In the comments to the recent Characterization! essay, intrepid commenter Spivak asked:

Just curious, why are you discussing FO3 over FONV? The latter is superior to the former in regards to plot and characterization. FO3 was by the numbers like Thomas Kinkaide trying to ape Leonardo DaVinci. FONV is finding a forgotten canvas under the Sistine Chapel with “I am Leonardo DaVinci and I drew this for real.”

And if that didn’t derail these comments, how do you feel about Dragon Age where you are given a choice to have sex with an elf, regardless of your gender and orientation, or suffer lots of social disadvantages? Would this fall under the Skyrim “Why wouldn’t I?”

Since it’s easier to answer the second set of questions first, I’ll do that. Zevran struck me as someone who didn’t care about me personally, only about what I represented. I could be a man, I could be a woman. I could be an elf, a dwarf, or a human. Zevran would have come up and said “You remind me of a parking ticket because you got fine written all over you.” (Or whatever the arls give people who park their carts in the wrong place.)

And you know what? He did.

I prefered to chase after relationships with the folks who, at the very least, wanted me to ask them questions about themselves and figure out how to best hit on them.

Now the *REAL* question was the first one. Why discuss the characterization of Fallout 3 over New Vegas?

Well, primarily, it’s because Fallout 3 did an excellent job of working with you to create the character you were going to be playing and New Vegas did not.

Fallout 3, remember, started with the moment of your birth, worked with you as a toddler, worked with you as a 10 year old, worked with you when you took the GOAT, and finally worked with you as you found reason to leave the Vault and enter the world. Moreover, you received a couple of parental speeches from Aslan Himself before leaving to join the world. You knew who you were and you knew your father’s hopes and fears for you.

In New Vegas, you are told that you are a courier and your last delivery has taken a turn for the worse. We see Benny give you a speech, we see the moment of your death (great moment, if you ask me), and we see ourself wake up in the doctor’s room… but we know nothing about ourself from before the cut scene. Why were we a courier? Is there anyone who would miss us, were they to find we were shot in the head? Would Aslan notice our passing?

More interestingly, I saw an Extra Credits short (and I can’t find it! sorry! (but the Skyrim one is *VERY* good and talks about things that I wish that I had talked about)) that discussed what New Vegas could have done differently (just one thing in the doctor’s office):

Have the doctor say “hey, one of these things was found with you… I don’t know which one though. Which one of these things was yours?” And showed you a handful of items. Maybe a teddy bear. Maybe a water bottle. Maybe a picture of someone. *SOMETHING*. (Heck, here’s my take on that: they could have a +1 Stat item for you… are you going to take the +1 Str? +1 Chr? Do you not care because you’re min-maxing?) What you’d end up picking as the thing that you know is “your” item would help create a lifeline from “right now” to “who I was before” and help establish your character as more than a mere courier.

Fallout 3 came out and said that you’re a kid like any other number of kids. We’ve all had birthday parties, we’ve all had irritating multiple choice tests in school, we can relate 100% to our character in Fallout 3. New Vegas gives you a courier and says “this is you”.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that New Vegas is the superior game by far and has depth and nuance to its missions that Fallout 3 didn’t. It’s just that Fallout 3 hooked you from the start and New Vegas relied on familiarity with the world on the part of the player. For those of us who grew up with Wasteland and *THEN* Fallout, that’s a safe bet on their part. For those who didn’t? Well, you saw the other comments in the Characterization thread.


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com


  1. I do not understand why picking an item would help you connect betetr. I think that is my matrix gaming talking where I see numbers instead of a person.

    • Okay, let’s get the stats out of there.

      It’s using the idea of how they pick the Dalai Lama. They have a bunch of artifacts, some of which belonged to previous Dalai Lamas, some of which did not. When the kid shows up and picks the rosary and the bell that belonged to the guy in the 16th century, they say “okay, this is the guy”. (No religion.)

      We’d see a handful of items and the question would be “which ones are yours?”

      Now, OF COURSE, we would have our finger on the scale: every answer would be the right answer. If the person would pick the picture of a person, this would be because, presumably, the person was important to them. If the person would pick the teddybear, this would be because, presumably, there’s a connection there. If the person would take the chakra torture tool kit, that would say something as well.

      It seems to me that this item would have to be either small (more precicely: weightless), have to provide some small utility (a stat point, say… maybe a bonus to something), or a tool that would be really useful (maybe even not really usable until level 5 or so) but very useful for a few levels until it becomes much more replacable halfway through the game.

      The point is to get the player to say “this thing represents how I (intend to) play the game with this character”.

      Because, as has been pointed out, it’s yours. It was yours before the game began.

      • And I think I would look at it more, this is how I what to develope my character (stat and role wise).

        • Yeah but, if you’re going to min-max the character, wouldn’t you just shoot the doctor, take all three items as well as everything in the house, then burn the place down?

          • I am reminded of Human Hireling’s comment regarding Skyrim:

            A high school freshman in my karate class was describing how he plays the game to me. It was an odd combination of hacks and grinds designed to level up quickly, and complete lack of impulse control, along the lines of, “after I’d killed all the blacksmiths in Skyrim, I lost my best sources of ore.”

          • Given my thumb on the scale, I’d say that, really, only one of the items would be yours and, as such, you’d only gain benefit from the one that was yours.

            I mean, imagine the kid yelling “THEY’RE ALL MINE! I’M THE DALAI LAMA!!!” and beating the crap out of the monks.

            Sure, that would be pretty awesome.

          • “I mean, imagine the kid yelling “THEY’RE ALL MINE! I’M THE DALAI LAMA!!!” and beating the crap out of the monks.

            Sure, that would be pretty awesome.”

            You need to design a game that starts with this as the opening cut scene.

          • I guess if I were going to give a serious answer to Dman:

            It depends on the game, the writing and the intent as to how you would react.

            When I play Galactic Civilizations, my decisions are entirely based on statistics. When I hear of an impending tragedy to one of my planets, I don’t think in humanistic terms. I think “So, if I let 8 million people die, I take +10% planet quality? Hell yeah!!!”

            When I play a game where the intent is there but the writing isn’t, I may have flashes of empathy that may color my perceptions but they don’t really stop the quest for statistics. I was playing a Team Deathmatch in Gears 3 and Samantha was the last Gear left against us Locust. She gets beat down and one of my team performs the finishing move which involves ripping off her left arm and beating her still-twitching body with it. The rest of us start kicking her during this because you can wring some points out of her for that. While doing that, I had a disturbing flash of how much it looked like a violent prelude to a gang rape. Emotional connect wasn’t enough to stop me but it made getting the points this way feel a little wrong.

            When everything matches up in the emotional resonance department, I find myself making choices not due to statistics but to my emotional state and core beliefs. When I rented Jade Empire (before buying it), I decided that I was going to play it as a bastard. At one point, an inconsequential NPC gives me money for herbs to heal her wounds. Now, you can get her the correct herbs for what she gave you or you can get much cheaper herbs that only make her think that she’s healed but will leave her open to serious injury if she exerts herself after taking them. Statistically, it’s better to just pocket the money but I found myself connecting so much with the game emotionally that I got her the correct herbs and gave her back the money.

          • “I mean, imagine the kid yelling “THEY’RE ALL MINE! I’M THE DALAI LAMA!!!” and beating the crap out of the monks.”

            If they gave you this option I might just try it. Still, I find I normally follow my own moral compass when playing these types of games rather than develope a different one for the character.

            My main point is, I still do not see what picking an item has to do will creating a personality for your character. Take the teddy bear as an example. This could mean your character remembers the innocent days of child hood and has retained that innocence (ie. good guy). Or this could mean your character remember the innocent days of child hood and vows never to be such a sucker again and to take from the rest of the suckers (ie. bad guy). With that kind of range, why does it matter what you pick beyond the bonus? Pick the bonus you want and play in the style you want no matter what you picked.

          • I always take the “perk” 4-eyes.

            I usually have to cheat to get glasses starting off. But for some reason I think that being someone who needs glasses despite being a world where things like glasses are probably hard to come by. I don’t do it for the extra perception; I do it for the character. Just sayin’. 🙂

  2. Once our baby is born, I’m going to be running a game of Vampire: The Masquarde. I’ve already hit my first snag. One of my players is “nearly done” making her character.

    But the way I run Vampire, it doesn’t work that way. You don’t show up and say “here’s what I want to be”. There’s a living breathing world that your vampire has to fit in. You have a sire, the single most important player in the beginning of your Unlife. Even if you no longer see them, the person that took you from Mortal Life into the Eternal Damnation of the Living Dead had a profound impact on you. And with the Sire we have to discuss other contacts, what you did for a living, how you know the other characters, etc etc. There is a lot we do before the game even starts so that when it does start players and storyteller have an idea of what can happen but why it might.

    I agree that FO3 gave you time to build that Why. FONV gave you nothing. Even Skyrim at least gave you the “Okay you were arrested as some kind of rebel, perhaps by accident.” On the other hand, Dragon Age… yeah, almost TOO much background.

    • That comes down to making sure your player understand the type of game you run before much time goes by. The social contract between the player’s and the GM.

  3. I like FONV because it gave me nothing more than a kick in the head and a “Good luck, sucker”. I am able to move forward and play whatever character I wanted to be regardless of whatever past baggage may loom large. The only event of importance in one’s background deals with Ulysses. Until then your life is a blank slate for you to draw and color instead of paint-by-numbers.

    My only gripe with the new Fallout games is the lack of stupid speech options for intelligences of three and below. You can’t believe how much I wanted to play a brawling imbecile who could one-shot gib a super mutant behemoth.

    • That’s one reason I liked Arcanum s well. In addition to the stupid dialogue you could also get ugly dialogue, where if your beauty score was too low you had to actually convince people to overlook your appearance and hold a conversation with you.

      • I loved that! I had a stupid Ogre and it was hillarious some of the things people said to you and you to them.

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