BIG BANG THE­ORY

A post-apoc­a­lyp­tic hol­i­day for you and your friends

PCPOWERPLAY - - FRONT PAGE - JU­LIAN RIZZO-SMITH

HOW WE LEARNED TO STOP WOR­RY­ING AND LOVE THE BOMB - AND MUL­TI­PLAYER

Fall­out

76 plays like any other Fall­out game. You be­gin your jour­ney cre­at­ing a char­ac­ter and step­ping out­side the se­cu­rity of Vault 76 to the wide open world of a post-nu­clear war. Ex­plor­ing relics of a for­got­ten time, you can ex­plore aban­doned build­ings, hard-scrab­ble camps, and build your own com­mu­nity. You can play as a vig­i­lante, a hero, a trav­el­ling mer­chant, a ma­rauder, barter your way through life or re­solve is­sues vi­o­lently and with per­sua­sion. Un­like past games in the series, how­ever, in­stead of play­ing alone, you’ll be along­side other play­ers in an al­ways on­line world.

In Fall­out lore, Vault 76 is one of few con­trolled vaults that is de­signed to house peo­ple in the hopes they can re­set­tle and re­store so­ci­ety af­ter the nu­clear war. Set 25 years af­ter the bombs are first dropped, and 200 years be­fore the events of Fall­out 4, the game fol­lows the first group of vault dwellers leav­ing the safety of their home to the post apoc­a­lyp­tic world out­side.

BAL­ANC­ING SIN­GLE-PLAYER AND CO-OP­TIONAL PLAY

As Bethesda Softworks Vice Pres­i­dent Pete Hines ex­plained to The Know, Fall­out 76’s on­line com­po­nent is not an MMO, nor a bat­tle royale ex­pe­ri­ence, but a world pop­u­lated by up to 12 play­ers. In an ef­fort to make en­coun­ters be­tween other play­ers more spe­cial and tense, there are no ful­lyfleshed out NPCs for you to re­cruit and fight with in Fall­out 76. Rather, the world is dense with mu­tants, points of in­ter­est, nat­u­ral threats, and other play­ers. While many may be dis­ap­pointed by the ab­sence of the richly de­vel­oped and en­gag­ing com­pan­ions they’ve come to know from the Fall­out series, Hines says that adding en­emy hu­man NPCs like raiders would make it hard to de­ci­pher whether what you’re fight­ing is a player or non-playable char­ac­ter. Bethesda wants to make see­ing an­other hu­man in the dis­tance a tense and para­noid ex­pe­ri­ence - but how you choose

to in­ter­act with oth­ers is purely up to you.

“You have the abil­ity to de­cide whether to play with other play­ers, if that mat­ters to you,” Hines told The Know. “If you see your friend play­ing and de­cide you want to play with her, then you are now in the world that she’s play­ing in, but if not, you’ll just be play­ing in your world and who knows who will be in that same one.”

“They aren’t NPCs, they’re real peo­ple,” Todd Howard told IGN. “There are ob­vi­ously dif­fer­ences in how you com­mu­ni­cate or what other peo­ple might want you to do… We still have ro­bots and we use ro­bots a lot for de­liv­er­ing what the quest story is and what would tra­di­tion­ally be told by a hu­man NPC.”

While you can party with up to three other friends and go on quests to­gether, Hines in­sists that you will still be able to ex­pe­ri­ence a tra­di­tional Bethesda sin­gle player cam­paign and play solo. Like in Fall­out 4, you can build your own set­tle­ment, but also cre­ate a com­mu­nity with other play­ers and in­vade oth­ers. You can trade with other play­ers but also chose to keep all your re­sources to your­self.

“When you log off, your camp goes with you,” Howard told IGN. “No one can mess with it. When you log in, we put your camp back in.”

To best bal­ance the al­ways on­line men­tal­ity of Fall­out 76 with the tra­di­tion­ally sin­gle player player base, Bethesda is also tweak­ing fa­mil­iar game­play me­chan­ics of the series to be more on­line-friendly. The Vault-Tec Tar­get­ing Sys­tem (VATS) me­chanic, a handy fea­ture that al­lows you to slow down time and auto-fire on spe­cific body parts of an en­emy, no longer freezes time and, un­der­stand­ably, there’s no NPC rep­u­ta­tion or opin­ion of you that can be changed by your ac­tions.

Although Bethesda ad­mits that it’s still in the mid­dle of playtest­ing and fi­nal­is­ing how to best in­te­grate Fall­out game­play into a mul­ti­player set­ting, the real-time as­pect of an al­ways on­line game means there is no ac­tual pause menu, and you can still be at­tacked while mi­cro­manag­ing your in­ven­tory. Char­ac­ter pro­gres­sion has been changed to skills be­com­ing equipable, point-based cards that you can as­sign to your S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats, and you can com­bine cards to make more pow­er­ful skills. Spend­ing points up­grad­ing a spe­cific S.P.E.C.I.A.L gives you more points you can spend as­sign­ing cards to that char­ac­ter trait, al­low­ing you to cus­tomise your char­ac­ter as a spe­cific build - a charmer with high charisma or melee user with brute strength, for in­stance - with­out com­mit­ting to cer­tain skills. Other on­line func­tions, like PvP, are be­ing con­trolled to be sin­gle-player friendly. When you’re killed by an­other player, you won’t lose progress or loot, and will be able to respawn to a far away lo­ca­tion to avoid be­ing griefed by the player that killed you in the first place.

You’ll also be able to tem­po­rar­ily change the lay­out of the land by fir­ing nukes onto the map, cre­at­ing high level zones within those ar­eas where crea­tures and things in­side be­come ir­ra­di­ated. In many ways, these “high con­tent sur­vival ar­eas” act like tem­po­rary raids, where you can earn rare items and fight tougher crea­tures in a spe­cific area for a lim­ited time. While some play­ers may use these to sab­o­tage other set­tle­ments, Hines says you’ll need to find var­i­ous codes scat­tered around the map to fire a nuke, and will be warned if a nuke is be­ing fired on your lo­ca­tion with plenty of no­tice to evac­u­ate.

“The whole theme of this game is that you emerge and the world is a blank can­vas,” Hines ex­plained to Va­ri­ety. “It’s your job to re­build the world and ev­ery­thing that means. If you want to be no­madic and never put roots in one place, you can to­tally do that.”

THE ORI­GINS OF 76

The idea of an al­ways on­line mul­ti­player Fall­out ex­pe­ri­ence first came to Howard and the team when de­vel­op­ing Fall­out 4 in 2014. Af­ter some­one sug­gested the idea of a co-op­tional Fall­out ex­pe­ri­ence in a meet­ing, Bethesda Games Softworks dis­cussed it as a pos­si­ble fea­ture for Fall­out 4, but it soon be­came ob­vi­ous it was too big of a project for the time they had, and it was put on hold in or­der to fo­cus on the sin­gle player cam­paign. Shortly af­ter, Bethesda’s par­ent com­pany Zen­i­max opened a new stu­dio - Bat­tleCry Stu­dios - made up of vet­eran ex-MMO game de­vel­op­ers from Austin, Texas, who had worked on games such as Ul­tima On­line and Star Wars: The Old Repub­lic. The stu­dio be­gan work on a new, class-based mul­ti­player game called Bat­tleCry, which was soon sus­pended and staff were laid off.

As Bethesda Games Stu­dios’ Todd Howard ex­plained to NoClip, the lead pro­gram­mer of Fall­out 76 had worked with many of these de­vel­op­ers, and given how grand of a task ap­ply­ing Bethesda’s ex­pan­sive open world set­tings, rich with op­por­tu­nity and in­ter­ac­tiv­ity, to an on­line mul­ti­player set­ting was shap­ing up to be, their ex­per­tise was seem­ing in­creas­ingly valu­able. Bat­tleCry Stu­dios, along with the de­vel­op­ers of Fall­out

Like in Fall­out 4, you can build your own set­tle­ment, but also cre­ate a com­mu­nity with other play­ers...

Shel­ter, Bethesda Games Stu­dios’ Mon­treal stu­dio, joined the team. When Fall­out 4 was re­leased in Novem­ber 2015, Bat­tleCry Stu­dios was tasked with cre­at­ing a pro­to­type on­line Fall­out ex­pe­ri­ence, ap­ply­ing ID Soft­ware’s Quake Net­code to the Fall­out 4 en­gine.

As De­vel­op­ment Di­rec­tor at Bethesda Games Stu­dios Austin, Chris Mayer, ex­plained to NoClip, the en­gine had been around since Mor­rowind but noth­ing that had been made in it was built with mul­ti­player in mind. The en­gine was based around a world with a player, but needed to change to fo­cus on the player in any pos­si­ble world. The en­gine utilised a de­sign phi­los­o­phy that Mayer and Stu­dio Di­rec­tor at Bethesda Games Stu­dios Austin, Doug Mel­len­camp, de­scribe as the “At­las”: a de­sign tool that used the sin­gle playable per­spec­tive of a sin­gle player cam­paign as a frame­work for de­sign­ing the world around them.

“At­las is be­cause there is one guy in the game, we called him At­las be­cause he held up the world,” Mel­len­camp told NoClip. “The world that you have only had to be ac­cessed by one player so they were tightly in­ter­twined. So what we had to do was es­sen­tially de­cou­ple At­las from the world so there could be mul­ti­ple peo­ple.” “Wher­ever At­las went, that’s what was loaded,” added Mayer. “You couldn’t go away from At­las as an­other player. You were out­side the ac­tual realm that was loaded. A big ef­fort was just chang­ing that as­pect, but that spreads out into all the quests; mul­ti­ple peo­ple could be do­ing the same quest and at dif­fer­ent stages. The quest needs to live off the char­ac­ter and no longer the quest it­self, so that was very chal­leng­ing as well.”

THE WORLD OF WEST VIR­GINIA

On the 12th of Novem­ber 1966, five men spot­ted a man-like fig­ure with large moth wings fly over them while they dig­ging a grave at a ceme­tery in West Vir­ginia. A few days af­ter, two young cou­ples told po­lice they felt they were be­ing watched by a large grey crea­ture with glow­ing red eyes, who later fol­lowed them as they drove through a for­mer World War II mu­ni­tions fac­tory. Fol­low­ing sev­eral other re­ports and the col­lapse of a fa­mous bridge in 1967 that killed 46 peo­ple, the myth of the cryp­tid Moth­man crea­ture be­gan.

In Fall­out 76, not only can you come across the Moth­man, but an en­tire abun­dance of su­per­nat­u­ral na­ture in­spired by the rich and haunt­ing folk­tales of West Vir­ginia. Fall­out 76’s land­scape is harsh and un­for­giv­ing, even with­out the need of hu­man non-playable char­ac­ters. Of course, you’ll en­counter mu­tants and feral ghouls, but for the most part you’ll be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the world of West Vir­ginia through fa­mous points of in­ter­est and vi­cious wildlife. “It’s [set] closer to when the bombs were ac­tu­ally det­o­nated so there’s more ra­di­a­tion,” added lead artist Nate Purkeyp­ile. “You can get cra­zier mu­tants and gi­ant plants be­cause it’s more ra­di­ated at that time.”

The world of Fall­out 76 is four times the size of Fall­out 4 and boasts a di­verse range of en­vi­ron­ments. There are six dis­tinct ar­eas in Bethesda’s West Vir­ginia: the forest­lands, a biome pop­u­lated by trees, veg­e­ta­tion and hills and where you first be­gin your jour­ney; the Ash Heap, an area ru­ined by chem­i­cally-dense fac­to­ries, filled with aban­doned mines and hol­low moun­tains; the Sav­age Di­vide, a bar­ren waste­land that di­vides the map; the Cran­berry Bog, an area of, well, bogs, based on the real life lo­ca­tion of Cran­berry Glades, dense with car­niv­o­rous plants; the rich swamp­lands of The Mire; and the heav­ily ir­ra­di­ated and mu­tated lands of the Toxic Val­ley, a high level dan­ger­ous zone home to a crashed space sta­tion. Set­ting the game only 25 years af­ter the war al­lows Bethesda to cre­ate a world not yet en­tirely ru­ined by nu­clear war­fare, and show the grad­ual ef­fect of the nu­clear bombs.

“If there ever were a nu­clear war, none of us would be here,” ex­plained stu­dio di­rec­tor Ash­ley Cheng, “DC is done but West Vir­ginia, no one’s go­ing to nuke West Vir­ginia so we were think­ing we would be able to do more trees and an in­ter­est­ing vis­ual look.”

To truly cap­ture the life of place, the team of lead artists vis­ited key lo­ca­tions in the state and be­gan plan­ning how they could ap­ply them to the rich Fall­out lore. The pris­tine white ar­chi­tec­ture of Mor­gan­town Univer­sity is now an aban­doned Vault-Tec Univer­sity pop­u­lated by friendly ro­bot sen­tries, the Charles­ton Fire De­part­ment now a crit­i­cally ir­ra­di­ated camp­site near a deep val­ley turned vol­canic lake, and the light­house in the mid­dle of land a re­minder of a real life land­locked light­house over­look­ing a na­tional park­land.

Fall­out 76 boasts a very new and dif­fer­ent Fall­out ex­pe­ri­ence. While it’s still un­clear what ex­actly we will be play­ing come Novem­ber, Bethesda are care­fully cre­at­ing a world that com­bines the rich open world en­vi­ron­ments and camp nu­clear war­fare aes­thet­ics of the cold war we’ve come to love about the Fall­out fran­chise with the rush of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it all with an­other player. Only time will tell whether it will be as en­joy­able as a sin­gle­player Fall­out game, for both those play­ing alone and with other play­ers, but if so, it could be one of the most unique games in Bethesda’s reper­toire.

War. War never changes... and you should re­ally not drop your hel­met!

What you re­ally want to know is how de­tailed the in-game cam­era ef­fects are, right?!

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