Fallout 4

"Pirate Lord Captain Gregle, Slayer of Ancients and World-Renowned Trapeeze Artist" sounds like a pretty legendary character, right? Well, he wasn't. In fact, he was a very lucky, over-achieving halfling rogue in a short-lived campaign of Dungeons & Dragons. I rolled for the character's initial stats, got fairly low constitution, and then rolled the minimum value for hit dice for the first few levels. The result was a sixth-level character with a pathetic sixteen max hit points! A single lucky shot from virtually any enemy could be an instant KO for that character, and getting engaged in melee would practically be a death sentence. While some power gamers may scoff at the idea, rage against their dice, and then remake their character with a standard array and average HP, I decided to run with it and role play the hell out of little Gregle.

Dungeons & Dragons - Halfling Gregle
Character sheet for "Pirate Lord Captain Gregle, Slayer of Ancients and World-Renowned Trapeeze Artist"

With the low initial constitution, I focused my character around stealth abilities, disengagement and evasion tactics, and ranged attacks, and continued to improve those skills as I leveled. Knowing that he's a pathetic weakling, Gregle overcompensated by being a very flamboyant braggart and narcissist (I took inspiration from Stephen Colbert), and thought that he was more charming than he actually was. He routinely hid in the shadows, taking pot shots at vulnerable enemies and racking up kill steals from afar while his two warrior companions did most of the heavy-lifting. He would occasionally disarm a trap or unlock a door, and once used a clever trick to pacify (and subjugate) an entire band of pirates. He then took credit for much of the party's achievements.

Despite having only slightly above average charisma, he leaned on his halfling luck to succeed on some charisma checks and make himself a bit of a celebrity with the local townies for his exaggerated heroics. He reveled in the unprecedented access to their community that the locals provided, and he reveled in the adulant gifts that they showered upon him, happily hoarding it all in his bag of holding. The other party members never called him out on it in public, since they were just happy to have the cooperation of the locals.

While the other players and DM enjoyed Gregle's antics, their characters only barely tolerated his presence. During the actual adventuring, he was constantly getting into trouble and needing to be bailed out by his fellow adventurers. He once falsely awakened the party during his night watch after mistaking a wyvern for a dragon. In another instance, he was KO'd while using spider-boots to walk up a ceiling to pursue an enemy that had climbed a rope to escape the conflict, and he became stuck on the ceiling, forcing the party to figure out a way to get him down. They reluctantly obliged to help him, since Gregle was the possessor of the party's bag of holding, and was actually good at sneaking around to perform recon, unlocking doors, disarming traps, coming up with clever plans to avoid direct conflict, and other appropriately roguish things.

Gregle was one of the most fun characters that I've ever played, and he provided me with one of my most entertaining gaming experiences. This is the power of role playing to a character's strengths and weaknesses. It's a power that Bethesda shows no interest in utilizing for Fallout 4.

Out of the vault and into the wastes

I have to give credit to Bethesda for making one really interesting decision with Fallout 4: the game starts in a time period prior to the Great War that triggered the nuclear holocaust, and so it explores as yet unseen elements of the series' backstory. Or at least, it does for all of fifteen minutes. Much like Fallout 3, the pre-war gameplay and time that you spend in the vault is really just an extended tutorial and character-creation process. But unlike Fallout 3, it doesn't give enough time and depth to those settings to make the player legitimately care about them or the characters in them.

Fallout 4 - pre-war home
You don't spend enough time in your pre-war home or vault to develop any attachment to the place or people.

After creating your character and setting your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, you and your spouse immediately flee with your infant child to the neighborhood vault. Once inside, you're handed the trademark silly superhero pajama jumpsuit and then promptly cryogenically frozen. You awake to witness your spouse get murdered and child kidnapped by apparent raiders, but then get frozen again. Then you awake again to do the combat tutorial against radroaches before leaving the vault and starting the game proper.

You spend virtually no time in the pre-war time period; you don't bond at all with your spouse or child; you don't establish any connections with your home or neighbors. There is absolutely no emotional bond between the player and what is lost in the war. So when the game drops you in the wasteland with a dead spouse, a missing child, and a quest to track down the kidnapper/killer, it does so without creating any emotional connection or investment for the player. I could go to Concord and then to Diamond City and search for my son, or I could just wander off in any random direction fighting raiders and painstakingly building my own little settlement out in the middle of nowhere using salvaged car tires and scrapped raider armor. Fallout 4 doesn't waste any time taking a nose-dive into the open world limbo.

Fallout 3 - birthday in vault 101
Fallout 3 simulated an entire childhood in the
vault, with friends, family, and even bullies.

Compare this against Fallout 3's prologue. It spent a considerably longer time developing your character and immersing you in the vault. Your dad (voiced by Liam Neeson) plays with you as a baby to teach movement and camera controls, he teaches you how to shoot, and throws a surprise birthday party for you. You interact with a childhood friend, other vault dwellers, and even a bully in order to tutorialize persuasion and speech checks and learn how to solve conflicts without violence. You even go to school and take a test to determine your default skills. In the short amount of time in the vault, you've lived a montage of an entire life.

With only a little bit of buy-in from the player, Fallout 3's Vault 101 becomes a living, breathing place populated with people who you can relate to and care about. You, as a player, have an investment in it and the characters that inhabit it. So when shit happens and you have to leave the vault, it's a monumental moment, and the events of your life, and the decisions that you've made, will shape your character's development over the rest of the game.

Even Skyrim gave the player interesting role-play decisions in its tutorial by required your character to make an immediate decision to follow the imperials or the Stormcloaks (though the scenario makes that decision a pretty one-sided one). And your initial choices of weapons and battle tactics would level up those specific skills; thus, starting the character down a path towards specializing in those skills as the game progressed (though you were completely free to change all that if you want).

And Fallout 4 has a perfect opportunity to take that father / son dynamic from Fallout 3, and invert it! The game could have opened with the birth of the baby. Since Bethesda had to record dialogue for multiple names for the player character, they could just as easily have done the same with the child's name. The doctor could hand you a paper with "This Year's Popular Baby Names", and you could chose one of those names that were explicitly recorded in dialogue. You could even be given the option to type your own name and replace the child's name with "my son" in dialogue. You could fill out the child's name and your own character's name on the birth certificate. Naming the baby would create a sense of ownership and connection to the child that might help encourage the player to pursue the main quest.

Fallout 4 - leaving the vault
Fallout 4's vault serves only as a combat tutorial with no depth, emotional resonance, or meaningful decisions.

But it doesn't have to stop there...

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Star Trek Trexels

I finally got around to buying a modern phone, upgrading my Galaxy SII to a Galaxy S6 Note Edge. With the upgrade in tech, I've finally started trying out some of the free-to-play mobile games that are flooding the market. I had already played SimCity Buildit on my previous phone, but its poor performance and bugs held me back from bothering with any other games on that old SII. But now that I have a new phone, I wanted to try the Star Trek-themed game Trexels.

Star Trek games are few and far between, and good ones are virtually unheard of. Probably my favorite Star Trek game ever was the Windows 98 4x-strategy game Birth of the Federation, which was basically just a Trek reskin of Microprose's Master of Orion II. It wasn't the most technically proficient of games, and the A.I. blatantly cheated, but it was a game that captured the essence of Star Trek by being primarily about exploring the galaxy and colonizing new worlds. Most Trek games are content to just be reskins of shooters or space combat games, which always feels out of place. So Birth of the Federation, despite its obvious flaws, has always stood out to me as a game that really felt like one of the most appropriate uses of the Star Trek license for a video game.

Trexels - exploring space sector
Finally, a Star Trek game that's about exploring space, rather than just shooting things!

And that brings us to Trexels, a free-to-play mobile game that is about exploring space while developing the skills of your ragtag crew and completing the construction of your ship. Sounds like a Star Trek-worthy premise. At least it isn't a first-person shooter. You start the game with a mostly-empty ship and handful of crew members. Your task is to build infrastructure in the ship to allow you to acquire new crew and harvest resources (including "command point", "research", "power", and "dilithium").

To boldly grind...

Resources are harvested by assigning crew to work the relevant rooms, and then you wait some period of real time for the crew to complete the assignment so you can collect the resource. You spend your accumulated resources to build new rooms in the ship, train your crew to increase their ability points, and attempt missions. Completing missions rewards you with experience and ... more resources? So it's kind of circular: you spend resources to attempt mission, and then are rewarded with some of the resources that you spent.

Trexels - harvesting resources
Your crew harvests resources from specific rooms, and other rooms unlock abilities and power-ups.

You also gain general experience, which doesn't really do much other than to unlock new expansion slots for rooms in your ship. Virtually everything you do gives you experience, so you level up fairly quickly. I always have way more available expansion slots than I can possibly use due to the slow rate in which you acquire resources. Once you get past the very first few missions and room-construction, the game really starts to turn into a slow, slogging grind...

[More]
Star Trek: The Next Generation season 2 celebration event poster

I had the opportunity last night to attend the Fathom Events Celebration of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 movie event. I attended the first season event as well, but wasn't terribly impressed with what I saw other than the simple nostalgia factor. I'm not a huge fan of the first two seasons of Next Gen, but I was really looking forward to the season 2 event because Fathom and Paramount chose my two favorite episodes from the season: "Q Who" and "The Measure of a Man".

In addition, the version of "The Measure of a Man" being shown was actually an extended cut of the episode. According to the behind-the-scenes featurette, the original script was very dialogue-heavy, and the producers underestimated how long the episode would end up being. The original version ended up being too long for network TV and was cut in editing by about 13 minutes. The full version of the episode, however, was retained on a VHS cassette given to the writer, and is going to be included on the Season 2 blu-ray.

"The Measure of a Man" is easily (in my opinion) the single, best episode of the first two seasons of Next Generation, and is arguably one of the best episodes of the entire series. It marks the point at which the show really started to turn a corner and elevate its storytelling and presentation. Seeing an extended cut (that I'd never before seen) on the big screen was a real treat!

I was very ambivalent about purchasing the Next Gen blu-rays. I had initially expressed a lot of enthusiasm for the packages, but was later informed that some special effect shots were replaced and/or augmented with CGI. I purchased the blu-ray sample disc, and was not terribly impressed with what I saw. The visual quality didn't seem all that much better than watching the regular DVDs on my PS3 (which has a pretty good upscaler). The only real positive points for the blu-ray sample disc was that colors were a bit more vivid, and sound quality had increased dramatically. So I wasn't totally sold on the new blu-rays, especially since I already have the full DVD collection and seasons one and two don't impress me all that much anyway. I was kind of in a position of waiting to see if seasons 3 and 4 would impress me.

But then I saw the extended cut of "The Measure of a Man", and now I am considering picking up the season two blu-ray.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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