Deconstructing Fallout 3: Tenpenny Tower

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When I first played Fallout 3 on my Xbox 360 way back in 2008, I found myself drawn to the hubs and the quests. Exploring the wasteland was fun, but ultimately I was looking for structure and a story. I’ve recently booted up Fallout 3 again, but this time on the PC. With extreme (but lore friendly) modding, I’ve found the exploration aspect far more enjoyable and the quests frankly lackluster. I want to deconstruct the quests in Fallout 3 to think about how they work in relation to an open world map and the player character’s development choices.

Let’s start with the basics. Not counting the three childhood quests, Fallout 3 has a total of 66 quests in the base game: 10 story quests, 18 side quests, 22 unmarked side quests, and 16 repeatable fetch quests. Again, I want to briefly break down each of these to see how they’ve made use of the new environment and the RPG elements.


TP Tower

You know what? “Tenpenny Tower” is a good quest. It’s well structured, it’s got some great roleplaying options to expand your character, and it has three major endings, each of which has a noticeable impact on a prominent trading hub. Unfortunately, the entire quest falls apart after it has been completed.

 

Gameplay:

Whether you like it or not, the Fallout franchise is now deeply entrenched in combat mechanics. Every story mission requires either combat skills or no skills at all. “Tenpenny Tower” finds a comfortable position between the new gun-based gameplay of Fallout 3 and the old character-based gameplay of Fallout 2.

The quest has a nice start. You meet ghoul leader Roy Phillips at Tenpenny Tower’s gate, but surprisingly he’s not the quest giver. Instead, the quest begins by asking you to exterminate the ghouls. If you’re playing an evil character and are nuking Megaton, this is likely your second ghoul encounter. Taking Gustavo’s quest to kill the ghouls, regardless of who they are, probably fits into your character. Good bit of synchronized story telling there.

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After exploring the metro tunnels and killing a few dozen feral ghouls you can either kill all the sane ghouls or convince Roy Phillips you can get him into Tenpenny Tower peacefully. This is where the quest gets interesting as Tenpenny himself will allow the ghouls in so long as a handful of VIPs agree. Already this feels like a Fallout 2 quest.

You can convince the VIPs in a number of ways. You need to convince an ex-slaver, a rich couple, and both shopkeepers to allow the ghouls entry. You could just kill these anti-ghoul protestors, but because Tenpenny Tower is entirely indoors and swarming with guards, you’d need to be stealthy or use Mister Sandman.

Aside from speech options, the shopkeepers are unique in that they have a stealth based trigger. If you steal from their stores, they will leave Tenpenny Tower citing a lack of safety. Although it’s a nice variety of gameplay, the narrative doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Two wealthy business owners were willing to drop everything, exile themselves to the wasteland (where the ghouls are) and hike all the way to Megaton (without any weapons) because someone stole their stuff?
Do you, the player, really believe that?

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The Wellington couple also has an interesting option. Ex-slaver Susan Lancaster sleeps with every man in Tenpenny Tower (and the gameplay reflects this. She actually sleeps in a different man’s bed every night). Mrs. Wellington is worried Susan is sleeping with her husband as well. If you engage in a little stealthy investigation, you’ll find Mr. Wellington wrote Susan a love letter. Like stealing from the shopkeepers, this breaks away from the standard “combat skills, lockpick, hack, speech.” It’s refreshing to see so much player choice and character building in the quest. If the entire game had been like this, Fallout 3 would have been right up there with Fallout 2.

In a nice bit of world building, Susan Lancaster is wanted for the “Strictly Business” quest, allowing the player to knock out two birds with one stone. Lancaster could have been a generic Tenpenny Tower NPC, but someone had the great foresight to include her in both quests. Additionally, Susan Lancaster will move to Mr. Burke’s apartment if the ghouls are allowed in. Not that it matters since she and the rest of Tenpenny Tower’s original tenants will inevitably be murdered.

 

KarmaF3Moral Choice:

Let’s make one thing clear:
The ghoul bigotry was justified.
Wait. That’s not strong enough.
The ghoul bigotry was completely justified.
Hold on. I think this point needs a little more emphasis.
The ghoul bigotry was completely 100% justified.

Fallout 3 tries to shoehorn themes of ghoul racism into several quests, but it never quite works. It never works because on the whole Fallout 3 treats mutants as enemies instead of characters. The problem is twofold:

First, every Fallout 3 ghoul who uses the word “bigot” is universally violent and dangerous. Roy Phillips and Mister Crowley both claim they just want to stick it to some “bigots”, but they really just want an excuse to kill smoothskins. Roy Phillips (who has good karma) takes it about 100 steps further. He has no issue with nuking Megaton so long as the blast kills a lot of smoothskins.
Second, the issue of integrating ghouls doesn’t work as racial commentary in a world where feral ghouls are more prevalent than civilized ghouls and humans combined. Fallout 1 had crazed ghouls, but they were non-aggressive and under control of Set, the leader of Necropolis. In Fallout 3, almost every dungeon has feral ghouls. There are hundreds of ghouls. The entire Capital Wasteland is saturated with them. Tenpenny residents fearful of ghouls turning feral were absolutely justified. There’s no indication as to when or how a ghoul turns feral.

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Racial commentary doesn’t work in this instance because in Fallout 3, ghouls are dangerous. Sure, there’s a handful of sane pre-war ghouls, but the vast vast majority of ghouls in Fallout 3 are feral. Remember Travis the chimpanzee? He was an animal actor who mysteriously snapped and lacerated a woman’s face. Those are the stakes of the “Tenpenny Tower” quest. The gameplay (dungeons full of feral ghouls) doesn’t match the narrative (ghouls are just people with a skin condition).

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The moral issue of mutant racism worked in Fallout 2’s Broken Hills because super mutants are just big green (usually dumb) humans. Other than lingering racial tensions from the Master’s war, there’s no imminent danger of living next to a super mutant. New Vegas revisited this idea as well. The writers of Fallout 3 completely misunderstood the point.

Tenpenny Tower residents were terrified of being murdered by ghouls. Those fears were completely justified since all three methods of ghoul integration end in the massacre of every single human resident of Tenpenny Tower, even those who were pro-ghoul from the start. Turns out Roy Phillips, the violent psychopath who advocated violence throughout the entire quest, was…surprise a violent psychopath. Too bad there’s no option to kill Roy Phillips but still allow ghouls or otherwise reveal his plan to kill the smoothskins.
If you (justifiably) murder Roy Phillips and his ghouls, you get bad karma and Three Dog vilifies you on the radio. It’s as if the quest writer and the Tenpenny Tower hub designer never spoke to each other.

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Questions:

At the end of the day, there are three unanswered questions behind this quest:

Why did the ghouls want to live in Tenpenny Tower? Why would you force yourself into an exclusive club that doesn’t want you and is actively afraid of you? Just to prove a point? Proving a point or setting a precedent only works in a world upheld by law and government. It doesn’t work so well in a violent world populated by isolated tribes.

Where did all these rich ghouls come from? Tenpenny Tower is supposed to be for rich wastelanders. Herbert “Daring” Dashwood made his fortune from years of exploring. Susan Lancaster made her career in the slave trade. Where did an entire hotel of ghouls get their fortune? Where did they come from? We don’t find out, most of them are generic NPCs. Roy Phillips says he has the caps to get into Tenpenny Tower, but that’s either a lie or a developer oversight.

Why didn’t the ghouls just refurbish Warrington Station? Roy Phillips uses Warrington Station as a base, but the place is a dump. Why not turn Warrington Station into a haven for wasteland ghouls and have ferals as guards? In this manner, Gustavo and Tenpenny would hire the Lone Wanderer for fear the ghouls were building an army, rather than because the ghouls were annoying. Instead of trying to integrate, the quest could have been solved by establishing a trade agreement. This would also explain where all the ghouls were coming from.
Side note: To put into persepctive how much Gustavo wanted the ghouls dead, he was willing to pay 500 caps, the same as Mr. Burke’s compensation for detonating Megaton. In Tenpenny Tower, killing three ghouls has the same value as procuring a one-of-a-kind fusion pulse charge and blowing up an entire town.

 

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“If you bigots don’t let us in, we’ll kill you all! We’ll also kill you all if you do let us in! You PRIVILEGED SMOOTHSKIN BIGOTS!”

Like so many other quests in Fallout 3, “Tenpenny Tower” is a story of missed potential and unanswered questions. It’s not a bad quest by any means. The gameplay offers a lot of non-combat options and even breaks the mold of “combat, lockpick, hack, speech” that defines the main questline. Unfortunately, the moral choice was poorly conceived and the ending ruins the entire quest. You either kill the ghouls and are labeled a racist or you let the ghouls slaughter every human in Tenpenny Tower, even those who were pro-ghoul from the beginning.

Such is life in the wasteland.

Tales from the Whatpad: Fallout Survivor

Wasteland legend tells of a tumbling pad of pallid paper filled with horrors beyond comprehension and meaning. Those who stumble across this legendary “Whatpad” rarely live to tell the tale…

“Tales from the Whatpad” is an dramatic reading of terrible post-apocalyptic fan fiction.

Fallout Survivor: www.fanfiction.net/s/12353653/1/Fallout-Survivor
Music by: www.bensound.com/

Gunman Taco Truck: Refreshing!

gmtt-4.jpgAfter the monotony of Wasteland Angel and the abject failure of The Underground Man, I was delighted to learn of Gunman Taco Truck from Romero Games. The ultimate surprise came when I looked at the game on Steam and found that it was designed by a 9-year-old boy. With that said, Gunman Taco Truck is an addictive arcade game with a great sense of humor and a steep difficulty curve.

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The premise is simple. Scientists accidentally set off nuclear bombs, killing or mutating almost everything in the United States. One mysterious food truck driver must embark on a cross country trip from San-Diego to Winnipeg, Canada. Gasoline is expensive in the apocalypse. To make ends meet, our hero must slaughter mutants, harvest their meat, and sell delicious tacos.

The gameplay is a nice balance of resource management, lane defense, reflex based shooting, cooking games, and memory. It sounds like a mess of parts, but combined with a powerful premise, it all fits together quite nicely. In fact, I haven’t seen a game that flawlessly pulled together so many elements since Sunless Sea.

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To get meat, you’ll find yourself in a lane based arcade shooter, where you simply have to kill enemies before they get to you. Along the way, you’ll also need to shoot road signs for scrap metal (to upgrade your vehicle) and un-mutated animals for specialty meats. To pay for gas, you need to sell tacos. Here’s the catch: You need extra ingredients (cheese, salsa, cilantro, mold, etc) to fulfill the orders. Each gas station has either a grocer or a mechanic. Prices of items vary at each location. You never really feel safe because no grocer sells every kind of topping. On the one hand, this ensures that you can’t grind tacos. On the other hand, if you run out of toppings, you’re going to have a bad time.

That leads me to the next area: difficulty. Though the game starts out simple, the difficulty curve pulls up so hard it’s almost at an overhang. If you fail to upgrade your vehicle (or can’t find enough scrap metal) you’ll be eaten alive by super-mutants and giant frogs. The farther you go, the more enemies you face. In other words, the late-game quickly becomes bullet hell.

Now I mentioned that nobody sells every kind of taco topping. That turns out to be a major downside in this game. Some ingredients (salsa especially) are included in almost every recipe. Unfortunately, I found that (because the game uses RNG) some ingredients are incredibly hard to find. I’ve had at least seven “Game Over” screens simply because no one was selling salsa.

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Though difficult, the visuals make gameplay rewarding. There’s a huge number of mutants, meats, and weapons in the world. Sprites are fun, colorful, and cartoonish. Great feedback, colors, and “hurt” sprites help the player navigate harder levels. Close ups of customers are charming and invoke an art-style similar to Papers, Please.

It’s also worth noting that the game is honestly funny. After feeding hungry customers, you receive reviews. There’s a lot of flavor text and references that contributes to the tone and humor, without distracting the player. Finally, there’s the kid friendly “pinata mode”. Instead of exploding into a thousand bloody bits, enemies will explode into candy and stuffed animals. This is a great extra addition and highlights the care that went into this project.

I love games that you can jump into and play for 30 minute sessions; “Gunman Taco Truck” is no exception. From its fast gameplay to its charming premise, this is a welcome addition to your library of post-apocalyptic games. My one caveat would be price; Gunman Taco Truck sells for $11.99. Regardless, when compared to other post-apocalyptic indie games, this is a breath of fresh air.

If you’re interested in Gunman Taco Truck, you can get it here.

On the Road Again

On the road again…

A week has passed since I’ve been in the hospital. With Saul’s dog-tags, I was able to get my arm fixed and receive anti-radiation medicine. Saul Fore is up and about. His skin looks like melted plastic and his fingers are fused together, but otherwise he’s doing fine.

This morning, Saul told me that he has to get back to the Boulevard and invited me to accompany him. The way I see it, going back to that horrible place can’t be any worse than being stuck in this dustbowl. I just hope I don’t get imprisoned, again.

After receiving our discharge papers, we made a pit stop at the fortress armory. I got a canteen, a pistol, and a new backpack, complete with a sleeping bag. Hopefully I won’t have to use the last two.

I thought we were just going to charge into the wasteland. Instead, we waited by a crumbling overpass for hours. I don’t know if you’ve ever stared out into a barren desert for hours at a time, but it’s really really boring.

Finally, a caravan pulled up. The cart was drawn by a handful of strange armadillo creature with trunk noses. Each of these beasts the size of a dog. Accompanying the cart was a handful of guards dressed in maroon fatigues and reflective black armor. I guess Saul wasn’t taking any chances this time.

We set out just when the sun was directly overhead. This should be a smooth ride. Our guards are armed to the teeth.

I just hope that the Boulevard is kind to me.

-Joe Junkman

Creature Catalog: NECROPLASM

Every soldier who survived the war fears the biological superweapon nicknamed “necroplasm”. Toward the end of the war, American scientists had developed a virulent biocide capable of liquefying living tissue within a matter of seconds. The addition of chemical cannons on tanks and man-sized chemical throwers left toxic puddles of necroplasm all across the American west.

Although there is no living person who fully understands the chemical makeup of necroplasm, one thing is clear: for reasons unknown, radiation bonds to the biocide causing post-war necroplasm to function as a powerful mutagen. Some have even theorized that necroplasm itself has transformed into a living organism.

It is well known that the majority of humanoid mutants are created from direct exposure to necroplasm. However, scientific expeditions led by the Guilds of Academia suggest that prolonged exposure to necroplasmic particles in the air cause reproductive mutations in plants and animals. Luckily, a sealed chemical suit is all that is necessary to keep the biocide at bay. Unfortunately, few wastelanders have access to such a luxury.

As a result of vocal opposition from General Morris Kass, mutants are typically frowned upon in human settlements. In response, the mutant races of the Mo-Javi have formed their own tribes and civilizations, often in close proximity to pockets of radiation. Maps of the wasteland often include known locations of necroplasmic puddles and radioactive hotspots. These areas are known as the “rad-lands.”

Because humans overwhelmingly avoid the rad-lands, these sections of the desert have seen a sort of Cambrian explosion. Life is abundant in these regions and constantly adapting to new threats. It is rumored that a tribe of nomadic shepherds nurture and feed the creatures of the Mo-Javi, though such claims are often dismissed.

The Negotiator

That was close,

Witnessing the great cave lake behind me, I turned back to the hulking horror and asked him if we could make a deal. I would start a caravan: taking water from the cave, bringing it to Abundance, and then paying Urmit with some dog-tags on my return. The mutant did not like that.

“Eh, I’ve got no use for tags.” Urmit replied. He licked his lips, “It’s been awfully hot. I’ve been dryin out, losin a lotta mass. Need me some protein to get back to full size.”

At that moment, I realized why I was in the cage. He had planned on eating me, at least initially. However, I could tell from the modern comforts of his home that Urmit was educated. That meant he could be reasoned with. I just had to lead him to my way of thinking.

“Tell ya what, big guy,” I began. “You let me go, I’ll bring you some protein. As much as you want. Maybe a nice plump chicken?”

The horror snorted “Heh, there hasn’t been no real chickens in da Mo-Javi for a long time. Just tacultia these days.” His gaze narrowed. “What game are you playin, boy?”

Mentally, I slapped my forehead, but kept a calm expression. One farmer at the bar in Abundance had offered me tacultia meat if I brought him water. Turns out I really did have the advantage.

“You haven’t seen the tacultia I get. Not from Abundance at all.” I lied. “They taste just like the real thing.”

The mutant licked his lips, but his eyes winced. He could tell I was lying, but a small part of him believed me.

“Look, I’m in the caravan business, see?” I said, only partially lying this time. “You let me leave with some water and I’ll send my boys up here with two tacultia per shipment of water. Sound fair?”

Although it was true that I didn’t have a caravan yet, I would be able to hire as many people as I wanted once I controlled the water. I stuck my hand through the cage to make a deal.

The horror inhaled deeply through his piggish nose. His eyes stared off into the darkness. Finally, his mouth opened slightly. He had an idea.

“Tell ya what?” Urmit began. “I cripple you. Break onna your arms, maybe a hand. You come back, I use my…gifts to heal you, good as new. It’ll be like it never ‘appened.”

I’m no expert in mutants, but I didn’t believe this creature could heal broken bones. This prompted the horror to give me a show of force. Urmit gripped my extended pinky finger and jammed it to the side as hard as he could. A sharp pain shot out from the base of my finger to the end of my wrist. I was almost laughing in pain as the mutant let me observe my broken hand.

With a grotesque squish, like a wet towel smacking into tile, the horror’s own hand turned into an indistinct mass of glowing mucus. The mound opened up like a toothless mouth and Urmit guided my hand into the maw. The mouth closed on my wrist. It was unpleasant and warm. My hand felt like it was submerged in a bowl of gelatin. The good news is that the pain in my finger instantly vanished. After a minute or so, the horror released my hand and molded his own to a more familiar humanoid shape.

I held my wrist in awe. It was a bit slimy, but otherwise miraculously repaired.

“So…” Urmit said, breaking the silence. “I’ll break ‘ur arm, letcha go, and then fix ya up when you come back.” He smiled ear to ear, exposing a mouthful of needle-like teeth. “Whadda shay?”

“Could we do something a bit less painful?” I asked. “I still need to defend myself on the way back to town.”

“Alrighty, which hand do you write with? I’ll leave that one intact.”

This is going to hurt….

 

-Joe Junkman.

In the Belly of the Beast

Well, this isn’t so bad,

10f7365ae3a83129b412f4aeb2ba0b0d  There I was, trapped in a cage like a common animal. My captor was busy nursing a crackling fire. With the cave illuminated, I was able to orient myself to the exit portal. Looking around, I found a mattress, a chessboard resting on a table of stacked car rims, and even a carved china cabinet full of knick-knacks.

I was then distracted by an unpleasant pattering sound that scratched the back of my mind and caused my eyebrow to twitch and my neck muscles to tense. Turning away from the fire, I spotted a collection of drying pots and pans. Licking my cracked lips, I watched as precious water droplets rhythmically plopped into a tin dish. Though my head was still pounding from dehydration, I knew that my captor had must have a sustainable water source if he was willing to waste such a valuable commodity on washing dishes.

A monstrous humanoid shadow appeared on the wall in front of me, growing larger and larger as the sound of crunching sand grew louder and louder. Trembling, I turned around to formally meet my kidnapper. I don’t know what I was expecting.

Grabbing the iron lattice, the mutant revealed himself in all his horrific glory. My captor stood nearly seven feet tall. His flesh was a sickly yellowish green that had the consistency of fresh mucus. His whole body unnaturally oozed and festered, yet not a single drop of slime fell from his body. An odd explosive glow churned in his bloated belly. He wore little more than leather boots, tattered cargo shorts, and a pouch bandolier that seemed fused to his chest.

My captor introduced himself as Urmit, apparently of a race called the hulking horrors. My teeth chattering, I silently nodded my head. Suddenly, the mutant’s body made a grotesque crunching sound, similar to splitting wood. His muscular left arm atrophied until it was little more than a five fingered stump, while his right arm turned into a tentacle, slithering into the cage to meet me with a handshake.

Retracting his right arm and re-growing his left, the horror noted that I was extremely dehydrated. He picked up the tin dish full of drippings and slid it into my cage. As I emptied the curved plate, Urmit asked what I was doing out in the desert without any gear. I plainly told him that I was looking for a water source to help the people of Abundance. It was the truth after all, mostly.

“You mean like dat?” the mutant asked, pointing behind me.

I turned around once again to find a reflective pool that stretched as far back into the cave as I could see.

Now I just need to play my card right and get out of here.

-Joe Junkman