Saturday, December 27, 2008

Personal Quests

First off, Happy Holidays, everyone. New Year's is coming up soon, and I probably won't post again before then, so Happy New Year. My resolution for the new year is to be awesome.

Anyway, I'm going to talk about quests now. Quests have come to be an assumed part of just about every western RPG. JRPGs are, on the whole, more linear than western RPGs, and thus can control the flow of story and gameplay more easily, providing the player with regular feedback on their actions, but in a nonlinear (or at least less linear) RPG there is an ever-present risk of the player’s actions feeling meaningless (I’m looking at you, Legend of Mana). Quests are a way to avoid this – by placing quest-givers around the world who need the character to help them with some problem, the player can find regular short-term goals to guide gameplay as they slowly progress toward a real or imaginary goal.

There are, however, a couple problems with quest-based gameplay (actually, more than a couple, but I'm going to try really hard to limit myself to two). One is that it severely limits the range of possibilities for the story, because engaging in endless quests only makes sense if your character is an "adventurer" - which really just means that they're the kind of character that likes to go on quests. Another problem, which is closely related to the first, is that it prevents your character from having a very strong personality, because their actions are largely dictated by what various NPCs tell them to do, and because you're rewarded for playing the kind of character that will do any and every quest (that isn't eeeevil) regardless of how silly or out-of-character it is. Put another way, it forces you to play a character for whom no task is out-of-character.

So how do we deal with these problems? Well, I guess you could try to address the second problem by making the character picky and refuse to do certain quests, but that doesn't change the fact that they're an adventurer with no self-determination, it just means that there's a more limited range of tasks they can do. You could try to fix the first problem by writing the setting such that "quests" aren't random mercenary assignments but structured actions leading toward a definite goal, but then you've just made a linear game. Linear games can be fun, but right now we're trying to figure out a way to make a less-linear game more interesting.

What I would do is change the nature of quests by making them character-driven. As it is, in many cases quests are just excuses for you to go and loot a dungeon, because you read online that some rare item you want is in there, so why can't going to find that rare item just be the quest? And I'm not talking about going to fetch it for someone else, I mean that your character finds a book that talks about some powerful rare item that's supposed to be hidden at location X, and your character now has the "Find the rare item" quest, because they want that item. This is a very simple example and doesn't sound very exciting, but you can push the idea into interesting places by adding one more layer: character goals.

The quest described above fulfills a pretty clear goal: gain power. We'll say, then, that this quest is under the umbrella of the "gain power" goal. Now what if, in the book, you also found a reference to the person who created the rare item (let's call him "Melchior")? That might spark another goal: learn more about Melchior. Perhaps if you start looking you'll find out that he's still alive (somehow), and you can eventually find him and befriend him. For that matter, your character might be interested in becoming a master blacksmith, in which case finding Melchior and becoming his apprentice is a way of acheiving a very long term goal (maybe you've had the goal since the beginning of the game).

So we have a series of goals, and each goal can be forwarded by a series of quests. You still have quest givers, but rather than being people who ask you to perform a task on their behalf, they're people who provide you with help on the way to completing your goals. Every once in a while you encounter an element new enough that it creates a totally new goal, such as the first time you hear about a potential future rival, the Black Knight, or the first time you meet a potential romantic interest. The people or places where you first acquire new goals are effectively meta-quest givers, which spark a whole new questline. So far, we've managed to make the quests seem more personal, but we've done so just by rewording the same quests you might have been doing anyway (instead of going to a dungeon retrieve item X for NPC Y in exchange for item Z, you learn about item Z from NPC Y and go to the dungeon explicitly to retrieve it).

But we can get more work out of this idea. What if goals aren't just folders that hold different quests in them, but equippable like items? While you have the "gain power" goal equipped, you're more likely to find quests that fall under than objective, and it affects your dialogue options with NPCs. Maybe they even have game mechanical effects (the "get revenge" goal makes you do 5% more damage to enemies, while the "become a master blacksmith" goal grants you +10% xp from repairing items, etc.). What this means is that the player has a mechanism for explicitly telling the game what they're interested in doing (maybe they think the Black Knight sounds interesting and want to find him, or maybe they don't really care), which lets the game give them more content related to the things they're actually interested in pursuing (rather than giving them quests in a totally haphazard manner). In fact, you could use the player's choices of goals to pursue as a way of determining what kind of form the overarching story and their ultimate goal takes.

If the player is pursuing all of the sneaky assassin related goals, then the game will start to focus more on stealth and won't even bother presenting the player with quests that are out-of-character, like the "become a knight of the order of X". If, however, the player pursues the "become a knight of the order of X" goal, the sneaky assassin related goals don't show up, and the player may in fact acquire the "destroy the sneaky assassin guild" goal. If you want to have multiple endings to your game, then you can make several climactic-sounding quests, but which one appears for your character depends on what kind of character you've been playing. The less-curious player might go through the entire game thinking that the quests they played through were how the game was "supposed" to be played, because they aren't presented with options that don't make sense for the character they're playing, while the curious player will discover that different options allows them to effectively play a different game altogether.

Well, whether you like the player-customized gameplay idea or not, I don't see any reason why developers shouldn't start making a habit of making quests about your character, instead of making them about the NPC that gave the quest to you. It seems like it would just be more satisfying to achieve your own goals than it is to help a person you've never met before achieve their goal and get paid 200 gold pieces for it.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ubisoft and the No DRM PR Stunt

About to go to bed, but I wanted to throw in a comment on this. Apparently Prince of Persia will ship for the PC with no copyright protection measures. This is theoretically good news, since it suggests that someone is listening to gamers and their rather straightforward points. However, the article also quotes an Ubisoft community representative giving us this gem:
You`re right when you say that when people want to pirate the game they will but DRM is there to make it as difficult as possible for pirates to make copies of our games. A lot of people complain that DRM is what forces people to pirate games but as PoP PC has no DRM we`ll see how truthful people actually are. Not very, I imagine. Console piracy is something else entirely and I`m sure we`ll see more steps in future to try to combat that.
Wow, nice job predicting that your own initiative is going to fail. I guess the idea here is that he's trying to intensify the sense that they're giving gamers a "challenge" to prove them wrong, in an effort to boost sales, but they seemed to have missed the part where the people who care about DRM aren't morons, and a lot of them aren't going to give you any brownie points (or $60 wads of cash) for releasing a DRM free game and then turning around and demeaning players.

In short, seeing the headline on Slashdot made me think "Oh yay, someone's listening, maybe I'll have to buy Prince of Persia," and then reading the statement immediately changed my mind by reminding me that Ubisoft doesn't really care about gamers - they just like marketing stunts.

I will be curious to see what kind of piracy rates Prince of Persia has, but I'm prepared to take any analysis of the numbers, especially from Ubisoft, with a hefty grain of salt.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fallout 3: Part 2

So when I said that Part 2 was "coming soon," apparently I meant a week later. (edit: if you're hear for tips, scroll to the bottom, this section is editorial)

So, I probably left you with a terrible impression of Fallout 3 after my last post. If so, that means it's time for me to set about the ambitious task of reversing that opinion. Time for Fallout 3: Part 2: The Good Parts.

The Sneaking Game

In Oblivion, I played a roguish character with a bow (and magic). In Fallout 3, I play a sneaky sniper. This largely speaks to my own interests and personality, but the point is that even though the game isn't explicitly about being sneaky, both of these games provided much more satisfying sneaking games than any game I've played that WAS explicitly about sneaking.

Why is that? Let's compare the sneaking experience in a couple different games. In Metal Gear Solid, you are presented with a linear level, with enemies as obstacles. You're supposed to sneak, and the game encourages this by making combat in which your enemy sees you punishing. Of course, since the level is linear and you must sneak, that means that playing through a level devolves into finding the correct path from point A to B that won't involve you getting seen.

In Assassin's Creed, you are also supposed to sneak, although combat against opponents that are aware of your presence is actually pretty easy, while sneaking involves going very slowly and doing nothing interesting (which would draw attention to you). Eventually, every player of Assassin's Creed reaches the limit of their patience with walking around trying to look like a scholar and begins charging guards.

What about Fallout 3? In Fallout 3 you're not "supposed" to sneak - a non-sneaky, heavy duty combat character is a perfectly valid build (I just tried one out for the first time the other day and it was pretty fun). However, sneaking does give you a definite advantage, in both combat and elsewhere. I mean, you get sneak attack criticals, but that's not really the important part, since you could instead invest those skill points from sneak into big guns, and I hear that tactical nuclear warheads also do a lot of damage. The important part is that when you sneak, you can find your opponent before they find you, and then you get to decide how the battle starts. Usually you'll choose to open combat by closing to a good firing range and then saying hello with 4 shots in VATS mode, but you could just as easily open by placing a mine or two conveniently in a path you intend to lure the enemy down, reverse-pick-pocketing a live grenade into your enemy's pocket, sneaking up and turning off a robot (assuming you're really good at science), searching for elements of the environment you can use to your advantage (like gas leaks, slaves you can free, existing traps, etc.), or just avoid the combat altogether. The point here is that sneaking is advantageous because it opens up new possibilities. In other words, sneaking complements the core gameplay philosophy of Bethesda, which is to give the player a high degree of freedom.

Outside of combat, sneaking allows you to get access to areas you're not supposed to be in and allows you to steal things. This might not sound like a big deal, but it means that sneaking around allows you to explore the various mini-narratives the fill the world (which I'll discuss below). This is what initially entranced me about Oblivion - breaking into NPCs houses and stealing their stuff gives you a reason to explore your environment, and a way to interact with it, which is what really brings that environment to life.

Mildly Turn-Based Combat

To avid role-players, one of the features of Fallout 3 that might stand out is that it's also a first person shooter. These have traditionally been antithetical genres: the FPS is all about hand-eye coordination while the RPG is all about resource harvesting and story. We do, however, have a couple precendents now (including one from the big name in American RPGs, Bioware), so what I find interesting is instead the fact that the game is, in fact, lying about being a first person shooter.

But, you object, the game is all first-person, and you shoot things, so how can it not be a first person shooter?! Like I said above, first person shooters are about hand-eye coordination, and Fallout 3 is not. Firstly, the effects of pointing a gun at any enemy and pulling the trigger vary dramatically based on your character's ability with a gun, but what's more significant here is that the dominant mode of combat is VATS mode. The way VATS mode works is that 1) Time pauses. 2) You select a series of attacks you want your character to make, which can be against different body parts of a single enemy or against multiple enemies. 3) Once you've spent your action points queuing up attacks, you accept and then watch your character attempt the various attacks. it just me or does this sound suspiciously like we're not playing a FPS shooter anymore? (hint: it's not just me)

Of course, you don't have to use VATS mode - you can aim manually and fire, although the effect and accuracy still depend on your character's skill. It's also true that after exiting VATS mode you have to wait for your AP to recharge before using it again, during which time you can manually aim, or run, hide, and otherwise stall until your AP is back. The point is, you can go through the entire game without ever taking a shot outside of VATS mode. This means that Fallout 3 gets to have the immersiveness of a first person shooter without requiring any extraordinary hand-eye coordination from the player, and it makes the game much more about what you want to do then about the player's reflexes.

Real Game Narrative

This is what I consider the meat of my argument for Fallout 3 being a good game - it presents stories to the player through gameplay, rather than having story occur between bits of gameplay. I'm not referring to the fact that you are always playing during story sequences, although that is true and valuable - you have dialogue, and events that occur while you're playing, but no cutscenes beyond the opening movie. What I'm referring to is the fact that there are stories in Fallout 3 that aren't part of the main story line (or any explicit storyline). For example:

I reload my pistol and give the area one more sweep with my eyes. All the raiders are down, so I holster my weapon and start to investigate my surroundings more thoroughly. I came here looking for food, but with all the years that have passed, it shouldn't surprise me that the raiders have eaten every can off the shelves, and turned the aisles into miniature fortifications. As I come around behind a desk, I find some stashed supplies. I suppose the raiders could have used this as a nice defensive position, if I hadn't slipped into the midsts and isolated each of them between the grocery aisles. There's an intercom here, and I'm tempted to say something silly into it, until I realize that any lingering raiders would be able to hear me, if there were any. I continue exploring until I find a locked door in the back of the place - here's where they keep their good stuff, I'm sure. Fortunately I've been keeping up on my computer hacking skills and there's a terminal nearby that unlocks the door. As soon as it's open I hear the intercom startle to life, "Ok, guys, we're back. Can someone open the back...wait a minute." Oh shit. I slide into the backroom and close the door I just managed to get open. Now what am I going to do? There are some nice supplies in this room, but I might not survive taking 5 or 6 more raiders at once. Then I notice a large tube in the room with a robot inside. The old grocery store security robot is still intact, apparently, and if I can get it running again...I may have a shot at this afterall.

This isn't elaboration - this is exactly what I was thinking as I was playing through this area. This also wasn't part of the main storyline, and though a quest did point me toward this grocery store, the only requirements to complete the quest were to "find some food." In other words, the quest was just an incentive to get me to explore - nothing dictated that I see things in a certain order, notice the details I did, or use the strategies I did to defeat the raiders: I was simply presented with an interesting environment to explore. Nonetheless, there was a story here, and it was because the environment had a sense of character to it.

This is what Fallout 3 does that's really interesting. This is where true game narrative takes form. It's not in the grandiose battles in DC, or in the moral choices your character makes, or in the story that unfolds about why your father left the vault. It's in the little moments that result from having a rich environment. It's when you kill a machine-gun toting super mutant, only to find that they had an unusually large collection of toy cars and teddy bears; or when you murder someone in their sleep and hear their lover's heartfelt stories about them after the fact; or when you explore a seemingly normal office building where every desk has ammunition for military grade weapons stashed in it, and eventually find a computer containing email correspondence along the lines of "OH GOD, THE FEDS ARE HERE." These stories are simply layered into the environment, and they make the world seem alive. When items feel like they were placed there by the characters, and not by the level designer, that's when exploring an environment becomes a story.

I'll take that over an hour long sequence of Solid Snake getting lectured to by a dying man any day of the week.

Final Note

In summary, Fallout 3 is chock-full of problems, great and small, but it's also probably the most interesting game I've played this year. The core gameplay is so fun and the environment so full of interesting stuff that I, for one, have no choice about liking the game. It also allows for a variety of play styles, and they result in very different experiences - if you made a strong heroic character and steamrolled through the main storyline, then you haven't played the same game I have.

One more thing: this obviously isn't an exhaustive list of good or bad qualities. These are just the aspects of the game that I decided to talk about.



So since I posted this, I've been checking sitemeter and apparently a LOT of people are getting here searching for tips on playing Fallout 3. Because I'm just such a nice guy, I've decided to add a couple.

First: How to sneak. It's actually pretty simple - you just crouch and you're in sneak mode. On the PS3, you do this by hitting L3 (which means push in on the left analog stick - you don't need to hold it, just press it to start or stop sneaking). While you're sneaking, you'll get an indicator telling you whether or not you've been noticed.

If you see [Hidden] it means no one sees you.
If you see [Detected] it means a friendly character sees you (so don't try stealing that abraxo cleaner).
If you see [Caution] it means a hostile character is aware you're there, but not sure where you are.
If you see [Danger] it means that a hostile character sees you (and is attacking you - good time to hit L2 and go into VATS mode).

To determine whether or not you're hidden, there are a couple factors that come into play. First, your sneak skill - get it pretty high quickly if you want to play stealth (that means at least 50). Second is visibility - if you're in a dark area and/or the enemy does not have line of sight to you, you're more likely not to be noticed. If you run, you are more likely to be noticed than if you walk or stand still, and if you shoot at an enemy (even if you miss), it will almost certainly give away your position. The keys to stealth playing are patience and the ability to gauge how close you can get without being seen (to maximize your chance of hitting with a sneak attack).

While sneaking, you can pickpocket someone by activating them (walk up behind them and hit X). In my opinion, though, pickpocketing isn't worthwhile in most cases, because it carries an inherent risk of getting caught, whereas stealing objects lying about is much less risky (as long as you're [Hidden] you're A-OK). If you have the Sandman perk, and you attempt to pickpocket a sleeping NPC, you will also have the option of killing them in their sleep, which is actually pretty effective (as long as no one else sees the act), because then you can take their stuff at your leisure...I mean, not like you would ever do something like that, being the model citizen that you are.

The second thing I'll cover is hacking computers. First things first - each time you bring up the computer hacking screen, it randomly generates a puzzle, which means you CANNOT go online to find the password for each terminal in the game. You just have to figure it out from scratch. Sorry.

That said, I can give you some tips for how to figure out the passwords. The basic mechanic here is that when you guess a word, you're told how many of the letters from that word were correct. Note, that means letters in the correct position, so if the password is "Ellipsis" and you guess "Epicfail," you'll see "2/8", meaning that 2 of the letters were correct (the initial E and the second-to-final letter, i). One thing to keep in mind is that only full words are eligible input - all of the #$% and such you see is just filler - ignore it and find the next full world.

So knowing this, a good strategy is to rule out as many choices as possible with each guess, by picking words with common elements. For example, if there are multiple words among your options ending in "-ing," then it's a good candidate to guess, because if the game replies that less than 3 characters were correct, then the password can't possibly end in "-ing", which rules out all of the other words ending in "-ing". So pick words with suffixes or prefixes in common with other options, such as "-ent," "-ed", "de-," "re-," or "con-". After you have some feedback from the system, you should only ever guess words that match that feedback, so check each word. I do this by imagining spelling out the word I'm guessing next to the word I guessed before, and seeing how many of the letters are the same (it should be exactly the same as the number the game told you were correct, or there's no point in guessing that word).

Aside from that, you just need luck (and to save before attempting the terminal, since it will permanently lock if you fail). Also, this might have just been a coincidence, but I noticed an unusual number of times that the correct answer was the second option. Worth keeping in mind.

I hope that's helpful, and I'll keep an eye out for any other questions people are implicitly asking by searching for them on Google...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Fallout 3: Part 1

So I've been intending to make a post about Fallout 3 for a while, but I keep getting sidetracked by actually playing the game. That alone is probably sufficient to indicate that I'm enjoying it quite a bit, but what I find interesting about Bethesda's games is that while I thoroughly enjoy them, I also come away from them with a list of complaints long enough to form the basis of a doctoral thesis. I guess these are just two aspects of the same thing - obsession.

In any case, I'll start off with some of the complaints, both because I noticed them quickly and because I'd like to give some sense of credence to the good things I have to say later.

1. The Uncanny Valley, Uncanny Rolling Hills, and Occasional Uncanny Mesa

One of the things that I'm consistently surprised by is the widespread assumption that detailed graphics makes for good aesthetics. Fallout 3 is a fantastic example of "next gen" graphics producing awkward situations out of otherwise fine material.

The most clear cut example of this, in my opinion, comes in the form of humor that's hard to laugh at. The game has a certain over-the-top last-generation-fears-realized-in-an-unlikely-future setting, which is clear in everything from the vaul-tec mascot character, who has a smile on his face no matter what he's doing (and it's not always pretty) to the use of nuka-cola caps as currency. At the same time, the game can be creepy and atmospheric. This duality should be pretty clear to anyone who has seen the ads, which show cheerful propaganda fading away into the barren remains of DC, and I understand that the tension between the over-the-topness and the creeping sense of disturbing possiblities is intentional. The problem is that the things that actually provoke these sentiments in me are far too random and seemingly unintentional. It's hard for me to laugh at a situation when its rendered in such exquisite detail that I feel like I'm in the world, but at the same time it's hard for me to take combat situations perfectly seriously, no matter the context, because of the highly improbable amount of gore.

Speaking of gore, I find that the first result on a google image search is usually pretty telling - this is what I got for Fallout 3:

Wow, I didn't remember putting magic head-exploding bullets in my gun between the 15th and 16th shots I took at this guy...I mean, it's one thing when I shotgun a ghoul in the face at point blank range, but when I'm using a pistol at 30 yards, exploding heads are just a ridiculous outcome, especially since I just shot this same enemy in the head with the same weapon multiple times without seeing any such effects.

Note that my problem here isn't with the presence of gore - I'm ok with a game being intended for mature audiences with hardened stomachs. The problem is that the gore doesn't seem to have found any kind of balance or proper place for itself within the game. It doesn't make me reflect on how horrible gunfights are, add to the sense of realism, or serve as consistent comic relief to lighten the mood. Sometimes it makes sense, and it works, but just as often it feels out of place.

The uncanny valley is generally understood to be a fairly specific issue: human facial recognition is very good, so we notice when a face we're presented with approaches realism without actually being a realistic human face, and it bothers us. The basic principle behind it, though, applies much more widely - if you don't ask your audience to suspend their disbelief, they won't, and then they'll notice everything that's not quite right.

For example, the people and living spaces of cities are richly detailed, which on the one hand is great because it gives you more to explore and lets you look into people's lives. On the other hand, it makes you stop and wonder why there are apparently 30 residents of Underworld and only about 10 beds - oh right, because only a dozen of the residents are actual NPCs with names (and beds). For that matter, this is supposed to be THE city of ghouls, the one so great and successful that you can hardly find civilized ghouls living anywhere else...and it's got 30 residents? That doesn't really qualify as a city, much less a major melting pot for irradiated people from all walks of life. I mean, that's about how many raiders (or super mutants) live on an average DC block, but those areas aren't called cities.

By contrast, consider the typical toolbox in Fallout 3. I'm usually not surprised to find a paint gun, some psycho, and a couple units of scrap metal inside one. If you actually look at each of these items, however, you'll notice that a toolbox couldn't possibly hold all of them. This, unlike the small size of a city or the magic 16th exploding head bullet, will likely not be noticed by the player during the game. Why? Because the toolbox is presented to the player as an abstract entity - you can't actually open it up and see the contents of the toolbox - you get a dialog that informs you what is inside, which immediately triggers the player to suspend their disbelief (they don't mind doing so, all they want is to play the game), cue a resource management mini-game, and continue playing.

The lesson here? Abstraction is a powerful tool. Never forget that.

Before moving on, there's one other great piece of "realism" that I feel obliged to bring up. I'm a fan of headshots, so it's not uncommon for me to see the words "Raider's head is crippled," and then to see the same Raider in question pull out a baseball bat and come at me like a madman. I repeat, the game told me that his head was crippled. When I hear that, what I expect is that he's lying on the ground in the throes of death, when it actually just means that he has a minor combat disadvantage.

2. Meaningless Alignment

One of the things that seems to be noticeably worse in Fallout 3 than in Oblivion is the alignment system. The main problem is that it's too simplistic. Oblivion had fame and infamy, which implied an element of human fallacy - you could be evil without being infamous if you were subtle about it (or had the mask of the grey fox). In Fallout 3 there's just karma, and it goes up when you do something nice/noble/generous, and down when you do something mean/illegal/gross.

One problem with this is that it doesn't allow for any kind of substantive distinction between different "good" or "evil" acts. If I look at a computer terminal that I wasn't given permission to, I lose karma. If I kill a woman in her sleep, I lose karma. There's no difference. What's more, there's no limit to how low your karma can do for committing petty crimes, so after stealing hundreds and hundreds of boxes of abraxo cleaner, you'll be a Capitol Crimelord, and tales of you murdering and pillaging will be told on the radio, even if you've never killed anyone.

Speaking of the radio, while it at first seems cool that the game responds to your actions by having the radio report on how evil (or good) you are, it's really just bizarre. For one thing, what 3 Dog says about you on the radio has no relationship whatsoever to what he says to or about you in person. In fact, in a single radio broadcast, he called me an "evil bitch" and 90 seconds later said "so if you see the kid from vault 101, give her a pat on the back" - well which is it, 3 Dog? Do you love me or hate me?

The last thing that's just bizarre about alignment is that everyone, from 3 Dog to random children, know what your alignment is. If there's a "detect evil" spell out there no one ever told me about it, and I just have to guess whether or not the person I'm speaking to is trust worthy, but every single person in the capital wasteland just knows that I'm a bad person, even though they haven't seen me perform a single bad act and they don't behave any differently around me (usually) because of it.

Seriously, if I steal a nuka cola in the middle of nowhere, seen by no one, then I gain magic "evil karma" which can be detected by everyone and compels them to tell me I'm a bad person, but otherwise has no effect on their relationships with me (they'll still do business with me, give me quests, etc.). That's not consequences for my actions. That's just weird.

3. Navigation Nightmare

Megaton is hard to get around. That's what I thought before I made it into DC, and spent an hour trying to figure out how to progress toward that dot on the map until I realized that I was supposed to used the underground tunnels to reach it. Yay. That really made my game experience fun, having a marker on a map with no clear way to reach. Oh wait, no, it didn't.

Half the game takes place in a labyrinth that has no clear rules and filled to the brim with low-loot, high danger super mutants that punish you for making a wrong turn (which you do all the time). More generally, it seems that the purpose here is to control player movement within the city, in order to facilitate a scripted level flow as you move from one part of the story to the next. In other words, the difference between navigating the city and navigating the wastes exists in order to emphasize the difference between playing the main story and doing sidequests in the wastes. I for one find this distinction jarring enough as it is - I don't see how it's advantageous to remind me that all of the elements that make the game unique and interesting are reduced when I follow the main story.

Speaking of scripting, I was bothered by the "Behemoth" sequence early on in the story, in front of the GNR building. A wall is broken down and a giant monster appears, while one of the paladins screams to me "get the Fat Man off of that dead soldier while we hold the Behemoth off!" Of course, the Fat Man is a huge, gigantic weapon that fires nukes. I'm sure this would have been incredibly exciting to a player who used the Big Guns skill a lot, but to me, a sneaky character, it just seemed incredibly lame that the game is forcing me to fight in a way that is completely contrary to my character build, giving me a weapon that seems too valuable to throw away, but takes up 15% of my inventory space without seeing any further use, and trying to convince me that the line "It's a Behemoth!" is flavor and not cliche. What's worse, it's cliche from a different game, and seems like it's only in Fallout 3 because Gears of War/Halo is popular. Halo and Gears of War are both fun, mind you, but they aren't the game that I put into my PS3.

Well, I was planning on also getting to the good parts, but this post is already mildly epic, so I'll cut it off here and save the good part for next time...