Crispy Gamer

Editorial: Letting Go of Fallout

Gamers, especially those of us who've been pursuing the hobby for more than 20 years, are often a nostalgic bunch. Even the younger members of our ranks -- people who can't recall a time before 3-D graphics, let alone a time when text adventures were popular -- will often fondly reminisce about their early gaming exploits and the titles they loved. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, and I'm not here to tell you to stop. If I was, I'd be proving myself a giant hypocrite, as my "Top 10 Favorite Games Ever" list contains fewer titles released in the 21st century than in the 20th.

There are times, however, when nostalgia can go too far; it can begin to tint our perception of modern gaming and invariably reduce the amount of fun we get out of our hobby. We play games to have fun, right? Surely I'm not the only one ... so why is it that many of us consciously, willfully drain the fun out of our present experiences by comparing them so strictly to those of our past?

Let's pull title number three from the aforementioned top 10 list: Fallout (and its sequel, which I sort of lump together, though I think the original is a slightly superior overall title). I love Fallout. I have replayed Fallout more times than I can count, using a variety of different character strategies. I keep it installed on my laptop at all times for boring flights, train rides and visits to the coffee shop, and my most recent full play-through was only a few months ago.

So when Bethesda purchased the rights to the series from Interplay and announced they would be making a sequel using the engine powering their widely-praised, multiple game of the year award-winning title Oblivion, I should have been thrilled, right?

Not so. I bet you can see where this is going, actually: While I wasn't gnashing my teeth and spouting off thousand-word flames on their message boards, I was nonetheless deeply concerned that the things I loved about Fallout would not be properly brought into the modern gaming era. This was a new company, with new designers, using a first-person engine that was built to render beautiful trees and shimmering water and was clearly developed with a console-first mentality! This wasn't the Fallout I knew and loved, the third-person isometric title filled with the grey-brown landscapes of the future; it couldn't be.

Somehow, lost within all of this concern was a simple fact to which I should have paid more attention: Oblivion, though not without its flaws, is the single best game that I have played in nearly four years. It's better than BioShock, better than Mass Effect, better than the Half-Life 2 episodes and certainly better than fun-but-less-inspired titles like Gears of War. It is, in fact, the best game I've played since the original Half-Life 2, which was in turn the best game I'd played since Deus Ex (released in 2000, and still my favorite game of all time). You may not put Oblivion on quite so high a pedestal, and that's an individual choice I won't begrudge you, but almost any rational gamer will admit that it's a fine example of the craft.

With all this in mind, the question then is this: Why wouldn't I want one of my favorite series to be placed in the capable hands of the people who've developed one of the three best games I've played in the last decade? The answer, of course, is nostalgia. At its best, nostalgia breeds warm feelings and general good vibes, but at its worst, it breeds fear and mistrust of the future and an inherent bias, particularly against things like sequels, follow-ups or re-imaginings. It's a hard thing to do, letting go of expectation and embracing change; it's often antithetical to human nature, and it can take a difficult and intentional exercise of will to do so. Nonetheless, I advocate it wholeheartedly, especially when it comes to gaming.

I believe Fallout 3 is going to rock. I'm telling you this not because a developer asked me to, or because a publisher paid me to. I can't name a single member of the development team, nor do I have any further information than what is publicly available. I've never seen the game in action, and I know next to nothing about the plot. I work in the gaming industry, yes, but in this instance I am simply a gamer, analyzing what I know and what information is available to make a conclusion. I've spent time thinking about it, looking back on the experience of playing the first two titles (let's avoid talking about Fallout Tactics or Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, shall we?) and analyzing what I know about the people working on this latest installment, and I've come to my conclusion.

It's not going to be a third-person isometric game. It's not going to be primarily comprised of a few shades of grey and brown. It's not going to exclusively feature a turn-based combat system, nor is it going to star a descendant of the original Vault Dweller. It's not being written by the game's original writers or designed by the game's original designers. It's not even going to be set in California!

I've decided I'm fine with that, because here's what is happening: The game is being created by a group of designers who by all indications loved the original Fallout just as much as I did. It's being produced by a company that believes in lengthy development schedules so that they can cram their games full of content. It's using an engine that, with some texture upgrades, is still visually stunning on modern machines and based on the screenshots I've seen so far can definitely handle "post-apocalyptic" as well as it handled "swords and sorcery." Best of all, the first trailer they've released absolutely nails the Fallout feel.

I'm excited, and it's a rare occurrence these days for this particular Crispy Gamer to get too excited about any particular game. It took a conscious effort, though. It took pulling off the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia and looking the bogeyman of progress in the eye. Scary, I know, but it was something I think I needed to do. Disagree if you want, but I'll tell you this: It's a lot more fun to be excited about Fallout 3 than it was being worried about it.

And like I said: if we're not having fun, why the hell are we playing games in the first place?

Christopher Buecheler started gaming with the Atari 2600. He co-created GameSpy.com, where he went by the name "shaithis," and wrote their popular Resident Cynic column. Now the principle UI developer for Crispy Gamer, he still writes when the mood strikes. Stop by the Crispy Gamer Development Group, where he goes by "CaptainHomeless," and say hello!