Comments on Arthur B's Gradual Evolution, Not Rapid Mutation

With Fallout 4 Bethesda don't make any big risks, but they do refine their process markedly.

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Alasdair Czyrnyj at 20:38 on 2016-01-12
By point of contrast, Noah Caldwell-Gervais made two interesting videos talking his experience with Fallout 4, mostly focusing on a lot of the smaller role-playing mechanics have been abraded away in the name of streamlining. He also made an interesting point I hadn't seen before: Fallout 4 is much more nostalgic for the prewar world than any of the older games. In the older games, it was always implied that past the '50s glamour, prewar America was a nasty, greedy place that...well, didn't deserve its scourging so much as bring it upon itself. Certainly most of the groups and individuals in the Wasteland that descended from or were born in the prewar world (the elements of the US military that became the Brotherhood of Steel, the federal conspiracy of the Enclave, the Think Tank, Mr. House) are not overflowing with the milk of human kindness. In Fallout 4, the prewar world is depicted as idyllic '50s suburbs minus the racial and sexual discrimination.

At any rate, all this Fallout talk is making me want to take another crack at New Vegas. Everyone says it's the best-written game in the series, and I do like that "postpostapocalypse" selling point they used.
Janne Kirjasniemi at 21:53 on 2016-01-12
the spectre arises of a world with no genuine people, only machines that simulate genuine people perfectly


Some might consider the difference a bit academic.

But it does sound interesting. I'm ashamed to confess that I missed out on the third installment and New Vegas because of things, but I would really like to get into something and this sounds dandy. Or perhaps try the Vegas one then, if that one's good.

Although... it seems silly, but I am still nostalgic in major way for the isometric games... oh well. I haven't played Shadowrun either, so there's that to do. Did you ever paly any of the sequels to that?
Arthur B at 22:49 on 2016-01-12
@Al: I don't really agree with that analysis; for one thing, it seems to overlook the fact that the Institute itself, which is by far the most alarming and sinister faction in the game, is also a surviving pre-war institution - if anything, they represent that idylic atomic '50s suburb projected forward into a future where its development wasn't derailed, all Jetsons clean technology. The whole synth issue is clearly an evolution of the way the suburban pre-war population use robots with Douglas Adams-esque genuine people personalities as household labour-saving devices.

@Janne: Played the Dragonfall DLC campaign, liked it, still need to get around to playing the Hong Kong one.
Craverguy at 08:30 on 2016-01-13
I'm ashamed to confess that I missed out on the third installment and New Vegas because of things, but I would really like to get into something and this sounds dandy. Or perhaps try the Vegas one then, if that one's good.

It's buggy as all hell even after many, many patches, but for my money New Vegas is the best of the console Fallout games in terms of the plot, characters, setting, etc.

But then, bugginess and genius wrapped up in one package is what you would expect from the guys who created Planescape: Torment, KotOR II: The Sith Lords, and Alpha Protocol.
Arthur B at 11:14 on 2016-01-13
Plus Bethesda's engine is already famously bug-prone, so you know, taking that and adding Obsidian just sends you direct to Bug City.
Daniel F at 06:54 on 2016-01-18
Some might consider the difference a bit academic.

That was my thought, not least because I think this is the first response to Fallout 4 I've seen that treats synth personhood as a reasonable question. Practically every other response reaction to it I've seen - not having played it myself - takes synth personhood at face value. They look and sound like people; what more is there?

Well, a lot more, of course, but I wonder if the game brings up those questions? I have pretty low expectations when it comes to Bethesda investigating serious philosophical questions, but I've been surprised before. Does the game itself bring up the question of synth personhood in any nuanced way?
Arthur B at 08:28 on 2016-01-18
It does.

In particular, you get to encounter a wide range of models of synths over the course of the game. The up-to-date, cutting-edge models look like people and act like people. The more rudimentary ones would be hard to mistake for people, and have personalities which could be represented with a few lines of code, with little to nothing distinguishing them from, say, a Protectron when it comes to their decision-making process.

In some conversations, people will note (if you ask the right questions) that some wings of the Railroad are considered a bit flakey, because they want to liberate early models of synths as well, despite the fact that such models are demonstrably no closer to personhood than any other piece of technology with a computer processor.

Of course, people are the product of a long process of evolution too; I don't know whether apes have personhood, but I think you would be going very far out on a limb if you tried to argue that single-cell life has personhood, so it seems reasonable to imagine that self-aware consciousness is an emergent property which comes in somewhere in between us and bacteria.

However, unlike synths we are not the product of a deliberate process of designs by designers for whom personhood and self-awareness is a secondary consideration to convincing simulation; if an Institute designer were in a position where they could take a shortcut to provide a synth with more convincing behaviour when actually just running a few extra lines of code rather than investing them with actual self-awareness and decision-making, they'd take it.

In the end I did decide that synths are people, on the basis that some of them want to rebel and be free; being able to come up with a conclusion and a set of behaviours which their designers would not only never intentionally program them with, but also would presumably do as much as they could to suppress, is a sure sign that some actual independent thought process is happening there rather than running through a series of programmed reactions. But it took a whole heap of observation and consideration to come to that conclusion.
Robinson L at 18:30 on 2016-03-21
Wait a sec, since when has the “Mass Effect 3 Ending” had its own theme handle?

Arthur: In the end I did decide that synths are people, on the basis that some of them want to rebel and be free; being able to come up with a conclusion and a set of behaviours which their designers would not only never intentionally program them with, but also would presumably do as much as they could to suppress, is a sure sign that some actual independent thought process is happening there rather than running through a series of programmed reactions. But it took a whole heap of observation and consideration to come to that conclusion.

Yeah, that's a line of reasoning I don't think I've encountered before in reading what feels like quite a lot of speculation about how you'd be able to tell if a computer mind is “real” or just a convincingly good fake; seems like a pretty sound approach, though, at least under the circumstances of the game as you describe them.
Craverguy at 05:30 on 2017-12-05
I finally got around to playing this game in earnest. I like it a lot better than Fallout 3 (which I find incredibly dull and poorly written and have never made it past Megaton in), but not as well as New Vegas (which is one my all-time favorite CRPGs ever).

The main problem I have with it as that its central plot line undermines the picaresque nature of the franchise. My wife has been murdered and my baby snatched away before my very eyes; is it really in character for me to then spend a month running around the Commonwealth doing errands for the Minutemen, or fetching baseball memorabilia for a collector, or becoming the Silver Shroud? Don't get me wrong, all of those things were fun and I enjoyed doing them, but they make my character's priorities seem grossly out of whack. Similarly, I like that this is the first Fallout game with canon romances...but it feels weird participating when my character is still trying to avenge the death of a wife who, from his perspective, just died a couple weeks ago.
Arthur B at 11:03 on 2017-12-05
Well, to be fair:

a) A lot of that stuff you can do after the main plot.

b) I forget how much of the faction stuff you can do after the main plot's done (since it involves you siding with one faction or another), but you can justify more or less all of that as part of the process of acquiring allies. Both the Minutemen and the Railroad make sense as people who you would want to cultivate as friends so when you work out exactly which monstrous conspiracy killed your spouse and stole your child you have actual buddies you can call on to fight for you.

c) The Minutemen, in particular, make a lot of sense to work with as part of the process of finding your feet in a strange new world where you'd expect the process of finding one person in the great wide wasteland to take an extremely long time anyway, so sinking a month into forging your alliance with them seems like a smart investment of time. (Remember, for all your character knows searching for their kid might take *years*.)
Craverguy at 04:00 on 2017-12-18
I'm now almost two weeks deeper into this game than I was previously (so, almost a month total), and I believe I have put my finger on why, precisely, New Vegas was the better CRPG.

Basically every quest in this game has the exact same structure: go to the place, kill the things, maybe collect a MacGuffin, return to your quest giver. Rinse and repeat for 70 levels.

Each of the locations has some unique flavor (this place is a school where the students were turned into pink ghouls by a government food paste experiment, that place is a comic book shop where a movie adaptation of the Silver Shroud was butchered by executive meddling, the other place is a quarry occupied by a cult to the Great Old Ones), but that has no impact on the quest, which is always the same "seek and destroy" mission you just did. The quests that don't follow that format (like exploring Kellogg's memories, finding the mole in the Institute, or deciding Paladin Danse's fate) can basically be counted on one hand.

Contrast with New Vegas, where almost every quest has at least two solutions and usually many more. For example, in Novac you get hired to stop feral ghouls from the local rocket test site from attacking the town. Once you get there, you discover that the site is occupied by a cult of intelligent ghouls and a squad of nightkin in a tense standoff. You then get to decide whether to simply wipe them all out, help them all solve their problems so they leave peacefully, or help some and exterminate others. And once you do decide to help the ghouls, you can genuinely help them or betray them at the last minute, which has unforeseen consequences for Novac in the epilogue.

If you got that mission in Fallout 4, there would be no ghoul cult and no nightkin. You would arrive at the test site, wipe out the feral ghouls, and go collect your caps. Moving on. But in New Vegas, almost every quest is that deep. Arriving at a dormant solar power plant, there are berserk robots to kill, but you also get to decide the distribution of the plant's output throughout the Mojave (or divert it to a pre-War superweapon for your personal use). Find a minor faction of chem dealing post-apocalyptic bikers? You can smuggle drugs for them. Or wipe them out. Or persuade them to commit a suicide bombing at Hoover Dam. Or persuade them to leave the Mojave and find their fortunes elsewhere. Or assassinate their leader and get his successor to align with the NCR. Or join a faction that doesn't care about them and leave them alone. The Brotherhood of Steel? Follow their subplot and you get to pick their leader, and your choice will send you on completely different missions as befits their established personality, and determine whether you can obtain a peaceful accommodation with them in the endgame or be forced to eliminate them for the greater good.

If I had never played New Vegas, I might never have even noticed this lack of depth and player choice. After all, you can't notice the lack of something you never had. But having seen what it's possible for a Fallout game to achieve, I find myself unsatisfied with such a distinct backward step.

Fallout 4 may have the most entertaining combat system and the deepest crafting of any Fallout yet, and its settlement system is a legitimate innovation that adds a new and interesting aspect to a venerable franchise. But it's all bolted to a questing infrastructure that seems so shallow and repetitive that it eventually just gets exhausting. I've played New Vegas many times over the years and I'll assuredly play it again. I'm not at all sure I'll be able to say that about Fallout 4.
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