FALLOUT 4 – LET’S GET SENSIBLE

So Fallout 4 got announced today after a “mysterious” online countdown, and everybody on the internet either cried, fainted, or stained their underwear en masse.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve been super-hyped about games before, most people have. Not to mention that the Fallout Series has a proud lineage of some genuinely excellent games, as well as one of the most charismatic interpretations of a nuclear wasteland I’ve ever seen, a sentence I never thought I’d say. Bethesda are pretty good at delivering high quality games, and sandbox has always been their bread and butter, so yeah – this one’s probably worth getting a little excited over.

Fallout 4 trenchcoat

Tex Murphy? What are you doing here?

No, what I want to talk about is the way it was announced and the events leading up to it. I realise that this is the second article this week about ad campaigns, but I felt rather startled by the relative clarity of Fallout 4’s announcement. It was all very smooth, very clear, it all just made sense, whilst keeping us in the dark just enough to make us curious. It wasn’t only me who thought this – a friend of mine, the biggest Fallout fan I know, agreed with this too. The whole thing just ran like watery clockwork.

That said, I guess they didn’t want to make people too suspicious or to act too coy about it all, because there’s some rather raw history there. There was a rather famous hoax a couple of years ago, when somebody made a false site themed with nuclear imagery, also utilising a countdown, but this one went for two weeks before the lie was revealed. Everybody got really excited about it then, too, and of course got very, very angry when they found out the truth. Meanwhile, I had my fist in my mouth and was trying desperately not to laugh.

I know, people got upset by it, but a buddy of mine got upset when he was hit in the head by a Frisbee, and I laughed at that too.

Fallout 4 explosion

H- Honey? Did… Did you happen to leave the gas on?

But I rather admire Bethesda’s methodology here. They start with the mysterious countdown, except everybody knows it’s not THAT mysterious, so no chance of people’s imagination running away with them. On top of which, it only went for 24 hours, so that should stop any of the more extreme conspiracy theories about it being Nuclear Skyrim or Half-Life 3 getting any traction in the short time period. Of course, the countdown, though brief, did last long enough to get everybody who was on the lookout for such an event aware of it. Gold star there.

The trailer? Well, it’s pretty good. It shows the pre-war aspect of the Fallout universe, something we’ve never seen in much detail. It shows epic pirate ships, an updated version of the old deathclaws, and what looks like the killer Zeppelin from the end of Alan Moore’s “The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Enough to remind us of the stuff we love, mixed in with enough mystery to awake our curiosity, the most powerful urge we have. Now I WANT to know more, it’s the same as the XCOM 2 trailer we saw on Monday. There’s a lot of footage that looks like it’s from the game, though no gameplay itself, sadly. Except that at the same moment it was released Bethesda chirped that we get to see gameplay at E3 later on. Fair enough, now I know where to go for that info if I want it. Gold star again.

It may sound like all this is fairly normal or self-explanatory, but games are so often the subject of bizarre or damaging ad campaigns. Whether it’s Aliens: Colonial Marines lying to the public outright, or Ubisoft refusing to contextualize the cover of Far Cry 4 in order to stop it from looking racist (which it wasn’t in the end, but I wish we knew that), a lot of publishers will do weird things to advertise their games. It’s simply not true that all publicity is good publicity, at least not for games. So why do publishers indulge bizarre methods when it comes to getting the brand out there?

They get especially odd when it comes to leaked information. If a bit of gameplay info gets out onto the internet without clearance, the first thing everybody does is look to the developers, one eyebrow raised. Yes or no? True or false? And remember that if they say nothing, we’ll probably believe it anyway.

Fallout 4 Dog

Let’s not get too affectionate, Gromit. I may have to eat you before this adventure is over.

But they always go quiet, always go still. Like a crocodile lying at the bottom of a river, they’re waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Except that whilst they’re waiting, a lion has already killed the prey by the riverbank, and is starting to drag it off to eat. But still that crocodile just lies there, determined to come out when he’s ready, regardless of how badly he’s ballsed up his strategy or how much the world has altered in ways not to his advantage.

You see, I suspect that the publishers always have a Plan. A big, proper Plan. The kind with charts and folders and the like. You know the kind I mean, it would probably go something like this:

  • Month one: make suggestive noises in an interview, but don’t commit to anything.
  • Month two: surprise everybody at a convention with gameplay.
  • Month three: Lie through your teeth, because anything will fly with enough hot air beneath it.
  • Month four: Rent forklift truck to carry our pre-order money back to the office.

And whether out of pride, terror, stubborness, or just plain idiocy, they can never deviate from that Plan. Even when it’s in their best interests to give it up and just do something much more sensible, they never do. Too much investment, perhaps, or they just can’t work out how to react to events that fast. That’s why a rough plan, or one that is very simple, is much more beneficial. It’s less of a house of cards, less dependant on everything else. That’s why Fallout knows what it’s doing in this regard. Keep it simple, keep it memorable, keep it short. A+.

Now to remind myself of the series properly. Except for Little Lamplight, of course. That sequence can go suck on the business end of a MIRV.

WHAT ARE WE WILLING TO PUT UP WITH?

OK, so full disclosure: I haven’t played the Witcher 3. I don’t want to play the Witcher 3. I tried playing the first game in that series, and the combination of a slow story, aggressive interface, and what I can only think of as startlingly boring combat drove me away within hours. Perhaps the second and third games are better, but everybody who recommends them to me has also been a fan of the snooze-fest that was Witcher uno, so I don’t quite trust them enough yet.

But what caught my eye was a bit of news going around – World War Witcher 3 has been given a massive patch to sort out what apparently is a huge amount of bugs, glitches, and general fuck-ups in its code, the kind not seen outside of the genetic structure of the Lannister family.

Witcher Bird

FLY UP, YOU STUPID BIRD. HE’S ON A HORSE, NOT A POD RACER.

But that can’t be right. Last time I saw Metacritic, “Glitcher 3” (snarf, snarf) was getting nines and tens across the board, people were getting in line just to kiss its feet like it was some disinterested saint. Surely a game as hostile to being played as this one can’t be doing so well?

Alright, let’s consider a game I DO know, and can refer to with confidence: Batman: Arkham Origins. I bought that game on release, I loved its predecessors, I was really excited to start punching badly-dressed villains again. I dragged it into Steam like a fisherman dragging some humongous trout onto the riverbank, only to cut it open and realise that this trout had quite a few parasites going.

Let’s be frank, the game was absolutely toxic. It faulted and crashed with clockwork regularity, the frame rate dropped like a cartoon anvil, one bug stopped me completing a side mission altogether, and of course there were clipping issues and all of the other things you can expect from a game that has hasn’t so much been crafted, as it has been coughed up.

In actual fact, that game itself was alright. Not amazing, just vaguely OK. But I don’t remember thinking that at the time. I only remember shouting with rage at a game that had just conned me out of forty pounds. Another reason never to pre-order anything ever, I thought, and don’t think I’m not going to write an article on pre-orders at some point too.

The terrible glitches weren’t even at their worst for me. A friend of mine got three-quarters of the way through the game, at which point it had some sort of panicky stroke and corrupted all his save data, forcing him to begin anew. Then it set his Xbox on fire and attacked his granny with a knife, just to hammer the point home.

Joker

You might think that you’re evil, Joker, but have you seen the quality that this game was released in? That’s much worse than murder and theft.

But it didn’t hammer the point home. Nobody remembers the glitches anymore, not really. Nobody brings them up when you talk about Arkham Origins, not unless you remind them. But this seems bizarre to me – how on earth did they truly get away with this? Sending out something of this meagre quality, not to mention a title from such a prestigious series as the Arkham games, it’s inexcusable. It should have clung to their reputation like a permanent bloody stain, not a slight bit of dust for them to brush off at their convenience. It took about a month for Origins to finally get patched to the quality where it could be played, and quite a lot longer after that for it to be properly clean.

And Witcher 3 is apparently just as bad. The site I saw the news of the patch on was followed by a comment section longer than À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, all of which was messages from players, rightly complaining about the problems they’d been having, some of which sounded pretty game-breaking.

But something tells me that in the long term, nobody will remember these glitches. The Witcher 3 will just deal with them when it feels like it, and the gaming public will just smile and thank CD Projekt Red for being so nice as to sort out its broken title that we paid money for. How generous of them, how thoughtful, when what actually should be happening is that they should get on their hands and knees and apologise, hoping and praying that the public is generous enough to buy whatever DLC and later titles they make.

The surreal thing is that this attitude is limited to games. Imagine if a film was released where the scenes were in the wrong order, or a book was sold that had a dozen pages where the ink had run and made it illegible. Neither would sell a single copy, the people responsible would be fired in a heartbeat. At the very least there would have to be some sort of show of apology. Because that ISN’T acceptable, not at that level. Releasing a broken or ineffectual product is a cheat, it’s a lie. It shouldn’t happen and there is no excuse, bar corporate sabotage by a rival company. They’re not doing you a favour by patching it, they’re trying to pull their career and reputation out of a nose dive.

At least, that would be the case in other media. But there’s something unhealthily submissive about gaming culture. We sit plaintively, hoping for any scraps that the big businesses might throw us, forgetting that we aren’t dependant on them. They’re dependant on us, and it’s about time we reminded them of it, because when they sell you something that malfunctions like Apollo 13 in the hands of a technophobe, they deserve to be called out on it. They don’t respect you enough to give you a working form of the product. And don’t kid yourself, they didn’t miss the fact that it’s filled with glitches. They built the thing, they knew what was coming out.

ASU

I prefer the using the road, myself. Or are you scared you’re going to clip straight through it?

So the next time a game is released that’s buggy and sickly and doesn’t want to be played, show it the same feeling – don’t play it. If it’s buggy, don’t buy it. Wait until it’s been patched, wait until it actually works, because that will make the publishers sweat like nothing else in the world. First-week sales mean everything to them, so if you hear that it’s faulty, just wait seven days. If everybody did that, there wouldn’t be any more of this shameful behaviour.

Look at Assassin’s Creed: Unity. That game might have been dreadful, but I kind of like it now, just because it brought us all together against a common enemy. It showed what happens when the industry tries to push too far – it gets pushed right back, by something far stronger than it could ever hope to be. Ubisoft gave in when it realised it couldn’t get away with the unbelievably bad quality of Unity, and had to jump through about fifty hoops just to placate the audience. And even then, the game will be remembered as “the broken one in the series.”

So that’s my advice. Do now what you did then if you see some bug-ridden game. Ignore it. And if you bought it without knowing what it was like, don’t let the developers forget it. Demand your money back, get on their case, threaten to boycott later titles. Because if you wait for bugs to leave, they’ll just start multiplying. But if you stamp on them now, and stamp hard, they’ll think twice before they come back.

THE ART OF COMMERCIAL WAR

Oh my god oh my god oh my god! A trailer was just released for XCOM 2! I’m so excited! I feel like a little girl about to meet some handsome boy band! Oh, I must be sure to sniff its hair and steal its sweatband.

But hold on, something is strange. Something feels… Different. I haven’t felt like this about a trailer for a while, but why is that? Let’s reverse-engineer this delight and compare it to something else I saw a trailer for recently: Star Wars: Battlefront.

Quite frankly, I didn’t feel fussed at all when I watched that one. Just kind of unimpressed, and a little bit annoyed. But that doesn’t seem right, surely? I have great nostalgia and love for both the Battlefront and XCOM games, I’ve sunk many hours into both, probably more into Battlefront, actually. So why now do I feel the need to stand on one side so firmly? And no, it’s not because Battlefront is made by EA. The game hasn’t been released yet, and if it’s good then people should buy it, because that’s what promotes good things and keeps people making them. If it’s a micro-payment littered pile of garbage, then I’m not interested, and yes, people should leave it on the shelf.

But I digress.

I think one of the reasons that SWB left me so limp (metaphorically speaking) was that there actually wasn’t anything new in there. No new angle on Star Wars as a concept, nothing to suggest any progression.

Desktop 01-06-2015 17-54-00-57

“Look, I’m sorry, but I don’t kiss on the first date.”

It really is the same old thing. Rebels fight in bulky green outfits and all speak in broad American accents. The Empire is English-exclusive, and uses strangely-designed vehicles built by the lowest bidder. I’ll be honest, I’ve seen it all before, and then, just to give you no credit, Darth Vader and Boba Fett pop out of nowhere and for no reason, except to make all the fanboys swoon like women from a nineteenth-century romance novel. But where’s the twist? Where’s the movement forward? For a series based around travel across the galaxy, Star Wars really doesn’t want to go anywhere.

XCOM, on the other hand, gives us nothing but questions. The whole world appears to have changed since the last game, which was essentially the world we live in now, albeit subjected to the occasional alien invasion. But now we seem to be living with the bug-eyed monsters from Mars. In fact, the little sods seem to be in charge! I spent a lot of time trying to beat them back, I’m rather miffed about how easily they got in. Honestly, you leave for ten minutes and everybody just gives up.

Desktop 01-06-2015 17-47-19-177

What you can’t see is the bumper sticker on the back that says “My other car is also a Porsche.”

I like the tone of the trailer as well. There’s a touch of Blade Runner and 1984 to the whole thing, with aliens stopping humans in the street for random tests, and massive TV screens smilingly telling us to do what our new overlords ask, with no pause to think for ourselves. THAT’S intriguing. That makes me want to play, to find out what happened. They’ve sparked my curiosity now. Not only that, but there’s new sorts of aliens to feast our eyes on. We see the Ethereals from the first game, making some strange messiah-pose on a billboard, but we also see a snakey-looking thing that wasn’t around before, power-armour soldiers who are unnervingly faceless, and what appears to be a big brother to the classic sectoid enemies. In fact, let’s be honest, that thing is absolutely terrifying. I think I’d rather be trapped in a room with a rampant muton beserker than left for a minute with one of those.

Scared isn’t bored, though. And I’m not bored, I’m fascinated. This world is one I want to explore, to find out about. I want to leap on board the giant XCOM helicarrier they showed us at the end, I want to pilot that angry little taser drone that zapped one of the bad guys, and most of all I want to give those aliens another good hiding. This has all made me ready for round 2.

Desktop 01-06-2015 17-54-21-701

What do we think? Good news or bad news?

But Star Wars? Well, there’s a saying that fits. Been there, done that. The game might still be good, but the trailer didn’t get me excited for anything, I’ve done it all before. EA aren’t offering any new ideas, they’ve just put the old ones in a different game. And be honest with yourself, even though the trailer was made with the game’s engine, do you really think you’re looking at what the game is actually going to be like? I doubt it, because if the gameplay was that amazing… Well, they’d have shown us gameplay, not a movie wearing the skin of a video game.

Remember, neither of these evaluations are evaluations of the final product. Battlefront might be awesome, XCOM might be a load of old arse. But it doesn’t look like that here. XCOM is intriguing me, being rather coquettish and winking from behind its paper fan. Star Wars, on the other hand, has basically walked into the middle of the room and thrown off its dress, showing me everything it has, warts and all. And I don’t want warts. Yes, XCOM might have warts in the end, but it’s done a masterful job of hiding them, and I don’t think it only wants to do the missionary position, Star Wars. You could learn a thing or two here.

(Joel Franey would like to make it very clear that he has never paid for physical affection, except in the strictest sense of karmatic justice. He’d also like to make it very clear that women with warts aren’t necessarily doomed to loneliness and may still find love with another. Just not with him.)

I intended to release a longer piece on Dark Souls today, but this trailer came out a couple of hours ago and I thought was worth writing about whilst we remembered it. Expect Dark Souls soon.

YOU CAN WATCH THE XCOM TRAILER HERE, AND THE STAR WARS TRAILER HERE.