That Wasteland Feeling


 
The wasteland and me go way back.
 
When I was young, before I was even in school, the scare tactics began.  I remember seeing a graphic in a newspaper showing Russian nuclear stockpiles, with the missiles looking huge on the graph compared to the tiny American ones. Orson Welles, a man I trusted because he did advertisements for my favorite board game of the time, Dark Tower, starred in an exploitation documentary talking about the end of the world, showing missiles launching from secret bases to destroy us. Public Television tried to help kids by having a special, "What do Kids Think of the Bomb," but I couldn't get past the opening titles with their droning, horrifying monotone voices. Seeing I was distressed, I was told by one of my parents that a nuclear bomb would wipe us out before we even had a chance to suffer through the aftermath, but such fatalism was (and is) no comfort to me.
 

Missile Command

 The prospect of nuclear war was my first real fear, and Missile Command was probably my first way of combating that fear. You were doomed to die in that game; the waves just got more intense until you were wiped out, but at the very least you could take direct action in fighting back. It was probably the start of my cold-war obsession with fighting the evil reds, and it would take many, many years for me to realize that little kids in Russia were being exploited just as much as I was. 
 
If you're not familiar with Missile Command: you have a set number of cities you have to protect with anti-ballistic missile silos. Waves of missiles rain down as straight lines above them, and both the cities and the silos are vulnerable to attack. The easier missiles just emerge from the top of the screen, but these missiles could split into several warheads; these MIRVs would help fulfill the missile quota for a given round even if it looked like you might wipe out all the missiles early. Killer satellites and bombers would start at about half-way up the screen delivering warheads, which decreased your reaction time if you couldn't wipe them out before they could fire, and in advanced stages smart bombs would actively dodge your anti-ballistic missiles, making them much harder to take out.  When silos were lost, you lost some of your anti-ballistic missile stores, and if all your cities were gone at the final tally, assuming no bonus cities were awarded for your current score, the game was over.
 
I was taught that was pretty much the end if that was to happen to us. Once civilization was destroyed, the nuclear fallout would get rid of us in ways I couldn't understand, a plague with no survivors.
 
The games I played then, on video game consoles and on the playground, were all about stopping the forces of destruction and avoiding this fate at all costs. It wasn't until later that I realized there may be some sort of life after the death of the world, at least in the realm of fantasy.
 

Road Blasters

 It wasn't until after films like The Road Warrior, The Terminator, and A Boy and His Dog that you started to see more POST-apocalyptic games. I think it was in part because the idea of annihilation seemed a bit less emergent than it used to, or that our imaginations weren't so advanced that once we started to ask  what comes after, all we could think to do was make everything else go away or become mangled beyond all recognition, but let ourselves somehow remain unchanged.
 
One of the major components of this wave of post-apocalyptic entertainment was a return to savagery. It's never really left, in part because we wouldn't have as much fun if everyone just tried to rebuild. Star Trek, believe it or not, is based on a post-apocalyptic setting, as was the Buck Rogers reboot, but the rebuilding part is skipped, even though there's struggle there, because everyone needed to work together in order to find some semblance of order. Going for the cheaper, more obvious conflicts later was an easy decision to make.
 
Games started to capitalize on our instinct to survive, and many took a lot of lessons from old Mad Max. Road Blasters was one of my favorites: a racer/shooter where you drive on tracks, gaining fuel by running over globes, trying to blow up or avoid everything in your path to reach the next checkpoint. No more civility like in Pole Position; this was more Spy Hunter without worrying about innocents, or the relatively non-lethal, genteel attitude of later games like Road Rash. If you were on the road, you were fair game.  It even had nuclear weapons, if you doubted its suggestions of the post-apocalyptic.
 
But here, still, there was a structure of a sort: you were still expected to race. For games to truly capture a bit of the anarchy of the post-apocalypse, a bit more depth was called for.
 

Wasteland

 In my friend's basement was a Tandy with monochrome monitor and PC Speaker sound. Through that machine I got to see Starflight for the first time, staying up late in that dark room trying to figure out how to appease these mysterious ships that kept attacking us. Another game that left a strong impression on me though, was the now famous Wasteland. The cover art pretty much told you everything you needed to know: the world was ruined, humanity has fragmented, and nothing was certain, so watch your back.
 
From what little I saw of the game, the humor wasn't lost on me: one of the first enemies I saw were the nuns-with-guns. But it was the realistic weapon names that stuck with me. This wasn't some abstracted fantasy version of the future; there were leftover bits of the old world there, and players were expected to wallow in it.
 
It would be a long time before I ever actually got to play it, since the guy that loaned it to my friend demanded it back before too long. It stuck with me, though, and when I finally played the thing I was amazed at how different the game was from my expectations. Going from monochrome to color isn't always a good thing depending on the color palette (not palate, not pallet) you have available-- at least in black and white you can imagine what the colors look like, and actually getting into these old time RPGs I was sort of surprised how breezy the games often were with their satire, which ruined the tone a bit for me.
 
Tone is something very hard to get right in these sorts of games, I think, because if you brood too much you risk having the fight for survival feel a bit meaningless or overbearing, and if you pile on a bit too much comedy you distance yourself from the pretty horrible prospect of humanity crushing itself. The tone I wanted, at least, was more illusive than a dude with robot eyes smoking cigarettes.  
 
At least until Fallout came along.
 

Fallout, and the Theme as a Whole

 A lot's been said about this game and its sequels, but for me what stood out was its tone. A big part of that was captured in Mark Morgan's score, which undercut what could have been a pretty silly satire on 1950's optimism's glaring nuclear omissions, giving the funny stuff an eerie, haunted counterpoint that fit perfectly. 
 
Balancing that tone is always difficult, and at times Fallout's tone moved too far in one direction for me, but it was the first post-apocalyptic game that really lived for me. It even had some rather ugly moral issues, and nothing was as straightforward as it would have been in a less complicated RPG. Life was brutal, death could be pretty messy, and there was just enough of a connection to a recognizable past that even the alternate history felt authentic, if at times distracting.

By the time I played Fallout I still liked post-apocalyptic settings, but my need for them had waned a bit. I was no longer as terrorized by the possibilities of nuclear war as I was as a little kid-- it probably caught me at my most politically optimistic period in my life and so it didn't have quite the impact it might have had.
 
Most of the post-apocalyptic games and settings I've experienced tend to emphasize that the old rules don't apply anymore, that taboos will be broken, that the obstacles that now stand in the way of both simple kindnesses and mindless savagery make life a bit false, and If civilization gets stripped away, you'd know who your friends and enemies really were. Zombie settings definitely cash in on this, so in many ways they're just another way to get rid of society and start over.  
 
Maybe that's why these settings continue to appeal to many of us. We got past the horror of actual annihilation and started fantasizing about what it would be like if the annihilation was selective, if it didn't get rid of everything, if it didn't get rid of us.  Sure, it would be ugly, but being an adult now, with a long list of mistakes and plenty of potential to make more, burning that list doesn't sound so bad.
 
So while it seems the little kid in me is being betrayed by these fantasies of destruction, they really seem to be two separate entities, one that fears death, and one that fears stagnation. Yet both seem to have an idealistic core: whether we prevent our annihilation through a change in behavior, or we adjust to the consequences of that behavior after our fall, both paths seem to have just enough faith in our ability to rebuild the world on more solid foundations.
 

Epilogue

 What inspired this post was this relatively well-done fan film called Fallout: Nuka Break. It's sixteen-and-a-half minutes long, and pretty decent. (via RPS)
 
I'm continually surprised by the post-apoc stuff I stumble upon, long after my mania for the genre's died down. I'd never heard of Radioactive Dreams until doing research for this article.

18 Comments
18 Comments
Posted by ahoodedfigure

 
The wasteland and me go way back.
 
When I was young, before I was even in school, the scare tactics began.  I remember seeing a graphic in a newspaper showing Russian nuclear stockpiles, with the missiles looking huge on the graph compared to the tiny American ones. Orson Welles, a man I trusted because he did advertisements for my favorite board game of the time, Dark Tower, starred in an exploitation documentary talking about the end of the world, showing missiles launching from secret bases to destroy us. Public Television tried to help kids by having a special, "What do Kids Think of the Bomb," but I couldn't get past the opening titles with their droning, horrifying monotone voices. Seeing I was distressed, I was told by one of my parents that a nuclear bomb would wipe us out before we even had a chance to suffer through the aftermath, but such fatalism was (and is) no comfort to me.
 

Missile Command

 The prospect of nuclear war was my first real fear, and Missile Command was probably my first way of combating that fear. You were doomed to die in that game; the waves just got more intense until you were wiped out, but at the very least you could take direct action in fighting back. It was probably the start of my cold-war obsession with fighting the evil reds, and it would take many, many years for me to realize that little kids in Russia were being exploited just as much as I was. 
 
If you're not familiar with Missile Command: you have a set number of cities you have to protect with anti-ballistic missile silos. Waves of missiles rain down as straight lines above them, and both the cities and the silos are vulnerable to attack. The easier missiles just emerge from the top of the screen, but these missiles could split into several warheads; these MIRVs would help fulfill the missile quota for a given round even if it looked like you might wipe out all the missiles early. Killer satellites and bombers would start at about half-way up the screen delivering warheads, which decreased your reaction time if you couldn't wipe them out before they could fire, and in advanced stages smart bombs would actively dodge your anti-ballistic missiles, making them much harder to take out.  When silos were lost, you lost some of your anti-ballistic missile stores, and if all your cities were gone at the final tally, assuming no bonus cities were awarded for your current score, the game was over.
 
I was taught that was pretty much the end if that was to happen to us. Once civilization was destroyed, the nuclear fallout would get rid of us in ways I couldn't understand, a plague with no survivors.
 
The games I played then, on video game consoles and on the playground, were all about stopping the forces of destruction and avoiding this fate at all costs. It wasn't until later that I realized there may be some sort of life after the death of the world, at least in the realm of fantasy.
 

Road Blasters

 It wasn't until after films like The Road Warrior, The Terminator, and A Boy and His Dog that you started to see more POST-apocalyptic games. I think it was in part because the idea of annihilation seemed a bit less emergent than it used to, or that our imaginations weren't so advanced that once we started to ask  what comes after, all we could think to do was make everything else go away or become mangled beyond all recognition, but let ourselves somehow remain unchanged.
 
One of the major components of this wave of post-apocalyptic entertainment was a return to savagery. It's never really left, in part because we wouldn't have as much fun if everyone just tried to rebuild. Star Trek, believe it or not, is based on a post-apocalyptic setting, as was the Buck Rogers reboot, but the rebuilding part is skipped, even though there's struggle there, because everyone needed to work together in order to find some semblance of order. Going for the cheaper, more obvious conflicts later was an easy decision to make.
 
Games started to capitalize on our instinct to survive, and many took a lot of lessons from old Mad Max. Road Blasters was one of my favorites: a racer/shooter where you drive on tracks, gaining fuel by running over globes, trying to blow up or avoid everything in your path to reach the next checkpoint. No more civility like in Pole Position; this was more Spy Hunter without worrying about innocents, or the relatively non-lethal, genteel attitude of later games like Road Rash. If you were on the road, you were fair game.  It even had nuclear weapons, if you doubted its suggestions of the post-apocalyptic.
 
But here, still, there was a structure of a sort: you were still expected to race. For games to truly capture a bit of the anarchy of the post-apocalypse, a bit more depth was called for.
 

Wasteland

 In my friend's basement was a Tandy with monochrome monitor and PC Speaker sound. Through that machine I got to see Starflight for the first time, staying up late in that dark room trying to figure out how to appease these mysterious ships that kept attacking us. Another game that left a strong impression on me though, was the now famous Wasteland. The cover art pretty much told you everything you needed to know: the world was ruined, humanity has fragmented, and nothing was certain, so watch your back.
 
From what little I saw of the game, the humor wasn't lost on me: one of the first enemies I saw were the nuns-with-guns. But it was the realistic weapon names that stuck with me. This wasn't some abstracted fantasy version of the future; there were leftover bits of the old world there, and players were expected to wallow in it.
 
It would be a long time before I ever actually got to play it, since the guy that loaned it to my friend demanded it back before too long. It stuck with me, though, and when I finally played the thing I was amazed at how different the game was from my expectations. Going from monochrome to color isn't always a good thing depending on the color palette (not palate, not pallet) you have available-- at least in black and white you can imagine what the colors look like, and actually getting into these old time RPGs I was sort of surprised how breezy the games often were with their satire, which ruined the tone a bit for me.
 
Tone is something very hard to get right in these sorts of games, I think, because if you brood too much you risk having the fight for survival feel a bit meaningless or overbearing, and if you pile on a bit too much comedy you distance yourself from the pretty horrible prospect of humanity crushing itself. The tone I wanted, at least, was more illusive than a dude with robot eyes smoking cigarettes.  
 
At least until Fallout came along.
 

Fallout, and the Theme as a Whole

 A lot's been said about this game and its sequels, but for me what stood out was its tone. A big part of that was captured in Mark Morgan's score, which undercut what could have been a pretty silly satire on 1950's optimism's glaring nuclear omissions, giving the funny stuff an eerie, haunted counterpoint that fit perfectly. 
 
Balancing that tone is always difficult, and at times Fallout's tone moved too far in one direction for me, but it was the first post-apocalyptic game that really lived for me. It even had some rather ugly moral issues, and nothing was as straightforward as it would have been in a less complicated RPG. Life was brutal, death could be pretty messy, and there was just enough of a connection to a recognizable past that even the alternate history felt authentic, if at times distracting.

By the time I played Fallout I still liked post-apocalyptic settings, but my need for them had waned a bit. I was no longer as terrorized by the possibilities of nuclear war as I was as a little kid-- it probably caught me at my most politically optimistic period in my life and so it didn't have quite the impact it might have had.
 
Most of the post-apocalyptic games and settings I've experienced tend to emphasize that the old rules don't apply anymore, that taboos will be broken, that the obstacles that now stand in the way of both simple kindnesses and mindless savagery make life a bit false, and If civilization gets stripped away, you'd know who your friends and enemies really were. Zombie settings definitely cash in on this, so in many ways they're just another way to get rid of society and start over.  
 
Maybe that's why these settings continue to appeal to many of us. We got past the horror of actual annihilation and started fantasizing about what it would be like if the annihilation was selective, if it didn't get rid of everything, if it didn't get rid of us.  Sure, it would be ugly, but being an adult now, with a long list of mistakes and plenty of potential to make more, burning that list doesn't sound so bad.
 
So while it seems the little kid in me is being betrayed by these fantasies of destruction, they really seem to be two separate entities, one that fears death, and one that fears stagnation. Yet both seem to have an idealistic core: whether we prevent our annihilation through a change in behavior, or we adjust to the consequences of that behavior after our fall, both paths seem to have just enough faith in our ability to rebuild the world on more solid foundations.
 

Epilogue

 What inspired this post was this relatively well-done fan film called Fallout: Nuka Break. It's sixteen-and-a-half minutes long, and pretty decent. (via RPS)
 
I'm continually surprised by the post-apoc stuff I stumble upon, long after my mania for the genre's died down. I'd never heard of Radioactive Dreams until doing research for this article.

Posted by Claude

Great history, I enjoyed reading that. Maybe it's my age, but Nuclear War never bothered me. I just dreamed of space and the possibilities that existed beyond our atmosphere. It probably didn't hurt that one of my first memories is of man walking on the moon. I was also around ten or eleven when the Vietnam War ended, so my sights were set beyond earth's boundaries and its petty wars. My gaming habits probably go hand in hand a little. Science fiction first then fantasy and move on from there.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

My friend totally has a Dark Tower board game that we used to play when we were young. For its time, I guess it was kind of a big deal, but looking back now its kind of simplistic and super luck based. But clearly, Orson Welles makes everything better. 

Posted by ch3burashka

This is a great piece; I'm still digging the apocalyptic setting, so I enjoyed reading this. You may happy (or despondent?) to know I bought a VHS of Radioactive Dreams based off of this. Didn't read no review, nuthin'. Then again, it was 2 bucks. It's bull that they haven't made it on DVD yet. 
 
You mentioned a couple movies. Just in case you don't know, "12 Monkeys" is a great post-apocalyptic movie. I'd honestly put it in my top 20 at the very least - excellently shot and directed. 
 
@Claude said:

" Great history, I enjoyed reading that. Maybe it's my age, but Nuclear War never bothered me. I just dreamed of space and the possibilities that existed beyond our atmosphere. It probably didn't hurt that one of my first memories is of man walking on the moon. I was also around ten or eleven when the Vietnam War ended, so my sights were set beyond earth's boundaries and its petty wars. My gaming habits probably go hand in hand a little. Science fiction first then fantasy and move on from there. "
You're OLD. So damn lucky, seeing man walk on the moon. It's been 40 damn years - why haven't I seen man walk on Mars yet?!
Edited by TheDudeOfGaming
@CH3BURASHKA:You should also give Book of Eli a try,i thought it was pretty good,needed more focus on the dark/morbid future though -.- but great directing.
When it comes down to the Nuclear Post Apocalypse, every single human being with a penis wants it to happen...sorry ladies,but your men want the world to end!
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Claude:  I think the crisis I felt wondering if we all would be annihilated was acute, but like a mountain it dominates my mental landscape even if a lot of my life was spent dreaming of man's future in space, sort of like what you're talking about. Star Wars helped balance things out, make me think of possibilities even if it wasn't really science fiction so much as techno-fantasy or whatever. There was still a bit of fear of the realistic, though. Films like 2001 showed how brutal things could be in a more realistic space setting, and I remember playing Legos with my father, and he pretended one of my little spacemen figures needed a new oxygen tank. The idea that a person could be so fragile was always strongly in mind, even while dreaming. I wonder if it's sort of informed my attitudes since then.
 
I'm not sure I knew much about the Viet Nam War until I was 8 or so. I think I assumed MASH took place during then until I learned about the Korean War before it. I wasn't much into studying war, though, until later. Most of the stuff I liked were shows like Cosmos, which is a strongly positive, humanistic portrayal of reality and possibilities that I'd pretty much recommend to anyone, young or old. I watched it again not too long ago and still felt a bit of that magic.
 
It's funny, but gaming, as it gets more gritty, also seems to push attitudes in that direction. It's never easy to say where design ideas start and public attitudes stop, and which direction the influence runs, but if you push too much in the gritty direction the art suffers from lack of variety. I think the complaints that everything is brown and drab, even in post-apocalyptic settings, may be a symptom of that.
Posted by Galiant

That Fallout video was great! Thanks for sharing

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@ArbitraryWater:  I think what stuck with me with Dark Tower was Bob Pepper's beautiful artwork. I like to check that link every once in a while to look at those paintings he did of the various factions. There was also a card game that featured his character art prominently called Dragonmaster I think, also through that link. I also liked that it was a bit of army management and gaining treasure, although the artwork certainly made it more interesting than it might otherwise have been.
 
@CH3BURASHKA: Cool :) Let me know if it's any good. I haven't seen more than a clip of it so far. It seems offbeat, but I can DEFINITELY see some possible influences on old Fallout from it. 
 
As far as 12 Monkeys, have you seen the film that THAT was based on? I think I like it a bit better. I look at both of them more as time-travel movies in the Twilight Zone vein than something that's purely in the post-apoc genre, since the apocalypse is more an ugly consequence than an explored environment. 
 
Hunt down Stephen Vincent Benet's short story "By the Waters of Babylon ," if you get the chance, for one of the cooler stories in the genre in my opinion.  The novel On the Beach is a good one if you're into more realism.  And here's a collection of Wasteland-themed short stories.
 
As far as Mars, while it'd be cool, I'd rather see more probes and unmanned studies right now, in part because they're cheaper, but also I think too many more deaths in space exploration may make it even harder for us to get out there in the future. I'd rather us just accumulate data and solve a few mysteries before we go too nuts with the shoeprint stuff.
 
@TheDudeOfGaming: I think it's more interesting to figure out why  people want it than put it down to a gender divide (I know a few women who want the world to end, and a few men who are too tied up to want it, so there you go). You think I'm on track with that rules-ending thing?  It helps to figure out when that desire pops up, like getting stuck in traffic or listening to people bitch about minor problems. 
 
Maybe another problem is that it's easy to feel a bit useless in modern society. The idea that you could make something with your hands to benefit everyone and have it be a definite thing seems a lot more satisfying than punching data into a machine and hoping it gets interpreted right. Maybe it's more a hidden desire for a simpler life. The apocalypse part just seems like the quickest way to get there.
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Galiant:  I agree with RPS that it's a bit too light at times but I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially the Vault explanation in the middle, although I guess that might be considered a spoiler to people who haven't played any of the games yet. Glad you took the time to check it out! I hope Bethsoft takes advantage of it or at least ignore it, rather than trying to squoosh it.
Posted by Lind_L_Taylor

Well they got Orson Wells to do that Nostradamus video because
of his history with creating mass hysteria on the War of the Worlds
radio broadcast.  It was just more of the same.  The actual event
that he spoke of, such as nuclear war with the Middle East, isn't
so far fetched anyway.   Mass hysteria & fear mongering is big
business. It still is to some degree. Check out that documentary
called Collapse that just came out a few years ago.
 
To believe that there won't be a nuclear war at any time in our
future would be a falsehood.  The nukes are still there.  They
are still pointed at their targets.  Still waiting.  Over time you just
become jaded or tired to the point that you no longer pay attention
to it; no longer believe it can happen; but there is still a possibility. 
I used to have nightmares back in those days. But after the Wall
fell, I started to feel better about it.  They had such great movies
back then about the Cold War: Red Dawn, Rambo, Wargames, etc.
Cold War was a multi-billion dollar industry & the media reflected
those facts to some degree.  Perhaps the Doomsday Clock was
pointed a lot closer to Midnight back then as well.
 
I was really excited about Fallout when it was released because it
was originally called GURPS Fallout & based on the GURPS
system.  I was hoping to see a huge line of GURPS-related PC
games at the time, but sadly SJ Games got their panties in a
bunch & removed their name from it, even though the game
still has a very strong resemblance to the GURPS system.
I loved Fallout 1 & 2, but my biggest problem is that with Fallout 1,
in the late game stage there were some crashed saves that
ruined several hours of play for me & in those days I didn't
like restarting play over several hours.  So I never finished them!
Also, I didn't like how the game sort of forced a big ending, 
whether you were prepared or not, after a given amount of 
in-game time had passed.  Star Control 2 & 3 did the same
thing & if you weren't ready by the end game, you would have
to start completely over.
 
I tried Wasteland about 5 years ago on a PC emulation. It was
horrible!  Though I hope they do a remake.

Posted by Mikemcn

That Nuka Break thing was actually really good, a little crazy, but it had all the Fallout details you could want. 

Edited by ahoodedfigure
@Lind_L_Taylor:  Your formatting was a bit weird (edit: ah, it was on purpose. Never mind.)
 
You're probably right about the lineage behind the video, but the tone seems different, especially when trying to weigh aliens invading with the much more tangible threat of annihilation by appreciable means. 
 
I think people in influence seem to believe the only way to get anyone to do anything is to keep them constantly on edge, so yeah, unfortunately it seems inducing panic is the order of the day.
 
I'm not sure I ever denied that nukes won't drop, but I don't think they necessarily will, either. This essay was pretty much about my perceptions changing as I grew up. Since I don't control any fissile material I can't rightly say what will happen. When the Wall fell, the panic business had to shift gears, so I'm glad my naive self got a bit of a reprieve until I found more tangible things to worry about.

"I was really excited about Fallout when it was released because it
was originally called GURPS Fallout & based on the GURPS
system."

Yeah, I remember that. I think the SPECIAL system does all right on its own, although attributes like Luck seem to have changed so dramatically that they don't have the charm they once did. As for the GURPS system itself, their sourcebooks are fun but the system seems a bit too crazy on the min-max front. You get an echo of that in Fallout's systems where you get advantages and disadvantages, but thankfully you're limited in your choices and how many you can take. In GURPS it was a zero-sum point system, so at times you could go a bit nuts, making yourself a limbless, cigarette addicted super genius who can throw lightning with his mind.
 
The flexibility of the GURPS system still has promise; it might freak people out a bit, though, when they realize that characters really only have 3 attributes :)

"I loved Fallout 1 & 2, but my biggest problem is that with Fallout 1,
in the late game stage there were some crashed saves that
ruined several hours of play for me & in those days I didn't
like restarting play over several hours."

The bugs don't get mentioned often enough, but I encountered one weird moment where the text glitched and I couldn't tell what it was trying to say anymore. It happened, I think, because I did things in such a weird order that the script flipped out. I didn't try to repeat it to see if it was just some variable that was out of place, but every once in a while, yeah, there were some problems.
 

"Also, I didn't like how the game sort of forced a big ending, 
whether you were prepared or not, after a given amount of 
in-game time had passed. "

The timing element put a bit of a damper on things for me, too. Some timing elements I'm fine with, sometimes, but it's a bit rough getting a game and then being told you can't explore it all.  Last Express is getting re-released from various outlets, and it uses timing as one of its main ingredients, but THAT game I think I could get behind because the whole world sort of runs without you, and you have to make a difference by acting, knowing you can't be everywhere at once. That encourages repeat play, as opposed to everyone sitting around waiting for you to show up until the world goes splat.
 

"Star Control 2 & 3 did the same
thing & if you weren't ready by the end game, you would have
to start completely over."

I never played 3, but I played that fan remake of 2. I loved it to start, but then came a point where the big badguys starting sweeping through the galaxy, killing everyone. I had a bunch of saves all piled up right before that started happening, and it seemed to have been triggered by my contacting a species. I have rarely felt so betrayed by a game as realizing that basically all my saves were useless.

"I tried Wasteland about 5 years ago on a PC emulation. It was
horrible!  Though I hope they do a remake."

I thought it was OK, but it hasn't aged well. I think the property owners are still trying to get a new game going with Wasteland. I'd be interested to see what they did with it. Thanks for posting!
Posted by Little_Socrates

I'll be checking out Nuka Break later today, for sure. 
 
This was a fascinating read. As a youth (18), I can say that the concept of the fragility of mankind has returned in the less dangerous, more violent form of terrorism (lower death toll, but higher level of pain) and it's also made a lot of appearances in my life. People are fragile, and I don't really feel like going into my life history here, but I'll just say I've lost multiple family members and friends (some suddenly) over the last few years. The physical bodies we inhabit are not as safe as we'd like to believe; neither is our mental status, and people who seemed happy one day can take sudden turns for the worse. I'd like to see more games that explore this on an individual level; to be fair, Modern Warfare 2 killed your protagonist so often it felt like protagonist whiplash, but I'd like to see more broken protagonists. 
 
Many games are using terrorists right now as "the big bads." I find it a bit strange that there's not more abstraction, and that people aren't coming up with anything more than fighting them in a warfront setting. Because of that focus, though, I'm more interested in seeing the fragility of individuals. That concept is what makes Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption, LIMBO, Amnesia, and, yes, Deadly Premonition so strong; these games emphasize that our human bodies are not enough to protect us, each of them in totally different ways. Amnesia and Deadly Premonition dwell on the concept of trauma and madness, and though I haven't finished Amnesia, I can solemnly swear that Deadly Premonition approaches the concept of a broken protagonist better than any other game I've ever played. 
 
...I'll probably write a blog about fragility in response to this. The fear of annihilation comes from the core feeling of fragility; we feel that we're always in danger. Previously, it was the nuclear war that made us feel that way; nowadays, it's the threat of terrorism whenever you enter a high-density area, or a large public center. The way that theme of fragility is explored has shifted, though. Even in a stalwart franchise about nuclear warfare (the modern Call of Duty games,) Call of Duty: Black Ops switched its focus to a broken protagonist.

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Mikemcn:  It was heavy on fan service, so at times I was wishing it tried a bit harder to make its own stamp. But I liked that it tried to use the character archetypes to tell their stories a bit. And that Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy sorta interlude had me wondering if a film might suit the setting well, even if I'm usually the kind of person to thumb their nose at franchise cash-ins like that.
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Little_Socrates said:
 
I'm sorry you've experienced such losses, especially so young. Given how hard I've taken a few of my own recently, I'm not sure if I would have been able to handle it myself at your age. There were some deaths, but they were still distant enough that I could handle it.  Or maybe I was tougher (or more oblivious to my own potential fragility) then than I am now. No way for me to tell, for sure.
 
I'd agree that main character fragility is interesting, and I'd argue it's important to have a bit of fragility to remind us that what they're portraying is a piece of humanity, rather than some sort of demigod.  I'm willing to bet that's why characters in myths in legends wind up being able to do incredible things; we like a little vicarious thrashing of obvious bad guys.  It's just that there are other ways to tell stories, and other worlds to explore than simple gratification.
 
There are moments, like in the narrative from Mass Effect, where you get to see inside the character a bit more, and they become more interesting for it. Some people try this and it comes across as cheap, but put into the right hands I think it makes the statements more relevant, and the stakes higher.  Yet Mass Effect tends to keep its consequences to the interactive cutscenes, rather than the combat. Other than reloading, ME just tells you to pound on stuff until it's dead. You can even disintegrate someone during a battle, but they'll suddenly be alive-but-dying in a cutscene again to deliver some dialog. Would feel a bit more visceral if what you did had more of an effect on those dialog choices.
 
I'll look into Deadly Premonition a bit more. I have to admit the title is a bit forgettable so I've probably heard a lot about it but none of it stuck.
 
Post on my wall if you ever get around to writing that blog entry; I'd like to read it.
Posted by Lind_L_Taylor
  @ahoodedfigure said:

"I was really excited about Fallout when it was released because it
was originally called GURPS Fallout & based on the GURPS
system."

Yeah, I remember that. I think the SPECIAL system does all right on its own, although attributes like Luck seem to have changed so dramatically that they don't have the charm they once did. As for the GURPS system itself, their sourcebooks are fun but the system seems a bit too crazy on the min-max front. You get an echo of that in Fallout's systems where you get advantages and disadvantages, but thankfully you're limited in your choices and how many you can take. In GURPS it was a zero-sum point system, so at times you could go a bit nuts, making yourself a limbless, cigarette addicted super genius who can throw lightning with his mind.
 
The flexibility of the GURPS system still has promise; it might freak people out a bit, though, when they realize that characters really only have 3 attributes :)
 
That must have been 3rd edition.  In GURPS 4th you have Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, & Health.
I've noticed in the higher levels of Fallout 3 or New Vegas that I can max out a couple of values & at
higher levels can easily blow away just about everything I encountered.  For GURPS, the game isn't
really about progression, it's about the role play.  Most GMs won't let you spend your awarded character
points on anything exactly.  Usually you can spend to remove the disadvantages or increase a skill. A
natural roll of 17 or 18 on a skill is still an automatic failure, no matter what your skill is & once you 
have your skill at 20, anything higher doesn't make much difference.  As for making the game challenging
you just have to pit the PCs up against those with similar skills.  Combat is deadly & doesn't last very
long. Unlike D&D (or SPECIAL) where you just whale on somebody for a long time in order to reduce 
hit points to 0.  A combat in GURPS may only last a few seconds, which could turn things for the worst
if a bad roll is made, so it could be risky.  I'm playing a pbp of GURPS Traveller right now which is 
pretty interesting so far.  We'll see how it goes. I'm interested in testing it out & see what it's limitations
are first hand.  Pen & Paper RPG games give you a bigger game than any computer-based RPG can
add because the game is simply story & role-play with some dice involved to add an element of risk
& change to the game.  I'm done rambling. :)
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Lind_L_Taylor:  I guess I didn't include health as a straight stat, but I'm not terribly familiar with the system beyond browsing the basic version in some of the sourcebooks I have.
 
One thing I liked about GURPS was that probability curve you get from rolling 3 dice. d20 is way too wide a random number for things to feel natural for me; you have experts failing all the time just because they have a decent chunk of failure percentage.
 
Pen and paper has immediate system advantages, in addition to it being more social and much more malleable (and ultimately tons cheaper).  PbP, play by chat and the like are nice if you can't do it the other way, but I've never tried it (successfully) myself.
Posted by RagingLion

One of the best things you've written.