Fallout 3: Review and Comments

November 24th, 2008

So I recently "finished" Fallout 3. It was good - not awesome, but good. 7.5/10 on the Oso scale.

By "finished" I mean I visited ~75% of the available places, completed ~80% of the side quests, and of course completed the main quest. And, like many, was hideously let down by the main quest ending. But the game mechanics were solid, the world was compelling, and it had enough hook to get me to finish. It was only lightly buggy (for me), and I'm not a nitpicker when it comes to game balance issues like the relative merits of "small guns" versus "big guns" versus "energy weapons".

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the post-Apocalyptic setting was, in conjunctions with the reliably downbeat quests and locations, a bit more of a bummer than I'd like. But that's minor.

The game suffers a lot as regards replayability from the fact that, although there's a decent-sized chunk of world to explore, there's not really much unique or rewarding out there. Some collect-them-all items, but other than that each new location just means kill a few more of the same sorts of monsters and collect their ammo and items. There's a level cap of 20, meaning that your character development tops out well before you visit most of the available world.

Also, the map doesn't include College Park, so I couldn't see what had happened to either the University of Maryland or my house. More Montgomery county snobbery!

One thing I liked, and would like to see extended, was the "Karma" system. If you perform a "good" act, you get positive Karma, and good-aligned NPCs react more favorably to you. If you perform "evil" acts, you get negative Karma, and evil-aligned NPCs react more favorably to you. Although some of the implementation was hokey, for a player who doesn't just try to game the system this worked quite well, and I liked it.

It failed, however, to account for another axis that I would very much like to see, and I think most gamers would enjoy: "pushover" versus "badass". I want a game where, when you walk into town still wet behind the ears, NPCs condescend to you. Later, with a necklace of fingers and twenty levels of death-dealing behind you, they cower in fear.

I entered the raider stronghold of Evergreen Mills and single-handedly killed every mother fucker in the place, often chasing after them as they ran away. In the very back in the deep caves, there's a trader who is not immediately hostile, so I killed everyone else in the caves and went to speak with him.

He proceeded to use profanity and sneer at me. This was immediately suicidal on his part, as I took two steps back and turned his head into pasta sauce with my combat shotgun; but more importantly it was also hilariously unrealistic. He had just watched me kill everyone else around him, often four or five at a time, and then approach him covered in the gore and vitreous humor of his former employers, bristling with still-smoking guns. And he mocked me. That's just silly.

And how gratifying, a game where your reputation leads NPCs to not only like or dislike you, but also to respect and/or fear you. I daresay all gamers would enjoy returning to NPCs who earlier showed no respect to discover that word of their exploits had gotten around, and said NPCs were worshipful or unctuous or stammeringly terrified.

Anyhow, Fallout 3 lacked that, and I await a game that does incorporate it. What Fallout 3 did have was a good "open world" first-person shooter, flawed in many respects, without a lot to bring one back to it, but enjoyable and worth the money.

Fresh New Home Page

November 20th, 2008

As promised, the new home page replete with swanky Cascading Style Sheets and tricked-out Photoshop graphics is now up and running. It's not fully complete, there are some rough edges to smooth out and some pages further down the tree to finish up, but I figured I'd put it up rather than wait for 100% completion.

This is, I think, the first major overhaul of my home page in 5 or more years. It's actually been rather fun.

Pirates!

November 19th, 2008

Last Saturday, Somali pirates seized a supertanker carrying 2 million barrels of oil. A supertanker owned by Saudi Aramco; state of the art, three times the size of an aircraft carrier. They nabbed it a full four days sailing distance from Somalia, 500 miles out into the Indian Ocean.

I have to admit, I still find myself startled that this sort of thing is actually happening. Pirates are, well, a phenomenon that belongs to bygone centuries. To have them in the 21st century, so brazen, so successful, and so seemingly safe from retaliation in their pirate ports on the Somali coast... it's somewhat hard to believe.

And I admit, a small, larcenous part of my heart enjoys the fact that they are out there and meeting with such success. The same part that roots for the gangsters in mob movies.

And success it is. The pirates get their ransoms, millions of dollars/euros, in cash. They buy Range Rovers and gold jewelry, they pick up beautiful women, they earn the support of the local populace. They're the rap stars, the sports heroes of a poor
corner of an impoverished country.

Shipping companies are telling their captains to sail around Africa rather than use the Suez Canal and come dangerously close to the pirate coast. The capture of that supertanker bumped oil prices up a dollar a barrel. These guys are having global effects.

I'd stop short of saying that something must be done, but if something ought to be done, I have a suggestion: send in the Egyptians. Yes, the Egyptians. They have motive, because they lose cash on each ship that opts to not use the Suez Canal. And they have the ability, because they have an army of 450,000 men more or less just sitting around and drawing pay.

Although they're Arabs rather than black Africans, they're definitely Muslim, and it's not like Somalia has a government anyway. I say, let the Egyptians occupy the ports - just the ports - from Puntland down to but not including Mogadishu. The pirates wouldn't like it, the Ethiopians would be mildly irked, but the rest of the world would be relieved. And it would allow aid supplies to get in and be distributed.

Just my 2 cents.

Book Review: The Coldest Winter

November 17th, 2008

The Korean War gets short shrift among American wars. Thirty-three thousand American dead, yet it's basically a cipher between the Second World War and the VietNam War. I've been interested in knowing more about our first real war with Communism for quite a while.

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam did not satisfy that desire. It's a good book, compelling and interesting, but it's not - and, aside from the title, doesn't really try to be - a comprehensive history of the war. It picks and chooses, giving a great deal of attention to the top-level Army commanders and several critical Army battles. But it overlooks as much elsewhere (albeit with awareness that it is doing so); the key example being the Battle of the Choisin Reservoir which it includes basically as a note instructing the reader that they will be well-rewarded for further research elsewhere.

As I say, it's a compelling book on its own merits, and provides a lot of detail about MacArthur and the political culture of the time. (Interesting to see how Henry Luce of Time/Life and Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune were every bit as dishonest and partisan as Fox News is today.) What it did cover, it covered well. The veterans' stories of the battles of Kunuri and Chipyongni are detailed, harrowing, and heartfelt.

Yet there's just too much that's not here. It's a story about certain men, rather than a story about a war. High quality but ultimately best as a secondary resource to a more comprehensive book. I give it 7/10.

Weekend Update

November 17th, 2008

I finished Fallout 3 on Thursday, and I have to say the ending was a real let-down. I don't want to give anything away, since I know at least one person who plans to play the game, so I shall avoid spoilers. I enjoyed the game overall, although it was a little too relentlessly depressing; one after another quest where everyone winds up dying, burned-out school full of blackened little skeletons, or radio distress signal leading only to corpses. Game developers, if the world is already a post-Apocalyptic wasteland, err on the side of making things more cheerful. I can count only one of many dozens of settings, events, or activities in the game that was actually sort of positive. I would have been happier performing actually successful rescues or finding life-affirming signs, you know?

Anyway, I'm a bit of an obsessive completist and so had done 80-90% of the side quests, and the ending really kicked out any desire I had to replay the game as a different character. The more I think about it, the more... disappointed I am with the ending. Oh, I think I got my money's worth out of the game, certainly. But it could have been better.

On the up side, this led me to be actually productive with my free time this weekend. I'm avoiding Wrath of the Lich King for the time being, and Warhammer: Age of Reckoning is also failing to pull me back in, so I was basically without games to play.

I've been meaning to learn Cascading Style Sheets for some time now. So I did; all my free time this weekend was spent working in it. I've rewritten my home page entirely, using CSS. It was a good learning experience, although I spent half of it in Photoshop actually ginning up the images. But I now feel comfortable using CSS to the point where I plan to use it for any new web pages; I've moved from the 'copy a template' level to 'write my own from the ground up' stage. And when I did some searches on "CSS tricks" this morning I discovered several hints and tips that I had already figured out on my own. So that's a good sign.

The new home page should be up in the next day or so, I still have to finalize the text to actually fill in all the swanky new layout.

Also, we went to the beach yesterday (in November!) down in Alameda. And I upgraded our KnoppMyth box to the latest version, which blew away my configuration so I also wound up totally reconfiguring it. So it was a pretty productive weekend, post-Fallout.