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Posted by Brother None

And as in uffish thought he stood the Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, came whiffling through the tulgey wood
On innovation and conservatism


How do we deal with change? Are we to embrace change by being innovative or do we resist change and be conservative? Innovation suggests improvement by trying something new. Conservatism suggests fear of change and sticking to what is good. Yet we should be careful not to be dogmatic in our faith for either innovation or conservatism. Dogma is no substitute for reasoning or appreciation of value. Before deciding whether to innovate or conserve, we must first understand what it is we should change and what we should uphold. Sometimes the old conservative maxim is true- "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

What are Fallout fans?

A fan is a subjective value; anyone that declares him/herself a fan is in fact a fan. The Fallout fanbase is by no means limited to the dedicated core that populate several websites. There is a large spread and variety of fans, many of whom prefer certain parts of the Fallout games over others, for instance setting over the combat mechanics. None of them are any less the fan for it, though their dedication varies.
What unifies everyone who calls himself a fan is liking all or at least some parts of Fallout and thus sharing the belief that some part of Fallout (be it setting, humour, combat, cRPG philosophy) needs to return in any sequel for it to call itself Fallout. Which parts outweigh which other parts can not be determined here, but certain is that developers will never find out unless they start open, honest and intelligent dialogue with the fans.
This article doesn't define which fans it is talking about, the fansite population or the wider audience, every time it mentions the word "fan". The first chapter covers fansites and the Interplay forums, through the rest of the article the word fans can be seen as an intangible, but should be read in context.
The gaming industry seems to be under the spell of a dogma which dictates that innovation is inherently good. The dogmatic belief runs something like this: innovation means progress and novelty, which attracts consumers and leads to profits. Many of the technology driven entertainment industries seem to expect that consumers should accept products of lower quality in the name of innovation. For example, CGI animation in movies is supposed to be cool by default because 'hey it's CGI and that's innovative.' Likewise the PS3 is sold with the expectation that people will buy it because 'hey it's Blu-ray and that's innovative.' and ignore the high price tag.

But innovation does not indicate quality by default. This puts a strain on the expectations of producers versus those of consumers. The producers have to create an unnatural perception of innovation over quality. A perception that ignores the question of their products complying to the needs and desires of the consumers, opting to sell their products in the name of "modernity", "innovation" and "moving the genre/franchise forwards."

Usually the two overlap, and the design choices are made in consequence of both factors of quality and innovation, leading to consumer satisfaction. The fact that innovation does not automatically mean quality does not mean that the opposite is true and that only conservatism offers quality. Rather, quality should be the greater factor over both conservatism and innovation. In some cases, such as the PS3, quality was forgotten and the unnatural expectations were too strained, which contributed to the console's lack of success.

Discussion of Fallout's development illustrates how this bias for innovation leads to a broken logic of innovation over quality. "Do you guys just want a mod for the original Fallout or a sequel?" they ask. Others say, "Nobody is going to make an isometric turn-based game these days. That was nice back when technology couldn't handle the first-person real-time play we have now, but no major company is going to do it anymore." There are no questions being asked about the game being of lower quality, only of it not being "innovative" enough within the perception of FP/RT being an innovation on iso/TB. Try to clear your head of every time you've heard the word "innovation", and let's look at the latter statement to dispel some nonsense.

People say that a development from isometric turn-based to first-person real-time is both expected and natural. They were probably born when Clinton was president and never took the trouble to study and compare the actual development of both approaches. The real-time comment is obviously flawed because, if you never noticed, Pong was real-time. The first-person view comment is also odd and neglects the fact that the 1980's game Akalabeth was probably the first first-person cRPG. Akalabeth was released at a time when the prevailing view was top-down. In fact, not a single isometric cRPG had been made prior to the time Akalabeth was released. Not only does the "technology" argument hold no ground, but even worse: first-person predates isometric, meaning a consistent innovation-arguer would have to be in favor of isometric view.

The next step should be obvious: if first-person view predates isometric view, then what is the innovative value being given to the reinvention of the Fallout series? Or if you want to look at it from another angle (slightly overlapping "Oblivion with Guns"), what is innovative about Bethesda removing core tenets of the Fallout games to replace them with elements we have already seen in their own games? First-person view? Real-time combat? PC-console version? I'm sorry, but seen it.
Devs on fans

Tim Cain, the father of Fallout
The fan base is great in keeping you true to the spirit of the work. Some of them spend more time thinking about the “rules of the Fallout universe” that we do. But sometimes, this can be a bad thing, especially when someone wants to change something and the fans hate it just because it is a change. Not everything in the first Fallout games was intended to be canon. There must be room for some innovation, as long as it is true to the spirit of the original games, if not the letter. (ref)

Todd Howard, current lead on Fallout 3
The response we've gotten from everyone has been incredible. It seems like almost every gamer and press guy is a fan of the original, and are really looking forward to what we're going to do with it, and really looking forward to seeing Fallout return to a new era of gaming. I think the hardcore fans are incredibly misunderstood, and frankly, have been mistreated in the past. We've been reading the forums a lot and much of our thinking on Fallout 3 is just listening to experiences people had with the other games, like how those games made them feel, what they liked and disliked about every Fallout game.

The reason we wanted to make a Fallout game in the first place, was just how much we loved the first game. But we weren't the ones online posting all the time about a game from 97. Think about that...8 years later and they still haven't gotten a decent Fallout RPG, and people keep shoving crap at them. I'd be pissed too. I'd be wary of the new guys from Bethesda too. Hopefully when they see our game they'll give it a shot. (ref)


If you're going to argue from quality rather than innovation, you could say that Fallout belongs to those cRPGs that focus on translating the pen and paper experience to the computer. If you're going to choose the pen and paper experience over the more fashionable (but not qualitatively different) immersion, you end up with turn based combat. Only turn-based combat, the reasoning of the oldest cRPGs was, could be a faithful representation of the tactical combat of pen and paper RPGs. A developer intent on translating the P&P experience to the computer would automatically be tied to turn-based combat, which is tied to either isometric or top-down view for playability reasons. Normally, this is a matter of preference, though Fallout as a franchise is already tied to the pen and paper experience. It being simply preference goes against any unrealistic perception of there being a linear evolution in gaming.

When you look at how the market works with this mentality, it can be noted that several isometric and turn-based games of different genres have had significant success in recent years. The success of these games suggests that claims of "innovation" to justify the first person view is nothing more than the industry favoring a trend it deems popular, for financial security. That is not being innovative, but just being trendy. This means trend-setters, who take a leap of faith and try something new, are nearly the only innovative people in the gaming industry. The trend-followers are essentially conservative. In other words, a game that has turn-based combat is too wildly innovative for them.

We should not falsely reify the gaming industry. There is no one telling developers how to pick between the factors of innovation, conservatism and quality. Individual choices are made as the company decides what it wants to achieve in the game and financially. Of course quality determines what the developer wants with his game more than anything, but this is no less true for sales.

Consider that there is a market for first person adventure or shooter games and investing in a game for this market might be a conservative and safe bet. However, the market is quite full and newcomers will have to fight for a share of that market place. An alternative marketing strategy is to create a new market or perhaps reoccupy one in which there remains an eager if unfulfilled consumer demand. In fact, the perception that success is ensured by copying what others do or repeating what you did yourself is unique to the gaming industry; Titanic was a good film and the biggest success yet, but the film industry has not dedicated itself to purely churning out disaster-romance flicks, nor have disaster-romance flicks all turned into carbon copies of the Titanic.

One should reconsider the possibilities of Fallout 3 to the gaming world. Instead of churning out more of the action-RPG first-person shiny factors we've seen repeated ad nauseam (their qualities not withstanding), Fallout 3 should stand out and offer a return to pen and paper CRPG values that made the original a great game. Bethesda should not try to rehash an existing game in a different mold and take the risk of finding a fan base amongst people who think the originals were boring. Fallout 3 should offer something we haven't seen in the CRPG world for years, something nobody else is doing. In taking a step back, it would make a leap forward.

Sounds pretty innovative, doesn't it?

Crying RPG Codex babies
A glittering gem of hatred. Summon deathclaw refers to famous Fallout fan Rosh (image made by Wooz).

Where are you going, wind? Far, far away
Take me with you, and let me be rabbit-of-the-wind

Conclusion


Fallout fans, often portrayed as the victimizers, have throughout most of their history been the victims of either circumstances and/or incompetence. Some may blame the fans for the failure of Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel. But the truth is that no one really wanted to see a console shooter version of Fallout, what they wanted was a sequel to Fallout 1 and 2. In the end FOBOS showed little regard or understanding of the tenets of the Fallout franchise. More importantly, Interplay's decisions to move forward with FOBOS and abandon Van Buren reflected Interplay's willingness to sell out both the franchise and the fans for the anticipated profits of the console market. Why did Interplay decide to continue BoS and discontinue Van Buren? Whatever the reasoning, it illustrated Interplay's failure to understand many of the key points covered above.

The Fallout fans have proven their loyalty and value over the years. Their dedication to a great game has kept the franchise alive, despite Interplay's willingness (with games like Tactics and BoS) to abuse this loyalty for its own gain. The hardcore Fallout fans have proven that while they are few their opinions are often shared by others when it comes to holding true to the franchise's essential tenets. Tactics might have succeeded buoyed by fan support despite the fact that it was a tactical combat game and not a CRPG. But Tactics did not realise its potential because it disappointed fans by being inconsistent with the core tenets of the Fallout setting. When Interplay tried to go all-out in lying and manipulating, it lost fan support and utterly failed with its console oriented action shooter Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel.

Nothing substantial is known about Bethesda's Fallout 3 as of the time of this writing. Despite the lack of official commentary, there have been leaks and a lot of thinking about what can be anticipated from Bethesda. We'll draw no conclusions to the choices they made, only to the effect those choices will have.

For that, I'll drop my guise as a writer and put on the power armor of fandom instead:

I'll throw down the gauntlet before your feet, Bethesda. Simply choose. Either communicate with the fans who kept this show on the road for so long and constitute the strength of the franchise. Or risk it all in a desperate gamble to make a game for a new fanbase who haven't even heard of Fallout before you purchased it. Both roads have been tried before. The former road has led to success, the latter road has led only to total failure.

Choose.

Go to part 2

Wed, 23 Jul 2014 15:39:43 GMT
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