), there is not a single piece of legendary power armor in Fallout 76. Not a single piece. Yet there is every type of regular armor in a one, two and three star legendary format. Even worse, for PVP purposes, Power Armor is weaker than level 5 regular armor when the combatant has perk card Tank Killer equipped at maximum. What’s the point in having and wearing Power Armor when a card like Tank Killer is available? Talk about overpowered and needing a rebalance. Tank Killer is one card that needs to go.

It’s crystal clear, Bethesda devs don’t want us using Power Armor. It has no legendary effects, it’s weak overall and the game offers up such stupid perk cards as Tank Killer that bypass armor ratings. So then, what’s the point? Even regular armor is stronger than this. It’s okay to provide a card like Tank Killer if an equal and opposite perk card is available to counteract Tank Killer and strengthen the Power Armor. But, there is no equal and opposing card. Yet another design miss that has never been corrected. In fact, none of these power armor issues have ever been addressed in Fallout 76.

Characters, Loot and Caps and Requested Features

This is another issue that has not ever been discussed or addressed and has existed since release. Fallout 76 allows players to create up to 5 different characters to use in Fallout 76. How we choose to use those characters is up to us. If one of our players has progressed well beyond level 15, yet still has a level 15 set of power armor, it’s stuck in that character’s inventory. How about letting us share the wealth between our characters? What if I want to transfer scrip, caps or pioneer scout credit between characters. Atom is a global currency available to all characters. Why not scrip, caps and pioneer scout credit?

Bethesda has yet to address or even offer a system for transfer of caps, loot, weapons or armor between our 5 characters. Instead, we have to rely on a third party to temporarily hold and then hand back our loot, caps, armor and weapons. I mean, seriously. Why do I have to make friends with a random on Fallout 76 just to impose on them and have them hold my stuff simply to transfer between characters?

Instead of giving gamers what we want from this game, like the above suggested feature, Bethesda spends time creating Biv and Distillers (unnecessary), the backpack (pointless), Fasnacht (stupid), Meat Week (lame), Scrip (really?), Nuclear Winter (not needed), Survival mode (minimally even used) and Atom Shop items (expensive). All of these developments so far are definitely inconsequential and meaningless to the overall Fallout 76 base story.

How about overhauling the perk system and give us perk card load outs? Let us, at one click, rearrange our perk cards without having to go into the perk card system and manually, one-by-one switch them in and out. Note, this feature is heavily needed after reaching level 50 when SPECIAL points are capped. You can’t add or rearrange your SPECIAL points, but you can rearrange perk cards at will. So, why not add something we want, like 5 perk card preset load-outs? This allows us to set our character up for a bloodied build or a shotgun build or an explosives build or even eating food build with one click? Why don’t we have this feature? Why carry around a bunch of equipped random useless perk cards when they’re not needed. Only equip them when they need to be used… like equipping camp cards when in camp or crafting cards when crafting. It’s insane to expect us to spend time rearranging our cards for 5-10 minutes before we can begin an activity. You certainly cannot spend time in the middle of combat doing this. But you could easily single click a favorite perk card load out to load while in the middle of combat… particularly if a gun breaks and you need to switch weapons and combat tactics.

In fact, why aren’t there armor load outs? Why do I have to manually go and load each armor piece manually. Why can’t I create an armor load out and then favorite it? Then, when I need it, simply select the load-out favorite and that set of armor is immediately worn. It makes no sense what Bethesda is doing with this game. How about giving us requested features rather than these mostly stupid additions? How about fixing long standing bugs? How about giving us gamers some love rather than a bunch of hate (banning tons of gamers for duping without actually knowing if they did).

Rebalancing and Revisionism

A revisit to Fallout 76 a year later wouldn’t be complete without discussing Bethesda’s constant and incessant meddling with Fallout 76’s rules. With any game, be it a board game or a video game, a set of established rules must exist when a game launches. These rules govern how the game is to be played. You’ll understand why I bring up board games in just a moment.

With video games, particularly with MORPG games like Fallout 76, the game developer seems to think they can randomly change the rules like they can their hat or their clothes or shoes. It doesn’t work that way. Establishing and maintaining a set of consistent and constant rules in which a game operates is fundamental to learning how to play a game.

Yet, Bethesda has invalidated rules, changed rules, reduced rules, increased rules and mucked with the innards of the rules with each and every release under the guise of “balancing”. Let’s circle back around to board games. If Hasbro decided to rewrite Monopoly’s rules based on the way “many” play Monopoly at home, many people would be rightly angry. The official rules have been established to play the game in a specific “official” way. Sure, some people personally change the official rules for expediency. For example, following every Monopoly rule exactly to the letter could mean an extremely long drawn out game. Therefore, people have changed and simplified the rules to reduce the duration of such a long game. Some people aren’t in it for the long haul, they simply want to play the game in 20 or 30 minutes and end it. There are a number of board games that have alternative rule sets that lead to shorter play times. These alternative rule sets are not official, but they exist to allow players to enjoy the game without all of the minutiae required when using the official rules.

With Fallout 76, a video game, it’s still a game… not unlike a board game. Much of the game is automated, interactive and visual, but it’s still nonetheless a game… a game with an established set of rules. We learn these rules quickly.

However, when a game developer decides to alter the rules continually, it’s difficult to keep up with an ever changing set of new rules. This is why establishing a single set of rules and maintaining that set consistently is the answer. Modifying the rules every month means no one can know what the rules are today, tomorrow or in a month. You can’t adequately play a video game if the official rules are constantly changing. This is why revisionism in video games is ultimately detrimental to a video game and to the video game industry as a whole. Consistency in a video game is the key to success. Variability leads to failure… particularly in a role playing game where rules define what makes an RPG an RPG.

Improvements?

Has Fallout 76 improved since its release? No, it hasn’t. Certainly, Bethesda has added new, but mostly inconsequential features such as backpacks, limited duration events offering cosmetic item drops, liquor that’s worse than the original already in the game,  money making cosmetics to its store and a few pay-to-win features (scrap and repair kits). But there is little here that offers solid well crafted, thoughtful additions that make that game world a more compelling play experience. These additions have been weak, shallow experiences lasting short amounts of time and, frankly, leave a bad taste in the mouth. Many of them are not even in keeping in the Fallout universe… I’m looking at you Nuclear Winter.

Slowly and at the same time, Bethesda is gutting the game of its original rules and methodically replacing them with a new rule set. These new rules are intended to slow the player’s progression down, make the game even more grindy, keep the gamer playing longer to potentially visit the Atom store and actually buy something, you know, with real money.

Unfortunately, the actual base game has not improved. It is still the same mess it was when it was released nearly one year ago. The same bugs that existed then still exist today. Sure, a few have been fixed, but far too many are still active. Worse, in Bethesda’s zeal to add new content, they have broken more mechanics than they have fixed. What this means is that while the game has added new content, it’s come with a steep price of even more bugs on top of the existing bugs. It’s a never ending bugfest compounded by even more bugs created by each add-on.

Worse, Bethesda is clearly not using standard code practices. There have been many instances where bugs fixed in one release reappear in the next release. This regression behavior isn’t possible if a company is using industry standard coding, code storage and release practices. Regression bugs are not possible when code is properly documented, when it’s checked in properly and when one person can’t overwrite a previous coder’s changes. It’s crystal clear, Bethesda’s code and release practices for Fallout 76 are an unmitigated disaster. Not only is the game itself a disaster, so are Bethesda’s coding practices. It’s clear, Bethesda hasn’t the first clue how to write and maintain a 24/7 always on service, let alone a video game… let alone software.

As an example of this horrible coding, Bethesda introduced a new bug that caused all red headlamps found in the game world to inexplicably become Atom Shop restricted items. When an in-game item is marked with the Atom Shop symbol, it cannot be dropped or sold to other players. This meant you could no longer sell red headlamps mods or helmets with a red headlamp found or created in the game because the red headlamps became restricted. This meant that you, likewise, couldn’t at all sell power armor sets containing a red headlamp that, you know, you have found in the game world while this bug was active. Bethesda was extremely slow to respond to fix this bug. It took them about 1 month before it was finally addressed… even though they roll patches weekly.

Another bug they introduced in July saw to it that gamers with a large number of power armor sets had to spend a large amount of time reassembling all of these sets of armor. In July, Bethesda separated all of the power armor pieces from their corresponding power armor frames. This meant spending not only the time to reassemble all of the power armor sets one-by-one, it meant being heavily overencumbered. For example, I had at least 10 sets of power armor on my player. Some were also in my stash. When they separated all of the power armor pieces, they all dropped all armor pieces separately into my player’s inventory… even from those that were in the stash box. This meant that my character ended up carrying about 500-600 more in carry weight after that patch. Because my character was not in camp when this occurred, I couldn’t fast travel back there. To reassemble power armor, you have two options. Deploy the power armor and reinsert all of the pieces wherever you are in the world or do it on a power armor station. The former method can be done anywhere, but you’re easily and frequently interrupted by combat. Because the power armor frame only remains out for a maximum of 60 seconds, you don’t have much time to do this… and it’s easy to run out of time. Doing it on a power armor station, there is no 60 second timer as long as you’re crafting.

Because a bunch of my frames were in the stash, I couldn’t get access to those except either at a train station or at my base. Because my base was closer than a train station, I had to spend time hoofing my overencumbered character back to the base so I could reassemble. This probably took 30 minutes because of the AP problem and enemies. Then, when I got there, I had to drop each and every frame down, reassemble and then do it over and over until all were reassembled. All told, this issue took close to 1.5 hours. All so that Bethesda could “rework” the Power Armor which, by the way, is still just as broken as it was before the patch. Whatever they did didn’t do anything to fix the underlying problems. Worse, instead of you know, actually playing the game, I was messing about with fixing up something that I shouldn’t have had to fix. When patches encroach on the user experience, you REALLY need to think long and hard about releasing these patches. Bethesda’s patch could have easily auto-reassembled all of the armors after the patch so that the users didn’t have to spend time doing this. They have access to all of this on their system internally. There’s absolutely no reason why I (and so many other players) had to spend our gaming time screwing about with reassembling power armor sets when we could have been, you know, actually questing… the reason we actually bought this game in the first place.

In short, the game has not improved. In fact, it is pretty much the same exact disaster it was when it released almost one year ago. In many ways, it’s actually worse. The base game has not improved at all.

What has been added to the game is inconsequential and, for the most part, unnecessary. The backpacks are, in fact, entirely pointless and even moreso once they released the plans into the overseer’s cache without the need to go through the convoluted Boy Scout quests. Instead of the backpack, the devs could have simply raised the carry weight on our characters. No, backpack needed. The backpack was simply an Atom shop marketing gimmick to get people to buy into their expensive ‘skins’ to make the backpack more “visually pleasing”. Does it really matter if your backpack looks like a Nuka Cola cooler or a piece of luggage? In fact, most of the Atom Shop skins that have been crafted are actually quite ugly. The basic backpack is functional looking and at least looks like a backpack. The other backpacks are horrendously ugly contraptions strapped to your back. The Nuka Cola cooler could have looked cool if it weren’t completely covered up by a bunch of horrendously ugly straps obscuring most of the Nuka Cola logo. If it had simply been a Nuka Cola branded cooler backpack with no straps at all, that would have been fine. This skin needs a major rework.

Game Modes

As of this article, there three game modes available:

  • Adventure Mode — This is the original game mode that was introduced upon release. It still contains nearly all of the same bugs it did when it was released.
  • Survival Mode — This game mode has been retired as of October 1st, 2019. This mode was introduced early in 2019 and offers what Bethesda claimed to be a more challenging experience. Well, it wasn’t. It’s was simply an annoying experience. It was intended as a PVP environment, but was nothing more than a way for PVP players to run around shooting one another other in a Death Match style playground. In fact, if you tried to actually quest in a Survival Mode server, you wouldn’t get very far before being killed by another player. It was actually worse than that, too. In this PVP environment, there’s was no level based combat. A level 300 player can hang out in newbie territory picking off level 2 players solely for fun. At least Nuclear Winter has leveled the playing field so that level 300 users and level 5 users have similar odds of winning because it’s not about the level, it’s about the strategy.
  • Nuclear Winter Mode — This game mode is a Battle Royale game (aka, Last Man Standing). Ever user starts out with a new level based on this game mode. Levels, abilities and weapons from Adventure do not work in Nuclear Winter. You must find all of this stuff when playing Nuclear Winter and it only lasts as long as the tournament lasts. Nuclear Winter was introduced entirely to placate Fortnite and Apex Legends players and attempt to attract those same gamers into Fallout. It hasn’t worked. It’s a game mode that does not in any way belong in the Fallout universe. This game mode is not exactly fun, but it is tedious. It’s all about who can find the biggest weapons, best armor, kill the most and hide the best. There’s nothing really challenging here. Fallout needs to drop following industry gaming trends and innovate. Come up with new gaming ideas instead of rehashing old ideas in tired and uninspired ways. Worse, this game mode does not at all fit into the idea of Fallout. If Bethesda wants to create these derivative games, at least create them separately using a newly created franchise with new characters and abilities. Don’t tack it onto Fallout simply because you can.

Overall

Fallout 76’s play value and bugs are very much the same as they were on release day. The exception is, of course, that in Bethesda’s zeal to add a bunch of new stuff, they have broken even more in the process. In fact, I’d say Bethesda has broken at least half as much more stuff than was already broken. Worse, they have broken previously functional and working features. An example is when they added the distillery. For the distillery to work, they added a new mechanic to “spoil” the fermentable liquors to turn them into drinkable liquors. What that meant was a spoil bar on the item that timed down until the liquor was fully fermented and drinkable. Unfortunately, when the devs touched this part of the game code, they screwed up the speed of spoilage for the rest of the food items (and even fusion cores) within the game. This meant that while ‘fermentable beer’ fermented faster, it also meant that meat, veggies and even fusion cores, spoiled at a much faster rate. Whoops. Big bug.

Did Bethesda correct this problem quickly (or at all)? No. Once that bug was introduced it was here to stay. Food and drink still spoils much faster than it did before that game addition. Even fusion cores run out far, far faster than they did before that addition. Does Bethesda care? No. Do they intend fixing the problem? No.

This is why revisionism in the video game industry has no place. This is why a simple brown paper bag, a simplistic container, still barely works properly. When developers don’t care to fix even the most basic bugs let alone new bugs, then why should I (or any other consumer) care to spend money on these lackluster games? Once Bethesda begins to care about its gamer audience again, I might consider returning. Until then, Bethesda, you’re on your own without my money.

Update — Survival Mode

As of October 1st, Survival Mode Beta ironically didn’t survive. Bethesda has removed this mode from the game entirely. Clearly, its adoption rate was minimal and limited. This is an unfortunate turn of events for Adventure Mode players. What that means is that Bethesda is likely to revisit enabling even more PVP activities in Adventure Mode since the disappearance of Survival Mode. That means ganging up what was Survival mode into Adventure Mode again. This is something I’m not anxious to see return to Adventure Mode.

In fact, I wanted Bethesda to remove all PVP elements from Adventure Mode and make Survival Mode 100% PVP. However, since the introduction of Nuclear Winter, it seems they no longer want to focus on Survival Mode considering its lackluster adoption rate. Still, I’m not say to see it go as it did nothing for me. I’m not an active PVP player, so the point to Survival Mode had weak play value. Nuclear Winter is the ‘hot new thing’. If anything, what this shows is the fickleness of the demographic who currently plays Fallout 76. Once players have had their fill of the Nuclear Winter experience, I’d fully expect Bethesda to wind down that game mode also as users stop playing it.

10:50PM Oct. 1st — Updated to reflect that Bethesda has retired Survival Mode.

While this article endeavors to answer what happened to Fallout 76, it hasn’t in any way addressed why it happened. I may consider delving into this topic in the future if there’s enough reader interest. Please comment below if you’d like to see this additional topic explored.

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Can I sell my video game?

Posted in nintendo, Playstation, video game, xbox by commorancy on April 27, 2019

The answer to this question depends on how the game was originally sold to you. Let’s explore.

United States and First-Sale Doctrine

The United States has a lesser understood, but very powerful doctrine known as the “First-sale Doctrine”. This doctrine defines important limitations and exclusions afforded to purchasers of copyrighted (and trademarked) materials. This doctrine is so important that without it, copyrighted and trademarked works couldn’t easily be sold and definitely couldn’t be resold. Basically, this doctrine allows (and is designed) to allow resale of copyrighted works without having to notify or turn over resale profits to the original creator. Via the ‘exhaustion rule’, the original creator ‘exhausts’ specific resale rights once he or she sells a copy of that work to someone else.

Originally, the First-sale Doctrine covered such physical media as books and records. At the time of the the creation of this doctrine, digital media wasn’t in existence. However, this doctrine has also come to apply to software delivered on physical media (such as CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, Hard Drive and even Flash ROMs). Software includes music, movies and, yes, even video games.

In short, this doctrine says that once a creator who holds all rights to a specific work sells a copy of that work, the creator relinquishes all further sales rights (among other rights) of that specific copy. For example, if an author writes a book and a copy of that book is printed and sold, the creator no longer holds any further sales rights to that physical copy of that physical book. If the new owner (purchaser) of that book chooses to sell it, burn it, chop it up into pieces or hold onto it, that’s entirely the purchaser’s right. The one right that is not given to the purchaser is the right to make new copies of it.

However, the new owner can sell their original copy of that book for any amount of money they wish and the original creator no longer has any claim over that sale as that was exhausted after the “First Sale”… hence, this doctrine’s name.

Physical Media Video Games

With video games delivered on physical media, like a CD, DVD or similar, in the US the First-sale Doctrine applies. The copyrighted work exists within a legitimate “First Sale” purchased media. This means that as the “First Sale” purchaser, you now enjoy resale rights given to you over that media. This means you can take that video game DVD back to Gamestop or any other used game seller and sell it back to them for any amount of money they choose to give you. You can also sell it to a friend or put it on eBay and sell it to anyone who wishes to buys it.

Owning a physical original “First Sale” copy of a video game gives you the right of resale.

Buying Used Games

Buying a used video game also affords you “First Sale” rights over that original media. Even though the used physical copy wasn’t sold to you by the content creator (does that ever happen anyway?), the “First-sale Doctrine” still applies to all purchases of original media. However, if the game is counterfeit or has violated copyrights to come to exist, these are unauthorized copies not protected by the “First-sale Doctrine”. Only authorized copies of works are protected by the First-sale Doctrine.

Digital Video Game Sales?

With digital video game sales, this is where things get tricky and where the waters get murky with regards to the First-sale Doctrine. Why? Because it’s a bit more tricky to determine the “original media”. With a DVD that was produced by a manufacturer authorized by the creator, the chain of change in ownership is clear.

When you download a copy of a video game to a hard drive, the chain of ownership remains unclear. In order to sell a single digital copy of a game, you’d have to make a copy to sell it. This new copy would infringe on the copyright holder’s “copy” rights. That means you would have to make an illegal and unauthorized copy to sell it. For this reason, you can’t sell a digitally downloaded copy easily. However, that doesn’t mean the game can’t be sold. It just can’t be sold in the way that you think.

With that said, you can sell your digital video game copies under a very specific circumstance. It will also not violate copyright laws and the sale will adhere to the First-sale Doctrine. Once you click the download button to download that digital copy, the game will be stored on your hard drive on your console or computer. So long as you do not move, copy or transfer that data to another media, that “First Sale” video game is stored on its original media. That means that the copy stored on your hard drive is the “First Sale” copy.

Why is the “First Sale” copy important? It’s important because this copy is the original (and only) copy you received from the purchase.

How Can I Sell a Digital Game?

How can you sell it? Well, that’s the tricky part. You can’t sell only that game. You can only sell the media it lives on. This means you’d need to sell the hard drive that that game lives on. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to authorize play of the game. That hard drive also resides in computer or console.

For PlayStation and Xbox and likely the Switch, there’s also a “license to play” which is part of, but separate from the game download. This “license” lives in a separate location and must be present for the game to play on that console. That “license” is also tied to your “Store” account with Xbox, PlayStation and Switch.

This means that to sell your digitally downloaded games (plural), you’d need to sell not only the hard drive, but the entire console AND your Xbox Live, PSN or Nintendo ID account to have the First-sale Doctrine apply. Basically, you’ll have sold everything needed to ensure the game will play. Of course, you’ll have sold your whole console and all other games along with it. Yeah, it’s kind of overkill, but it’s the only way to sell digital games and stay within the First-sale Doctrine.

With physical media, the license is the media itself. With digital media, the licenses are stored separately and become part of your network account. This means you have to sell the console, hard drive (and all games and content) and your network account. Selling a physical copy of a game is, then, much easier.

Copying Games

The Xbox and the PlayStation allow for copying games from one media to another. The difficulty with this process is that it likely invalidates the First-sale Doctrine. In order to copy a game from your internal media to an external drive, the system has to make a full and complete copy before deleting the original.

Once the system deletes the original, only the second copy remains. This second copy may violate (and invalidate) the First-sale Doctrine. No longer are you playing the original “First Sale” copy. Now, you are playing a copy of a copy that the PlayStation or the Xbox created. However, content creators using the Xbox or PlayStation stores may have to agree to authorize this copying process in advance. If the developer legal agreements require this, then any copied games may still be protected by the First-sale Doctrine.

What this all means, though, is if you sell your console with any games which have been moved from one drive to another, you may not be protected by the First-sale Doctrine.

This situation also exists if you delete your “First Sale” copy from the hard drive, then re-download the game from the store later. No longer are you technically playing the “First Sale” copy. This makes the “First-sale Doctrine” more difficult to apply to video game and harder to know if “First Sale” still applies. It gets even more complicated with…

Game Updates

Because video games require periodic updates to fix bugs and improve the game, this may also invalidate the “First Sale”. Even though the updated copy comes from the original creator, what you bought isn’t what you’re playing after an update. Unfortunately, these nuances to video games, copyrights and “First Sale” have not been challenged in a court. Only a court of law could rule on what applies and what doesn’t under such circumstances as game updates and when copying from one media to another using built-in system tools.

Selling your Console

To sell a specific digitally purchased video game, you’d have to sell not only your entire console unit, you’d have to sell your network ID account that authorizes play of those games. If you did this, you can legally sell these digital copies of your games under “First Sale”.

However, you’re not technically selling a game itself. You’re selling the console and everything that it contains, including all digital copies. To allow for those games to be played by the new buyer and to ensure the seller relinquishes all access to those “First Sale” copies to the buyer, you’d have to sell them your network ID. This means that you have transferred all “First Sale” rights of any games on the console to the buyer and you have entirely relinquished access to those games for yourself.

For you to play a game that was on that console again, you’d have to purchase it anew on a new console using a new network ID.

Game Saves

Saved games are not part of the original “First Sale” game download. These are created separately by the game as User Generated Content after playing the game. In theory, you should be able to make external copies of your saved games (as long as the console allows for this) and import these into any new console you purchase later. This way you could continue playing a game should you buy that game again in the future.

With that said, if a saved game contains any copyrighted content used within the game, copying your saved games might cause copyright issues for you. Though, it would be a separate copyright concern from the game itself. Your game saves are separate content from the game and were created as part of playing the game. With game saves, the player might even be able to argue some copyrights over saved games depending on exactly what is stored in the game save.

For example, if you’re using a music program and you create digital music, when you create a save from that application, you own that game save and you own any original music content you created as part of creating that digital music. The same concept applies to a video game. Because you were playing the game, a game save may contain unique things to your specific game play through. This means that that content is unique to you for that game. As a result, you may own portions of that created content… the portions that were unique to your game play.

However, if the game save contains copyrighted music files, image files or similar, you won’t be able to claim ownership over that content. You can only claim ownership over the content that’s unique to your play through (i.e., your character’s appearance, your character’s wielded weapons, your character’s clothing combination, your character’s stats). All of these character stats combine to create something unique to you… and you may be able to own the copyrights over that uniquely created content.

One thing is certain, save games are not considered as part of the “First Sale” of the game itself. Game saves are items created by the game after the game has been sold to you.

Overall

Can you sell your video game? Yes, under specific circumstances described above. Purchasing physical media of a game is by far the easiest way to resell your game without any problems. Physical copies of video games are completely protected by the First-sale Doctrine.

Unfortunately, selling an individual digital download copy of a video game you purchased through an online game store and downloaded directly to your console (or PC) isn’t possible. While you can’t sell an individual game, you can sell the entire console (or PC), its hard drive(s) and all account(s) associated with the games and that sale will fall under the First-sale Doctrine. Unfortunately, that means you lose access to your entire video game system and any game library you had amassed while you owned the system. No, it’s not in any way optimal, but this is the only one afforded to digital goods consumers under the current U.S. copyright laws.

If you wish to be able to sell individual video games easily after you’re done playing, you’ll need to stick with purchasing physical media boxed copies from a store.

Disclaimer: This answer is written for United States residents. If you’re reading this in another country, you should consult with your country’s own copyright laws for details regarding video game resale rights.

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Crafting Medicines in Fallout 76

Posted in howto, tips, video gaming by commorancy on March 27, 2019

CraftingStationIf you’re interested in crafting medicines within Fallout 76, this guide should hopefully help get the most out of your crafting. Let’s explore.

Crafting Perks

If you’re interested in crafting anything in Fallout 76, it’s worthwhile to consider all of the perks you’re going to need to get the most out of your ingredients. For crafting medicines and chems, you’ll want to invest in the following perks:

  • Green Thumb — Doubles what you pick from plants. (Perception)
  • Super Duper — A chance to double what you craft. (Luck)
  • Chemist — Doubles all items crafted on a chemistry table. (Intelligence)
  • Aquaboy/Aquagirl — Lets you walk in water without taking radiation damage (Endurance)
  • Butcher’s Bounty — When crafting items that require meat, you’ll also want to invest in this card to get more meat from your kills. (Perception)
  • Good With Salt — While this one is not strictly that necessary, it’s a great option for carting around ingredients for longer periods without spoiling. (Luck)
  • Sunkissed — Removes radiation damage from 6AM to 6PM in-game time. (Endurance)

Green Thumb, Aquaboy/Aquagirl and Chemist are 1 star cards. However, Super Duper and Butcher’s Bounty are 3 star cards and increases your chances with each star.  Super Duper offers a chance to double your creations with all crafting station types with the exception of the Brewing Station (at the moment) and when bulking items. You’ll want to max out Super Duper to get the most out of your crafting.

Good With Salt is also a 3 star card and it is well worth ranking this card up to the max if you intend to carry around foods and drinks that spoil. This card is great for keeping ingredients from spoiling before you get back to a chemistry station to craft.

Crafting Medicines

The two most important items in the game to keeping your character alive and healthy are Radaway and Stimpaks. The Recipe for Stimpaks can be found at the Enclave bunker MODUS medical wing seller. You’ll need to join and get access to the Enclave bunker to obtain this recipe. Unfortunately, the recipe for Radaway isn’t quite so easy to obtain. You’ll need to play various events and you may eventually be awarded this recipe at concluding the event. The Radaway recipe will most probably require a wee bit of grinding.

Another recipe that you find early on in the game is Healing Salve. This recipe is about half of the strength of a Stimpak and is a great option if you can’t get the Stimpak recipe. This is also easy to craft from readily available ingredients.

Because Bethesda’s Fallout 76 is a dynamic changing online game experience, patches and server updates can change the amounts and types of ingredients required for recipes. This means the recipes listed below are correct at the time of this article. However, Bethesda could change the requirements at any time. Always check at the crafting table to be sure you are collecting the correct ingredients for any specific recipe.

Recipes

For Stimpaks, you’ll need the following:

  • 2 Antiseptic
  • 1 Bloodpack
  • 1 Steel

To make a Bloodpack, you’ll need:

  • 1 Antiseptic
  • 2 Tick Blood (use Butcher’s Bounty)

For Radaway, you’ll need:

  • 2 Antiseptic
  • 3 Glowing Fungus (use Green Thumb)
  • 1 Plastic
  • 1 Purified Water

For Healing Salve (Forest), you’ll need:

  • 1 Bloodleaf (Green Thumb)
  • 1 Boiled Water
  • 1 Soot Flower (Green Thumb)

For Disease Cure (Forest), you’ll need:

  • 1 Bloodleaf
  • 1 Boiled Water
  • 1 Firecap (Green Thumb)
  • 1 Snaptail Reed (Green Thumb)

To make Sugar, you’ll need

  • 2 Snaptail Reed
  • 1 Wood

While Sugar isn’t used in healing recipes, it’s great for foods, particularly Sweet Rolls and Lemonade. You’ll probably have some Snaptail Reed left over after crafting, which is why the Sugar recipe is listed.

Locations for Ingredients

To make all of these ingredients using forest recipes, you can find what you need starting at slightly north on the hill of Gauley Mine down to the red railroad bridge, then walking the creek all the way down the just past Vault-Tec Agricultural center in Flatwood. Near Gauley Mine, you’ll find Firecaps on logs. At the bridge across the creek across from the Overseer’s camp, the Firecaps stop and this begins the area with Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Glowing Fungus. Between Gauley Mine and the Bridge, you’ll find Firecaps (not far from the water) and Snaptail Reed.

The forested regions will also contain Starlight Creeper, Firecracker Berry, Soot Flower and Wood.

There are other recipes you can find for other regions like Toxic Valley, The Mire, The Cranberry Bog and so on. However, because of the relative closeness to the Vault 76 fast travel point, it’s easiest to focus on the Forest recipes as these are the ones you are likely to come across first… and they also have the easiest locations to reach and easiest ingredients to obtain.

Sources for Antiseptic

In some of these recipes, you may need antiseptic. This can be had easily by killing ticks and picking up their Blood Sacs. Unfortunately, you can only use Butcher’s Bounty on ticks for Tick Blood, not their Blood Sacs. If they don’t drop a sac, you’ll need to locate and kill a different tick.

Two good spots for killing about 6-8 ticks is Moonshiner’s Shack just below Vault 76 and Gilman Lumber Mill immediately south of Moonshiner’s Shack. These are great for harvesting when you’ll need to produce Stimpaks. You can sometimes find ticks in the wooded area of Camden Park near the Railroad.

Abraxo Cleaner is also another source of Antiseptic. You can usually find boxes of this sitting around kitchens and other facilities. Toothpaste and Turpentine are other sources.

Why Perk Cards?

With Green Thumb, Chemist and Super Duper, you can effectively double what you get at each step. Green Thumb doubles what you pick. Chemist Doubles what you make. Super Duper doubles that. You can easily end up with half to double more than what you expect. It’s well worth using these cards if you need larger quantities of Stimpaks or Radaway. With these cards, you can make hundreds easily… instead of relying on finding 1, 2 or 3 in a container.

Tips Before Crafting

    • Always remember to place your perk cards on before crafting.
    • You don’t need these cards to be on all of the time, only when crafting.
    • Don’t waste card slots with these cards if you are not crafting.
    • Remember your Green Thumb card when picking flora. This will always double what you pick.

Remember your Aquaboy/girl card when wading through water looking for ingredients. Collect considering multiple recipes at a time. For example, when collecting for Disease Cure, you only need to pick Soot Flower to make Healing Salve after you’ve run out of Firecaps for Disease Cures. Don’t take off Good With Salt (if you need the card space) until just right before you begin to craft. After you’re done crafting, immediately put Good With Salt back on. You can make teas, sugar and other foodstuffs from the remaining unused ingredients.

It’s easy to forget your perk card setup when crafting… so, always check before picking flowers or flora or before crafting. It would be great if we had some kind of quick view reminder of our perk cards through a hot key, but no such luck in this game. You’ll just have to stop whatever it is you’re doing and go look and rearrange before you pick or craft.

Happy Crafting!

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Rant Time: Fallout 76

Posted in botch, business, fail by commorancy on January 30, 2019

12-9-2018_10-41-26_PM-qybv0b53I’ve been playing Fallout 76 on and off since its release. However, Bethesda has not only miscalculated the quality of the game itself, Bethesda’s devs have repeatedly introduced more bugs than they have fixed. So far, the patches have been a strategy of one step forward and three steps back. This game has all of the signs of code outsourcing and illustrates all of the dangers of this practice. Let’s explore.

Game Development

Having worked at many different high tech companies that write code for their business to succeed, I have seen many different code writing practices… some good, many more that are bad.

Typically, when code is written “in-house” (meaning, by developers on site at the headquarters), the quality control remains at a “standard bar” set by the development manager. This doesn’t mean that every piece of code written is great, but it does mean that the bad code likely won’t make it into production after “code review”. The “code review” process is a process by which all code is peer reviewed by other developers to make sure the code is up to formatting standards, that it doesn’t make any egregious mistakes and that such things as math calculations make sense. Comments in the code are usually optional and up to the development team to set how code gets documented.

I’ve worked at many companies where code is not documented at all. Instead, the documentation is written in a Wiki or similar internal web site describing the design goals of the code. I don’t particularly like this practice when working on the production side of the house, but it’s generally not a practice we can win a fight against. Reading documentation in the code is sometimes the only defense when code acts up in production. If they choose not to write inline documentation, that’s on the development team. Though, I will say that this practice leads to technical debt and is not recommended.

Without diving too deeply into code development practices, let’s apply all of what I’ve said to Bethesda’s Fallout 76.

Bad Coding Practices

I don’t even know where to begin with how Bethesda is managing this product. Let’s just say that having worked in several large Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) organizations, how Bethesda is handling Fallout 76 is so behind the times, it’s not even funny.

Today, the current practice is to use the following code development cycle otherwise known as Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC). This cycle has the following phases:

  1. Planning
  2. Analysis and Requirements
  3. Design
  4. Development
  5. Integration and Testing
  6. Implementation / Release
  7. Operational Maintenance

These 7 phases are a never ending cycle in a continuing software product. In fact, there could be several releases all running in concert each at different phases. Meaning, the current release is at phase 7, the next release is at phase 4 and two or three future releases are at at any of the phases prior to release.

The SDLC process has grown out of bad coding practices used during the 90s and has been adopted to counter those bad coding and release practices. This life cycle is a way to ensure quality of code when it is finally released. It’s also a way to ensure that the end user has the highest quality experience possible with the end product. Quality assurance is the name of the game. As a development company, the key to success is to minimize disruptions via bad code and maximize user experience with high quality features. No code is ever perfect, but you can reduce problems by following best coding practices and implementing solid SDLC processes.

Bethesda’s Coding Practices

Unfortunately, Bethesda has chosen a poor coding cycle for Fallout 76. Instead of treating Fallout 76 like a professionally produced product using SLDC practices, they are simply slinging code as fast as possible without actually performing any sanity checks or, indeed, performing any quality assurance on the end product.

In fact, with each new Fallout 76 release, the product has become increasingly worse, less reliable, less performant and increasingly more unstable. By “worse”, I mean that they’re introducing not only regression bugs that break previously and correctly working features, they’re introducing new bugs and not even fixing the bugs they claimed to have fixed. Indeed, the product is actually getting worse.

While I realize that coding a game like Fallout 76 is probably reasonably complex, the difficulty I have with this game is why a developer is touching code in portions of the game where bugs did not exist. What were they doing touching that part of the code? And yet, here we are, this newly broken code is being rolled out to their production servers?

Clearly, Bethesda performs absolutely zero testing. These bugs are so basic, anyone spending 5 minutes using the game would spot them instantly. It’s crystal clear that Bethesda is NOT following an SDLC process. They’re just releasing code by the seat of their pants and hoping it does “something positive”.

Outsourcing

Because Fallout 76 gets worse with each successive release, this has all of the telltale signs of Bethesda outsourcing their software development efforts to an off-shore team (possibly in India). Having worked with outsourced developers in India in the past, you MUST micromanage these outsourced companies at every tiny step. You also need to be extremely explicit with how you want the implementation and you need to 100% test every piece of delivered code.

Failing to micromanage an outsourced software development company leads to the exact problems seen in Fallout 76. While I can’t be 100% certain that Bethesda is outsourcing, their release practices certainly have all of the earmarks of using this practice for Fallout 76. There’s absolutely no reason why previously working features in the game should inexplicably become broken in the next release.

And believe me, I’ve become exceedingly tired and irritated of fighting these compounding stupid bugs in this game. Not only does it show Bethesda as a low quality developer, it says they have no quality standards of any kind. You don’t intentionally roll out broken features in a formerly working product… you just don’t do this.

Chasing Abusers

Bethesda has clearly bitten off more than they can chew. They certainly have no one on their team who understands SaaS product scaling. If one gamer on the server crafting boiled water can bring the server to its knees, there’s a major problem with this product. In a properly designed multi-user product, no single user should be able to overload the server with any “standard” user interface activity. By “standard”, I mean features that the product is supposed to properly support.

There are many instances where a single user can craft foods at a crafting table which causes “Server Not Responding” or incurs major lag for other users on the server. These are sanctioned activities intended to be used by the users, yet they can break the server?

Abusers, on the other hand, find loopholes to allow them to perform activities that the software was not designed to do. For example, duplicating items by logging on and off in very unusual ways… ways in which the developer didn’t test or consider during the design phase.

Right now, Bethesda is chasing down these unintentional holes at all costs… and by that I mean, by introducing game breaking bugs that affect standard users who are not abusing. And, they’re attempting to fix these holes at the cost of ignoring the design failings of the game that also need to be addressed. Many of these design failings were introduced at release and are still waiting in the queue to be addressed by Bethesda. Yet, instead of taking care of these long standing bugs, the devs are flying by the seat of their pants fixing the holes… which honestly don’t need to be fixed as a fire drill.

Penalizing Players

Bethesda doesn’t understand the dangers of reduction. Removing or degrading product features is always a negative for the end user, never a positive. For example, the Two Shot Explosive weapons are what players long to find. These rarely dropped highly powerful weapons are, in fact, one of the sole reasons players come back to the Fallout franchise.

Sure, the questing is fun, but it’s the Legendary dropped loot from these difficult bosses that is the actual Win. It’s the trophy that says, “Hey look what I got after spending all that time defeating the Scorchbeast Queen”. By degrading, limiting and/or removing these highly sought after items from the game, this removes a substantial reason to even play Fallout 76.

If you spend an hour defeating a boss only to see it drop a 12 damage Pipe Pistol (the same as a Level 1 enemy kill), what have you really accomplished? How does that make the gamer feel? Does it make the gamer feel good about what they’ve just done? No. Does it make the gamer want to come back and do it again? No.

On the Wrong Track

Bethesda is entirely on the wrong track. If you have abusers in the game, chase them down and ban them… no holds barred. If you find a player who is carrying 300,000 weight in duplicated items, ban them. Remove them from the game. Find them all and remove them. Logic dictates that anyone carrying 25,000 Stimpaks along with 25,000 guns stacked didn’t create them through legitimate means.

You ban the abusers. You don’t code around them. You don’t hobble your universe to make the duplicated guns worthless. Instead of spending precious time alienating your intended gaming audience, you focus on making the game better for legitimate users willing to stay within the game’s design framework. For those who stray and choose to test the coding boundaries of the game, you ban them… permanently. You also make a warning statement that any persons intending to cause harm to or disrupt the services will be banned without warning. In-game abuse can only be dealt with one way, the ban hammer.

Yes, you can fix the bugs along the way that enabled that abuse, but you don’t make that your sole and entire means of existing. You focus on fixing the bugs that are getting in the way of your legitimate paying gamers who are willing to stay on the game’s “golden path”. By “golden path”, this is a software development phrase that means the track designed by the developers for end users of the software product to follow. Anyone who strays from the “golden path” may encounter bugs, unexpected consequences or crash the software system. Though, your developers should have coded proper error handling so that crashing is nearly impossible.

Yes, some users can unintentionally stray from the “golden path” occasionally. These users are not the target. It’s the users who intentionally stray from the “golden path” to exploit holes in the software to gain access, privilege or items which are unintended. Speaking of gaining access….

Dev Room

There’s been much controversy over this room. Personally, I don’t care if it exists or not. However, that this room made it into Bethesda’s Fallout 76 production servers is entirely a design miss. Such dev environments should never make it onto production servers. That this room rolled out onto the production network is a problem Bethesda needs to address internally. Users who stray from the golden path into this room isn’t the fault of the gamer. Bethesda, you left the room in the game. It was your responsibility to ensure such rooms don’t exist on the production servers. That users ended up in there, that’s your mistake, Bethesda.

Sure, you can drop the ban hammer on these users, but that’s not good public relations. In fact, dropping the ban hammer on users for entry into this room is severe. If they didn’t cause damage to the game or take anything from the room, there’s no damage done. Those users who took items from the dev room and duplicated them should be banned… not necessarily for entering the room, but for exploiting the duplication bug which disrupts a server for other players.

Again, it comes back to disruption. Any gamer intentionally causing disruption to the game outside of the “golden path” should be perma-banned. This act of disruption should be spelled out as abuse in the terms and conditions for the game.

Fallout 76 is SaaS

Even though Fallout 76 is a game, it’s also a Software-as-a-Service product and it should be treated in the same way as any SaaS product. Yet, Bethesda hasn’t the first clue of how to build or operate a SaaS product. That’s crystal clear.

Bethesda’s SDLC seems non-existent. Without any kind of software quality assurance team, there’s no way to ensure the product lives up to any kind of quality standard. Right now, this game is a piss poor attempt by a game studio at a SaaS product. A product that is on the verge of being a spectacular failure. I might even argue, it’s already reached the failure point.

Bethesda, you have a hard choice to make. If you continue to chase the abusers at the cost of fixing the REAL problems with this game, your game WILL DIE. The choice you need to make is whether to stay on this insane path of chasing abuse bugs or stop this insanity and begin fixing the real reliability and stability problems with this game. Such real problems include severe frame rate drops, enemies can spawn in unkillable states, invisibility problems (enemies and players alike), the problem with quests that can’t be completed, the problem where Legendary enemies drop without any loot at all.

Game Economy and Systems Design

Bethesda continually argues that the abusers caused disruption to the economy in the game. What economy? There is none. If you call vendors with 200 caps an economy, that’s not an economy. An economy is players buying, selling and trading with one another. You know, the whole reason you designed the game with 24 players in each “World”. Yet, when players actually tried to create an economy, you shut them down with patches and then released many of the rare items to the vendors to make them “less rare”.

Part of the reason items were rare was entirely due to incidence of spawn rates. Spawn rates, I might add, that you designed into the game intentionally. Spawn rates intended to force players to hunt for stuff. Yet now you’re all butthurt over the fact that players actually created an economy around this.

What exactly are you wanting the players to do in this game then? Aren’t the players supposed to “rebuild” the wasteland? Setting up trading shops and whatnot is exactly what players would do in a world like this. In fact, in the ruthless wild-west of the wasteland, players would likewise be ruthless in obtaining anything and everything they could. That players used duplication exploits comes with the ruthlessness of wasteland territory. The problem with the duplication exploit isn’t the duplication. It’s the disruption it causes to other player’s games. That’s the abuse vector. That’s the reason to ban-hammer the player. The server disruption is the abuse, not the duplication.

Still, you should have been warning players all along the way when their weight got too high. That you didn’t have anything in place to monitor this part of the game is a design miss. A miss that wouldn’t have been missed if you had had a proper Systems Engineer reviewing the design all along the way. Yet, you chose to rush the game to market unfinished and now you have to redesign it along the way… a redesign that is causing player unrest and player abandonment.

Patch Upsides vs Downsides

The last several patches have been attempts at thwarting the abusers by fixing the exploit vectors at the cost of not fixing long standing disrupting bugs… bugs that have existed since the game’s release (i.e., getting stuck in power armor, unkillable enemies, invisible enemies, loading screen problems, etc). This strategy has been to the entire detriment of the Fallout 76 gaming community. Not only have you alienated so many users from the game, you continue to alienate more and more with each new patch.

If you’re planning on releasing a patch, you need to focus on the upsides of patching. You know, like fixing bugs that players NEED to have fixed… like frame rate issues, like audio glitching, like server lags, like a bigger stash, like improved features. Sure, you can throw in fixes like nerfing the Two Shot and Explosive weapons, but you also need to offset these heavily negative gaming experiences by adding positive new things to the game to entice gamers back… like adding new weapons to the game to take the place of those heavily nerfed Two Shot Explosive weapons.

There’s no reason for gamers to play Fallout 76 if the Legendary dropped loot is now no better than standard dropped loot. Focusing entirely on downside patches isn’t going to win you new players. It’s simply a quick way to the death of Fallout 76… as if the game needed any more help in this department.

Overall

Bethesda, you need to rethink your strategy for Fallout 76 and future MMO endeavors. The current strategy you are taking to address the issues in this game will not bring more players to this game. In fact, you’re likely to turn this game into a wasteland with only a handful of players ever playing.

If you stay on this path, I predict that you will end up shutting down your servers for this game by the end of 2019. Gamers won’t continue to play in an environment where the loot is not worth their time.

And what the hell? Serum recipes cost 19,000+ caps? Considering you can only hold 24,000 caps in the game, this is insane. Even 6,000 caps would be excessive.

Bethesda, figure it out quick or the game ends.

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Top 25 reasons to hate Fallout 76

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on December 10, 2018

11-24-2018_1-30-49_AM-oyduc45dIt’s clear, Fallout 76 is a failure. From its lackluster controls, piss poor collision detection and poor enemy AI to its poor graphics quality and poor storytelling, this game fails in practically every conceivable way. Here are the top 25 reasons this game sucks. Let’s explore.


25. Map and Pins

Fallout76-MapWhile the map mostly works in terms of seeing locations, this game really needs multiple pins to mark items found that don’t have map markers, such as where specific plants are, veins of ore, small houses and other points of interest.

How it should have worked — Support multiple pins with labels which can be placed onto the map to allow for marking points of interest, specific areas of plants and other things that may be difficult to locate again.

How it actually works — You get a single custom marker that you can place down. You can’t mark anything else after that one marker, you simply have to remember where you found something. There’s only a single large marker that points your way to whatever you’ve marked. And believe me, you do need this in the game. Because all of the quest markers all look the same, when all of the quests are active at once, there are so many markers on the HUD, you have no idea which one is which.

This problem is mostly insignificant next to those problems yet to be described below. Only after all of the other major problems are resolved would I ever consider adding this to the feature improvement list.

24. Farming at your CAMP and in Blast Zones

You can plant certain limited fruits and vegetables, but they are not irradiated when in a blast zone.

How it should have worked — You should be allowed to plant any type of plant at your CAMP that you have discovered and picked. Any camps in a Blast Zone should be removed from the map and/or severely damaged. If not moved, then at least any planted crops should be irradiated like the ‘naturally occurring’ plants in the area.

How it actually works — Fallout 76 limits you to planting but a few fruits and vegetables from the build menu. In Skyrim, if you could pick it, you could plant it. Here, you can only plant those limited fruits and vegetables selected by the devs, such as Blackberries, Muttfruit, Corn, Razorgrain, Melon, Carrots and Gourd. If you want to plant Soot Flowers, Snaptails, Bloodleaf, Diseased Cranberries or anything else, you cannot. If your camp ends up in a blast zone from the Death from Above quest, your camp remains totally intact including your fruits and vegetables. I wandered into it wearing a Hazmat Suit that I found at the Westek building. While other flora in the area become irradiated, your CAMP planted foods remain completely ‘normal’.

23. Random Server Disconnects

This one might be expected occasionally considering it’s an always-on multiplayer game experience.

How it should have worked — Actually beta test your games and your servers so that server disconnects are the fewest type of failure points.

12-9-2018_10-41-26_PM-qybv0b53How it actually works — Random server disconnects are very common. You’ll run around the wasteland and with or without a *hang*, followed by a “Disconnected from Server”… well no duh… I can see that.

22. The Wrong Gender

At one point, I heard female grunts coming out of my male character.

How it should have worked — Keep track of the character and its associated characteristics.

How it actually works — The wrong vocal grunts were played for about 5 minutes while running around the wasteland. I have no idea why the female grunting began at all, but it’s clear that this game was not beta tested. And no, there was no one else around me at all. The game was playing female player character noises from my definitely male character.

21. Changing Weapons and Applying Medicine

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 1.34.10 AMThe supposedly favorites wheel to help get to stuff faster isn’t actually any faster than using the Pip Boy. In fact, neither the wheel nor is the Pip boy easy to use to change weapon loadout or apply Stimpaks when you can’t pause.

How it should have worked — For controller systems, it should have used the D-Pad to cycle through the favorites in a vertical list to the side of the screen so that doesn’t block your vision and it should remember the last choice so you can use it again quickly. Simply by pressing the D-Pad up and down, the favorites cycle to the next and previous. This way, the next time you press the D-Pad, it will bring up the last used item, then press the A button.

Favorites WheelHow it actually works — On the Xbox One, D-Pad up is assigned to favorite choices. D-Pad down is emotes. D-pad left and right seem to automatically assign to a weapon on the left and a healing item on the right. I haven’t actually determined how to assign these. It may have something to do with ‘last chosen’ from the wheel. When you have the wheel actually open, D-pad left cycles through the wheel clockwise starting at the 1 O’Clock position. D-pad right cycles through counter-clockwise starting at the 11 O’Clock position. There is no easy way to get to the item in the 12 O’Clock position when you’re fumbling for items from the wheel. The wheel covers your vision instead of keeping the vision open so you can see what the enemy is doing.

20. Pacifist Mode

This mode is mostly pointless the way it is currently implemented.

How it should have worked — Pacifist mode should prevent your player from giving damage to other players and prevent taking damage from other players.

How it actually works — This mode, while it does stop damage to other players from your weapons, it doesn’t prevent other players from damaging or killing you. This is wrong on so many levels and is entirely designed incorrectly. Bethesda, take a page from Rockstar’s book in GTA 5 and make it so Pacifist mode both stops outgoing and incoming damage to the player.

19. Obtaining Caps

You know, this one really shouldn’t be this hard!

How it should have worked — Caps should be bountiful practically everywhere. Traders should actually buy items for close to their ‘worth’. Sellers should carry more than 200 caps. Caps should always be given as part of the rewards when you finish all quest types.

How it actually works — Caps are exceedingly scarce and probably one of the scarcest things to find in Fallout 76. Caps are not given when a quest ends. Instead, you get mostly useless stuff. When you do find a trader, they carry 200 caps at most. Most sold items yield 1-4 caps per item. However, you can sell practically anything to a trader including Soot Flowers, Mongrel Meat, Plastic Plates and even flower pots. The difficulty is that it requires carrying a bunch of junk around with you until you can find a trader. Obtaining caps in Fallout 76 shouldn’t be this hard. The only quest types that seem to give caps on completion are Events and possibly Daily. Even then, they only give like 20 caps at most.

18. Fast Traveling

How it should have worked — The point in discovering a location is that you can fast travel to it. Fast traveling should be free as part of the perk of discovering that location. Charging caps to fast travel is just stupid design.

How it actually works — When you choose to fast travel, you are required to pay caps to every discovered place other than Vault 76 and your CAMP, which are both free (See CAMPs below for additional problems). You’ll also pay progressively more caps the farther away the place is. Because this is the primary means of travel in the game, fast traveling shouldn’t cost anything. The only point in making people pay is to deter them from using the feature. Why would you include the feature at all if you are intent on deterring gamers from actually using it?

17. Eating, Drink and Diseases

To disguise the leanness and the barrenness of the game’s features and quality, Bethesda devs force you to search for and create boiled water and cooked food. Otherwise, you’re subject to radiation, starvation, dehydration and diseases.

How it should have worked — Leave it out… a totally unnecessary addition that only serves to degrade the game.

How it actually works — You are forced to continually go get water, food and disease cure potions so you can actually play the game. You know, the thing that we’re supposed to be doing. Instead, because at least 50% of the time is spent constantly foraging to prevent from running out of food, water and avoid catching diseases (which you can’t avoid), you must constantly stop whatever it is you are doing and go get supplies. This problem is compounded by the fact that the inventory system is so poorly designed and because these supplies weigh far too much, particularly water.

16. Photo Mode

12-7-2018_5-54-58_AM-ma4zjmynPhoto Mode is a new thing many game developers are adding to games. However, some game development companies haven’t figured out how to build it properly. In the case of Fallout 76, while it works, it’s a hassle to use and isn’t properly designed.

How it should have worked — When in Photo Mode, the character should disappear from the world and not be visible to enemies or other players. This allows you to line up and take your shot without interference from enemies or other characters. This would allow you to actually take pictures of enemies doing whatever they are doing while in close proximity. The depth of field system should allow for both shallow and deep depth of field shots to blur both the foreground and background once the focal distance is set. Photo mode should support unlimited photos limited only by the Xbox’s hard drive.

How it actually works — Photo Mode leaves the character live in the environment. This means that if an enemy comes along, it will see you and attack you, losing the shot. Getting out of Photo Mode is slow and cumbersome when it should be a single button rapid exit. The quality of the photos could be improved a lot. We got 50 photo slots that requires us to go delete photos every time we run out… irritating.

15b. Crafting

I’m separating Crafting and Inventory into parts A and B to be more clear, but these two go together. Modifying and creating armor and weapons should be easy, yet it is completely cumbersome. Crafting food should be easy, but it is also cumbersome.

How it should have worked — Recipes requiring water should work with any water you have in your inventory including Dirty, Boiled or Purified. Water is water is water. If you choose to make your food out of dirty water, then you need to take the consequences of that choice. Crafting armor or weapons sometimes requires inexplicable items (i.e., Ballistic Fiber). The game should lead (or at least show you a small area marker) where you can search to find these needed items. Like Skyrim, Fallout 76 should have forced you to scrap new items to ‘learn’ what they are made of. Once you learn this, the game can then point out potential sources using pointers, instead of running around blind.

How it actually works — Recipes requiring water only allow the use of ‘Boiled Water’ . This means that even if you have a water purifier set up, you must still go draw water from a dirty water source (a very time consuming operation and adding Rads) and then spend time boiling it at a food craft station. These two steps are overly time consuming when you could have cooked with purified water and been on your way.

Locating specific components in the game is like pulling teeth. You have no idea what items contain what components until you carry them back and actually scrap them at a crafting table. Even then, putting a search onto a component only means you’ll see a magnifying glass on the item when you get close enough to pick it up. The game doesn’t offer a mechanism (at least that I have found) to locate the item on the map or via a sound in close proximity.

15a. Inventory

The inventory system in Fallout 76 is entirely broken. Each player only has two places to store stuff. The first place is directly on the player. The second place is the Stash Box. The player is limited by weight, but inexplicably so is the ‘Stash Box’.

stash.pngHow it should have worked — Inventory should be able to be sent to the ‘Stash Box’ at any time right from the Pip Boy. Permanent sharable boxes should be available to drop stuff off for friends or other players. Sharable boxes should hang around even when you log out of the game. Instead of a single Stash Box, we should be able to create independent objects in our CAMP that limit only by number of items and not limited by weight. A physical box on the ground doesn’t have weight limits, but has physical number limits.

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-iujn21rsHow it actually works —  The inventory system is way too limited and uses weight to judge capacity. On a person, weight makes sense as you can only carry so much. However, the game gives far too little per person. For a stash box sitting on the ground, weight limits make absolutely no sense. The Stash Box is always linked to you and there’s only one. If your Stash Box fills up, you’re screwed. You have to start dumping items out of your inventory in a paper bag to be lost. Paper bags are entirely transient. If you drop a second paper bag of stuff, the first one disappears. Be absolutely certain that whatever you drop in a paper bag isn’t something you want… otherwise, that bag may disappear at any time.

The Stash Box currently holds 600 weight which is not nearly enough as you progress in levels. By level 30, you’ll already be running out of space. The only way you can actually play is to have two characters and move stuff between them when both are logged in. The second character is just a storage place, but that means you need to have two systems to play the game. The Stash Box was recently raised from 400. Instead, Bethesda should charge atoms for more space. Just let us pay for the space we need. I don’t want to be limited with no options.

14. Power Armor

12-9-2018_9-41-56_PM-3ra4ojsuThroughout the game, you’ll find power armor in various buildings. The Power Armor may have Raider, T-51, T-45 or T-60 armor attached, usually only some of the pieces and usually with only half or less condition. Instead, you’ll have to go find the rest of the pieces you’ll need for that armor and you’ll need to find Power Armor crafting station somewhere so you can actually repair your armor.

How it should have worked — Power armor should add a seamless combat experience similar to Fallout 4. You enter your armor, you use it as you need to, you exit the armor and leave it behind. Wearing the armor actually gives you, you know, armor protection. Instead, you are forced to carry it in your inventory with a weight of 10 and it provides very little actual HP protection.

How it actually works — Power Armor is only slightly better than without it. It’s glitchy, buggy and sometimes it will trap you in it and you’ll be unable to progress in the game. Use the armor sparingly to avoid glitching up your game that you can’t even play. It takes up space in your inventory and it’s clumsy to use. The only one benefit is that you can jump from great heights without injury. Other than that one benefit, Power Armor is mostly for looks, not functionality. You must exit the armor to perform any crafting.

13. Collision detection

As a shooter, the single thing the developer must get right is the collision detection between a fired weapon and hitting an enemy with the bullet. Otherwise, the game just won’t work.

How it should have worked — With proper working collision detection, you shouldn’t be able to walk into or under objects, projectile physics should always land on their targets when the cross hairs are even remotely lined up and random animals and objects shouldn’t get stuck inside or walk through other objects.

How it actually works — You’ll never see bullet trajectories in a game unless the game developer adds a slow-mo bullet-time option. None of that here. Instead, aim, fire and miss. Even worse, you can use a high power sniper scope’s cross hairs on your enemy’s head directly in the middle and still manage to miss the target when pulling the trigger. If you’re up-close and personal with a Ghoul, it’s even worse. Up close, you’re actually much more likely to miss your target and you’ll expend a great deal of ammo on miss after miss. The only sure fire way to hit is to use a melee weapon or gun bash them.

This the poor collision detection isn’t limited to weapons and bullets. It includes trees, animations (getting into and out of Power Armor), enemy AI walking through environmental objects or other enemies including items getting stuck inside of doors and walls. This isn’t all possible examples, but these are the ones most prominent to show off how bad this part works.

12. Leveling up doesn’t work as expected

I’m not talking about the level up screen itself. In fact, the mechanics of actually applying perk cards to your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes works just fine. It’s one of the few things that seems to work well in this game, though I’m not fond of the card system. It’s what comes after that doesn’t work.

Lucky BreakHow it should have worked — Characters should always fight enemies at or close to their own strength and level. If you wander into a building, you should only find enemies within 4-5 levels of your own level. If you’re a level 4, this means you should only see levels 1-8 near you. This is how every other Bethesda RPG has worked this. This prevents having a level 5 character trying to kill, for example, a level 63 enemy. Perhaps Bethesda needed to find a Lucky Break card?

The card system should have been simplified to require less perk cards to provide the same amount of perks instead of needing loads of perk cards which do less per card. Simpler is always better, even in video game design.

How it actually works — When wandering around, not only will you find AI characters leveled randomly from 1 to 63, you’ll find random levels all bunched together. For example, as a level 5 character wandering into a camp, you can find ghouls and scorched ranging from level 1 to level 63. This means trying to fight level 63 enemies as a level 5 or 10 character. You’ll also find Scorchbeasts randomly flying around that are at always level 50, but in fact are probably level 100 or better. It takes so many shots to kill a level 50 Scorchbeast, it’s almost not even worth it unless you’re on a big team.

On top of this, you can run into randomly leveled up multiplayer characters who add to the problem. Thankfully, unless you engage in two-sided combat, the game sees to it that your character takes minimal damage from an opposing player of any level.

HomebodyThe cards have been broken out to the point of being pedantic. Instead of categorizing cards so that Lead Belly should cover for ALL food, drink and disease, it only covers for ‘food’ only. You have to get the Lead Stomach perk to drink irradiated water unharmed, even then there are limits. Because the cards are so pedantic, there are other perk cards like Natural Resistance to reduce diseases and All Night Long to reduce hunger and thirst (a stupid unnecessary addition).

The pedantic actually carries to the point of being broken. For example, the Aqua Boy perk allows you to swim and wade in water without taking radiation damage, yet drawing water from a water pump still incurs +5 rads damage (or more)? Huh? Clearly, the designers didn’t carry that logic through.

One perk card is actually broken and rarely works. This is the Stormchaser card which allegedly regenerates health when equipped and when standing in the rain, in a storm or in a radiation storm. Unfortunately, this card’s perk works less than 50% of the time. You can be standing in the rain and…. there’s a whole lotta nothin’ going on… no health regeneration. I don’t know how many other perk cards are broken, but this one most definitely is.

11. Crap enemy AI

Here’s a gaming portion where you think Bethesda might have been able to lock down, particularly on the heels of the Elder Scrolls Online. Nope. When you wander the wasteland, you’ll find either animals (Wolves, Mongrels, Radrats, Radroaches, Radstags, etc) or Supermutants, robots (i.e., Eyebots, Mister Handy, Miss Nanny, Protectrons, Assaultrons or Sentry Bots), Feral Ghouls, Scorched or Scorchbeasts. Whatever you run into, you’re likely to find them acting strangely. Sometimes they attack and sometimes they just stand there.

How it should have worked — Like, Fallout 4, when you run into an enemy, they should behave and act like they’re trying to kill you. They should point their gun at you and they should move in naturalistic ways. You know, like they’re actually walking around.

How it actually works — Many enemies, particularly Ghouls, slide around the environment without actually moving. Some people have found them sliding around in “first position” (the initial position a 3D character assumes without having been posed). I haven’t found the enemies in “first position”, but I have seen them locked into a single pose, then moving around the environment like a static posed action figure. They even shoot from these locked posed positions.

When I do find characters not locked up like this, the characters hold their weapons incorrectly. Some hold them downward, yet still manage to shoot at my character. The enemies also move way too fast. They can be on top of you in a matter of one jump or movement. One top of the AI movement, they can see and shoot me through walls, through floors and through buildings. There is no such thing as line of sight in Fallout 76. Even if you hide, they can still find you and kill you through walls.

Molerats must somehow be magic in this game as they can burrow not only into ground surfaces, but wood, cement and even thin air. They can also burrow and jump incredibly long distances in a fraction of a second. Radscorpions can also burrow into cement and other incredulous surfaces, yet they don’t even leave a burrow hole behind like Molerats.

10. Screen blur filters

For whatever reason Bethesda decided to not only add an intense depth of field to the actual gameplay making distant objects blurry, it also added an unnecessary light halo overlay making it seem like you might have vision problems.

lens flareHow it should have worked — Filters applied to the screen should be controllable (on, off and strength) on the settings screen. There is no reason to hard apply such annoying settings to the screen when not everyone wants it. Let the gamer choose what filters they want applied to the screen.

How it actually works — The depth of field applied to the full screen makes the game difficult to look at. When looking at a light source, the game applies a lens flare type blur filter that looks less like lens flare and more like your character has eye problems. These effects degrade the overall gameplay look and feel.

9. Scorchbeasts and Loot

In any game where there’s an oversized and consequently much more difficult opponent, when you do finally kill it, you should get fairly substantial loot more than, say, nothing.

How it should have worked — When you kill a Scorchbeast, the Scorchbeast Queen or a Deathclaw, the loot that is dropped should contain at least one legendary item. In addition, it should drop rare components in reasonable quantities. You should also receive a fair amount of caps.

How it actually works — When you kill an oversized ‘boss’ kind of creature, the dropped enemy loot may range from nothing at all to meat and hide. Basically, worthless items. They’re worthless because even if you do cook the meat, it offers nothing special. Radstag meat is probably the best meat in the game as it offers 20 extra carry points. Eating Scorchbeast steak does nothing for you and is mostly worthless. What’s the point in killing a Scorchbeast?

8. Non-existent non-player characters

While there are talking trader robots, the lone wandering Supermutant trader Graham and a few Mister Handy or Miss Nanny robots dotted throughout the game to provide some quest progression, this is of little consolation when you’re trying to find meaningful interaction with other Vault 76 or locals within West Virginia. Unfortunately, there are no NPCs to be found. See ‘Story’ below for more details as to why.

How it should have worked — While the overseer of Vault 76 may have died and there are 24 players wandering around the environment with you, there have to have been at least a few Vault 76 dwellers who aren’t player characters. In fact, 24 seems an awfully small number of live inside of a vault that big. Ignoring the vault situation, having everyone not in Vault 76 dead is improbable. Because there are also other vaults in the area, a few of these settlers should have survived and been available to talk with. Cities around the area should have been teaming with NPCs, some of which you should be able to convince to come to your own settlements.

How it actually works — Instead, Vault 76 churns out 24 people who are all multiplayer characters. As we all know by now, multiplayers characters don’t interact in meaningful ways. Those who don’t know each other rarely, if ever, work together. In fact, you’re likely to find more hostile multiplayer characters than you will find friends. It’s the nature (and expectation) of PvP. This means that the story failed to consider this problem. Trying to rely on 24 multiplayer characters to bring a story together is like mixing gasoline with fire. It just doesn’t work, unless you’re itching for an explosion… and an explosion is exactly what Bethesda got.

7. Graphics

nuka quantumWhile Bethesda touted an all new rendering look in this engine, it’s pretty much the same rendering engine used in Fallout 4. On top of the unnecessary screen blur (see #10 above) and filters, the rendering distance, shadow distance and up close textures are amateur attempts at best. There are times where the game devolves into a sheer mess, such as invisible buildings, structures that aren’t there and textures are so low-res, you could swear you were playing it on a PS1. This Nuka Cola Quantum bottle looks B_A_D (click on it and see)! When added to the low res background and texture, this looks like something rendered on a PS1.

How it should have worked — We should have gotten a next gen engine capable of producing superbly realistic rusty, sharp, dangerous environments. Sunbeams and moonbeams should be blocked by corresponding solid objects. Textures should hold up on close inspection. Textures should resolve when looking through a sniper rifle sight or binoculars. You shouldn’t notice pop-in at all when wandering.

How it actually works — The sun up and sun down moves too fast. There’s too much night and not enough day time. The sunset and sunrises are almost impossible to distinguish the difference. Textures look fine at an average distance from the player. Up close textures look horrid. Pop-in is horrible and happens way too close to the player.

If you try to zoom in with a sniper, everything falls apart. The sun remains the same size overhead as it does on the horizon. The moon always produces moon rays. The rays don’t actually come from the same direction as the sun and moon sky objects. Moonbeams and sunbeams shine out of rocks, the ground and structures. The smoke coming out of chimneys looks like flat spinning blobs. The character models actually look bad. The only saving grace here is the naturalistic lighting, but the rest of it might as well be cartoons.

The 59 sign below shows everything wrong with this game. The word INTERSTATE is much higher resolution than the 59. At least the texture folks could have used sufficiently high resolution images to create these signs. I just don’t even get why sun shines out of rocks and objects.

 

The only good thing about the graphics is the naturalistic lighting on the trees and house structures. You can get some great environmental shots with the sunbeams through the tree branches. Other than that, nothing else looks particularly realistic.

6. Multiplayer

Here’s one of the saddest parts of Fallout 76. This feature, in fact, is the entire reason Fallout 76 even exists. Yet, it’s one of the worst designed parts of this game. Though, it’s not this game’s #1 problem.

How it should have worked — Bethesda should have sat down and designed a compelling multiplayer experience around the Vault 76 reclamation date rebuilding goal. This means allowing players to fix up, build and then set up shops in towns. If the idea is to rebuild the wasteland, where is this idea in execution?

How it actually works — The Player vs Player (PvP) available in Fallout 76 consists of taking over a workshop and then fighting to keep it. When you do take over a workshop, you are required to spend your own resources to fix it all up. Yet when you log out, you lose that workshop. At most, you get to keep that workshop for as long as you remain logged in.

Once you claim ownership of the workshop, the game forces you to go into a PvP battle to keep it within just a few minutes of taking ownership… most definitely not enough time to both fix up the workshop and build defenses. The only way this would work is if you are on a team of at least 6-10 people who can all pool their resources to fix it up and build defenses simultaneously. One person has no hope of fixing up a workshop alone, particularly considering how little resources you can actually carry with you (See problem #

5. CAMP and Plans

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-uba3cuivCAMP is a portable device you can set down in the wilds of the wasteland and create a small CAMP. It doesn’t hold that much. Finding new plans allows you to craft new items.

How it should have worked — Actually, CAMP is entirely unnecessary. Without NPCs to recruit back to your CAMP to live there and help defend it, the point of the CAMP as a settlement is entirely useless. CAMP as a crafting area works, but it could have been implemented better. Plans shouldn’t be needed. Everything you need should already be available to build if you have the resources. If you scrap any weapon or object, it should automatically give you the plan to it. Big items that you can’t carry or scrap should have been unlocked from the beginning.

How it actually works — You drop your CAMP device in the wasteland and that gives you the ability to build a building and crafting tables. Unfortunately, the building allotment is far too small to actually build anything meaningful. In my allotment, I was able to build a small cabin with all of the crafting tables except a Power Armor station as I have no plan for it yet. After that, my CAMP is entirely out of available building allotment. Other than having a portable building that contains all of the crafting tables, there’s no point in CAMP. Plans are dotted all throughout the wasteland like a needle in a haystack that you have to go hunting for. The difficulty with this idea is that they’ll get found by players and documented on the Internet. The idea of hunting for a “thing” is pointless because the Internet will eventually find even the most rare thing and tell you where it is. Instead, plans should come to you by way of scrapping items. As it is now, scrapping certain weapons unlocks certain mods for that weapon… the wrong design.

12-7-2018_5-55-04_am-tgn02n2u.pngWorse, the game encourages you to move your CAMP frequently, yet it continually charges you more and more caps to move it from place to place. The cap rate to move it is also entirely random. Some days it’s 5 caps, other times it’s 25 caps and others it’s somewhere in between that. The game can’t even seem to make a decision on exactly how many caps it costs to move the CAMP. If you move your CAMP, there’s a very real possibility you will lose all of the items outside of your build structure (i.e., crops, water purifiers, turrets, defenses, etc). If the CAMP is supposed to be semi-permanent, then it needs to remain no matter what. If someone else has plopped their CAMP in the same location and there’s a conflict on that server, then the game should auto-disconnect and choose an alternative World server where there isn’t a conflict so the CAMP can be placed. This should be an automatic part of the login process.

Even more poorly designed, your CAMP may disappear at any time including objects in the CAMP. Placing a CAMP is not in any way meant to be permanent. There’s just no place to park it where it’s cannot disappear. I’ve had my CAMP disappear at least 6-8 times or more. The last time it disappeared, it lost every item outside of the building structure. I had a bunch of crops, a turret, a water purifier, a floor decoration and a water pump all outside of the building structure. All disappeared entirely from my inventory. These objects were not stored. Normally, these items should be stored under the STORED area, but not this time. Those items completely disappeared with no explanation and without a trace. It’s frustrating and stupid that the game makes you go find all of the food crops after it wipes them all out.

4. VATS

How it should have worked — Without pause, VATS should have been left out. It’s pointless without pause.

How it actually works — Because this game doesn’t allow pausing, VATS remains live as you attempt to shoot whatever enemy that it is. As the enemy moves around, VATS percentage of hitting the target constantly changes. Unlike Fallout 4 where the game paused to allow proper targeting, this VATS is entirely worthless without pause. However, the Mysterious Stranger remains, but only works with VATS. You have to remember to use it if you have the Mysterious Stranger card in play.

3. Story

As mentioned above about utilizing limited robot characters to progress stories, the rest of the time the stories are progressed by popping a Holotape (audio log) into your Pip-boy and listening. Boring and so easily interrupted by combat!

How it should have worked — Any RPG should have NPCs who not only exist to provide conversation, but also provide story development. You get to learn about these characters along the way and expand on the story.

How it actually works — Because no NPCs exist in the game, the entire story narrative plays out through a series of holotapes you must find and play. Because the holotape system is simply an audio log, it’s as boring as watching paint dry. If Bethesda had taken a page from a few other games that staged “ghost” reenactment scenes in the area, you could examine the scenes and watch the story unfold through a sort of hologram type environment. None of that here. It’s simply a series of boring holotapes audio logs. Without interactive characters, there is effectively no story worth exploring. The story and its quirky characters is the reason we play Fallout. Without NPCs, it’s not really Fallout.

2. Player Death and Dropped Loot

How it should have worked — When a player dies, the loot should remain on the player. There’s entirely no need to drop loot in the game on death. Also, respawn the player in place or alternatively, allow the player to respawn at the last death marker.

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-iujn21rsHow it actually works — When the player character dies, a death marker is placed on the map where the player last died and also marks the place where the player’s loot is dropped in a paper bag. When the player character dies, the game also gives the choice to “call for help” and get someone to revive the player with a Stimpak or you can “give up” and then respawn. If you do neither, you sit in limbo and can do nothing. When you choose to respawn, the game requires you pay caps to move to the nearest spawn location or if you can’t pay, then you’ll have to respawn at Vault 76 or at your camp, if it’s still there… that or kill the game and restart it (which, of course, loses your dropped loot). This player death and dropped loot issue is completely unnecessary and has never been part of Fallout in the past and shouldn’t be in Fallout 76.

If your game happens to crash immediately after dying or if you are killed by something on the way to pick up your loot, your loot is entirely lost. You get ONE chance to go pick up your dropped loot or it’s lost forever.

Oh… and the paper bag is such a stupid and unrealistic idea, I don’t even know how this idea passed design review. How can you possibly fit a Fat Man or a Missile Launcher into a tiny paper bag?

1. Glitches, bugs, quest bugs and client crashing

How it should have worked — Actually beta test your game product with real live QA folks, not holotapes. Get them to sign off that both the game client and the servers work consistently, as expected and are better than 95% stable. Actually play test the game internally. Get people to walk through the environment and see if they can break things.

How it actually works — There is so much to say here, that’s why this is the #1 problem. The game client is closer to 50% stable (maybe less). If it crashes or disconnects twice a day, consider yourself lucky. Sometimes it goes on a crashing / disconnect spree and just doesn’t stop. The network servers disconnect far too frequently. As mentioned above, you can be playing and *hang* with a long pause, then disconnect. Sometimes, the game hangs and then recovers. Sometimes it just disconnects out of nowhere. If any hangs or random disconnects happens you should always disconnect and reconnect and get a different server as that other server is likely having problems.

Sometimes the entire client crashes with the repeating audio loop and then the whole client dies. You have to start completely over when this happens. Hopefully, it’s not immediately after having dropped loot or you’ll have lost your “loot”. Below is a texture glitch video. I’m certain this is a client side problem.

Quest bugs are common in Bethesda games. These types of bugs prevent completion of quests because the character you need to interact with, for example, is already dead. This means you can’t complete the quest. There are plenty of other bugged quests as well.

Commentary as of 12/21/2018

The game has officially gotten even worse. With each new passing release, instead of improving performance, features and stability, the game gets more unstable. And, with each new update, Bethesda introduces even more and more bugs… bugs that didn’t exist in prior releases. In fact, I can’t even think of any place in this game where I’ve not encountered a bug, glitch or frustrating problem.

At this point, I actually suspect that someone at Bethesda is intentionally trying to sabotage this game and franchise. If I were management team at Bethesda, I’d actually have the engineers stop rolling out “bug fixes” post haste and evaluate what is going on with both the game and the team. I’d also remove Todd from further involvement in this game. Move him off to other projects and get a new lead… one who can bring some measure of stability and sanity to this game.

Fallout 76 is entirely laughable. There is so much wrong with this game it’s a comedy of errors. This game is literally the poster child of what-not-to-do when building and maintaining an online game. It seems like that for every bug they seem to squash, they introduce 10 more to take its place. It’s just insanely laughable… and it seems Bethesda is entirely oblivious, doesn’t care or is apathetic.

Hey Bethesda, if don’t care to make the game better, then please, just shut down the world servers, cancel the game and issue refunds to those of us who bought it. Admit your failure, cut your losses and move on to building better games in the future. Sometimes admitting failure is the only way to move forward.

Overall

This game was released way too early! Without NPCs, this game is completely devoid of feeling like ANY Bethesda RPG, let alone Fallout. Whomever’s idea it was to include no NPCs should be walked to the door at Bethesda. I realize this is considered an off-shoot game, but it is still a Fallout product. It should always true to being a Fallout product. Fallout 76 isn’t true to Fallout.

However, the instability trumps everything. If you can’t reliably even play the game without crashes, bugs and quest failure, then you don’t really even have a game.

Ultimately, this game needs a whole lot more development time and effort. I have no idea why Bethesda released this product so finished. Yet, here we are. Note that there are plenty more reasons to hate Fallout 76. These 25 reasons are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m quite sure you’ll find many more to hate on if you choose to buy this game.


If you’ve had a different experience when playing, please leave a comment below.

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