The Last Goddamn Straw
Posted on Friday, July 17 2015 @ 12:40:23 PST
Gawker media. There's a phrase that should make any self-respecting activist, advertising canvasser, editorialist, journalist, editor, or reader get a slight sense of dyspepsia. The slight will become severe if the individual should ever ponder the specifics of its cause.
A network which is less a news service and more a gong pit collecting the sewage of the internet but never quite getting around to burning it like a gong farmer worth his pay would. There's no low they won't sink to in their increasingly desperate bid for more clicks. They probably dug their grave with the leaking of a Hulk Hogan sex tape which the lawsuit surrounding will hopefully see them in receivership soon. However, they've done more morally dubious things like posting photographs of a sexual assault in progress to bait clicks. But they just managed to put a nice, clean, stamp on their collective passport to Hell.
Yesterday Gawker published an article outing a privately gay man with a family. They did this to bait clicks. They destroyed a marriage, a family, a person's reputation and possibly career, all for a few cheap ad bucks. They don't deserve to be censured or fined. They don't deserve a bunch of angry comments in their comment sections. They deserve to be shut down. To any journalists, gaming or otherwise, to any media industry professionals, gaming or otherwise, to anyone anywhere with a functional conscience if you happen to be reading this I implore you; do not visit their sites. Do not link them. Do not read them. Do not repost their content. Let them wither into irrelevance and die long before the ink dries on the terms of a settlement with Hogan leading to their total bankruptcy. They're not journalists and they're not entertainers. They're parasites. To video game journalists in particular I say that these are the people who have done more damage to the good name of your profession than anyone else. They poison everything they touch and bring naught but ruin. Forget them and let them rot. Building a better games journalism is going to be hard enough work as is; you don't need the baggage of these rotten creeps dragging you down with them.
Thank you for your time.
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A Revised List of Cautionary Notes and Concerns About Fallout 4; a Jeremiad
Posted on Monday, July 13 2015 @ 13:46:01 PST
This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.
Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone interested in why anyone would be less than entranced with Fallout 4 (or anything else Bethesda does) to give it a good read. You won't go unrewarded.
Preamble: Fallout 4 has drawn a great deal of uncritical enthusiasm from the first announcement on even from those ostensibly in full possession of the available facts. This perplexes me for a number of reasons, listed below.
1 - Its Engine is Modified Skyrim
Without more details handy it's impossible to say whether or not it will carry over all of Skyrim's technical problems, but it's already confirmed to be the same engine and it shows some of the same quirks. There is an upside. The staggering gaps in due diligence by Bethesda will get cleaned up quickly by modders, which Bethesda will promptly break with patches which fix less than they break anew, which will force modders to refix what they already fixed and so on until Bethesda stops 'supporting' the game officially and the community can form a consensus around unofficial patches which actually work as in Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Skyrim. Basically, expect a very buggy game which will be borderline unplayable at launch. People who complained vociferously about glitches in The Witcher 3 will be reminded once again what a Bethesda game feels like and in a moment of clarity may say to themselves, "I can't believe I ever complained about CDProjektRED."
2 - Bethesda Plainly Never 'Got' Fallout
If one started playing Fallout 3, one could be forgiven for thinking the kitschy '50s Americana was nothing more than window dressing. A conceptual backdrop into which a post-apocalyptic setting was dropped. Eclecticism for eclecticism's sake. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fallout was never meant to strictly reflect America as it was at any point in time. It was meant to reflect on, and deconstruct, an image America had of its own historical importance and the possibilities of the future. Futurism, in turn, plays a major role in informing the aesthetics of pre-war technology.
It's not well-remembered today but early Futurists were deeply enamored with totalitarianism and it wasn't until World War 2 that the love affair ended and searching criticism of illiberal politics by 'conservative' liberal futurists like Bertrand De Jouvenel took prominence in the movement. Fallout imagines a world where critics like De Jouvenel never were. Their ideas never caught hold (even in reality De Jouvenel is a name only likely to come up in obscure libertarian mailing lists and book catalogs like The Liberty Fund) and so the naive affinity for 'Our friend the Atom' and the maximum state as a solution to all problems never ended. The grand cultural, scientific and technological transformations which started in the late '50s were perpetually arrested for more than a century and by the time they finally started it was too little, too late.
In summary Fallout's premise, as distinct from the rest of its narrative and conceptual elements, serves as a cautionary tale about the danger of naive optimism and boundless exuberance. The bleak tone of the first game is a vivid though uplifting counterpoint; the world is terrible but not irredeemable. Alongside all that are explorations of identity, culture, nationalism, history, philosophy, the possibility and desirability of peace, human nature and the meaning of violence. It was never there for the sake of having it. It was not conceptualized as a kitchen sink of marketable tropes which would move product. It all served a purpose.
Perhaps the most obvious, egregious, and offensive aspect was Bethesda's insistence on 'post-apocalyptic' when the series never was any such thing. It's such a common misconception that it bears illustration. Mad Max and The Road are post-apocalyptic media. In both the possibility of civilization is not even on the table and mere survival is a continuous ordeal. The Road goes much further than most post-apocalyptic stories in that it depicts a biosphere in the final stages of dying while Mad Max suggests that the collapse of civilization and its never-incipient rebirth is a product of basic human failing. Fallout was inspired more by A Canticle for Liebowitz than Mad Max and the first game predates the publication of The Road by nearly a decade. It is preoccupied not with survival amid irradiated ash just after the hellfire has cooled enough for men to walk on the Earth again but something beyond that. It considers civilization rebuilding. A consistent trajectory is found from Fallout 1, 2 and New Vegas which leaves 3 as something of a black sheep. In 1 we see communities coming together and the return of law and order on a small scale. In 2 a nation is forming and in New Vegas it is already dangerously along the imperial stage.
One could focus on other elements and elaborate (misguided culture-mining of the '40s and '50s to no particular effect, lack of any core thematic elements at all, retcons, inane plot, etc.), but the basic point is clear enough already that Bethesda's previous Fallout showed almost no substantive understanding of the setting.
3 - Needless Distractions Won't Fix That
Building settlements and protecting caravans and fighting off waves of nondescript vague enemies sounds fun and all, but it also completely ignores setting; this is more than 200 years after the bombs dropped, so this phase of reorganization should have passed ages ago as it did in every region but the ones built by Bethesda. It sounds like little more than a massive, pointless distraction in the form of Hearthfire 2.0 - Hearthfire Harder With a Vengeance: The Return of the Son of Killer Hearthfire: Electric Boogaloo. Something to fill in the numbers on that '400 Hours!' figure without any of that pesky 'writing' or 'quest design' to worry about.
Boasts about Radiant AI and quests have, since they started selling the idea with Oblivion, boiled down to simple rote actions for NPCs and bare-bones procedurally-generated fetch quests which are often broken. Which is not to say that this is entirely Bethesda's fault. Severe memory caps in the seventh-gen prevented them from implementing such systems as designed and even finished to a degree. Skyrim certainly fell prey to those problems. Having to develop for seventh-generation hardware had significant effects not only on systems but also the game's plot. The civil war over Skyrim was intended to be the 'A' plot with most quests focusing on it, including what was to have been the most ambitious application of Bethesda's radiant system to date. Entire quest chains were to generate and change dynamically based on player choices and actions. While a particularly ambitious modder was able to reconstruct it based on leftover assets and notes it still rather severely changed the game's flow.
4 - Dialogue Wheels, and Assorted Obscenities
To go along with voice acting is homeopathically watered-down dialogue mechanics in the form of the dialogue wheel. Acknowledging a dialogue wheel wouldn't have damaged Fallout 3 much, given the paucity of its writing, that's no excuse. One does not cover a bad thing with another bad thing and hope somehow the good bits in the two bad things come together to form a less bad thing. That's degenerate design. If Obsidian could make scrolling through and even listening to seemingly boilerplate dialogue compelling, then Bethesda can too. It's not some magical gift which is bestowed by divine will - storytelling is an artform like any other with known techniques and agreed-upon methods of effective composition for expressing a point with concision.
As if that were not bad enough the entire skill system has apparently been overhauled. By overhauled I mean removed. Replaced with a Skyrim-lite perk system (though likely even simpler, somehow) which will remove any sort of fine-grains to decision making and probabilistic skill checks are back in, making choices of perks largely absolute. Building atop or refining New Vegas' interpretation of SPECIAL would have been a good idea but they very likely won't.
5 - New Vegas Has Not Been Mentioned Once
Which is easily the most worrying sign of all. Fallout 4 may ostensibly be a sequel to Fallout 3 and not New Vegas, and Bethesda may have had big plans quietly laid out for Obsidian to continue developing the 'core' region to their heart's content as follow-on projects (we'll get to the possibility of that below) but there is really only one way in which Fallout 3 objectively compares favorably with New Vegas and that's in map design, and only in the most formalistic sense. The layout of structures and of world geometry is better-attuned to their three dimensional nature (which is not a surprise, at least one of the map designers was the creator of the Desert Crisis mod for Half Life and it had a similarly strong sense of vertical space), but beyond that even in this New Vegas is better.
New Vegas's setting, while somewhat bland, possesses the virtue of making sense through and through while 3 possesses the vice of making no sense at all. The world is irradiated to an extreme (and absurd) degree in 3 but crops somehow grow. Crops grow but grass doesn't because of that same radiation. Little Lamplight exists. Anyone who played Fallout 3 needs no elaboration. New Vegas skillfully integrated player agency with intelligent narrative construction while 3 gave the player no meaningful choices at all and had one of the worst stories ever recorded in any medium since scholars first pressed cuneiform wedges into clay. Fallout 3 was superficially charming but even the slightest mental grasp of it was like a razor blade taken to wet tissue paper; it tore it to pieces and left a god-awful mess. New Vegas is the polar opposite; superficially ugly but on the slow burn yields increasing rewards via contemplation.
6 - There Won't Be an Obsidian Follow-Up
The critical talent at Obsidian responsible for most of what set New Vegas apart from 3 are long gone. None of the core writing team remain, almost none of the core designers and content builders are there. It's possible that if Bethesda were to come calling with an offer, Feargus Urquhart could get the band back together quickly, but that's unlikely. The only thing even remotely on the horizon from Obsidian of any interest at all is additional content for Pillars of Eternity. Everything else they're working on is shovelware for mail.ru. That's not a joke. They really are a shovelware company now. After Fallout 4 ships a side-game that gets shopped out to some studio but the constellation of talent which produced New Vegas won't be behind it. I hate to be saying this but if Bethesda's smart, they'll never let Obsidian touch it again if they cannot guarantee that same group of key personnel in those same posts. If Bethesda ever did have plans for Obsidian to continuously make Fallout spinoff games appealing to older series fans they very likely started to go up in smoke not long after New Vegas shipped.
So there. I'm not excited or hyped or whatever. If I hear good news down the road, I'm willing to change my mind but until then I stand by an earlier statement about the game - I feel nothing but contempt for it until otherwise indicated.
Edit: Revision to reinsert some missing text.
[The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of GameRevolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. You can find more Vox Pop articles here! ~Ed. Nick Tan]
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