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Spoiler Warning S5E26: Fantastic Plot Doors

By Josh
on Wednesday Jun 1, 2011
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

I really like Dead Money. I do. It features Obsidian in top form: intriguing characters, sensible dialogue, and tightly woven plot themes. Basically, it has all of the things that make me willing to tolerate Obsidian’s terrible level design, ever-too-short development cycles, and non-existent QA testing.

Unfortunately, aside from the bugs and rat-mazes that you’d expect from Obsidian, Dead Money is also tarnished by the fact that they decided to spring for a Bioshock-esque survival horror theme. Now, we’ve already demonstrated, in a rather spectacularly conclusive fashion, that this sort of gameplay doesn’t really work on Spoiler Warning. But then, it didn’t work much better for me when I was playing alone either. Oh, certainly, the immersion was better, and the exploration/scavenging elements are much more pronounced when you don’t have three people inside your head yelling at you to get out of the inventory screen and go punch some poor guy’s arm off. But the horror never really worked because there was nothing in the DLC to actually scare me. The Ghost People provided a mildly interesting change of pace, but when you can mow through entire groups of them and take virtually no damage, they aren’t going to stay intimidating for long.

And I’m not really sure there was a way it could have worked, no matter what they did with it. New Vegas is not a self-contained, linear shooter. It’s a sandbox, with an open ended levelling system that enables hundreds of different viable builds. With that in mind, I don’t see any way they could have properly balanced the enemies for even most of the player builds. Sure, they could have taken a page from Oblivion’s book and aggressively scaled the enemies with the player’s level, but that wouldn’t work for the same reason it didn’t work in Oblivion; because level is hardly indicative of the capabilities a given player can have in New Vegas.

Now, there are other routes they could have taken. Maybe they could have made it more difficult by not giving players any useful weapons from the more overpowered skills – most notably unarmed and melee – but that would more likely just serve to frustrate someone who entered the DLC with a full melee spec and no ranged weapons skills. And in the end, no amount of balancing is going to turn New Vegas into a linear shooter. There’s just no way to know how powerful a player is, at least without writing some elaborate system that checks perks and skill point allocations and dynamically balances all of the enemies to be strong against that particular build. And that’s far more work than Obsidian would have wanted to put into it.

Instead, it was (ostensibly) balanced straight across the board for level 20+ characters. And then I beat it easily with a melee/stealth character that entered the DLC at level 9.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the Villa is the worst part of Dead Money. Once you get into the casino and the plot starts to pick up and reveal more about what’s really going on, that’s when Dead Money gets good.

Comments (128)

  1. Eric says:

    It’s kind of funny how the mainstream press lambasted Dead Money because it ended up not being exactly what they expected, i.e. Happy-Go-Lucky Post-Nuclear Funtime Theme Park Romp, feat. The Nukes! I really got the sense that it would have been much more successful had they, you know, not had a completely broken game engine to work with, because the ideas on display are all pretty good and it actually does something different with Fallout to a reasonable degree of success, a problem that even Fallout 2 had issues with back in the day.

    • Raygereio says:

      Oh, really? Dead Money got the Alpha Protocol treatment? Truly, the greatest mystery in the known world is how anyone can view the gaming press as anything but a hilarious joke.

  2. Bubble181 says:

    As for the your-own-personal-caravan, Diablo III has that. Three merchants who’ll follow you around from camp to camp with their trailers. And you can upgrade their shops to supply better stuff. No, really.

      • Vect says:

        They had a trailer about that detail.

        And I do remember that Avellone stated that while they were trying to make Survival Horror they didn’t really succeed at that. I think Melee/Unarmed worked best in this is because the developers were pushing for players to use Melee/Unarmed because so that players would do something other than simply headshot their way through (though by Avellone’s admission that totally works here with good gun skills).

  3. Dev Null says:

    There's just no way to know how powerful a player is, at least without writing some elaborate system that checks perks and skill point allocations and dynamically balances all of the enemies to be strong against that particular build.

    Or, y’know, playtest and balance the various abilities in the first place. Which is hard, admittedly, but they seem to have gone with the old “its a single-player game, it doesn’t _have_ to be balanced” option.

  4. Eärlindor says:

    You had to compare a phylactary to a horcrux??? A small part of me just died.

    I mean… they’re only vaguely similar!

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Well the first thing that came to my mind when I was reading the book was “Oh,so its a phylactery”.Heck,I even subconsciously read the word as “phylactery” for very long time(almost till the end).

      Harry potter is a weird thing though.Besides the obvious “books are way better than the movies”,Ive actually enjoyed the action scenes in the movies very much.Ive even recommended them just because of the action scenes,which is not something I do for movies.So the only thing Im looking forward to in the last movie is the final fight,which is quite weird for me.

      • Eddie says:

        Personally, I find the Harry Potter setting to be prettty intriguing but I really don’t care about any of the characters or the storyline. I’ve only read up to book 5 and seen up to movie 4 though, so maybe the story would hook me if I pushed on. However, the impression I get is that it really starts to focus more on the story from that point on so maybe I just wouldn’t care at all.

        • Tizzy says:

          The last book is entirely different from the rest. It is very deliberate, by the way; the whole series was planned out very thoroughly. By the end of book six, I was almost convinced that JKR had painted herself in a corner, and I was simply stunned to see what she had in store for the end, and it completely turned around my understanding of what the books meant.

        • acronix says:

          There are some quite hilarious and insightful (at the same time, no less!) thoughts on the books in Ferret Brain by D. Hemmens. They are worth a read, unless you think J.K. Rowling is an untouchable saint genius from outer space.

    • Felblood says:

      I actually explained the final plot arc, to a friend, like this:

      “Turns out that Voldemort, the undead warlock king, is actually a lich, and you need to bust up his phylactery, before you can kill him for good.”

      This earned me a “What is a lich?”

      You make friends out of the people life gives you.

      • Aldowyn says:

        wait, you were explaining it that way to someone that doesn’t play D&D? Wow.

        • Torcano says:

          Unfortunately some of us are cursed (blessed?) to count very few or even no gamer/nerd/whatever friends at all. Or they have widly divergent interests…or they are more of an acquaintance…etc.

          For example, I have been a decently hardcore gamer on-and-off for a long, long time. Out of my circle of friends the closest any of them have come to being a gamer is, off the top of my head:

          1. Getting to furthest presetige level and maxed out ish in CoD:BO
          2. Playing Morrowind and KOTOR
          3. Unlocking every character in Brawl
          4. Buying NHL 20xx every year

          Yeah…there would be no list for things like ‘genre’ tv, classic or highly regarded movies older than 5 years, etc. for the vast majority I’d think. Unless said movie has drugs/partying/etc. in excess I suppose.

    • Atarlost says:

      That’s right. A horcrux is a soul container. A phylactery is a a little box with a Hebrew scripture worn on the forehead or arm. They have nothing in common except being containers. You might as well call the things liches use coffers or pork futures warehouses.

      • krellen says:

        Originally, Liches in D&D had to use actual phylacteries to store their souls. It was only later on (probably after a few DMs decided Liches were too easy to kill with such flimsy soul-casings) that they became horcruxes instead.

        • Aldowyn says:

          so, phylactery: you destroy it, you kill the lich.

          Horcrux: you destroy it, you still have to kill Voldemort/the lich.


          *wikis* WTH, they’re almost exactly the same thing. You even have to do something horrible to make the dang thing. The only difference is a phylactery can resurrect you.

          *reads further* … Wow. Did Rowling use this paragraph to make her horcruxes? I think she did.

          • Yeah, if the lich is still animate and you destroy the phylactery, it doesn’t insta-kill the lich. (Well, depends on the version of D&D and the DM, I guess). But they can still make a new phylactery if they’re still animate, they’re just vulnerable until they do so, and I think it takes rather a long time.

            There’s a 9th level arcane spell called “Hide the Soul” that works the other way, though. The idea behind the spell is that you push your soul into a small part of your body (like your pinkie finger) then cut it off. You can then hide your soul safely away and you can’t be killed. However, there are several nasty penalties involved regarding healing and getting your spells back, and if someone DOES find your body part and destroy it, you instantly die, no save, and I think you can’t be resurrected, either. So you want to be really THOROUGH about hiding that sucker.

  5. Keeshhound says:

    You know, the ghost people ARE said to worship the holograms, maybe they DO throw the chips into the fountains. As a kind of offering maybe?

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    They certainly couldve made the enemies a lot scarier.If this place was populated by deathclaws,I sure would be quite worried.These guys are just pushovers.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Is it just me,or are the buttons for post editing gone?

  8. Eddie says:

    I find the solution to OCD looting is to pick a weight-to-value ratio at the start and then stick to it fastidiously. I find that 1:10 is pretty reasonable for an average strength character (although I did get the Strong Back perk and I always have two companions), but you might need to up it to 1:15 or 1:20 if you’re going low strength.

  9. Rayen says:

    particle board baseball bat.

    I’m horrible about looting and hoarding in morrowind. Truly It is a disease. I’l have stacks of armor to the ceiling of my house and legendary one of a kind weapons hidden stashed everywhere along with a fair amount of regular weapons arranged in neat piles. And I know exactly where to get a Recall Amulet, And then what follows is i mark a spot in my house next to my bed. When i’ve killed everything is the cave to be looted I put everything in a pile Pick all of it (going over my weight limit by several hundred pounds) and recall to my home it is then repaired and stored or sold.

  10. therandombear says:

    That’s a lot of spears…enough to get every spear in mint condition…

    Also, repair skill is broken…awesomly broken that is.

    Jury-Rigg perk is as close to cheating as you can get xD

    “Oh, my powerful 44. magnum is almost broken? Pff, I’ll use a shoddy 9mm to fix it”

  11. krellen says:

    On guns (and streamlined skills): Have any of you actually fired a gun? Recoil is a big deal. The difference between a weapon with recoil and a weapon without is much more significant than the difference between one-handed and two-handed. A rifle and a pistol are more similar (in terms of things you need to learn to compensate for while firing) than an air-gun and a powder-gun (the former having no appreciable recoil).

    The Unarmed/Melee division is mostly an issue of naming; the difference between hitting something with your fists and hitting something with a lever in your hand are also significant; the problem is largely the category of “Unarmed Weapons”; it really should be Fist/Lever, but no one would understand that.

    Also, when Josh jumped on that pipe and ran through the cloud, Christine actually didn’t follow; the gesture she made was “I’m not going in there”; your goal in that room is to clear the gas so Christine will follow.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      I agree that different weapons take different skills. On the other hand, the only reason we’re discussing this is that they obviously have similarities as well. Really, there should be some kind of skill synergy, so you can pump skill points into “handguns” (or whatever) and all the other gun related skills will go up a bit as well. The same with unarmed and melee skills. A skill spill-over system would also allow you to have a lot more specialized weapon categories. This kind of mechanic was present in GURPS, but automated systems (like computer games) make it much more feasible.

    • Someone says:

      Only Laser weapons have no recoil, Plasma guns still have plenty, but I guess diverging energy weapons into two more subcategories would have led to more needless confusion.

      Also, I would argue that a weapon skill encompasses care and maintenance as well as aiming and shooting, and that you have to know your photonic resonators or your ejector rods as an energy freak and a gunslinger respectively, but Repair kinda does both.

      • Johan says:

        Does the Gauss Rifle have no recoil? I thought it hyper-accelerated a dohicky to hit the badguys.

        • Peter H. Coffin says:

          That would count as recoil, yes. At least, in a “real world” situation. Lasers don’t because they’re not accelerating anything. (Yes, there’s photons involved and yes they’re moving really fast, but this is one of those funny cases were light’s being a wave, not a particle. You’d never be able to get them up to speed in the first place otherwise.)

          • Simon Buchan says:

            Actually, light does have mass, when your school-book tells you it doesn’t it’s so it doesn’t have to explain the difference between invariant and relativistic mass. In short, the energy in a photon ‘generates’ mass via E = mc^2, which is obvoiously not very much, given how big c^2 is.

      • Felblood says:

        There is something to the point with maintenance.

        Skill points clearly improve the reload speed and power of your firearms.

        Still, this system isn’t intuitive or obvious, so why not add a little complexity to spell things out?

        Give each weapon two types: One for the pistol/rifle/BFG distintion and one for the Energy/projectile dichotomy.

        This way a gunsliger could put most of his points in hang guns and a few in projectile weapons, and be able to use hanguns of either type proficiently, but be slightly better with projectile pistols and borderline acceptable with rifles and heavy projectile weapons.

        Ta~Da~! Players can focus their points on their weapon of choice, and still be able to balance their build as ammo availabilities fluctuate.

        • Aldowyn says:

          harder than it sounds, I think. You’d have to completely reprogram the skill system to do it.

          Not really worth it, imo, since it’s more something that makes the skills (something that, let’s be honest, isn’t so realistic in the first place) more realistic, than something to improve gameplay.

    • ehlijen says:

      I always thought big guns had their own skill because they are all aimed differently: most held and fired from the hip, some resting on the shoulder, while small guns were braced against the shoulder/held in one hand.

      That’d make a different aiming skill quite understandable.

  12. swimon says:

    Ok so the Dabus in Planescape, Sis in Alpha Protocol and Christine in dead money. Hey Chris Avellone, what is it with you and mutes? Both the Dabus and Christine communicate via really intricate signs too.

    There might actually be more of them there are quite a few games of his I haven’t played

    • poiumty says:

      Are you saying mutes shouldn’t be represented in videogames? WHAT KIND OF A RACIST CHAUVINIST SEXIST NATIONALIST FASCIST ARE YOU

    • Jeff says:

      He’s not responsible for Dabus, they’re a part of Planescape.

      • Deadpool says:

        Which was made by Black Isle… Which Chris Avalone was a part of…

        • Littlefinger says:

          He means the Dabus is part of the Planescape setting, which was developed by Wizards of the Coast, long before Black Isle got to make Torment. To be precise, the Dabus was first mentioned in the second edition Planescape Campaign Setting, which was released in 1994. And they always communicated through Air-rebuses. So only Sis and Christine are direct creations of Obsidian.

      • swimon says:

        Ok true but it still seems like an odd coincidence. I mean outside these three games the only game I know of with an NPC mute is ICO, maybe (I think she spoke a different language rather than mute but I haven’t played the game so I don’t know).

        • Atarlost says:

          There are a couple mutes in Ultima 6. One of the bartenders and a ghost. The ghost is actually “important” to the plot. He “tells” you who to ask about a plot coupon, but because there are no conversation flags the fact that the person is fairly obvious and even if you don’t find it so you can just question everyone in the town kind of makes him pointless.

        • Er, does the protagonist count? Your dialog options could be really intricate sign language for all you know.

    • ps238principal says:

      “How can I put in another NPC or race of NPCs without having to cough up more money for pages and pages of voice acting?”

      • GTRichey says:

        While a mute character doesn’t require voice acting (which isn’t actually the whole case with Christine since she gets Vera’s voice after the villa), the ‘dialog’ that is written for them takes a lot more effort if there’s to be any hope of the player understanding them (granted this is alleviated somewhat by the player having pre-written responses). Some developers go the way of nonsense and gibberish but Obsidian has actually tried to write movements that convey the desired message and do a pretty good job of it in my opinion. Call it laziness or cheapness if you like but they created an interesting character with compelling backstory that explains the muteness and I’m all for it.

  13. poiumty says:

    Rutskarn says it goes from survival horror to comedy, and that’s mostly because Josh is underlevelled right now. This DLC is designed for level 20+, and the enemies auto-adjust themselves to compensate for you being weaker.

    The weapons, however, don’t. So an enemy that takes 1 hit to kill right now will take a lot more hits to kill at level 30, because you’re still hitting them with the same weapons while they’re a lot more powerful. I’ve tried the bear trap fist myself at level 30 and there’s a huge difference compared to Josh’s playthrough hright here. And not just because I had crap unarmed skill.

    • anaphysik says:

      So really the path into the DLC should warn you that this is appropriate for levels 20-. : P

    • Tizzy says:

      There is something weirdly counter-intuitive to the idea of the game being easier if you’re under-leveled…

      • poiumty says:

        I know, right. Wasn’t that how Oblivion worked?

        • Deadpool says:

          Final Fantasy VIII actually did it the WORST for two reasons:

          a) The BULK of your stats did not come from leveling, but from equipping spells to your stats.

          b) You were given the Encouter None skill about 10% into the game.

          So here’s a game where enemies scale with you, you can 255 on your stats WHILE AT LEVEL 1, and you are given the ability to avoid any and all random encounters about 10% of the way in…

          Oh yeah Square, great job with balancing you guys did there…

      • Raygereio says:

        Not really; it’s basically just something standard as the game being easier at lower levels, and harder at higher difficulties, just in somewhat of a roundabout manner.

        • Aldowyn says:

          Yeah, but that’s on purpose. Here, the SAME encounter is easier at lower levels. That just doesn’t make sense.

          • GTRichey says:

            Have you tried clearing out an area of deathclaws or a cazador nest if you’re under leveled? Playing through Dead Money as an under leveled guns character is much more difficult than seen here and going through it at >20 I found it even easier using unarmed than what’s on display here (not much since Josh has a respectable unarmed skill and is still able to one shot ghost people with the bear trap fist). Encounters definitely aren’t leveled to you in New Vegas (barring central plot encounters having different NPCs if you’re under leveled, but they had to make some concession for those coming from FO3 expecting a mindless shooter), it’s just that the unarmed skill is ridiculously overpowered (supposedly to compensate for higher difficulty to get in range, but assuming you don’t walk around in a checkered suit is not really much of a challenge at all) at any level.

  14. Deadpool says:

    You know, I rather enjoyed Harry Potter the first time I read it… When it was called “X-Men”…

  15. Slothful says:

    You really can’t have energy weapons and small guns merged into the same skill. You’d have all kinds of contradicting habits. You can’t twist your elbow to absorb the recoil on a laser pistol.

    That’s more of a revolver technique.

    Next thing you know, you’ll be getting lectured by your enemies about it, and that’s just embarrassing.

  16. Ben says:

    While I’m no fan or usual defender of Oblivion a decent chunk of the level scaling problems it had were the result of its absolutely bizarre leveling system.

    Its true no amount of good leveling system would fix the incongruity of bandits in full glass armor worth thousands of gold attacking you over a fraction of that but the difficulty curve spike is mostly because of the leveling system. The leveling system puts such a massive gulf between the min-maxer always getting +5s and the someone else who only gets +1s and +2s that balancing to any reasonable degree is impossible.

    • Aldowyn says:

      I generally get +2s and +3s, because it’s way too much effort to not do that. It’s especially hard when you’re playing a melee char, I think. You almost have to level up an offensive skill and a defensive skill at the same time, so something won’t be as high…

      Oblivion is hard for me :(

      • If you find the leveling system in Oblivion hard to manage, do this:

        Create your own class. Most of the stuff like selecting what TYPE of class this will be only gives you bonuses to certain skills. So try to get those bonuses in skills that are extremely valuable but tedious or expensive to level up, like Repair.

        Select as your major skills (the ones that will cause you to level up) stuff that you will only be training purposefully, NOT the ones that you want to be using all the time. This will prevent you from leveling too much by accident. The magic skills are particularly great for this because your major skills start higher than your other skills and most magic skills are nearly useless until they’re around 50 anyway. In addition, they level up faster than your non-major skills, so you don’t have to sit around spamming Nighteye for as long when you decide it’s time to level up.

        Go out and tour the world, using the weapons/armor/whatever you actually *want* to use. They’ll level up incredibly fast from use, but YOU won’t level. Raid a few easy dungeons and sell EVERYTHING. Make sure you have trained as many skill ranks as you can for that level (5, isn’t it?) and not in your major skills. Now pick one (or a few) of your major skills to boost by (for example) spamming nighteye and go level. You’ll have all the +5’s you want an in precisely the stats you want.

        Around level 13 you can stop doing this because things will have evened out to a point where things area actually leveling at approximately a rate that indicates your actual desire for that skill and how much use you get out of it.

        • Raygereio says:

          The levelling system in Ovlivion has to be the cruellest thing even invented. Just imagin the plight of the poor NPC’s once you reach the point where random critters are high levelled Deadra.
          Not a single soul in the entire gameworld is now able to take even one step outside ther respective citygates as long as you’re arround. You evil, high-levelled bastard.

        • Aldowyn says:

          See, that’s complicated and counter-intuitive enough that I’d have to actively think about how to do it. That’s a bad thing.

        • Andrew says:

          My solution was to find a nice mod that turned the levelling system into something that actually makes sense. Before that though, I just played wizards. Get yourself a nice custom spell that’s reasonably cost-efficient and a huge supply of alchemy-made health and magicka potions, and you’re pretty much set. And yeah, for the early levels it helps a bit to raid the Ayleid temples for their oh-so-shiny, highly valuable magic rocks, and spend the money on training a skill that’s really useful but difficult to level, like armourer or restoration.

  17. Sydney says:

    Rutskarn cursed in this episode and I noticed. I wonder how many more times it’ll take before that wears off.

  18. CalDazar says:

    Rutskarn saying “edi” instead of “eddy” was as annoying as whenever Shamus says “often” with a hard T sound.

  19. Vect says:

    Welp, there goes settling things peacefully with Dean. Shame, since I always did like his character.

  20. TraderRager says:

    I disagree about having energy weapons dissolved. Its not about marksmen ship so much as weapon practices, like reloading, and expertise at controlling your firearm.

  21. decius says:

    Seriously, how can you talk about the absurd repair system without mentioning the jury-rig perk?

    It sounds like it fixes a broken system: I should be able to repair a 9mm SMG using some of the same parts found in a 9mm pistol, or fix a laser rifle with parts from a laser pistol, right?

    With the perk, suddenly you can fix a super sledgehammer with a pool cue…

    And the baseball bat held together with duct tape has clearly had a weapon repair kit used on it.

  22. AxiomaticBadger says:

    I vote Sledgehammer Mosiac to be the Undertitle for this season of Spoiler Warning.

  23. Jarenth says:

    Since nobody has mentioned this so far, it might not actually be an issue (remember that I haven’t played New Vegas yet), but I’m going to say it anyway:

    Josh, you gave Christine a gun in this episode. What you did not give her was bullets. It made perfect sense to me why she didn’t actually contribute in combat.

    • GTRichey says:

      You’re right and not at the same time. Companions have unlimited ammo when using their own weapons, but for anything else you have to supply the ammo. I’m not sure what the case is if you give them a gun that is the same caliber as their’s though (though this doesn’t happen much since they generally have weapons with a slightly higher DPS than the equivalent).

  24. Kdansky says:

    I must mention that it is not necessary at all for a dangerous threat to be there to make it feel scary. Go play Thief 3: The Cradle, and get back to me. It’s about as frightening as Amnesia.

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