Tobold's Blog
Monday, November 08, 2010
Preferring games to worlds

Having been disappointed by Fallout 3, I found myself looking for a similar game which is more fun to me. Now where do I find a more fun post-apocalyptic shooter/roleplaying game hybrid? Turns out I had already bought that game during some previous sales on Steam: Borderlands. So I spent most of the weekend playing Borderlands, and I was having a blast. The combat is more fun and varied, because now different weapons actually require different tactics. Instead of useless junk I loot only things I need. And instead of my weapons getting worse all the time due to wear and tear, I now get constant weapons upgrades. There are as crazy characters in Borderlands as are in Fallout 3 (albeit not so many), and the main story isn't any worse either.

Apart from the combat system (where Fallout 3 has no excuse), I can see that the main difference between Fallout 3 and Borderlands is that the former is mainly designed as an immersive virtual world, while the latter is mainly a game. Borderlands is more fun because it is *made* to be fun, and not designed to give an accurate depiction of a post-apocalyptic world. Which is all fine with me, I didn't find Fallout's vision of how a world after nuclear war would look very believable in the first place. I can see that weapons degrading is somehow more "realistic" than finding them as loot even from enemies that aren't using weapons, but "realistic" often ends up being the same as "tedious".

If I want to explore a coherent, realistic world, I turn off my computer and take a walk. Any virtual world in which I am a hero is by definition already unrealistic. So I'm really not all that worried about how immersive a virtual world is, as long as it is fun to play. The cell-shaded graphics and over-the-top whacky boss mobs of Borderlands are more fun to me than the realistic eternal grey-tones of Fallout 3.
"Any virtual world in which I am a hero is by definition already unrealistic."

You are a blogging hero to me, Tobold!
Borderlands is at its peak when you get 3 friends in co-op. Synching up people's levels and quests is a pain but cruising in a world that scales to number of players is pretty fun. All the addons are worthwhile (Moxxi's mostly for bank storage).
Have you played S.T.A.L.K.E.R yet? It is a role playing first person shooter playing in the Tschernobyl area after the desaster.

It has two sequels already and is kinda old, you should be able to get any part of it for 10 bucks.
Yes, I tried STALKER. Unfortunately it belongs to the class of first-person 3D games which cause me video game nausea.
Well personally I found both Fallout 3 (and New Vegas, playing that to death atm) and Borderlands fun. Fun in slightly different ways sure, but still fun. If I would pick one over the other I would probably pick Fallout basically because I like how the world is done. But that's just me.
@Tobold, what is it about the games that cause the motion sickness?
@Pangoria: I'm not 100% sure. I know it's only first-person 3D games, but not all of them. The kind of graphics seem to play a role, I'm usually okay with the cell-shaded kind. But I suspect another factor is in camera movement, e.g. simulated head-bobbing makes it worse.

Often I just have to try the game out and see whether I get nauseous after an hour.
Played Borderlands - it's a game alright, but 2/10 immersive. It depends on what you look in a game for and I'm just the guy who treats games more like books in terms of storytelling. Borderlands is pretty dull in that department, so in long term: no thanks. Is a fun-to-play in co-op though, once in a while that is.
I envy you for your ability to ignore things that don't make sense ;)
In my experience, Borderlands gets dull really fast. It starts out great, but around level 25, it just feels like you're doing the same damn thing over and over again.
One thing that I thought you would have mentioned is that

realism is not the same thing as immersion.

you can be totally immersed in an unrealistic game.

Realism is how close the game is to mimicking real life, or at least what the game would be like if it were real.

Immersion is when the game stays true to its own self..when things are believable within that world.

Example - The World of Warcraft dungeon finder. It is incredibly immersion-breaking, because it takes you out of the game and things just happen within the mechanics.

The portals to major cities in Dalaran, however, while largely the same mechanics-wise, able to transport you instantly to the place you wish to go, are no less unrealistic than the Dungeon Finder teleports, but far more immersive, because they are consistent within the fantasy world Blizzard created.
I greatly enjoyed both Fallout 3 and Borderlands in their own ways, and I agree with many of your criticisms of Fallout 3.

However, I wish that you would have played Fallout: New Vegas. It's developed by the designers of the first two Fallout games and addresses all of your concerns.

The main quest is a much more guided and immersive experience, with multiple solutions to any quest or puzzle.

The ending is also much more satisfying with an epilogue detailing how the choices you made impacted the various factions and communities of New Vegas.

I hardly ever replay games but I'm on my third playthrough of New Vegas just because theirs so much to see and I want to try to get different endings and take a different path to solving quests.

On each playthrough I've played on hardcore mode: inventory management, needing food, water, and rest are enjoyable mechanics that have scarcely seen the light of day since RPGs of the 80's.
Fallout 1&2 were 9/10 immersive. FO3 was never near that (5/10 imo), with Vegas it's more like 7/10. Still I enjoy a game if it tells a story and the setting is a continous and consistent world. Dragon Age is one of these games that got close to perfect (8,5/10 immersion).

The 0,5 missing are the annoying achievement notifications. If there is a single person in the gaming workd I hate the most is the guy who invented Achievement for games. An RPG is when I take or create a character and I can do whatever that character would in my opinion do in situations encountered in the world. If a game forces me to perform tedious tasks (i.e. kill 10 imperial troopers by throwing them into the generator, kill 50 troopers by throwing them on a flying Tie-bomber - Force Unleashed 2) then the game sucks. Make no mistake - Achievements are a cheap trick - forcing me to do addidional, optional tasks irrelevant to the story, expecting me to jump like a monkey. If it's to get bonuses in the game it's is almost like cheating. And rewarding these things with GPs, which have even less to do with the game just crushes immersion to snibs. If I want to play a game, I don't want to be bothered by the possibility of earning points for an expansion, because I want to PLAY the GAME. Be a warrior crushing the deamons of Hell, be a spy infiltrating the streets of Tibilisi, be a cerebrate guiding the Swarm to take yet another planet and a guy kicked out of a safe vault and trying to survive, making new friends and enemies in a world that I can explore in many ways and that *works*. That's what I play games for. Call me an escapist, but imho that's what books, movies and games alike were inveneted for. It's just the current trend that made a business out of everything and ruined the fun for me.

Let me just state the obvious here - I do know that games are not books, and books are not games, but I really like my games to bring me a story that I can immerse in like in a good book. And I hate achievements for being absolutely everywhere.
The worst example I have come across of aiming for realism and immersion but forgetting to make a fun game was Far Cry 2. The games depiction of a a wartorn failed African state is extremely realistic and very immersive but is also unbelievably depressing.

About a year ago I actually wrote a blog post comparing Borderlands with Far Cry 2 trying to analyse why one was a lot of fun and one made me feel almost suicidal.

By the way I am be interested to see how long Borderlands holds your attention. I really enjoyed it for a while but the repetitiveness got to me in the end and I never finished the main campaign.
I really liked the pallet in Fallout 3, and I really like the anachronistic themes. All of that art deco stuff mixed in with computers was just cool to me.
Have you tried Muramasa? Beautiful graphics, side scrolling, special abilities and interchangeable/craftable weapons that act as a kind of talent tree. It's about 2 years old, but it's a lot of fun.
Agreed, great game, playing it myself at the moment, but a bit frustrating that saves load at the nearest New-U station rather than the last checkpoint which can mean having to redo an entire area if you didn't have time to complete the mission on the first attempt.
Fallout is not supposed to be a simulation at all...its just an RPG set in a post-apocalyptic world.

And if you really were affected by wear-and-tear that much, did you not realize you can repair weapons yourself?

But its absolutely retarded to say Borderlands has a comparable story. It has NO story. Its a diablo-esque looting game that intentionally has very little story/immersion/etc.

Fallout on the other hand is a story-based RPG...

These two games COULD NOT be more different. They are apples and oranges, and if you think they are "similar" you are a lost cause.

How in the name of hell are achievements "forcing" you to do anything?!?! I have never once tried to complete an achievement in my life, nor even LOOKED at what they were.

They are a personal goal, no more. If doing them makes YOU happy, then do them; but if not, why in the name of god would you? To have some +points that not one person will ever see?


Despite what some say, if you don't like FO3 you won't like NV either. For all intents and purposes, same game but with new story.

The engine, the setting, the missions, the combat, etc are all the same.
" (...) and the main story isn't any worse either."

Are you kidding? Borderlands has no story. Fallout not only has a story but a whole universe behind it.
I really have to agree with that. I've tried Fallout 3, Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto 4, and I've enjoyed the "game" portion of those games. The problem was that the "world" got tiring and I lost any motivation to really continue. I've recently realized that I just prefer a game that keeps the story tight and gameplay consistent. I want to just keep playing the game, and not really exploring a world.
How in the name of hell are achievements "forcing" you to do anything?!?! I have never once tried to complete an achievement in my life, nor even LOOKED at what they were.

Being a big Fallut 1&2 fan I really waited for New Vegas. And the game is much better then FO3 in the area of my interest, but what riuns it for me is details like SEEING my stats next to the dialogue options or the notifications like "10/30 Kill 30 foozles with Incinerator". It is not important to me how many foozles gets killed, but I'm being reminded of how important it is all the time. all the little things that are trying to make the game easier are actually ruining the expoerience for me. But don't get me wrong - F:NV is still 7/10, cause I nejoy the game. It's just stupid that the games of today have a tendency of reminding you explicitly what else there's to do that you're not doing yet in the game, while in the games of yesterday you could actually use your brain and/or imagination to figure that out.
Borderlands was great fun, especially mid-game, didn't have to think too hard, just enjoy shooting and destruction. But the ending of Borderlands really, really sucked. And the add-ons were not that interesting. So enjoy the ride while it lasts.
I agree with Nikola, Borderlands was fun but grew old quick. But perhaps it is more enjoyable when playing co-op.

Im pretty susceptible to the motion sickness syndrome (as a passenger, reading in cars for example will get me sick in about 5 minutes) but most FP games are OK as long as there is head-bobbing and the camera movement is smooth. The only game with almost had me puke in minutes is Descent... that game could be used as a torture method as far as i am concerned..:)

On a unrelated note: have you ever tried the Football Manager series Tobold? I stumbled upon this in the summer when you could get the 2010 version cheap on steam. It is turn based, strategic, no twitch-skills needed and can be played casually. Sure, you do have to be at least a little bit into the sport, but if you are it is a great game. Since FM2011 was released last week, you can probably get the 2010 version cheap.
Yes absolutely - focus on game play not on realism.

This is what Wow should have taught developers..but judging from recent games it hasnt stuck.
Dhalphar's definition immersion is essentially how successful a game is at being realistic (in the sense of following its own internal rules).

I must disagree with Dhalphar's definition of immersion.

The dictionary defines immersion as the condition of being engaged wholly or deeply. In other words immersion is how much the game grabs you and make you want to play it. It has a great deal of subjectivity and realism may be a prerequisite for some people.

Trying to arguable about what's realistic in a fantasy game starts to get pretty silly pretty quickly. For instance, in the dungeon finder example, people used to sit Dal spamming trade, which is not very realistic. As for the instant transportations, you get that if you have a lock in the group (or use a meeting stone), you get summon. Is it a big deal that you can now get a summon without a lock and couple of other people making their way to the instance first?
fallout vegas :)
The dictionary defines immersion as the condition of being engaged wholly or deeply. In other words immersion is how much the game grabs you and make you want to play it. It has a great deal of subjectivity and realism may be a prerequisite for some people.

I tried to place permadeath - a so-so realistic feature in a persistant world. It did not good, as it was beyond all simply an annouying feature. There should be a completely different character model in use for permadeath to be useful in a game, otherwise it's buzzkill.

Immersion IS how much the game grabs you, no point to argue that. A Fallout game grabs you when you forget you're playing the game, and instead are scouring the desert with the wind around, scouting for scorpions - or when you try to help the poor bastards of the village because you feel so really genuinely sorry for them and what happened to them. That when a game grabs me. I'm not thinking rules, perks, stats and stuff like that. What the game is about is the merit, the central thing grabbing you and allowing to immerse. In RPGs it should always be the story, no matter the setting.

I'm not saying that the story goes first though, at the expense of gameplay. My point is that games of today are developed poorly enough to force a choice of immersion vs gameplay.

New Vegas I like a lot for the quasi-immersive world, but Tobold IS right that the game forces you, in times, to perform repetitive actions and has a high risk of being boring at times.

In Borderlands you run around and shoot stuff until you get bored by it, the story is shallow and dull. It's fun to run and shoot stuff sometimes, especially with friends, but I got Counter Strike to do the exactly same thing, the same rush of adrenaline and everything. And I don't really feel the post-apocalypse in Borderlands, so no, thanks.

And frankly - there is no game that would merge the post-apocalypse feel with the fun gameplay. Or, actually, there are: Fallout 1&2. Thing is that these were all designed to give you the feel and be fun at the same time. You've got the tour-based combat and even that gave you the idea how cautious and planned are the battles in a world of the post-apocalypse. The rusted Pip boy interface, the way people talked to you and the way they were portayed to live. There was a valid backstory behind everything in the game. There were generic NPC's, but never in the amount exceeding the non-generic. And if you thought, that a guy can be bargained to do something, he most probably could be bargained to do it. At no point the game would tell you what to do, you were on your own in a world of mutants, ghouls and the scum that survived the war. And at the same time critters were scaled to you progressing throughout almost all of the game, quests were non-repetitive, fun activities, often either filled with humor, or otherwise in a compelling story that fit the setting unquestionably. The dialogue was a fun read, and the graphics were top notch back in the time. (Notice how I mention the graphics last).

Fallout 3 was looking real good. They had a general idea of a comelling story, but not all of it actually fit toghether, and the sideplots were bizarre (like the little kids' city). These were ideas put in there like dummies of real quests, with no second or third polish added to the story.

New Vegas has more of the polish to all sidplots, and I recommend playing - still it has a lot of help from the game itself. The game does not let you forget, that you're playing a game, as it is constantly helping you in different ways. The feel of being left all alone in a desert full of dangers is SO not there most of the time. That is an obstacle that does not let too much immersion happening.
Its sort of funny that the comment above says the prob with NV is that the games "helps too much", while Tobold says the opposite, that it is too open-ended without enough hand-holding.

Essentially, one says the game is really immersive and has an amazing world to explore, but they would rather a themepark experience. The other says that the game isn't immersive enough and is too themepark-y. (guess which is Tobold)

To me this smacks of the game being great in both ways. Simply put, I would contend that both of them are simply "super-biased" (tm) towards a certain play style, and since FO3 caters to *both* and many others it does not have the extreme focus on one they would prefer.

I know this is simplifying and conjecture, but it illustrates my point.


Bezier, I personally think that your NV/FO3 experiences are dulled by nostalgia for the original 2. Measured alone and against comparable modern games, I think you'd admit that FO3/NV satisfies your exploration/immersion craving better or equal to the best.

The problem for Tobold is he dislikes this genre for all intents and purposes. Genre meaning both FPS and open-world RPGs both pretty much it seems.
I agree about much of what you said about Fallout 3, but I loved it anyhow. The containers do all look similar, most of the buildings look the same inside and out (I wish they had made more tile sets.) The weapons degrading issue you talked about doesn't cause trouble later on into the game since you get really good at repairing and loot comes in much faster than you can deal with it. In fact the worthlessness of money later on becomes a problem as you end up with millions and nothing to spend it on.

I do want to say what I love most about Fallout 3. A lot of the choices you make in the game really do matter. You really have the opportunity to change the world in different ways. I'm not talking about a quest which can be done in a couple of different ways, you can destroy entire cities and take opposite sides. This was one of the few games I can think of where decisions really do matter. Yes, you can screw yourself because of it (kill the shopkeepers and you won't be able to buy ammo) but you'll certainly feel like your decisions have weight.
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