Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fallout 3 - 17 minutes

Only something you love can break your heart. Like, suppose you had a game, and, when you attempted to start playing, it didn't work. It would start up just fine, then crash whenever you attempted to create a new save file. And let us further posit that you searched online for a solution, only to find a recommendation that  you fiddle around with .ini files, an activity you found uncomfortable because you don't really understand what you're doing, and thus have no way of knowing whether you could inadvertently harm something. And then suppose that the proposed fix doesn't actually solve the problem, so you spend another hour reinstalling the game and a further two searching more detailed explanations of the problem.

It might occur to you, at some point, to throw in the towel, to write off this five-dollar game as not worth the time, effort, and aggravation you've been forced  to endure. It would be a rational course of action, and you'd avoid succumbing to the sunk cost fallacy. But if you did the smart thing here, you would not be me, and the game would not be Fallout 3.

This game is absolutely HUGE. Fallout 2 may have been more of an influence, and I may actually prefer Fallout: New Vegas, but Fallout 3 is . . . Well, it's Fallout 3. It is a game that helped me inaugurate my Xbox 360. It is a game I waited outside in the cold to buy on opening day. I played it for so long and so often that the Capitol Wasteland has come to feel like a second home.

There's no way in hell I was just going to let it drop, but getting this game to work was a nightmare of an experience. The worst part was right after I tried a new solution. There'd be a brief moment when I'd allow myself to feel hope. This time it was going to work. Everything would fall into place and I'd be able to play Fallout 3 again. To have those hopes dashed over and over again was beyond frustrating. It actually inspired in me no small amount of despair.

I did, however, eventually get it to work. It took me four hours, and I  haven't really had time to play since, but I did manage to get through the entirety of the opening and out of Vault 101.

Not in 17 minutes, obviously. Sadly, what I wound up having to do is disable the Steam overlay, so my time in-game is no longer tracked. On the one hand, it shouldn't bother me, because the game appears to play perfectly fine without it, and I'll know if I've played it for 20 hours. On the other hand, it does bother me, because now the symmetry will be all messed up. Who is this hypothetical audience who is going to notice that I will forever have a gap in my time-played counter? Do I imagine that my readers are going into my Steam profile and double-checking that I actually played the games for as long as I said I did? And what do I think that these notional busybodies think I'm doing to gather material for the blog if not actually playing these games? Could there be a more pointless hoax? Would faking all these posts not take more time and effort than actually doing them honestly?

Of course I'm going to play this game for 20 hours. I would be surprised if I get it done in less than 50 (the Steam version is the Game of the Year Edition, which has a bunch of DLC I missed out on for the Xbox 360 version). This neurotic little compulsion to have things neat and tidy is not going to matter one bit once I start digging in to the world of Fallout 3.

And I have to say, this game has one of the all-time great openings. It's not as whiz-wow as some of the more action-oriented titles out there (Saints Row the Third, in particular, has not one, but two awesomely over-the-top action set pieces in the first hour of the game), but it succeeds at laying out, from the very first moment, the scope of this game's ambition.

You start as a newborn baby. You are literally just out of the womb when you must come up with your character's name. That, right there, is the philosophy of the game in a nutshell. You are not going to passively witness a story. The plot isn't the thing that will drive you (much in the same way that it is entirely redundant to say of a protagonist "at some point in the past, she was born"). Your motivation will come from the fact that you are this character. Everything notable that happens to her, happens to you. Sidequests (and sitting through a spectacularly lame tenth birthday party or taking a meaningless aptitude test are activities most sidequests would think of as "too pointless to bother with.") are in fact the main point. The path is not straight.

Which is a hard thing to pull of when, in fact, the path is very straight. My character was born. I decided she would be an Asian woman named Lilith. I got to listen to the soothing voice of Liam Neeson guide me through my first steps (and explain a passage from the Book of Revelation that is being taken severely out of context). Then I went to the aforementioned lame birthday party to deal with some punk bully and the obligatory Bethesda sweet roll cameo. And then I flashed forward six years to see a group called the "Tunnel Snakes" (gee, real subtle guys) harass my friend Amata. After beating the crap out of them, I took the G.O.A.T., an "aptitude test" consisting of ten of the most surreally absurd questions imaginable. For some reason, I got to be the vault chaplain. I'd have thought they'd go with someone who believed in god.

After all that's over, you suddenly wake up in bed. You're nineteen years old, and your father has escaped the Vault (according to the intro movie "no one ever enters and no one ever leaves"). The whole place is in complete disarray. The Overseer, a prickly person at the best of times, has gone completely off the deep end, even going so far as to torture his own daughter, Amata (that gal can just not catch a break) for information. You have to fight, sneak, or talk your way out of danger, at one point even saving the life of the bully's mother, until you pass through the Overseer's office and into the Vault entrance. Then, some security guards try and gun you down, chasing you out the door. There, in the cave leading down to Vault 101, the door slams shut, sealing you out. There's only one way to go, so you emerge, blinking, into the light,

And then the rails come off. Up until now, you've been inexorably pushed forward. Now, without warning, the entire world is open to you. You've got a vague goal (find your father) and a map marker (Megaton, in the southwest), but you don't have to follow them. You can go north or east or wherever. Even though you haven't had much choice thus far, everything in the opening hour has been building up to this point. You are your character. Her situation is your situation. You have this huge, unfamiliar world spread out in front of you. What do you do?

It is so good to back at this point, you have no idea. I know the area around Vault 101 like I know my own backyard. It's a crummy world, but the ruins can have a kind of stark beauty. I don't have any particular agenda at the moment. Maybe I'll rush through the main quest. Maybe I'll dick around poking my nose into garbage cans for six hours. It's all up to me, and I love it.

Maybe the pain of getting this game to run was worth it after all.

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