Creativity Any Way You Can: Modding Fallout, Part 1

Lately there has been a lot of creeping uncertainty and dread, the looming spectre of a pandemic, the presence of which nobody needs reminding of, and a presence everybody needs a little escape from (sub pandemic out for nuclear war and I have a vague, and very incorrect presumably, notion of what the 60’s might have felt like). Back before all of this horror-novel type pandemic stuff started I began making a mod for Fallout 4 (arguments on the game’s merits or failings are for another time and place), a video game from way back in 2015. I had the idea for it a few years earlier after the game had re-introduced me to music from the 50s/60s and binging that music had me thinking about the game and in turn the characters and in turn the world and in turn the music (and then the loops start over). So I decided to take a break from everything else I was doing and indulge myself in some mod-design, and this is where I fell off the wagon, hard. At time of writing I am 220 hours into making the mod (plus probably 20 or 30 hours where I wasn’t tracking the time I’d spent on it) and it has unfortunately consumed a lot of my free time. Now, if this mod was just some terrain and a few objects I would probably be nearly done, or at least, I hope I would. There’s some 150+ cells in the mod, of which I’ve “completed” 79 (a cell is relatively large, the vast majority of Concord,the first town you come to in the game, is contained within 5 of them) not including interiors.

But that isn’t all there is, I made the decision to make a central quest and some side quests in the mod and it has really got me working on something that I didn’t think I would. You see Fallout 4, unlike its predecessors, has a fully narrated protagonist (either male or female in Fallout 4’s case), the problem with this is, while in previous generations mod makers could have the protagonist say anything and only had to worry about recording dialogue lines for the voiced NPCs, Fallout 4’s fully-voiced protagonist introduces a constraint around dialogue. Or at least it has for me. I’ve seen a few mods where they leave the player character’s dialogue as text (not throwing stones here, their work is great either way and telling a compelling story when you don’t have control over the main protagonists voice is painful at best and impossible at worst), however, I went into this mod with a two major requirements:

  • 100% voiced, that means every character either has to use standard lines (such as for raiders and the other various enemies) or I would have to record my own dialogue for all NPCs, or alternately convince someone else to lend their voices to said NPCs.
  • No DLCs - the mod had to work with only the base game and the assets it provides both in terms of items, guns, etc., but also in terms of voice lines.

Now at this point you’re probably wondering why this is all a big deal. The reason that this is interesting is that it has forced me to write dialogue where the responses are largely limited to yes or no, or simple, generic questions and answers like: “What do you need?“ and “All right.” and that makes dialogue much more challenging to write. I’ve so far only done the introductions first section of the main quest and I’ve noticed a dozen different problems with the voiced protagonist setup, and with the general system of creating dialogue. Part of that is the learning curve but a huge portion of that is how difficult it makes backstory and exposition. If you character mentions something, you can’t simply give the player the option to ask about it because there’s no voice lines for that specific instance. I’ll give an example, if you imagine the Brotherhood of Steel aren’t in the game and you were adding in Paladin Danse (if you don’t know the game, just follow along I won’t go too deep), when he mentions the Brotherhood whilst introducing himself, to get the player to ask more, you would just add a line like in the real game of “Brotherhood?” which opens the door for him to explain who he is and why he’s there. But if the Brotherhood doesn’t exist i.e. is a new faction you’re adding to the game (and you don’t have access to the original voice actors) then how can you give the player the option to ask those questions?

One option is to ask the player if they “know about x”, a good example of this might be a slightly more constrained version of what happens in an older Fallout title (New Vegas) where a Brotherhood of Steel member asks the player if they’ve “Heard of the Brotherhood of Steel?”, in that the setup is done by the NPC saying that they had met some members of the Brotherhood and they seemed a bit off and asking if the player knows of them. Phrasing the question like this lets the player answer with “Shared” voice lines (shared lines are from what I can tell, remember I’m new to this, responses shared across multiple conversations and occasions throughout the game) such as “Yes.”, “No”, or any of the dozen other responses available. Whilst not perfect, I’ve found it’s better than a sometimes silent protagonist.

The other option that I have is less nice. By frontloading exposition you can reduce the questions the player needs to ask, but this makes it worse for everyone, it turns the NPCs into walking digests of information and makes otherwise quiet characters veritable blabbermouths giving you their life story before you’ve asked, and possibly even if you just want them be quiet. Now obviously other mod makers and game dev will have crashed into this problem previously and may or may not have come up with a solution so I’m not saying this is amazing new insight, but it is an interesting challenge.

So, I imagine you ask, where exactly am I at with this crazy endeavour?

Realistically, I would say about half way. That sounds pretty daunting if I’m over 200 hours in, but given everything that has happened in the world the past two months, it hasn’t been so bad, a distraction to keep myself occupied during varying levels of restriction (even though those put in place here are less strict than elsewhere). The main thing is that it’s keeping me creating something, even if it is a silly mod for a 5 year old game. I’ll keep you updated, hopefully the next post about this will be saying it’s done, but I doubt it.

-Mechaquill