Fallout

Why I think FO76 is so well-written.

fallout 7 - Why I think FO76 is so well-written.
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The core content, anyway. I came in late, so I haven't engaged with much of the Wastelanders quest line yet beyond completing Strange Bedfellows.

There is an absolute plague going on today in any sort of media with multiple authors for distinct segments: those authors aren't fucking talking to each other. In 'prestige TV' series like Watchmen, we get a succession of great scenes and great dialogue in a structure that is utter gibberish. In video games we get completely siloed chains of content that have nothing to do with each other and no common theme or voice, either redundant or self-contradictory (remember in Burning Crusade how you had three zones in a row where there were major quests involving gaining the ability to see and talk to ghosts and they had nothing to do with each other? How about in Chimera Squad where Axiom talks about how Mutons need to take care of kittens to prove they have enough empathy to be released from internment, but nobody else in the entire world, even the people who hate Mutons, acts like this is true?). We don't have over-arching structure or themes or tone any more. Consequences don't get explored, or even acknowledged. The whole is almost always far less than the sum of its parts because nobody is thinking about how those parts fit together.

Fallout 76 has not succumbed to this plague. Fallout 76's writing team were clearly in constant communication with each other. They knew the unique restrictions they would be working under (make the story interesting when there are no living humans in the world) and by God they all got together and brainstormed until they knew how to make that work and they all got on the same page.

"Okay, to allow the player to gain persistent rank and status in the various organizations that existed, to have vendors, and to justify new stuff coming in, we need a lot of robots and automated systems. So we need to justify why that all exists. Okay, we'll say that prewar Appalachia was the forefront of automation, and the post-apocalypse survivors are making use of all the automated technology they were left with? That's a good idea, so let's all make sure that's reflected in the world and not just an invisible pretense. Let's use our pre-War narratives to show how that was affecting people in the world, so let's make sure there's lots of evidence in level design and quest lines of how automation and robotic service were disrupting life, so let's put strikes and strike-breakers and labor protest all over, which in our setting would mean a reaction accusing those people of Communism, so make sure to put that in several places.

"For our post-War narratives, let's show how the automation didn't just allow the people to leave systems behind for players to use, but it created unique problems that they had to deal with. Hey, what if the Enclave wasn't genocidal against Wastelanders yet, but they had to cause terrible things to happen because of a limitation of their high-security automated system and a creative way of manipulating it? Oh, and that quest where we wanted the player to become 'mayor', we can make that a way that characters in the past were working in the limitations of their automation and had to get clever with it. Ooh, the major commerce hub full of robot vendors, we can probably get a good story there about the human occupants having to leave because of how the automation worked."

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"Okay, so for there to be a main quest line with structure to it, it needs to be a major task that was mostly done by the past generation, so the players can follow left behind instructions to finish it. So those characters before are sort of "flinging a light into the future", so let's make sure our writing around the world emphasizes that point. We already have our justification to focus on the reactions of pre-War people to the actual war, so let's make sure we have a lot of narratives that don't end on Oct. 23, 2077 and instead show how people in the immediate aftermath dealt with it, and how they tried to rebuild, and what problems faced them so the player gets a sense of what the people whose work he /she is completing were like. This main quest has to extend over all the zones of the world map, so let's make sure we all confer on what happened to set up this task but leave it undone. That way the different stages can all reference each other and what happened in the first effort to complete it, and make the narrative coherent."

"Okay so the player's interactions with the humans of Appalachia are going to be sifting through the logs and records they left after death, so the player's way of interacting with the story is fundamentally that of a mystery, where they piece together clues as to what happened and why. So we need to figure out the narrative of what happened together, so we can sprinkle hints of the major events all over. Our overall endgame antagonists are the Scorched, but since the player runs into them frequently their existence isn't a mystery, so we need to heavily emphasize finding out how everyone tried to deal with them, who thought they were a threat first, how they drove people to conflict with each other, so the player's understanding of how this thing started can grow. Enclave has to be secret, so we can put them behind a bunch of bad stuff in the world, and the player can have that revelatory moment of 'Oh, THAT'S why the world is like this!' Raiders are the most visible human antagonists, so since the player can't see them killing people, we need to make sure they have had a visible effect on the world map, something major that was marked by them indelibly. Oh, guy who is writing the raider segment of the main quest, you wanted a character with a strong personality to tie them together? Okay, so make the world-changing event tied to his personal motivations, and let's reinforce his existence by having all our other Raiders talk about him in their logs and have some manner of relationship to him, so that the deeds of the Raiders are all tied up in this one character."

This seems like it should be simple stuff, right? But it's stuff we just don't get very often, not any more. Writers are off doing their own things with their own portions of the script, and we end up with a bunch of beautifully-machined gears and pistons that don't actually mesh with each other and can't form a functioning engine to drive the experience forward. Fallout 76 has a god damn drive train and all the pieces were made to fit together to serve the goal of the overall story. And I really, really appreciate when a large multiple-author story can do that.

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