Game Development Reference
It was a hard fight, but I made it. By the time I got back to Megaton, the
sky had faded to a dusty blue. Moira was cheery as always. “Huh. Did you
know that the human body can survive without the stomach or spleen?”
she enthused. “Oh, what's up?”
This story is a particular experience that a player can have in Fallout 3 .
It will never happen exactly the same way to two players. Still, it can be
understood as a story. It has pacing, exposition, a beginning, and an end.
Fallout 3 uses many different narrative tools. World story is every-
where, in the landscape, the architecture, and the mise-en-scène of junk,
loot, and corpses. Other parts of the story, such as Moira's dialogue, are
hard-scripted. Still others, such as combat encounters, are soft-scripted.
The integrated story that the player experiences arises emergently
from the interaction of scripts, game systems, and the player's decisions.
This emergence happens at all levels—on the micro level of individual
motions and attacks, and on the macro level of quest choices and travel
destinations. And because there are so many permutations, each player's
experience is unique.
My story opens through world narrative. The Capital Wasteland is a
desiccated husk of a landscape. The scorched buildings and cars tell the
history of a world cremated by nuclear fire. The town of Megaton tells
its own world story through architecture: sheet-metal shacks and hand-
painted signs speak of a hardscrabble life of extreme poverty. And people
are characterized appearances, too: Moira Brown's grungy coveralls and
simple hairstyle mark a woman more interested in tinkering than popu-
larity. You can tell she's a geek.
But world story isn't all that's happening here. The player experiences
this world story through his choices of where to go and what to look at. So
as the player wanders the space, there are two story threads running: the
backstory of nuclear war, and the emergent story of the player character
walking around the Wasteland after escaping the Vault. One story goes,
“This town was built by desperate people.” The other goes, “I walked into
town and explored to my left.” The player experiences both stories at once,
simultaneously feeling the emotional output of each.
Once I began talking with Moira, the game switched from exploratory
world narrative to a dialogue tree. All of my words were chosen from lists
of speech options, and Moira's responses were all scripted.
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