The image at the left shows my Fallout:New Vegas character with Willow (the hot downloaded blonde), who is my best friend forever in the unforgiving Mojave wasteland.
This post isn’t about romance though, pardner. It’s about how the plot of F:NV is a little non-optimal from the get-go.
First off, F:NV is a great game. I’m having a good time playing it. It’s like F3, but it has its own laid-back easygoing feel. The beginning could be better though if it were more personal. Too many games fail to make an emotional human connection–a “hook” in fiction lingo, that pulls the player in and keeps him in.
F:NV starts with a really nice cinematic that ends with your character getting shot. To make a long rattlesnake short, it’s dramatic but it’s also weaker than it could be.
Why? Because when you start the game, you haven’t created your character yet! The cinematic skirts the issue by showing nondescript gloved hands and nothing else. Meanwhile, you’re sitting there sipping your coke and munching a chip, wondering who is being shot and when the game will begin.
A video game needs to do better than this. Immersion first, then make it personal. In this case, they could have made you create the character first. Now you’ve got questions: who am I, and why am I waking up on a hospital bed?
The doc could say–“Do you remember anything of what happened up in the old graveyard?” Then go to cutscene–with your character in it this time. Why is this important? Because F:NV hangs the forward momentum of at least its first ten hours of play on a vague motivation for revenge and an explanation for this murder mystery.
For revenge to work, you need to feel the pain. You really want to get that guy (or girl) back. Yes, F:NV is a sandboxy thing, but put the player in the shoes of his or her character first, form a connection, then start in with the shooting, the humiliation, and whatever dirty tricks you can come up with to stir the player to passion.
Red Dead Redemption tried something like a flashback style, but that didn’t work because the rough redneck protagonist wasn’t me, at all. From the minute I saw him, I didn’t like him, and I didn’t want to play him. This was a failure of the immersion part, what fiction writers call “identification” of the reader with the protagonist. No sympathy.
Fallout 3 aced making it personal. You’re born into a body you can identify with. You’ve got a mom who dies. You’ve got a dad who loves you. You’ve got a best friend who you talk to, maybe argue with. You’ve got the local bully to deal with. Fantastic. Human. These believable connections last and carry through the whole game.
We don’t get this in F:NV. F:NV is more a throwback to Oblivion–the vague orphan thrown into the world. Let’s ponder Oblivion.
Oblivion could have been done better too. I always wondered why Uriel Septim believed in the player character, and why the royal guard then just lets you walk off with a priceless royal heirloom. Convenient.
What if your character had been a former Blade, imprisoned despite great skills due to allegedly screwing up? Your character then has a history. You know the emperor. There is an immediate emotional connection and charge between you, the emperor, and the guards.
Right away, you’re asking questions about who you are. Why are the guards up in your face, and why is the emperor pardoning you? Why does Baurus seem afraid that you’re going to kick his ass? He must not realize how much your skills have atrophied.
“Did you really do it?” Baurus could ask you about your crime, just as you’re walking away with the Amulet of Kings. Then it’s up to you. Did you pilfer the bejeweled chalice of the princess? You decide in that moment. If you didn’t do it, you’re on a quest to redeem yourself as well as save the world. If you did, maybe that chalice is still out there somewhere waiting for you.
Dragon Age rocked the personal with its “Origins” intro quests. These quests threw you into drama of the world right away. The personal connection is critical–conflict with other characters in the game world, not just traps and monsters.
SWTOR is apparently bringing the same concept as Dragon Age, but the individual race and class origins last the entire game. That could be really amazing.