Tuesday, August 23, 2011

From the Mojave, With Love - A Fallout: New Vegas post

Yeah, I haven’t written so much lately. There’s a reason for that. Every now and then you find a game that consumes your gaming time, and then some. For some, those are score-attack games, for others, it’s multiplayer online shooters, for others yet, it’s the warm embrace of a JRPG. For me, it’s a game with a huge, lore-filled world to explore and adventure in.

There’s a reason why I haven’t written much lately, and that reason is Fallout: New Vegas.

Before it, it was Morrowind, then it was World of Warcraft, and after it, it was Oblivion. Fallout 3 didn’t grab me quite so much, but I'd be a liar if I said I didn't spend several dozens of hours with it. As I did with some of the more linear but still somewhat open-ended Japanese RPGs.

But I feel that New Vegas reaches new heights in world-crafting. Of course, you still need to hold your suspension of disbelief and use your imagination to fill in a million gaps, but, bugs non-withstanding, everything in the world of Fallout New Vegas seems to fit in together admirably.

Well, maybe not so much, But, like I wrote above, you forgive it’s quirks. You forgive, because it’s loaded with personality. This is a far cry from DC’s wasteland, where people were living in ruins and barely seemed to care. From the onset, you get the feeling that this is a wild frontier, and that humanity is making it’s bid for it, intent on taming it.

You see people trying to plow land to make little backyard farms. You see buildings that actually look like someone tried to fix them. People seem to lead lives, rather than cowering inside ruins waiting for the player to meet them, or randomly walking about.

Not that Fallout 3 didn't try, but it felt half-hearted, while this feels like someone actually stopped to think what would life be like at this point in time after the nuclear winter. The active nature of humanity came into play in the world-building, rather than the passive role it is usually awarded in video games.

It’s the kind of thing I always found myself imagining while playing video games - the lives that people lead behind the adventure and general events of the game. Obviously, it is not feasible to have this background stuff meaningfully developed, but it doesn't need to be.

As the world is made to be compelling, so is our mind made to fill in the blanks, and so, these little hints at life beyond the main quest are fleshed out by ourselves, as opposed to being totally up to use to imagine. In fact, I suspect that, were it to be possible to create a near-perfect simulation, where every NPC had a 2000-page life-script, we would care much less. It would be boring.

For me, Fallout: New Vegas strikes this very fine balance that was more commonly achieved in games of old: that of a sharing of world authorship between the creator and the player. As the player engages in the world, and picks up those threads of personality and story and character and weaves them, somewhat unconsciously, into a more fleshed-out background, so he feels more invested in the world.

By the time it was up to me to make some major decisions about the future of the New Vegas region, I actually cared for it. I though about the choices not as paths to the ending I felt I would like to see, or advancement for my character. I thought about them in terms of the impact they would make in that world, and how I felt about that.

It may not be a huge distinction, but it is an important one. I cared because I grew to care, not because I was told I should. And that, I think, is the mark of exceptional world-building.

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