Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fallout 3's Downloadable Content

While not totally unknown to the RPG world (Mass Effect 1's Bring Down the Sky add-on came first, and maybe there have been downloadable additions to RPGs prior to that), Fallout 3 has brought the potential of Downloadable Content for RPGs to the spotlight. I like explaining concepts that you probably already know, so, Downloadable Content is basically an addition to a game that you can download from an online source that adds significant aspects and features to the game that are not available in it normally. Mass Effect 1 released one soon after the game was available, a free extra mission to download that added a side quest to the game and fleshed out some of the setting of the game. It was pretty cool, awesomely free of charge, and there's a rumor that there will be one more released soon before Mass Effect 2 is finished for advertising purposes--which would be kickass, lemme tell you.

But while Mass Effect 1 was the first RPG I saw to implement the idea really well (besides, obviously, online RPGs; given that they're completely dependent on online factors to begin with, I don't count them the same way), Fallout 3 has really provided an example of what you can do with additions to an off-line RPG, and how successful it can be (each Fallout 3 DLC package costs more or less $10 to get, which allows for a tidy profit margin with how many people buy them, given that the programming for them is only one game area's worth). Through its add-ons, it's not only provided different areas and items of interest to add diversity to the game, but it's also added several sidequests with their own minor plots, several instances that further develop the world and history of Fallout, and even developed the main character's personality a bit--something the game proper barely does to begin with.

So, what did I think of each Downloadable Content for Fallout 3, you ask?* Well, let's go over them, following the order of release.**

Operation: Anchorage: Not counting the release of the GECK editor, Operation: Anchorage was the first DLC released for Fallout 3. All in all, a pretty good add-on. The pre-nuclear-devastation battle for Anchorage, Alaska is referenced several times in Fallout 3's main game, and getting some insight into what it was like and the general idea of how it went down via a virtual reality simulator was pretty neat, developed that bit of Fallout history nicely while giving you a fairly fun few missions where you have to rely more on your game skill than on the various super-powerful weapons and armors you may have already amassed. The DLC also gives an interesting glance into the mentality the Outcasts, allowing you to see firsthand that their flawed beliefs and objectives lead to dissension and murderous disagreements even within their own ranks. Operation: Anchorage develops the world and players of Fallout a moderate amount while giving you an interesting and different environment and set of missions to play through. Definitely a solid start.

The Pitt: The Pitt is another part of the Fallout world referenced a few times during Fallout 3's main game, with the Pitt (the ruins of Pittsburgh) being made out to be a hellhole of chaos, danger, and ugly brutality so extreme that it challenges even the imagination of the regular citizens of the wasteland, who are no strangers to harsh violence. As such, I did feel slightly disappointed when I actually went through it. It was a sucky place, to be sure, with slaves working themselves to death under brutal captors in an industrial setting, occasionally having to fight to the death in an irradiated tournament chamber or go searching for resources in the untamed areas of the city filled with gun-wielding madmen and mutant beasts, but...well, I mean, that's a pretty effectively horrible setting, to be sure, and Fallout 3 depicts its evils well, but this is Fallout here. What's an unthinkable hellhole for most other RPGs is only a few steps worse than the average wasteland location for this game. The game explains it as The Pitt having become much more ordered and manageable in the recent years from the horrible place mentioned in Fallout 3's main game, but still, I was expecting to be thrown into the worst place ever conceived, and it didn't happen.

The rest of the DLC follows this feeling of "Alright, but not what I'd hoped." The mini-plot of The Pitt has too much of a morally ambiguous feel to it, is okay-but-not-awesome as a story in general, and only slightly ties into the rest of the Fallout world. It's a decent enough side quest, but it doesn't measure up to the first DLC.

Broken Steel: Pretty much the biggest add-on, and also originally intended to be the final one, Broken Steel extends the game past its original ending and keeps the story going as you help push the bad guys out of the Capital Wasteland. This one was great--not only did it have the most additions of sidequests and locations, it tied in directly with the plot, kept it going, added bits and pieces here and there, and fixed up a serious plot hole with Fallout 3's original ending (see my former rant and retraction on this point). While the main, most important plot line of the game, the goal of providing clean water to the Capital Wasteland, is mostly settled in Fallout 3's main game, this DLC does briefly touch on it as it goes along with tying up the other loose ends of Fallout 3's major plot lines. A decent extension of the plot, a few decent minor new characters, several additions to gameplay and exploration through the wastes, correction of a previous mistake, and the ability to see that your actions in the main game paid off...a big thumbs-up to Broken Steel. Now if only it had made a new ending for when you finished it up; Fallout 3 now just doesn't really have a conclusion.

Point Lookout: Honestly, when I first heard about this DLC, I thought it would be lame. I mean, it looked like it was just exploring a swamp area with some mutant hillbillies. Whoop-dee-doo. Then I played through it, and found that it was my favorite. You're never too old or too familiar with the idea of "Don't judge a book by its cover" for a refresher course in it.

Point Lookout is basically everything I could hope for in a Fallout 3 add-on, and much more. Its plot is fairly self-contained, not having too much to do with Fallout 3's main game, but it introduces an entirely new, and rather neat, aspect of the Fallout world's events and history, a game of Spy Versus Spy of sorts that's been waged since before the war that destroyed the world, in which you get to play a small part. It also further develops Fallout's history with a couple of minor side quests that have you investigate happenings and individuals from before the war that further give you an idea of what the world was like at the time. It introduces a few characters of interest. Of lesser importance, it's also really fun to play through--the environment is surprisingly well-made even for Fallout 3's high standards, and you get to do a hell of a lot of exploring and treasure-hunting--there's all KINDS of great stuff hidden all over the place on the unusually large map. And what helps that is that the treasure-hunting is actually CONVENIENT--rather than having to go all the way back to the merchants and/or your home in the Capital Wasteland every time you've filled your inventory and need to unload, there's a couple of VERY well-stocked vendors in Point Lookout to sell to, and a safe container right on the boat that brings you to and from the area, which you can fast-travel to and actually bring with you back to the Capital Wasteland. Extremely convenient.

And beyond anything I would have expected is a moment in Point Lookout where the game's protagonist, the Lone Wanderer, gets some character development. In a game where all the protagonist's actions, dialogue, opinions, and beliefs are almost completely up to the player, it's hard to flesh out the main character because every normal method for doing so is already in the hands of the player. But the hallucinations during one part of Point Lookout's main quest provide multiple insights into the character of the Lone Wanderer, with his/her worries and deep insecurities being displayed in the form of delusional visions and voices. Darned cool; this DLC went above and beyond.

Mothership Zeta: Following on the heels of the incomparable Point Lookout didn't help this disappointing pile of nonsense any. It's almost the exact opposite, really--the plot is silly idiocy perforated with holes, the enemies and setting have very little variety once their initial novelty wears off, the characters range from bland to modestly okay, and the whole thing is just so far removed (literally and figuratively) from the actual events and world of Fallout that it seems largely pointless. I mean, with the other DLCs, you discover lost technology and aid the Outcasts in acquiring it, decide the fate of an entire city of slave workers, wage a war against the Enclave, and bring about the end of a major Bond-villain-esque world player of the pre-war age. With this one, you just...go bother some aliens that abduct a few people every now and then. Granted, they generally do nasty things to their victims, but they're making less of an impact on the Fallout world than random raiders do. What's the point?

The one thing I will give this add-on is that they do a good job of making the aliens seem completely foreign and inexplicable, as one might expect they would be. They don't speak any human language, seem to have completely random intentions for their various prisoners with no discernible method to their actions, and for reasons totally beyond anyone's guess have some obsession with Giddyup Buttercup toys, seeming to regard them as some sort of military super-weapon or cultural idol or something. So kudos for having aliens be alien. But overall, a disappointing DLC. I actually wrote this whole rant about a month and a half ago, and just kept hanging on to it in the desperate hope that Bethesda might release one last DLC after Mothership Zeta, but it looks like that's not going to happen, so I'm left with a slightly sour taste in my mouth when all is said and done.

So, when all is said and done? The Fallout 3 DLCs were fun and had some neat ideas. I'm glad for them. I AM a little wary of the idea of having to buy parts of a game separately instead of all together, given the potential for companies to mercilessly attack their gamers' wallets with this stuff, but most of Fallout 3's add-ons have the feeling of ideas that the company, Bethesda, had after completing the game, rather than just content that they held back so they could sell it later. I'm fine with that--the game was released a complete product, and these DLCs are just an overall enjoyable series of extras. I just hope that any RPG developers in the future who want to use Downloadable Content follow this example and don't abuse the idea with extra content that was deliberately cut from the game just so they could sell it separately. We'll just have to see how it goes--the upcoming Dragon Age should provide us with a good test of whether other RPG companies can also be responsible with several dedicated DLCs.

* I am aware that you probably did not actually ask that. I'm just accustomed to using that transitional exp​ression.

** It occurs to me that I just spent two paragraphs explaining what a Downloadable Content package is in a rant that will actually be focused on going over the specific instances of said packages, meaning that the only people who will be reading it are the ones who already know all about it. Apparently, I am an idiot.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wild Arms 5's Characters

Wow, it has been a really long time since I did one of these.

Dean: Dean spends the first part of the game as a stupid, incredibly annoying doofus who is absolutely obsessed with Golems (these big stone-ish ancient robot things). It's like listening to Jude from Wild Arms 4 all over again, only instead of the never-ceasing topic of babble being All Adults Are EVIL, it's Holy Fuckballs Guys I Just Saw A Rusted Screw That Could Potentially Have Once Been In A Golem And I Have Now Crapped My Drawers Out Of Excitement.

Thankfully, Dean gets more tolerable after a little while, once he starts losing interest in Golems. He is sadly just as stupid as ever, but considerably less annoying. Of course, he transforms into a generic stupid protagonist at this point, so his character loses what little separated him from the sea of other do-gooding simpletons, but honestly, I was so relieved to see him not creaming his pants at the mere thought of moving stone statues that it's a trade I'm willing to make.

Oh, and I've mentioned this before, but his weapons are one of the stupidest in gaming history. Instead of just using the guns to shoot enemies like he shoots things OUTSIDE of battle, he swings the long, unwieldy blade things on their handles into enemies, even though shooting a bad guy in the face at point-blank range would be WAY more damaging, faster, and easier to do. God Dean is an idiot. He should've just kept the shovel he used as a weapon earlier in the game; at least he used THAT tool more or less as well as it could be.

Rebecca: Rebecca's entire character development is about romantic feelings that she never acts on or gets any kind of closure for.

Avril: Wow, a magical girl of mysterious plot-important origins who has amnesia. What novelty!

Greg: Greg is an archeological terrorist. Yes, that means exactly what you think it does--he's an extremist who blows up artifacts and relics (Golems, in this case) for the purpose of getting attention of the upper class that's wronged him (in this case, one certain upper-class asshole), so as to draw his enemy out so Greg can have revenge (a plan which, incidentally, barely makes any sense at all and doesn't work).

This game wants you to think that this makes Greg deep and cool. But we don't all get what we want.

Chuck: Why is Chuck even here? I don't remember a single damn time where having him in the party significantly contributed to the plot or the heroes' efforts. Hell, he made more of an impact as an NPC, before joining you.

Carol: Okay, I know I recently ranted about how weird it is that RPG parties are okay with letting children encounter life-threatening danger regularly. But seriously, who the hell thought it was okay for a 12-year-old to run around with BALLISTIC MISSILES strapped to her BACK?

Volsung: A misunderstood mama's boy caught between two racial worlds whose hardships in life because of his heritage make him bitter and genocidal. Gee, you think maybe, just maybe, someone on the Wild Arms 5 development team played Final Fantasy 10?

Monowheel: Yeah, okay, not a character and not the main villain. But so stupid it needs to be mentioned. You know that old, old rant I did on Xenosaga 2's KOSMOS's space motorcycle? As nonsensical and stupid as that vehicle was, it's a fucking Rolls Royce compared to this thing. The Monowheel has to be the most undignified transport of all time, bar none. I've seen it all--space motorcycles, large golden chickens, seagulls capable of carrying a fully grown human's weight while flying, talking dragon sailboats, cowardly mine-cart-pulling turtles, and just loading yourself into a cannon and being shot into foreign countries. But the Monowheel is the most idiotic, lame form of transportation I've seen in an RPG. And the worst part is, once you see how awkward, lethargic, and annoying the controls for Asgard (your second vehicle in this game) are, you'll actually want to suffer the indignity of the Monowheel as often as possible when traveling rather than fumble around with Asgard's crappy movements.

No, wait. I forgot. The worst part of the Monowheel is when Dean actually attempts to use it as a melee weapon at the end of the game. Oh, you WISH I was kidding: (scene really begins at about 1:02 if you're in a hurry). If I ever make a list of the Top 10 Stupidest Moments in the History of RPGs, I am 99% sure that this scene will be there.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fallout 3 AMV: If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

As far as AMVs are concerned, Fallout 3 is a game with a lot of potential. It's exceptional graphics-wise, to the point that its in-game visuals far outclass the FMVs from many console games from which your standard AMV is made, and from what I understand of the technical side of things (which isn't much, I grant you), it's generally far easier to record your own video from a PC game than it is from a console game, allowing for AMV-makers to record what they want to show close to exactly rather than have to rely on stock footage. In addition to this, the game takes place in a very expansive section of the Washington DC area in a post-apocalyptic future, so, as you can guess, there's a lot of great, artsy material to work with from the game.

Today's AMV definitely makes good use of that. Today, we'll be looking at FalseEmperor13's first (I think) Fallout 3 AMV. Nice thing about this is that it doesn't really have spoilers per say, so anyone worried about such things can still watch this one.

Fallout 3 If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next: (Kept on my channel because FalseEmperor13's Youtube account has disappeared)

She blinded me with Science!: Visually-speaking, I've got nothing to really complain about. The quality of the footage is good, with the only slight flaw being that the camera's movement in it is slightly jerky at times. But it's not significantly distracting, and quite forgivable considering that the AMV's maker was making his own in-game footage to use for the video.

The visual effects for this AMV are minimal and simple, mostly limited to smooth fades from one scene to the next--nothing fancy or attention-getting, but the rest of the AMV's content is strong enough that it's not necessary anyway. There IS, though, one moment where the scene-changing fade is used with a little flair--as the song hits a climax around 3:20 to 3:35, FalseEmperor13 prolongs the scene merge, having the next scene (a continually zooming out shot of the ruined Capitol Building) overtake the current one very slowly, so you can start to see it happen even while watching the scene it will succeed. It adds a nice touch to that moment, simple but artsy.

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams: I don't really think much of the song used for this AMV one way or another--I don't hate it, but it doesn't really interest me, either. That being said, though, the song is used extremely well in this video. The general tone of it works excellently with the video's scenes, atmosphere, and message, and as the music changes the scenes follow its tone and lyrics.

Now, something worth noting here is that the AMV doesn't attempt to match everything up perfectly with the lyrics. The story part of the song's lyrics are for the AMV filler area, which you watch between the strong parts of the tune and the attention-catching chorus. This doesn't bother me so much, though, because the song itself is mostly the same--the chorus and its surrounding music is louder, stronger, and far more memorable and communicative than the parts the chorus connects. The heart of the song and the part that the listener is going to best remember is in its grander chorus segments, and thus those are the parts that the AMV works with the most, the parts where it best matches its audio and visual, and puts forth its message. The AMV's founded on the feel and tone of the song, the message of its most significant parts, rather than trying to align itself perfectly with every lesser detail, and it works.

But what's it all mean, Basil?: The AMV has a definite message to convey: stand up against injustice, don't just quietly let the world become a worse place on your watch, because if you don't fight wrong-doing now, if you just choose to tolerate a bad situation rather than work to change it, then it's your children, the innocent next generation, who will be the ones to suffer the longest and hardest from the world your inaction allowed. It's the AMV's effectiveness to this end that really makes me love it. The song is, of course, an excellent selection for that (again, going more by its tone and dominant chorus than by every one of its lyrics), and the visuals match the message even better, showing a series of examples of the burnt-out Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3, a world of cruelty and violence (shown through heaps of human bones in dirty cages, and Super Mutants firing guns) taking place in the ruined remains of a former shining example of freedom and cooperation (shown through scenes of the DC Ruins, particularly the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Monument). The scenes work with the song and the message, changing to match its tone and direction--for example, its shifting from the vices tolerated to a scene of children gathered in innocent celebration with family to coordinate with the song's words.

The AMV's message is very skillfully conveyed, and it definitely ties in with the actual game extremely well, as Fallout 3's setting is just such a world as the song warns against allowing--one where the future generations suffer unspeakable hardship and cruelties as punishment for their ancestors' mistakes. And the AMV's message is all the more valid for this--because we live in a world filled with people out to restrict our freedoms and who seek power over all others, and where the threat of nuclear annihilation is still very, very real. The world of the Fallout series is closer than we may think, closer than is comfortable, and this AMV reminds us that, ultimately, WE are the only ones who can keep this game only a fantasy.